Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Of Sharks and Otters

No, this isn't some gruesome National Geographic-inspired post but a rundown of our first swim lesson today.

The kids were actually pretty excited, considering they probably haven't gone swimming in a real pool since hanging out at Aunt Banana and Uncle Soccer's community pool with Gommie and Pop last summer. Even when they're in the bathtub, they never willingly get their faces wet and freak when they get their heads wet (which means shampoo night, which is few and far between, always involves a bribe of Mama washing her hair with their help first).

But they were thrilled with new swimsuits--pink and white striped one piece with a little skirt for her, blue shark trunks for him--and new swim shoes (purple and blue, respectively; pink was sold out in her size). And they each selected a town, coincidentally the same blue beach-going huge fuzzy penguin towel.

So, we got ready: final trips to the potty, swimming suits, sunscreen application, cover shirts, towels, swim shoes, my bag with a bottle of water, more sunscreen, a check to pay for the lessons, and my camera to record the momentous event. And wouldn't you know it, when we arrived at the lessons, out came their preschool teacher whom we saw at strawberry picking last week. They were surprised and happy to see her, I think relieved that she goes there with her granddaughters. It suddenly made everything okay, especially because I'd already told them their swim teacher was a good friend of their preschool teacher. And look, proof!

And they did great. They liked meeting their teacher, whose haircut is like Gommie's, which made her even more acceptable, in addtion to being a friend of their teacher. So, they got in the pool on the steps (it was a big, heated--yes, it's still a bit chilly to swim in CT--in-ground pool), let her carry them out into the water, kicked, and paddled. Bud was only a little concerned about his staple, which I had called to inform her of, but there was no dunking or getting heads wet.

Instead, they both talked a mile a minute, about school, home, the turkeys that wandered into her yard during the lesson, the dragonfly buzzing around, how funny it felt to have wet shoes, how weird it was that their legs floated, how heavy their suits felt wet. When they swam on their stomachs, they said they were sharks; on their backs, they were otters. They told her how they had imagined her pool could be filled with different things and how they would drink it all up (I had told them not to drink the water. Or pee. Or run around. Or push anyone. Or ever ever ever go near a pool if an adult was not right there saying it was okay): Bud had wanted strawberry milk or lemonade, while Sis opted for chocolate milk, mentioning apple juice as a last resort. They said mine could be tea. Then, Bud kept telling her that he "already knew how to sink." Sis was more concerned about the bugs in the water and kept calling the teacher over to flick them out. They each eagerly awaited their turns and did everything she asked.

Almost. When the teacher asked Sis if she would put her mouth in the water and blow some bubbles, Sis just said, "No." Bud, of course, followed suit. But they both blew across the top of the water happily. I'm just glad they got in and paddled around. Faces and heads can come later. It really was a wonderful first try.

Reading Rituals

Like many bedtime rituals, our includes storytime. Each child gets two stories, their pick. They usually repeat the same couple for a few nights and then switch. Right now, Bud is hooked on Drummer Hoff and whatever else. Sis chose two "new" ones tonight, i.e. ones we haven't read in a few weeks, including Bedtime for Frances and Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go to Sleep, a perennial household favorite.

And it occurred to me while reading Frances, as it has occurred to me while reading several other books: is it sacrilege to alter the gender of the parents of the character if that is unimportant to the main gist of the story? In this one, Frances keeps coming up with new ruses to avoid going to sleep, with her Mother and Father Badger frustrating all her attempts. But they're animals, not even in clothes, and Sis would never know they weren't a Mommy and Mama Badger, at least until she can read. There are so few good books for preschoolers with two mommy characters (esp ones that don't whack you over the head with it and Heather Has Two Mommies is too old for us yet) and there are great books with fathers; besides, if you only read books without dads, you would a). run out of stories pretty quickly and b). miss some greats of children's literature. But, in most cases, it's not the gender of the parent that makes the book great (especially because animals are relatively androgynous). What generally keeps me from just changing the pronouns and names? Honesty? Fidelity to the written word? Inattentiveness? Acceptance of the reality that most families and most of popular culture includes a mother and a father? Hey, you dads out there, do you read books about mommies and change the gender? Especially if there isn't a mommy in the family?

What would you do?

On Marriage Today

Read the article, "Marriage Stands Up for Itself," with some interesting observations on fidelity, infidelity, divorce, and marriage over the last few decades and also in light of several recent high-profile affairs. It's not what you might think.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Beverages for When You Can't Eat

For Miss T, who is having two root canals tomorrow--


Orange Creamsicle Smoothie

I love orange creamsicle! I made an easy version for Mama and Goo—orange soda frozen in a slushie cup and then poured over vanilla ice cream.

2 frozen orange juice bars

½ cups cold milk

1 cup vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt

¾ cup cold orange juice

Blend the juice bars, milk, ice cream and orange juice in a blender. Can substitute frozen orange juice for orange juice bars.


Alternate: Orange Freeze

From Eddie’s Sweet Shop in Woodhaven, where they filmed part of Brighton Beach Memoirs. Very tasty! And easier than the creamsicle smoothie.

2 scoops orange sherbet

1 scoop vanilla ice cream

seltzer

-=-=-=-=-
Tropical Slushie

This is a recipe from Scholastic's Parent and Child magazine that the kiddos can actually have. And it's pretty good (6/07).


1 cup mango nectar
20 oz Canned Pineapple Chunks in Juice

Freeze pineapple chunks overnight. Defrost 10 minutes before blending with mango nectar. Serve.

Parent and Child Magazine (2 points; 3 servings)

-=-=-=-=-

Mango Lassi

The weekend after Mom’s spring visit, during which we had lassis at an Indian restaurant, we got fresh mangoes form the Costco and made these, which Martha had just featured in Everyday Food. Pretty tasty, and sweet enough with no additional sugar (summer 2004).

1 ripe mango

1 cup whole or lowfat plain yogurt

3 tablespoons sugar

½ cup cold water

ice

Peel, pit, and coarsely chop 1 ripe mango (to yield about 1 cup fruit). In a blender, purée mango with yogurt, sugar, and cold water until smooth. Pour through a fine mesh sieve to remove pulp, if desired. Serve immediately over ice.

Everyday Food


-=-=-=-=-

Goo’s Redwall Strawberry Cordial

Mama, Goo, and I made this delicious cordial one May night, inspired by the Redwall books and a website full of Redwallian recipes. It was amazing! It reminds me of those wonderful strawberry drinks of Chock-Full-O’Nuts.

2 lbs. strawberries

1 cup granulated sugar

½ cup powdered sugar

¾ liter of plain seltzer

2 tablespoons water

1 pint heavy cream

Wash and slice strawberries. Heat strawberries on low flame in saucepan with ½ cup sugar and 2 tablespoons of water. When soft and rendering liquid, add the other ½ cup of sugar.

Strain strawberries over bowl, saving juice. Crush strawberries until only seeds and fibers left. Add to juice.

Cool juice. Add seltzer to strawberry juice to taste. Add cream to cordial to taste and texture. Sweeten with powdered sugar.

Refrigerate at least an hour or until chilled.

Serve with fresh whipped cream.

Mama, Goo, and me


-=-=-=-=-

New York Chocolate Egg Cream

I became addicted to this in NYC and needed to be able to make my own when I moved to Chicago.

1 cup milk

¼ cup seltzer

2 tablespoons chocolate syrup

Squeeze syrup into glass, then add milk. Stir in seltzer.


-=-=-=-=-=-


Miss V’s Homemade Chai

darjeeling tea

green cardamom pods

sugar

milk

Place tea and crushed green cardamom pods in water and boil gently on the stove. When well heated, add sugar and milk to taste. Serve.

Miss V

Hallelujah!

The babysitter called this afternoon and is coming back to work this week instead of next. YAY!!!!!! And for three afternoons instead of two. I am a completely spoiled and indulged woman. And completely grateful.

As I was talking to her on the phone, as they realized who it was and what we were discussing, the kids began to beg for her to come today and celebrated when they learned she was coming tomorrow.

All I can say is "YAY!"

Ditto

I'm repeating, verbatim, what Momma Zen says today on her excellent blog, Cheerio Road:

Attention is the most concrete expression of love. What you pay attention to thrives. What you do not pay attention to withers and dies.

Quite simply, it bears repeating.

Pass it on.

Happy for Solstice!

I know, I'm pretty late with happy Solstice wishes. But today was a glorious summer day.

And so, not liking heat one bit, I am gladdened to know that the days are actually getting shorter from now on, even if the heat gets higher, because that means fall and winter are coming, eventually.

Just not fast enough for me!

A Karat of Carrots

We went to the farmer's market today and had a delightful time wandering among the vendors. Even though we have more than enough vegetables from our CSA box, I told the kids they could each choose something. No surprise that Bud chose strawberries, even though we just got 13 lbs last week, and Sis, our bunny-lover, chose these little carrots with grassy tops as long as she is. I picked up some zucchini and yellow squash (to saute for a pasta topping tonight), plus some Japanese Ginger salad dressing and some new soap. We also each got a cookie, predictably chocolate chip (Sis) and M&M (Bud), plus a delicious maple walnut for me. We touched a truck, met a giant tooth, checked out a book from the library table calledThe Garden-Fresh Vegetable Cookbook, and had fun visiting with playgroup buddies and church friends. I was almost tempted to buy a few more herbs because we put in a new vegetable bed--right around our mailbox in the front yard because it gets the most sun in the whole yard and our squash were starting to languish on the same spot in a pot--and even looked for a sunflower to replace the ones the mowers weedwhacked (because everytime Bud or Sis had looked over at their vacant spot, they said it made them sad), but decided not to buy any new herbs (we get new ones each week from our CSA) and couldn't find a sunflower.

When we got home, Bud went after his strawberries right away, small, bright red, sweet berries. It just doesn't matter that he ate a ton last week. Sis, too, was very interested in her little carrots: she cut the tops off, rinsed them in water, scrubbed them with my vegetable brush, and then watched while I peeled one. She had two and shared one with me. They were amazing! Truth be told, I'm not sure I've ever had a carrot right off the farm like that. So much better than any grocery store carrot, even the organic ones, that I've eaten. But I shouldn't be surprised. It's good to eat right out of the ground. And I'm glad my kids like it, too.

And so I'm glad we had a successful trip to the farmer's market, which I hope we remember to visit regularly, even with our steady supply of CSA veggies. Here are some tips for visiting the farmer's market, some I remembered and some I forgot:
  • Bring your own reusable bag or two for carrying all your goodies and helping out the earth (whoops, forgot)
  • Bring small bills and a check as back up to make paying easier for you and the vendor (though, one vendor, when given the choice, preferred breaking a large bill to taking a check, so this tip is iffy.)
  • Bring water to drink (we drank a full 20 oz of water between the 3 of us in under an hour)
  • Don't forget the sunscreen if your market is in the afternoon or in a unshady spot--it's hot and bright out there (note: last year's sunscreen that has been in the car all year is not good anymore)
  • Asks questions of the growers (I learned that "local" honey, often used to treat allergies, is relative, as beekeepers keep hives in several places--apparently, as long as it's within about 100 miles or so, it counts).
  • Try something new (mmm, that maple walnut cookie. And of course, that carrot!)
  • Have fun! (even if there isn't a truck to touch or a giant tooth every week)

Good Luck Tomorrow

To Miss T, who will be undergoing not one but two root canals.

We'll be thinking of you.


Tidbits

"Is it a two-winner game?" Bud asks Sis before they start the foot race.

"Yep," she replies.

This has been going on for a few months. They only like to play games with each other that they both win, hence two winners, even if the second winner comes in way behind the first.

Which is why they really don't like Tic Tac Toe, which I had taught them one day at a restaurant to pass time. No way to make there be two winners in that game.

-=-=-=-
Sis spreads her hands wide apart. "I'm going to play with it this long."

Bud groans.

As they negotiate sharing and taking turns recently, they've been measuring time with their hands. It's much more concrete to understand than "5 minutes," which I still don't think they grasp. Even if they don't always like how far apart the hands are.

-=-=-=-=-
The kids have signed their own names now, but the first time was on the computer, not on a sheet of paper. Both can write their first initials just fine, but haven't been that interested in moving along and I don't care or push it. But the other day, we were typing email to Mama, and Sis wanted to type her own name, all-caps, and she did. Then Bud did in his email to Mama. Okay, it's not traditional, but it was a milestone nonetheless.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Scotland or Bust




Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled--
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led--
Welcome to your gory bed.
Or to victorie!

Robert Burns, "Bannockburn"

Can't you just hear the bagpipes? Actually, I think I still can, after we spent all day at the Scottish Games yesterday. But I love bagpipe music and thus enjoyed seeing all the competing pipe bands from all over the Northeast, as well as several other contests, clan groups, food stands, and vendors.

Held at a huge-estate-turned-public-park, complete with mansion on the grounds, the festival reminded me of when lords in Britain invited the local populace to hold feasts and festivals in their private parks--in fact, if I understand the history of recent Scottish nationalism correctly, that's pretty much how Highland Games got started in theUK and then the US.

Anyway, it was a lovely day, first real day of summer I recall our having since summer started. We actually started at the food booths, having an early snack of spiraled sweet potato "crisps." And since food is a good way to meet a culture, we kept going. Eventually, we had fish and chips (with malt vinegar for both), a scotch egg (that's a hardboiled egg with sausage that has been breaded and deep fried. And yes, I, the resident vegetarian, had a laspse and ate half. No regrets, it was divine!), a beef pastie with HP sauce (mmmm, that's also good on fries), and something called a "haggis puff," which wasn't quite but Mama still enjoyed it. Along with it, we drank a citrus soda called Irn Bru, which reminded Mama of Thai sodas (but didn't remind me of any American ones). Finally, shortbread, of which Sis ate two whole yummy, crunchy triangles, and this delightful treat called an Empire Biscuit, which Buddy ate in its entirety so we had to go buy another so I could try some--it's basically two shortbread rounds with a layer of strawberry jam between and powdered sugar icing and maraschino cherry on top.

But we didn't just eat. We wandered the "clan village," stamping the kids' festival passports with the coat of arms of the attending clans. My aunt has traced our family heritage to Clan Hay recently (a little bit of geneology, a litte bit of guesswork, a little bit of folklore, I think) so we had fun looking for the clan tartan, motto, badge, and territory, though they didn't have an actual booth (I think it might be a small group). It was fun to feel a part of it (because, all the guesswork in the world doesn't make the family anywhere near Greek for that festival!), to tell the kids about their European (as opposed to Chinese) roots. Interestingly, as much as I understood that I had German, French, and British (English/Scottish/Welsh, I believe, again from said beloved aunt) ancestry, I didn't grow up really identifiying with those cultures (even though Mom is always talking about her German blood and behaviors)--I thought of myself as a Texan above all that (which should make Texas-proud Mom, part-German though she is, thrilled). Well, there aren't any Texas festivals up here, not even much good BBQ, but we do what we can. Besides, being an anglophile and Victorianist, I like to think of my British roots.

When asked later in the day, Bud said he liked the dancing best, the fancy footwork of the Highland dance competitions more than the square dance-like country dance demonstrations. Huh? With all those snare drums and bagpipes around? Oh, yeah, he said. He forgot. Those too! How could he forget? At any one time there were 3-4 different groups and individuals playing simultaneously (oddly, it all harmonized--I don't understand the music of it, but do all bagpipes only play in one key? Is all the music in the same time stamp? How was it not a cacophany?). Mama and I were still hearing it at bedtime last night, so imprinted in our minds was that sound. Bud also liked the performances of a Scottish rock band, with bagpipes, drums, keyboard, bohran, guitar, and bass combining traditional tunes with more modern arrangements. He bought their CD and even helped copy it onto our iPod last night.

Sis liked taking pictures of the bands on the field, proud to be able to hold and use Mama's real camera for the first time. She's just like her Mama--infinitely patient about taking pictures while also taking several to get just the right one. So cute to see mini-Mama in action. She also liked shopping in the vendor booths, spotting and selecting the Royal Standard of the King of Scots, or Lion Rampant, with the red lion on yellow background, as her special souvenir. She then marched around the festival waving her flag; Bud got one too and joined her parade. (Not to be outdone, I got a cookbook and another ceramic shortbread pan, this one with Celtic knots, while Mama got a hat to wear on her trip to Thailand in two weeks. Oh, and I got Mama a Dundee cake, very similar to a fruit cake, for her birthday. The vendor called it "a proper cake.").

The kids waved their flags while we watched the caber toss, where grown men (I don't know if women were competing, but imagine they do) throw several hundred pound long logs. There was, as you can imagine, lots of grunting, just like there had been at the stone throw contest. Bud didn't understand the grunting--he thought they were scary--which I understand: men throwing trees around are a little intimidating!

That pretty much ended our day and to the continued sound of bagpipes and drums, we marched out of the festival, proudly waving our Scottish banners.

-=-=-=-=-

Vel’s Christmas Shortbread
I don’t know who “Vel” is but I like her recipe for shortbread that I found on allrecipes.com. It has a homey flavor because of the brown sugar. It’s one of my favorites. I usually half the recipe.
2 cups butter
1 cup brown sugar
5 cups sifted flour
Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until smooth. Stir in flour and knead by hand until dough comes together. At first the dough will seem dry and crumbly but don’t give up, keep mixing. Roll out the dough to ¼” thickness and cut with cookie cutters or press dough into shortbread molds (be sure to lightly grease mold and sprinkle with sugar). Place cookies 2” apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake for 8-12 minutes in the preheated oven, depending on the size of your cookies. Do not let them brown. Remove from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks. (Note: If you use a ceramic pan, turn the oven down to 325F and bake for 30 minutes).
allrecipes.com

Friday, June 26, 2009

Oh, Happy Days!

Not the song nor the book (you know, with the animals who find the first spring flower in the snow).

But the blog, which I'm adding to my roll.

Focused on

the search for contentment in its many forms — economic, emotional, physical, spiritual — and the stories of those striving to come to terms with the lives they lead

during this economic downturn, the blog has a variety of contributors including poets, physicists, psychologists, and such, who write on a variety of intriguing issues.

I just finished reading one on anger and the heart, which reminds me of my Friendly's fiasco and gives me just one more reason to keep my (though relatively rare) frustration in check. Some other recent posts worth reading:

Adventures in Cooking Our CSA Share: A Couple of Newbies

Swiss chard and dandelion greens are in our box this week, along with cabbage, kohlrabi, kale, turnips, and radishes. So that gives us two new ingredients to play with this week. I feel like I'm learning so much--I couldn't identiify the dandelion greens at all and had to refer back to my box list before figuring out what they were. The chard was easier to identify because of the distinctive coloring. And of course, kohlrabi and kale, turnips and radishes, which were novel a few weeks ago are now almost household standards. Which is exactly why we're doing this CSA in the first place.

Partying with a Penguin Pinata

Mama arrived home right ahead of the storm, in time to get down the canopy off the deck and get inside without getting wet.

And there, inside, we surprised her with her birthday party! Sis had carefully wrapped several different bags of candy from Ye Ole Pepper Companie, the oldest candymaker in the U.S.--we got her sassafras, ginger, and horehound drops, plus lemon and peppermint Gibraltars, and some Black Jack molasses sticks. Sis also stuffed colored tissue paper in the mugs she and Bud had decorated with special marker for Mama's desk, as well as wrapped the pocket watch and knot-tying kit I had found for her. Additionally, they had wrapped the entire center of our house with pink and blue streamers, one of their favorite decorating techniques, made but not frosted chocolate cupcakes (regular and mini), gathered the ingredients for punch, and stuffed the penguin pinata with a variety of Tootsie Roll products.

Mama was very surprised and then pleased by the excitement. Bud and Sis were so exuberant in encouraging her to open her presents that I think they unwrapped most of the for her and then waved them in her face. But despite all the delight, Mama and I were extremely distracted by the darkening skies and weather warnings, which eventually included a tornado warning.

But this time we could go to the basement, and not in a frightened hurry like last time. We just decided to do the penguin pinata in our basement! Brilliant. As the kids and I finished stuffing it with candy downstairs, Mama gathered the flashlight, water, phone, computer, and cats, and then just closed us in. But with the lights shining brightly and the thrill of a pinata, the kids barely noticed, even as the rain started and the thunder and lightning increased (Sis did realize Shirt was gone but he was soon recovered, along with Bud's penguin "Pengy.").

After several turns with the baseball bat, a nice hole appeared in the pinata and we gathered the fallen candy in glasses. Sis would only pick up chocolate Tootsie Rolls; Bud mainly looked for the pink cherry ones. Then we sat on the carpet and ate them, laughing and enjoying the novelty of candy for dinner.

Eventually, the rain lessened and the sky lightened into a bizarre yellow-orange, so we headed upstairs for dinner and punch and cake. The kids are now in bed asleep, not at all bothered by the storm.

I think the finished basement was the best present we could have gotten Mama today.

-=-=-=-

Chocolate Rolls

A recipe from Gale Gand, on Food Network. It’s the only recipe of hers that I’ve really gotten to work. These are tasty, especially with orange extract, but sticky. I cut them in logs but rolled them into balls not “Tootsie” roll shapes, but they do taste a lot like Tootsie Rolls.

1 ½ cups chocolate chips, melted

½ cup corn syrup

¾ teaspoon warm water

½ teaspoon orange extract (can use other flavors; I think I used 1 teaspoon)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and cover. Let it sit overnight to firm up. Roll into logs and cut into 1 inch sections. Wrap in decorative foil and papers.


Gale Gand, “Sweet Dreams”

Almost Sick

A huge thunderstorm with hail, high winds, torrential rain, and lightning is heading our way and I'm just nauseous. It was almost a year ago that we had a similar storm, with hail and high winds, including a circling funnel cloud that produced some kind of microburst that hit us head on, knocking a tree onto our house and car while we watched from the then-scary basement. Well, the basement is beautiful and I am watching the storm but I am just sick to my stomach.

An upside, Mama got off early and so won't be driving through it AND we get to celebrate her birthday tonight with our family party for which we've been preparing all day. That, and the basement is now habitable, should we need it.

I had macabrely joked that, since the basement was now complete, we wouldn't ever have another storm, but should beware of flooding or fire, something for which we are ready but not experienced. Well, I don't want to be wrong about that.

Or right, for that matter.

In THE Paper

My round-up of articles is shorter this time, but then so are my notes about what I read (and haven't quite yet gotten around to reading).

Health etc: Okay, I haven't read most of these yet, but if I link to them on my blog, I'm hoping to get to them soon.
All of Motherlode: Just read Lisa Belkin every day; I do.

Food
  • Sunday Beans: I love beans, as you know, and was excited to pick up this recipe for Cuban pintos. Just reading the article was wonderful.
  • Vegetable Pies: Hmmmm, vegetarian pies to use up your extra produce. Wish there was a greens pie in the list, as I have lots of greens.
  • Simple Syrup @ Bitten: check out the comments for lots of great syrup recipes and uses (including a great shrub recipe with fruit juice, vinegar, and seltzer).
  • Chocolate Pudding @ Bitten. First, see Bittman's tofu pudding recipe. Then the dairy follow-up, which seems to diss Bittman's tofu. The best part? A comment (not mine): "I find it so odd how defensive people become about their dairy, eggs, and meat when faced with a delicious, animal-less alternative. That you feel confident that cream and eggs will “beat out tofu anytime” makes you sound a bit threatened…by tofu. Heh heh."
  • 10 ingredients for a week
  • Food and your brain
Miscellaneous
  • I've been thinking on the idea of "variable reinforcement," mentioned in an article on food competition, where people continue to behave in certain ways even though the rewards are unpredictable or intermittent. Hmmm, wonder if it works with kids?
  • The idea that growing up is all about forgetting comes up in the article on novelist Jodi Picoult. I think it's interesting that people tend to remember their most vivid experiences, which, in early childhood, are oftentimes unspleasant. But I've been trying to remember my earliest memories and several of them are not perfect happiness (being dropped on my head in preschool; losing my colored Easter eggs under the car; being picked up late at school, you know, the standard ones). Is this because I was happy most of the time, with only bits of unhappiness, which seems to be the oppostite of the time after early childhood, when people begin to worry and stress and then remember more vividly their most happy experiences? I'm not sure.
  • I'm still pondering the post I just read by Judith Warner about insults moms receive. I think the issue might be that there aren't more insults for moms now (or versus dad) but that moms today, being more insecure and less confident and more competitive than before (perhaps) give them more weight.
  • "Call no man happy until he is dead" and other musings on the afterlife and happiness (plus comments).

No "Please," Thank You

I would say, "do what I say, not what I do," except I forget to say it.

I forget to say "please."

And not just with my kids but with Mama, too.

Though, I do think I remember with strangers and friends. I hope.

I ask for things nicely, I think, and always as a question, not as a demand. But I forget the "please," often, adding it after a pause and a thought only sometimes.

Which is why my kids aren't great pleasers.

Now, I'm great at "thank you" and "sorry"; subsequently, my kids are too.

They've also picked up all my other verbal quirks, none of which I remember right now, but all of which sound like some older academic specializing in 19th-century literature has inhabited the body of a child. Yep, sometimes they sound pretty precocious. And from a different time period. Like with they way they preface frequent contradictions with "actually . . . ."

But, quirks aside, forgetting to say "please" is not precocious or socially acceptable. And so, I've been trying hard to remember to use it myself. At which point, I will encourage them to "do what I say."

Happy Birthday, Mama!

We love you, Mama! And are getting already for our family party tomorrow. Though, Sis wants to know where we're having it! And she thinks you want chocolate cupcakes. Bud votes for strawberry. Good thing you're flexible. And we're christening the basement with an art project for you . . . Have a great day!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Neverland

I'm watching the news and am just sitting here surprised.

Not so surprising that Farrah Fawcett has died, having struggled with cancer for more than 2 years. I remember her in "Charlie's Angels," which I watched devotedly, though as a fan of "Kelly," played by Jaclyn Smith.

But Michael Jackson? I'm stunned. Not saddened personally so much, having never been a big fan, though I did have "Thriller," of course. But his life was so complicated, apparently so difficult. It reminds me, though, of the unexpected death of Princess Diana, perhaps of John Lennon (though I don't remember that), going back further to Marilyn Monroe. Other icons who lived very public lives, but also seemed to be so troubled.

Taken together, it's a sad day.

Gotta Love Gail

Gail Collins on Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina:

"Perhaps it is time to rethink the idea of constantly electing middle-aged heterosexual men to positions of high importance."

You said it.

Rocking and Rolling Stones

There have been some new and fascinating archaeological finds in Southern Germany: clearly identifiable bone musical instruments dating back 35,000 years! They've even made a replica of one of the flutes and say it has quite harmonic tones. I'm sure there will be an MP3 eventually--talk about the oldies!

Space Travel

Wouldn't you know it? Today is the first nice day forecasted in weeks--mostly sunny with warm temperatures almost in the 80s.

And we've been in the baesment all morning!

Yep, the basement is done. Mama and I mopped last night (which we'll probably do everyday for awhile as it is dusty from the construction) and then let the cats explore. Albus was thrilled, Hermione was less assured. This morning we let the kids take some toys downstairs and start playing in the room (they had visited several evenings to check on the progress), leaving the door open (there is a lockable cat door but the cats aren't there yet) so the cats could join us.

And up and down we went all morning, bringing down more toys, just to try them out in a new space. Bud doesn't like being left down there alone, bright as it is, and so traverses the stairs whenever anyone else leaves. Sis doesn't mind as much. I played with them but also worked in the kitchen a bit, able to hear everything.

Still, it's a little odd. It is very loud and echo-y now, as there is almost nothing in the tiled space. And you can hear every seemingly thunderous step on the floor above. That, and less than a year ago, we all huddled in that very same place where our multi-colored carpet and Lincoln Logs now sit, watching hail fall, winds swirl, and a tree hit the house before the lights went out. Then it was a space that no one in the family readily entered (well, except the cats, who were maniacs about trying to get downstairs), dark, dank, dusty, cluttered. And now it really is this whole new place. Walking down there is something like entering a time warp (or worm hole!)--you feel like you're just in a totally strange location, so different is it from before.

But a good different, which I'm sure it will be still once the newness wears off and the lived-in look is achieved. It's optimistic (and no doubt misguided), but I feel like it's another opportunity to reshape how we do things, in that we are purging more stuff, organizing what we have, and just being with each other in a new way since it gives us more space, more freedom (since it encourages some separation), but also an area for experimentation and exploration (it's going to be our own creative workshop area). It's a cleansing, so to speak, not only of the physical basement but of the experience of that storm that upset us all. So let the sun shine--we can see it through those windows and door that once let us watch the storm--we're going to enjoy our new room.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sleeping Like a Baby

I always wondered how parents pulled off secret, nighttime parental duties like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. I never caught my parents and, because I would try to catch them, was keenly aware of how difficult it must be for them to accomplish such things without my knowing. And now that I was a parent, how in the world was I going to do it?

But I know now: kids sleep like logs (Sometimes. Other times, they wake at the drop of a hat . . . or, well, something even quieter than that). You see, we need to put cream on Bud's staple 1-2 times a day. And, well, under the best of circumstances, the boy hates cream of any kind, anywhere. Now, he's particularly concerned with his head and his "head bonk" and won't tolerate anyone touching his head anywhere (not because it necessarily hurts but because he's scared it will). Today at the pediatrician's, he freaked out about the cream she put on his staple. And I'm supposed to do that at home?

So I suggested to Mama that we sneak into his room in the middle of the night and apply the cream. She blanched at the possibility of waking him but I persisted, arguing that the risk was worth avoiding the struggle of the cream. She finally agreed to help. Which was good, because he was sleeping practically under his pillow and needed to be hoisted into position, at which point I vigorously, probably too vigorously, slathered on a good helping of cream (Mupirocin, or Bactraban, for you nurses out there).

And he never woke up. He barely acknowledged that I had touched his head, by reaching his hand up to his scalp, but never opened his eyes or even shifted much at being relocated a good foot or so back onto his pillow.

I'm feeling much more confident in my ability to be the Tooth Fairy now, for sure.

Adventures in Cooking Our CSA Share: Freezing in June

Okay, so I'm not The Pioneer Woman, whose site I just discovered today in the comments section of Bitten about favorite food blogs (can't wait to read more of that), but I am very proud of my freezer. Nope, it's not a deep-freeze or sub-zero anything, just the freezer above the refrigerator section of my fridge. But it's filled with 7 pints of homemade strawberry freezer jam, numerous containers of assorted greens from our CSA box, and lots of bean and vegetable soups. Now it just needs some homemade ice cream! (Which is entirely possible because I have heavy cream in my fridge.) I feel downright domestic and definitely crunchy granola (I mean both of those in a postive, proud way).

I also have my new favorite fridge accessory on my freezer door: my NYC metro area local food wheel, which I purchased at Sturbridge this weekend. It features all the produce and food locally available by season in our area. And several of the items for June are ones we've gotten in our CSA box, including garlic scapes, greens, and kohlrabi. Plus the illustrations are delightful. If you live in the area (which is considered 150 miles from NYC) and go to farmer's markets or belong to a CSA, or just want to be more aware of the seasonality of food, or even like quirky kitchen items for use or adornment, this is perfect. You can come look at mine. And have some toast with jam, too!





Philhellenism

Then

I have long loved ancient Greece, and with it, where its remnants (mostly) live and are celebrated, modern Greece. My obsession with Greece started way back so long ago, when I was in the single digits, after Star Wars fandom but before teenaged dedication to pop musicians like Wham! and Culture Club. (Actually, thinking about it, perhaps my love of all things Star Wars paved the way for my love of Greek mythology and history, or so a reading of Joseph Campbell would have you believe.) I made temples to the gods at the beach of our bayhouse, dressed as Artemis and Athena for Halloween, had a pen pal in Athens (Yiassou, long lost Martha Bitsopoulou, wherever you now roam), took Latin because it was the closest to an ancient language I could get at my high school, went to Greek festivals and restaurants, traveled to Greece twice, paid homage to the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum when I went to London, and even declared a classical studies major in college, taking 8 semesters of ancient Greek language.

The New Acropolis Museum opened last week, what looks to be a beautiful, modern home to the archaeological treasures of the Parthenon, Erechtheion, etc. Well, all except, of course, as you probably know, the sculptures that make up the Elgin Marbles, which were looted in the early 19th-century by Lord Elgin, then ambassador to the Ottoman Empire which held Greece. Let us not get into that here (instead, go read Kimmelman, Hitchens, and Konstandaras etc.), if only because, while the temperature of that debate has been taken up several degrees with the completion of a suitable, safe home for the marbles, the disagreement between Greece and the British Museum is not likely to be settled, ever, to the satisfaction of all involved.

But I strongly remember my first visit to the "old" Acropolis Museum with its remaining damaged Caryatids housed in a dimly lit, thin case with dust visible everywhere. Even as an 18 year old on her first trip out of her own country, I knew enough to see that the museum was in tatters, that the marbles were better off in London, even though I had yet to see them there. Seeing everything I'd read about, dreamed about, was wonderful but also bittersweet; the state of it all often made me sad, like people who have beloved pets that they just can't take good care of. Despite that--because of that?--I have long had a soft spot for Greece and wished for its people a reunion with one of their most treasured masterpieces. And when the Olympics went off spectacularly, pretty much without a hitch, I had hopes for the country, maybe not for the return of the marbles, but even just for the possibility of being viewed without bemusement, frustration, and pity, as they had always seemed to be by their European (and American, though our relationship with Greece is different than Europe's) cohorts.

And it makes me want to go back. To create new memories of the Acropolis and its museum (which houses some ten times more than the old one), of the country as a whole, that has, in a way, grown up--which seems so patronizing to say of the many millennia-old homeland of Homer, Socrates, Euripides, Sappho, and Phidias--in the 20 years since I was there. I too have grown up in 20 years. And I'd love to go back again, both to Greece and to my childhood love, if only to see how Greece, and, perhaps as importantly, I have changed.

Now

Raise the Red Lantern

I bought toys today, kind of a post-hospital treat.

And they were all "Ni Hao, Kai Lan" toys.

The kids' choice.

But I concurred.

Because, you see, I don't think it's often that Chinese-themed toys appear in American toy stores. And there they were: a Chinese girl, some red lanterns, a distinctive Chinese gazebo and bridge, a dragonboat, even a house with some Chinese characters on the door.

And the kids have been playing with them for 3 hours. And we watched the show again. And they spoke Chinese back to the tv!!!

Yeah, I know--I'm falling prey to tv merchandising aimed at children. But, at least this tv show, for these children, can be very positive, as it presents a side of their history, their people, themselves that doesn't usually exist for the American preschool set.

Goodbye, Toys?

Lao Gong (Great-Grandfather) says, "If you play with your food, you don't need toys."

I think I'll have to get rid of all the toys.

Mama, I let the kids play with their food sometimes. It doesn't happen often--they don't have the inclination at most meals but when they do, I don't interrupt (unless we're running late to bedtime). Like a few nights ago. When we had stroganoff ("strong-on-off" Sis called it playfully, recognizing the juxtaposition) with egg noodles the other night, I let them party. Literally. Their tummies had a party. The noodles were the guests who danced around in the gravy. And then members of the turkey (it was ground turkey), mushroom, and onion families would go down into the party. Then the noodle people would go. It was all very lively, with discussions of the kind of music they were dancing to, as Sis and Bud wiggled in place.

Yeah, they were eating with their fingers. Yeah, they made a mess.

But, they didn't waste more than they usually would have. And I think they ate more.

Let's get the party started . . .


Tidbits

We had another discussion about food, particularly meat and vegetarianism the other day, because Bud just doesn't really like to eat meat, either chicken breasts or ground turkey, even though we encourage him, I encourage him. But he says he doesn't like the way it tastes. And Sis piped up, perceptively, "he's a vegetarian because you are. Is Mama a vegetarian?"

No, I said.

"Then I like to eat meat. Just like Mama."

-=-=-=

The kids are obsessed with where babies come from. They have liked hearing stories about when they were babies but now they're taking it back a step. They ask about their births. So, the other day, I showed them my C-section scar and explained what happened (though, we have yet to really venture into how babies go in there to begin with). Bud wanted to know if it was dark in there, if he could see. I said it was dark; he thought I should put in some lights! Sis was a bit disappointed--she wanted to know that we had gone to the baby store and selected her specifically. I did try to explain that people have children in many different ways and, while adoption doesn't quite work like a "baby store" anymore, some people don't birth their babies. But we all love them, just the same. And today at the doctor's office we looked at the "body parts book," which has diagrams of the human body, organs, skeleton, etc. They love the ear page, the "poop page," and the penis and vagina page. And there was a uterus and a vaginal opening and more discussions of babies. And of staples--Bud was intrigued that I was stapled closed just like he was (well, I said staples, I think they were stitches). Did it keep me together? He's nervous about his head but seemed happy that I understood staples. When we got home, they even played out their birth in a cardboard box. They both climbed in and had me open it up and pull them out. "We're your babies!"

Then they climbed in and asked to be "born again." How do you explain to 4 year olds that UUs don't do "born again"?

A Day in the Life

I was thinking a lot about ancestors yesterday, or even just the past, as my kids and I partook of a New England summer ritual: berry picking. For about an hour we happily but haphazardly picked berries, eating a lot as we went, gathering about 13 lbs of ripe and almost ripe fruit from about 2 rows of bushes. Then we took the berries home (fast forwarding a lot through the now-famous fall at the park and subsequent trip to the ER) and spent the remainder of the afternoon processing them. First, placing them all in the fridge in shallow trays and then pulling out batches for jam and pie. It takes awhile to wash and hull 4 quarts of berries. And then do it again with 1 1/2 quarts. All the while boiling sugar or baking pie crusts or washing jars and lids.

And then I had a moment of clarity about how busy and exhausting harvest time must have been long ago. (I probably shouldn't limit it to long-ago ancestors. I have cousins--hi Cousin S--who are farmers and whose lives very much revolve around the weather and the harvest, whose work is round-the-clock exhausting or worrying when crops come in or weather threatens. Sure, they have equipment that farmers didn't have 100 years ago, but that doesn't mean it's easy. Even so, I'm not sure it's the same--I hope it's not--as people living at the beginning of the century before last; starvation doesn't quite threaten in the same immediate way.) Because my ancestors, all of our ancestors (more on that eventually because I just read a fascinating article about how if you go back so many generations, all of our ancestors are exactly the same ones!) didn't go berry picking for fun or just for an hour one day during the season. And it couldn't be haphazard with them eating so much along the way--this would be the majority of their food for the off season. Then, they didn't have just 13 lbs to deal with, nor a refrigerator, stovetop, oven, and the like to help them with the work. Or the security and comfort of knowing that if it didn't work, there was the store or other food. It wasn't entertainment, a teachable moment. Even after a few hours, we were losing enthusiasm for prepping berries and making jam and pie. And they didn't do it just once but for several days. Or else. Plus all the other things too. Because, no doubt, they weren't just busy with berries but with squashes and lettuce and cucumbers and then the crops of the next season and later the prepping and the planting and . . . and . . . and . . .

All said and done, our pie and 4 pints of jam are delicious and will be a wonderful reminder of a great day (as soon as we can forget the fall part. Oh, and if you want more information on the contemporary canning movement, see here.). But I'm glad it's just that--a fun summer afternoon experience and not the difference between survival and starvation.

-=-=-=-=

Fresh Strawberry Pie

1-1/2 quarts fresh strawberries
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 nine-inch baked pastry shell

- Cap strawberries; reserve half of the best ones. Mash the other half and add sugar and cornstarch which have been mixed together. Cook 5 or 6 minutes until clear and thick. Stir in lemon juice. Cool.
- Add whole strawberries to the cooled mixture, save some for garnish. Pour into baked pie shell. Top with whipped cream and garnish with fresh whole strawberries (though, we like it even better with a dollop of sour cream!)

strawberry pamphlet

-=-=-=-=-

Strawberry Freezer Jam

4 lbs strawberries, rinsed and hulled and crushed (or 3-12 oz bags unsweetened frozen, thawed in fridge until soft enough to crush)
1 1/2 cups sugar
plastic or glass freezer jars
1 packet of Ball No Cook Freezer Jam Pectin

Stir sugar and pectin together in a bowl until well mixed.

Add 4 cups crushed fruit. Stir 3 minutes.

Ladle jam into clean jars to fill line. Twist on lids. Let stand until thickened, about 30 minutes.

Freeze for up to 1 year. Thaw in fridge and enjoy up to 3 weeks.

Makes 5 half-pint jars.

Ball Freezer Jam pectin