Saturday, May 31, 2008

It's All Greek

Opa! It's Greek Festival time of year again and we went to the one in Bridgeport/Fairfield. Rain threatened so we went early, before most of the festivities began, but the food was there.

And, as a new vegetarian, I was sorely tempted (the first time, really). The chicken souvlaki looked and smelled so good. As did the moussaka (baked eggplant in bechamel with meat sauce) and the pastisio (baked noodles with bechamel and meat sauce). Mmmmmmm. I don't eat lamb, ever, so that wasn't a problem. But the others are some of my favorite foods. I had a noodle off the top of the pastisio, some bechamel from the moussaka, and the rice under the chicken. Splitting hairs? Disloyal? Whatever. Mainly, I inhaled my tiropita and spanikopita (spanakopita? spanokopita? choose your favorite spelling), which were excellent, plus feta and dolmades (stuffed grape leaves). Sis liked the crunchy phyllo off the top, Buddy liked the pastisio noodles and the tomatoes from the salad. Mama ate all of it, plus taramsolata, the caviar spread.

And then came the desserts. Of course, baklava and kataifi (which is like baklava with shredded wheat instead of phyllo), the cookies kourambiedes (butter) and finikia (walnut), diples (like a sopapilla), and my all-time favorite galatoboureko, a phyllo custard cake. Thank goodness the kiddos can have honey! Though, we didn't let them have any nuts. So we tried something new--a yellow cake flavored with orange, which they had labeled as karidopita (traditional walnut cake) but which I think was ravani (semolina cake with orange).

I have been going to Greek festivals off and on since I was a tween, though we weren't called that then. The one where I lived was huge and, as usual, the main focus was food. I don't remember what I ate then, probably chicken. Definitely dessert. When there wasn't a festival, we would go to a restaurant--for one birthday, my folks took me to the main one in the city and there was even some dancing (or at least I remember dancing). But no plate breaking. In college, my Greek class and I--I took ancient Greek for 8 semesters--would often go to the local restaurant for dolmades and the like.

Why the fascination with Greece? Chalk it up to too much mythology at a very young age. I'll credit Edith Hamilton and D'Aulaire with three things: a rejection of Christianity (because if people said the Greek gods weren't real, who was to say that the Christian God wasn't real? I was a precocious kid, building temples to Neptune at my parents' bay house to the shock of my aunts); a fascination with all things Greek, which eventually included two visits there; and a B.A. in Classical Studies. Everytime I go to a festival, I want to go back to Greece, to brush up my translation skills, but mainly to eat Greek food more often.

We did tour the agora with its Greek pride crafts and shirts, looked at the cultural display, bought some semolina and taramsolata. I almost bought more sweet cherry spoon fruit, but remember that I hadn't finished the jar from last year. Not that I will, just that I wouldn't.

Spoon fruit. I had read about this hospitable custom as a child--the presentation to a guest of a spoon of candied fruit in a glass of water. First you eat the fruit, then you drink the water. At home, we just gave guests something to drink, at my house now it's usually iced tea. And so, when I first went to Greece in 1989, and visited my friend Martha Bitsopoulou (whose name I include here in case she ever googles herself--we lost touch a long time ago and I can't find her or her sister Vicki)--I was thrilled to be the recipient of this custom.

Maybe I should have bought a new jar after all.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Today Sucks

I am so lonely today.

Playgroup this morning was fun but too short (the kiddos grew cranky in the heat and we left).

I haven't gotten any real email.

Nor any real phone calls.

Mama's job doesn't let her do either.

The news hasn't changed, nor the blogs that I read.

And the kids had their time-for-bed breakdown at noon.

Which mean it's been a long day.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Months Without an "R"

Oh, goodness, it is already too warm for me.

It's not even officially summer, and only in the low 70s--but much hotter in the sun--and I am already dreading the summer.

If I had my druthers, I would not go outside again until October. I could do without any temperature above 70, truly.

I know, I know, I'm from Texas, you say, I should be used to it.

Well, Texas is air conditioned to a wonderful 68F or lower, and only crazy ones go outside in the months without an "r."

Besides, I don't live there anymore.

But I'm beginning to think that Connecticut is not far enough north.

It doesn't help that there aren't really any outdoor activities I love, besides boat riding, but that creates its only cooling breeze so it doesn't feel as warm. Sports? No. A day at the beach? Nope. Gardening? Not enough to do anything in the heat. You can read and crochet outside, but that's not quite the point, is it?

I mean, I might have made a good archaeologist but the temperatures in Tunisia--and the knowledge that any classical site I'd want to study would be in the Mediterranean--put me off that quickly enough. If only I'd liked the Vikings or the Celts more.

So, coupled with the decreased number of formal activities, and the pressure to take the kiddos outside every chance, it's going to be a really, really long summer.

Roma Amor

A friend of mine is in Italy right now with her family for a wedding. And everytime I look up at the clock, I wonder what she is doing.

Because I love Italy. And would love to be there now.

Though, it should be said, not with my kids in tow. Which is how my friend is traveling. I think that adds extra stress and difficulty, for now. Later, we're definitely taking the kids to Italy. And to England. And to Thailand. And to China.

For now, Texas is about as exotic as we get. (And, well, compared to Connecticut, it is exotic).

I have wonderful memories of two trips to Italy, one for a week and another for a summer. Even now, when I'm in NYC, and the smell of gasoline mixes with cool morning air, I am transported back to walking around Rome. I know, not romantic, but Rome was one of the first big cities I was ever in (after Athens, which never felt like a coherent city to me). I think that's one of the reasons I love it--I was 18 the first time I went, by myself, and that experience and the summer I spent there at 21 (in school, where I met Lambeth), have made it golden (or eternal) in my memory.

I have been trying to finish this post for days but haven't gotten much time to revel in the memories in writing. They've been swirling in my head though, and keeping me company when things are slow:

  • gelato, in flavors from pistachio to zabaglione, con panna, of course; it's the only food I really remember eating, plus tartufo and tiramisu. I was a pro at ordering in Italian. But only went out for dinner once, by myself, on a patio overlooking a ruin I can't name near the Wedding Cake
  • Aida in the Baths of Caracalla on a summer's eve with a German stranger who kindly walked me home after the opera. I still marvel at the four white horses in the opening
  • exploring the underground Domus Aurea with my class, knowing few other tourists were getting this view of Nero's palace
  • ditto taking the tour under the Vatican and seeing where they think Peter was originally buried
  • just wandering the streets and popping into any church to see the architecture and paintings; I visited over 100 in 3 months (which is basically one a day). My favorites: San Clemente, with its vertical view of the history of Rome from current church all the way down to Roman mithraeum; Santa Maria Maggiore, with its old basillican nave and stories of Pope Joan; the churches which contain Bernini's Ecstasy of St Teresa, the one with several Caravaggios, the church with the tomb by Michelangelo, and of course St Peter's which has the awe-inspiring Pieta, Bernini's baldacchino, and so much else
  • museums, big and small from the Vatican to the Capitoline to the Doria Pamphilji to Villa Farnese to the Villa Borghese--it was like walking through my Jansen's art history textbook, from the Roman She-Wolf through the Renaissance and Bernini.
  • fountains and public plazas--my biggest triumph was finding the fountain with the turtles that I then made a point of passing every time I was out
  • the cats, walking and sleeping and posing on thousands of years of history
  • 19th-century Rome with the tranquil Protestant Cemetery where I brushed the leaves off Keats's and Shelley's graves thinking of my grandfather and touring the house where Keats died
  • living behind the "Wedding Cake" and seeing all the brides on the Capitoline every morning
  • trying to cross the street and taking it on faith when I stepped off the curb that they wouldn't hit me
  • drinking the water out of those curious pipe fountains
  • visiting the little church around our corner, with the cat lady, which was later bombed. I wonder if she made it. The church--7th century or something--didn't.
  • the Forum, the Circus, the Ara Pacis, the Pantheon, the Baths, the Colosseum, the Arches, the Column of Trajan--my gosh, if I named every ancient ruin . . .
I dream about Rome about once a month, walking through the streets, visiting my favorite places, sometimes by myself and sometimes with Mama. We were supposed to go back, when I finished my Ph.D. but didn't for various reasons that were pressing at the time. It's a small regret, mainly because I know we'll get back. After hearing me talk about it for years--and I've only mentioned Rome here, but I went to Naples/Pompeii/Herculaneum, Florence (that's a whole post by itself), Siena/Pisa, Venice, and some small towns, as well--Mama can't wait to go too.

Our First Fortune Cookies

Sis's first fortune: You always have Good Fortune on your side.

Buddy's first fortune: You are a happy man.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

There's a Frog in My . . . .

This weekend, while we were all lazing around on the couch, I made one of those noises.

Buddy, who was sitting on me, said, "What was that, Mommy?"

"I stepped on a frog."

He looked very concerned. And then he moved over to my feet and started looking at them. "Where's the frog, Mommy?"

He spent the rest of the day asking me about the frog.

And so then, yesterday, when he tooted, I said, "Buddy, did you step on a frog?"

"No, Mommy, there is no frog."

I guess we're no more ready for potty humor than we're ready for potty-training!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Feel Better Soon

Our little friend CJ is sick. His dad just called to say he has a fever and can't come over today.

Buddy is very concerned; the questions started immediately. "Why can't he come over? Why is he sick? What makes a fever?"

And almost as immediately, Sis plotted a course for his care, "He needs to nap."

I suppressed a guffaw and explained as best I could about colds and fevers and how to feel better and how CJ's mommy and daddy are taking good care of him and that we would see him soon.

Still, Buddy soon left the lunch table. He's not feeling well. He needs to nap.

No doubt a few episodes of Little Bear will clear it all right up.

We hope CJ gets better soon, too!

The People in Our Neighborhood

Our town had its annual Memorial Day Parade yesterday. We'd taken the kiddos once before but they enjoyed it more this time.

Buddy loved the bands, which were thankfully at the beginning. I took pictures of as many instruments as I could, particularly the tuba and the saxophones, his favorites.

Sis was much more interested in the candy various organizations threw out. Mama helped her snag a bunch.

We had planned to meet up with friends and found them quickly all spread out in the shade. We joined them and were soon picnicking on the blankets. One of the husbands is in the Army, but not deployed right now. Though we didn't really talk about it, the whole parade, the whole day, was more meaningful to me now that I know someone in the services.

We looked up and our whole street of neighbors were in front of us! And seeing we were unprepared, they gave us baggies for the candy.

And then, lo and behold, the lesbians and their twins who used to go to our church were sitting next to them.

It really is a small world sometimes.

Especially when you're in a small town.

Title IX

When we were eating out after the museum on Saturday, we noticed a baseball team in the restaurant. So, we talked about how they were all in blue, how we knew they played baseball because of the hats, and what other sports there are.

We asked the kids what they wanted to play: baseball? soccer? football? tennis?

And Sis piped up adamantly, "Hockey."

Our Canadian friend T is thrilled. She's going to buy them jerseys and a goalie mask.

I think Buddy's going to need it!

Pot by Pot

Yesterday, we spent most of the morning outside. Having watched our seedlings grow for the last few weeks, we planted them yesterday.

Well, "we" is literary license.

The kiddos were fascinated for the first transplant, moving one green bean plant to its pot. They weren't so interested in the other 30 or so plants.

Especially because they didn't want to get their hands dirty. Mama wisely set up a cleaning bucket of water, for them to dip into, but this soon became "soup." They spent the morning gathering things from the yard--sticks, rocks, leaves, grass--and making soup. Another bucket was soon produced so they could both have one, which they each stirred with a long stick. We later fed the front tree with the soup.

Meanwhile, I sat in the driveway planting tomatoes, squash, green beans, cucumbers, mesclun, carrots. Also, parsley, two basils, oregano. Organic soil, big pots. We'll see. I must say, I felt like quite the city girl as I stared at this little strand of green--I'm not sure I believe it will become a carrot.

Well, I couldn't fathom how apples grew on trees once either but I've gotten used to that.

During her run to the store to get pots, Mama had also purchased a flat of impatiens in pretty pinks and pearls. I put those in the smaller pots and in one of our raised beds. I love seeing flowers in our yard.

The kids did love decorating the pots, for a time. We wrote the name of each plant on the pot and then colored them.

Then we watered them. That was the fun part, the best part. Sis was very good at watering "just the dirt" so as not to burn the leaves. Buddy's approach was less methodical but no less enthusiastic.

Let's just say, we don't need the rain today!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

I Love Princess Leia

Ohmygosh, Return of the Jedi is on tv. I haven't seen that in ages.

And I was such a big Princess Leia fan.

I was six when Star Wars came out and saw it in the theater numerous times.

By the time Return of the Jedi came out six years later, I was obsessed. I had been Princess Leia for Halloween at least twice before. Swept up by what I now understand to be the first real movie merchandise marketing juggernaut (at least aimed at children), I had hundreds of trading cards, school supplies, t-shirts, lots of action figures, books, stickers, record albums (both soundtrack and the "story"). I could quote scenes at length and knew all the minutiae about the stories and the filming. I even read Splinter in the Mind's Eye.

My mom even took me out of school the day the Jedi opened so I could see it right away. My mom is a great mom! (Which makes me wonder what movies I'll let my kids out of school to see). And I relished going to school the next day knowing everything and not telling.

Anyway, I thought Princess Leia was strong and smart and pretty and courageous. Forget these wispy, whimpy, wishy-washy Disney princesses. Leia could kick their butts.

It's great to see the movie again, especially because I thought the new ones (the first three in the series) were awful.

And I still love Princess Leia.

Imagine Nightmare

Well, we struck out on children's museum number three.

Imagine Nation was awful.

It looked so promising from the parking lot--big, new, well-attended. There's even a preschool.

And it might be all of those things, but we won't be going back.

First, many of the exhibits contained incomplete or broken objects. Buddy loves magnetic walls where he can create ball chutes--the tubes at this one were mounted on different sized blocks so that the holes didn't line up well and the balls couldn't roll through easily. Very frustrating. The ostensibly super-cool water feature with fishing poles and magnetic fish had a magnetic bottom, making it impossible not to get stuck before you could catch a fish. Again, really annoying. Even the ESPN SportsCenter desk, the big draw for the museum (though not of much interest to us), had the teleprompter buttons taped over even though the sign promised that kids could read or even tape their own appearances.

When the museum station did have all its pieces it wasn't necessarily easy to operate--there were few if any instructions. Both Mama and I tried to use the hair dryers to blow the ping pong balls through chutes. Either we were doing it wrong or it didn't fit because neither of us ever got it to work. Nobody else seemed to either and we saw several older kids just walk away. Another time, we needed a museum volunteer to help us with the swinging marker art project, and though we waited for awhile, no one ever showed up. We saw a volunteer there as we were leaving and tried to engage her about the project, hoping to interest the kiddos, but she was unenthusiastic.

Finally, when the station worked and was understandable, it was BORING. The much-touted playscape includes 1 stairway, 1 tunnel, and 1 slide. The "teaching elevator" is no more than a glass elevator you would see at the mall. The big dark room project? Coloring in a flower with dried-up fluorescent markers. The craft was sticking tissue paper on a pre-cut out turtle.

Even our kids were bored. We were ready to go in about an hour, and it only took that long because we liked to go up and down the stairs. And watch the player piano in the shop.

Finally, there were too many other bored older kids running around, wearing those rollerskating shoes, and being dangerous.

I'm glad we didn't pay admission (because we are members elsewhere). But I'm still bummed we wasted the time and the gas.

Go to KidCity, Stepping Stones, West Hartford, or the Connecticut Children's Building instead!

Memorializing Death and Dying

(from my homily today)

Today we often learn about the deaths of friends via email and then we sign virtual memory books on the internet. Funerals and memorials are as varied as the people they celebrate, as are lasting visual tokens, from tombstones to urns. Yesterday, many of us attended the memorial service yesterday and experienced the music and memories that commemorated her amazing life. I carried away from the service a very strong visual image of gardens and flowers. When I remember a friend’s memorial earlier this year, I see light. Tutus dance in my head when I think of a little girl’s funeral last year. When I recall another fellow congregant, I hear Thomas Jefferson. Americans might still be a long way from being comfortable with the dying process, but we have in many ways altered and embraced death and its commemoration.

At the same time that funerary practices are becoming extremely personalized, we seem to have lost a united, public, national approach to commemorating the dead. Nationally, we have only recently completed a memorial to the veterans of World War II and we are still unsure of how to appropriately commemorate the events of September 11th, almost 7 years ago. Meanwhile, we continue to lose soldiers overseas. How will we memorialize their deaths? Even though images of our war dead are available under the Freedom of Information Act, they are rarely seen. Flags in Connecticut are often flown at half-mast, but this is one of our only visual reminders of the dead. Indeed, Memorial Day itself is questioned—veterans’ groups decry the celebration of the holiday which was moved from May 30 to a convenient three-day weekend of sales, barbecues, and car races. Indeed, the most affecting public commemorations of death—the Vietnam Memorial, the New York Times obituaries for every victim of the attacks of September 11, even the National AIDS Quilt--have all been individualized memorials.

At this crossroads in both private and public mourning, and near this holiday which honors our fallen military men and women, I want to glance back at the way a few cultures have rendered their grief, their loss, their memorials visually, specifically two cultures that took the commemoration of the dead to new heights, comingling public and private mourning: the ancient Egyptians and the Victorians.

It is often hard to present a balanced picture of bygone cultures based on their surviving texts and artifacts. Oftentimes, it is grave goods that do indeed survive but these rarely give us a well-rounded picture of a culture—image if we were to judge 20th-century American culture by what citizens have buried with their dead? In the case of Ancient Egypt, however, paying attention to their funerary practices is not out of step with their actual cultural practices, as memorializing the dead was a major facet of life. To simplify and summarize—mind you, I’m condensing about 3000 years of religious thought (and how much are we like our ancestors 3000 years ago?), Egyptian beliefs focused heavily on the afterlife, with the preservation of the body being central to the soul’s survival. Thus, mummification was key. During this process, the lungs, liver, stomach, and intestines were preserved in canopic jars, often decorated with the heads of the sons of Horus. The heart was left in place, while the brain was, as I’m sure most of you have heard, removed through the nose and discarded as unimportant. The body was embalmed, wrapped in linens with amulets, and placed in the sarcophagi and tombs that have so enticed robbers and so entranced popular imagination.

In this mummy case from the Art Institute of Chicago, dating to the 10th century BCE, several of the standard mortuary symbols are visible. The hawk-headed god Horus escorts the deceased and mummified Paankhenamun to the underworld and presents him to Osiris, the ruler of the underworld. The inscriptions surrounding them mention, “may he give a mortuary offering of food and viands, oxen and geese, incense, clothing and every good and pure thing for Osiris.” Around them are winged dung beetles and numerous grave offerings.

And indeed, grave goods were central to the survival of the soul. Tombs were filled and covered with representations and actual good for the afterlife—pictures, engravings, models, and real food, homes, tools, clothing, animals, are preserved, giving us a picture of Egyptian life through death. A soul needed food, friends, furniture, fun. While we often recall the elaborate tombs of the royal rulers, such as the pyramids of Giza, ordinary citizens participated in this cult of the dead as well.

In fact, while Egyptian funerary traditions are perhaps best well known, they are in no way an isolated occurrence. In Viking tradition, great warriors and leaders were buried in long boats such as at Gokstad and Sutton Hoo, complete with armor, jewelry, and other goods. In ancient China, the first emperor Qin was buried in an elaborate mausoleum, along with thousands of statues of terracotta soldiers and horses, no two alike. The importance of the ritual honoring of the dead continues in China. Recent headlines in American papers report the disruption of typical mourning practices in China, where there are more than 50,000 victims of the recent quake in Sichuan province. Neither the Han majority who typically cremate the deceased nor the Qiang who generally bury the dead are able to carry out their traditions, as bodies are being quickly buried in mass graves with little or no ability to identify them. Only posters, reminiscent of the ones in New York after September 11, can commemorate their dead now.

It should be no surprise that the Egyptians were an obsession of another highly ritualized culture dedicated to the mourning and commemoration of its dead. The Victorians, in both England and the United States, were fascinated with the relatively new study of Egyptology, which can be said to begin with Napoleon’s scholars records of Egypt at the end of the 18th century and to the translation of the Rosetta Stone in 1822. The Victorians, while perhaps not as consumed with the afterlife as the Egyptians, did take their mourning seriously. Epitomizing this dedication to mourning was Queen Victoria herself, who wore deepest black for 40 years in honor of her beloved husband Albert (almost twice as long as they were married). But the complicated rules and rituals of mourning were followed at almost all levels of society. As soon as a person died, clocks were stopped, mirrors covered, crepe hung, straw laid in the streets to muffle the sounds of horses, and funeral clothes and black-lined stationery ordered. Unrelieved black, trimmed in crepe and accompanied by jet jewelry entwined with the hair of the deceased were worn first, later progressing to gray, mauve or lavender, and then white, or “half-mourning.” Wives mourned husbands for two years, their parents for 1 year, grandparents half that, down to 4 weeks for first cousins. What a widow could and couldn’t do—famously captured in the ballroom scene of Gone With the Wind when Scarlett O’Hara in full mourning for her deceased husband dances with Rhett Butler—was often debated, as was, indeed, the whole project of mourning, which was considered vain by some Protestants. But the importance of mourning, of grief, of memorializing the dead was never questioned and appears repeatedly in the literature and art of the period.

It was indeed, the Civil War in the U.S. that brought mourning to its highest, most public, and most artistic level. A recent book, Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War describes how 620,000 war dead profoundly changed American culture, from the difficulty of locating and identifying the lost to the creation of national cemeteries for Union Soldiers and Confederate women’s groups to look after the Southern dead. As communities mourned fallen soldiers and marked their passing with the establishment of Dedication Day in 1866, grand public monuments to soldiers were created. From Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, a memorial to the Unitarian Universalist soldier whose leadership of African-American troops is dramatized in the movie Glory to the shrines at Gettysburg, which was established as a memorial to Union soldiers in 1863 with Lincoln’s famous address. Writes Faust, "The war's staggering human cost demanded a new sense of national destiny, one designed to ensure that lives had been sacrificed for appropriately lofty ends."

While our current Iraq War bares little resemblance to the Civil War, the need, the desire to honor the fallen still exists, even when there is little other agreement regarding the war, when we do not see ourselves as a united states. Individual funerals—with balloons and favorite pop songs, video montages and shards of glass keespakes—honor individuals. But as a nation, how will we dedicate ourselves to their memory?


Friday, May 23, 2008

Eggplant Experiments

I am growing to really like eggplant, though I'm not sure I ever even remembering hearing about it, much less tasting it, as a child. I love Eggplant Rollatini, breaded and stuffed with ricotta (and ham--no can do that, 3 weeks as a vegetarian!), with lots of marinara. Eggplant Parm, on a grinder/hero/sub, is delicious too. And I made a good ratatouille last week.

So, today, I'm baking eggplant rounds as an experiment. There are two groups: one set of rounds has been prepped like the eggplant for the rollatini, which means skinned, sliced, salted for an hour, drained, rinsed, coated, and baked; the second group was not skinned or salted or drained.

I just took the drained ones out and the texture was great, for baked instead of fried eggplant.

But, in the chaos of twins in the afternoon, I'd skipped a very important step: I never rinsed the salt off.

They're terrible. Inedible.

I can only hope that the second batch is good.

So much for multitasking.

(Note: Not long after writing that, I tried to move a cookie sheet of eggplant just out of the oven and burned the crud out of my thumb. Definitely no more multitasking.)

Around the Backstop

When we were leaving school earlier this week, some of the young students were running laps around the backstop. My kiddos were fascinated and we slowed down to watch. Several boys were ahead of the pack, with various people in the middle. The class's "fat girl" was near the end but holding her own. At the end was a girl running with a slightly irregular gait, as if she were dragging one side just a bit. Not a hurt foot limp, but a whole lopsided movement.

Is that how I look when I run?

Is that why I was always last around the backstop?

If I can notice this from the parking lot, has someone noticed her? And helped?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ketchup

Or, catch-up.

I'm kinda behind this week. My babysitter has been sick so I didn't have any back-up this week. And then my MIL was here today to play with the kids but we spent a lot of the time out at lunch, the beach, and the market. Tonight we had new friends over--someone I've known for about 8 months and her partner (that makes the third new lesbian friend I've made in the last couple of weeks. "It's raining womyn. Hallelujah!").

So, there has been absolutely no time to tell you about any of it.

It won't be better this weekend--we have a memorial service on Saturday afternoon, a BBQ party right afterwards, I'm giving a homily on Sunday, and there is a parade too.

But at least it's all good stuff.

The Nicest Thing

It made me giggle like a schoolgirl this evening to have a new friend ask if anyone had ever told me that I was like Mary Louise Parker.

Fried Green Tomatoes or Weeds, I asked.

FGT.

One of our movies.

Nicest thing anyone has said to me in a long time.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

School's Out!

Yesterday was our last Chinese class. Mama joined us for class and lunch and we all had a good time. The kiddos don't understand "last" so it was just another day for them, though they each carried a potted violet for our Lao She.

Class was pretty typical--we reviewed our colors, animals, and numbers, plus read along with Eric Carle's Very Busy Spider in Mandarin. We sang our "siao bai tu" song and our "wo ai mama" song. We really have learned a lot.

It's too bad class ended for the season because we were just getting the hang of it. We'll take again in the fall, but I had toyed with signing the kiddos up for the intensive summer camp for ages 3-7. Because I'm crazy. We barely make it through an hour of Chinese immersion, they would never make 2 1/2. Everyday. For two weeks. Even though the cost alone was prohibitive, I actually thought about it for more than a second. And then I came to my senses. I mean, we won't even really be 3 yet! There's plenty of time for Chinese class later.

I think it's that uber-overachieving parent thing. Why do 3 year-olds need classes? Every expert I've read indicates that they aren't ready for them until they are older, closer to 6 or 7, especially for sports and teams, that classes at this age are more about the parents. I know that's true with our art and story group, which are classes in the loosest sense of the term. Those are all about the moms getting together and doing things with the kids, not about actual formal education. The reason that classes are even offered for the younger ages is because there is tons of money in it--that's why museums offer them, not only to get the class fee, but to lure in the parents for other programs for the duration of a child's childhood and hopefully into that child's adulthood (and once the classes are available, they create their own buzz with parents thinking they need them. It's classic marketing).

But, having been in structured education for 30 years, from preschool to the completion of my Ph.D., I am comfortable in the class environment and see it as the way to learn. Even when I know it's not. My kids, on a full week when we attend everything (which is extremely rare), are at storytime at the library, "school" at the parents' center, and Chinese class. That's in addition to any playgroup or playdate or babysitter time. I think the compulsion must be some kind of sense of inadequacy. I can't teach my child Chinese, nor do I think I can teach them music or movement. Sometimes the lack is perceived but not actual; I can teach my children art, music, movement, etc, at least on the level they are at now. I really can't teach them Chinese. Though, in truth, it is my teaching, after class, when I continue and repeat the lessons, that is where the learning takes place.

Classes certainly have other value besides the subject matter, the much-touted socialization of toddlers. And I think this is a definite plus. Even though I already have two kids the same age, it is important for them to interact, even when it is not positive or appropriate, with other kids their age. But, for me, it is even more important that they interact with other adults, other authority figures, learn to listen to them, learn to trust them, learn to like them. And in Chinese class, this very thing has happened. They really bonded with Lao She. And they still have fond memories of the librarian from our baby class.

I just worry about too much structure, too much schedule at this age. They aren't even three. If they are like me, they have 30 years left of schooling. There is no need to rush it. It's that old "let kids be kids" thing. In fact, we're supposed to be going to school right now, but they are having such fun "just" playing that I hate to interrupt it just because I think they need to go. Even if there is value in it. There is value in "just play" too.

Like other parents, however, I worry about them "getting behind" and "not being ready." That's the dark side of classes, the fear of not going. And this, as much as socialization for moms and tots, subject matter, and the like, that drives enrollment and attendance. I mean, why do my kids need to learn Chinese? It's an academic enrichment/competitive thing, even with all the high-minded talk of cultural awareness. I mean, consider the source--I went to school for 30 years, graduated high school Summa Cum Laude, have a double major that is just four credit hours short of two separate BAs, am a member of Phi Beta Kappa, went to an Ivy League school for my masters, and have a Ph.D. I'm nothing if not academically competitive (though, not as much as I was). Do I want that for my kids? I want them to have the option.

So, while I won't go overboard and sign us up for summer camp, you can bet we'll be in Chinese in the fall.

Among other things.

(P.S. For the record, we went to school this morning. But we were late because we were playing.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A New Recipe

Following a rousing play session of Wonder Pets in the Flyboat, we had a great indoor "picnic" dinner tonight with friends.

And, in addition to scrambled eggs, we had "fried" ravioli. I liked them, as did everyone but Sis. That's okay. It's evolutionary to reject new food.

-=-=-=-=-

Faux Friend Ravioli

store-bought cheese ravioli
bread crumbs
Parmesan cheese
spaghetti sauce

Boil ravioli according to directions.

Preheat oven to 350.

Strain ravioli. Lay on baking sheet (I use a silpat on mine). Sprinkle liberally with bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Heat spaghetti sauce. Serve as a dip with ravioli.

Me

Sunday, May 18, 2008

An Early Mourning?

Last week, the moms club that I was once president of a year ago took the first step towards being disbanded. They couldn't/wouldn't/didn't elect a president. And so, according to by-laws, our local chapter will cease to exist.

And this makes me sad.

Not sad enough to be president again, because I did that once and was miserable at it. Just as the current president is. Which is probably why no one wants to be president. It's a thankless job. You work hard (or hard enough) and no one comes to anything. They just complain. About anything.

That said, I've met some really good friends through the club, friends I hope to keep for a long time. It saved me when the kids were young--gave me email to read, a place to go if I needed it, people in the same place, and people who had been there before. I went on outings with the kids (or, my favorite part, the monthly moms' nights out), got clothes and toys, got rid of toys and clothes, got and gave advice and suggestions. It was the first time that moms I didn't know let me know it was okay that we were a two-mommy family. The Membership VP when I asked about it before I joined said that no one would care. And they never did.

I've never been a greatly active or attentive member. Because I have other playgroups, I didn't need the weekly activities. I liked the holiday parties and special get-togethers. And, now that the kiddos are entering preschool, I'm sure we would have gone to even less.

So, then, why am I sad that it won't be there anymore? Perhaps because it won't be there for other people like me just starting out on the road of motherhood. But, I think more importantly, because it marks the passing of an era--the era of our babyhood and toddlerhood--that I see ending definitively with preschool in September but which this presages so forcibly/forcefully for me now. And I'm not ready.

Some Thoughts on My Meatless State

So, no horses died in the Preakness last night.

But I'm still a vegetarian. Two weeks and counting.

I'm not sure I like the label though. Or, more importantly, what kinds of attitudes it seems to signify. I've heard stories about vegetarian extremism which I find disappointing and disillusioning. As an animal rights vegetarian who respects the inherent worth and dignity of people too, I don't think it is acceptable to turn on well-meaning people and be demanding, rude, and difficult. My friend told me of a cousin of hers who said he'd rather kill her than a cow. I think somehow that is missing the spirit and letter of the idea. Or, the person who wouldn't eat a vegetarian sauce because it had accidentally been stirred once with the chicken soup spoon by the hostess. I also had a friend in college who would sit and describe the worst cruelties to animals during dinner. These are vegetarians no one really likes to be around (at least during mealtime; they seem normal enough other times). I don't want to be like that. I don't want people to think I'll be like that. So, I have even been wary of calling myself a vegetarian. I don't have the devotion or desire to guarantee that animal flesh never again touches my lips even accidentally. I ate meat for 37-some odd years; I can live if it happens again. I'm just going to make sure that the majority of the time that it doesn't. So much for new converts being the most zealous. I think I'm too old for that.

But we did go to a vegetarian restaurant in New Haven, Claire's Corner Copia. We'd been there a few times before, with a friend who keeps kosher, on our own. I love the desserts--a whole array of dense, rich, decadent cakes. I could eat three different slices each time. Yesterday, the kids got Pineapple Upside Down Cake--very dense and flavorful with fresh pineapple slices--and I got a good, rich Chocolate Layer Cake. Oh, and we had lunch. Sis loved my mango lassi. Buddy adored a plain Athenian salad with olives and tomatoes and the like. Mama and I liked the falafel but not the veggie burger. The curry at the table next to us smelled incredible. And I bought a cookbook, which seems to have simple and common recipes. We'll go again.

So, so far so good.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Hello Museum

In the great museum
there was a green room from a book
that we all read
about a moon.


I've tried to continue the rhyme but my brain is slow this evening. I can rhyme "musical instruments" but not with anything we saw at Connecticut Children's Museum in New Haven.

The museum itself is only open to the public for shortened hours on weekends--they don't open until noon on Saturdays, which is strange until you realize that their main audiences are school field trips. In fact, each gallery has tons of free floor space for a large class. And every gallery has a theme--music, interpersonal skills, mathematics, nature--with different stations in each for small group experimentation. I can just hear elementary school teachers ordering tours by the standards. I didn't see an "art" room, but might have missed it--or maybe no one needs to meet art standards? Or they go down the street to Yale.

The kiddos had a blast. Buddy loved the music room with its drums and xylophone. Sis liked making chimes out of CDs and bells and colored tape for each of us. The math room found Bud enjoying the gears wall and ball maze wall, while Sis played accountant complete with hat. We then moved to a room with a dollhouse-like cityscape mounted on the wall--office, apartment, hospital, street level, sewer level, subway level. Sis flew airplanes--airplanes driven by a Granny figurine--through the whole thing. Mama took pictures as we were inspired to consider making something similar someday.

We moved upstairs into a room with books on bears, monkeys, and frogs, each represented by a strikingly white, large, 3-D paper pop-up like statue. The bear section even had a blueberry bush, with velcro balls, to reconstruct Blueberries for Sal, one of their favorites and mine from my own childhood. Sis enjoyed feeding the blueberries to the other critters, namely the monkeys. I was in charge of feeding the monkeys (each section had little stuffed animals and all sorts of books about the animal. I was glad to see that we ad a lot of the books already, like Brown Bear, Bear Snores On, I Am A Little Bear, etc . . . ). Eventually, we moved on to the construction room (great wheelbarrows!) and the nature room (where Sis had a ladybug tea).

But the best room by far was the Great Green Room of Goodnight, Moon fame. In one large room, they have completely recreated (albeit with two walls switched) the setting of that famous story down to the paintings on the walls, the toys in the bookshelves, the triangularly folded blanket on the bed, and even the arrow curtain rods. The phone even rings! Bud's favorite part was the actual red balloon up at the ceiling. Sis liked getting in and out of the bed and pretending to be asleep. She also played with all the toys. And both of them recited huge sections of the book unprompted. What other children's book could you so completely and fully reproduce and experience? It's perfection. And it accomplished its mission of creating a book experience--we talked about being in Goodnight, Moon for the rest of the day. And then read it altogether tonight.

We had actually gone to the museum for their Creative Readers program. It was an artistic rendition of The Teddy Bear's Picnic by Jerry Garcia. The performer sang a few bear songs, then read the story, and we all learned the song. Meanwhile, it was ASL-interpreted, which intrigued me since I've had some ASL (in fact the whole place is extremely accessible, with books transcribed in braille as well). Bud was tiring during the program but enjoyed it; Sis wasn't interested and played with Mama in the Great Green Room.

Along with chasing pigeons on the Green, eating lunch at Claire's, trying to visit the art museum, and wandering the little street fair, it was a wonderful visit.

I think we'll try another new children's museum next weekend--third's a charm!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Dandelion Wishes

We played outside today with friends during a brief respite from the rain. Their yard was filled with wonderful dandelions and we ran around making wishes.

Believing that dandelion wishes don't come with the same caveat of secrecy as birthday or first star or bale of hay wishes, I'll tell you about ours.

My first wish was for love and health and happiness for my family and friends.

My second wish was for a friend about to have a baby.

Sis, when asked her wish, said, "cake."

Buddy said he wished for musical instruments.

As we blew the little seeds we danced the twirly-whirly dandelion dance.

And then Sis told me to wish for cake. And Bud told me to wish for musical instruments.

We danced some more.

I wished for a Democrat in the White House.

And for peace.

And for relief in China, Myanmar, and other places of devastation, loss, and unrest.

And for many more dandelion dances in the rain.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Lambeth, Where Art Thou?

Are you still walking the Thames?

Perhaps you need your own blog!

Equal But Different

It's always something with twins.

Today, Sis wanted to make dessert. So we decided on pudding. Chocolate.

But Bud found a box of tropical Jello and so that's what he wanted.

Now, I can't choose pudding over Jello, or Jello over pudding. They should each get one.

And so we made both.

That's the way with twins, oftentimes. Certainly, at this age, it's all about everything being equal but not usually the same. They both want their own candy stick from the living history museum but one wants pink and the other orange. If there's yogurt, one wants strawberry and the other raspberry.

Unless, of course, they want exactly the same one. And then I usually only have one of those!

So, my advice for twin moms: always have two of certain things but not exactly the same. (Now, I would not extend that to "two of everything" because sharing is important too. But there are some things that are not easily shared. Like lollipops or puppets or bubble wands. Depends on the kids).

Other suggestions for having two: when hysteria breaks out and they are both upset, tend to the less upset one first. I know, it's counterintuitive, but you don't want the less upset one to become more upset. Calm that one down then work on the over-the-top one.

Twin moms I know often talk about how they feel guilty that the twins always have to share their love. True, but any child with an older sibling has had that experience too. So, I try to make tiny moments count. There are times when you're dealing with just one child, like when you're putting one in the carseat/highchair/crib/bathtub, getting one dressed, or changing a diaper. Take that time to hug, kiss, tickle, and/or "I love you." Special three-second moments add up. Of course, when both moms are home, we try to spend time with just one child, but for most of the week, it is just me and the kiddos.

I'm sure I could come up with more twin advice, the practical advice I craved when I had two newborns, like how do you feed them both at once (bouncy seats or high chairs). And I'd love the answer to twin conundrums (okay, Latin scholars, conundra?) I'm having now, like how to impose consequences without punishing the innocent one and what in the world to do if they want two totally different but mutually exclusive things (like one outside and one inside).

I imagine there will be more posts on this . . .

Playdate Ideas

For about 6 months we've been having successful art playgroups with several friends. We've painted canvases, used watercolors, made string art paintings, among other things. In a few weeks, we're going to tie-dye (wish us luck!). It's all open-ended, with no set project prototype, lots of experimentation, tons of praise, and constant play.

A few weeks ago, we tried a storytime playgroup and it was largely a failure. Mind you the children had fun--we were spread out on picnic blankets in the yard under our tree with lots of books and snacks. The theme was weather or seasons so everyone brought books on that topic. And then, interestingly, children only seemed to listen when their own moms read. The rest wandered, ate, or played. No problem, of course, but I think they'd like the story too. And we didn't even try to make paper towel holder rain sticks!

And now I have an idea for another playdate, based on the cookbook article in the Times: a cooking group. Now, that cookbook Kitchen Playdates seems to be more mom food (the article mentioned sea scallops with balsamic glaze--um, I won't eat that and my kids can't) and not about lots of people playing in the kitchen together. But I think Mothering ran an article a few issues back about a group of moms who cook together with children too. I'd love to try that, and not just cookie decorating (which we've done several times now). I got some great feedback from my playgroup members about how they cook with kids--there is lots of measuring and washing and putting things in bowls. We can do that. Maybe we can start with a baked potato bar activity--lots of bowls and washing and maybe even a little cutting and shredding--and enough choices for the pickiest of kiddos. It would have to be a small group--I have two, so maybe two more (my kitchen isn't huge). But I think it would be great fun.

Hmmm, art and stories and food. Now to think up a good music and movement group. Yoga dance, maybe. Who needs to pay for classes?

Can't Read the Paper

The headlines today make me sad at heart. Everytime I click over to the NYTimes, I see a photo of grieving parents next to their children, usually their only child, because this is China. And so I hug mine a little tighter, thank the stars that there are no earthquakes in Connecticut (or for that matter, tsunamis or typhoons; sure, we have other things but not on the front page of the paper now), and send prayers East. It's all I can do.

Except quit looking at the NYTimes today.

9 to 5

I'm in one of my want-to-work (for all you sticklers, that's outside the home, because yes, yes, I know I work at home) cycles. This almost always happens after a). I talk to one of my working art historian friends b). hear about a job, any job, even a job I don't want, in my field or c). go to a museum. Luckily, those things happen pretty rarely and so a long time can go between yearnings for my old professional self.

But it's one of those times because a). I have communicated recently with two art historians working on a project together and also saw two friends who were until very recently active in the field b). heard about a job I'd like but can't do because of the time and distance and c). went into the city and saw several wonderful exhibitions at the Met. All in the span of about 10 days. Oh, and I gave a talk on museum ed and will be giving another talk with an art historical bent in a few weeks. I'm also reading articles in Brain, Child Greatest Hits about working moms, SAHMs, choices, and the struggle everyone takes.

I loved Theo Pauline Nestor's description of the SAHM's view of work in "What We Do For Love and For Money: A View of Work from Home." After wondering if SAHMs really yearn for work, or "really just craved the water cooler, the low-level human contact that work can supply," she went on to state:

But maybe it really was work she needed. Maybe she wanted to tumble headlong into uninterrupted thought like a child somersaulting down a grassy hillside. Maybe she ached for the purity of the completed mental task. She wants to let her brain plow through a problem that requires all her concentration, to submerge herself into thought for so long, she forgets to pee, to ea, to deflea the dog. She forgets--just briefly--how much depends on her. It is a cool drink, this forgetting. When she rises out of it and swims to the shores of her life, she retrieves her life piece by piece like a traveler coming home.

Travelling is great, but isn't coming home the best part?

But, to know that, to appreciate that, you have to travel, even once in awhile.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Catch Me, I'm Falling

In the last 24 hours, I've experienced somewhat the life of a toddler: I bonked my head really hard (on Buddy's head) and later fell out of the front steps of the house when I slipped on a toy.

We laugh about not wanting to go back to the teenage years, but you couldn't pay me to take the bumps and bruises of early childhood all over again!

Cooking with Kids

Today's NYTimes ran an overview of cookbooks for kids. Neither the phenomenon nor the books they mentioned were particularly new to me. Smartly, the kids' cookbooks are next to the Thomas train table at the bookstore! I will take a look at Kitchen Playdates--we already do art and story playdates, why not cooking? I bake with the kiddos 2-3 times a week, mostly cookies, cakes, and quickbreads. Yesterday we made a whole 2-layer chocolate cake with frosting for our friends who were coming over--and when Sis related how we did it, she said, "I was in charge of sugar. Buddy was in charge of flour. Mommy helped."

While I usually adapt my own recipes, since they can't read yet anyway, we do have a few cookbooks for kids. I like Dunington's Greatest Cookie Book Ever, as I've posted before. We have Emeril's book out from the library but most of the foods aren't for the picky toddler set (Sis still won't eat sauce, legumes, or any meal that has foods combined, like a casserole; Buddy would prefer to eat fruits. I don't really need a cookbook for what's left after these criteria are met). We haven't moved into cooking meals together yet, mainly because I don't want their hands on raw meats or knives, but the day will come. They do watch, sometimes, especially if I'm preparing the crockpot in the morning after breakfast.

I still have my very first cookbook, Kim's Cookbook for Young People. My mom gave it to me for my 9th birthday. Ironically, I'm not sure I ever cooked from it. It's a light blue, spiral-bound book that came in a box with plastic cover. I loved the delicate and sweet illustrations of children picnicking. I also received a red birthday card (from people whom I don't recall at all--Mom, who was Auntie Char? And Uncle something-with-an-H but not the obvious answer? It's hard to read) as a child that had 13 pages of baking recipes, with a little girl chef coming out of a window with a tray of treats on the cover. Again, I don't think I ever cooked from them. When I helped my mom, we always made her recipes, too--chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, chicken and dumplings. But I think I valued that the card and the book addressed me as someone who could cook, that even as a child I had a role in the very grown-up mommy world of the kitchen. I'm hoping my kids feel like the kitchen is as much theirs as it is mine and that food is a joy and a job for all of us.

Playdate, anyone?

-=-=-=-=-

HERSHEY'S "PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE" Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:

* . 2 cups sugar
* . 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
* . 3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
* . 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
* . 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
* . 1 teaspoon salt
* . 2 eggs
* . 1 cup milk
* . 1/2 cup vegetable oil
* . 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* . 1 cup boiling water
* . "PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE" CHOCOLATE FROSTING(recipe follows)


Directions:
1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with "PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE" CHOCOLATE FROSTING. 10 to 12 servings.

VARIATIONS:
ONE-PAN CAKE: Grease and flour 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Heat oven to 350° F. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely. Frost.

THREE LAYER CAKE: Grease and flour three 8-inch round baking pans. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost.

BUNDT CAKE: Grease and flour 12-cup Bundt pan. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 50 to 55 minutes. Cool 15 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely. Frost.

CUPCAKES: Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups. Heat oven to 350°F. Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. Frost. About 30 cupcakes.


"PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE" CHOCOLATE FROSTING

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter or margarine
2/3 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

Hershey's Cocoa box

Monday, May 12, 2008

Oimoi*

I've never met so many classicists in my life.

I think I've met more in the last week than were in my entire collegiate department.

The woman I met last week at the career workshop did her undergraduate work in classical languages.

And today at wellness, the woman one piece of equipment over finished her MA in classical art.

It makes me want to chant the first lines of the Iliad (which I had to memorize and perform in school).

Or, maybe Sappho!

-=-=-=-=-

*I learned this as "oh dear," a mild interjection. However, checking it on the web, I see it is commonly translated as "alas," a cry of anguish. I'm not anguished. Just at a loss for words . . .

Monsters Inc

We sang a "Monster, Monster Go Away" song. I even caught the monster in the fire alarm, where Buddy says it lives, and helped it out the window. Perhaps a happy monster would move in.

But that didn't quite work.

So we hung up "No Monster" signs and pictures of the Wonder Pets (to save the day). We reaffirmed that loveys are fully protective against monsters. We named all of his happy places.

We left the light on and put Brahms back on. And I sprayed both of the windows with the anti-monster spray Oust. Mama covered his pillow with one of her bandanas. She put an owl on the dresser because owls aren't afraid of the dark.

We talked about teamwork and twin power and how they had each other and how Buddy wasn't alone in his room.

Sis asked, "Where did the monster go?

Mama replied, "The monster went home to see his mommy."

"And his sister?"

Of course.

So far so good.

Who ya gonna call?

Can't Think of a Catchy Title

. . . and didn't want to label it "health update."

My back is doing pretty well after a week out of PT and in wellness. My mind is full of trepidation at times, worries that I'll pull something or that I won't continue to improve. I'm still not picking up the kids which is a). readily apparent to them and b). a source of sadness for me. Yesterday, Sis even saw me doing exercises and said, "You do those so you can pick us up again." It's true. But I hope I can heal faster and grow stronger than they can get bigger!

Otherwise, I'm still a vegetarian. It's been a week and a day, with no great strain on my id. I'm coming up with some new recipes--today we're having crockpot cheesy corn chowder--but not relying too heavily on meat substitutes. I'm not really missing it. I didn't lose any weight this week but that is more the result of too much cheesecake and the like in the city. But my mind is at ease.

Pretty in Pink

Sis's favorite colored has changed. It's not purple (mine) or green (Mama's), but pink--Sis has come into her own. She chooses a pink plate for every meal, the lightest red gummy vitamin in the jar, and other pink choices. She even asked Gong on the phone yesterday how to say it in Chinese, which is something like "fun hong se" or powdered red color.

I went through a long pink phase myself, usually coupled with light green, light blue, and light yellow (an early precursor of my love of the spectrum). So let there be pink!

We're just going to have trouble this summer, though, because I bought, as usual, all her clothes in purple!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hodgepodge

We're learning to tie shoes. Or, well, we're interested. Several times in the last few days, Buddy has asked to untie my shoelaces (I wear my inside trainers with lift all the time) and then asks me to show him how to tie. I didn't learn a funny jingle or even the rabbit ear technique but I'm trying new ways to convey the process to him. But he has his own way of doing it--he wraps them around the bottom of my shoe, will poke them in my socks or pants leg, and then thread them through my other laces, narrating the whole process.

-=-=-=-=-

Our dear babysitter surprised me last week in earnestly prepping the kiddos in "left" and "right."

And they get it backwards everytime!

-=-=-=-=-

Buddy's favorite song:

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
How I wonder . . .
. . . what you had for breakfast.

Sis's favorite song:

Twinkle Twinkle Little . . . Sweet Potato.

-=-=-=-=-

Another song, both of them: "ABCDEFG/HIJKLMNOP/QRSTUV/Now I know my ABCs next time won't you sing with me?"

-=-=-=-=-

How Sis Does the Dinosaur Puzzle: she sorts the pieces by color and then decides which is her favorite dinosaur of the moment and works on that one.

-=-=-=-=-

Playing Wonder Pets is our favorite pretend game now. We sit on the sofa table "flyboat" and sing the theme song. We hop off, run to part of the room to save and animal, and then come home.

One day last week, we took a break from saving animals, had a picnic on "the beach," and went for a swim. Sis was a dolphin and Bud was a sea otter.

-=-=-=-=-

Looking at a picture of butterflies:

Mommy: I think they're beautiful.
Buddy: That's because they are beautiful.

-=-=-=-=-

Sis said something really clever at dinner the other night.

Neither Mama nor I have the foggiest idea of what it was.

The New Museum

No, not that one.

We went to a new-to-us children's museum in West Hartford yesterday. I wasn't too impressed at the outset--the carpet could be replaced, the critter room for toddlers needed paint and more activities, but then . . .

Wow.

I'll let the kiddos tell you, as I transcribe their descriptions to Gommie and Pop, Ma and Gong, and even to us.

Sis loved the cheese. Cheese? "Cheese in the dinosaur room." Cabot was there for promotion handing out samples. She liked it. A lot. And ate several cubes of tomato and basil.

Buddy remembered that room too. "There were two dinosaurs. A big one roared at me. The little one didn't. It was scary."

"It's okay, Buddy, he won't get you."

But he didn't believe her, then or now, and was clinging and cried at the sound or sight of the dino.

But he loved all the hands-on spaces. He told me this morning that he dreamed of "car races, ping pong balls, circle balls [centrifugal force demo], big bubbles. Mommy you got popped by the big bubble. I dreamed of musical instruments and the echo tube."

Oh, how they loved the car races. I said we could do a mini-train race and he asked if there would be a button that lowered the gates and lights that went from red to yellow to green.

And there were animals. Sis loved all the owls--"Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, and Screech. Two big ones, one little one." She also liked the turtles, which were crawling around (chaperoned) in the grass outside. In "Turtle Town," she was able to don a fiberglass shell and pretend to be a turtle. And the cats! A caracal and a lynx. Several of these were actually confiscated pets--I think Sis would have loved to have taken one home. I thought there were way too many snakes, but they liked them.

We finished the day eating pizza. It was perfect. Definitely a do-again.

Or, maybe it should remind us to do something new once in awhile.

Let's Go Fly a Kite

You might think that Mother's Day in a house with not just one, but TWO, mothers would make it double the pleasure, double the fun.

Well, we're still figuring it all out (I think next year, one of us will get Saturday and the other Sunday).

See, for Mother's Day, it means both of us are trying to put on a holiday for the other one and no one really gets a break or spoiled much (no one got breakfast, no one slept in, no one got downtime). Not that it wasn't fun--we had bought Mama two puppets, a penguin and harbor seal, because she loves puppets and the kids are starting to get into them (They each picked one. Guess!). And Mama had made me a homemade CD, which brought tears to my eyes with each playing of another of my favorite songs (she made me one last year and it is a time capsule of memories and feelings from a year ago--I hope I get one every year.)

And then, after church, Mama surprised us all--let's go kite flying! At the beach! And have lunch! And we did. Sis really liked helping put together and launch the kites but Bud was more interested in throwing rocks in the water. We had a pretty typical rainbow kite and then a marvelous dragon kite complete with fire breath and talons. I don't know when we got the kites--we had gone kite flying years ago in Chicago and always meant to do it again but Mama must have picked these up another time, planning for a day we could take the kiddos.

It occurred to me as I watched the kites dip and soar, and watched Sis hold on for dear life, with Mama helping her, while Buddy hurled shells in the waves and I sang the kite song from Mary Poppins that, if we hadn't had kids, we would've just called our own moms and then wasted the day.

Life is much better now.

Music Hath the Power

Brahms is drifting over the monitor. It's lovely, except it means we've run out of options.

Buddy hasn't been sleeping well--he spent more than an hour awake two nights ago just desperate for love and hugs. Last night, it took more than an hour to get him to fall asleep. Today, when he fell asleep in the car on the way home from the beach (more on that next), he woke up hysterical and scared. And tonight he didn't even want to lie down in his bed. It's not pain and he hasn't identified a fear. But it is some kind of malaise. So after my fourth trip back in the room in five minutes, I decided to turn on the stereo in their room. It's been there since the beginning and we've never really used it much (successfully), despite our pediatrician's suggestions it would help with naps (it didn't). But tonight I turned on our string quartet lullabies and Bud was distracted enough that I got out of the room and even downstairs. Granted, Sis is now talking a blue streak, probably totally enlivened by even the most soothing of music, but at least Bud isn't weeping.

(Just for the record, I realize that these kind of sleep troubles happen to most of my friends regularly, if not nightly. I'm reminded of how draining it is. And am almost glad we sleep well at night usually, even without naps.)

It's actually been quite a musical day. Our service at church this morning was a musical one led by musician Nick Page. And it was phenomenally moving, both emotionally and spiritually--at the end we all danced in an impromptu circle around the sanctuary, clasped hands held high while singing. Earlier we had sung a song combining a Native American song (The Earth is Our Mother), a Hebrew song (Shalom Chaverim), and Wade in the Water, in an arrangement called Earth Shalom. The culturally disparate songs wove together magically. And our whole congregation embraced the power (for New England UUs, we're a rockin' bunch. Several of us were bona fide hippies. Still are.). There were other songs--a thumb harp rift including For the Beauty of the Earth (probably my favorite hymn) and the song Sweet Honey in the Rock.

It went perfectly with my mother's day present which was a homemade CD of my current favorite songs, or at least the ones I hear all the time: Natasha Bedingfield's Unwritten, "the bubbly nose song" by Colbie Caillat, Breakaway, Live like You Were Dying, I Think I Loved You Before I Met You, that song about smashing the car with the Louisville Slugger, plus several others. And, well, Mama's own additions of the theme songs of Wonder Pets, Dora, and Backyardigans. At least those are at the end.

It's pretty quite upstairs. Thank you, Brahms.


-=-=-=-=-

The Earth is our Mother, we must take care of her
The Earth in our Mother, we must take care of her

Chorus: Hey Yanna Ho Yanna Hey Yon Yon, Hey Yanna Ho Yanna Hey Yon Yon

Her sacred ground we walk upon, with every step we take (x2)
The Earth is our Mother, she will take care of us (x2)

Shalom, chaverim,
Shalom, chaverim,
Shalom! Shalom!
L'hitraot, l'hitraot,
Shalom, shalom.


Wade in the water.
Wade in the water, children.
Wade in the water.
God's gonna trouble the water.

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers, mothers-to-be (either first time or again), and mothering ones (male and female) among us.

We love you everyday but at least once a year we remember to tell you and treat you so!

Bassackwards

I'm doing all my recent posts backwards, i.e. discussing Mother's Day, then yesterday, back through the week.

Because I'm behind and can only remember the most recent stuff.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

It's a Wonderful Town!

I love NY!

Yes, it's cliche, and for sale on t-shirts (hats, mugs, bumperstickers, bibs, ad infinitem) all around the city. But it's true. After the people and the pets in my life, I'm just crazy about the city. They do say that converts are the most zealous adherents, and I came to New York as a twentysomething and did lots of growing up there (which was usually not fun but always very memorable and with such a great backdrop!). I've lived (and/or worked) there off and on for the last 15 years. Even when I was not there, it loomed large in my psyche. And still does.

But it had been two years since I'd been there on my own. We went in as a family to see the tree each of the last two Christmases, but that's not the same. I had sworn I would regularly take a break from SAHMdom and go into town--to see friends, museums, the city in its entirety. But things don't always go as planned and we kept putting it off.

So when my school asked for speakers on careers outside of academia, I jumped at the chance and volunteered to speak on museum education. And that was yesterday. Evening. Which meant I had a whole day in town to play beforehand.

And I spent it all at the Met. One of my favorite parts of the day was actually riding the M1 up Madison to the museum, seeing old haunts, getting reacquainted with the smells, sounds, feel of the city. It's always something different--this time I noticed all the strollers. No suburban Gracos these, but all Maclarens. Usually containing white-blonde kiddos pushed by women of color. Then nannies not in the Nanny Diaries. I also always forget how much smoking goes on there--I breathed in more secondhand smoke in 15 hours than I've breathed in during 6 years in Connecticut. I don't miss that at all. But I do miss almost everything else (though, not that skanky stinky sidewalk puddle goo that was thankfully minimal yesterday, especially on the Upper East Side)--the architecture, the variety of people, the various shops, the food carts, the food (and yes, I did stick to my veg diet, though not to WW--too many good things to eat).

And the museum. Oh, the museum. The Met was the first stop on my visit when I started grad school so many years ago. My mom and I walked into that glorious Great Hall and I knew I wanted to work there (I have been an intern there, for a short stint, and loved it, but it's not the same). Until that time, I just love visiting--Astor Court with its scholar's garden, the rehung 19th-century galleries which contain more academic art now than they did 15 years ago, the Pompeiian wall paintings, the temple of Dendur, the Costume Institute (which was closed because they'd just had the "party of the year" last night), all those wonderful Vermeers, the American sculpture garden, the rooftop. Well, almost every gallery. Mama and I had some very memorable evenings there.

I didn't see it all yesterday, trying to take in a few of the exhibitions, including Poussin (I was thrilled to remember all the reasons why he's so significant--without having to read the labels!) and Chinese masterpieces (for which I had to read all the labels, and spent more time doing that than looking at the art), as well as some re-installations I hadn't seen, such as the "new" Greco-Roman galleries. All I can say about that last one is wow! Part of me wishes they'd restored the fountain to its Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler days, but I love the garden-like installation of Roman sculpture (which looks a lot like Picon's installation of sculpture at SAMA so many years ago when I was an intern there). It had me wishing I remembered more of my Greek and Latin (especially because my grad-school-buddies-turned-moms peppered me with questions!). But it was special to see the works get the attention they so richly deserve--the old galleries were an embarrassment. We had a delightful lunch in the "new" cafeteria and then I returned to the galleries and the gift shop (trying to remember I'd have to lug anything that I bought, so I was quite sensible).

And there, in the biggest city in the country, I ran into someone I knew totally unexpectedly. She had worked at my last job and has since left and we bumped into each other, almost quite literally, on the steps of the Met. It's a small world sometimes, even in NYC.

Finally full of culture and foot-sore, the proverbial museum fatigue, I took the M4 down Fifth to school, where my talk would be. I would recommend that route--down the side of the park past the Plaza and through the Fifth Avenue shopping corridor--to all visitors to the city. It's a cheap and easy way to get a real sense of (that part of) the city. They were even filming something at the NYPL, but I didn't get out. I was early to the talk but enjoyed the break to keep reading my book. It's the most concentrated reading I've done in 3 years--1+ hours on the train, 30 min at school, another 1 hour on the train home--it was an unexpected bonus in an already good day.

My talk in the evening went well, nothing stressful, just a chance to talk about career opportunities. I even made a few new connections among the other presenters. I took my first cab of the day (and I love riding in cabs!) back to GCT and did some shopping before my train home. I got us some incredible cheese at Murray's, plus membrillo and crackers, as a treat for Mama. And I got dinner--a NY slice (the soup place was already closed, but it was my first choice with it's great and novel soups) plus a piece of Junior's incredible devil's food cheesecake (a piece of cheesecake, with chocolate ganache filling, and a chocoloate cake layer on top, all topped with chocolate frosting!!!). The only food I didn't have was an almond horn cookie, which I love, but the bakery was closed when I went to look for one. Oh, well, I can almost make one of those.

And so I rode the train home, just like I did so many times when I was working in the city. It's a long ride home, with more stops, and I was ready to be home. As much fun as I had, I'm glad not to have to work there anymore.

Or anywhere.

But I will go back to my city again . . . and sooner than 2 years from now.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Let the Garden Begin

We planted seeds in a seed starter box yesterday. Organic soil, organic seeds. We're trying to get a good start.

We filled them with dirt. Or, I filled them with dirt as neither Bud or Sis wanted to dirty their hands.

But they loved pinching and placing seeds in each of the 50 little cubbyholes.

Green beans, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, oregano, parsley, basil.

We forgot zucchini.

They also loved watering the seeds with their little watering can.

Today, already, Buddy asked me where the vegetables were.

And, after sucking all the flesh off the pit of the mango, Sis asked if we could plant the mango seed and grow a tree full of her favorite fruit.

At least she gets the idea.

New Question

"Where do eggs come from?" asked Buddy during breakfast.

Ah, at least the "come from" questions started fairly easily.

"From chickens," I said.

Sis then asked, "Then where do scrambled eggs come from?"

Big Fat Juicy Ones, Little Bitty Squishy Ones

"We went to the garden and dug up worms!"

Okay, those aren't the lyrics to that gross little childhood ditty, but it is what we did on Sunday. We were doing some gardening/landscaping/clean-up and we found lots of earthworms.

Growing in the debris that we hadn't cleaned up next to the curb.

Anyway, aesthetics aside, the leaves and dirt were perfect for worms and they fascinated Sis and Buddy. At first, Sis would pick them up and relocate them. Bud wouldn't even touch them. After awhile though, probably affected by his pristine attitude, she quit picking them up. So I did. If you'd told me that I would pick up wriggly, giggly worms as a mom, I would have said, "no thank you."

But hey, it's all in the name of "teachable moment," right?

And they aren't that slimy.

Mama just looked on squeamishly from another part of the yard. So much for being the butch one (for the record, I'm in charge of bugs and disposal of any trapped mice, too).

We even built them a worm habitat, something I'd seen on one of those breaks on Noggin. Mama didn't even like bringing out the apple juice jug and lettuce leaves! But she did, and we built it. We haven't seen much activity, but we'll keep watching.

-=-=-=-=-

Worm Habitat

clear bottle or jar (glass or plastic)
sand
soil
leaves
vegetable peelings
worms

Place sand in bottom of bottle (approximately 2" layer). Then cover with about 2" of soil. Then a layer of vegetable peelings. Top with leaves. Repeat until jar is full.

Place 3-4 earthworms on top. Do not seal.

Keep habitat moist by spritzing it every few days. Also, keep in a relatively dark place or cover with black paper when not viewing.

For more information, see Worm's World.

48 Hours and Counting

I did it.

For 48 hours, so far.

I've given up meat completely.

I was down to only chicken and turkey, with the rare fish, having given up mammals completely about 4 months ago. And I just decided I didn't want to eat meat anymore, from an animal rights and health (though mainly the former) standpoint. Blame it on the Kentucky Derby. I realized that, if I believed animals shouldn't die for (or during) our entertainment, then they didn't have to die for my own consumption now that it is easily possible to live a meat-free and healthy life. I'm not going to be preachy or righteous about this; it's just what is right for me, right now.

I've been a vegetarian before, at the most for about 6 months. So it's always a work in progress. But I feel more committed, more ready this time. We'll see. I imagine I'll still sometimes be a "social meat eater," (mainly because I found that being dogmatic a). doesn't work for me in the long run and b). is annoying) like when I go down to Texas--do they even have vegetables in Texas? Wait, yes, they do . . . with salt pork!

The kids can eat whatever they want, so I'll still be cooking chicken and such. (Though, I will try to choose as organically and humanely as possible, which Mark Bittman and others has suggested is the best way, better than vegetarianism actually, to affect the industrial meat industry in this country.) The kids can decide when they're older. Thankfully, because I just mastered baked chicken, meatloaf, and chicken cutlets. They just don't appeal to me as much anymore. I'll keep dairy and eggs, though. Mama is supportive but will probably eat with the kiddos. I think I'll be making 1 1/2 meals for dinner--a big vegetable dish for me that they can eat too and then a meat protein for them.

So, if you have any favorite meat-free dishes, let me know. I always like to try new things.

More Cupcakes for Grownups

Ohmygosh, I had the second best cupcakes (or maybe the first--it's hard to compare the proverbial apples and oranges) today.

I asked T to make a batch to give to my PTs as thanks and she made these incredible chocolate cake with chocolate raspberry ganache filling with vanilla buttercream frosting dream cakes. WOW.

Mine got ooey gooey in the car so that the buttercream oozed off the top and the ganache melted in my mouth. Pretty good actually, even if I had to lick buttercream off my own face!

She's amazing!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Is it Spaghetti? Is it Squash?

Mama cooked today, making a squash we'd bought with Gommie.

As expected, Buddy liked it (for awhile) and Sis was asking for "something else" before it was on the table.

-=-=-=-=-

Herbed Spaghetti Squash

1 small spaghetti squash, about 2 1/4 pounds
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped mixed soft herbs, such as basil, chives, chervil, parsley and sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Using a sharp knife, cut the squash in half lengthwise and place, cut side down, in a baking dish. Add enough water to come 1/2-inch up the sides of the baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes, until the squash is easily pierced with a paring knife. Turn squash over and cover with foil again and continue to cook another 15 minutes, until the squash is very tender. Remove from the oven, uncover, and allow to cool slightly. Using a spoon, remove the seeds and discard. Using a fork, gently pull the strands of squash away from the peel and place the squash strands into a mixing bowl.

Heat a skillet. Add the butter, spaghetti squash, herbs, salt and pepper and toss thoroughly but gently to heat and combine. Serve immediately or cover and keep warm until ready to serve.

Emeril Lagasse

Heads Up

Despite the fact that I am now actively stressing about it, I keep forgetting that I will be in NYC all day Tuesday! I'm giving a short talk to grad students that evening but am going in early to see friends and such.

So, posts will be light until Wednesday, probably, because a). I will be gone and b). I haven't figured out yet what I'm going to say!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Is it Just Me?

. . . or is anyone else ready to never hear another word about horse-racing? All I needed to do was read the headline in the paper and I became just sick to my stomach and my soul.

And we had thought about watching with the kids.

Never, never, never.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Get Well Soon

We hope your knee is better soon, T, so you can play again.

And make more cupcakes!!

Almost Over

The bathroom renovation is almost over and I think I'm ready. With our kitchen out of commission for two days (the bathroom is right above the stove) and the bathroom inaccessible until Sunday (for grout curing), our schedule has been disrupted. I think it's the longest I've ever been without a bath and it's making me edgy. It's a major decompression and relaxation technique for me. A friend is letting us use her bathroom this afternoon, which is very kind, but not the same.

Today at playgroup was stressful. In fact, just having playgroup created some confusion because some people decided at the last minute to go somewhere else--it was too late for me to contact everyone and change the plan and I'd promised Sis and Buddy that we were going to the mall (even though the other place sounded more fun). Other people did show up at playgroup (which was at the mall because our park picnic was rained out), thankfully. It was a lonely wait, though, with about 40 minutes of thinking everyone had decided to go play elsewhere. All the while Sis asked, "Why aren't our friends here?"

Then my kids lost it. In a big way. We're perpetually sleep deprived, and it is a strange week with Gommie's departure and the bathroom renovation. Sis cried off and on the whole time--for food, for the escalator, for the elevator, for the ice cream truck ride, for anything but what we had. At one point, Buddy planted his feet, stomping, refusing to move. Luckily for me, the other moms there were so kind.

And I forgot to give them the chocolate chip cookies I had made.

I owe them.

Big time.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Tidbits

Don't laugh, but I don't have time to figure out how to rotate these pictures.






-=-=-=-=-

Buddy loves to say, "wait a second!" Do I really say that a lot?

-=-=-=-=-

Sis is always offering to help Bud, "Don't worry, Buddy, I'm behind you."

-=-=-=-=-

Sis never likes my first culinary offerings. She'll even pre-empt me with "I want something else. Something good for me that's yummy for my tummy. Mmmmmm." Now she really likes looking in the fridge and picking something out for herself--guess it's time to give them their own fridge shelf. Even if she always only chooses either a). yogurt or b). apricot jelly for a sandwich.

-=-=-=-=-

Buddy LOVED yardwork today. See, a neighbor with a baby loves doing yardwork and, well, I have a yard. And I'd much rather watch her kid that pull weeds. So, she cleaned around my rock wall today while I played with the three kids. Except Buddy wanted to help with leaves so we cut a yard bag to his level (not having any grocery paper bags) and he stuffed away, even practicing breaking sticks over his leg.

-=-=-=-=-

We had Hawaiian Pizza for dinner. Ick. But they liked it. Both picked off the pineapple. Then Buddy ate the ham and Sis ate the crusty edges. Which left these limp triangles of cheesy mess. Yay.

-=-=-=-=-

My favorite, from both kids: "Why aren't we there yet?"

-=-=-=-=-

Cupcakes for Grownups

Before I start, I need to say that I don't have the recipe for these.

Hint, hint.

Last night, I had the most incredible cupcakes. Not your average birthday party chocolate with buttercream (though, I really like those too).

No, these were cupcakes for grownups, specifically tired moms who need something new, something special. It was a tender vanilla cake with lime curd filling and this delicate lime buttercream. Oh, my gosh they were good.

I was sent home with two and only because I love her did I give one to Mama. But no way was she getting both, even though I had already had mine.

Thanks, T. They were special.

And happy birthday to you!

On Broadway

My kids broke into song today. Literally.

We were outside playing in the yard and decided to leave the backyard and go to the front. But we needed to clean up, which always includes putting the lid on the sandbox.

So Sis walks over to one side of the lid and belts, "What's going to work?"

And recognizing his cue, Buddy responded, "Teamwork!"

They proceeded to sing the Wonder Pets chorus over and over as they finished cleaning up the backyard.

I guess it's time to introduce Andrew Lloyd Webber!

(Mama will shutter at that, especially because she liked Les Mis better than Phantom of the Opera AND I made her sit through the London production of Whistle Down the Wind. Even I knew that was awful. We're big musicals fans here, though not more recently because of access and, frankly, interest--some of the current shows are ill-conceived and unoriginal. Our first date was to see the original cast of Rent.)

Trying to Understand

In the car today, Buddy explained to Sis, "Our daddy is Mama."