Saturday, March 29, 2008

Suburban Foodways

Today epitomized food in suburbia, or more specifically, the food habits of (particularly) SAHMoms. Or, at least, me.

It started with my WW meeting (I lost 1.6 lbs!! Yay. Core is really working for me). And as I sat there, my leader talked about how, for Easter, instead of having a traditional bakeshop cheese and fruit danish, she made a diet bagel, with diet cream cheese, with sugar-free jam. And it was "delicious."

Maybe this is why I struggle to lose weight. You cannot EVER convince me that those two items taste remotely like one another. And I would almost rather not eat than choose B over A. And that's basically what I try to do: quality over quantity. Sometimes, though, I forget the quantity thing, and, well that's where the problem lies. But, I just don't like the fake stuff. And I'm convinced that the huge amounts of mediocre, processed, fake food laden with chemicals we can't identify or pronounce (and trust the government--because they're so trustworthy--to vet for us) is a huge part of the reason that we can't recognize quality anymore--and thus just eat more of the really bad, really unhealthy foods. And end up at WW, trying to convince ourselves that the diet versions of the mediocre foods are actually "delicious." When, really, if we'd just eaten one bakeshop danish once in awhile, we would've been okay.

(Don't get me started on artificial sweeteners.)

After that (and despite my rant, I still value my meetings), I went to a Pampered Chef party, almost the complete opposite of my WW meeting. There, the same bunch of women (literally, 3 of them were my WW buddies) learn about food gadgets to make preparation of meals simpler/easier/quicker and hostess items to make presentations of said meals, particularly for all the hostessing we're imagined to be doing, more aesthetically pleasing (though considering the mean age of all our children, there should be more plasticware for serving in the PC catalog--I only entertain with kids and can't use ceramic dishes. And since we cook together too, I generally need stainless steel, not glass, prep ware). This is all about the enjoyment of food that you make yourself--hand chopped, baked in stoneware, served on glass platters. And the party was interactive--the consultant had us do everything ourselves, which was much more fun than sitting and watching (and I bought more this time). Interesting thing about PC, though, is it assumes, really, that we don't like the task much and need to get through it quickly. So, at WW food is a danger, at PC it's a chore. Both can be overcome with the right a). mindset and b). products.

If anything, what both of these activities prove is that food is a problem for women, because that is the overwhelming audience for both of these gatherings. It's a problem to prepare, a problem to eat. I do spend a lot of time in one day thinking (worrying) about what I'm going to eat so it's healthy, what I'm going to serve the kids so it's healthy and they'll eat it, and when in the world I'm going to have time to cook dinner (and how there are about a million other things I'd rather do than make a meal under this pressure). So, I went to my WW meeting and am jazzed about another week on Core and hopefully losing another pound or two. And I liked the PC party (the hostess, friend J, is a hostess par excellence and her friend the consultant was entertaining, low-pressure) and bought a new chopper at PC because, really, my knife skills are poor and it slows my food prep down (DP says my knife skills won't improve if I don't practice. I say knife skills are not one of my life's goals. She has excellent knife skills). Plus some covered custard cups. For the fat-free, sugar-free mediocre, processed diet food that I eat because I want something and can't eat a danish every night. Obviously, I'm conflicted: intellectually I see the manipulation at work here and, as a feminist, object to it; but as an actual, practicing SAHM, I value what is being offered. I'm working to reconcile the dichotomy inherent in all of it.

And so how did the day end? We all went to Friendly's for ice cream after a nice trip to the nature center where we saw animals and played on the incredible, castellated wooden playground. DS chanted all the way to the restaurant "strawberry ice cream, chocolate candies." DD fantasized about "chocolate and chocolate candies." And we got there and they ate their sundaes with obvious relish.

And I had one too. And we all had a grand time.

But it all starts again tomorrow.

At least I got a nice recipe from PC, that I can turn Core for WW!!


Cheeseburger Salad (from memory)

2 hamburger buns
1 lb ground beef
1 red onion, chopped
pickles, chopped (I don't recall how many spears--4-6?)
3/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon mustard
lettuce, chopped in bite-size pieces
1 cup cheddar cheese

Cut hamburger buns into slices (though cubes would be easier to eat). Toast hamburger buns (can be done in 450F oven til brown).

Brown ground beef.

Combine onion, pickles, ketchup, and mustard. Add beef.

Layer lettuce, cheeseburger mixture, cheese, and hamburger bun croutons.


Hey, I was very close. Here's the "real" recipe:

4 sesame seed hamburger bun tops
1 small red onion (1/2, sliced into circles for the salad, 1/2 chopped for meat mix)
2 plum tomatoes, sliced for salad
3/4 ground beef
1/2 cup finely diced dill pickles
3/4 cup ketchup
1 TBL yellow mustard
8 cups thinly sliced romaine lettuce
1 cup (4oz) shredded cheddar cheese
The quick directions:
~slice and toast the hamburger buns (@ 8min on bar pan at 425 degrees)
~set out platter and put sliced lettuce on platter
~brown meat
~mix chopped onion, diced pickles, ketchup and mustard together with browned meat
~spread meat mixture over lettuce
~top with sliced onions, sliced tomatoes
~sprinkle with cheese and put toast sticks around the platter

It Was Exactly 48 Hours

Yep, I spoke too soon. The flavor didn't last.

I re-injured my back exactly 48 hours after my last med and thus I took 4 ibuprofens last night and again this morning. But I'm doing better and it doesn't look like it will be as bad as, say, 5 and then 4, and then 3 weeks ago!

Happy Birthday, J!

Happy 3rd Birthday to our little friend, J, who is up north with his mom T and brother A. We're thinking of you on your big day and can't wait to celebrate with you when you get back.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Trying Something New

As many of you know, I am cautious about anonymity in my blog, which is why I never include pictures. But several of my friends do and, well, my blog looks boring in comparison.

So, a compromise. I'll post pictures that are artsy, outdated, or unidentifiable.

Like the one above . . .

(and to think we swore we'd never dress them in pink and blue. But, hey, you can't see--maybe DD is in blue and DS is in pink!)

The Pot and the Kettle

Heard in the bathroom at the grocery store, one stall over:

[flush] Woman on a cell phone: "That is so tacky."


Mommy Still Has It

Just when I thought I didn't have any more tricks up my sleeve, I convinced DD that I swallowed several whole cat toys and then coughed them up! With a sleight of hand and the turn of my head, she really was fooled and asked me to repeat the trick over and over.

And then she tried it. For real.

Guess it wasn't so smart after all.

And so I showed her how.

Now, I don't have any more tricks.

Candle of Concern

Our thoughts go out to our dear friend T who has traveled northwards across the border to see her ailing Omi.

We're sending warm thoughts your way!

36 Hours and Counting

For the first time in FIVE weeks, I have gone more than a day without some kind of medication for my back (usually OTC, but for about 10 days, the Rx stuff). Wow. It's been a long time since I felt good enough to do any real moving around. But now, with a lift in my shoe, new stretches and exercises, and a lot of rest (thanks to DP who has done all my housekeeping chores and to the kiddos who haven't had "uppy-up" in a long time), I feel closer to being my "normal" self than I have since that fateful snowstorm, some snow shoveling, and a bad lift.

Now to get back where I was--about to "graduate" from PT--and even better!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

No-Bake Cookies

We just finished making cookies and I've decided that the stovetop is scarier than the oven. Yes, yes, I know, the boiling point of water is 212F (milk is about the same), while we operate most ovens at 350F. But the oven is contained and the stovetop has pots of scalding liquid that can be spilled.

That said, this morning's cookie making--on the stovetop--went off without a hitch. The recipe comes from a new book that I bought when I got DD's chef's set--The Greatest Cookies Ever, by Rose Dunnington. Mind you, I have thousands of cookie recipes, but I liked her layout, the creativity in cookie design and decoration, the child-friendly voice and design. I think it's a book we can grow with.

And so, this morning we made No-Bake Cookies. I wanted to use semisweet chips; the kiddos opted for white. Ugh. I think it made the cookies--with their 2 cups of sugar--too sweet. But they liked them and we ate them. In fact, the texture reminds me a little of my favorite pralines by Southern Candymaker in New Orleans, which I know uses cream, sugar, and butter, plus nuts (actually, my favorite favorites are the chocolate pralines, so I'll have to experiment with cocoa because I don't think they use chocolate chips). But that's a recipe for after the kiddos are in bed.

We'll be taking these cookies to playgroup tomorrow, so it's probably just as well that we didn't make the flavor I wanted!

Stay tuned for more experiments from this fun cookbook!


No-Bake Cookies

1 stick butter
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup milk
3 cups rolled oats (not instant oatmeal)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup baking chips (your choice)

measuring cups and spoons
mixing bowls
mixer, or fork and spoon
4-quart pot
oven mits
wooden mixing spoon
waxed paper

The method for these is totally different from regular cookies. For starters, you don't bake these cookies, so don't bother to turn on the oven. But make sure you're allowed to use the stovetop.

Grease the inside rim of the pot with butter. Then put the rest of the butter in the pot. This greasing step will prevent any boiling-over disaster.

Put the sugar and milk in the pot. Put the pot on the stove on medium heat.

Bring the concoction to a boil. You'll know when it's boiling. It really bubbles up! That's why you need the big pot.

Let the concoction boil for exactly one minute, then take the pot off the heat.

Add the oats, chocolate, and vanilla. Stir it all up.

Plop spoonfuls of the mixture onto waxed paper. Be careful! Don't touch the hot dough, no mattter how delicious it looks!

Let the cookies sit for about 20 minutes, until the cookies get hard. Simple, huh?

Rose Dunnington, The Greatest Cookies Ever

How Do You Learn?

School has been a frequent topic of conversation here--private vs. public, the different kinds of private, what we want from a school, what else we want for our children (i.e. extracurricular activities, a SAHM, trips around the country and the world).

But learning didn't figure into the conversation much. I've been watching and thinking about the kiddos and how they like to do things, and it struck me this week that they have two completely different learning styles. Actually, I had known that DS was a visual and an auditory learner--all that music, all that looking at pictures of musical instruments. He's more interested in words, letters, and numbers right now. I remember that his PT suggested that he learned that way because he was a late crawler.

Meanwhile, I hadn't pegged DD's learning style. But I should have: she's a kinesthetic, or physical learner. It hit me over the head this week. She wanted to tell me a story; I wanted to change her "soggy-soggy." Not mutually exclusive, right? Wrong. She needed to run around to tell me. She physically couldn't stand still to tell her tale. And so we changed the diaper and then she ran back and forth telling me her original tale:

"Once upon a time there were two kids. DD and DS. And they went into the woods. Then they saw a Mommy Bear. And she laughed. Ha ha ha. And then they saw a Mama Bear. And she laughed. Ha ha ha. The end."

Painting. Hand-stamping. Coloring. Playing with stickers. Playing with magnets. Baking cupcakes in the bathtub. Dressing (or undressing) her dolls. These are her favorite activities. She likes to do things. She always has. She must touch, explore, try it out, on her own.

Realizing this, I'm going to have to give some thought to how we do letters and numbers--physically counting things, writing our ABCs, playing with shaped letters and numbers to spell things and count. Not just looking at picture books, which is how DS likes to do it. I also went right out and got her a little chef's set--it's always been easier to buy DS things because he has discernible interests like trains, whereas she was rather muted in her interest in one thing--and she wore the apron and hat around the house all day, rolling out with her rolling pin and baking me butterfly and egg cookies. Bingo.

Now, as an educator, I have long realized that kids prefer to learn in certain ways--that's not to say they can't learn in the other ways, but that they have preferences. I'm not really sure what kind of learner I am. DP is probably a kinesthetic learner. I probably lean to the visual. I know my mom does. Of course, I have read some of the discussion, and criticism, of the theory of Howard Gardner's learning styles or, more specifically, multiple intelligences as researched at Harvard's Project Zero, but I think it is at least a helpful tool to encourage parents and teachers to vary the way they teach and a good way for students of any age to be self-aware of how they do things (and how they would need to adapt to doing things outside of their comfort zones). As a mom, I'm not particularly interested in the academic debate about psychology or methodology.

I'm very excited about this new way of thinking about the kids' learning, and their personalities in general. I spent years thinking on these issues and utilizing the concepts in my museum work. It's like my two worlds collided. Funny, how it took so long. But at least it's not too late.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Where the Money Goes

People often ask me--those who have seen my kids eat, anyway--how much my grocery bill is. It's a rhetorical question because they guess it's high--the kids have healthy appetites AND we eat organic as often as possible.

An illustration: yesterday, we went through a loaf of bread. A whole loaf (100% wheat, at least). And that was before lunch. I was making jelly sandwiches for our trips to and from Chinese class. So they wanted a sandwich then (4 slices). I made one sandwich each for the ride down (4 slices) and two sandwiches each for the ride home (8 slices). That left 1 little slice and two heels.

And they ate all of it.

Going, going, gone.


Yesterday, we were playing in the car. Parked in the driveway, so they could pretend to drive. DS turned to me and asked for money. So I asked him what he needed money for.

"To make the car go."


"Like at the mall."

Ahhhh, those little rides by the playspace. You put two quarters in and the vehicles shakes and shimmies.

I get it now.

That's why he's been stuffing the spare change in my car air conditioning vents and CD player for months now.

It makes perfect sense.

And in a way he's right--you need money to make the car go, it's just a lot more than 2 quarters these days.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Pooping is Contagious

Warning: I'm talking about poop here.

I have a theory that my friends who just now have two kids will soon get to test for me: when one kid poops, the other one does.

This has been happening here for a long time now. Sure, they eat the same diet, pretty much, and do the same activities. Though, the diet has changed some--DD eats more starch and meats; DS eats more fruit. But they poop within 2 minutes of each other. Always. Like just now.

I think the smell triggers it.

Like scatological pheromones or something.

Trying Again

I'm a great beginner at things--new hobbies, my dissertation, diets--but eventually the novelty wears off and discipline kicks in. Or doesn't. I start things very well but often don't continue or finish well, or in good time (i.e. that Ph.D. took awhile). And I'm finding the same thing with my diet right now. I know, I know, I'm not supposed to call WW a diet. But, well, it is, even if I'm suppsed to call it a "lifestyle" (according to others, often conservatives, I have another "lifestyle"--as if being a lesbian were a fad or a phase--I HATE that word. Is being married to a man a lifestyle? So, I actually prefer "diet").

Anyway, I've been gaining and losing the same darned 5 lbs for several months, mainly because I lose focus on weekends, do well on M-W, and then lose it again for T-F. Ugh. One week up, one week down. I know why it happens, I know how it happens, and I know how to fix it.

So, I'm trying again. "Try again" is a mantra in this household, when we can't do something or something doesn't work out quite right. I think it's important for kiddos, and for myself, to keep trying, even if we have to keep trying over and over. It's hopeful. And it works with blocks, putting on t-shirts, and pouring water into cups. So, it should work with dieting.

And eventually, I'll do it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

"Tis the Season

This evening after dinner, as the holiday weekend wound to a close, we told the kiddos that the Easter stuff would be going away tonight and we wouldn't see it until next year. We were totally prepared for disappointment, begging, and even tears, but not this, from DD:

"So, what season is it next?"

DS answered her, "It's summer."

Sign of the Times

We're travelling back in time here. This weekend we rediscovered our first favorite show, Signing Times (yes, that's right, the show that the 17-month old baby who can read was allowed to watch, as featured on the Today Show). We watched it when the kiddos were about a year old so that they (and we) could learn some sign language. I had learned a lot of Signed English as a child, from my dear Aunt P, and then taken ASL as an adult, but wanted some help teaching it to the kids. And the show came highly recommended. With Rachel, Alex, and Leah we learned playtime signs, animals, colors, and our pleases, thank yous, and mores. The kids loved the show and I loved the refresher course.

And so, this weekend, flipping channels, we came across it again, long after we thought it had quit showing on our PBS station (when it stopped, we started getting the videos from the library and then Gommie bought us a set). And the kids are mesmerized again. DS never did stop signing "helicopter" but now he's standing in front of the tv relearning shark, dolphin, and octopus. It's like we've gone back 1 1/2 years to when they were just learning language. And truthfully, we credit the show, and the sign language, with our kids' early talking and now their (what I would call good) command of English for their age. Oddly, in the beginning, they signed some words and spoke others, but these rarely overlapped. I'd say, at the height of it, they knew upwards of 100 signs, from the show and others that I taught them. Eventually, they dropped the signs, and, caught up in toddlerhood, so did we.

But I'm hoping to revisit it--what's another language (plus Thai and Mandarin), right? I loved being able to sign to my aunt (especially because no one else knew what we were saying, a benefit I guess my kids won't have!) and I even considered going into deaf ed. I took ASL as an adult so that I could welcome hearing impaired audiences into the museum and someday I hope to be good enough to give a tour. I was excited recently to learn that one of my new friends also knows some ASL and is willing to talk to me. I've signed some with the SAHDad who is hearing impaired at the playspace, but that is little and far between. I could use more practice. Despite years of ancient Greek, Latin, some French, and less German, and now some Thai and Mandarin, it's really the only language I would say that I can communicate in, besides my first one.

Interestingly, my ASL teacher thought baby sign language was a fad, and offensive to the deaf community as a whole because it wasn't the real use of the language. I don't know if that's a common opinion or not, but we try to be respectful in our use of it. Regardless, it's strange to watch this show again. I'll be singing the song all day.

And I don't mind a bit.

Earth Hour

On Saturday, March 29, 2008, turn off your lights (and computer!) for one hour beginning at 8 pm to observe Earth Hour, along with concerned citizens in Adelaide, Atlanta, Bangkok, Brisbane, Canberra, Chicago, Christchurch, Copenhagen, Dublin, Manila, Melbourne, Montreal, Odense, Ottawa, Perth, Phoenix, San Francisco, Suva, Tel Aviv, Toronto and Vancouver, as well as Sydney where it all got started last year. We'll be doing it, so don't look for a blog post from me that night!

By Bread Alone

I've been thinking a lot about bread recently, again. You might remember that I was having gluten-ous thoughts at the end of last year. Well, I've been growing a sourdough starter given to me by the founders of Bloodroot restaurant and gave some to Goo yesterday. He had, as well, been thinking a lot about bread and brought a loaf of the no-knead kind. He's made it 6-7 times and really likes it. I'm ashamed to say that, despite an email from the originator of the technique even (my apologies), I have yet to try it. But then, I haven't baked any bread since I first thought about it. But I liked Goo's loaf and am tempted to try it. The kiddos are getting better with helping in the kitchen and, more importantly, can have bread now. We've made Irish soda bread, brown bread, and I've made some other quick breads (my chocolate-orange Amish Friendship bread, frozen in the freezer, was a hit at church this morning). As for my sourdough starter, since I don't really like sourdough bread much, I'm going to try a chocolate sourdough cake I had at church at few weeks ago. It was incredible. And my little sous chefs liked it too.


Chocolate Sourdough Cake

6 tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sourdough starter
¾ cup milk
3 oz melted semisweet chocolate
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ¾ cups sifted all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Cream butter and sugar thoroughly. Add eggs and beat. Stir in starter, milk, chocolate, and vanilla and beat well. Sift together flour, soda, and salt. Fold the flour mixture into the batter and stir until smooth. Pour into greased pans and bake about 40 minutes for one square pan or 25 minutes for two round pans. Sprinkle over this moist cake sifted powdered sugar or mini chocolate chips.

Joy of Cooking

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Easter

The Night Before Easter

We had such a good time dying eggs yesterday (we celebrated a day early). While I had bought three different egg dying kits (I loved the marbled ones as a child and the new tie dye ones looked neat), we stuck with the traditional tablet in vinegar. I had remembered to boil the eggs the day before (Easter takes even more forethought than Christmas--and by next year we'll actually have to be sneaky about it all and hide things!) to let them cool overnight. With smocks on and paper everywhere on the table, DD and DS each got a set of cups with pink, yellow, and blue, plus a dipper which they ignored, and got to "painting" eggs. And of course they did it totally differently. DD liked to soak her eggs in a single color until she achieved a rich saturation; rarely did she even mix to make a solid orange or green. Her eggs glowed like jewels. DS, on the other hand, moved eggs from cup to cup before it could even get totally wet. His eggs came out these wonderful amalgams of color--pink with yellow and orange a tinge of blue and purple--rather like a muted sunset.

After dying eggs, and then cleaning up the downstairs of strewn toys, we set up all of our goodies on the porch: our empty baskets, the carton of dyed eggs, 4 carrots (one from each of us), and the cards the kids had made for the Easter Bunny. DS brought his drums and sang a "happy Easter" song. DD organized everything and danced along. And then, having read Gommie's bunny books, we were happily off to bed.

Baskets Full of Easter Joy

It will surprise no one in my family that I was up first. Eventually, we all made it downstairs (DD actually slept in until almost 8! But then they'd excitedly chatted until almost 9:30!) We went out to the porch, though DD noticed eggs in the house immediately, and set upon our filled baskets. DS noticed right away that the bunny had eaten the carrots. They loved the bags full of marshmallows--chocolate for DS and colored bunnies for DD--and tore into those pretty quickly, ignoring new pajamas, books, sugar eggs, and a big egg of plastic animals (though they eventually found those and began to play). DP had her favorites, Peeps, and I had mine, mini Cadbury eggs, plus previously mentioned spices from Penzey's! And a huge sugar scene egg, which I've always really liked. But mainly they ate and shared marshmallows while we ate our own candy. There were lots of spontaneous "thank you, Easter Bunnys" and "Happy Easters" as we sat on the porch.

Fifteen marshamllows later, we headed back inside with new plastic buckets because carrying the tall wicker ones was impractical. They saw a note that the Easter Bunny had written on the chalkboard--"Happy Easter! Thank you for the carrots. From " There was a drawing for carrots, and so DS returned again and again and could read the rebus note. DD isn't as interested in reading, letters, or numbers (more on her as a kinesthetic, or physical, learner later).

Let the egg hunt begin! The plastic eggs, with little animals, were all over the house. DD was really good at finding eggs. And even when we gave DS a few hints, DD got there first. Okay, DP tells me that sounds like he didn't find any, but of course he did, even some of the hard ones. But since they shared all the little plastic animals, when they eventually cracked them open at the very end, it didn't matter. Later, when Goo, Gong, and Ma arrived, we did our dyed egg hunt outside: DD wouldn't keep the few cracked ones, but handed them to DS or Gong, and once she encouraged DS to climb into our planter to fetch an egg for her! And he did. We also played with our cascarones, or confetti eggs, which I remember from living in San Antonio--you could buy these hollowed eggs filled with paper confetti during Fiesta and crack them on people's heads. Lo, and behold, the eggs were available at the grocery store this year. And so I bought two cartons. At first, DD just carried the box around but then we convinced her to open it and hit Mama on the head. Colorful confetti and cracked egg shell rained everywhere. Then the rest of us were baptized, sans DS, and paper littered the grass. It was lots of fun.

Then it was pretty much eating for the rest of the day, plus sometime inside play. We made blueberry punch again and DS did his best to devour the entire bowl. Mercy, that boy loves blueberries. We also had cha siu bao (or steamed pork buns), don tot (or egg custards), plus a lunch of chicken and rice, with bat chay (kinda like Napa cabbage). We read some of our new Chinese books, with Ma and Gong, as well as sang some of our songs, like the panda bear song and the little cat song. Ma had brought some eggs that slowly hatched little bunnies in water and we watched those crack as the afternoon passed. We also made a block-zoo with a lake and mountain for our little animals. Otherwise, I napped the afternoon away while they played bunny hop inside and pirate ship outside, with DD apparently telling Gong to get out of her way because she was looking for animals not people!

Easter, Take Two
On Sunday, we headed to church for our big egg hunt. Before leaving we made cards for the nursery lady, our minister, and one of our church friends. DD put stickers on folded paper, colored them, and glued down cut-out paper eggs. Then DS showed up to help. And we made a card for Gommie and Pop. We passed our cards out at church, put our Easter Lily on the altar for the service, and headed to the nursery. Then it was egg hunt time (though, DD had noticed the eggs right away when we arrived and was ready to go right then). Each child could find 12 eggs and so we headed out into the sunshine--but, even though we saw the plastic eggs everywhere, the kiddos were picky about which eggs they picked up. Eventually, we got our quota and headed inside to eat the candy. Lots of chocolate candy. They both unwrapped every piece and put them into their new bunny baskets, which church had given them to keep. It's now hours after church and they're still carting around the baskets full of unwrapped chocolate candy. We've had ham dinner with mac and cheese, though my odd kiddos don't like mac and cheese and just ate the ham and some corn. Later today, after rest time, we're going outside to clean our rock wall and sprinkled our packets of seeds. We've already found our tulip sprouts and growing crocuses, so spring is obviously on it's way.

Happy Easter!

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Wonder Years

Generation To Generation

In a house which becomes a home,
one hands down and another takes up
the heritage of mind and heart,
laughter and tears, musings and deeds.
Love, like a carefully loaded ship,
crosses the gulf between the generations.
Therefore, we do not neglect the ceremonies
of our passage: when we wed, when we die,
and when we are blessed with a child;
When we depart and when we return;
When we plant and when we harvest.
Let us bring up our children. It is not
the place of some official to hand to them
their heritage.
If others impart to our children our knowledge
and ideals, they will lose all of us that is
wordless and full of wonder.
Let us build memories in our children,
lest they drag out joyless lives,
lest they allow treasures to be lost because
they have not been given the keys.
We live, not by things, but by the meanings of things.
It is needful to transmit the passwordsf rom generation to generation.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Having read the first few sections of Parents as Spiritual Guides, by Roberta and Christopher Nelso, a UU book about whole-family spirituality, I've been thinking about some of the questions posed to parents. The first few exercises involve the definition of spirituality, why it's important to the parent, and the role of wonder in spirituality. And so, as I mentioned earlier, I'm going to journal about them here.

The book utilizes Dr. James Fowler's theories about spiritual development, from the undifferentiated faith of infants, through the mythic-literal faith of symbols and storytelling, to the Individuative-Reflective faith with its personally-constructed meanings, and, where I think I am now, the Paradoxical-Consolidative faith of recognizing the complexities of life and living with them (there are other stages and I don't know any of them well; this is just a quick mention of them). Apparently, for Fowler, the family is at the center of faith development, being the place where humans experience shared meanings and rituals, among other essential needs.

What is spirituality to me and why do I want to bring it to my kids? Spirituality, for me, is the valuing of things of the spirit, i.e. not consumer goods, not products, not posessions, but emotions such as love, wonder, gratitude, appreciation, responsibility, compassion, a feeling of connection to all living things, the questioning of the nature of the universe, a sense of a picture bigger than the here and now, my place in it all, as well as my contribution to it. What is that saying on coffee mugs? The most important things in life aren't things. In UU terms, it would be Principle 7, I think, the interconnectedness of all living things, plus Principle 1, the inherent worth and dignity of all people.

Such things haven't always interested me. For a long time, I confused and conflated religion and spirituality, rejecting both as I rejected Christianity, but they are not necessarily the same thing. I can be an atheist but still engaged in a spiritual quest. And so, several years ago, I began to consider such ideas. It has taken me away from a pessimistic and aggressive atheism, through a personal Wiccan interest in natural cycles and pagan traditions, to Unitarian Universalism, where I'm still an atheist with Wiccan leanings.

I should've noticed earlier, but my father, who never readily enters a church or finds much value in organized religion, is one of the most spiritually-alive people I know. He is a modern-day Thoreau, finding his communion with the universe in nature, respecting the world around him and taking care of it. He is particularly interested in ideas, reads a great deal, and engages in the issues of the day (he is one of the most well-informed people, as far as current events and political issues go). I remember as a child that he would exhort us to look out the window in the car at the world around us--look, there's the beaver dam on the way between Houston and Dallas--but I often didn't, of course, because children don't always. But of course, I want my children to look, too (see Dad, I was listening and learning, after all. Just a little late).

Do you know the joke about UUs? They are atheists with children! And that's exactly how it started. DP and I knew we wanted to have children and knew we wanted a spiritual community for them. She had been raised in a Buddhist household but sent to Catholic school for 12 years, not fitting in well either place; I was left to discover my own spiritual path and followed my mom's, but later in life, this atheism left me yearning for something else (for clarity: I don't regret not being raised with religion--I sampled lots of churches with friends--I just wished I'd found my spiritual home sooner. And thanks to art history and Cecil B. DeMille, I can identify many Bible stories). And so we checked out the local UU church, even before we were pregnant. And it's one of the best decisions we made--our specific community of friends who care for and encourage one another, our minister who has supported us with wisdom and kindness through many stressful times, the larger movement itself with its focus on liberal religious teachings and social justice. We go to church almost every week, leaving the children in the nursery for service and then spending fellowship hour together talking to friends. We had them dedicated there and are happy that they feel comfortable, happy, and loved there. And so now, as they get older, we're thinking of how to encourage their own innate spirituality. And for children, much of this centers around the concept of wonder--being able to recognize and appreciate the specialness and uniqueness of the world around them.

Nature is our path to wonder right now. The actual, physical world holds so many marvels for them, which in turns makes it marvelous for me: the tiny snow drop flowers pushing up out of the dried leaves; the tulip shoots starting to peek through next to our mailbox; the way the water rushes down the "waterfall" in the stream by our house; the half-moon visible during the day; the red tail hawk soaring overhead; birds' nests now visible in bare trees; squirrels chasing each other up and down our trees; a full rainbow in a rain-drenched sky; the way the wind dances in the trees; how gently-falling snow tastes on your tongue. We try to point out the world around them.

And last night it was the gorgeous full moon in a mostly clear and windy sky. It rose over the house next to us as we were getting the kids into bed. And so we watched it glow next to a tall pine, sometimes blocked by clouds, other times illuminating the sky. We checked back on its progress during storytime (we read Grandfather Twilight, about the man who carries a small pearl that grows larger and brighter as he spreads twilight around, until he puts the pearl into the night sky and goes to bed), and sang all our moon songs to it before we went to bed--"I See the Moon," "Sister Moon, Sister Moon," and "Moon, Moon, Moon."

The first thing we heard this morning? "Mommy, we don't see the moon. It's too sunny."

It's wonder-ful.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Two Cooks in the Kitchen

You've heard me talk about how much DS loves music. Well, it has just occurred to me what DD's obsession is. I mean, she likes animals, reading, playing food, but her most favorite thing to do is cooking. I can absolutely make her face light up by asking her to help me bake something. And in the last few days, she's gotten very serious about it. She asks if we're going to be working on the counter (for Penzey's Cinnamon Snack Cake as well as sugar cookie dough) or on the table (for rolling out sugar cookies and making both Irish brown and soda breads) or at the stove (for Rice Krispie treats and also wonton soup) or at the sink (for washing vegetables for Turkey Chowder)--yes, we've made a lot of things in the last week.

She likes to help me carry ingredients to the right location; she loves scooping with the measuring cups (if DS joins us, and he usually does about 1/2 way in, she lets him do the things with the measuring spoons); she loves turning on the Kitchen Aid mixer (with adult supervision, of course); she loves mixing the dry ingredients by hand; and she loves tasting. Then she'll check in on it periodically as it cooks, reminding me immediately to turn the oven light on. Today, when I told her we were making cinnamon snack cake, she even knew we needed flour and sugar. She then actually opened all the ingredients, like unscrewing the top of the cinnamon and opening the cannister of flour, so that they were ready (she does, however, draw the line at unwrapping butter, which she did last week and didn't like--made her hands too sticky to touch Shirt). And she often asks me what the recipe says, or where I got it, i.e. whose food is it (Gommie and Ar-Ma rank highly and are unquestioned in the kitchen). It's such fun, even when we make an absolute mess or have some trouble (like today, neither kiddo wanted me to bake the cake--they just wanted to eat it raw but I wouldn't let them).

I guess it's taken me a long time, too long, to figure out that this is her favorite activity, her hobby, just like DS loves anything with music (like watching Barney's episode with a brass quintet on demand, which we saw for the first time yesterday, and which was not on the menu today. Oh, how he cried. Oh, how that made DP and I want to cry). So, I think I'll get her some little spoons and cups of her own, maybe an apron and a kitchen towel--not the fake ones sold in a set for kids, but ones she can really use. And we can make her own cookbook with pictures of ingredients for her favorite recipes (she tends to like to bake, or, at least, I do, so that's what we do). And, of course, we'll cook more together.

Hmmmm, I wonder if she'd like to watch cooking shows on tv?


Just this morning, DD said to me, "Can I bake a cake by myself?" Then she stood up and said she was taller now. And could learn to drive a car.

Cakes are much safer.


Penzey's Cinnamon Snack Cake
This is the cake DD and I made today; she loved the crunchy topping (I've never cornstarch in a cake before--very light and fluffy).

1 Cup butter (2 sticks)
1 Cup sugar
2 eggs (if you want to throw caution to the wind, 3 are even better--we used three)
1 Cup flour
1 Cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 Cup milk

2 TB. butter
1/3 Cup flour
1/4 Cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease an 8x8" glass pan. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar, blending on high speed until well mixed. Add PURE VANILLA EXTRACT and eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch, CHINA CINNAMON and baking powder. It is particularly important to sift cornstarch. Add to the large bowl about a third at a time, blending on low speed to combine. Add the milk and blend until smooth. Pour or spoon into the baking dish and sprinkle on the topping.

To make the topping, cut cold butter into small pieces, combine with other dry ingredients in a small bowl, sprinkle with PURE VANILLA EXTRACT, and rub between your fingers until crumbly and blended. Bake at 350° for 45-50 minutes, until top springs back when lightly pressed or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Yield: 16 pieces.
Prep.time: 15 minutes.
Baking time: 45-50 minutes.

Penzey's catalog

Here, Mommy

We were upstairs today, playing, in the late afternoon, and DD was rifling through various parts of our room. Then, she walked over to me and said, "Here's some strawberry jelly." Before I could even look up and process this statement fully, I thought, "what is this girl talking about?"

But there she was, holding a jar of, well, actually Raspberry Enlightenment, a seasoned glaze from Penzey's.

Apparently, DP had stashed my Easter basket present in the clothes hamper.

I have told myself over and over never to doubt that girl; she's always right.

(Mom, it's Cave Canem, Second Generation!)

A Very Merry Unbirthday to You

I'm already thinking birthday parties, and the kiddos have summer birthdays! But birthday season among our friends has started, with two in the spring and the real rush beginning in June. For about 6 weeks, there will be a party almost every week. And that doesn't include 4 family birthdays between February and June.

I won't say birthday parties are a competition. I think we're all pretty level-headed about them, actually (for stories about people who are not, and ideas to combat party excess, see here). There have been several home parties, a few theme parties at special locations but nothing that seems exorbitant or outrageous for toddlers. But, with all the parties in our group, we do try to a). not have them the same weekend (this is harder than it sounds, especially with Memorial Day and July 4th) b). not do all the same activities and c). have a theme that represents our child(ren) and doesn't duplicate someone else. So, the "Princess" theme has just been beautifully executed, with foamy crowns to decorate, crown-shaped cake, and cute invitations. And a tour of a firehouse (okay, that last part was an anomaly but it was held in a firehouse--Dad is a volunteer--and he took the kiddos, both Princes and Princesses, down for a tour. DD had on her frilly party dress and her plastic fire hat, backwards, as she drove the big rig! The trend in favors is simple--and perfect--an iced, shaped theme cookie (these were crowns) and a molded chocolate lollipop (I'm convinced this last part is for the moms). Easy, no cheap Chinese plastic choking hazards, and cute. Later this spring, we're going to Build-a-Bear, which will be fun. The kids will make an animal of their choosing and then have cake in the mall. We're not to the performative present-opening yet, which is nice, and parties tend to last about 1 1/2 hours.

So, I'm thinking about ours. Last year, we did a backyard bubble theme, with tons of bubble wands and solution; there was even a bubble machine blowing out bubbles for decoration. Favors were more bubbles. We did it in the middle of the week, which meant no second parents (i.e. dads) and we could invite more kids (space and numbers are always a concern). We could do backyard again, weekday or weekend, even with bubbles, because they liked that so much. But I'm also thinking of our local nature center which lets you interact with a small animal, reptile, or bird; there is plenty of space to run around outside too. A friend of mine had a party there last year and says it was great--you can invite 12 friends, more than enough, and they will have lots of fun. We could do an animal or bird cake, similar cookies, easy, easy. I'll probably call pretty soon about a date, another reason to get a start this early.

I always had such fun at my own birthday parties--my mom (and sometimes even my dad--I'm thinking of the trip to the science museum to see the planetarium show) always made my parties fun (I didn't usually have my party on my actual birthday and for my birthday we usually went out to dinner as a family). We did planetarium shows, a movie trip (to see Yentl, of all things), backyard campouts in an actual tent (in December! It was Texas after all and not cold at all.), slumber parties, as well as the usual party with games, cake, and ice cream. I remember picking out the invitations and matching paper goods weeks in advance. And cake toppers! I once had the plastic Cinderella with white carriage, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and perhaps, best of all, actual Star Wars action figures one year. It wasn't about the presents, though I do remember that opening them in front of everyone was a thing--fun for me, probably boring for everyone else-I'm so glad the toddlers aren't at this stage yet.

I'm sure you'll be hearing more about this in the next few months. I hope it's not as boring as watching other people open presents!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

C is for Cookie

We had our springtime playgroup party here today, a combination of St Patrick's Day and Easter. It was decidedly March-like outside, with cool temperatures and an alternately driving and drizzling rain. But with all the sugar inside, we were positively giddy.

Sugar cookies were our main form of entertainment and refreshment. I had begged and gratefully received another decorating lesson from our cake expert, T, who also does marvelous and adorable cookies. So, I prebaked a bunch with help from the kiddos, who still like the dough better than the finished cookie. We mixed up the dough on Monday and I baked the majority of them that night after they were in bed, saving just a bit of the dough to bake up on Tuesday, mainly because a). they are still newbies at cookie cutting and we are slow with little actual productivity b). we lose interest quickly, especially after making the dough, and c) T recommended that the cookies "age" 24 hours before frosting so I couldn't wait to bake the next day. But, what we did cut out--3 different kinds of bunnies, some eggs, some shamrocks, some flowers--were fun.

On Tuesday, T came over in the evening to teach me how to decorate. Is it frosting? Or is it icing? I'm not entirely sure of the difference. The recipe for the icing is below. I was amazed at her steady hand as she traced the outline of the various shapes (or even as she put the colors in the white icing--my hands are still colorful!). We waited awhile, talking and drinking cookies, and then "flooded" the outlines using spoons and toothpicks. This produced a smooth surface for decorating. We waited a bit longer--lots more talking, no more coffee, and by this point I was covered in green food coloring--and then started to do the detailing when the surface was slightly hardended. I wasn't as good at this part but it was fun to see the cookies "come to life." My hat's off to her--cookie decorating is hard work and she does it very well. I did have delusions of next year's Christmas cookies and could just see myself putting little multi-colored dot ornaments on gorgeously green trees; I'm sure I'll try. But I'm not sure if I like cookie or cake decorating better--cakes have a greater impact and a more cohesive design but cookies can be beautiful all on a plate and you can mix it up a little. I'll probably keep practicing both. We saved some of the cookies--I actually baked off half a batch while we waited for icing to harden--for the kids to decorate, too. Why should grown-ups have all the fun?

And then everyone showed up, in the rain, this morning. I had set out the undecorated cookies, along with white cake frosting in a can, and a myriad of sprinkles and jimmies in a muffin tin, along with cookie sheets to hold the spillover, and let the kids go to town. Mine actually started before the party did. It was killing them to see the sprinkles sitting safely on the counter. And since I guiltily remembered DD playing "party" the other day, the main purpose of which was to tell DS to "wait until the guests arrive. You can't eat yet!", I relented and let them decorate early. Isn't that the way of parties as a child, though? It always takes forever for them to start; holidays, too. My dear Aunt P says anticipation is the best part; I hear that my paternal Grandma agreed. I would say that anticipation is a dangerous thing--it's the worst part about something bad, a good part about something good (I'm not sure I'd agree that it's the best, but then I'm not good at waiting and don't like surprises much either.)

So before anyone arrived, there were thousands of colored sugar granules, jimmies (I never called them this as a child, only sprinkles. Are jimmies any color or just chocolate?), and other tiny little circles/bunny/egg shaped candies on my floor, in DD's hair, all over DS's sticky fingers, and an inch or so in height on two barely discernible cookies. Who cares! I'd rather remember them having fun and get to play along with them instead of making them wait and then miss their fun because I'm buzzing around as hostess. People think I'm nuts for doing this cookie decorating thing--Gommie thought so at Christmas, friends thought so on Groundhog's Day, and more today, I'm sure--but sprinkles sweep up nicely, cookies are fun to prep, anyone can play along, and it's not too expensive. And I like that the kids like to do it. Besides, it's a game and a party favor all in one (I actually forgot to pass out the favors--some playdough I'd been unable to take to the Valentine's playgroup and have been saving to distribute. So, friends, if you are reading this, come claim your little cans of playdough!).

But the party is over, the friends are all done, a few leftover cookies went well with my cuppa, and . . . my kids just walked into the kitchen butt-naked. I guess they're not resting while they watch Little Bear.

Too much sugar, you think?


Punch Recipe

1 qt. pineapple juice
1qt oj
1.5 qt cranberry cocktail
2 liter gingerale
rainbow sherbet
blueberries (fresh or frozen, slightly thawed), optional

Mix. Beware, it stains.

NO FAIL SUGAR COOKIES--T loves and swears by this recipe. She usually cuts it in half. I made it all and froze half--the kids ate so much dough, we needed the whole batch for the party.

6 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 cups butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract or desired flavoring (I like
almond myself)
1 tsp. salt

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Mix dry ingredients and add a little at a time to butter mixture. Mix until flour is completely incorporated and the dough comes together.

Chill for 1 to 2 hours (or see Hint below)

Roll to desired thickness and cut into desired shapes. Bake on ungreased baking sheet at 350
degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until just beginning to turn brown around the edges. This recipe
can make up to 5-dozen 3” cookies.

HINT: Rolling Out Dough Without the Mess – Rather than wait for your cookie dough to chill, take the freshly made dough and place a glob between two sheets of parchment paper. Roll it out to the desired thickness then place the dough and paper on a cookie sheet and pop it into the
refrigerator. Continue rolling out your dough between sheets of paper until you have used it all. By the time you are finished, the first batch will be completely chilled and ready to cut. Reroll leftover dough and repeat the process! An added bonus is that you are not adding any additional flour to your cookies.

**my note: this dough can be frozen in disks and thawed later.

T's Royal Icing
4 tablespoons merengue powder
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon shortening (to make it soft and shiny, optional)
1 teaspoon lemon extract
5 cups powdered sugar

Mix ingredients. Add water if too thick. It should be the consistency of glue. Separate into bowls. Add colors with toothpicks. Stir with little spatulas.

T outlines with a #3 tip and then floods the inside when the outline dries (to make flooding consistency, add more water--really just a few drops). You can use a bag with tip or a spoon to flood, and toothpicks or decorating brushes to spread it into the cracks.

She recommends the following schedule:
Day 1--baking
Day 2--icing
Day 4--packaging (too soon and the icing will be damaged)
Because of the icing, the cookies will stay fresh for about a week.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

It's a Gender Thing

DS kicked butt counting in Chinese today. He knew his numbers up to 5, could count them on his fingers by holding up the correct sign, traced the Chinese character for the number, and could count out 5 blocks after lining them up side to side. He loved the numbers part, having been relatively restless as we neared the end of class. He even jumped up to sing the "one little, two little, three little fingers" song ("yi ger, er ger, san ger, shao peng yao" etc). You could tell he really connected to it.

Not DD. She was busy playing with the stuffed "yu" and "lao hu" (fish and tiger), having the fish ride on the back of the tiger. And, while she did get the right numbers when pressed (because she watches "Ni Hao Kai Lan" too, or used to), she wasn't that intrigued.

At lunch, at that "evil" roadside restaurant in red and yellow colors, they had gender specific "not a crying" meals. He got a pirate; she, a crown. And they were happy. She even opened his nuggets for him and then his sweet and sour sauce, saying she wouldn't start eating until he had his.

Is it a gender thing?

She did, however, want to switch toys before the end of the meal. And so we left the restaurant with him wearing a crown and her carrying a pirate.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Wearing of the Green

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

We've been celebrating for a day now--we had corned beef, cabbage, carrots, and potatoes, plus a lovely brown bread from Family Fun magazine. We'll watch the NYC parade on tv here in about 30 minutes (we're watching now--DS is enthralled and keeps asking when he can see some bagpipes--I can't wait to take the kiddos to this--I just love parades--and there are lots of bagpipes. DD is in the kitchen eating brown bread with honey). And later this week, we're having friends over to decorate shamrock (and Easter egg) cookies.

But why?

We're not Irish--in fact, in addition to Chinese, we're English, French, German, and, depending which person in the family you ask, also Welsh and Scottish. Not Irish. Now, I know that genetically there is very little difference between all the Brits--there was an article recently about a DNA study--but there is culturally and historically a difference so we'll go with that.

We're not Catholic, though DP was raised Catholic (her parents wanted her to belong to the dominant religion in the country when they immigrated from Thailand--and had been members of a minority Chinese group there--and to go to Catholic school. Very Buddhist of them, I'd say, believing all religions to be on the same path). And my maternal grandmother was kicked out of the Catholic Church--at least locally, I'm not sure the Pope was involved--for divorcing and remarrying, despite the fact that apparently the man beat her and had to be run out of town by her brother (or something like that). So, Saint Patrick means little to us in a religious sense.

Even when I was growing up, the day meant little more than wearing green so you wouldn't get pinched, a tradition that must have been regional because few people up here know about it. One kid I went to school with--Derry--would wear green socks, get pinched because no one saw them, and pinch you back because he was wearing green. I thought that was clever, but I always wore my green loud and clear. There was no corned beef, no soda bread, and I didn't remember the local parade until my parents reminded me last night. But I'm not sure there were stepdancers or bagpipers.

I understand that it is only recently that the Irish, in Ireland, have started celebrating it in a big way, that it has predominantly been a religious holiday there. This would no doubt be an import from Irish ex-pats, who have been parading and partying in NYC for 247 years! Of course, the "wearing of the green" has a much different meaning in the land of the Troubles. And there is always some political content to the NYC parade, though not as much as there was 15 years ago when I first lived there. I invite Lambeth, whose wife is an Irish Protestant to weigh in on all of this, if he would like.

I started really celebrating when I lived in NYC, a block or so off the St. Patrick's Day parade route. Beginning in the early morning of parade day, you could hear the marching bands and bagpipers warming up in the side streets that fed the route. I must confess to being a lover of bagpipe music--I have a few CDs that I pull out this time of year--so watching them live was always a thrill. And then there were all the little ringlet-crowned girls in those lavish velvet green costumes dancing their up and down steps. This very much confused me at first--it seemed to be a big deal, but I had no idea what they were doing. Well, Riverdance and Lord of the Dance have come out since--and I've seen both (though I thought my friends were nuts for wanting to go see Irish folk dancing at Radio City the first time I heard about it)--and I have a better handle on it. DP, who grew up with Irish Catholic girls who took lessons, shutters to see the black shoes and curled hair--for years, she couldn't celebrate St. Patrick's Day with me happily, remembering years of grade school trauma as the only non-Irish, clearly Chinese kid in school. But she introduced me to corned beef and cabbage and Irish soda bread, which her mom made every year, and she likes Celtic music so things are better now. Neither one of us is a big drinker, so that aspect of the holiday doesn't appearl, though we do really like Ben and Jerry's new Black and Tan flavor and might go find a pint of that. Hey, it's a pint, right? I did live near an Irish pub--O'Lunney's, which has since moved out of Times Square but still in the area--and they had all the things a pub needs--blessings on the wall, pictures of County Whatever, Irish-accented bartenders and ownders--just what the Times mentions in its article (though, it wasn't one of the top pubs mentioned). And I liked to go there, NOT on the holiday, and have an Amaretto Sour, or, oddly, lunch because they had an awesome spinach salad and the staff were so nice. In fact, the only time I've gotten really, actually drunk, was at that pub, in grad school, with some ne'erdowell cohorts, who left me there to walk home at 2 a.m. through Times Square. Luckily, I was probably only buzzed and got home fine; but I was hurting in the morning. And should've been more nervous than I was (luckily for Disneyfication it was pretty safe, actually). I didn't go drinking with them again.

So, what's not to like about the Irish and St. Patrick's Day?

(I know, I know, they won't let the LGBT groups march and that should upset me, since public city funds are involved and the city doesn't discriminate, but it's their parade--and I don't want them at Pride--so live and let live. I'm not always politically correct).

And so, in the spirit of the day, two Irish (not UU) blessings for you, one for each twin . . .

May God give you...
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song,
And an answer for each prayer.

May love and laughter light your days,
and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours,
wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world
with joy that long endures.
May all life's passing seasons
bring the best to you and yours!

Irish Brown Bread

2 ¼ cups whole wheat flour
2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
1 ½ cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 ½ cups buttermilk

Heat the oven to 400F. Combine everything but the buttermilk in a large owl and stir the ingredients with your hands. Make a well in the mixture and pour in 1 ½ cups of the buttermilk.

Continue mixing with your hands, adding the remaining cup of buttermilk as you combine the ingredients. The resulting dough will be wet and very sticky.

Dust your hands with flour, shape the dough into a ball, and place it on a floured cookie sheet (we used a nonstick baking mat). With a knife, score a deep X in the top of the ball, widening it with the side of the blade as you cut.

Bake the bread until its golden brown, about 50 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let it cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing. Makes a crusty, dense loaf about 7” in diameter.

Family Fun

Sunday, March 16, 2008

You've Come A Long Way, Baby!

Yesterday, we went out to lunch at a restaurant we should boycott for their previously homophobic employment policies (which are totally legal because there is no federal protection for sexuality in the U.S. The restaurant chain has recently changed the anti-gay policy), but we like the "home-cooking" and the little store in front is a great distraction for restless kiddos.

We were seated next to a family with baby twins, probably about 6 months; I'd guess fraternal twin boys. There they were with their two bucket carriers propped up in chairs. But the babes were both in arms, one with each parent. Each was actively shoving a rattle into his little toothless mouth. And before they began to eat, their parents spread plastic sticky placemats on the table. We had those, with Sesame Street characters--which at the time we couldn't identify because we a). didn't watch tv and b). didn't talk. I don't remember what the kids ate, though I saw bottles. By the time they were eating I was too distracted with my own kiddos. But I did lean over, having been caught staring for the umpteenth time, and say "It gets easier."

They said, "You're the first one to say that."

But it's true, sort of. The sheer physical challenge of twins--feeding at the same time, holding at the same time, anything at the same time--abates with age as they can do things for themselves. Then the, let's call them, discipline problems start. Because twins are always in each other's space and the fact that they can't developmentally think their way to sharing yet makes life difficult. So, you constantly deal with taking turns, physical aggression, waiting, and patience, and all the meltdowns that occur when they can't handle those things appropriately. When my toddlers attack, usually over some toy that one had and the other, who couldn't have cared less, decides he or she wants, my friends shake their heads and mutter, "I don't know how you do it." Well, most of them have babies right now (or hope to soon), so they're going to find out eventually (and they're seeing more of it during playdates and such). But having to deal with these issues is less stressful for me because at least we're learning life skills in the process; there was no real lesson being learned if one baby had to cry on the floor or in the swing while I held the other crying baby. It would break my heart. But, now, when one pushes the other, my heart doesn't break as I worry about future ramifications of such behavior (realizing meanwhile that it's age appropriate and not really an indication of future problems) and I know what to do--we do timeouts for any physical aggression--no warnings, instant "in the timeout spot." Any other transgression gets warnings and appropriate repercussions.

Anyway, so I told those twin parents that it gets easier--which is what dozens of twin parents told me when they'd see that double stroller. It always made me feel better to know that someone understood.

And so, I turned away from the babes in arms to my own kiddos, whom DP had taught the spoon trick to--the fact that you see yourself upside down in the bowl of a spoon. DS looked a bit and went right back to his cereal in book game (which we'd bought at the church booksale that morning--he liked to turn the page with the cereal still there and only later decided to eat the Os), but DD was fascinated and started making faces. Puckered lips, bared teeth, lopsided grin. She tried to put the spoon down to stretch out her mouth with both hands, so I held it so she could see. And then I flipped it over and she was right-side up. Wow. She couldn't get over that and kept flipping the spoon over and back and making these great funny faces.

Yeah, much easier than holding her on my lap. And much more fun.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Date Night Tonight

We had date night tonight, which was a special treat. The kiddos were so excited when Dear Babysitter showed up around dinner and helped with bath. They were in bed before we left, thinking that DB was having a sleepover. Fine, less stress that way.

But tonight we deviated from our usual date night plans, which often include an errand and then dinner. Tonight, we skipped dinner, eating at home with the kiddos (meatballs, cheesey mashed potatoes, mixed greens, and biscuits). This saved a ton of money as well as calories (tomorrow is my WW meeting day and I'm trying really had on Core--for you civilians, that's a lot like Atkins/South Beach without the pork rinds!). We went to the bookstore instead. And it was fabulous.

In Chicago, we lived around the corner from a women's bookstore and loved going there on weekend nights to browse--not necessarily to buy, though we did a lot of that too, but to read titles, explore new topics, learn something unexpected. Tonight, we went to one of the big chains, not an independent store (of which there seem to be very few good ones here in CT), but browsed many of the same sections. Lesbian/Gay studies is always next to Women's Studies is next to African-American Studies, which are usually all right around the corner from New Age/Spirituality. We closely examined a book on American women in WWII, complete with wonderful pictures (Our Mother's War, I think) and laughed over the lesbian pregnancy books (glad that part is over!). I had wanted Kathryn Hughes's book on George Eliot but was curtly informed that literary biographies didn't sell and so they didn't stock it. This from a woman who spelled the author's name with two "L"s. Doesn't give you much hope for big chain bookstores, does it, especially when they sell bags and hang posters with a portrait of the author!

We had a chai in the little Starbucks and perused a book entitled The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life, with instructions on, for example, making your own rock candy or panning for gold. I love books like this (big surprise there, right?), and was also tempted to buy Back in the Day, on clearance, but wasn't as interested in Morse Code and heraldry. We spotted a book on beautiful English villages and grabbed it off the shelf immediately--such lovely pictures of half-timbered houses and thatched cottages. Like Lilliput Lane come to life. I'm convinced at least one of the villages was in Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson. So, we took that home too, to remember great trips and be inspired for another. We then moved on to music, listening to selections from Loreena McKennett's Alahambran concert. I'm not even sure we hit our more recent craft, cookbook, or mystery section favorites. But, despite promises to the contrary, we did wander into the children's section and picked up another Little Bear and Chicken Soup with Rice, one of DP's favorites.

It was this total geek love-in, with little talk of anyting but the titles we picked up. And that was a wonderful change.

Mathematics of Sleep

So, the kids slept yesterday in the car for two hours. Wonderful, restorative.

And then they went to bed at their usual (new) time (after the time change, it's now 7:30-8 pm).

They usually sleep about 11 hours, meaning wakeup around 7 am.

But today it was 5 am.

They subtracted the two hour nap.

I didn't know they knew math; we can barely count past 15 (in order).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I write in my journal every night and have for at least 4 years. It's not a private journal--DP and I used to do it together, deciding what to include from the day together while I acted as scribe but now I do it mostly on my own, with her reminding me of things to include. It's a record of the days events--important events in our lives like births, deaths, and first steps, and things we want to remember like funny episodes with the kids. It's a day book, so each day's entry is exactly one page. I first picked up the format while researching my dissertation and reading the journals of one of the directors of the National Gallery; I had also picked up a journal of an anonymous lady who liked to draw little pictures. I've drawn several little pictures over the years, mainly of cats in odd positions. If some researcher were to pick up my journals in centuries to come they would note several things: a). my handwriting is miserable and unintelligible at times; b). I rarely reference current events, despite trying to keep up with them, unless it's big--I noted hurricane Katrina, the death of Heath Ledger, and similar events (I wasn't keeping these journals around September 11, 2001, but did then create a journal about that to think through the event and my experiences of it--I was in the city, DP was downtown, and Goo her brother was there); c) that I am an art historian not an artist and that I can't draw; and d). that I'm not a reflective person, because the entries are more a record of events than my long thoughts on them--now I cross-reference my blog entries in my journal, as I do more thought-out writing here. I guess that shows the limitations of drawing inferences from journals.

Anyway, I'm going to start doing a bit of more intense journalling here in my blog. I had wanted to take a "Parents as Spiritual Guides" course at church but it was cancelled, so I'm going to work through the topics here, to "journal" in the way many people mean, i.e. reflective thinking on a specific topic. The first topic will be my definition of spirituality and what we want to convey to our children. I'm still mulling this over and am not ready to write yet. That, and I'm having computer trouble and can't blog for long at any given time because of a battery failure. My other topic for journalling here will be drawn from the pages of Wonder Time. In each issue, there is an "instant scrapbook" page that asks questions about the kiddos. I'm going to answer those here each month. I'm several months behind but I figure I can catch up. I love answering questions and always enjoy those emails that ask your favorites. I might even do one of those here.

But not right now because my battery warning is blinking . . . I'll need to remember to put that in my "real" journal tonight.

The Museum Section

Today is museum day in the NYTimes. So, for the next several days--as long as it takes me to read the dozens of articles--I will be immersed in my old world. I'm sure you'll hear about it.

It's almost as good as sleeping under the whales.


OMG, DP is a saint!! She just went out to the "Stop n Rob" at 11:00 pm so that I could have a paper copy of the Museum section and not have to read it online. I do so like reading the "real" Times every now and again. She's such a sweetie. Thanks, DP!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I Know the Drugs are Working

. . . . because my back feels better.

And yesterday I made coffee in my fancy machine but forgot to put the cup under the spout. Thereby getting coffee everywhere.

Definitely spaced out but feeling good.

Definitely needed that coffee.

In the Sandbox

On Sunday, it was warm enough to play outside in the backyard unencumbered by coats and the like. And so we opened up the turtle sandbox and DD and DS had field day playing in it. I sat back and watched (DP was raking up a season's worth of dead branches and detritis) while DD made numerous birthday cakes and DS built a pyramid with a fortified top. I saw in an instance my next six months--long hours outside while they self-entertained in a way that was unimaginable just a year ago when they only liked the sandbox if you would hide things in it for them. But in a year, my presence is almost passe. Almost. I'm still needed to blow out the stick candles on the cakes and help start the sand pyramid.

On Monday, at 8 a.m., it was nowhere near warm enough, at 25F, to go outside to play. But DD awoke calling for the sandbox and so we bundled up and went out for what I thought would be a short look around. I forget that toddlers don't notice temperatures--they played in the chilly wind for almost an hour, wiping their runny noses until a sandy snot layer formed. But who was I to interrupt such joy?

At least today, after our Chinese class, it was warm enough to play outside without fingers going numb. And so again, we headed to the sandbox for cakes and forts. I love watching them play. I'm learning more about aspects of play--the self-talk that helps them regulate their behavior, the "other regulation" that allows them to experience controlling others (all that bossiness has a real purpose), the obsession with self-imposed rules (first the candles, then the song, then blow out the candles, then eat it, and start again)--and can see all of them in the way they play. DD narrates the baking of her cakes, brings them to me to perform the exact birthday ritual, and then starts again. Sometimes she lets DS have a turn. DS talks to himself as he fetches pinecones for people and sticks for fences and regulates where each one goes (pinecones go inside the circle of sticks). And they're having so much fun.

It's going to be a great summer.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Can't Sneeze at This

So, I went to the doctor at the local clinic yesterday because my back just wouldn't stop spasming. Got some muscle relaxers and pain killers and am much better today. It was nice to have a second opinion, especially since my first doctor barely gave one. Orthotics--yes. Orthopedist--no. Keep doing my exercises, everyday for the rest of my life, to decrease likelihood of injury, damage by any injury that I will (and it's just a matter of time not possibility), and hurry along any recover. She thinks the PT I've been doing for 6 months saved my skin this time or I'd be flat on my back. She did suggest a hip x-ray for a baseline, thinking it is possible that I have some childhood disorder--hip dysplasia or the like--which might cause arthiritis later on (for those just joining me, I've limped all my life but only just found out why). And she thinks my new lift in my shoe, which I got Wednesday, while totally necessary is what is making me especially fragile, as my body learns a new way to walk after 35 some odd years.

And here's a neat trick: if you have back trouble and need to sneeze (or cough, though I haven't tried that yet), tilt your head back and try to brace yourself, arching your back a little if you can. Your back won't spasm. And you won't believe this but it totally works. I've sneezed 3 times with no trouble (though sneezing caused lots of trouble last weekend).

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Candle of Community

We're lighting a virtual candle of community tonight, for my sister's fiance's father, who passed away this evening.


I've been going to Renaissance Festivals since my mom took us to the one in Texas just a year or so after it opened. And I've loved them ever since: the crafts, the food, the costumes, the music, the ambience. I would go with Mom and sis, wear a flowered garland (oh, I loved these and have several and have made several), each scotch eggs and turkey legs, watch jousting on horseback, listen to madrigals, gawk at the lavish costumes (and not-so-lavish bawdy ones), and in general have a fine time. At the point, Real Musgrave was the official artist of the Texas Ren Fest and would sit in his booth signing posters of dragons. I have a few of these; I loved his art. At one point, we even went to a show of his and I remember this amazing print of a knight and lady on a unicorn or winged horse flying near the moon, I think; it was too expensive to buy--I got another signed poster instead--but it encapsulated what I loved about the ren faires.

In college, I joined our chapter of SCA but never really got too involved. It was definitely a boy-thing where I went to school--sparring and RPG (role-playing games like D&D)--and not craft-oriented. I did have "garb," the word for a costume, and wore it to gatherings and our trip to the ren fest. But I never got more involved and now, I think it would be too strict for my more casual, touristic interest in ren faires. For that is what it is, surely, like going on vacation in a foreign time and watching the "natives." Mind you, for the most part, ren faires are completely anachronistic, designed for the tourist, unlike real SCA events (there is usually an SCA presence at some fests, but they don't organize the big ones--I've been to Texas, Bristol in WI, Sterling Forest in NY, and the two in CT). And that's ok with me. I like the weird blend of "Master Card and Lady Visa" with turkey legs and diet Coke, Henry VIII and fairies and Merlin, garlands and face painting, jousting and raunchy jokes. I even have a great costume--an elaborate affair with shift, underskirt, overskirt, and bodice, in mauve and teal. DP has an incredible cloak and a hat. We're quite the pair.

(It won't surprise you that we also like Civil War reenactiments and living history museums. But those don't really invite visitors to participate in the same way--indeed, the interpreters do it for their own fun and are often indifferent and sometimes downright hostile to outsiders. Now, if they did have a Civil War fair, so to speak, I'd be the first in line to dress up and play lady for a day. I hear you can do that at Williambsurg, for the Colonial times, and I can't wait to go).

And we can't wait for the kids to enjoy it. We've taken them to the little ones in CT, but they were so young. DS liked the music. DD was scared to death of one of the creatures with wings (some fairy/goblin guy). They both liked being outside as long as it wasn't too hot. They'll love it this summer. And when they're still older we'll make the haul to NY's faire and later even, the one in Texas. My deart Aunt P after whom DD is named is quite the ren faire devotee--she goes every year and camps out for a weekend and then hangs out listening to sea shanties and old tunes while imbibing the local brew; I would wander around, meeting her back at the pub and then wandering out again. The kids will love it. And then, we'll graduate to the real Renaissance and head across the pond for a "dragons and dungeons" tours of real medieval castles and sites. I wonder, are Ren Faires popular where there was actually a Middle Ages? (Mind you, there is no real concern about the actual differentiation of the Renaissance and the Middle Ages, both of which terms are problematic academically. As an historian, that bothers me not at all; this is recreation not scholarship. My beloved Victorians were constantly viewing other cultures and periods through their own lenses--just look at the art of Lawrence Alma-Tadema; it's charming and very revealing, both the art and the historical-cultural appropriation. And before I get in trouble for calling cultural appropriation "charming," I know all the scholarly buzzwords and reasonings for why it is racist, elitist, Eurocentric etc. It doesn't bother me at the Ren Faire or in the art of Alma-Tadema. It's intellectually intriguing. Go read Confederates in the Attic).

Why bring this up now, when ren faire season is still months away? We had a renaissance banquet at my church last night--very "Medieval Times" (the dinner theater in tourist towns), with roast chicken and potatoes with no cutlery, as well as lots of cleavage, roguish jokes, and swordplay. Being with friends used to ren faires made the evening delightful.

And so, I'm getting ready, mentally, for the next event. It's not too soon to make flowered garlands.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Thinking of You

Our love goes out to my sis and her fiance, whose father is struggling with lung cancer.

We're thinking of you and your family!

Friday, March 7, 2008


Bunnies are everywhere in the stores and I'm starting to think about Easter.

As a child, we created Easter nests out of pulled grass and local wildflowers (including my favorite the pink "buttercup" or primrose and azaleas). We dyed eggs and left these outside for the Bunny, along with carrots (right? we fed the bunny? I hope so.). I liked the oil dyes more than any shrink wraps or wax crayons. The Easter Bunny, though, provided the prettiest eggs (I'm told by my mom that the kit the bunny used isn't available anymore). The next morning we had gifts in our nests--nothing big--my two favorites were a Princess Leia folder (which I honestly still have) and a pink flower (maybe a geranium--this led to my "knowing," for I had seen it in the garage earlier that week. But I wasn't traumatized and I'm not sure I made the leap to Santa). There were sometimes peeps, chocolate-covered marshmallows (often in a carton, from my great-grandmother M), chocolate bunnies, jelly beans (before Jelly Bellys, and thus not very good). And my favorite, a sugar peep egg--you know the ones, with the little scenes inside. I LOVE these. I would never eat them but keep them for weeks.

Then we'd look for eggs. Now, my sister, reading this blog, will immediately state that I cheated. I did not. I never took eggs out of my sister's basket. But I did have distinct advantages: I was taller and could see around better, I remembered hiding places from previous years (edge of the swingset, certain gutters), and I was old enough to be suspicious of pots and buckets oddly and unexpectedly upside down in the middle of the yard. I should add, and not to my credit, that I was also not sisterly or sentimental, but quick and competitive, so I didn't "let" her find more. This is probably where the cheating accusation arises. And I admit to being guilty of being greedy and ungenerous. I'm sure she'll weigh in because the Easter Egg hunt and the ownership of certain Christmas ornaments are two arguments we never settle (and probably shouldn't bring up!).

There would be breakfast and much later a traditional ham lunch (though the sides varied and I can't really recall what they were). Always, always we'd find some eggs later, or the cats would. Our parents never remembered where or how many the Easter Bunny hid such things. Oh, and in addition to dyed eggs (which we almost never ate, it being too warm overnight in Houston to guarantee food safety, I guess), there were plastic eggs with money, quarters and dollars.

So, now it's my turn to create Easter. And I'm giving it a lot of thought this year because they are starting to remember rituals and traditions. Because I now live in the colder northeast, where there is not green grass or local wildflowers for nests, and where it is entirely possible that it will not be comfortable enough outside to look for eggs easily, we have to change a few things. Unlike Texas, which is already in full spring, there is little evidence of spring here. But that in itself is exciting.

I've been reading up on Eostara and Spring Equinox (especially in Circle Round by Starhawk and others) for some other ideas to add to our celebrations of Easter and our welcoming of spring, which we are honoring (not the death of Christ, which has no real meaning and holds no interest for me. I can't embrace a religion which so focuses on the love of a mother at Christmas and then cruel death of her child at Easter. Besides, I don't believe in God as such.) Wiccan, or neo-Pagan, renditions and reworkings of ancient and traditional holidays appeal to me because of their embrace of the natural world, interest in the circle and cycles of life, and use of Goddess-and spirit-language as metaphor for the mysterious and unknowable universe around us, as well as their rejection of commercialism and materialism.

In the week leading up to Easter, we'll decorate the windows with drawings and cut-outs of eggs, bunnies, and flowers. We might also plant some seeds in little cups. I particularly like the use of seeds for the holiday. I think we will sprinkle seeds around the yard, especially our rock wall, the night before the Bunny comes. Even if none of them ever take, it's a greater reminder of the season. We'll put out carrots and lettuce, and leave our decorated baskets on the front porch, which is bunny-accessible but also weather-protected. And then, eggs will either be inside or out. We will dye eggs the night before (this year with just vinegar dyes, though I'm doing research on natural dyes with cranberries, onion skins, beets, and the like for next year) and the bunny will bring plastic eggs with little toys or stickers, not money. In the nests, the kiddos will probably find a little candy--marshmallows are their favorites--plus something small like art supplies, stickers, and the like.

We're also going to do some baking because the kids love to help--I'm not sure what yet, maybe the same Irish soda bread we make for St. Patrick's day. And we can make a fresh fruit clafouti, which has lots of eggs. We're debating the main meal. Probably the traditional ham, though we don't eat mammals much anymore. Sides would be veggies, potatoes, rolls, the clafouti, maybe our favorite orange marmalade Citrus Crown cake. There are lots of recipes, and crafts, that I think will be great . . . in a few years. We're too young yet for blown eggs, plaited garlands, and bread in the shape of dove (yes, yes, I know, that's officially for Whitsunday).

I like the possibilities of Easter. It's not overwrought, like Christmas (though, I love Christmas too), and it's not frenzied like Halloween. It's the quiet holiday, with no real strong center like gifts at Christmas or candy at Halloween. This lets me add what I like to what I loved about my childhood Easter. Which means seeds and candy, flowers and baskets, the Bunny and baked ham.

And those little sugar peep eggs.


Always ham for Easter and we’d pick off the chewy dark bits as soon as it was out of the oven. Very good the next day cut up into macaroni and cheese.
To make red eye gravy, merely boil ham drippings and add water. Some people add coffee.

Bake uncovered at 325°F for 1 1/2-2 hours.


Irish Soda Bread
We only put caraway seeds in half because I don't like them.

4 cups flour
½ cup sugar
3 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2-3 handfuls caraway seeds
1 cup raisins
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon melted butter

Generously grease a large iron skillet (or use a pizza stone). turn on oven to 350°F. Mix together dry ingredients. Add milk and butter. Bake 1 hour.
Note: You might need to add extra milk.

a friend of my MIL


1/2 cup flour
1 cup milk
4 eggs
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
3 cups fresh fruit, sliced and, if very juicy, drained
powdered sugar
butter or margarine to grease the pan

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Slowly combine the flour and milk, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Add in the eggs, sugar, and vanilla, and beat until the mixture is foamy and thick. Spread the fruit in a well-greased 12x8" oblong or 12" round baking pan and pour egg/milk mixture over. Bake for 3-40 minutes until the custard is puffy and borwn and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. The clafouti will fall somewhat while cooking. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and seve warm or cool, by itself or with ice cream.

Circle Round

Citrus Crown Cake
A great upside-down candied topping cake and DP’s favorite dessert, served every Easter (plus some!).

1 package Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Lemon Supreme Cake Mix
1 jar (12 ounces) orange marmalade
2/3 cup flaked coconut
¼ cup butter, melted
all the ingredients to make the cake mix (eggs, oil, water)

Preheat oven to 350*. Grease generously and flour 10-inch Bundt pan. Combine
marmalade, coconut and melted butter in small mixing bowl; pour into pan.
Prepare cake following package directions; pour batter over marmalade mixture.
Bake 50-55 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Invert cake onto serving plate. Cool completely.
Tip: For best results, cut cake with a serrated knife; clean knife after each slice.

Great American Brand Name Baking

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A New Ritual

We have a new goodnight ritual, though it also crops up at other times.

DS started it, after seeing the Valentine's Day episode of Little Bear (can I tell you how much I love this show?). That night, when I kissed him good night and said I had a wonderful day (the other nighttime saying that DS started), he said, "I love you more than mud." Awhhhh.

Don't get it? See, Duck on the show loves mud and made Valentine's day cards with her footprint--she said it meant "I love you more than mud."


So now, my hugs are sometimes accompanied with this mud statement, which is funny because when I was growing up the family saying was "I love you like a rock!"--this originated with one of my dad's fishing buddies, Champ, who was a real character. I think it means steadfast, strong, solid.

Now, the kiddos have added, also from that episode, "I'm your secret admirer . . . and you know it!" to which you respond in kind. It can go on ad infinitem.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Blogging Therapy

Just got this link on a study of the psychological benefits of blogging. Turns out, all this time I spend sending my typewritten soliloquies out into the ether makes me feel more socially-connected, less isolated--which is just what a SAHM needs!

Inch by Inch, Row by Row

I saw a robin today. Two actually, on the median looking for a snack. Spring must be here.

I am so ready. If you know me, you've heard me say that winter is my favorite season. And it was, I think, before kids. I loved snow and cold and lots of warm stews. But the ordeal of ice and coats and hats and runny noses and playing inside has taken its toll. And I am ready for spring.

The other day, DD and I went looking for it in the yard. We spotted a few clumps of snow drops coming up next to our rock wall. And there are several tulip sprouts peaking up in our tulip ring by the mailbox. She was so excited and pulled back the leaves several times by hersef to look at the tulip sprouts.

And they are both planning our garden, based on what is in Little Bear's garden in the tv show and on various books we have about gardens (including a picture book of the song in this post's title and a very eco-friendly book about a groundhog by Lynne Cherry). Corn is high on the list for DD and tomatoes for DS. They are excited about planting and watching them grow. They've even scouted spots in the yard.

Mind you, I come from gardening stock--my grandparents had an amazing garden in the country with all good things. I remember seeing asparagus poking out of the ground, watermelon growing all around, tall corn, tomatoes (which even then I wouldn't eat). I don't know if my mom's mom gardened--maybe a Victory garden during the war? But I grew up in suburbia, and we didn't have much of a garden for any stretch of time. There was, however, a cute story about my helping Mom in the yard one day--planting my little 4 year old feet in the ground and saying, "Now I will grow!" Dad grew roses and much later tomatoes, but not much else. I think I had a strawberry plant one year as a child but the squirrels ate them all. DP grew up in the city and, while her parents liked gardening, there wasn't much space (though they still managed to grow more tomatoes than they all could eat, as well as strawberries and snow peas). And in the years that we've owned the house, we've put in some roses and a lilac bush (I'm partial to a flower garden and would love something good and English cottage-like, but that's tons of work, rather like graduate school in gardening. And I can't read yet!), as well as some herbs, but we have been mostly unsuccessful and discouraged. Now, with kiddos, we both have great intentions and no experience.

We're organized, research-oriented gals and so we love a project. And this is going to be the one for this year. We're considering theme areas--the "pizza" section with basil, tomatoes, and oregano, as well as the "First Peoples" section with the "three sisters", squash, beans, and corn. And the kids would like all of that. So, we're getting ready--soil tests, seed catalogs, studying our yard's sun patterns, books on green gardening and gardening with kids. But it's all a bit daunting, especially as we want it to be both successful as a garden and fun for the kids.

Are there any gardeners out there? Any suggestions?

Spring is almost here, you know . . .

PT Update

So as I've mentioned, I was supposed to graduate from physical therapy recently. For 6 months, I've stretched and strengthened and things have improved. And I've learned much about myself along the way.

And then I pulled my back out. Twice. Once picking up DS after shoveling some snow (I like shoveling snow). And then about a week later, turning around in the car to do something. And now I'm back to limping again. I can't really pick up the kids. And my PT has advised me not to do any extraneous walking.

See, as I've mentioned, my pelvis is uneven. So uneven, that apparently my left leg is longer than my right. Which means there is all this stress on the muscles on my left side. And I'm having trouble healing from the back pulls, which were probably helped along by the constant strain on my muscles despite all the exercises. Now, my PT knew that I was unbalanced but I think she hadn't taken into account all the effects. So now I have a lift in my right shoe, to make the legs match, as we consider if and what kind of orthotics to buy.

It makes sense, though. I threw out my back in May after taking up walking a mile in the morning for new exercise--I probably put everything under too much strain, thinking I was making myself healthier. And even this week, when things were tight and uncomfortable, I tried to walk it off and only ended up making it worse (this happened at Target last Friday and then again on the way to Chinese class yesterday).

And so, for now, I'm not supposed to do any recreational walking.

And DP is at the grocery store . . . but at least we're on the right track.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Gentle Reader

I have started reading a biography on Mrs. Beeton, the Victorian era's Martha Stewart (without the jail time, or, well, if there are any felonies, I haven't gotten there yet) by Kathryn Hughes and am enjoying it immensely. It's only the third or fourth book I've read since the babes, or even since my Ph.D., which has gotten me wondering: why don't I read more?

Okay, sure, I read several articles and the headlines of the NYTimes everyday. I subscribe to about a dozen magazines--food mags with essays (Gourmet, Saveur), parenting mags with essays and articles (Mothering, Brain, Child), history mags (Archaeology), our UU World mag from church--and read most of them cover to cover. But books, or specifically, novels? Nope.

Looking back, I read a lot as a child. In fact, it was always the first thing I listed as hobbies when asked. Little Women was my all-time favorite, one of the only ones I re-read, then Judy Blume, the Little House series, several award winners like Island of the Blue Dolphins and Across Five Aprils. I even read all of Gone with the Wind one summer (mind you, it's long and different from the movie in several points). And the novels of Mary Renault probably made me a classical studies major. But perhaps by college, definitely by grad school, I was out of the reading habit. Nothing like higher education to kill the love of books, I guess. I did read some historical mysteries, you know, "twinkie" reading in the bathtub or on the subway, but nothing substantial (especially since I was reading Shakespeare by myself in junior high--I didn't understand it all but I tried). So what happened? DP used to joke while I was finishing my Ph.D. that I read the indices, notes, and bibliographies of books and not the books themselves. And she was right. I read for information, for details, to be transported to another time and/or place, for my mind. I think that is why I prefer historical novels (the good ones by reputable historians, especially those written by novelists with Ph.Ds in their field like Peter Tremayne or Sarah Waters), or literature written in other times (like Elizabeth Gaskell or George Eliot or Jane Austen--DP and I are commencing an Austen-othon, reading her oeuvre again), or non-fiction. Harry Potter, one of my most recent favorites, is an exception, but then it was quite exceptional.

I'll contrast this with how my mom reads, if I understand it correctly. She reads for her spirit, in addition to her mind. She loves a good story, a well-turned phrase in a carefully crafted book, the various overlays of meaning, the emotional experiences she gleans. Her book group just finished All the King's Men and she has spoken glowingly of the story of a man, a politician, a region, a period, all the ways Robert Penn Warren created his multifaceted book. You could tell she had been so touched by so many aspects of this work, both intellectually and emotionally. She reads a vast array of things, is always reading--it's very impressive. If she were a toddler, she'd be the kid who ate everything and whose parents would be so proud.

And I'm just picky. People recommend books to me all the time (Jodi Picoult and Mitch Albom are on the top of that list now) thinking I must be a voracious reader, and I just nod and smile with no intention of trying the book. I'm not interested in the angst and anxieties of the modern era as described by our own novelists. I'm not saying these aren't good books, just not what I like. Which is curious, because I'm not all that interested in contemporary art either. It is the historical art that appeals to me, appeals to the historian in me.

I'm going to have to give it all some more thought: if I don't read for my spirit, what do I do? I am inspired by church, by experiences, by conversations with people, by the knowledge I learn from reading. What is it that I don't like about the modern era, my own time? I don't over-romanticize the past (I know too much to do that) but I do prefer reading about it (or watching it in movies or seeing its buildings/art/fashion). What kind of reader do I want to be? Why do I feel I need to be a different kind of reader?

That one is easy enough: the kids. I want them to love reading as much as I did as a child. We read a lot together, not just at bedtime but off and on through the day (my re-reading of children's books--fresh eyes on Dr Seuss and Goodnight, Moon etc is an entirely different post). We have too many books--yes, there can be too many when you can't find the one you just must read--but DP and I started gathering them before the kids were born. Books we remembered as kids, books that contained a message we liked, books with interesting illustrations (because, of course, story books are the first art children see). I've read that children become readers if there are books in the house (even if people never read them) and if they see their parents reading (regardless of what they read--this was a study on women reading trashy romances). So, I read magazines around them, but not books. Even with my non-fiction books, it's hard to concentrate and keep up a sense of continuity when you're interrupted regularly. It's something we should work on. Maybe we need quiet reading time? Perhaps instead of the tv at rest time, because that sure doesn't work. DS actually told me last week that he won't nap with the tv on: "I'm tired but I can't see when I close my eyes." Of course not.

And I know just what I'll read during rest time: The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton.