Thursday, July 31, 2008

Key Ingredients

I just found this great website for a traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibition, "Key Ingredients: America by Food," on the development of food in America, directed there by a post in a NYTimes blog. It's going to 150 rural locations, none in NY, CT, or even TX. Huh. I guess I could travel down to NJ, or write my state cultural council to bring it here.

Anyway, the website includes 500 years of American food history and the best places for eating on the road (but only in those places where the exhibition is going, as recommended by the venues. Boo.)

But, like the NYTimes blogger, I think I like "The American Cookbook Project: Recipes and Stories from Across the USA." It reminds me of the Story project in Grand Central--you send in your story and your recipe. I can't wait to submit one, though can't imagine which family recipe I'll choose: my grandma's tipsy balls, which she put in her Methodist church cookbook without listing the alcohol, or the Charlotte Russe that I remember her making; my grandad's cooked apples, which he once showed me how to make and that he served with cream, or his coffee milk that he brought in precious demitasse cups with spoons to us in bed (my mom swears he made the best hamburgers, but no one knows how); my mom's mom's Shrimp Remoulade, which my dad loves for Christmas Eve; my mom's Orange Biscuits, which she ate at sleepovers with her girlhood friends and then made for my sister and me; my mom's Tex-Mex chocolate sheet cake that is a crowd-pleaser at any get together; my dad's own salsa; THE family cheese dip (with or without beef and sausage); my Aunt P's pesto, the first one I ever had, which she'll make with any combo of herb and nut; the BBQ sauce recipe from the father of one of my dad's childhood friends (with whom I discussed the recipe at the wedding, no less!); Miss Betty's Red Beans and Rice, taught to my mom by her close friend; something from Mama's family with their roots in Thailand and China; my sister's black-eyed pea dip; my great grandma's forgotten cookies; my Aunt T's dewberry cobbler or hot buttered noodles, both of which she's given me lessons on; Mama's roast beef or turkey, which she has perfected over many holidays, or her egg/beef/radish omelette, that her mom made her, or the "goupy chicken," my English name for the first dinner she made me; or one of my own recipes--our orange marmalade cake that is Mama's favorite dessert, my bread pudding with hard sauce that is better than any other, my traditional 7-up lime jello salad from a high school friend, the toffee recipe I got from a friend in Chicago--all with a story. And those are just the ones I remember tonight.

Even if you don't participate in the project, at least check out the website and think about your own family recipes and their history. Share them with friends (hint: me!), submit them to a community cookbook like we have created at my church, post them online. It's worth preserving.

First Day of School

No, not yet.

And, no, I'm not ready to talk about school, nor the clothes, lunchboxes, and other supplies they'll need.

But, I did see something inspiring in a catalog: a first day of school cone, or Schultüte. Cones are decorated on the outside and filled with school supplies, gifts, and candy. In the catalog, they are precious but expensive.

And I can make my own--some felt, some cardboard, some fabric, some yarn, a glue gun. Plus filler. I can see making them and personalizing them for Sis and Bud, both externally and internally. Then I can hang them on their door the morning of the first day of school.

But I'm not talking about that.

Welcome Home

Welcome home, Mr. and Mrs. Soccer! We hope you had a good time on your honeymoon in Hawaii.

Thinking of Them

An old family friend as a brain tumor, for which he underwent surgery yesterday. Our thoughts are with him and his family as he battles the same cancer that Ted Kennedy has.

Also, a woman I know from childhood has begun treatment for non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Our thoughts are with her and her family as well.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Itchy, Itchy, Scratchy, Scratchy

Poor Buddy, we haven't been very vigilant with his intake of too many fresh berries and melons. It's hard to keep him from eating his favorite strawberries, blueberries, watermelon, and cantaloupes when they are fresh and easily available, even though we know he gets itchy eczema. Poor itchy boy.

So today, he asked me, "Mom, who bit my ear?"

"What, Buddy? What happened to your ear?"

"It's itchy. Can you take my ear off, get rid of the itchy spot, and then put it back?"

That might just be enough to strengthen my resolve to cut him off after one serving of fruit.

Poor Buddy.


We were sitting at the kitchen table today during snack and the kiddos were chattering on, reciting letters.

Bud said, "S-M-T-W-T-F," as Sis recited, "N-O-T-N-S for Sis."

Bud said again, "S-M-T-W-T-F." Not entirely random, like Sis, whose letters kept changing. I looked up, looked where he was looking . . . .

At his calendar potty chart, with the days of the week labeled with initials.


He couldn't see Saturday.

Life's A Beach

We went to a beach playgroup today and had a wonderful time! Sis immediately had on her suit and headed towards the relatively calm water. Bud was a little more apprehensive but came along when I followed Sis. However, talk of jellyfish put them off actually entering the water and so we did some beachcombing. There, we found several kinds of marine plantlife--seaweed, something that seemed like it would harden into coral (but not, right, in the upper Atlantic?), several beached jellyfish, and a dead horshoe crab. With all of our friends in the water, Sis soon waded in while Buddy threw rocks and shells into the water. Soon they were (not quite easily or comfortably) scampering up and down the big rocks forming a little jetty. Sis would even step off the rocks into the shallow water and Buddy would jump over the cracks from rock to rock. All in all, a day of fun and adventure.

And Back Again

Blah. My back hurts. Specifically, actually, my left glute. Yep, my butt. Yesterday afternoon, returning from dropping off a dear friend at the train station, I removed my outside shoes but didn't don my inside shoes. I guess I need them more than I think. Without the shoes, and the lift in the right one to balance my left side, I must have gotten all kinked. In just a few hours. I didn't really notice it until last night when my glutes hurt so much that I was pacing in the dark instead of sleeping, trying to stretch it out. Some ibuprofen helped, but this morning I feel punched. All the muscles on my left side are obviously tense and tight, so I'm being extra cautious with my movements and activities. That'll teach me. Blah.

**I should read my friend Lambeth's blog more often--his regime to prepare for walking the Thames is inspiring. Good luck, and be careful with that leg!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What, Me Worry?

Recently, one of those chain questionnaires has been doing the rounds of my playgroup friends. One of the questions asked, "what are you afraid of?" Answers have ranged from childhood terrors like big dogs and thunderstorms to more adult worries like being able to provide for a family. Not surprisingly, death topped most of the answers, including mine. But in attempt to distract everyone from these real worries, I'm sending a link to an article in the NYTimes about 10 things NOT to worry about, inlcuding BPA, plastic bags, and Arctic ice. Now, while I believe a few of these still merit considerable attention, it was good to be entertained for a bit. Besides, I'm not sure I'm that worried about shark attacks.

Read to Your Bunny

A recent article in the NYTimes on reading, literacy, and the internet has gotten me thinking about these subjects again. The article summarizes a debate among educators about the value of the internet to reading skills and literacy rates. The proponents suggest that challenged readers, such as people with dyslexia and those who do not generally read, benefit from the format of the web as well as using the internet for entertainment instead of television. Also, they say, students are learning a new set of literacy skills, which will be valuable in the digital age. Detractors posit that internet experiences have done nothing to enhance literacy rates and that even students digital literacy in the U.S. is relatively poor. In fact, detractors suggest that digital reading experiences--with reader's pick-and-choose mentality and relatively short reading passages--have contributed to the dumbing down of America.

Now, I'm not an expert on reading or the history of literacy, but the current obsession over reading, particularly novels, strikes me as curious. Until about 150 years ago, novels were anathema, seen in much the same way that, say, People Magazine is seen today. Sure, it's writing but it's not good for you and really, only women read that anyway (which in part is why it took novels so long to gain acceptance--men read history, philosophy, even poetry, but not novels! Do men read People? or Us? Or Harlequin romances?). Indeed, the novel in its present form only really began in the late 18th century anyway, at a time when poetry, as well as what we would call non-fiction, held sway. No one today, though, really worries about the consumption of poetry by current students (unless it's the various poetry groups). But novels are the literary art form of the 20th century, the period in which all of today's educators and thinkers came of age. So, there is a pro-novel bias.

The bias often extends to an anti-television, anti-digital, anti-new media stance. These media are secondary to the printed word, particularly the novel. But I believe this is just an ignorant prejudice born of the intellectual snobbery of a specific time. Just like the people who derided Dickens, we are not seeing the trees for the forest. Certainly, I value book reading--I've written one, though an unpublished one (my 210+ page dissertation), for which I read literally hundreds of books--but I believe that internet, television, and other digital media literacy will be as important or even more so than traditional book-length reading (I am, of course, an art historian, and often think visual literacy--which plays a bigger part in analyzing tv and new media--gets ignored in favor of the written word. Truth be told, visual literacy was long the dominant skill of people). It is the world we live in now. Most jobs no longer require those types of readings skills; recreation certainly doesn't. Author David McColllough bemoans “Learning is not to be found on a printout. It’s not on call at the touch of the finger. Learning is acquired mainly from books, and most readily from great books.” Of course, learning is not the goal of most people; employment or entertainment is. And, the "precious common culture that exists only through the reading of books" has been replaced by a faster, perhaps even more democratic, popular culture shared through the web and MP3 players and television. That doesn't make it right, or better, of course, but it is what it is. Now, if you want to argue that we should go back to a pre-digital, text-based age (like that of the centuries before us) . . . well, I think you probably wouldn't be reading this anyway.

Like author Nicholas Carr, I realize "what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation." Apparently, neuroscientists concur--reading effects our brain circuitry: change how we read, change our brains. Indeed, the academic in me--the reader--is appalled by the lack of logsitical progression or internal coherence in my discussion here. But the tv is on and I don't have time to craft a persuasive argument or even correct grammar (note the over-reliance on ellipses and parentheses). I just want to ruminate, casually, on the article at hand. That, of course, detractors would say, is the very problem with the internet--and the writing found here.

Blueberry Pictures

Monday, July 28, 2008

Summertime . . .

. . . and the living is easy.

But almost not. Several things today have been off kilter. First thing this morning, Sis and I collided while playing "bears in the cave" in my big bed and I came away with a hole in my lip that bled for 15 minutes.

And when Mama went out to her car this morning, which was in the street because we'd forgotten to switch it, she realized it had been egged. So off to the police station she went to file a report for insurance, in case the paint is ruined. But, it makes you wonder, was it more than a random egg? There is a rainbow sticker on the car. But probably not. Right?

Then, this afternoon, I lost my keys somewhere outside in the grass. Can't find them for the life of me.

I read in the paper about the attack on the UU church and realized it could just have easily been the service we attended yesterday.

But, then, the neighbors down the street put up a lemonade stand. And for hours they sold lemonade and cookies to help an impoverished family in their church's parish. After resttime, we headed outside and got some lemonade and cookies, and stayed for a long time talking to the girls, who seem to grow almost as fast as my twins. It was a delightful, neighborhood-friendly kind of way to spend a hot, lazy summer afternoon.

Our UU Family

On Sunday morning, the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, TN was the site of a tragic shooting. During the Sunday service a gunman entered and opened fire, apparently motivated by his hatred of liberals and gays. Two adults were killed and seven others injured, of those seven two were treated and released the other five remain in critical or serious condition. No children were physically injured, although, because the service was a children's pageant, many were emotionally and psychologically impacted. Please keep these members of our UU family in your thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Blueberry Picking

It was another jamberry jamboree here today--we went blueberry picking! Yes, emboldened by surviving Sea World in 105F weather we decided 86F wasn't too hot to play farmer.

And so like little Sal and the bear cub, we wandered around a hilltop picking blueberries. The kiddos love riding the wagon to the crop and having their own baskets for the picking. And so, after strict instructions to only eat the blue ones and to not eat the ones on the ground, we let them loose on our four assigned bushes.

After some time, I turned to Bud and asked if he were picking blueberries. "No," he said, "I'm not picking them. I'm eating them." And true to his word, he never put a one in his bucket. At one point, Sis was even hand-feeding him out of hers!

Sis liked to sit under the blueberry bushes, playing "our blueberry house." And so they sat there together--thank heavens there were no bugs or snakes--eating and playing, while I picked away and Mama took pictures (one of which is blog-ready, once I download it).


Double Good Blueberry Pie
From the reusable farm basket . . . and it was good (and much like the strawberry pie we made last month). As usual, Sis liked the crust and Bud prefers his berries "plain."

3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup water
4 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 tablespoon lemon juice
baked, 9-inch pie shell

-Mix sugar and cornstarch in saucepan, add water, and 2 cups berries. Cook over medium heat, stirring until mixture is thick, clear, and boiling. Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice, cool. -Place remaining 2 cups of raw blueberries in pie shell. Top with cooked blueberry mixture. -Chill. Serve with 1/2 sweetened yogurt - 1/2 sweetened sour cream sauce, if desired.

L-Word Marathon

We have free Showtime this weekend!

It's always so hard to choose. Do we watch the Tudors? Weeds? or the L-Word?

You guessed it, Dykes R Us.

We started season 5 tonight (not realizing we had free video on demand until tonight) and I just have to say I always love Shane and loathe Jenny.

Which reminds me to wish a "happy birthday" to the Shane-like friend in my life down in Dallas! I don't think she reads this, so I'll try to call.

I don't really see me in the characters of the show--I mean, sure, Bette is an art historian, but that's where the similarities end (unless you count that she was in a biracial couple, has a daughter, knows ASL, has worked in museums. But Mama is not in the movies! And I don't look like Jennifer Beals). I'd go after Marlee Matlin in a heartbeat, though. In fact, I'm not sure I know any lesbians like these. Where are the politic activists? the granola goddesses? the vegetarians? the social workers? the separatists? the softball players? the women's music scene lovers who go to Michigan?

Of course, I don't watch the show for reality. That wouldn't be half as much fun.

I'd be having fun now but Mama is asleep.

Fun watching the tv, that is. I can't skip ahead!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Happy Wedding Thoughts

It is our family custom to summarize a day's events with a "happy thoughts" round-up at bedtime. And so, to commemorate our wedding week in Austin, I am writing up what would be our happy wedding thoughts.

In no particular order:


  • The Right Dress--oh, the dress. My wedding albatross. Let's just say, despite (or maybe because of) two seamstresses, the dress I was supposed to wear was deemed, with little more than 24 hours before the wedding, unacceptable. And so, in 30 minutes at David's Bridal on Friday afternoon, I bought a new dress--right color, similar material, appropriate cut--and had it sent off for alterations. I liked it and felt comfortable (and, okay, Mom, pretty). As so many guests said to me--because apparently everyone had heard the story before I walked down the aisle--it was meant to be.
  • Breakfast--for the first several days of our trip, we ate breakfast in the hotel cafe. What a treat to have a full hot breakfast ready for me every morning--roasted fingerling potatoes, eggs, biscuits, even a yogurt smoothie, which was Sis's favorite.
  • Bats--The fabulous view out of our hotel suite included the Congress Street bridge where the renowned bats of Austin live. Every night, millions of bats ascend from the arches and fly out in the night sky to eat tons of insects. And so, our first night in Austin, we sat and watched the stream of bats leave. It's more a dark stream of bats than a cloud and the departure takes quite awhile. Pretty cool. And the kids called every bird after that a bat.
  • Refried Beans--Yes, I know, refried beans contain animal fats. But I always said I wasn't an extremely strict vegetarian. And so, this is what I ate in Austin. And San Antonio. Repeatedly. From sit down restaurants (Guero's) to take-out joints (Taco Cabana), even at the rehearsal dinner (Serrano's). I ate so many beans, Mama is going to start calling me "pinto." But I love them. I did, though, eat at one of Austin's veg-friendly restaurants, the Kerbey Lane Cafe. Yummy pesto portabello panini. But I'm realizing that other restaurants just don't have acceptable veg options. I mean, what can I get at the Cracker Barrel (don't start on me for eating there! It's kid-friendly.)
  • The Wedding--specifically, I liked the ceremony. Yes, yes, I know I was the naysayer of doom beforehand, convinced that the kids would either a). not stay awake for it or b). ruin it somehow. And I was totally and absolutely wrong. Yay! They got dressed (no small feat considering the fit they threw about the clothes at the seamstress's, much to our surprise and chagrin), even posed for pictures (mercy, did Sis pose! What a little diva.). Bud walked down the aisle with me, bouncing his "ringer" pillow (though, later he realized he didn't ever see the rings and was a little disappointed that he hadn't done his job). Mama and Sis, the "flowerer," followed behind, with Sis in arms until the fish pond (did I mention this was outside?) where she asked to be let down, looked at the fish, and kept going. The actual ceremony was beautiful--I really liked their vows, both the words and the way they said them with such conviction. Lots of love. Then, after some more pictures, the party began. There was food, friends, dancing (Bud and Sis eventually changed clothes and danced in the moonlight with me), marching (cousins led the tres-bohemian Grand March, a sorta group line polka), cake, and the ever present gummi bear bribes. Sis even took to carrying hers in her shoebox (1 of 6 pairs purchased for her for to try on for the wedding!) and giving them out to special people. I gave my toast, which wasn't as grand as originally conceived but I had hastily used the ending at the rehearsal dinner and couldn't come up with something else both touching and light-hearted. That, and I missed the middle section about stories I could tell about Aunt Banana (I opened with references to stories I couldn't tell). I think I'm the only one who noticed it wasn't perfectly internally coherent. Banana, Soccer, I'll write you up the whole thing and send it along, because I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, how much I am so glad you two have found in each other such love.

  • The Alamo--Mama had never been to San Antonio and so, after Sea World, we gave the kiddos to Gommie and Pop and went exploring. We visited my college (and got lots of gear, having not had a new t-shirt in almost 20 years), saw where my aunt and uncle used to live, got bean and cheeses from my college hot spot, and went downtown to see the Alamo. It had closed right before we got there, no surprise, and so we only saw it from outside. It is always a). smaller than you expect and b). closer to the road and all the other buildings than you realize. But we had a tamarind snow cone, saw the historic Menger Hotel, and walked "my" RiverCenter Mall.
  • BBQ--vegetarianism went out the window with the very first meal. But then, the food is one of Mama's favorite things about Texas.
  • GPS--bought for me, ostensibly, Mama used this gadget to get us all around Austin and the hill country (she drove to Marble Falls twice and New Braunfels once for naps) with almost no trouble. The kids love that our own "map" talks. The only problem: Austin has some new roads that GPS (and even Google) don't know about yet!
  • DVD--I thought the two DVD players she bought were frivolous, especially since the plane had tv, but they were worth their weight, especially to distract the kiddos before and during the wedding. Yep, between tv and candy, all of our bad parenting techniques were on full display.
  • Bookstores--wherever Mama goes, she always looks for lesbian/feminist/independent bookstores. She's been to them all over the world (well, the US and London, not sure she was looking in Bangkok). We hit 3 in Austin: Lobo (which was a gay boy toy sex store with a few books, oddly, one about African-American lovers in 19th-century Hartford, CT!!); Bookwoman (a much smaller version of Women and Children First, but wonderful in comparison to Lobo--it had books!); and Bookpeople (which is more independent than just plain LGBT, but had lots of nice kids stuff, some lesbian/feminist also wiccan stuff)--we always try to buy a little something at these stores and came away with some new t-shirts and books. Oh, wait, I forgot one: Half-Price Books, a local used bookstore chain where we went with Gommie and the kiddos and found more great things. So, 4 bookstores in one trip. It's almost like doing churches in Rome!


  • Fishing--Having visited the outdoor sports haven Cabela's the day before where we picked up a fishing pole and real worms, we went fishing the morning of the wedding! Sis caught 7 little brim (I think) and enjoyed pulling them in and watching as Pop released them back into the cold water.
  • Cake--We had huge birthday cupcakes from the trailer-bakery Hey Cupcake, complete with whipped cream shooters. Sis loved her chocolate chocolate one. And Uncle Soccer made short work of his red velvet one. And then, of course, was THE cake. The wedding cake we'd be talking about for months. And she managed to stay awake through the reception for it (which is good because we forgot to buy replacement cupcakes). She eagerly sat upfront as the cake was cut and the bride and groom kindly invited her up to share some of the first piece. Yummy!
  • Swimming--starting with her wade in the water at Zilker Park, Sis loved getting wet this trip. We all went swimming at Aunt Banana and Uncle Soccer's community pool. She washed her orca, rode Shamu (aka Pop), and fed us fish like dolphins.
  • Orcas--this could be a favorite thing for both kiddos. They loved Sea World, our reward after several days of wedding. It was hot as hell--105F by the time we left--with little shade or AC. But the Shamu show made the entire excursion well worth it. Sis stared wide-eyed (stuffing popcorn into her mouth all the while), and Buddy sucked down a lemonade as they watched the orcas jump and dive and splash everyone. They're still talking about it, making the trainer handsigns and also mimicking the orcas' dives with their own stuffies. Seeing the belugas, feeding the dolphins (though Sis loved seeing some dolphins swim backwards), watching the sharks, viewing the clydesdales were worth it, but Shamu rocks.
  • Gommie and Pop--confused by exactly what a wedding really was, Sis kept insisting that she wanted to marry Gommie. Sorry, Pop.


  • Trains--riding the Zephyr at Zilker Park, seeing all the freight trains circle through town, and following the model train at the Austin Children's Museum
  • Ice Cream--mmmmm, Amy's Ice Creams. Strawberry with gummies (Sis liked chocolate with M&Ms, while I preferred Mexican Vanilla, which was served at the rehearsal dinner. Mama liked the pistachio. We had it for breakfast on our last day in Austin proper!).
  • Pom Pon Parade--what Buddy called the walk down the aisle, or the whole wedding itself. He envied the flowers Sis and I got to carry and liked to play with the practice ones (you know, the bows from the showers made into bouquets). He pranced around the room for two days practicing and then took flowers from our real bouquets so he could have one too.
  • Baseball--and football and soccer, anything that anyone would kick or throw to him. Luckily, we found some extra balls at the airport as we left (not wanting to bring our good set with us). He played catch with both Pop and Uncle Soccer.
  • Escalators--the hotel had them and Bud loved riding them, every morning, instead of breakfast.

The Last Goodbye

The "Last Lecture" professor, Dr. Randy Pausch, has died of pancreatic cancer today. You might remember him as the YouTube celeb/comp sci prof from Carnegie Mellon, who spoke on his efforts, as a father, "to digest a lifetime of advice for his children into one talk."

In his honor, today and everyday, I will remember to let the kids color on the walls and win stuffed animals at the amusement park. Life's too short to keep an immaculate house.

I'm going to go play Sea World train now.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Back on Track

My WW meeting before I left for the wedding was one of the most motivational ever. The leader talked about how we all struggle and we need to reconnect with our motivations and to find new ones when we falter. Several people in the meeting are in the same boat with me, several of my friends are where I am, having gotten off track and trying to find our ways back.

See, I'm back to the weight I was 1 1/2 years ago (though the last shreds of pride require me to say that I'm still significantly below my highest weight). This is not only depressing but embarrassing.

But I'm not going to quit. The habits and attitudes that got me to this place took a lifetime to build and will take awhile to dismantle. They are resilient and come back when I'm not vigilant. I can be resilient too--I mean, I stayed a vegetarian (though not a very strict one; I know there is animal lard in refried beans) in Texas with BBQ and fajitas and chicken fried steak all around me. And I found a new motivation. We went swimming several times over the course of the trip and, each time that I would happily immerse myself in the gravity-defying water, I would eventually have to get out again. And there, in microcosm, was the history of my weight gain--I could feel every ounce as I rose up out of the pool. It certainly brought home to me what it means to be overweight.

So, I'm here to say, again, for the umpteenth time in this blog and more than that in my life, that I'm trying again.

Though, in typing that, I am reminded of Yoda: "Do or do not. There is no 'try.'"

Time to do it. Again.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

This Old Home

It's good to be home.

It's almost 11 pm, and the kids, still on Austin time, and late even then, have just gone to bed.

We got home about an hour ago, deeply inhaling the old wooden house smell that our house gets when it's unopened and un-air-conditioned for awhile and listening to the music of the creaking floorboards.

Buddy pulled out and played every single one of his musical instruments, while Sis reorganized her Animal Rescue Center so that it sits near her pet shop. Mama and I went through the mail and dragged in all the luggage. They then took a long bath, playing with every boat they have, and wanted to read more books than Mama and I had energy for. Then Sis arranged all of her critters, and some of Buddy's, so they could meet the new Orcas from SeaWorld.

Yes, it's good to be home.

Home Sweet Home

We're heading home today, a long day of planes, trains, buses, and automobiles.

Plus Hurricane Dolly going into Brownsville.

It's been a crazy trip to Texas--great wedding and time with family and friends but brutal traveling and heat.

More later, once we're kinda settled again, but some topics:
  • Refried Beans, or What a Vegetarian Eats in Austin
  • Is 105F too Hot for SeaWorld?
  • The Pom-Pom Parade
  • Two Seamstresses, One Dress, and an Emergency Trip to David's Bridal

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Muchas Gracias

As they say in my native land, thank y'all to Miss T and Miss B for keeping me company on an otherwise trying day. With a lost Shirt and then a trip to the pediatrician, it was a long and challenging day. Thanks for getting me through.


I will be offline and incommunicado for at least the next week or so. No worries, it's wedding time! I promise to tell you all about it when we get back.


We lost Shirt.

I knew it must be in the house, right? I hadn't taken the kids out when I first noticed it was missing. But then I got distracted, we did go out, and Sis noticed we didn't have it. But when we got home we played outside and then friends come over and though Shirt was still nowhere to be found, I wasn't worried.

But then she asked. And we started looking. And I couldn't find it. T, who was visiting, helped look where I couldn't easily--we lifted mattresses, moved couches, literally tore the house apart.

No Shirt.

For those of you not already panic-stricken, I will tell you about Shirt. Shirt was originally just a hand-me-down blue-and-gold striped jersey with long sleeves and a number 45 patch. It's a 12 month shirt, something Buddy wore when he was less than a year old. And at some point, Sis became attached to it. She liked to sniff it (especially along the buttons), to hold it, to sleep with it. Soon, it went everywhere we did. Except we managed to convince her that it was safer in the car when we went out. Now, though, Shirt even goes in with us but we've only had two other close calls with its disappearance. When Shirt needs a bath, Sis is hysterical. She'll watch it spin in the washer and cry. She sniffs it between washer and dryer and sadly waits for it to get dry. Otherwise, Shirt has the amazing ability to calm and soothe and comfort her. She asks for it when she's angry or tired or hurt. She knows to fetch it from wherever she previously abandonned it if she needs to regroup. It's her comfort mechanism, her special lovey. When we momentarily can't find it and then locate it, she does a great big sniff and sometimes a big smiling dance. If you're lucky, she'll occasionally offer to let you smell it too.

Actually, Shirt is a "he." Not sure why, except that he was her brother's. But he's hers now. She even gets posessive when she sees pictures of him wearing it. But she loves to see pictures of Shirt by itself.

Realizing how important Shirt was, we tried to find backups. We googled the label--it was a Wal-Mart store brand. Ugh, would I give money to them even for a back-up shirt? Luckily, I didn't have to solve that moral dilemma--we figured there was no way the shirt would still be there, a few years later. We looked elsewhere and found several close proximities. These became "cousin shirts," as in related and similar to the original, but not. The original became known as "Real Shirt," i.e. not an impostor, cousin shirt.

We've almost lost Shirt twice before--once at church when I had absentmindedly put it on my shoulder and then couldn't find it. We even made an announcement during service to help locate it. I did. In my bag. I must have equally as absentmindedly dropped it in there for safekeeping. Last weekend, birthday weekend, we took it in for dinner and at some point she handed it to me and I stuck it behind me on the chair. We got home for awhile before we realized it hadn't gotten home too. But they'd saved it. And we got it back before Sis really realized it had been missing. Sometimes, she does go a few hours without it.

Like today. And so we looked and looked and looked and all got increasingly nervous. Sis tried to be brave but every now and then she would mournfully cry out, "Real Shirt." J, who was visiting, was trying to help and repeatedly called out, "I found it." He had located a cousin shirt. There are at least 4 of them.

I called the vet to see if we'd accidentally stuffed it in the carriers when we dropped off the cats for "kitty camp." I called the woman who cleans my house and was here this morning to see if she'd come across it. I was in tears as I imagined never finding it again. I would be the mom who lost Shirt. This would be my worst mommy moment yet. See, I remember losing my special lovey. It was a blanket. At some point I got a replacement blanket which I loved as well and my other blanket was put away. But I still remember the day I went looking for the old beloved and was told it was gone. Devastated. Of all things, I did not want to repeat that with Sis. (Iit really is okay, Mom. I forgave you a long time ago. And now, even more, I see how easily these things happen).

T had to leave, her kids were past their naps and exhausted. She had looked everywhere and we couldn't find it. Mama had been called and would come home in an hour if we didn't find it. This was a real family crisis, without being an actual emergency. And as I stood on the porch, unable even to say goodbye without bursting into tears from the stress, I opened up the seat of the airplane scooter.

And there was Shirt.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Vet and the Athlete

The themes of the last several days, in addition to birthday and food, have been animals and sports. Sis's world revolves around animals, wild and domesticated, while Buddy is obsessed with sports, moving beyond his usual baseball fanaticism to embrace football and soccer too.

As part of their birthday celebration weekend, Mama took Friday off and we went to the zoo to see the special bird show. Sis was so excited to see live scarlet macaws, owls, and especially the singing parrot, who can perfectly imitate "Old MacDonald." Now, Sis imitates the parrot singing, with a funny way of saying "ei-ei-o." If you live in CT, definitely catch the bird show at the zoo; it's worth it. But it was Bud who was brave enough to give the raven a donation. Sis just watched. And Mama and I wore the little rubber bracelets with "Fly Free" on them. We also saw our usual tour--wolves, tigers, rainforest, otters, etc.--but this time the Andean bears were actually awake! I think that's a first in three years of going! Of course, the best part, as usual, was riding the carousel, which Sis did 3 times and Bud did 1. She gets very excited about which animals she rides, choosing the zebra, gorilla, and panda this time. She noticed that the panda was holding something. "Bamboo," Mama explained. She said she thought it was holding a whistle. And it does sorta look like that.

We picked up Goo after a car nap and went straight for lunch at a Tex-Mex place that Sis has now dubbed the "chip restaurant." She loved the crispy tortilla chips and Bud actually liked the spicy salsa. Then she inhaled some chicken fingers while he ate a whole plate of rice and beans, leaving quesadillas untouched. We treated ourselves to ice cream afterwards, receiving balloons for their birthdays. She got chocolate with M&Ms and he got strawberry with mini gummies. Mama got a special Pina Colada ice and I got tamarind ice, which was wonderfully sweet and sour. No one else wanted any so I got the whole thing to myself. We spent the rest of the day playing outside in the playhouse from Gommie and Pop and in the little pool. Buddy insisted on playing pretend baseball, where we pretend to throw the ball and he pretends to bat and then runs the pretend bases in a homerun. At least there are no balls to chase!

The birthday party was all animals. And Sis loved it. Bud had a good time, but it was Sis who was really in her element (which is fine; he liked last year's outside bubble party much more than she did). They both liked having the undivided attention of Goo and our babysitter, who came to help and help celebrate. (this made it so much easier to set up and talk to the people running the birthday). They got to pet bunnies, a guinea pig, a dove, and snakes. Yay, snakes. Sis was probably the most intrigued--I'm not even sure how many of the other kids touched the animals, though I'm assured by the moms that they had a good time--she even lay on the floor face-to-face through the cage with the guinea pig. The staff of the nature center were impressed by her rapport with them. Sis loves animals. She had, coincidentally, received a play vet kit from us for her birthday. And she proceeded to examine all of her stuffies, finding "wrinkly paws," other ills, and just pets who needed checkups. Even when she played explorer with the kit she got (or was it for Buddy? Sometimes the lines get blurred after the fact), she was looking to rescue animals. No wonder she selected Diego, the Animal Rescuer, as her theme for plates and napkins. And the animal cupcakes--with these wonderful photo transfers of various woodland critters (thanks, T!)--were for her.

Buddy had chosen baseball plates and napkins and had "Yankee symbol" cupcakes. He was so excited to see them! He spent the weekend, when we weren't at the zoo or the nature center looking at animals, or eating Tex-Mex, birthday cakes (including one from Junior's from Goo!!), and ice cream, trying to corral us to play sports with him. We played real and pretend baseball. And then we added other sports because he got this Diego sports pack for his birthday complete with little football and soccer ball (plus bat, baseballs, and glove). So he donned his new Yankees shirt, played baseball, and then switched to football, which he played with Mama and Sis at church. He has even got a good spiral on his pretty accurate throws. And he's slept with that football the last three nights! Mama suggested we get him an orange and white football while we're in Texas. I don't think Uncle Soccer would quite approve. Especially because I suggested we should substitute that for the ring pillow! But hopefully, they can play sports together. Buddy has even picked up on his new uncle's favorite sport, having watched some women's soccer (USA vs Brazil) with us. We ran around the living room trying to kick it under the coffee table, shouting "Goal!" everytime we did. He likes the celebration--running around for his homeruns and dancing with his arms up when he catches a pass are an important part of his game. We'll have to look into going to some local games (though, we did record the home run derby for him tonight, too).

So, a vet and an athlete. Not a bad way to spend a third birthday. They've even decided that those are what they want to be for Halloween. It's easier than a jaguar costume!

Give Me that Old-Time Religion

Now were talking about a difficult thing
And your eyes are getting wet
I took us for better and I took us for worse
Dont you ever forget it
Now the steel bars between me and a promise
Suddenly bend with ease
The closer Im bound in love to you
The closer I am to free
So were okayWere fine
Baby Im here to stop your crying
Chase all the ghosts from your head
Im stronger than the monster beneath your bed
Smarter than the tricks played on your heart
Well look at them together then well take them apart
Adding up the total of a love thats true
Multiply life by the power of two

Indigo Girls, "Power of Two"

The Indigo Girls' music provides the soundtrack of our relationship. Mama was listening to them long ago and introduced me to their folksy, activist music early on, before we were together. We listen to music differently, though, and I liked many of the tunes, while she focused on the lyrics. She once gave me a meaningul compilation tape of songs and I never realized until being told much later that they were all love songs. D'oh.

And "Power of Two" is one of our favorites, even though Miss Science Mama goes a bit nutsy that you can't multiply by the power of two. Not being a math person, that doesnt' really bother me. I like that the love discussed is not just easy and happy, but has tears. The two people support one another against the monsters. They're in it for better and for worse. This is us. The Girls have played this song at every concert we've ever been to: Suffragette Sessions, Honor the Earth, one at the Chicago Theater, at Ravinia (that place we had a picnic; it doesn't start with a "T" as I remembered), at Radio City Music Hall, and now at the Ridgefield Playhouse last Thursday (I might be missing one concert, I can't recall). And, this being the first time we've been to a Girls concert since the babes were born, several of the songs struck a different chord with me, including this one. Because "two" has a new meaning. Everything has a new meaning. The song opens:

Now the parking lot is empty
Everyones gone someplace
I pick you up and in the trunk Ive packed
A cooler and a 2-day suitcase
Cause theres a place we like to drive
Way out in the country
Five miles out of the city limit were singing
And your hands upon my knee

This used to mean our trip to Galena, IL for Mama's birthday years ago, or other trips we took in the Midwest, like our drive all the way around Lake Michigan to see the lighthouses (we saw something like 22 of them). And we'd play the Girls while we drove, and invariably this song would come on and we'd laugh and I'd put my hand on Mama's knee. Now, we drive around Connecticut not to get anywhere specific but the Land of Nod and we don't listen to the Girls because that would keep sleeping kiddos awake. Things have changed.

Going to the concert on Thursday was like attending an old-fashioned tent revival. For lesbians (because both of the Girls are, though not a couple), feminists, political liberals, environmentalists, social activists (though, here in CT, there seemed to be very few people of color--Mama might have been one of the only ones--and there were lots of straight couples. The dykes were the older, more settled type, I guess like us. This isn't NY or Chicago. The only young one I saw was outside singing her heart out with her guitar afterwards). I told Mama later it was like a big UU pep rally (though, there is no actual affiliation there that I know of, but some much of the sentiment is in line with the principles). The songs they chose to play this round were many of their social action songs like "Let it Be Me" ("Let it be me/If the world is night/Shine my life like a light") and "Hammer and a Nail" (I gotta get out of bed/Get a hammer and a nail/Learn how to use my hands/Not just my head), but also many ballads, including "Deconstruction" ("We talked up all night and came to no conclusion/We started a fight that ended in silent confusion"). So there was this wonderful confluence of the personal and the political that spoke to us, had special relevance to us these days. And on the drive home, finishing off the car picnic we purchased at a market on the way (dolmades, cheese--Wensleydale with honey and fig for me, Stilton and cheddar for Mama--and bread, Orangina--ah, memories of London--and buttery shortbread cookies), we had one of those conversations we don't have much these days because of time and frayed nerves. And it was healing and good.

And then the next day, we put the Girls in the CD player at home and Buddy played his new banjo to "Galileo" and Sis did a dance, while wearing her new adventure backpack. The Girls will make a great soundtrack for a childhood, too.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Oh, My

You know that song from The Wizard of Oz movie about "lions and tigers and bears"?

Here's our new family version:

"Strep and colds and E. coli, oh my!"

You decide what is scarier.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Rain Delay

Like Wimbledon's Men's Final, we had been experiencing a frustrating "rain delay" on the potty-training front.

Then a friend taught me this song on the phone today:

Sprinkle, tinkle, little one.
Going potty is such fun.
Wipe and flush and wash your hands.
Don’t forget to pull up your pants.
Sprinkle, tinkle, little one.
Going potty is such fun!

Sprinkle, tinkle, little dear.
Going potty is nothing to fear.
Sit down carefully, you won’t fall in.
When you’re done, you and Mommy will grin.
Sprinkle, tinkle, little dear.
Going potty is nothing to fear.

Just hearing me talking about the potty with my friend, whose potty-trained child sang the first verse of the song to me, seems to have done the trick.

Both kids asked to use the potty. And succeeded!

Let the game . . . continue!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

George and I

Though I can't really identify with the premise of the article about super-rich people's problems with therapy, I did relate, in a way, to the following quote:

"Dr. Seth Aidinoff, a NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital psychiatrist who practices on the Upper East Side and also consults for hedge funds and Wall Street firms, illustrated the consequences with the Saturday-afternoon choice faced by 'your typical master of the universe,' who can either play outside with his 7-year-old or stay inside to complete a business deal on the phone.
'The phone call might involve the most important and interesting people in the world, being well compensated for his time, and the chance to handle it with A-plus skill,' Dr. Aidinoff said. 'Whereas playing with his 7-year-old might be sort of boring, or unsatisfying; his son might not fully express his appreciation, or the child could even be in a bad mood. So this person might find himself terrified of spending time with his child because it’s not an activity he can control or succeed at the high level of accomplishment to which he is accustomed.'"

Okay, I'm not a brilliant hedge fund analyst, nor terrified of spending time with my three-year olds, but I do sometimes miss using the skills I honed in grad school. I know I check my email too much, blog more than I should during the day, or read too many articles in the NYTimes, when I would otherwise be playing with the kiddos. I've always seen myself primarily as an academic, though my life is far from that now (and I was never a brilliant intellectual to begin with), and the computer is my intellectual outlet right now. And everytime the babysitter is here, I go read at the Starbucks.

Right now, I'm reading a biography on George Eliot, whom I think I have a lot in common with, superficially (I'm not a brilliant hedge fund analyst nor a superlative author). According to the bio by Kathryn Hughes, which I'm not nearly done with yet, Eliot, or early in her life, Mary Ann Evans, gave up on her appearance. She wasn't particularly attractive, but she went out of her way to avoid clothes, fashion, and the like (though, it sounds like she studiously tried to be unattractive at times). I remember deciding as a younger person that, being on the larger side of life, and not particularly pretty, I just wasn't going to bother. I don't wear make-up, I couldn't care less about clothes, indeed I think fashion trends to be just another way the patriarchy asserts its misogynist control over women (yes, my anti-fashion stance has taken on a righteous feminist tone. Convincing ourselves that somehow fashion and beauty and sex are our feminine power is just another way we've internalized the patriarchy. There are other, more important powers. Think I'm exaggerating? Read this.). I think sometimes it's the gauntlet I throw down: love me, love my frumpy/granola/unfashionable appearance. Mind you, I'm (usually) clean (that's a challenge with kids), but that's my only beauty standard.

Instead, like Eliot, I turned to academic pursuits. Now, she was translating German and publishing by her early 20s, and, as many have noted, had one of the keenest self-taught educations of the 19th century, so I am way behind, but the similar impetus is there (I do have that Ph.D., a route not available to her at the time--I wonder if she would have bothered?). She was challenging and escaping the strictures of Victorian women's roles, even with a rise in educated women of the middle classes, more than I have to face in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. And when she was kept from the activities of the mind, like when she nursed her aging and then dying father for a few years as his sole caretaker and housekeeper, she sank into a depression. Now, I'm not clinically depressed, but I do get peevish when I can't get online or read or have coherent thoughts. And I realized yesterday, though it seems obvious now, that I can only happily handle about 4 hours of active, sustained, engaged, entertaining mommyhood before I need a break to do something un-child related. I can't imagine going for months at a time like Eliot must have (though, I think, to save herself, she was also translating another book while nursing her father).

Then there's the religious crisis of conscience. She was an extremely devout Evangelical Anglican, which focused on good works and plain living. But as a late teen, she went through what she termed the "holy war," and decided to leave the church (a much bigger deal in English society then than in American society now), seeing Jesus as no more than a model human, certainly not divine, and the whole premise of the dogma of the church, i.e. its stance on salvation, as misguided. I, of course, had a short but intense stint in the local Southern Baptist church, and became an atheist, recently turning to Unitarian Universalism. Many of Eliot's friends were Unitarians (the religions were separate then) and I can't quite recall why she didn't embrace what would seem to be a religion fit for her (except it was more Christian then than now). I need to re-read the section on religion and I'm looking forward to more information on her social justice and political stances.

Hughes even identifies one of Eliot's relationships with a woman as being beyond the usual close friendships women had at the time. In her correspondence Eliot compares their relationship to having a husband and uses the erotically-charged language of the Song of Songs. Of course, Eliot was known to fall in love with everyone she met (she apparently had several male lovers and numerous unrequited crushes), but it's interesting that "everyone" includes women.

So, I'm not living with a married man, nor taking a male name, nor experiencing what looks likes waves of depression (would we call her bipolar today?), nor publishing some of the most remarkable novels in the English language, but I feel an affinity with this woman, so far, and can't wait to finish the biography.

Which brings me to a question: if George Eliot were alive today, would she have a blog?

Monday, July 7, 2008

More S'mores

Did you know you can make s'mores in the microwave?

Yep, place a graham cracker on a paper towel in the microwave, add a piece of chocolate and a big marshmallow, then heat for 10-15 seconds, or until marshmallow "puffs up."

It's not quite girl scouting around a campfire but it tastes pretty good (though, I tend to like my marshmallows a little charred).

I bought the ingredients on sale at the grocery yesterday (leftovers from the 4th, I guess) to use for a picnic in the kiddos' new playhouse, an early birthday present from Gommie and Pop.

And today, we made the s'mores and headed outside to the playhouse for our picnic. As usual, Sis ate the crunchy crackers but not the sticky, messy inside (can't get those hands dirty!) and Buddy didn't eat any of the final product. I had one but it's not quite as good as the real thing.

But playing in the playhouse is great. Bud call's it his "Chinese food house" and he serves "gummies, sandwiches, and Chinese food" (which we had a lot of this weekend, since it was the only thing that tempted them to eat. She likes the fried wonton "chips" and he likes the duck sauce, on anything). Then they played "come inside because it's raining." They go out, realize it's raining, then go inside, shut all the doors and windows, and wait. Then they go out again. Ad infinitem. Sometimes I crawl in (the house is "big" at 4 x 4', the largest puffy plastic playhouse on clearance at Toys R Us that we could find) and wait out the rain while eating Chinese food. They love talking on the play phone--something every playhouse must have, I guess--as well as pretending to take books off the shelf decals and, now, roasting marshmallows over the fire decal.

It's a pretty neat house. I don't think they had these when I was a kiddo, but I made do with picnic tables and swingsets and bushes, managing to play wonderful games of Little House on the Prairie and Star Wars. In fact, one of my earliest "pretend" memories (and also earliest tv memories) is of playing Speed Racer, as Trixie, on the blue and white striped (or was it the yellow one??) swingset we had in Dallas. It had this wonderful face-to-face doubleseater and I distinctly remember pretending it was the Mach 5. I guess I really liked that show (and I can still sing the theme, but remember few other details and didn't see the recent movies. Though, it was odd to get the car in a "not crying" meal.).

Anyway, I hope the kiddos have hours of fun playing in the house, in addition to their swingset and our array of bushes. With or without real s'mores.


A is for Austin, where we'll be in a few weeks to celebrate my little sister's wedding. I'm the "maid" of honor, with the kiddos serving as flower girl and ring boy. I haven't said too much about all the plans, hers or ours (long, sentimental post about sis, wedding, and great guy she's marrying after we're back from Texas). But now, with it just days away, we are getting ready in earnest. We all have new haircuts and new clothes in the works, plus new shoes. There are little beds for the kiddos to sleep in and new DVD players for the airplane ride. We have to remember odd things, like door knob proectors so they can't open doors at Aunt Banana's house and monitors so we can hear them if they do. It's hard to believe the wedding is here. How is it July? Which leads to . . .

B is for birthdays. How are the kiddos three years old already? How can time stand still and speed forward swiftly at exactly the same time? Their party is coming up, which also occasions much planning and some stress. We've got the food and the favors and are looking forward to friends and fun. Sis keeps stating that her party is coming up, but then asks, "When is Buddy's birthday party?" Guess it'll be time to split them next year. We're already sorta splitting them. Each child picked decorations. Sis went with Diego plates and napkins, while Bud opted for baseball. We'll alternate them on the table, along with the chocolate animal cupcakes and baseball-themed vanilla cupcakes. Which leads to . . .

C is for cookbook. I'm finalizing our church's cookbook, readying recipes and extra pages to be submitted in time for the books to be back for our festival. It's taking longer than I expected, even with late-night meetings to organize things. I'm excited about it, but also, like with the two above activities, nervous and stressed.

But it's all good.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Holiday is Almost Over

This is a 3-day weekend I would rather soon forget.

But at least we are beginning to heal.

No one has had fever in 24 hours.

That's about the best I can say.

I can't even think on the fun we were supposed to have nor on all the things we must do this week to get ready for birthday and wedding.

But, all that pales when I think of my friend who will be having major kidney surgery this Friday. Our thoughts are with her and her family.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

This Holiday Sucks

We were going to Old Sturbridge Village tomorrow to enjoy the special 4th of July celebrations.


We were going to go down to the city to celebrate the babes' birthdays and wish bon voyage to Ma and Gong, as they are leaving for a month in Bangkok next week.

Most likely not.

We were going to church.


I think the best we'll do is working in our garden and making some ice cream in our freezer. Not bad, in itself, but not great in comparison to our plans.

Yes, I'm grumpy. So, I'm going to sing our favorite grumpy song (which we sing when Bud gets whiny; he LOVES that) by (the?) Aardvarks:

If you want to be a grump that's okay
But could you be a grumpy kinda further away
It's not that I don't love ya 'cause you know I do
Sometimes I'm grumpy too

If you want to be a nudje that's ok
But could you be nudjey kinda further away
It's not that I don't love ya 'cause you know I do
Sometimes I'm nudjey too

I think I understand
Exactly what it is you're going through
Oh when your oatmeal's lumpy and your socks are all bumpy
What's a poor kid to do?

Update #3

I'm on amoxycilin too.

And Mama has headed to the clinic for her strep screen because she came home with an aching throat.

Lastly, Buddy went to bed with a fever and cough. He'll be next.

What does strike 4 get you?

Update #2

My throat burns and aches and my head hurts.

Mama is coming home so I can run to the local clinic.

I hope I don't have strep too.

But I think it is highly likely.


Sis has strep.

Yep, fever + barking cough = strep throat

So now, strep + amoxycilin + isolation for 24 more hours = at least not contagious

Except to all of us, especially Buddy.

She's fairly miserable and exhausted. I'm trying to distract her--new playdough toys, new Mr/Ms Potato Head, videos we were saving for our flight--but it's not really working.

All our plans for the 3-day weekend are on hold.

Ups and Downs

It's day three of what Mommy Goose is calling the Bounce House Bug. Sis has had a lowgrade fever off and on since Tuesday afternoon, when she and two other little friends (including Goose) became sick. She's got a raspy voice and a seal cough so we're heading to the ped this morning, with promises of a trip to the bookstore and lunch afterwards.

Another little friend is in the throes of potty-training: he's in undies only and, despite some challenges, is doing great. Way to go!

Lastly, yet another little friend is having a big week, his first week of school. While the first day was successful, yesterday and today have been hard for him and his Mama and Daddy. This will be us in the fall, no doubt. So, we're thinking of you, CJ. School is fun!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Picnic Food Has No Calories

We had a picnic today. Not the kind of simple yet charming picnic of the Minimalist's dreams, nor the kind of setting that would go with much of that food.

We walked down to the corner store, bought some juice boxes and candy (regular Skittles for him, chocolate--??--Skittles for her), and proceeded to eat at the picnic table (do you have to sit on the ground for it to be a real picnic? Or does just eating outside qualify?) overlooking a busy street. Of course the big trucks, ambulances with sirens, and constant stream of people in and out of the store were more fascinating to the kiddos than any pretty scenery. Even with the fumes.

Still hungry, they wanted "something else, something yummy, for me" and so they split a ham sandwich on a Portuguese (a local roll) and had some chips. And watched more trucks. I downed a diet snapple and stole some Skittles (the chocolate ones are like Tootsie Rolls with a candy shell. Not gross, just not great).

It's our second picnic trip to the little store and one of several picnics we've had recently, both at home and away. We had a great one with Gommie in the local park and one with friend CJ at his house (but does that count? There were these delicious grilled cheese brought out from the kitchen. I'm sure someone has very strict definitions, but not me). It's starting to grow on me, who usually doesn't like to eat outside where it's hot and there are bugs. Mama likes it even less than I do, so we never do it. I think, in 11 years, that we have picnicked once together that stands out in my memory, at an Indigo Girls concert in Chicago at that famous music park whose name escapes me but might start with a "t." I'm not even sure I remember what we ate but I'm definitely sure we weren't totally prepared with the things we would need to eat outside. I'm trying to think back to picnics of my childhood--my mom had a great big old wooden basket that was ruined by an obnoxious neighborhood boy--but I can't specifically remember the food beyond cold KFC chicken. On boat rides, we didn't usually eat more than sodas and potato chips (which began frozen but defrosted in the summer heat), though for years Dad carried cans of Vienna sausages and, I think, baked beans in his camouflaged aluminum boat. Someone will have to remind me if we picnicked more. I know there were outdoor parties in our yard at home or at the bay--crawfish boils, fish frys (or is it fries?) with hushpuppies, BBQ (where the food isn't ready until the cook is drunk), birthday parties and other such celebrations with the usual potluck food--but I'm thinking of something smaller, more intimate, even more portable, than a party. A picnic isn't (usually, in my mind) that big.

With kids, it seems an obvious choice--no real clean up, an easier continuation of outside activity (instead of leaving to go in and eat and then come back out, which never works), even the tasting of new foods. Today, they tried mayonnaise--what is it, Sis asked. Huh, well, I know it's an emulsion of eggs and oil but that's not what she was really asking. "It's the white stuff you put on sandwiches," I said. She wasn't thrilled; too much like sauce, I think.

I've even started scouting around for picnic accoutrement. For our deck, with its new umbrella and table (well, new to them), I picked ups some protective food tents so that flies and critters wouldn't eat our stuff when we weren't. Now I'm looking for an all-purpose tray and also napkin/plasticware holder. You'd be surprised how hard these are to find, even right before July 4th. I don't think Mama and I will take to dining al fresco without the kiddos, but we might do more of it with them. And maybe, just maybe, we can try some of those wonderful minimalist recipes.

Philharmonic Salad
On my first trip to Symphony in the Park, someone brought this delicious salad. Mama and I made something similar, sans tomatoes, for New Year’s 2000 and for other important celebrations, served with good crusty bread. We also, before veg-ness, added prosciutto.

basil leaves
fresh mozzarella cubes
balsamic dressing: oil, balsamic vinegar, French mustard (with lots of seeds—not much of this because consistency of dressing is liquid), garlic

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Strawberry Girl (and Boy)*

One berry
Two berry
Pick me a [strawberry]
In my canoeberry
Under the bridge
And over the dam
Looking for berries
Berries for jam. (Bruce Degen, Jamberry)

We picked strawberries today in the hot summer sun. The kiddos were so excited to have their own little boxes to carry and excitedly ran to the tractor stop. Picking fruit and riding on a tractor pull, what fun! And Mama, oh my! She joined us briefly, mainly because she has to work late tonight and wanted to come.

You could smell the strawberries as we approached the distant field filled with moms and children. They say our modern strawberries are bastard imitations of the very fragrant heirloom varieties--I would love to smell a field of old strawberries if these were the less impressive kind!

And so there we were, running up and down our assigned row looking for strawberries like Easter eggs. I was kneeling in the straw cover looking for the red juicy ones, but Mama and the kids had more luck--and that was the half I saw since I know Bud and Sis ate at least half! We did two rows and finished with about 7 lbs of berries uneaten. They ate more in the car, so I am not sure exactly how many I just washed and put in the fridge for safe-keeping.

We had talked about strawberry pie and strawberry shortcake, and I had thoughts of strawberry freezer jam and strawberry sorbert, on the way home, but they decided they just want them "plain."

But, I think I can freeze or use half and they won't even notice.

**Anybody else read Lois Lenski's book? I don't remember it much except that I loved the illustrations in my copy and liked the story.


Goo’s Redwall Strawberry Cordial
2 lbs. strawberries
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup powdered sugar
¾ liter of plain seltzer
2 tablespoons water
1 pint heavy cream

Wash and slice strawberries. Heat strawberries on low flame in saucepan with ½ cup sugar and 2 tablespoons of water. When soft and rendering liquid, add the other ½ cup of sugar. Strain strawberries over bowl, saving juice. Crush strawberries until only seeds and fibers left. Add to juice. Cool juice. Add seltzer to strawberry juice to taste. Add cream to cordial to taste and texture. Sweeten with powdered sugar. Refrigerate at least an hour or until chilled. Serve with fresh whipped cream.

Strawberry Sorbet

2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 quart strawberries, hulled
1 ½ teaspoon lemon juice

In heavy saucepan boil water and sugar for 5 minutes; do not stir. Add strawberries; cook 5 minutes more. Stir in lemon juice. Cool. Puree. Refrigerate until chilled. Pour into ice cream maker and freeze for approximately 25 minutes.