Monday, November 30, 2009

A Recipe by Sis

On how to make potato chips, her favorite picnic snack:

"First you smash the potatoes. Then you bake for 5 minutes."

I recall that in Kindergarten, my teacher asked each one of us our favorite food and how we thought it was made. Now, this was before the complete dominance of the fast food nation and so most answers were about homemade dinners. Mine was chicken and dumplings. I haven't seen the cookbook, on long mimeographed sheets, in years but remember that Gommie said I had the idea of the recipe (neither the measurements nor techniques) mostly right. I wonder how close my kids would come in giving the steps of their favorite dinners?

Advent Activities

The kiddos are very interested in the concept of "how many days until _____." And so counting down to Christmas is going to be a big part of our family celebration this year. Starting tomorrow. Besides advent calendars, I'm inspired to have an "Advent Activity Basket" containing 24 sheets of paper, with a different activity written on it, which I read about in Mothering. Each day, we'll select an activity for that day (I might "stack the deck" by not placing all the activities in at once, so I can control some of the timing. And have the right materials on hand).

My 24 include:

  1. Make a holiday wreath with greenery from yard.
  2. Make holiday cards for recovering soldiers.
  3. Decorate our chalkboard with holiday pictures.
  4. Make paper snowflakes for our patio door.
  5. Make salt dough ornaments.
  6. Make Christmas cards for family and friends.
  7. Go caroling by telephone by calling family members and singing to them.
  8. Donate canned goods to the local food pantry.
  9. Make scarves out of fleece and donate them to local shelter.
  10. Play holiday songs on the piano and have a sing-along.
  11. Make gingerbread cookies and decorate.
  12. Walk around the neighborhood at dusk and look at decorations.
  13. Look at pictures of past holidays.
  14. Have dinner by candlelight.
  15. Have a holiday book read-a-thon.
  16. Watch Emmett Otter's Jug-Band Christmas or other seasonal video.
  17. Learn about another winter holiday.
  18. Make paper chains and paper cones to decorate house.
  19. Make a holiday treat for animals (either our cats, birds and squirrels, or shelter animals).
  20. Print covers of thank-you notes.
  21. Learn about how other cultures celebrate Christmas.
  22. Write a letter to Santa Claus.
  23. Play "Christmas morning" and practice how to thank someone for a gift.
  24. Read the Christmas story in the Bible and talk about how every child is special.
If you have any favorite holiday activities, please comment!

Ham, It's What's for Christmas

Mama and I have been discussing the menu of Christmas dinner. And on one thing we agree, we don't really want turkey. Not that our farm-raised, eco-friendly 19 lb turkey wasn't good--it was great--it's just that we'd like something different. Mama, who makes a mean roast beef, isn't ready to tackle cow again; the kids don't like beef anyway. And so we thought of ham. The kids love it and it's easy. And today, as if to confirm our decision, the latest Saveur arrived--with 14 recipes for ham!

Little Boy Blue, Again

Arrrrgggggh, why is there a cosmic rule that says the happiness of a little boy playing with a balloon is directly proportional to the likelihood that said balloon will pop or float away? Yes, Bud lost another balloon yesterday, a blue one he'd gotten at church (leftover from a birthday party the day before). And there he was, playing outside with the balloon tightly tied to his wrist--we'd learned our lesson about that--and the string broke. For a moment it looked like the balloon, which was losing buoyancy already, might get caught in a low branch, so we chased after it. But at the last moment a breeze redirected the balloon, sending it upwards and out of reach. His anguished cries could be heard inside--Mama heard him, saw the balloon, and came out with his comforting penguin. But even a beloved stuffie can't take away the sadness at an escaped balloon. He actually woke up last night crying about it.

Baking Cookies

Today starts our week-long cookie bake-a-thon for our church's annual holiday bake sale. We'll bake four days this week, leaving room for skipping a day. We're making two new recipes--Chocolate-Hazelnut Thumbprints and Peppernuts--and two old standards--Aunt J's Pressed Sugar Cookies and Jam Thumbprints.

Of course, that's just the beginning of our holiday baking. We'll make 5-7 different kinds of candies to give to teachers and then I'll make (maybe with help, maybe not) 6 dozen cookies for a cookie swap (probably almond bars, but I'm not sure yet). And then there's Christmas dinner (and not just the ham) . . . .

Chocolate-Hazelnut Thumbprints
from Cooking Light

4.5 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 cup)
1 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon instant espresso (optional)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup finely chopped hazelnuts, toasted
1/3 cup hazelnut-chocolate spread (such as Nutella)
1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, cocoa, and salt; stir with a whisk. Place butter in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Stir egg yolks with a whisk, adding espresso, if desired. Add the yolk mixture and vanilla to butter; beat well. Add flour mixture to butter mixture; beat at low speed just until combined.

3. Turn dough out onto a sheet of wax paper; knead 6 times or until smooth and shiny. Shape dough into 28 (1-inch) balls. Roll sides of balls in nuts, pressing gently. Arrange balls 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Press thumb into center of each cookie, leaving an indentation. Bake, 1 batch at a time, at 350° for 10 minutes. Remove cookies from pans; cool completely on wire racks. Spoon a scant 1/2 teaspoon hazelnut-chocolate spread into center of each cookie.

from Wilton

3 1/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cloves (for more traditional--and spicier--cookie, uses 1 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups firmly-packed brown sugar
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 325F. Line cookie pan with parchment paper.

In large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and spices; set aside. In another bowl, combine sugar and eggs, mixing well. Add dry ingredients slowly to egg mixture, forming a soft dough. Roll dough into logs about 1/2" thick (like a pencil). Cut dough crosswise into 1/4" pieces (about the size of a peanut). Sprinkle dough pieces onto cookie pan; separate any that stick together.

Bake 12-14 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely. Cookies will become crunchy as they cool. Break apart any cookies that have baked together.

Makes about 12 cups.

Christmas in November, Continued

Christmas continues here at the Hungry house. On Sunday, we decorated our front windows (but first had to remove the old paint, including an Easter bunny and 4th of July fireworks. Yep, it had been awhile since we painted. But Sis loved that bunny!). Mama had never helped before, as we'd always done it when she was at work. And she had a great time both watching the kids paint and creating her own window art. Sis got very involved in her painting of Santa, with wreath, tree, presents, and sleigh. She even labeled it "Santa"--backwards, so as to be read from the street! Bud made a wreath, tree, sun, moon, sky, and had Mama add a miniature sleigh with reindeer. I painted a cat looking out a window at snow. And Mama drew a penguin, a bunny, and two cats, all with Santa hats on. We then went out to admire "Sis and Bud's art museum" from outside, with the porch light illuminating the paintings.

How to Make Window Paint

washable paints
dishwashing liquid
paint trays
paint brushes
towels (cloth or paper

Add a little dishwashing liquid to washable children's paints (in about a 1:4 ratio of soap to paint), placing one color in each tray. Don't use water at all, even to clean brushes, as it will create drips and suds. Apply to windows with brushes. We find that outlines work better than filled-in pictures because otherwise the details get lost; otherwise, if you are set on, say, ornaments within a filled-in green tree, make the tree outline first, add ornaments, let dry, and then paint in green--remember this is being seen from the other side, at least at my house. Reverse if you are painting on the presentation side). It stays wet for awhile, so be careful while you paint (it will dry overnight). And is incredibly easy to remove, even months later.

Mommy Hungry

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Christmas in November

No sooner had Thanksgiving ended--and the push was to start even before we'd eaten our feast--than Christmas started here in the Hungry household. On Friday, we pulled up all the boxes from the basement and let the kiddos rummage through them, spreading holiday decorations all over the house while we listened to Christmas music just reloaded on our iPod (including "I Don't Want A Lot for Christmas," my modern favorite, which Bud and I like to dance to). There are now several plush snow guys on the piano, a Santa quilt on the couch, a wreath they made at church on the door, and a box of Christmas books next to the bookcase--we sat and read three of them in the midst of decorating--How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Olivia Saves Christmas, and A Cajun Night Before Christmas!

We had two long rest times with the television, trying to recover from the excitement of the day before, and enjoyed the Thanksgiving Day parade (bless DVR and fast forwarding through the boring bits! Though now the kids ask me to "rewind" or "pause" when we do stuff!). They liked Sesame Street, Yo Gabba Gabba, and the "Rockheads" (read Rockettes) the best. And they had several questions about Santa at the end. Sis wanted to know if that was the real Santa. Goodness, I know she's going to realize he doesn't look like the one at the mall because she's observant like that. Not that she will go have pictures taken--we have one, I think, from their first Christmas, and that's it. Anyway, do you think she'll believe there's an NYC Santa and a CT Santa?? They spent the rest of the day asking when Christmas is, not grasping the length of a month. I think we'll be picking up some advent calendars at the store this week, you know, the paper ones with little flaps that I so loved (and kept year after year) as a child. It will help them count. Besides, they love keeping things next to their beds on their shelves--they even put their individual Christmas trees there (but only after sorting out who got which ornament). I think Sis even has her wooden Tomie dePaolo-like creche by her bed (last time I looked, the wise men were riding the stable animals!). I think I've mentioned how much she loves the Baby Jesus and his mother Mary (who is important because she is THE MOM). Indeed, she's quite a Marianist these days, studying closely the statue of Mary in a grotto in a neighbor's front yard, looking for Mary all over the Met last week (she decided on her own, mostly rightly, that any woman in blue with a baby is Mary. She's reading for Art History 101: Ancient to Renaissance! Except the main Neapolitan creche at the Met has Mary in pink which, while Sis's favorite color, is just not right!), trying to spot the creches as they've gone up around town this weekend.

Then, today, they found the gingerbread house kits that I purchased on sale last year after Christmas to use this year (they don't expire, frighteningly!), and so, by 9 a.m. this morning, I was whipping up royal icing and plastering together sheets of gingerbread. The roof went on right as we all headed out the door--me to a surprise birthday party (happy 40th, Miss D!) and the kids with Mama to buy more candy for the houses! For almost two hours this afternoon, we decorated houses. I had icing in my hair, candy stuck under the radiator, sprinkles everywhere. Fun is messy. Bud favors the more-is-better approach while Sis prefers a more minimalist aesthetic--she even choose her candy based on color (pink) and shape (chocolate-covered gummi bears) and not taste (she only tasted one bear and didn't like them at all). Bud chose his favorites to eat. I'll post some pictures once we take some in the sun tomorrow so you can see all the layers upon layers of candy and icing. And they are ready to do it again tomorrow. Sis was just going to remove the candy and do it again; Bud wants another complete house. I ask you, where are we going to keep two whole gingerbread houses for the next 4 weeks??

Finally, tonight, we dressed the kids in pajamas and headed out to the Fantasy of Lights in New Haven, where an entire park is decorated with lit figures such as the little drummer boy, penguins, dinosaurs, carousel horses, bunnies, and of course Santa. We could see the park across the water as we entered New Haven and were lucky not to hit any crowds as we arrived there. We almost had the whole park to ourselves and enjoyed seeing the different displays. Sure, these days, my neighbor's front yard, with 7 or so inflatable, lit, musical features is more elaborate and high-tech than the park, but there's something charming about simple lights on wire frames. And it's all for a good cause--Easter Seals and Goodwill receive the admission proceeds. The kids liked it a lot and are excited to take Gommie and Pop, when they're here for Christmas, in a month. Yep, in a month. December isn't even quite here yet and we're already well into celebrating. Really, what's there left to do?

I'm sure we'll think of something.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Live: Holiday is Done

Going to bed tonight was as hard if not harder than last night for the kiddos. Bedtime found Bud downstairs enjoying building marble runs with Goo and then Gong, while Sis enjoyed bath playtime with Ma.

Bud and Sis eventually ended up bathed, brushed, and dressed for bed, but that in no way equaled ready. Even after stories, they were not settled. Sis was still sad that they weren't sleeping over and becoming upset about the patches on Shirt, which were more noticeable since she was sniffing him more in her sadness. And Bud just wanted to be in the middle of everything, talk it all over, hug everyone, play with Sis in his bed like he did last night, check on Sis--he even followed her to the bathroom twice.

Ma, Gong, and Goo left soon after tuck-in but I was upstairs before they'd left our street. There was a ladybug in the room flying around the light. Eventually, I caught her and took her outside but then Sis was upset that she hadn't gotten to see her (which I hadn't done for fear of the bug escaping). More cuddles and reassurances all around. And then Hermione, rummaging around under their beds, accidentally got closed in with them, occasioning another trip upstairs. More tears, another trip to the bathroom, extra hugs.

For a long time, Ma, Gong, and Goo have stayed for tuck-in and the kids have been just fine. But they're older now and that might be too much to ask: they couldn't come down off the day, dealing with that excitement, as well as coping with the sadness that the day was over and their family was leaving, all as we were trying to tuck them into bed. Sis just kept crying and Bud just kept saying how exciting it all was. And Mama and I just wanted to get them to sleep. And ourselves too.

Eventually, around 8:30, the last murmurs died down on the monitor and they fell asleep. Just another thing to be thankful for.

And that's it, folks. The leftovers are headed back to New York, with a few in the fridge. The kids are mostly asleep, with just a few of the usual 10 pm sounds. Mama is doing a Sudoku puzzle with a cat on her chest. And I'm blogging. Status quo.

Tomorrow: Christmas decorations!

Thanksgiving Live: Just Desserts

Homemade pumpkin pie, homemade pecan pie, and strawberry jello with strawberries, plus real homemade whipped cream (with just a touch of sugar and whipped almost to butter) and coffee. A great way to finish the day.

But then Sis grew sad as she realized the holiday was coming to an end, even more sad that no one was sleeping over (though we're not sure where she got the idea that they were), and just plain exhausted, to the point of crawling into child's pose on the floor to sniff Shirt quietly (who doesn't smell right, for now, because of all the new patches). She's up in the tub right now, with bedtime coming early tonight. Bud has a little more energy and has been building marble runs with whomever will sit with him. He'll need a bath too but will probably need to be coaxed to it.

Otherwise, the adults are clearly starting to drag too. Everyone was up early, with lots of driving and cooking. And our own bedtimes are much further off.

Thanksgiving Live: Lunch is Over

It was a whirlwind of browning marshmallows, finishing off rolls, roasting vegetables, setting the table, distributing napkins, finding serving spoons, and all the little things that go into finally getting a meal on the table (which was only about 45 minutes off schedule so not "off" at all). Sis and Bud made placecards for each person, carefully writing each name Then they drew what they were thankful for on cards to put in our "gratitude bowl," a cardboard bowl they painted earlier this week. Sis drew herself, Amy the bunny, and Mover Dave, while Bud tried to write and then had me finish his list of family members. I had hoped to go through the cards and share before dinner but it all got hectic and so we're doing it during dessert.

The food was scrumptious, though Bud focused on rolls and cranberry sauce and Sis ate the mashed potatoes in a roll (funny, she had first said she didn't want the mashed potatoes but then remembered that she had wanted them in her roll!) and then several sweet potatoes, except the casserole, including a Japanese sweet potato that is pale yellow on the inside and very sweet. I liked the Brussel sprouts (on which I sprinkled a little balsamic after roasting), the butternut squash puree with orange, the rolls I had been perfecting, and all the cranberry sauce. There were raves about the gravy, the turkey, and the cranberry sauces, even Mama's pepto pink horseradish sour cream cranberry sauce! The dressing wasn't as great as last year, too moist perhaps? Not sure, but it's okay. Bud ended his meal by eating all the strawberries off the jello mold (which didn't) and Sis ate crust off a piece of pumpkin pie; the rest of us are waiting a bit for dessert.

Now, I'm in the living room with Goo playing race car, listening to Bud's drum concert, talking to Sis about the food in her new set, while Mama, Ma, and Gong sort leftovers and load the dishwasher. That's a real perk of the day--they always do the clean up! And for that I am definitely grateful!

Thanksgiving Live: I'm the Queen of Gravy!

Sure, I made the mashed potatoes, the roasted carrots and Brussel sprouts, the green bean casserole, and sweet potato casseroles today, but I am most proud of my gravy this year (picture forthcoming). And I was scared because the rendered fat and drippings from our very fresh big turkey were so dark that I couldn't tell if the flour had cooked in my roux--it started at the copper/peanut butter color it was supposed to end with! I waited a little bit longer and added the stock and drippings. It was this perfect dark color, but I was afraid it was too fatty--the drippings were so dense--because of the fresh farm turkey??--that the fat hadn't separated! So I skimmed it several times with paper towels, the color changed, and most of the fat was gone. Once it all boiled, it was perfectly thick, a consistency I don't always achieve.

And it's the best gravy I've ever made. Thick, flavorful (perhaps a bit too much like the fresh farm turkey!), and there are at least 8 cups of it! We even took pictures because I'm so proud. I mean, this gravy has been a good 12 years in the making!

More later because we are, as they say in restaurants, "in the weeds" and my sous chefs don't like my blogging right now!

For my notes: I used 1/2 cup of oil, 1/2 cup of flour, and 8+ cups of stock and drippings!

Thanksgiving Live: Babysitting

I'm babysitting the turkey while everyone else walks to "Goose Poop" Park, which has a new playset. We discovered the new playset earlier this week and spent more than an hour playing there. I'm okay staying home because it means I can watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade live, though we're recording it for later. The parade is always a real highlight for me, both from childhood when we'd watch it on tv, from when I lived half a block off Times Square and would walk over to see it, and the last and best time when Banana got us tickets in the bleachers of the UWS! I still cry every time Santa appears at the end. So, I'm sitting here with a cup of tea (a special chocolate-raspberry dessert tea) watching floats and marching bands.

Otherwise, we've
  • put together the race track and had numerous contests. Bud particularly likes "tackling" the other cars (he doesn't realize that there is a spot on the track that causes crashes and that it's not him);
  • played with the globe and identified North America as well as the Ishtar Gate;
  • patched Shirt in several places, though Ma didn't finish before the outing to the park so there are probably still 7-10 to patch;
  • eaten breakfast--egg and sausage sandwiches on Portuguese rolls, persimmons, and banana bread, with coffee and tea.
Bud just came back--he slid down a wet slide at the park and needed new pants. Now they're all heading to the cul-de-sacs with the tricycles. So, after Cyndi Lauper, atop a pink castle, finishes her song, I'll head out. Oooh, they just said that Yo Gabba Gabba is going to be on later. The kids will like that.

Thanksgiving Live: The Fire Department

Our turkey is so big that searing it at 500F set off the fire alarms first thing this morning! We had only wanted a small bird, under 15 lbs, but ended up with a huge 19-pounder. I guess they grow big on our CSA farm! Or, maybe our oven wasn't quite clean enough to handle the high heat. (it is now!) Anyway, smoke filled the house and both the battery alarms and hard-wired alarm system began to blare, scaring the cats. The kids, who were entranced by toys brought by Gong (it's Christmas here, not Thanksgiving, with a self-propelled race track, 50 new pieces of faux food, AND a talking V-tech globe! I told you Gong was excited), hardly noticed. I managed a teachable moment, though, and we practiced "get low and go," while Mama through open all the windows and doors. Then I told the alarm company not to send the fire department. At least it's a warm enough day to leave the whole house open for awhile!

Thanksgiving Live: They're Here!

My in-laws are less than 20 minutes away. Mama has almost gotten the turkey in the oven and I'm doing a flurry of last-minute crap hiding. The kids have taken over the entire downstairs, outfitting it for a critter Thanksgiving, while constantly looking out the window.

Thanksgiving Live: Good Morning

"Happy Thanksgiving!" came the clarion cry at 6:51 a.m., almost exactly 9 hours after the kids fell asleep (which is about 2.5 hours too short but whose counting?) and not quite 7 after I finally put the pre-baked and cooled rolls in the fridge. They are ready to help, watching the prep of the turkey and making placecards for the table.

Our guests, Ma, Gong, and Goo, are on their way and should be here in about an hour. I think they're as excited as the kids.

So, I must go get dressed and start helping, too. The first thing of the day is to find Bud's missing dagger so he can show his grandparents.

For your reading enjoyment, check out an article on Thanksgiving internet searches on across the nation. I've scanned it, but am here to say I didn't look up how to make a bread dough cornucopia centerpiece. I did, however, search "Brussel sprouts," which is now in the Top 10. I just didn't do it on

Thanksgiving Live

Good morning! And Happy Thanksgiving!

I'll be live blogging today as much as possible, though I'm not sure who is out there. My Sis is with her family in Oklahoma and my parents are headed to almost off-the-grid Texas to celebrate with my mom's family. Of course, there's dear Lambeth in England, who might enjoy these insights into a holiday he doesn't celebrate (did you when you were in Louisiana?). And maybe Mama Teacher, whose husband works today and thus they celebrate tomorrow.

Why blog then? Well, it lets me record the special day and provides a little break from what my family often jokingly calls "family fun at its finest."

Anyway, welcome all! I am thankful that you are here, are ever here, taking time to read my blog. Let the fun begin . . .

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving: Too Excited to Sleep

After a day spent cooking and cleaning, we finally came to the end of Thanksgiving Eve. Except the kids just weren't quite ready to call it a day. They only fell asleep about 1 1/2 hours ago, or 10 p.m., almost 3 hours after we put them to bed!

At first, they were just talking, saying how excited they were about Thanksgiving and what they were looking forward to. Mama went up to refill water cups and reported back that they had crawled into bed together, a first, that we know of, for them. Sis was snuggled up next to Bud as they talked and planned. I couldn't resist seeing this for myself so I went up a few minutes later, pretending that I thought I'd heard them call me. And they said how comfy they were and invited me to stay and join them! Seeing them there curled up face to face warmed my mommy heart.

At some point, though, they actually got out of bed and started playing Thanksgiving, going so far as to turn up the overhead light. We could hear them moving around and then there was a call for "Mommy!" So I went up. Except, apparently, it was a baby penguin calling for his mommy, not me (I think Mama thought this was poetic justice for my earlier ruse). I encouraged them to get back in bed, at least, and just talk. But Sis informed me that she was staying up until Thanksgiving. And Bud, who said he wasn't tired, was "just too excited about strawberry jello!"

I went back downstairs. There is no point fighting that, really. What am I going to do--threaten them? hold them down in bed? take them out of bed to put in timeout? cause a scene and make everyone upset? I can't make a child sleep. Our theory on bedtime is that we put them to bed, creating an atmosphere conducive to sleep through stories, songs, "happy thoughts," hugs, and kisses, and then let them fall asleep--if they talk or sing for awhile, fine. Only if one is intentionally keeping or waking up the other do we intervene. Otherwise, we let it go. And it has always worked; they find a way to go to sleep when they are ready. And it takes the burden of their sleeping off us (which we had enough of when they were infants; though, truth be told, they were always good sleepers at night).

Even tonight, at some point, Bud said they should go to bed but Sis's shrill "what?!" ended that idea. Mama went up a bit later and Sis asked if the clock was broken--hadn't she managed to stay up until morning even though the clock still showed blue meaning nighttime (we love our tot clock that changes colors based on our settings--it ended the "is it morning yet?" queries at 4 a.m. from Bud)? It was taking to long, she said.

Mama and I marveled at their sheer holiday joy. I mean, who gets that worked up about Thanksgiving? They talked about the food they'd made, what they wanted to help with in the morning, what they were going to eat at lunch, and reenacted all of it with their critters. I don't remember being that ecstatic about Thanksgiving--Christmas and Easter, absolutely, but not Thanksgiving. Happy, sure; expectant, yes. Up three hours past my bedtime? Nope. But then, Mama and I realized, we both slept in our own rooms without siblings to heighten the excitement. We never experienced that kind of middle-of-the-night sibling bonding the way the kids were. And it made us so glad that they could share that, share a room, share the holiday, share a childhood, particularly because so often sharing so much can be a problem for twins (even if they learn how to do it very early on).

Finally, I ended up in their room for something--a potty run? more water?--and told them I'd tell them a story if they'd get in their beds and put their heads down. And I told them about Thanksgiving with my paternal grandparents, "over the river and through the woods." It wasn't so much a particular Thanksgiving memory but an amalgam of all our visits to their house, starting with the long drive from Houston to Dallas during which my little sister Banana and I would wiggle around the backseat (in the days before any child restraints) asking how long until we got there (with Dad exhorting us to look outside. We always did, at least once, to try to see the beaver dam, but were otherwise pretty bored with the never-changing view of I-45). Then, as we drove into Dallas, we'd see the iconic red Pegasus horse glowing on the skyscraper in the night sky, followed by our eventual arrival at my grandparents' house in the woods in Denton late at night after a final chorus of "to grandmother's house we go." I remember coyotes howling (and Pop frighteningly pretending to be a coyote), the redbrick floor that left stains on feet and socks, Grandad's coffee milk in china cups with demitasse spoons delivered to us in bed in the morning, presents from Grandma on her cedar chest, trips to their garden to pick vegetables, Charlotte Russe in red glass goblets chilling in the fridge, Grandad's cooked apples with cream, playing in the front of the house, helping with the cooking from snapping beans on the front porch to licking the beater of the whipped cream, sitting at the huge dinner table to eat, watching Dallas Cowboys football or Lawrence Welk afterwards with gin and tonics for the adults and little cheese crackers as my grandparents sat in their chairs next to the constantly burning fire.

The kids began to settle down. "I want to go to your grandma's garden," Bud said. "Is your grandma alive?" Sis asked. No, not for a long time now, but the memories are. And I started to sing. First, "Over the River" and then all the songs I always sing for them, like "Water is Wide," "Cotton Fields Back Home," "Summertime," and "Can't Help Loving that Man" (I often don't remember words to more traditional lullabies and didn't want to disrupt the increasingly sleepy mood with fumbled lyrics). By the second round of my repertoire, Bud was asleep but Sis was doing her damnedest to stay awake, from kicking the wall to taking off her socks. Soon however, even she rolled over with Shirt close by for a good sniff.

So, if this is Thanksgiving, what is Christmas going to be like?

But for now, it gives me something very concrete to be thankful for: there is no sound coming from the monitor.

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, everyone! (I'll be back tomorrow not-quite-live-blogging Thanksgiving.)

Thanksgiving: The Last Day of Prep

We have three cranberry sauces done, a pie in the oven, and dip in the fridge. Most of the big side dishes will be made tonight after the kids are in bed, with a few others thrown together tomorrow. There are clean bathrooms but not much else. There hasn't been any yelling and the kids have had fun both helping and not helping. So far, so good.

The Guest of Horror

Well, Mama is on her way to pick up our turkey.

And I can't say I'm happy.

See, I know that a day or so ago, our turkey was still walking the earth, enjoying the sun, eating feed. But, his or her time was limited and he (let's go with that) was marked for death. For us.

Sure, until that point, he had a great turkey life: free range, no drugs or pesticides, lots of food. But does having a good life make up for an untimely death?

Sure, if not us, someone. If not a happy turkey, then a miserable factory turkey who never knew sun or space. Then, maybe death for that turkey would be a gift? But who wants to eat that?

(I know, I know, plants are sentient, too. I'll worry about that later).

I'm having some trouble being thankful. But I'll have no trouble not eating our turkey.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Meet Me at the Met

We took the kids to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Saturday, a last-minute (well, the night before) decision to so something extra special for the weekend. There were several exhibitions that I had wanted to see with the number of free weekends to do so dwindling rapidly. And so we went first thing in the morning to be sure to catch the children's program before we saw everything else.

We arrived early enough to catch Vermeer's The Milkmaid before the program started, knowing the show would be packed later. And it was already crowded, but only at The Milkmaid. Because savvy New Yorkers and museum-goers knew that all the other paintings were from the Met's permanent collection and usually on view. Even after all these years, I'm just amazed how reproductions, as advanced as they are, fail to capture, to borrow a phrase, the aura of a work of art. The colors are just wrong everywhere I've seen this painting reproduced. And it is glorious in person--the blue of her skirt, the dotted brushstrokes creating the bread and the basket, the clever single nail on the wall referencing the scene as a work of art. Sis liked the milk jug but insisted she was pouring gravy on bread, not milk. We even got to see a 17th-century jug in the Met's collection. Bud was more worried about missing the program and so we headed back to the education center.

The children's programs, Start with Art, usually includes a story, discussion of one or more works of art, and a sketching project--a fairly standard structure for children's programs. We had been before and liked the experience, so much so that Sis remembered Georgia O'Keeffe by name, but this particular session was not even mediocre. Basically, the two objects chosen were great but the connections the educator was trying to make--you can count things in these pieces!!--was forced, contrived, and, well, really lame, even for preschoolers. But the kids liked looking at Brueghel's (choose your favorite spelling of his name--the Met has 2 on one page!) Harvesters and finding some of the details, including the birds (count them!) and the moon. Then the were asked to sketch their favorite parts (which is a pretty advanced and daunting task). Bud drew the "teepees" (can you see them?) and Sis focused on the reclining man under the tree; both included the moon. Can you find it? (hint: no it's not dirt on your computer, it's that tiny blue dot in the upper left corner)

Next, as a family, we headed to see American Stories, which examines genre and other paintings about America and Americans. The first room alone was worth the exhibition, full of iconic water images, from Copley's Watson and the Shark to Homer's Gulf Stream plus Eakins and Bingham. Bud was entranced by the sharks, standing in front of the Copley repeatedly asking about the painting for more than 10 minutes. "Why is he in the water? Is the shark going to eat him? Will the people save him?" Good news: the man comes out of it alive, though loses a leg (it's based on a true story). Which I told Bud over and over but something about the painting wouldn't let him go. He even bought the postcard, which now sits in his special treasure box. And Sis's favorite painting in this show? A scene of a bear and hunter in mortal combat. And Mama preferred a Civil War-era image of a husband and wife saying goodbye. Such cheerful images my family likes.

After lunch and a much needed break, we saw the following:

Paintings by Watteau, which for me lost some of their power when grouped altogether;

Chinese musical instruments, including a video of people playing a variety of the unique instruments which enthralled the kids;

and last but not least, an exhibition of the armor of the Samurai, including several
suits of armor, fantastic helmets (though Sis's favorite, of a crouching rabbit, was in the permanent collection display), and those majestic swords. Oddly, they liked watching the video of how the blades are forged and sat through it mesmerized 3 different times. Maybe because they were finally sitting!

But if you asked them what their all-time favorites were, they'd say the two statues at the beginning of this blog: Canova's Perseus and Guidi's Andromeda in Chains. We stood in front of these statues for what seemed like ages. And then went back again later! They were at first fascinated with Andromeda--was she a mermaid? what is that sea creature doing? why is she in chains? And so I told the story, using the nearby Perseus nearby as an illustration. And so we went over there--why is he naked? what's he doing with that head? why does that lady have snake hair? hey, why is he naked? did we talk about why is he naked?

Yep, "privates." Love those private parts in works of art. I gave my little speech again about how artists like to show the human body, how it's something we all have in common, how is often considered the most beautiful thing to depict. And they get that, in their way. But still, it's fascinating to see a bigger-than-life-size penis and some breasts on high. Sis, our budding feminist, though, objected to the different treatment of men and women, wondering when she was ever going to see a woman's vagina just like hers--why did they always cover it up? I'm going to have to make sure that all the privates get equal time on our next visit. I can just see it, "Mommy's 'Private' Tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art!" Ah, the dangers of being a mommy museum educator.

There were other highlights: peering in the scansions to see them setting up the creche and the Christmas tree; wandering around the roof garden with its huge metal sculpture Maelstrom; seeing the mother-in-law of a friend and colleague of mine as she gave a tour at the museum; marveling, again, at the "building inside a building" Temple of Dendur; the arms and armor display. Eating lunch in the cafeteria and also shopping for souvenirs also always rank high. There were only two downsides--a very rude mom in the cafeteria who ran over Bud and then blamed him for almost spilling her lunch (we actually "knew" her from the tour and also our last trip to the museum; she's a piece of work) and then the awful mess they've made of the American Sculpture Court, which now looks like a big train station terminal with art and a huge cafeteria--they must need the space for rental and concessions revenue, otherwise why mess it up? But, in the end, those didn't tarnish our wonderful, full, exhausting, exhilarating day. I'm sure we'll be going again soon--want to come?

Second Thanksgiving

It was feast day at school today, for which the kids have been preparing for a week. They loved making the cornbread and pumpkin bread and cranberry relish. And today was friendship soup! Mama took the morning off to go--each child got a guest and luckily we have twins so we both got to go! But Sis forgot or was confused or even just overwhelmed and began to cry as we dropped her off, something she's never done at school before. But with the help of her teachers, we got her settled and left to come back in about an hour.

While we were roaming Whole Foods and visiting the library, the kids decorated paper tablecloths and added their ingredients to the soup. Sis took corn; Bud had mushrooms. Sis also made a paper bunny out of torn paper. Bud made his own connect-the-dot pictures. Everything was ready--and Sis was happy--when we returned. After singing grace, which Bud belted proudly, we all got friendship soup and the sides, plus apple cider. Sis and Mama sat at one table; Bud and I were at another--not sure why, except they don't eat snack together at school. Or maybe they just wanted to be singletons today.

And the soup was good! I admit that I was curious about what kids would put in it, but, besides an overabundance of pasta and the inclusion of potatoes (which were good but would rarely be in such a noodley soup), you couldn't tell the kids made it. Except there were no tomatoes! That must be how adults ruin soup for kids, by adding crushed or diced tomatoes. My kids won't eat most of my soups but they ate this and asked to make it at home. Now I know the secret--let them help add the ingredients and never add tomatoes!

After lunch, the kids performed a song about gratitude in sign language and we all did the "turkey pokey" with our turkey wings and tail feathers. We picked up the colorful construction paper turkeys they'd made and waved goodbye to everyone.

As Bud had me write in a hand-print turkey card he gave his teachers, we are very thankful for his teachers and their wonderful school!

Recipes to follow . . .

Everything She Knows, She Learned at Preschool

This week, while we were discussing the upcoming feast at the kids' school, Sis said, "one thing they have taught me at school is how to cook."

What? What? They taught her how to cook?? Who has been cooking with her for almost 3 years now? Rice krispy treats, sugar cookies, pumpkin pie, banana bread, cupcakes, scrambled eggs, chicken cutlets. And that's just recently. I pride myself on having welcomed them into the kitchen, included them early on, baked with them often, let them actually do stuff like crack eggs and roll dough and work the mixer.

When I questioned her assertion, reminding her of these things, she stuck to her guns. "No, Mom, my teachers taught me how to cook."

Mama tried to make it better later, "Maybe she means you taught her how to bake and they taught her how to cook." Nope, that's not what she meant.

The whole conversation followed hard on the heels of another, similar one. She and Bud were showing me the signs they were learning to accompany a song for feast day, including moon, sun, friend, and family. When I mentioned that we knew a variant of the sign for moon, Sis said that her teachers had taught her sign language, not me! So much for teaching them several signs before they were a year old, watching Signing Times with them, showing them how to spell their names in the manual alphabet. I thought it was parents who were the first, best teachers??!!

Thus a child's revisionism of her childhood begins.

First Thanksgiving

No, not that one.

Though we've read about that in Magic Tree House: Thanksgiving on Thursday and watched it on Charlie Brown's history of the holiday (which has a lot of death for a kid's show).

No, yesterday was our first official Thanksgiving feast, the potluck at our church.

And like the original pilgrims, we almost didn't make it. My car wouldn't start yesterday morning: dead battery (from interior lights accidentally left on during the search for a toy). But after Mama executed a 180 in the driveway and hooked up the jumper cables, nothing happened. A call to her dad and to roadside assistance didn't solve the problem. Our neighbor, Mr Plumber, did though. He was out with his morning coffee and saw our hoods up, coming over to help. In his spare time, he restores old hot rods and so jump-starting a car is second nature to him. He moved this and agitated that and it worked. Soon, we were off.

After a service that seemed inordinately long to the kids, no doubt (even with a communion "snack" of apple cider and tortilla chips there at the end), we headed into lunch, with four long tables filled with the best offerings of our members: turkey, dressings, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, vegetable casseroles, cranberry sauces, Indian pulao, spiced lentils, Syrian rice, meatloaf, numerous pasta dishes. And that doesn't include the two full tables of desserts! This year, instead of just attacking the buffet like vultures at a kill, we went up table by table--and our table was last! But it was closest to the desserts, so we started with those (knowing they'd be gone by the time we got through the line). Pumpkin rolls, pumpkin pie, blueberry pie, our cranberry upside-down cake, key lime pie, cheese ring, and other desserts.

Bud liked his usuals (blueberry pie, ham, turkey), Sis hers (pumpkin pie, gravy), though neither ate the versions of the dishes they've requested for our own dinner. He ignored the cranberry sauces on his plate; she wouldn't touch either the sweet or the mashed potatoes. At least she said she liked my versions better. So I imagine I'll make them anyway. I really liked the non-traditional Thanksgiving dishes and sought out the recipes (of course). I haven't tracked down the spiced Syrian rice with fruits and nuts, but did find the pulao and Spiced Lentils, made by my church school co-teacher. And when she told me they were from Mollie Katzen's Enchanged Broccoli Forest, I laughed. See, I have that cookbook; it was my first vegetarian cookbook, long before I was a vegetarian (I had asked a veg friend to loan me hers but she refused and so I found my own). And as an inexperienced and not confident cook, I found it difficult and complicated to use. In fact, recently, remembering early failures with it, I thought about donating it to the church booksale. Well, not now--the rice and lentils were delicious. I think I'll have to give it another try (and I link to the recipe for pulao here because Katzen's illustrations are so charming).

Before we left lunch, we wrote what we were thankful for on leaves to attach to the centerpiece. Bud said, "baseball." Sis's leaf sums it all up: Mommy, Mama, Sis, Bud, Gommie, Pop, Ma, Gong, Hermione, Albus, friends, school, critters.

Spiced Lentils with Spinach and Apples

2 cups dried lentils
5 cups water
1 cup chopped onion
2 stalks celery, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lb spinach , chopped
2 medium-sized green apples (Granny Smith or Pippin), peeled and chopped

Boil lentils in water and then reduce heat to low, partially covered, and simmer 15 minutes.

Add onion, celery, cumin, mustard, ginger, coriander, and turmeric. Cover and cook for 10 minutes more, then add lemon juice and garlic. Cover and cook again for 10 minutes, or until lentils are tender.

Stir in salt and add peppers to taste. Add spinach and apples at the end so they only cook slightly.

Mollie Katzen, Enchanted Broccoli Forest

Moving on Up

Bud has a new car seat. Officially, a booster seat, which uses the car's shoulder harness to secure the child (instead of the more confidence-inspiring 5-point restraints of a car seat). Even though the seat is much shorter than his old one, meaning he can't see much, he looks so grown up and loves his new car seat. He had finally outgrown the other seat.

Sis, however, hasn't grown out of her old one, creating this difficult carseat tension. She is in her old one, even though we purchased the new one to install the minute she grows a couple of inches (he is taller in his back, she in her legs, so that even though they are only an inch apart, her sitting height is almost 2 1/2 inches less). She has enough issues being small, knowing she is the littlest one in her class. She even told the big girl on Halloween that she might be small but she can run fast. I don't know what it's like to have a complex about being short, but Mama does, and we're trying hard not to make her feel like she is somehow lacking, that it is her fault that she isn't big enough for a new car seat.

While they have long reached milestones at different paces--she walked first, he talked first, etc.--they are only just now aware of it and bothered by feeling behind. So, while we celebrate his new car seat, we comfort her disappointment. It's a parenting tightrope walk. I imagine it will be ever thus.

Warp Speed: The Final Frontier

Just try to find regular, original unscented Dawn dishwashing liquid these days. There is super scrubber, antibacterial, special scents, and a special "natural" one with no dyes. But I needed the regular ol' Dawn, with its neutral ph-balance. I didn't know the ph of my green stuff or my Dr. Bronner's soap and wasn't sure I could trust random blogs on the internet. And my teacher said Dawn.

It's for washing the scarf, actually, fulling it, which is a step or so below the intensity of felting. And Woolite, apparently, despite its name, is too acidic for wool and silk. So, I washed my scarf in bubbles from a bottle of vivid blue Dawn, rinsing it until bubble-less, and then soaking it for a bit in white distilled vinegar to bring out the shine in the silk. Then I laid it on a towel and stepped on it--the kids' favorite part--and finished it off about 30 minutes later by ironing it.

And it was done. Softer and shinier than it had been before its bath, so much more like fabric. Beautiful. I took it to class and we all oohed and aahed over our creations, amazed that we had actually made these things from cones of thread and complicated loom contraptions we received at the beginning of class. I understand the process so much better than I did the first time around (even ace-ing the "final" exam!). And I liked the camaraderie of making the scarf, of weaving, with the other women, receiving the knowledge from other women, in this millennias-old craft tradition.

Best part? It looks glorious on Mama and she really likes it.

And so, I've ordered a warping board for my birthday and am deciding on yarn colors. Because this isn't the end of the weaving journey but just the beginning.

Warp Speed: Tying the Knots

Mama's scarf was off the loom but needed twisted fringe to secure the weft. Sure, I'd hemstitched the thing so I could have left it fringe-less, especially because chunky twisted fringe, in the words of my teacher, is "femme-y." But we noticed that loose threads clumped unattractively.

So we opted for very thin fringe, basically two threads twisted with two other threads. Take the first two threads and twist them in one direction; hold onto this while you twist the other two threads in the same direction. Now, put the two under-tension bundles together and twist the other way; tie off in a loose knot. Later, you'll tighten the knots so that all the fringe knots are in the same place and then cut right below the knot.

Mama did the twisting of the individual bundles and then handed them to me to twist together and tie off. And I just couldn't help think of the symbolism of the two of us twisting the threads of our lives together and then tying the knot. Just like we did about a year ago, legally, here in Connecticut.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Holiday Hiatus Early

I didn't expect that I'd miss two days of blogging already but the holiday chaos seems to have come early and I am way behind. I promise, soon, to write about:
  • our day at the Met (with Vermeer, Watteau, American genre paintings, samurai, Chinese musical instruments, a children's program, and the permanent collection! Whew!), including their favorite: nude statues of Perseus and Andromeda!
  • the First Thanksgiving--no, not that one, our first holiday feast, at church
  • Bud's new booster seat
  • finishing my weaving class
And by the time I get around to it,
  • our Second Thanksgiving at school
  • my singleton outing with Bud
More soon, with recipes . . . . and then I'll semi-live blog Thanksgiving, with a huge dinner and upwards of three possible parties!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tickle Monsters

The kids woke up in a great mood and were ready to roughhouse first thing this morning. We're not really a hit-the-ground-running kind of family; we often sit in the big bed and go over the day, discuss the dreams of the night before, sometimes watch a special show, or play. Today, Mama was the tickle monster, with both kids falling all over each other to be tickled. Then it became competitive: who could be tickled the longest without screaming "calf-rope" for relief (Sis at 13 seconds), then who could be tickled the longest without making a noise (Sis again), and then who could make me laugh fastest (it was a tie; I'm very ticklish). For that last one, Mama, who is not ticklish, had to give instructions, for the kids are more apt to scratch or rub than tickle. And they still don't quite have any technique. Which just made me laugh harder.

Thanksgiving: Counting Down and Up

I don't talk about WW much--I'm sensitive about my weight journey and don't always like to talk/write about it, even when it goes well--though I'm still going and losing about a pound a week. But as food is more prevalent during the holidays, you're going to hear more about it. Today, I went to my WW meeting today (and lost my usual pound) and got a list of all the points of traditional holiday dishes, which I include here both to remind myself and to share with those who want to know (for those non-WW who are confused but interested, we count points instead of calories, though 1 pnt generally = 50 calories, in a pinch. Why? It's complicated but all values aren't equal, depending on fat and fiber. Yes, it is a strange language, and a cult to boot. But it works. For those confused but not interested, just move along). I'm planning on saving all my 35 extra points plus the ones I get each day, which gives me more than enough to enjoy:

turkey, 2 oz = 2 pnts (okay, not this first one, but wanted to include it for completeness's sake)
gravy, 1/4 c - 2
dressing, 1/2 c = 4
cranberry sauce, 1/4 c = 2
green bean casserole, 1 c = 5
winter squash, 1 c = 1
mashed potatoes, 1/2 c = 2
baked sweet potato, 1 large = 3
steamed green beans, 1 c = 0
dinner roll, 1 piece = 3
all fruit pies, 1 slice = 9
pumpkin pie, 1 slice = 9
other pies, 1 slice = between 10-14 (pecan is 12)
whipped cream, 1/4 c = 3 (plus any sugar)
fruit cocktail, 1 c = 2
mulled cider, 1/2 c = 1

Though, with 3 special meals this week (including church and the preschool feast), I still be lucky to lose my 1 pound next week!

Thanksgiving: The Amazing Grocery Zapper

Today, the kiddos and I headed to the grocery store to purchase the ingredients for our Thanksgiving meal. We'd gone over the menu while scarfing happy meals after school and knew everything we wanted to get, having drawn each food next to its name on the list. While they were excited about both shopping and the meal itself, they were most jazzed about the new grocery store ray gun/zapper thingie that allows me to ring up purchases as I shop. This was fabulous fun! It took awhile for them to get the hang of the button, find the UPC code, and make sure that the red scanner line actually read the UPC, but they had it down before we were out of produce (which is fun because you weigh the produce and then print the sticker, which is where the UPC code is). We got everything we wanted.

But forgot one thing: I had wanted them to pick out some items to take to our church's food bank collection box so that we could share some of the bounty of the holiday. We are so lucky that we can walk into the grocery store and buy whatever we want for a huge meal without worrying about it. I try to let them know how fortunate we are, encourage them to share what we have (while also nixing pure extravagance, like a third pie!). And getting caught up in the zapper thing and my list and all, I totally forgot. And then I didn't even have any bills to drop in the bucket of the bell-ringing lady. So, the charity that begins at home stayed there today and wasn't with us at the grocery store. But, we'll rectify that before Sunday's collection.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chalk It Up

Our kitchen chalkboard looks like a giant wordsearch, except every letter is part of a word. The kids are obsessed with words, spellings, letters, sounding things out, and want to see their favorite words written on the wall. Then they read them out to me or copy them down on pieces of paper. The current words are:
  • family members: Mommy, Mama, Gommie, Pop, Sis, Bud, Albus, Hermione
  • Imagination Movers: Dave, Smitty, Scott, Rich
  • Brother Bear: Kenai, Denahi, Sitka, Koda
  • random favorites: school, food, art, eat, friends, books, cat, Amy (the bunny), penguin

Just One Twin

Sis and I went out today. Alone. With Bud at home with Babysitter. See, she had been upset that I was leaving, really upset, after being clingy most of the day. And so I figured, what the heck, maybe we need some together time. I had some errands in mind but nothing I couldn't take her along to or forget altogether.

She perked up at the idea, wiping tears away from her round face with Shirt (though she is entirely unsure about being left at home when I take Bud out alone next week, as promised, but she'll worry about that later). Even Bud was game, which I couldn't have necessarily predicted. But he loves Babysitter and probably relished having all of her attention for a change (he dreamed about her last night, too, since we saw her at dinner at "her" restaurant).

And so Sis and I headed to the craft store, where we bought some thread that was on sale, my main reason for going. She proudly carried the coupon and helped me find exactly what I was looking for. And then she chose some cookie tins (with penguins) for her teachers' holiday presents. And we got two cookie dough scoopers; though I favor a two-spoon method for dough, they have trouble with it and might have better luck with the scooper for now. And then we chose yarn for a scarf that I promised, on the spot, to make her. I can see that outings with Sis are gonna cost me.

We then headed to the bookstore for a snack and had fun sitting together munching and chatting. She has chosen my Christmas present but wouldn't let me guess nor give me any clues (Mama, she wants to take you back so you can buy it. I won't tell you what she wants to buy you). The person next to us remarked on how beautiful she is (she is, but I'm biased. And she's smart and kind, too). And I said we were having a special day out alone, with her twin at home. I'd said the same thing to a mom pushing her baby twins along in the stroller. I wonder how long it will be before I stop mentioning that they are twins?

Anyway, we played trains and read a book in the kids' section and then headed home. On the way to the car, as she thought of other places we could go (like the library), she told me, "I think I could get used to this."

Me too.


Update: Bud thinks he wants to go for ice cream for his special outing next week, saying he'd bring some back for the whole family. Sis wants chocolate, of course. Then he thought he might rather go to the bookstore for rice krispy treats and added that he would bring one back for Sis. Sis looked stricken and confessed that she'd had a rice krispy treat but hadn't brought one back for him. She said there were only two (though I'm not sure why that was an excuse but it seemed to work, until . . . ). He panicked, thinking he wouldn't be able to have one on Tuesday. But I assured him that they'd have more. Rice krispy treats at the store are so much better than any we could make at home, I know. And it looks like our special singleton outings may become a tradition.

How To Host a Fairy House Party

We love building fairy houses and have been constructing them all over, though mostly in our backyard, for more than a year. Slowly, we have introduced our hobby to our friends, building houses together during playdates. And then we decided, not long after going to the Fairy Village at the Florence Griswold Museum, to have a party with all of our friends.

Step One: Pick a time of year when there will be a lot of materials to work with. Fall, after the leaves are down and before you rake it all up, is perfect. Spring would be okay, too, with all the detritus of winter--just remember one of the main rules of fairy house building is "no living things." In other words, don't pick the flowers!

Step Two: When you invite your friends, suggest they start gathering their own materials to bring to personalize their houses. Also, advise them to wear outdoor play clothes.

Step Three: It's good to have other activities. Fairy-house building is not for everyone. And even enthusiasts (especially our preschool-aged ones) will tire of it after awhile. So, we started by reading Tracey Kane's illustrated tale of fairy-house building, Fairy Houses. This introduced the activity to novices as well as laid out some suggestions for building and rules to follow (no living or artificial materials). By then, our guests were excited, so we went on a quick nature walk around our suburban neighborhood to find additional materials (which we placed in paper bags I provided).

Step Four: Then it was time to start building! I suggested different structures--"teepee" or "lean-to"--to help each group (usually a mom and child) get started, planting the main sticks for the little ones. Then they enthusiastically finished and decorated each house, making suggestions to each other, sharing materials, and admiring the creations. The moms were as interested as the kiddos and got into the design of the houses (kudos to Mommy Goose for her interior decoration!!).

Step Five: Provide lots of snacks! While there is a great proliferation of precious and pink fairy food in special fairy cookbooks, I think fairies themselves would probably eat more natural things. So, we had veggies and dip, fruit salad, some breads, and yes, of course, some chocolate chip cookies!

Step Six: I took pictures of the houses-in-process and then with their creators after they finished. And got several pictures of all the houses arrayed under our tree.

Step Seven: Send something special home. I had several ideas about crafts to make, from magic wands to fairy silhouettes, but none struck the right tone. So, instead, we made peanut butter pinecone birdfeeders; after all, birds are friends of the fairies, right? And they took them home in their nature walk paper bags.

All in all, it was a great day, about which Bud said he dreamed last night; Sis is hoping for a repeat soon. Perhaps come spring . . . .

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's a Small World After All

We had just been seated at our table by Babysitter (who "moonlights" as a restaurant hostess), when Ms. Preschool Director and husband were seated behind us. (And then friends of theirs were coincidentally seated next to us.) Then Mama arrived. The kids were just overjoyed by being surrounded by so many people they knew and loved.

More on our day, including the long-awaited Fairy House Party, tomorrow.

Thanksgivingg: 101 More Ideas

Mark Bittman, The Minimalist at the NYTimes, has done it again: 101 Thanksgiving recipe ideas that you can prepare in advance and (mostly) serve room temperature. I love these 101 lists. And even though our Thanksgiving menu is mostly set, these recipes will come in handy for future holidays.

In case you've missed his other 101 lists, they are (and I think that's all of them, in no particular order):
I can't wait to see more lists (and would love to see breakfast, desserts, or soups)!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Reading Magic: Fairytales

On Saturday, before we went to the Imagination Movers concert, we had time to watch the new Mover episode on tv (which distracted them from their increasing and uncontrollable excitement long enough for Mama and I to get dressed). And it was basically the Movers-meet-Cinderella.

Except, the kiddos had no idea who Cinderella was.

Conflictingly proud that we had so far avoided one arm of the Mouse's media empire but also abashed that my children did not possess the cultural literacy of fairytales, I waited for the show to be over and then whipped out my treasued copy of The Tasha Tudor Book of Fairy Tales, my favorite illustrated fairy tale collection from childhood (which I keep right above Tasha Tudor's A Time to Keep, probably my favorite childhood picture book).

Oddly for a book by an illustrator, there aren't that many pictures (and those that exist are very 18th-century French Sun King), but we sat and read through Perrault's version of Cinderella, which doesn't have friendly mice and has two balls instead of one (but gently leaves out the evil stepsisters' self-mutilation in the pursuit of fitting into the glass slipper. I think that might be the Grimm version). Sis listened enrapt, clearly mentally comparing it to the Movers' version. Bud was hung up on some of the details, such as how her clothes became rags. But they enjoyed it. And want to read about Rapunzel, who is pictured on the front cover, next.

Will we be reading the Grimm version anytime soon? Probably not. (Much less listening to the confusing Into the Woods.) Nor will we be watching the Mouse's version either. We'll walk the middle road for now, learning the stories in the safe environs of Tasha Tudor (and carefully navigating the often misogynistic, sometimes violent tales. More on that some other time, though, briefly I think fairytales have a lot to teach, beyond being cultural touchstones. I'll need to re-read the Brain, Child article on Grimm again first).

Especially because the Movers left the door open for even more fairytale visitors!

Imaginary Movers

As you know, we have Imagination Movers on the brain after the concert on Saturday.

And tonight during dinner conversation, Sis wanted to do a round-robin story. About the Movers.

So, I started the story about how the Movers needed to get to their concert but a big snowfall (okay, so Sis couldn't know it rarely snows in New Orleans) had trapped them in the warehouse. Go!

We go in a circle and Bud was next. Immediately, he said that Dave invented a machine to tunnel out of the snow. Which is a great guess in light of the tv show structure (though, he solved the "idea emergency" too soon).

And Sis went nuts. Mover Dave was her character! Bud couldn't talk about Dave. He had to talk about Smitty. And she would decide how Dave solved the problem. And only Dave got to have the answer.

Oh, heaven have mercy.

Bud acquiesced quickly (and wisely) and said something about Smitty first calling neighbor Nina for help, then asking Warehouse Mouse to help, and finally checking his journal for snow-removal ideas. Allowed to talk for Scott, I added that he looked through the snow with his wobble goggles only to discover that the whole neighborhood was snowed in. I added that Rich called the highway department but they didn't have Katy the snow plow (yes, I was mixing stories and media). And finally Sis solved the emergency by saying that Dave cleared the snow with an invention that punctured the snow with holes until the holes were big enough to climb through. And they all went to the concert happily ever after.

Whew. Emergency solved; crisis averted.

Reading Magic: My Own Pocket Wocket

We had just finished reading Dr. Seuss's There's a Wocket in My Pocket and I was discussing the story with Bud as we waited for Sis and Mama to finish reading so we could switch (we each read one story to each child each night, usually; we used to read all 4 books together but they like being in separate beds with a mom alone now). And so I asked Bud what creature he would be.

"I would be a wocket in your pocket so I could go with you everywhere!"

Ticky-Tacky Emptiness

We were out in the cul-de-sac tricycling today and it was so oddly quiet, as usual. Of the 10+ houses on the block, not a single one had evidence of a living soul--no cars, no movement, no open windows. Ten empty houses. Almost ways empty. At least 40 hours a week, I'm sure. It's odd to be the only visible people within view, the only proof of any other people in town heard in cars on main street or passing by infrequently on their way somewhere. It just doesn't seem right somehow. Too bad we can't work out some kind of O. Henry-timeshare with people who don't have houses.

Crying Over Unbroken Eggs

The kiddos made pumpkin bread at school yesterday in preparation for the Thanksgiving feast parents are invited to next week. And each child had a task in making the bread. Turns out, my two were in charge of sugar. But what Bud really wanted to do was crack eggs. Yes, I let him crack eggs when we bake. Sometimes, it does take 3 eggs to get 2 I can use because he is still learning the nuances of pressure and positioning when it comes to whacking an egg on the counter. But how do you learn if you don't practice? Funny thing is, he cracks them and then hands them to me to open, not liking to get egg on his fingertips. Whatever works. Of course, I understand why his teachers didn't want 4-year olds cracking eggs. But he was devastated at not being able to demonstrate his particular skill, the part of baking that is always his. And so, when we made chocolate chip cookies at Sis's request yesterday, one of the benefits was that Bud got to crack two eggs. And he did it perfectly!


I am in such a foul mood. Really, really ugly.

I spent 4+ hours dreaming about extensive and painful dental work. How do I know? Because I looked at the clock at 2 a.m., waking from the dream, and woke again from its continuation at 6:30 a.m.

Mama and I had fits this morning, mainly about the mess downstairs, because Sis tripped on something again. But then we just got grumpy with each other, knowing that the problems the kids have with putting things away are problems that we have. And Mama worked so hard on things this weekend, rearranging upstairs furniture and getting a lot done. There just always seems to be a lot. (And yes, of course, thinning out things is the answer which is what we're doing. It takes time. A lot like dieting. And sometimes you want it to go a lot faster than it does. A pound of flesh or of stuff a week just doesn't seem to make a difference. Though, we know the house--and body--weren't built in a week or a month or a year).

And then, in a cleaning spurt, I found mold under the sink, presumably from a leak in my relatively new sink. And the toilet still isn't working properly but the plumber hasn't called back yet.

And then I just had a ridiculous phone call with a woman from who first called me last night after 10 pm, which to my mind is way too late and rude if it's not some kind of immediate family emergency. I didn't pick up, being in the tub, but called her back this morning. And all she wanted to do was complain that I didn't include someone's last name in an email! I had included the first names and phone numbers and assistance needed but she wanted more and needed to tell me that she didn't like the way I did it. And that's all she needed. AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

And throughout all this, the kids have been beautiful, self-entertaining, getting along, having fun. And what do I do during all this wonderful time? I can't even muster up gratitude for that. So, I'm in a terrible mood. For stupid little reasons. But that doesn't lessen the fact that I'm in a bad mood. So, I'm going to just be in this bad mood until it goes away.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Upcoming Kitchen-A-Thon

  • Chocolate Chip Cookies today, just for fun (but not Gommie's--Sis didn't want oatmeal, much to my disappointment)
  • WW Easy Layered Ravioli Bake and WW Pumpkin Spice Cake tomorrow for a sick church friend (and yes, she's on Weight Watchers)
  • a variety of snacks--maybe almond bread?--for our Fairy House Party on Wednesday
  • a side dish and a dessert for our church's Thanksgiving potluck this weekend
  • Thanksgiving itself, which I do pretty much all by myself (well, no, Mama is a great sous chef; what I mean is, we produce all the dishes, which is, actually, how I like to do it, though I'm hoping Goo--hint, hint--will bring something fun, as he said he might)
  • 4-5 different batches of cookies for our church's bake sale: jam thumbprints, shortbread, sugar cookie cut-outs
  • Holiday Cookie Swap, with about 5 dozen cookies, either almond bars or chocolate cut-outs in the shape of gingerbread houses
  • potluck dish for church decorating party
  • A variety of homemade candies for holiday gifts for preschool teachers, church school teachers, pediatrician, and vet office. I'm thinking butter mints, chocolate-dipped pretzels, English toffee, pate de fruits, fudge (though boiling sugar with preschoolers is probably not a good idea!), and white chocolate peppermint bark.

I'm going to be cooking and baking for the next 4 weeks straight. And that only takes us to mid-December (not including cooking for Christmas, my parents when they're here, or New Year's Eve and Day) and, of course, it doesn't include evening dinners! But I like it, like the perusing endless new recipes, choosing them, and tasting them (I do get a little edgy actually making new recipes sometimes so I won't include that in the "like it" list). Stay tuned. I promise to post all the recipes, starting with the three below.


Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups (12 oz bag) chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F.

Stir together flour, soda, and salt; set aside.

Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy (at least 2 minutes). Beat in eggs and vanilla.

Add the flour mixture; beat until well blended.

Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop onto cookie sheet by tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart.

Bake 8-10 minutes until golden. Cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes. Transfer to wire racks. Cool completely.

Sesame Street's Yummy Cookies: Baking with Kids


Weight Watchers Easy Layered Ravioli Bake

9 oz refrigerated low fat cheese ravioli
24 oz marinara sauce
2-10 oz packages frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed ry
1 cup shredded mozzarella
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375F. Cook the ravioli according to package directions, omitting oil and salt if desired.

Spray at 2 quart baking dish with nonstick spray. Spread half the marinara sauce in the dish. Add half of the ravioli, then top with half of the spinach and half of the mozzarella. Repeat layering once. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil and bake until bubbly, about 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the cheese is melted and slightly golden, 6-8 minutes longer.

Comfort Classics (7 pts a serving, which is 1/4 of the casserole)


Weight Watchers Pumpkin Spice Cake

1 box spice cake mix
1 can pumpkin
1/4 cup water

Combine ingredients and bake according to box instructions (or as muffins).

my meeting (I think this is 3 pts a muffin)