Saturday, January 31, 2009

"Our Guests are Gone So We Can Be Messy"

Our 2nd Annual Groundhog Day brunch and open house guests have left, a smaller group than we expected, but no less fun (perhaps more so for being intimate). And indeed, on their departure, Sis began to sling green royal icing around the kitchen in a Jackson Pollock-inspired approach to cookie decorating. Bud got in the act and poured handfuls of sprinkles on already decorated cookies. Cookie decorating--this time with paintbrushes to make it easier--was the highlight of the morning. Though, the train table and the twin baby dolls cum stroller were also a hit. Yes, many of our guests were under 3' tall. Those who weren't sat around talking about kindergarten, football (particularly injuries--here's the link for Mr. C and Mr. V), IT (3 of the adults work in IT), living overseas (one had lived in Hong Kong and South Korea; a couple just moved back from 3 years in London), teaching (two who teach on the college level), and such. So, while it was really cold outside and we're all hoping for no shadow on Monday, it was warm and happy here. Thanks to those of you who came! And get well soon to all of those who had to cancel.

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It occurred to me as I linked to the post on our first Groundhog Day party that we'd had a "birthday cake" last year and sang to the Groundhog, mainly because those were the only kinds of parties Sis understood. We had the party again this year but no cake. And that's because our dear Miss T, who gave me my first lesson in cake decorating, has moved to Georgia and wasn't here to guide me. But we did do decorated sugar cookies in your honor. We miss you, Miss T!

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Blueberry Crumble French Toast
This was my favorite dish at breakfast at the Frederick-Talbott Inn the morning Mama and I went to Winter on the Prairie at Conner Prairie Living History Museum. MMmmmmm! I could’ve been a pioneer with sustenance like this! I sent the cook my mom’s Orange Biscuits recipe in exchange.

bread sliced ¾ inch thick (they use Italian; I used challah)
8 eggs
1 cup milk
¾ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup flour
1 cup dry oats
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (we skipped this)
1 to 2 cups blueberries

Grease a 6 x 10 baking dish. Preheat oven to 375°F. Slice bread in ¾ inch thick slices and place in a single layer in the bottom of the prepared pan. Cut additional bread into small pieces to fill in spaces around slices.
Beat together eggs and milk. Add vanilla.
Pour egg mixture over bread. There should be enough liquid to cover bread. Let sit one to two minutes to allow bread to absorb egg mixture. Turn bread slices to evenly soak both sides.
For topping, blend together with a pastry cutter the butter, brown sugar and flour or use your fingers to work the butter into the sugar and flour; stir in oats. Sprinkle over soaked bread in baking dish. Top evenly with nuts and blueberries.
Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until the bread is puffy and bubbles rise around the sides of the pan. Let sit 5 minutes before cutting into rectangles to serve. Peaches or apples may be substituted for the blueberries. Serve with maple syrup or blueberry syrup.

Frederick-Talbott Inn, Indiana



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Sherried Eggs
Another treat from Frederick-Talbott Inn in Indiana, part of both breakfasts we ate there. Yum!
18 eggs
¾ cups milk
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can mushrooms (drained)
2 tablespoons dry Sherry
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Beat eggs and milk together well. Scramble until soft.
Place in large greased casserole.
Mix soup, mushrooms, and sherry together. Spread on top of the scrambled eggs, mixing in slightly.
Top with cheddar cheese. Refrigerate overnight.
Place in cold oven at low temperature (250°F) and bake for 1 ½ hours. Served 8-10.

Frederick-Talbott Inn, Indiana

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Hashbrown Casserole

32 oz. bag frozen hash browns
10-1/2 oz cream of mushroom
1 pint sour cream
2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup melted butter

Mix and spread into 13 x 9” baking dish. Bake at 350°F for 1 hour.


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Bud's Favorite Punch

1 bottle sparkling cider
1 container lemon sorbet (we used orange sherbet)
1 can of pineapple rings
1 pint of blueberries

Combine. Yum.

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My Favorite Coffee Punch
Actually, today I cheated and just pulled out the coffee ice cream to drop dollops in hot coffee.

1 pot of coffee (hot or cold)
cream to taste
1 container of coffee ice cream

Combine. Yum.

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Chocolate Cut Out Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a medium bowl with an electric hand mixer or in the bowl of a standing mixer with a flat beater, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed. Add the egg and vanilla extract and blend on medium speed. Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt, and mix on low speed.

Knead into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hours.

[Roll, cut, and bake as usual--the book's instructions are too long to include here.]

Bake in preheated 375F oven for 12 to 14 minutes for large cookies or 10-12 minutes for small cookies. The cookies are done when the edges are golden brown.

Yield: 12-16 large cookies (4-6") or 30-35 small cookies (2-3")

Meaghan Mountford, Cookie Sensations


Royal Icing

3 tablespoons merengue powder
4 cups (1 lb) powdered sugar
3 tablespoons warm water*

Beat all ingredients until icing forms peaks (7-10 minutes at low speed with a heavy-duty mixer, 10-12 minutes at high speed with a hand-held mixer).
NOTE: Keep all utensils completely grease-free for proper icing consistency.
* For stiffer icing, use 1 tablespoon less water.
**When using large countertop mixer or for stiffer icing, use 1 tablespoon less water.
Thinned Royal Icing: To thin for pouring, add 1 teaspoon water per cup of royal icing. Use grease-free spoon or spatula to stir slowly. Add 1/2 teaspoon water at a time until you reach proper consistency.

My note: Because we were painting the icing on the cookies with brushes, I divvied up the white icing in separate cups, added about a tablespoon of water per cup, and the gel food colorings. We stirred to combine, checking for spreadable consistency--I didn't want it to be so hard to spread that the kids would break the cookies. It was probably the consistency of cake batter. Then to complete the process, a muffin tin filled with sprinkles and a stack of paper cups were put out. Kids, with grown-up help, put their chosen icing color(s) in a cup, painted their cookie, and then sprinkled on toppings. VoilĂ !

Wilton

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Mama Teacher's Chocolate Surprise Cookies
(I'm extrapolating this recipe from her description)

vanilla wafers
caramel
chocolate chips, melted
sprinkles

Spread caramel on vanilla wafers to create sandwiches. Dip in melted chocolate. Add sprinkles. Inhale.

Mama Teacher

Friday, January 30, 2009

Tidbits

Yesterday, as we ran errands at the craft and bookstores, Bud became enamored of cars. Not in a make-and-year kind of way, but because of the license plates. He noticed, for the first time, that every car has numbers and letters on it. And so he stopped at each one and read them outloud to me.

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Sis desperately wanted the eraser-marker book that Bud was working in the other day. So she approached him temptingly, "Bud, I know you love letters," proffering her ABC book at him.

"I love you too," he said, "but I'm going to do my Connect-the-Dots."

Good try, Sis.

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The other night during tuck-in, after singing our goodnight song about different kinds of families, Sis asked me, "What makes us a family?"


Oh, bedtime profundity (I used to do it in the car, I'm told).


And so we whispered our ideas: love, living in the same house, reading stories together, having lunch together, playing together, baking cookies together, going to church together, happy thoughts, the family song, "beep-beep" goodbyes.

Mama chimed it that we actually didn't have to be together, that even when she's at work, and I'm at exercise, and the kids are at school--even at different tables for snack--we're still a family because we love each other. Always.

Cats are Crazier than Kids

I love our cats. But we must have been crazy to adopt them. The only way that they are easier to deal with than kids is that they come potty-trained and wash themselves. Otherwise, they are just like toddlers. Some examples:
  • Albus has figured out how to open our upper kitchen cabinets. The other night when I was out, Mama heard a banging in the kitchen and went to investigate. She couldn't see a thing amiss. More banging. Where was it coming from? Albus stuck his head out of a cabinet to check on her. He had gone looking for the grapes that I had stashed in the colander on the shelf to keep away from him. When I came home later, there was a baby lock on the cabinet.
  • Hermione loves going into the kids' room at night when we do our bedtime ritual or if Mama has to go in later. Her favorite spot? On top of the stereo speaker which is on top of the 6' tall bookshelf. Try getting her down if you are Mama and only 5' tall. Heck, I have trouble at 5'7" if she doesn't willingly come to the edge.
  • Both of our cats love to eat things. Hermione likes the plastic edges of baby wipes bags (which, despite no more diapers, we keep around for other chores, since we have a big supply). Albus is partial to Q-tips. Both love plastic bags. In fact, any plastic is desirable. And they will go to any length to get to it. They have, jointly or independently: managed to open my desk drawer from underneath to scavenge around in the contents; opened the kitchen junk drawer from above despite the childproof lock (their paws can squeeze in even if the lock is engaged); work the mechanism on a lidded trash can to get to the insides; pushed through the small opening of the locked cabinet under the sink to get in the trash can; and unzipped--no, I swear, I watched Albus do this--my big tote bag where I'd stashed a plastic bag. They've managed other things, but we've only found the detritus and can't figure out how they got what they did. Needless to say, we've really decreased the amount of plastic around here and take the garbage out all the time.
  • They love going where they aren't supposed to, mainly the basement or the enclosed front porch. And they are fast! Sometimes, you don't even know they've gotten there. And what do they like to do there? Of course, eat plastic . . . or leaves or straw or well, anything. So, luckily, they often betray themselves by stopping at the first tempting leaf or plastic bag, making them much easier to catch.
  • I think I've mentioned elsewhere their propensity for climbing curtains, but my favorite episode happened over Christmas, when Hermione must have climbed the curtains in our room, started swinging back and forth, and knocked the full humidifier on our dresser onto the floor, scaring herself and everyone who heard the bang.

But then, Hermione will sleep between Mama's knees (all night) or Albus will curl up on my leg (for just a few minutes). Or they'll both do their amazing leaps to catch their favorite mice cat toys. Or slumber all curled up in the sun. And then you don't mind their kittenish antics so much. Just like with human kids. Except, well, I guess human kids grow up.

How to Play Games with Twins

Yesterday found me in a position I never expected to be in: playing Candyland and Chutes and Ladders at the same time! Sis loves Candyland; Bud, Chutes and Ladders. Neither wanted to play with the other; both wanted to play with me. So we tried. And it worked out okay except when it was my turn in both games. But they were good about alerting me, "MOMMY!!! It's your turn! Spin/Pick a card!!!"

Heaven help me. I don't even like games. But I gamely (hee hee, couldn't resist) played along. And as I did so, I wondered what in the world I was supposed to be teaching them. Games, in theory, are character-building, wholesome family fun, and educational--but how do you make them that way? Sure, taking turns. And, yes, good sportsmanship. And the specific rules of the game, as well as game culture in general right (how to count spaces, how to take a card from the top of a stack). But what does that look like in practice? I know that when Bud keeps moving vertically instead of horizontally on the board, I should keep helping him count the right way. And when Sis would skip to any yellow, per se, instead of the next one, I would point to her destined square. I also tried, when either of us got a bad draw--a card or spin that sent us backwards--to take it in stride, use our "oh, well, but let's keep trying" attitude. But what about when I won Chutes and Ladders (and was restrained in my celebration, of course) and Bud kept going (to be a good sport) but kept landing on all those damned chutes in the last row? He was discouraged. I couldn't figure out how to cheat. And besides that's not the point, right?? So he wanted to quit. But do you allow quitting? That's not very sportsmanslike. But if you force him to play, then really, haven't you missed the real point of the game, which is fun?

That's when I realized I was in over my head--not because I was playing two games at once but because I'm not a game player and don't know how to teach sportsmanship and game culture. And why is that, exactly? I know I loved Candyland as a kid. And I remember playing all sorts of card games--Old Maid, Go Fish, Battle, Slap Jack, even 21--plus checkers and even backgammon with my next-door neighbor. When did I start hating to play games? Really absolutely loathing the experience? My mom loves games, plays all the time at home and at the bay house, particularly card games like bridge but also (now religiously) Mahjong, Rummy, Spoons, Dictionary, I couldn't even name all the games that are out there to play. But I've never seen my dad play anything; neither, I would venture, do any of his family. Is it genetic? My mom's whole side of the family, for generations, plays games. Am I too competitive? Do I not like the good-natured teasing and smack-talk that always seem to go with social game-playing? I would rather go for my annual pap smear than have to play games in a group (it's quicker, at least). But I wouldn't say I'm by nature an anti-social person. I would sit around and chitchat with the same group of people.

So, what am I going to do? Obviously, there are a lot more games on my horizon, though hopefully one at a time (because isn't being a good team player a game-thing?). I think I can survive actually having to play, at least with the kids, at least for now, but how do I mold them into good game players when I'm not?

Joys and Concerns

Well, only a concern: our bright and sunny older lady friend from church slipped on the ice yesterday and broke her pelvis. We wish her a speedy and easy recovery!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

School Delay, School Delay

Dear ol' white snow day. . . .

Actually, it was more of an ice delay this morning. All the rain from yesterday afternoon (after 5"+ snow) froze overnight, creating quite a slippery mess this morning. But Mama had shoveled the wet snow last night and then salted this morning so we were able to get the kiddos to school an hour later than usual. The sun is gloriously bathing the landscape in its warmth and already melting much of the thinner ice. Hopefully, the streets and sidewalks will be dry by the end of the day. I think though for the first time, I'm hoping that sweet, little groundhog doesn't see his shadow on Tuesday and we get an early spring.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

In the Papers and On My Mind

Here's the latest survey of articles I've been thinking about:




  • Frank Rich's op-ed on the personal responsibility each of us holds for the last eight years and the downturn the country has taken is sobering reading. Of course, he was the one who called Americans the "Good Germans" ignoring their own Gestapo a few years ago in another powerful opinion piece.

  • With all the hubbub about the pre-recorded music of Yo-Yo Ma and company, I was quite gratified to read the positive article about arts funding which contained assertions that art jobs are just as important to the economy as manufacturing jobs. In fact, the arts apparently contribute $167 million dollars to the economy. I'm with Dr. American Modern in hoping that Obama appoints a culture minister (even if I don't care if it is Quincy Jones in particular) to elevate the visibility and respect for the arts in this country. Then perhaps I'll have a career to go back to!

  • "Choosing Your Own Exit," another post on end-of-life choices, linking to the New Old Age blog as well as other articles on geriatric health.
  • Two more on health: coffee and dementia (reduced risk of dementia and Type 2 diabetes? I'm drinking more coffee! Can it be decaf?) and cutting calories and memory (yet another link between insulin and memory).
  • David Brooks on individualism vs. institutionalism. It's an interesting way to consider how we define ourselves. I was certainly part of academia as an institution, but am on sabbatical from that, so to speak. Now, I'm part of motherhood as an institution (though, the other night, I suggested we should think of it as a craft--more on that another time), but one whose rules and traditions seem to be in flux. I'm going to have to give this one some more thought.
  • Last but not least, an essay on appreciating your parents at Motherlode. I'm already feeling somewhat unappreciated over here, even if it is more implicit than explicit. As for appreciating my parents, well, let's just say that the appreciation has definitely been deeper since my own parenthood. And I too have made those spur-of-the-moment "I'm sorry I was like that; I understand now" phone calls. Probably not the last ones, either. I mean, the kids are only 3 1/2. I have the whole teenage years ahead of me.

Weaning Myself off My Crutch

Since starting physical therapy about a year and a half ago, I have worn a back brace which mainly held in my abdomen while I decreased my diastasis recti (tear in abdominal wall) and strengthened all the surrounding muscles, while also reminding me to be careful of my lower back. Well, I officially ended therapy last May and have been doing my regular exercises there (they let ex-patients use the equipment and consult with therapist for a small fee) 2-3 times a week (depending on chidcare) since then. I'm stronger and able to do so much more (and apparently I don't limp so much anymore).

But I haven't taken off the brace. It's old, it's stretched, but I've refused to buy a new one and even removed some of the support slats in an effort to wean myself from it. And it's working. I can now go 3-5 hours without it on and without worrying about it or missing it, mostly mornings at home. I'm hoping to go without it when I run errands by myself and then eventually quit wearing it in the tired, dangerous evenings when I'm most likely to do something stupid. I don't need it for my diastasis--which has shrunk so small (it will never go away) that my OB couldn't even feel it anymore. And I'm much more aware of my movements and am careful of my back (i.e. no stretching, turning, or bending at the same time; proper sitting; diversified activities, which means no long periods in any one position). It's really all mental. As we know, though, that can be a huge part.

But I'm taking it . . . one non-limping step at a time!

Eat Your . . . Dirt?

Yep, it can be good for you!

An article in the NYTimes summarizes the "hygiene hypothesis," namely:

that organisms like the millions of bacteria, viruses and especially worms
that enter the body along with “dirt” spur the development of a healthy
immune system. Several continuing studies suggest that worms may help to
redirect an immune system that has gone awry and resulted in autoimmune
disorders, allergies, and asthma.

These studies, along with epidemiological
observations, seem to explain why immune system disorders like multiple
sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease, asthma and
allergies have risen significantly in the United States and other developed
countries.


Indeed, the article notes that research with mice has shown that the introduction of worms into the digestive system actually decreases the effects of many of those diseases.

So, when is dirt "dirty" and when is it clean? The article's experts suggest:

“I certainly recommend washing your hands after using the bathroom, before
eating, after changing a diaper, before and after handling food,” and whenever
they’re visibly soiled, [Dr. Ruebush] wrote. When no running water is available and
cleaning hands is essential, she suggests an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Dr. Weinstock goes even further. “Children should be allowed to go
barefoot in the dirt, play in the dirt, and not have to wash their hands when
they come in to eat,” he said.

And get some pets.

Who knew staying healthy could be so much fun? And so dirty . . .

New Year's Cleaning

I have recently deleted close to 10,000 messages in my personal email inbox (in one of my accounts; I have several). I know, what was I doing with that many emails in my inbox? I'm terrible about cleaning it out. Let's say I get an email about an upcoming playgroup--I keep it so I can remember the information. But then other people reply about whether they are attending or not--I read those. And forget to delete them. And then I forget to delete the playgroup invitation after the event. I also get some newsletters from various magazines I subscribe to and I sometimes keep those "to read later," which of course never comes.

Of course, years ago, storing so much email was a problem because you were only allotted a certain amount of space. Such is not the case anymore. So, really, do I need to throw out any email? Mama calls it useless organizing, the kind of organizing you do that doesn't make you any more efficient and just takes time (say, if you suddenly decided to alphabetize your salad dressings or something). But it made me feel good, if only because I had proven to myself that I could throw so much away, even if it was mostly email I had never really intended to keep. And in the week since I've done it, I've kept under 25 emails in my inbox and tried to reply as soon as I get something. So, maybe I am more efficient, if only because I am more aware. Of course, I did keep a large chunk of old email--condolences on the death of our cat Morgan, congratulations on the babes and our various unions/marriages, anything from my mom, Lambeth, Mama, and a few other people. I'm holding onto some things. But I think it's time to move on to those other email accounts!

We've also been making a lot more progress on the basement, going down there a few nights a week to purge. Last week it was books. I think we purged two huge boxes of paperbacks, mainly mysteries from my grad school days (to be sold at the church book sale), plus a lot of paper (to be recycled). In the process, I came across several boxes of my academic and professional books. All the Victorian art tomes stayed in the basement for now, while the museum education books have come upstairs. Re-reading (and sometimes reading for the first time) these will help me on my museum ed blog, as well as help me feel more connected to my profession. I really enjoyed sorting through those books, kinda like revisiting old friends.

All of this coincided with Chinese New Year, which was coincidental but auspicious. It is considered important to clean house before the holiday. Ar-Ma even reminded us as we left her house on Saturday that we should go home and throw some things away. We'll just pretend that every week is the new year!

Indulgent Deliciousness

You need only to read the recipe attached to this article on Eli Zabar to gain weight! The author, Alex Witchel, describes Jelly Doughnut Pudding as pie (warm) or ice cream (cold). Oh my, that sounds good. I think for our next playgroup I'll bring this instead of the typical box of munchkins!

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Dr. American Modern, copyright queen--do you have any insight into quoting text? I usually would've just pasted the recipe here and included the link, of course giving credit. What do you think? Is there a website for blogging citation rules? I really appreciate all of your insights.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Post-Op?

I've been continually inspired by Dana Jennings's musings on his prostate cancer. Today's "gift" of advice for a friend about to have surgery is humorous, touching, and true. And as one who had a combined C-section and ovarectomy, I wholeheartedly second much of his advice: do the drugs, walk if you can, and don't forget that pillow on your tummy for laughing (or coughing, or sneezing).

Here Comes the Snow Again

Yep, something icy this way comes. We're in for more snow, anywhere from 3-5" plus a layer of ice, heavy rain, and then some flooding.

Gotta love winter in New England. At least it will be pretty again.

Art on My Mind: Sir Luke Fildes's The Doctor

Sir Luke Fildes, one of the Victorian social realists (along with Hubert von Herkomer and Frank Holl) who painted scenes of poverty and struggle in late 19th-century England, painted The Doctor (exh. 1891, Tate Collection, London) following the death of his son. The painting, however, celebrates the heroism of the dedicated country doctor. Despite the melancholy of the picture--watchful doctor, prostrate child, hovering father, collapsed mother, dark and poor interior--the child is showing the first signs of recovery as the morning light peeks into the room.

Thoughts and Prayers

The woman who saw me through my challenging pregnancy and brought our babes into this world is struggling to save her own child who was diagnosed with brain cancer in November. Please keep her, her family, and especially her beautiful Isabella in your thoughts and prayers.

Proustian Pineapple Tarts

Food memoirs recalling lost relatives and disappearing food traditions are some of my favorite essays. An article in the WSJ (linked to Tara Parker-Pope's Well blog) talks of one woman's memory of her Ah-Ma's pineapple tarts prepared for Chinese New Year. Her grandmother died before she could impart the technique and the granddaughter has never found a tart quite like it . . . until she spends a day with some aunts and cousins, making the specialty just as her Ah-Ma had.

What strikes me about this poignant essay is how similar I think it must be to my kids' own Ar-Ma's (and Gong's too) memories of foods from her homeland which are difficult if not impossible to make or get here. Every meal at Ar-Ma and Ar-Gong's house includes tales of foods that were--what their mothers served at feasts, what fish or desserts they can only get in Bangkok, how Flushing's bakeries' buns just aren't as good, or how the one place that made noodles almost like home has just closed. It's bittersweet to hear these, knowing how good it must have been, how hard to let it go. My own food nostalgia--for things in Texas that are best there (BBQ and Chicken Fried Steak), or that I can't get up here (mainly, Ranch Style Beans), or that my mom will always make better than I can (or, well, just more mom- or home-like)--is minimal in comparison but allows me to empathize even more. I know Mama experiences her own losses when she can't even easily procure the ingredients here in Connecticut that her mom gets in the city or doesn't know how to make a particular dish from her childhood. She has tried to gather recipes from her mom but it is a work-in-progress, mainly because no recipes exist and so the cooking of the foods must be observed and recorded, which is more difficult than it sounds. But still, they try, knowing it is worth the effort, for Mama and now for the kiddos.

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A Few New Year's Recipes From Mama's Family Cookbook

Abalone and Mushroom Sauce
Ma and Gong would make this for Chinese New Year’s, but didn’t for a while because it was too expensive and not very good. It’s better now, though, and we really enjoyed this for 2003.

Abalone: smaller pieces better, cooked, Chinese label from Mexico: eg: ‘Pacific Brand’

Thinly slice abalone; reserve juice in can. Heat oil, add garlic and soaked/sliced shitake mushrooms (*place dried mushrooms in cold water and let soak for a few hours or overnight; soaking water can be saved and used. Warm water can be used if in a hurry). Add abalone juice and corn starch (dissolved in water), boil. Add touch of black soy sauce for color and taste if desired. Toss abalone in sauce to heat. Serve with rice.

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Dad’s Taro Paste
Cut taro into inch pieces. Place in pot, water to cover. Boil slowly with sugar and pinch of salt. When cooked, remove from heat, let cool. Add touch of oil (or coconut milk), mash in water. Freezes well. Serve with sticky rice, ice cream, ginko nuts (below).

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Ginko Nuts
Choose ginko nuts that are white, medium sized, with no spots. Crack open with a nutcracker. Peel off skin if the nuts are larger than a thumbnail. Rinse quickly to retain flavor. Add to cold water, heat to boiling, add sugar to taste. Cooked when the nuts are a sallow yellow color. Turns harder/chewier the longer they are cooked.

For a ginko drink, use more water. For a ginko dessert, add taro paste or red dates. This was Mom and Dad’s wedding dessert.

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Seven Vegetable Soup
Traditional soup for the seventh day of the Chinese New Year. Very subtle and refreshing. Be careful, if you cook them too long, the veggies get mushy.

Seven vegetables (celery, mustard greens, leek, radish, spinach . . .).

Cut veggies, separating top leaves from bottom branches. Cut radish into rings, cut into 6 pieces. Heat chicken or pork broth. Heat oil, add sliced/soaked black mushrooms and garlic. Stir-fry turnip and branches, except leeks, celery, spinach, when soft, remove to broth. Add rest of vegetables, soften and add to broth. Flavor with a touch of dark soy sauce and Maggi if necessary. If sour, add fish sauce to compensate.

They Strike Again

AGGGGHHHHHHH. I'm going to have to stop reading the comments on my favorite blog, Motherlode (though, I won't give up reading the blog itself). Some of those people are driving me nuts (see previous posts on sleeping). Today, two women are berating other moms for letting their children become attached to transitional objects, or loveys. Maybe I take it too personally, but I don't like righteousness or rigidity. I had a blankie, Sis has Shirt, Bud has loveys and various penguins. I don't think that has made us flawed people, extra-clingy or too materialistic. Just loving.

Angry Much?

Ooooh, I'm not exactly sure what sparked the vitriol in my previous post on co-sleeping. But I sure was angry and opinionated. Of course, the odd thing is, on the continuum of parenting styles I find myself closer to the breastfeeders and co-sleepers, even if I lashed out at them yesterday, at least those who commented on the Motherlode blog. Having calmed down somewhat, I realize that I was harsh. And I'm sorry.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Rainbow Raccoon

Like raccoons who are supposedly attracted to shiny things, I love colors, preferrably the full rainbow spectrum, usually in order. Is it a lesbian thing? I doubt it. But I have long loved rainbow things (though, purple is my favorite individual color--and I'm disenchanted when objects, usually children's things, exclude it. Is purple an adult color? Or are rainbows for children somehow too gay? Would, say, a Fisher-Price ring stacker with purple somehow "convert" an otherwise "normal" child??). As a youngster, I had a room with rainbow-brushstrokes wallpaper and a concentric rainbow square comforter. There was a rainbow windsock, prisms casting rainbows from the window, and lots of rainbow-decorated objects. As I grew older, there were rainbow slinkies and various rainbow-colored manipulatives (you know, twisty blocks and metal bendables with beads) for my desk. And of course, as a proud lesbian, I had a few rainbow flags, in pin, earring, t-shirt, and freedom ring form. For a time, I made paintings of sunsets in rainbow hues and later crocheted rainbow blankets for me and the babes. Mama tolerates, is amused by, my love of the color spectrum. Which is good, because even now, the walls of our house, taking all the rooms together, include most of the colors of the rainbow (toned down and varied somewhat). There is no telling how many things I've bought or been drawn to because it contained the rainbow spectrum. But it's not insignificant.

And so, today, when I saw the Martha Stewart Living magazine (I imagine this link will only work for this month, as there wasn't a page just of the cover, so go look now) with the rainbow-hued cupcakes arrayed in a heart, I bought it immediately. It helped that it contained an article on lots of different kinds of flavors and designs for cupcakes, which instantly reminded me of my friend Miss T (which is why I called you tonight but you couldn't hear me, though I heard you just fine). I've already pulled the cover off and put it on my magnetic chalkboard. Looking at those colors just makes me happy.

So I guess it is a gay thing.

More on Sleep

There is a discussion over at Motherlode today about a new CDC study on a fourfold increase in infant deaths due to strangulation and suffocation. One obvious conclusion is that the rise correlates to the rise in the family bed, a form of co-sleeping. But the majority of the commentors are clearly affronted by the suggestion.

Which doesn't exactly surprise me. Co-sleepers are as zealous and dedicated to their beliefs as breastfeeders (and are usually the same people), offering personal testimonials to "prove" that co-sleeping is okay. What bothers me is the disdain they show for the fourfold increase--explaining it away as "social darwinism" (for waterbeds), criminal activity (like drugs), and a statistical sleight of hand not significant when compared to other dangers--as if the victims' parents deserved what happened and didn't matter anyway.

Regardless of the exact nature of the strangulation/suffocation incidents--waterbeds, drugs and alcohol, etc--we as a culture should be very, very concerned about any infant death rate that is increasing. Something is not right. I'm not saying the family bed is wrong (though, for the record, we never slept with the twins--they slept in a crib together in our room for a few months and then moved to another room, mainly because we didn't sleep well with them in the bed, I'm a heavy sleeper, and a heavy person, the cat slept with us already, and in the end, it just didn't feel safe to us), but something is and the family bed is one of the possibilities that has to be examined. Sure, automobiles are dangerous, bathtubs are dangerous, hell, even peanut butter is dangerous and so we enforce rules and norms (such as "never leave a child alone in a bathtub") to make those as safe as possible (though, really, the FDA should have more power and less obligation to the food industry). Your kid didn't die in your bed? Great, I am truly happy. But for those parents whose children did, we need to look at reasons why and try to help make sure it happens as infrequently as possible. Even if one of the suspects is your sacred cow.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Xing Jia Eu-ei!

Happy Year of the Ox! We are in the midst of several celebrations for Chinese New Year, including family rituals, parties, playgroups, and class presentations, which is as it should be because traditionally the new year is celebrated for 15 days. The most important of these was yesterday when we observed the holiday with Ma, Gong, and Goo at their home. I'm going to relate what I understand of the day, cribbing from notes that Ma wrote up for the babes' first new year four years ago. The spellings are hers; any mistakes or misunderstandings are mine.

We arrived well before noon, which is the time by which many of the family rituals must take place. See, new year's, as celebrated by a family at home, starts as a somber religious occasion. It's a combination of a Passover Seder and la Dia de los Muertos, but without the skulls (just a lot of red and gold dragons and animals of the zodiac). All the firecrackers and dragon dances are in the commercial districts, as business secure good luck and prosperity for the new year. At home, there are several offerings, prayers, and traditional foods.

When we arrived around 9:30, before the altar to Buddha was laid a table full of foods--fruits, candies, sweet buns, as well as flowers. Among the foods were what I can only describe as "red snowflakes," as all offerings have a little red on them for luck (sometimes paper, sometimes food coloring). In the dining room, the table was already full of various meats, fruits, candies, while soups simmered on the stove and stir fry ingredients were at the ready. None of this food was for eating, yet, which is hard for both kids and adults alike. But at least as adults, we understood.

But soon, Gong and Ma led us to the altar where they hei the offerings, or asked permission to remove them from the table to eat, which involves kneeling on the floor and raising the offering up and down three times. The kids enjoyed helping with the hei. And so, we started our feast with "smiling buns" (Kneg Kyow) seseame-covered lotus paste buns, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, long fried doughs with sesame seeds (laow-hual), little fried dough balls with sesame seeds, fried dough "nails" (ti-teng-taow), and lots of candy--candied kumquats, candied lotus root and lotus seeds, candied winter melon, and various nut and seed bars. We would nibble, or more precisely, gorge, on these for the next few hours.

In the meantime, we played and danced along with the singing and flashing golden turtle toy that Ma and Gong had bought in Chinatown a few years ago. It was loud, jarring, garish, perfect for kids, and totally entertaining. We lit the glowing firecrackers and the noisy firecrackers and Gong told about their significance: a long time ago, far far away in China, "mean people" wanted to take away the children of a town. The town realized that firecrackers would scare away the mean people and save the children. Now, we do this every new year to remember this. We told this story over and over again, particularly because Sis and Bud were a little nervous about the "mean people."

By 11, it was time to start the traditional prayers. In the dining room, all the stir fries and soups had been added to the other offerings. In all, there were:

  • Sa-Seiy, 3 or 5 different meats, today duck, chicken, squid, pork (there is never beef)
  • Tai-kig, or four clementines
  • Jing-Up, or a variety of candied peanuts (Sok-Zar), peanut bars, white and black sesame bars, and the other sweets I mentioned above
  • fruits, 3 or 5 kinds, including grapes, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, pineapple
  • Jay Chai, or 3 kinds of vegetarian offerings

There were also flowers, the Yang Tae or silver-gold paper money, a red Chinese candle, and sticks of incense. At each of the four places set for our particular ancestors (Gong's parents, Ma's mother, and another ancestor), there was rice and cups for liquour and tea. Ancestors are Kong-Ma, or invited to eat.

A member of the family, usually Goo because he is the youngest responsibe person, would pour 1/3 cup of liquor and tea for each ancestor. Then we all knelt (we-krab) with incense and asked for blessings. We had explained to the kids that it was like making "happy thought" (our nighttime ritual of naming things we like and are thankful for) wishes for others, like being healthy and happy. Bud wished for baseball, his usual first happy thought, but then remembered to wish for health for everyone. When the incense woud burn down by 1/3, we would do it again, and then again at 2/3.

At that point, about 11:40, we hei the paper money and took it outside, where we burned it in a metal bucket, which allows the ancestors to have money for things they like and then hopefully secures their blessings on us. This upset Sis. She didn't like the (controlled) flames nor did she understand why we were burning paper. This required attempts at explanations of ancestors, death, prayers, which was more than her 3 1/2 year old worldview could take in. It was over quickly enough and we could go back inside, for more playing and nibbling.

Around noon, the ancestors had partaken, symbolically, of the offerings and so we could hei the entire tableful of offerings, which were then reheated, stir-fried, combined in other dishes, and the like. Lunch was not far off at this point. Eating these blessed foods bring Pang-un, or luck. The kids love all the foods, gulping down fish ball soup, noodles, rice, baby corn, fresh bamboo shoots. I was enamored of the fried tofu with peanut dipping sauce (corn syrup, vinegar, crushed peanuts, a little sugar) and the stir-fried shitake mushrooms. Mama ate everything. Dessert of ka-nom tui (Sis's favorite coconut custard cups) followed--Sis had 5 of them! Bud ate an entire bowl of strawberries. And Mama and I loved the mashed taro (with coconut milk) and sugared ginko nuts. I'm not sure how I even managed to eat more, having devoured probably a dozen candied kumquats and other sweets.

Finally, after the meal and some relaxation, was the last ceremonial part of our day: the receiving of ang bao, or red envelopes of money. This year, these hung on several gorgeous flowering Chinese cherry blossom branches, imported from China and found in a store in Chinatown. Their delicate, white and pink blossoms looked like all those Chinese paintings you've seen. We dressed the kids up in their traditional Chinese outfits and then we all recited our rhyme: "Xing jia eu-ei, xing ni huac chai, ang bao tua tua kai." Sis and Bud received three envelopes each, from Ma and Gong, Mama, and Goo. Goo got one from Mama, as did Ma and Gong. Mama and I got one from Ma and Gong. There are several rules guiding ang bao--it's either a multiple of four or a multiple of your Chinese age (the kids were 5, I turned 40--because you age a year on new year not on your birthday--and you are one the day you are born. So, basically, you add two to your age, sort of); the youngest receive them from the older; when you begin working, you give envelopes to your parents; it is very rude to open the envelope in front of the giver.

There is so much more to the holiday that I don't know or haven't mentioned: traditional shopping days before; observances on the eve; the significance of the 4th day and special offerings; the 7th day and the meal of the 7 vegetables; and then the resumption of normal on the 15th day; as well as various prayers to different gods, spirits, and ancestors, as well as traditional trips to several wats and offerings to the Buddhas there.

We danced to the turtle music some more and then headed home, trunk full of food, stomachs too. Bud slept, Sis was too excited and talked the whole way home. A pretty good way to bring in the new year.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Perchance to Sleep

If you get more than one mom in a room, there is going to be talk of sleep--your lack of it, the kids' odd schedules, "crying-it-out," co-sleeping, and above all the proverbial "normal," which doesn't actually exist. Just this morning, when my friend with two kids was over, we--two moms with almost 4 years each of nap-and-bedtime experience (that's actually 12 years total: 8 for me and 4 for her)--ended up analyzing her baby's nap schedule and trying to figure out if she was going to drop one. I couldn't help but remember the recent Motherlode discussion on sleep schedules and the diversity of opinions generated by the guest blogger's queries about infants and sleep.

I'll state, for the proverbial record, that we were schedule moms. We tried the on-demand thing, loved the touchy-feely idea of letting baby set his AND her own schedule, responding to their bodies' needs. But folks, that just didn't work too well for twins and us. At one point in those first months, we were breastfeeding, pumping, and bottle-feeding (long and the short of it, I had no milk but we desperately kept trying, hence the first two steps, regardless of how useless they turned out to be, even with all the supplements and special teas) two children separately every two hours--and not the same two hours. And sometimes, they'd wake up in between because they had undiagnosed reflux. Which meant they would then catnap all day, too, exhausted. It goes without saying that this system didn't last long. So we ended up with schedules and charts for eating and sleeping. And the kids got older and we settled into a semblance of a schedule. Though, they were never good nappers--I've been on every backroad in Connecticut, and some in upstate New York and over the border in Massachusetts, trying to get those kids some decent sleep. In the end, they just wanted to sleep at night. And they've risen at 6 or 6:30 almost everyday of their lives, regardless of the time they go to bed. So, without real consistent naps, it didn't take long for us to realize bedtime had better be early. And my kids still go to bed between 6:30 and 7 (which means sometimes Mama only sees them for 10 minutes), after an extremely ritualized bedtime (bath, stories, singing, and evolving elaborate tuck-in with happy thoughts) and then sleep through, with no sleep issues, til morning. Knock on wood. Sure, Mama and I don't get out much (though on those rare occasions we do go out, the kids don't even know we're gone, because we leave after bedtime. More on parental romance in another post), but we have a lot of quality time at home to do whatever needs doing, or not. Works. For us. I don't think it would work for Motherlode's guest blogger, though.

I am never a more rational, relaxed, live-and-let-live mom than when I am asked to give advice to other moms about sleep and the like (note I said "asked"--I try not to give unsolicited advice in person, even if I have opinions that are often expressed in this blog). And my answer, inevitably, is do what works for you. And you means, first, your kids, and by extension, you (we're parents, the kids come first right now. Not first exclusively--I get to be first sometimes--but first in general). Don't know what that is? Try something for a little while (and that means more than a week). And if that doesn't work, try something else. Ignore people who give unsolicited advice expounding their way of doing things--they just want someone else to do it so they can feel validated in their approach. Even, my friend, your mom, who comes in, takes over, and is critical of the way you do everything, with the implicit support of your husband. Not ready to potty train? Don't. Don't care if your son has a binkie? Fine with me. I like you, I like your kids. I have enough to do with my own that I can't analyze and criticize you and yours. And I'm not into judging, lest, well, I do live in a glass house.

But I understand the need to ask for advice, to check how everyone is doing everything. I was never more happy than to be past the breastfeeding, napping, and potty-training stages so I could quit worrying about the way I was doing it. We spend way too much time as moms worrying about these stages that eventually, and rather quickly, pass. I have a theory about moms like me today. We weren't raised to be moms. We were raised to be anything and everything and not exclusively trained to be moms as many were in the generations before us. Because of this, we are a). not as familiar with the rigors and techniques of motherhood as our predecessors (which I think is why we are so open to all sorts of parenting strategies and easy prey to an industry trying to sell us things and theories) and b). full of expectations for ourselves outside of motherhood (or, at the least, adapting our goals and ambitions and strategies from our other, often professional selves, to motherhood). It's a dangerous cocktail, full of doubt, longing, ambition, confusion, that leaves us hungover often. Especially because we never get enough sleep.

As Seen on TV

Today, we watched a lot of "Wonder Pets" during rest time. And in the Pangaroo episode (have you seen it? This is the artistic parrot-kangaroo creature), the Pets share a "celeracker" snack after the successful completion of their mission. Any guesses? Yep, celery on crackers. Graham crackers.

And Sis was desperate to have some, even headed downstairs effectively ending rest time so she could have some. But I don't have any celery right now. She was so disappointed. So I pinch hit: "carrorackers."

Yep, carrots on crackers. Graham crackers. And she ate them together, for snack, and then after dinner.

I think we might have to get rid of our only tv.

Chubby Snowfriend

There was a chubby snowman [cradle hands as if holding snowman]
with a carrot nose [point to nose].
Along came a bunny [make hopping rabbit ears with fingers].
And what do you suppose [questioning gesture, two upraised palms]?
The hungry little bunny [put hand over eyes as if looking]
was looking for his lunch.
He ate that snowman's carrot nose,
nibble, nibble, MUNCH!

It really is too cute for words. They learned this hand play at school and did it for me several times yesterday. Tonight, they did it for Mama, complete with Bud holding a plastic carrot from the play kitchen and Sis maneuvering her stuffed bunny Amy along with the words.

And this afternoon, when they finally built that snowfriend Sis had been hoping for (even if I didn't roll the balls the way Caillou did it!), they both did the rhyme outside in the snow, with their grape-eyed, carrot-nosed, hay-mouthed snowfriend between them.

Lost and Found

Sis and Bud have a Playbmobil cabin complete with little Swiss Family Robinson with animal rescue gear. There are dozens of little pieces, tools in a box, eggs in a nest, even a bandage for the fawn's leg. And they are all teensy-eensy, itsy-bitsy. I never had Playmobil as a child (never knew anything but Fisher Price "Little People" existed--they were more elaborate and interesting then). Mama didn't have any either, but she coveted it and was very excited when the kids got their set for Christmas from Aunt Banana and Uncle Soccer.

The set makes me tense. There are all these little animals--birds, squirrels, mice, and hedgehogs. Two adorable hedgehogs, the mommy and the baby. And they would both fit inside a thimble . I love those litte hedgehogs, love how Sis calls them the mommy and baby hedgehogs and plays with them. And am totally, absolutely stressed out that she's going to lose them. Because she plays with them all the time, they end up all over the place--in a sock (she was trying to duplicate Jan Brett's The Hat but with a sock that all the animals crawled into. Clever.), in the cabinets of her dollhouse kitchen furniture, riding in the Diego rescue vehicle--and they are going to get separated and lost. I find myself constantly checking to see if we know where those hedgehogs are, to ask her where she put them. Do I care where the squirrels are? No. Do I check up on any of her dozens of bigger plastic animals? No. Something about those darned hedgehogs. I just know we'll both be upset when they get lost. And I do think it's just a matter of time. If she didn't love them so much, I'd just stash them away somewhere safe, for later. But really, isn't playing with them the point? Even if I drives me to distraction, like today when the mommy hedgehog was missing for more than an hour. I think I cared more than she did, and then realized perhaps I shouldn't get her worked up about it.

Besides, if they get lost, surely we can find them on eBay?! Maybe I should go buy a backup set just in case, even if I have to get the whole darned cabin. This is nuts.

Animal Dreamtime

Yesterday, zookeepers visited Sis and Bud's school, bringing with them animals to share. Bud and Sis were ecstatic with the visit, baraging me with stories of the "xiao bai tu," or white bunny, as well as the bird (was it a dove? they couldn't be sure) and the hedgehog. A hedgehog! I was totally jealous. I love hedgehogs, well, except that I've never seen a real one. I love the cartoon ones, the ones in Jan Brett's books or in my British cross-stitching magazines featuring Country Companions. I would love to live in a place where I have a hedge and a garden and little hedgehogs running around, but I've contented myself with the animated variety. Today my kiddos saw a real one and wanted to take me, immediately, to the zoo to see it too (though, I've never noticed a hedgehog compound at the zoo). Alas, it was too cold and so I had to live vicariously through their stories.

There are other animal fantasies we have. Last weekend, Sis was enumerating for Mama which animals she wanted to see for real: an orca, a whale shark, a panda (she saw one of these when she was 8 months old but of course doesn't remember). Mama even brought home pictures and a notebook so Sis could compile her own journal of things she liked and wanted to do.

I don't think Bud really dreams about animals. He's very fond of his stuffed penguins but I'm not sure he needs to see the real ones, except in the zoo or aquarium.

But Mama dreams of penguins and she wants to go to Antarctica to see them. Our friends, nicknamed collectively "Benny," went a few years ago and had a life-changing experience. And so Mama is focused on our own trip there, in a decade or so, when the kids will be old enough to go. And we've saved the money to do it. Whenever we talk about traveling, even just daytrips locally, she gets that wistful look in her eye that someday we will visit the South Pole and the penguins there. Until then, she's content to plan it. And save.

Today, in the paper, I saw an article on swimming with the manatees. Mama and I love manatees, those gentle "sea cows," that we have seen in the aquarium at Disney World/Epcot. But can you imagine actually swimming with them? Mama, would you push back penguins a year or two to swim with manatees?

My dad and mom recently pursued animal fantasies in Alaska, wandering the state during an exceptionally rainy August in hopes of seeing a bear. I think they saw a moose, pretty sure they saw an eagle, but the bear was illusive, despite several attempts to see one. And then, I believe, on their drive back to town to leave the next day, Dad took one of his famed "shortcuts" down a backroad and there it was: a black bear in the grass. And they've got the pictures to prove it.

What is it about animals? My friend who visited this morning is an animal person. I've always had and loved my pets. Mama is devoted to our cats, past and present (it is the second anniversary of Morgan's death soon, which is hard). Neither Mama nor I have much experience in nature seeing animals, though I come from an outdoorsy family and my dad's idea of the perfect day is just to sit and watch birds land on his duck pond, beavers try to dam his pond, or a deer wander across the yard in front of his cabin in the wild woods of Texas. I think Sis has inherited Pop's connection with nature. She has this rapport, this connection,this bond with animals--our cats, squirrels in the yard, animals at the zoo/aquarium/nature center, animals in pictures, her toy animals (which is why Diego is still her favorite tv character and "Wonder Pets" one of her favorite shows). She came up with being a vet for Halloween all on her own and it fits her. There is something spiritual about our interactions with nature, particularly with animals, that can be life-changing, awe-inspiring, emotional. And because of the nature of the world we live in, these interactions are few and far between and become relegated to the realm of dreams alone.

My own animal fantasies are pretty typical: whales in their native habitat, ditto with koalas, and those hedgehogs, of course. I had another--to see a panda bear, in captivity or not--and three years ago, we all visited the National Zoo. And there was the mommy panda and her own baby (born the same weekend as the twins!). It was breathtaking. And I cried. And I will cry when they send the "baby," now a big panda, back to China. And so, we will probably be going back to D.C. soon to visit, to revisit my panda love and to fulfill Sis's.

And then, for sure, penguins.

Happy Birthday, Lambeth!

"For he's a jolly good fellow . . . "

Many happy returns, Lambeth. Have a wonderful day!

I might even try to call you later, during their rest time (which would be evening, your time).

. . . and many more!

TGIF

I have lots of posts in my head but none that are ready to be committed to keyboard yet. It's supposed to be warm today, so we're hoping to have an extended outside afternoon play session. And we're expecting a friend over--she called, desperate, at 8:30 this morning--but hasn't appeared yet. She's got a baby in tow, though, so no worries. Besides, my kids are happily playing upstairs. They're cuddled up in the same bed reading each other stories. I love the new brother-sister time they are creating for themselves. Which is why I'm downstairs by myself on the computer. More later.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Soup's Off

I've made two different batches of soup this week that haven't worked at all: split pea-lentil "confetti" soup and butternut squash soup. The pea-lentil soup was a bag mix from a company whose other soups I really like, but only one word can be used to describe this one: boring. I mean, it tasted of water. Sure, I didn't add the ham bone but I added other things that usually compensate for the lack of meat. Perhaps I should've cooked the beans in veggie stock instead of water. Ugh. I'm just not sure I can bring myself to eat it, if I can even get it doctored to edible. The other soup--a butternut squash one based on a recipe by Mark Bittman that uses 2 lbs squash, stock, and various garnishes--is extremely mediocre. I think my squash was mediocre--I know, I know, not the best time for squash, but my veg board soup challenge was pumpkin and so I substituted butternut (because I couldn't find a pumpkin). I'm going to save it for dinner and see if Mama can help me fix it. Or tell me that she agrees that it's inedible, too. What a disappointment. I might just have a can of Campbell's tomato or part of a box of Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Bisque instead.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How to Read a Museum Wall Label

While museum wall labels are fairly transparent, there are a few quirks to understand. The example below is representative of a typical label, but museums do vary their formats.

Artist’s Name (with Country of Origin, Birth and Death Dates in parentheses)
Title of Work of Art [almost always italicized]
Medium [i.e. what its made of], dimensions [usually L x W x H]
How the museum acquired the object [donation/gift, purchase, loan, etc.], sometimes the year
####.### [Accession number, oftentimes the year the work was acquired and the number it was that year. 2009.2 means the object was acquired in 2009 and was the 2nd object acquired that year]

On many labels, there is a paragraph of information written by the curators or more rarely the educators pointing out interesting information about the object itself, the artist, the method of the work's creation, or the country or time period in which it was created. Some labels omit this section all together, frequently in contemporary galleries. The best labels don't use jargon without defining terms or refer to anything you can't see (i.e. other works, other artists).

Want to impress your friends? Position yourself in front of the label and casually glance at it while talking (docents and lecturer use this trick-of-the-trade all the time). If you are talking with childre, sometimes it's best to hide the label so those kids (who always have great eyes) don't just read you what the curators wrote--sometimes just knowing the title can skew their perceptions of the work.



Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Child's Understanding of the Inauguration and Presidency

Sis has long thought that President Obama was a personal friend of ours. On Election Day, she was convinced he was going to call us. And now, she wants to go visit. During the Inauguration, she kept saying, "I want to go see Obama at his white house." And the emphasis was similar to if he had lived in, say, a gray house. Not "WhiteHouse" the way adults refer to it, but "white house." Two distinct and separate words. She wanted to know if he had pets--a dog--like Gommie? No, not a pug. She was intrigued that he has two kids--"just like you!"

So she wants to go tomorrow. I said we would plan a trip to D.C. eventually, especially because there are panda bears there. "Obama has a pet panda bear?" Bud chimed in. Well, if he's president and it's the National Zoo, is he nominally in charge? "No, hon, the zoo has the pandas." Bud was a little less focused on Obama--"Mom, is he the guy in the necktie?" Um, well, yes, one of them. "Does he have black hair?" Yes, yes, he does (and I imagine most of the others were gray). "Look he has a white shirt. It matches his house."

"Is he even in charge of Texas?" Bud asked. Yes, even Texas. Even if they don't want him to be (except Gommie and Pop, Banana and Soccer).

Thinking of Miss T

Just want to send love to Miss T today. I really liked your trivet. Thinking about you. Missing you. Wanting some of those baked goods.

Obamalicious!

We just talked to Gommie and Pop, who are toasting champagne down in Houston. There, rare democrats in a conservative Bush stronghold, they have found the last eight years hard to stomach and deserve a litte liberal celebration. Gommie cried as she spoke to Sis and told her she can be proud to be an American today. Sis just giggled and told Gommie she was feeling "Obamalicious" here on "Obama Day," inspired by the book Pinkalicious, about a girl who loved (and then turned) pink, which Gommie gave her for Christmas. Bud joined in chanting "Obamalicious! Obamalicious!" Happy Obama Day!

"I'm Too Excited to Eat Cookies"

Sis, Bud, and I just finished watching the Inauguration, sitting on my bed, eating cookies. Though, Sis said, "I'm too excited to eat cookies" and put hers back in the bag. Bud ate his (and some of hers), admiring Aretha Franklin and John Williams's "Air and Simple Gifts" with Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Pearlman. I cried the whole time, which surprised the kids and discomfited them somewhat, even though I explained that they were happy tears.

"Why, Mommy?"

Because this inauguration means you can do anything, be anything. Even though you are bi-racial. Even though you have two mommies.

Because, even though we still have severe problems, we now have hope again, we now have faith again, and pride and trust, all the things we had lost over the last eight years.

Because this is the possibility, the promise, of the world that I wanted for you when you were born. I was pregnant at the start of Bush's second term and I remember telling Mama, discouraged, that I couldn't imagine what we were thinking bringing children into that world. She reassured me that children were proof of our hope, our contribution to the creation of the world we want.

Here it is, Bud and Sis: a new start for the world we want, a world that won't reject you because of your face or your parents, a world where anything can happen, a world where we take better care of each other and our planet, a world just like the one described in your favorite book, Can You Say Peace?, a world just like the one described by President Obama (though, I don't think you were listening by then). And we're all going to build it together. That's why we left school early; that's why we rushed home; that's why we ate cookies on my bed; that's why we weren't watching your favorite shows. I didn't want you to miss the beginning.

So let's eat those cookies and celebrate!

We Made it!

With just a few minutes to spare, we are home, on my bed, with our cookies, ready to see the Inauguration!

Not Live Blogging the Inauguration

The kids had a snow delay this morning, which means I didn't get my planned 2 1/2 hours of inauguration viewing this morning. Instead, we played this morning and made cornbread, then went to school. I picked up some red and white (no blue) cookies for our Obama party and came home, which gave me about 40 minutes to watch coverage and talk to my mom who is absolutely thrilled. Now it's time to rush off to pick them up and beat it home so hopefully we can see the swearing in and the speech. Sis is excited and wants to go see Obama at his White House. Bud just likes to have the tv on (even if Obama is not Caillou!).

Okay, start your engines, here I go . . . . but I'm taping it just in case. But live is better.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Prepping and Practicing (or, White Girls Can't Speak Mandarin)

I practiced some of my Mandarin today at our local Asian grocery.

"Xing jia yu-ie!" I said to the cashier in my best Chow Gou.

She replied in Cantonese: "Gung hay fat choi!"

And then added, "Xin Nian Kuai Le!" And I'm not sure what that is, Mandarin, perhaps.

And then Sis added, "Xing nian hao!"

See, there are several ways to wish someone a happy new year. You can wish "happy new year" or "good health" or "have a prosperous new year"--any combination of health, wealth, happiness, longevity, or similar good wishes--just think of all the ways you can sign a Christmas card these days and multiple it by, well, how many dialects of Chinese are there? (One website says 1500 recorded ones).

Then we started talking about red envelopes, or ang bao. We're trying to teach the kids the rhyme they should say:

"Xing jia yu-ie
Xing nih huac chai
Ang bao tua tua gai." (approximately)

This is basically "Happy New Year! Good health! Let the red envelope be a big one."

The cashier had her own rhyme in Cantonese but neither Mama nor I caught it.

Of course, you want that to be a big envelope because it contains money, often a multiple of your age. Which is not what you think it is. For the Chinese, you are one year old the minute you are born and then you turn two on your first new year (even if it isn't a year away). They don't really celebrate birthdays per se. New Year's is the big celebration and it lasts, all told, for a few weeks. The kids are going to be 5. Oh my gosh, I just realized I'm 40!!!! Not that it matters in China, because the first significant birthday is, I believe, 65 or so. Aging is a good thing.

We actually didn't buy anything in the way of traditional New Year's foods; Ma and Gong will get all of that this week. We restocked Mama's sauce supply and got two boxes of Pocky for the kids (yes, yes, I know, that's Japanese--but we are severely curtailing what we will buy food-wise that is actually made in China, excluding anything with dairy). We also got some red and gold decorations, including four little lanterns and decoration for the front door with numerous symbols (ancient money, coins, firecrackers, bamboo, even happy cats, and some calligraphic new year's wishes--if some is good, more is better, and too much is best).

And of course, several ang bao.

Katie Bar the Door!

Because the last of our childproofing, corralling gates is gone! We took the gate away from the base of the stairs, as it had become not much more than a toy to swing on and a place to hang clothes/jackets/whatever needed to go upstairs. The kids have free reign of the house now, adding physical control to psychological. And it wasn't even that bittersweet. For weeks, we've mostly been keeping it unlocked as long as they asked permission to go upstairs. And they feel very grown up in being trusted with forays to the second floor. So now we've made the freedom not only actual but symbolic, by removing the last possible barrier. But, for those of you who have toddlers who visit my house, we still have a pressure gate we can put up to block the stairs. The cats will like it better that way.

I Can't Believe It's Snowing

Sure, sure, it's lovely, fluffy snow. And it's snowed a little or a lot everyday for three days--I bet we've added 6+ inches to our accumulation. And the kids have now actually seen 6-sided, crystalline snowflakes in person, several times. And we had that snowball fight in our ice forts today. Though, we haven't managed a snowfriend yet because this is not the best snow for that. And we didn't make more rainbow snow paint. Or more snow ice cream. I wonder if the winter wonderland is losing its charm? It sure is pretty falling outside.

But there had better be school tomorrow.

Ask What You Can Read for Your Country

Several weeks ago, the NYTimes reported on the new NEA study that adults are reading more fiction books than in the last 25 years, reversing a trend where less than half of Americans over the age of 18 had read a play, poem, or work of fiction in the last 12 months.

Have you?

I've read several books, all histories and biographies (the biographies of George Eliot and Mrs. Beeton by Kathryn Hughes, Unredeemed Captive, to name a few off the top of my head. On my desk right now are histories of housework in both the U.S. and the U.K., as well as Taste: A Story of Britain through its Cooking ), but I don't think I've read a novel since the last Harry Potter book came out. Wait, when was Sarah Waters's Nightwatch, which was a Booker Prize finalist--I read that. (And I have Eric Carle memorized. Does that count?)

I am inspired to continue to squeeze reading into my daily activities, perhaps even expand my selections, by Michiko Kakutani's exploration of almost-President Barack Obama's reading habits. Her thumbnail list of his favorites include:

The Bible
“Parting the Waters,” Taylor Branch
“Self-Reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Gandhi’s autobiography
“Team of Rivals,” Doris Kearns Goodwin
“The Golden Notebook,” Doris Lessing
Lincoln’s collected writings
“Moby-Dick,” Herman Melville
“Song of Solomon,” Toni Morrison
Works of Reinhold Niebuhr
“Gilead,” Marilynne Robinson
Shakespeare’s tragedies

Except parts of the Bible and several of Shakespeare's tragedies, I'm embarrased to admit I haven't read any of those (I'm going to bet that my mom has read 75% of them, at least). I think I'll put Doris Kearn Goodwin's Team of Rivals on my list, right after Geraldine Brooks's March, which isn't on the list but is on my nightstand. I haven't been much of a fiction reader (excludng my devouring of "history mysteries" as twinkie reading during my grad school days) and am illiterate when it comes to contemporary, or late 20th-century, fiction, which is a constant source of shame and regret since everyone thinks I'm caught up.

Even with my ignorance of contemporary fiction, I value it and was saddened to read Stanley Fish's piece on "The Last Professor." While specifically about the decline of the importance of the liberal arts and humanities at colleges and universities, Fish's essay really chronicles the demise of art and the humanitites, some commentors (they aren't really commentators, right?) called it culture, in our society. Because some disciplines, including philosophy and literature and my own art history, have no practical use in a market-driven state, which focuses on efficiency, productivity, and transparency, they will simply disappear. When universities have a puprose outside of their walls, for instance as Judith Warner has described in investigating the pharmaceutical company-research university connection, the universities and professors become corrupt. Considering Enron, Madoff, Wall Street, to name just a few, has a market-based, practical, producing society really stood us in good stead? There is money, of course, and the advantages it can buy, but beyond that? It's like major league sports . . . beyond making money, do they have value that transcends, say, books? If books could make money (which all indications are that they, and bookstores, are not), would this be a discussion?

Even if I don't read novels--or study philosophy--I want them to exist and for people to study them in a world far removed from the demands of the marketplace, just as I immersed myself in art history for so many years and still visit museums to revisit and rekindle that love. Intriguingly, in the essay, Fish referred to such places, the wealthy universities, as "functioning almost as museums." This seems to recall Theodor Adorno's notion of a museum as mausoleum, containing only dead artifacts and no longer relevant to "living" society. Are books and art really dead to us? Not to our new president, thankfully. And maybe Obama's own dedication to culture and the life of the mind will continue and encourage the trend that the NEA has spotted. And Stanley Fish will be wrong. Because in the end, I don't think Fish wants to be right.

I think I'm going to log off and go read.

I Like to Eat, Eat, Eat Apples and . . . Whatever

Yesterday at church, Mama had the experience of telling someone a story that the listener already knew because that person reads my blog. Mama said it felt very strange. It doesn't actually happen to me much, mainly because I know who reads this (among people I know in real life--their own blogs are linked to mine or they email me to comment; as for other people, I have no clue really--I only have one commentor now whom I have never met in person--and I don't look at my Google analytics anymore because most of it is search engine traffic with a very high bounce rate). My mom apparently had the same experience recently, because she didn't know that her mahjong friend or my aunt read this and repeated a story to them.

Anyway, Mama was surprised that someone else knew the applesauce story, about how we read Sis's book on apples and then made the sauce. The listener--hi Miss D from church!--then gave us her own suggestion for applesauce, which is to add other fruit to the apples while they are cooking. And so, tonight, we bought more apples and will add some frozen blueberries when we make more later this week. Bud will love it. Thanks, Miss D!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Joys and Concerns

Thoughts go out to Mama Teacher who had a hat trick this weekend: she needs major dental repair; their tv died; and she pulled a muscle in her back and hurts. I hope that's it.

Also, to our minister who had her own hat trick last week: she sliced her finger open and it needed stitches (and got infected); her husband Mr K hit a deer with the car (deer survived, car needs help); and then in the freakiest bit, a branch fell on her car and took out a rearview mirror and then bounced and took out his car's rearview mirror because he was following her home. If I didn't know them well, I wouldn't believe it (though, we have teased them that knowing them well is dangerous).

The Sweetest Sound Ever

. . . . besides all the mushy-gushy mommy answers is the sound of my frozen dishwasher coming back to life after being comatose for three days! Thank goodness for the sun. And for my handwasher, Mama!

Snow Dishes, or Frugal Luxuries

Among the books I brought home from the library last week was Frugal Luxuries: Simple Pleasures to Enhance Your Life and Comfort Your Soul by Tracy McBride. I had been attracted to it by the words "frugal" as we try to decrease our monthly discretionary spending (yep, we're the consumers ruining the economy by cutting back our spending even though technically we don't have to yet, i.e. Mama is still employed, but we think we would be reckless not to), as well as "simple" because I'm inspired by but not quite a dedicated follower of the simple living movement and "soul" because I'm a good spiritual path-seeking UU.

I skimmed the book, which isn't quite a manifesto for simple living. McBride is very interested in stuff, just not new stuff; she likes old, used, recycled, reclaimed, and inexpensive stuff. Simple living, as I understand it, is usually a rejection of materialism, not a way to find stuff easily and cheaply. That said, I did like some of McBride's ideas, mainly the ones about adding art and beauty back into our lives with special touches. For her, this means a cut-glass pitcher of water with lemon slices on the table at every meal. I had to stop to think what it meant to me. I don't usually spend much time on pretty or special touches. "Pretty" and "special" tend to be breakable and I have not one but two little bull calves in my china shop. But as Mama and I go through the basement and discard things (which is why I'm not even going to link to Motherlode's article on the baseball cards; no sense giving Mama any more reasons for keeping stuff around!), I realize that I have lots of things that I have been saving. For a rainy day, for when the kids were older, for a special occasion. But with McBride in mind, I figured there was no time like the present.

So, when it snowed last time, I went downstairs and brought up a set of dishes from who knows where or whom that are decorated with wintery designs like snowflakes and ice skates. I served our traditional snow snack of hot chocolate and popcorn in the oversized mugs and dessert plates, explaining to Bud and Sis that these were our new "snow dishes." At the time, I wasn't sure they thought it was special to have a set of dishes just for snowy days, but today when it snowed Bud immediately requested the "snow dishes," even remembering who in the family got which wintery design. I guess the only downside to the success of McBride's suggestion is that now there will be less stuff to throw out of the basement!

Taking the Show on the Road

Mama and I stole a quick kiss and a hug in the living room this evening and Sis yelled at us from across the room, "Can you do that in the other room?"

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis

I am always a little bit homesick after visiting the city. I feel that way after I go back to Texas, too. It's not that I want to live in NYC or in Houston again, but that I have a bittersweet nostalgia for all that is good and a selective blindness about all that is not. We chose to live in the 'burbs even before there were kids, wanting a home, a yard, more space, a slower pace, at a price we could afford. But then we were both commuting into the city five days a week and enjoying all of its charms and few of its hassles. Then for a bit, Mama alone commuted while I was at home with the babes and I could feed off of her city energy and enjoy things and tales she brought back. Now, of course, she has a much easier commute and I like having her not-so-far-away, but I miss the city.

(My one Connecticut joke: do you know what they call people from Connecticut? Connecticutters? Connecticutians? Connecticutites? No. Commuters.)

We want to raise our children here in Connecticut, where the laws support our family as does the community of which we are a part. I had a suburban childhood and loved it, wanting that for them. And with mommies with a familiarity and love of the city, the kids will have the best of both worlds, especially with grandparents still in Queens. At least we are going to try to go down regularly, knowing that as life gets more hectic and scheduled, visits will probably be fewer and farther apart.

I wish there was a way that I could easily do that with my career, the other thing from yesterday's visit for which I still yearn occasionally. Like living in NYC, working takes on an afterglow when you aren't actually doing it. Long meetings with curators who can't explain the exhibition for which you must program? Budgets that don't allow you to do what you dream of? Audiences that don't show up? All that email and voicemail and still more meetings? No, I remember the great tours and the packed lecture halls and the crisp new brochures and the comrade-in-arms colleagues and the engagement with art and scholarship. I'm homesick for my career. But I can't have that for 2 hours twice a week, or even next year for 2 hours three times a week--especially because I only want the good parts, not the annoying ones, which is why I haven't tried too hard to find something professional to do just yet (to the disappointment of my professional friends, those without kids). Just as we wanted to live in the burbs, we wanted a stay-at-home-mom for the kids, someone totally focused on and available for/to them in these early years (not to say that work-away-from-home moms like Mama aren't totally focused in a philosophical way on their kids, but there isn't the same kind of present-ness/presence. And believe me we talk about it. We're like the "Blue and the Grey"--or was it "North and South" with the split family?-of the Mommy Wars. It's Reconstruction here now. Except no one won and no one lost). And just as I'm not ready to sacrifice my community here for the city, I am not ready to sacrifice my SAHM-ness for my career. I want it all, know that's not possible, and am just a little down right now. At least, with art and the city, there is always something to go home to.

"They Hit Puberty and Their Wheels Fall Off"

Sis was playing in the nursery after service and coffee hour this morning, pulling a toy riding horse with wheels around. She turned to our minister's husband, our favorite Mr. K, and said she needed to take the little horse to her mommy, the big spring-suspended riding horse.

Mr. K, who never misses a beat and has a wicked keen sense of Monty-Python/adolescent humor, said that apparently when these nursery horses grow up they lose their wheels and get springs. Having two not-quite-adult sons, Mr. K thought that was an apt metaphor for adolescence: they hit puberty and their wheels fall off.

Heaven help us. We have almost a decade and a half before that happens, but Mr. K is convinced we are in for trouble. He says that Sis and Bud have "strong personalities," which on the whole he admires in them (his is a family of strong personalities). Especially because they're not his! But since his wife is our minister, I figure my 4 a.m. calls of distress twelve years down the road will wake him up too. And he'll deserve it.

Until then, I like our wheels just fine.

But I think we need helmets too.

Post-Visit Activity: Paper, Paper Everywhere

One of my favorite parts of visiting a museum, beyond the art, is picking up all their pieces of paper: calendars, maps, brochures, and especially family guides. Is it any wonder that my favorite part of my career has been writing museum materials, be it curricula for teachers, family guides, program listings, or museum brochures? (If only I couldn've gotten my hands on my last museum's labels!) The Met is always wonderful inspiration, in this and other aspects of education, for they offer an educator's dream-come-true of printed materials. Yesterday, we came home with pamphlets about animals, dancers, armor, sketching, and the wonderful family map containing full-color poster with minute drawings of the collections.

That is probably the only piece of paper that won't end up in my files unused. It is a sad but well-known fact that visitors pick up all the materials at the information desk and either a). read them when they get home or b). never read them. Neither helps facilitate their visit, which means that they either a). don't need the help or b). don't want it. Even as a professional, I behave as a normal visitor, which is why my unpacked bag still contains clean copies of all the brochures I picked up.

Except that we devoured that family map. As I have mentioned, we spent a lot of time the night before our visit discussing the trip and the rules of the museum while looking at the map we printed off their website with the sarcophagus on the cover. The next day, as we were waiting for the program to start, I grabbed two in-house copies of the map, even though I had ours in my bag. Thus, I was surprised to see the poster inside. For 15 minutes, Bud and Sis oohed-and-aahed over the little pictures. "Mommy, I found the musical instruments!" and "Mama, where is that building inside a building?" I could point out where we would visit the arms and armor, where Sis would get to see her beloved baby Jesus (I know I keep mentioning this but, as a non-Christian UU, I am still fascinated by her obsession with Jesus. I won't have the heart to explain the true meaning of Easter--well, that is, if you aren't looking at Easter's pagan origins. Thank heavens she's also obsessed with bunnies and won't notice anything else), and look longingly at the 19th-century wing we wouldn't be visiting (once a Victorianist, always a Victorianist). This is a great map and the kids' response to it was exactly what the educators must have hoped: they became extremely enthusiastic about the museum, did some very concentrated looking and studying of the materials, and then let the map be their guide during our visit. The only downside: the museum doesn't sell a slightly larger version of the map in the Met Kids shop, where I went looking for it at the end of our visit. So, I did what any other educator would do--grabbed extra copies!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Visit, Edited for Content*

Where there is art, there are nudes. And today proved no exception, especially because we visited the "Art and Love in Renaissance Italy" exhibition at the Met today. I had given them a quick talk before we entered, beyond "quiet voices" (special exhibitions are always so much quieter than the permanent collection), about how they were going to see a bunch of naked bodies (and yes, yes, I could expound on the differences between naked and nude, but not here, not now). No big deal. Everybody has a body and artist like to paint them. Here we go. I probably should've just waited 'til we came across one because they excitedly asked where the naked people were throughout the first few clothed galleries. But then Sis saw one: two toddler boys pulling on each other's penises, a painting on a childbirth tray. I wasn't there when she spotted it, but apparently she said, "They shouldn't do that." And then came and found me to show me the art. And ask for an explanation (Mama just stood by, curious to see what I'd come up with.) Bud immediately wanted to know, in a loud stage-whisper, why the boys were doing that. Because little boys do that, I said, you do that, and the whole room was about children (or childbirth and the works of art associated with it). Let the fun begin.

We talked about penises until we came across all the naked ladies. Sis said, "there are lots of mommies with no clothes on." This was the room with the Prado's Titian of Venus with the Organ Player and Dog, as well as the Met's Venus and Cupid by Lotto. And lots of other "naked mommies" (can't wait for the visitors who google that and show up here!). As I stood looking at the Titian, Sis queried, "why is that man staring at the naked lady?" And the man next to us seemed to leave rather quickly, while others turned to us bemused. Not ready to delve into the art history of it, I simply said, "Well, we're all looking at her because she's pretty." It's true, isn't it? I tried to interest Bud in other aspects of the painting--the organ, the peacock near the fountain, the deer in the park--but the glare on the painting ("all the white dots") made it and many others hard to see from his vantage point (something for me to remember when I start lecturing, I mean talking, to my kids about what we're seeing).

As interesting as all the nudes were (and I was really glad to have seen the show, even if I didn't get to linger at all), they weren't the best parts. Those were, predictably:
  1. the cafeteria (chicken nuggets and fries in a paper taxi cab holder!!! "Mom, I've never eaten from a taxi before!" Sis exclaimed)
  2. the elevators (and the broken escalator we didn't get to ride), even the ones where guards got to push the buttons instead of the kids
  3. the automatic flush toilets (how have they not seen these before??)

There was some art in the top five, thankfully:

4. "the room with the building it in" (i.e. the Temple of Dendur gallery)

5. the jousters and horses (Arms and Armor)

Notice that the museum education program we specifically came to attend was not in that list? Actually, the program was pretty good (though I will fault their publicity materials for not providing any details about the structure of it, which would have helped in prepping the kids the night before). We all gathered with the lecturers and discussed the rules, old hat to my two by then and to many of the regulars in the group (of which there were several; made me wish we lived close enough to be a Met regular. But I don't have the quirky fashion sense of these urban mamas, and there wasn't a "Titanesque" one among them!). Then we moved to the modern art wing to discuss--get this, Dr. American Modern--Georgia O'Keeffe! Yep, our first museum program was about her paintings of bones, starting with a children's book called Georgia's Bones by Jen Bryant. Bud and Sis were entranced with the paintings, even with just being in the space, and so sat still and quietly while the lecturer read the story and started talking about the paintings. Then we moved on to an art project, coloring a piece of paper background and adding a cow's skull in the foreground. The kiddos loved flopping on their stomachs on the gallery floor to color on sheets of paper and weren't quite ready to stop when we moved on to talk about another painting. Sis, without being told, knew the painting was of a flower and she was the one--of all those kids--who raised her hand and correctly identified it. Mama especially was so proud. The kids soon became fidgety (the lecturer should've wrapped up but kept adding a few things and was losing her crowd. Old habits die hard, so I did thoroughly analyze her tour--good interaction with the kids, smooth transitions, nice pacing, varied activities--but I would get her to tighten it up a bit, both in length and in theme--I mean, she started the book, stopped to talk about the art, and never finished the book!) and we headed to lunch, only to find the cafeteria didn't open for 30 minutes.

Never, never, never try to see a museum with hungry kids. Oooooh, that was a long 30 minutes. And so, we pulled out all the stops, changed our itinerary, and headed to the Temple of Dendur, stopping to see the blue hippo/mascot William along the way. We'd gone to the shop while waiting for the program to begin and had bought 6 postcards of works of art that I thought we would be able to see during our visit: William the faience hippo; the Temple of Dendur; a Tiffany window; a suit of armor; Goya's portrait of a little boy with animals; and a Degas of dancers. We actually managed to visit all of them but the last. Both Sis and Bud had fun matching the images to the works in the gallery, Sis always being the first to spot the one we were searching for. Sis really liked little William and even chose a stuffed one as her souvenir of the day. Bud wasn't that interested. And while both admired the temple, neither wanted to get particularly close, being more interested in the sphinx, the water, and the crocodile with the broken tail.

We saw many other things: the Christmas tree in the Medieval Hall being dismantled behind barricades; several nativities and statues of Mary and the baby Jesus (still a favorite of Sis's); paintings of musical instruments (but not the real instruments, next time); the "new" Greek and Roman installation that Mama hadn't seen yet. We played lots of "I Spy," finding dragons, white horses, pianos, but no bunny rabbits. We couldn't squeeze in China, not wanting to give it short shift, nor visit the closed American sculpture court. As we kept repeating, to them and to ourselves, there is so much to see and you can never see it all. So we bought a stuffed hippo and a ukelele (for Bud), plus a few books--You Can't Take A Balloon into The Metropolitan Musuem of Art and Museum Shapes--and headed to the wonderful underground parking garage (which meant we didn't even have to carry in our coats, much less check them) and home. Inspired by our day, and ready and willing to come again.


****Title changed so people looking for porn quit coming to this post.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Pre-Visit Activity: Our Trip to the Met

We are going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art tomorrow. While it's not our first trip to an art museum, having been to The Art Institute of Chicago, the Yale University Art Gallery, and the Folk Art Museum, it really is the big leagues: the kids are old enough to understand some of what they are seeing and we are actually attending a program while we are there. It will be their first museum education program, about which I am extremely excited.

So, while we have only told them here at the proverbial last minute that we are going, I have been long considering how we would prepare them. Tonight we looked over the Family Map from the Met's website and they were immediately struck by the cartoons of the woman stepping out of the sarcophagus on the cover. What was that? What was she doing? How do you explain sarcophagi to three year olds who can't comprehend death or after-life or ancient Egypt? Bud kept saying he didn't want to die and didn't want me to die because he didn't want us to go in the box; Sis wanted to die so she could get in the box. While morbid sounding, they really didn't understand the true impact of what they were saying, but it was disturbing nonetheless. And there is a lot of art about death (luckily there were no nudes in the map but there will be in the museum. I have that lesson ready too).

We got past that and started talking about rules at the art museum:
  • We will talk in quiet, inside voices.
  • We will walk and stick together.
  • We will look with our eyes and not touch anything.

Why? Why can't they touch? Can they touch their maps? Of course, they can touch their maps or the postcards I promised to buy them at the shop. But they can't touch art. Why? Because our hands have greasy oils that eat art. Yes, even if they wash them. Oooooh. Works everytime, even if it is a bit dramatic. Good thing I've had lots of practice going over museum rules with kids.

But, Bud wondered, could we dance in the museum like that girl? That girl being Ella from Ella's Trip to the Museumby Elaine Clayton. Ella goes on a field trip to an art museum and communes, even enters, the works on display (and dancing with a statue of the goddess Flora), all while her teacher gives a boring tour (don't get me started on the representation of educators/docents in art museums in popular culture). Sis found the book in question and we read it. The guard gets angry, Bud notes. Yes, I reminded him that guards were there to protect the art and us the visitors; there would be no dancing in the Met tomorrow.

Even if I'm dancing in my head all the way there . . . .