Sunday, January 31, 2010

Out of the Mouth of Bud

I must have said, "I don't know" to one of Bud's questions.

He replied, "If you don't know, you aren't thinking enough."

Suppressing a smile, I asked, "Where did you hear that?"

"I made it up myself. And it's true. You have to think if you want to know."


Sword Envy

Today, Bud saw one of our church friends, who is an actor, practicing his swordfighting for an upcoming show in the parking lot. Bud was so amazed at Mr. M's two long swords and the way he "danced" with them, as well as his costume including leather gauntlets (there was a dress rehearsal today, I think). Mr. M stopped to chat, noticing awestruck Bud, and showed how the swords had no edge, no points. Bud said he had a sword, too (he never calls it a dagger), but that he now wanted swords like Mr. M's, "ten of them."


Salty Ungoodness

The experts don't seem to agree in this latest article on salt in the NYTimes about this assertion:

In a report that may bolster public policy efforts to get Americans to reduce the amount of salt in their diets, scientists writing in The New England Journal of Medicine conclude that lowering the amount of salt people eat by even a small amount could reduce cases of heart disease, stroke and heart attacks as much as reductions in smoking,obesity and cholesterol levels.

But it's interesting to consider and had me putting less soy sauce on my broccoli this evening. And just half a teaspoon less reportedly makes a difference:

If everyone consumed half a teaspoon less salt per day, there would be between 54,000 and 99,000 fewer heart attacks each year and between 44,000 and 92,000 fewer deaths, according to the study, which was conducted by scientists at University of California San Francisco, Stanford University Medical Center and Columbia University Medical Center.
No wonder NYC is trying to encourage food producers to reduce salt by 25% over the next five years. It worked with trans fat!

Backseat Driver

Sis is a backseat driver.

But not in the car.

Just at the computer!

Today, she was watching Bud play computer games, since her turn was second, and she kept telling him where to move his mouse and what to choose next--he was building and decorating a house. "You need blue walls, Bud." Mama and I tried to dissuade her from telling him what to do and he eventually told her to stop controlling him.

But, of course, backseat drivers just don't stop until they're actually driving.

Cookies for Haiti

Fannie Farmer, famed cookbook author and "mother of level measurements" who standardized cups and such here in the U.S. near the turn of the 20th century, was our highlighted UU today in church class. And so, we hosted a bake sale during fellowship to raise money to help with Haitian relief. And while we made the cookies--from scratch, from a mix I made at home (so Sis learned about Farmer and level measurements too!), or from a tube from the store--we talked about Farmer's contributions to American cookery and practiced level measuring. There were batches of chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and the much loved and demanded Snickerdoodles , all for 10 cents each. Of course, most people made larger donations (though some did count out those dimes. But it all counts), so that we made $98 (with a lot less than 1000 cookies)!!! Added to the more than $100 the church school kids made with their fundraiser last week (of cookies and origami and other things), we'll be making a good-sized donation to the UUSC-UUA (Unitarian Universalist Service Committee-Unitarian Universalist Association) on behalf of the kids in our congregation. I'm so proud of our kiddos.

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Snickerdoodles

kes 4 dozen

1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup butter
½ cup shortening
2 eggs
2 ¾ cups flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
assorted colored sugars optional (or use cinnamon-sugar mixture)

Heat oven to 400°F. Mix 1 ½ cups sugar, butter, shortening, and eggs. Stir in flour, cram of tartar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
Shape dough into 1 ¼” balls. Dip one side of ball in colored sugar (note: if you roll the whole ball in sugar, the sugar on the bottom will burn and stick to the pan). Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until set. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack.

Gold Medal’s Cookies from the Heart or Extra Special Holiday Baking


Sending XOXO

Our beloved Babysitter had her wisdom teeth extracted on Friday and so we headed to the store on Wednesday to get her a get-well-soon present. The kids had clear instructions: something small, one from each of them, no food. I was thinking bubble bath, candles, a mug, silk flowers, just something to let her know we cared. And then we ended up in the Valentine's section . . . . Sis immediately spied a miniature pink bunny that she adored and said was perfect. Bud, however, picked up a giant pink bear carrying "XOXO." That certainly didn't meet the criteria. And so I tried to direct him to something else, but he clung to that bear, which was almost as tall as he was. And then Sis decided that she could never part with that little pink bunny. And what did we end up with? You guessed it, the bear. And Bud was so proud and excited. And Sis became extra excited about the possibility of hiding it for Babysitter to find and so they debated all the best hiding spots and strategized about playing "hot and cold" to help her find it.

In the end, they hid the bear in Bud's igloo and covered the whole thing with a giant sheet and, in their way, escorted Babysitter right to it. And she was such a good sport and hugged it and them, saying pink was her favorite color. We even got pictures of them all. And that night, I understand, they all read bedtime stories with the bear in the bedroom so that when we got home from our date night, we had to sneak back in to fetch the bear out so she could go home.

I talked to Babysitter yesterday and she is recovering very well. All due to the pink bear, I'm told.

National Puzzle Day

Friday, January 29 was National Puzzle Day. Did you celebrate?

We did.

I can't even rightly say how I realized it was puzzle day, being neither a big puzzle fan nor the owner of one of those calendars with the bizarre holidays. But somewhere late in the day it came to my attention and I told the kids we could celebrate. So we got out every puzzle we own, spread out on the floor, and proceeded to work them. Now, Sis and Bud do puzzles two different ways--Sis likes to choose which part of the picture she wants to do and hoards all the pieces involved; Bud tries to do the corners and edges first and then work his way in. Inevitably, the two approaches come into conflict and there are problems. So, we finally started working two puzzles at once. Until, at some point, Sis began spelling things with the alphabet puzzle pieces and then took the chunky dinosaur puzzle pieces and was having them play with the flat dinosaur puzzle pieces in a narrative she was creating! Bud was still diligently working his world map puzzle. And I was glad puzzle time was winding down . . . but they were so thrilled about it being National Puzzle Day that when Mama called to say she was on her way home, Bud told her all about what we were doing. Mama says it's the first real phone conversation she's ever had with one of the kids! And we saved some puzzles for her to do when she got home.

And now I know where I can find out what special day it is, so I'll be tying in more of our activities to these eccentric holidays. Mmmm, February is Great American Pie month (which is odd because apples and the like aren't in season!) and includes Tell a Fairy Tale Day, Love Your Pet Day, and Polar Bear Day (I'm not sure how many of these are "real," whatever that means since we're not talking federal or religious here, but who cares). Plus, of course, Groundhog Day (because even though we've already partied, we'll still watch Phil make his prediction around 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday), Chinese New Year, Valentine's Day, the Super Bowl, the Winter Olympics, and Ar-Ma's birthday--lots of stuff for a short month!

Lions and Dragons and Groundhogs--Oh, My! (Part 2)

What a day! A day that started at 6 a.m. with Bud wondering if it were morning (no, not yet) and my putting the Sherried Eggs in a cold oven for 1 1/2 hours so they could cook with enough time to make all the other food for our Groundhog Day party. The other food included Muffins (Strawberry/Blueberry and also Chocolate Chip), Bohemian Coffee Cake, Hashbrown Casserole, and Orange Biscuits. Which made it a very baking-heavy morning, since I don't think most of those would have been as good had we made them the day before. The kids were helpful throughout, thrilled to help with the muffins, especially because those would also double as their breakfast. They also helped Mama carry up all the party paper goods up from storage, set the table with cloths and placemats (double protection from hot dishes), hung up the "Pin the Tail on the Groundhog" poster we'd made on Friday (I'd wanted "pin the shadow" but I was vetoed), and arranged the cinnamon paper plate groundhog art project supplies and example (again, that we had made on Friday by drawing groundhog faces on paper plates, putting down glue, and then shaking on cinnamon which looked remarkably like fur all things considered). They also put away the toys they couldn't bear to share, dressed themselves, and managed both to self-entertain (Bud has been practicing his dragon and lion dancing and drawing) AND not make a mess while Mama and I finished things up.

Then we all enjoyed the party! It was the usual melange of church and playgroup friends, with fewer of each than expected because of last-minute illness (hope you're feeling better, Miss L!), a funeral, forgetfulness, and the like. But small was actually okay because we were able to relax and talk to everybody. I had been worried about having the party, wondering if I were the only one who really enjoyed them, Mama being shy and the kids sometimes becoming overwhelmed. But it all worked out well and I'm so glad we persisted. It might be that we keep Groundhog Day small and intimate, it being indoors, while Applepalooza, being outdoors, can be big and long and crowded. Anyway, so there were lots of friends and the good food they brought, including Oatmeal Bars, Organic Crunch Bread, and some tubed cinnamon rolls made special with the addition of raisins.

There was only one minor upset and even it ended well. But while we adults were having such a good time upstairs, one girl cut a chunk of hair from another girl downstairs in the basement. The girls weren't upset and the moms handled it well, despite the obvious chagrin (we all felt for the mom of the young hairdresser!) and surprise that accompanies such a thing. The newly-coiffed girl's mom was even laughing about it, once the surprise wore off. Besides it wasn't obvious. And kids inevitably do something like this--I remember cutting my neighbor boy's hair when I must have been 3 or 4 in Dallas.

But pretty much after that, everyone departed for home. Until a time-challenged guest came over at 2 pm! It was okay because she called first, her errands having taken much longer than expected. We'd finished getting most of the trash cleaned up and toys put away, even vacuumed, and were all sitting around watching lion and dragon dancing on the computer as well as drawing pictures of dragon and lion dancing for Bud, who has become obsessed with both the traditional Chinese New Year dances and New Year's in general. See, in this house, we jump from one holiday to the next, and, if the Groundhog Day party was over, it must be Chinese New Year! So, when our friend arrived we ate a few more of the morning's treats while watching Bud do his dragon dance: picture him holding a plastic dinosaur-headed stick (with grip that opens and closes the mouth) that is tied with two scarves in a long tail that he had another person hold up on a long, cardboard wrapping paper tube, so they could dance in swirls and circles to our Chinese music! In fact, it was rather like having a post party-- we never see her (beyond the few times I see her in passing at my exercise class) so it was good to sit and chat.

The rest of the day included more drawing pictures of lion and dragon dancing, plus a very late rest time and more eating of leftover food. Now we just have to see what the groundhog says on Tuesday, but my guess is he'll see his shadow presaging 6 more weeks of winter. It's just hard to imagine spring is coming when it was something like 12F this morning with snow and ice everywhere.

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Orange Biscuits

1 can refrigerator biscuits
½ stick oleo
2/3 cup sugar
½ cup orange juice

Melt oleo and sugar; add juice and coat biscuits. Bake at 350°F til brown (15 minutes).
Gommie Hungry

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Bohemian Coffee Cake

1 cup oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup whole milk plus 1 tablespoon vinegar added)
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped pecans
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all ingredients. Pour into greased and floured pan (I think it's 9 x 13). Bake 1 hour at 350F.

teaching colleague in Texas
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All-Star Muffins

3 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose or cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
(Note: the KA cookbook mentions all sorts of add-ins, approximately 2 1/2 to 3 cups of whatever you desire)

Preheat oven to 400F and lightly grease 16 muffin cups or use paper liners.

In medium bowl, whisk flour, powder, soda, and salt, then set aside.

In large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy and almost white in color. Scrape down the bowl to make sure all the butter is incorporated, then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and sour cream and mix until incorporated. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until the batter is smooth. Fill muffin cups and bake 18-24 minutes , until tester comes out clean. Remove from oven, cool for 5 minutes, then remove from pan to finish cooling on a rack (muffins left in pan with become touch from steaming).

(1 basic muffin, 274 calories)

King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion All-Purpose Baking Cookbook

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Sherried Eggs

18 eggs
¾ cups milk
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can mushrooms (drained)
2 tablespoons dry Sherry
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

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

Frederick-Talbott Inn, Indiana

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Hashbrown Casserole

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

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


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Miss B's Oatmeal Bars

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1 cup oatmeal
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Mix first 5 ingredients together then add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and pour into an 8 or 9 inch square greased pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes until done. Let cool completely in pan before removing/cutting.

Miss B

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Miss L's Organic Crunch Bread (coming soon)

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lions and Dragons and Groundhogs--Oh, My!

What a day! A day that started at 6 a.m. with Bud wondering if it were morning (no, not yet) and my putting the sherried eggs in a cold oven for 1 1/2 hours so they could cook with enough time to make all the other food for our Groundhog Day party.

Now, some 16 hours--and lots of food, friends, fun, drawing, and dancing--later, I am heading to bed. But I will post tomorrow, sometime in the afternoon, after church, probably during rest time. Lots of fun stories to tell and several recipes to include.

Good night . . . .

Friday, January 29, 2010

All About Blueberries

There are several blueberry recipes in the NYTimes this week. Bud will be thrilled!

Snow Pants for Mommy, and Other Things

It was only supposed to flurry, but it snowed from around 7:30 a.m. until after 2 something. Lovely, big, fluffy snow. And so we suited up too go out and play. And I wore my new snow pants, which made all the difference--I was warm, dry, comfortable, and not just biding time until I could convince the kids to go back inside. I even made a snow angel first thing without being cold and damp the rest of the time! So, snow angels, snow sculptures, snow touch football, "magic bunk bed" to Antarctica, and other games, plus gathering our snow for snow cream. And we shoveled the walk! I had the big shovel, while Sis had her plastic shovel and Bud a plastic rake and we made a wonderful mess of our sidewalks, even "helping" the neighbor with his! But even though it wasn't straight or perfectly clear, it helped and only our sidewalks are now passable. Too bad we changed games before doing the driveway!

Midday found us playing knights again, downstairs with blocks and figurines, as well as baking Oatmeal Bread, which came out beautifully (though no one tried any but me--Sis objected to the oatmeal, even though she loves oatmeal and had it this morning for breakfast. Whatever.). I like starting bread in the machine on the dough cycle but then baking it "by hand," so to speak, in a bread tin in the oven--it looks better and tastes better, and, frankly, I like that it isn't obviously made in the machine. Besides, I like to watch it rise in the baking tin. The kids also built blanket forts and wiled away the afternoon stocking them. We thought about making valentines, but never got to it.

And then, around 5 pm, I saw one of the worst snow squalls I've ever seen, and I'm no snow virgin having lived in New York for the Blizzard of '96 and for a few seasons in Chicago. The sky darkened in the east and, next thing I knew, I couldn't see our playset out back--white out. Snow blowing horizontally so thick it was like staring at a blank wall. The kids, who are usually at least intrigued by snow, were actually scared of it. And it probably dropped close to an inch in about 40 minutes, which was pretty impressive. Except that it was almost immediately followed by a rapid drop in temps so that everything froze and is difficult to traverse today.

But at least it's pretty . . . .

Except it's also dangerous. And Mama and I had arranged for the babysitter to come so that we could go on a double date with some new friends from her office. And so, of course, we went to Bloodroot, which is off the snowplowed path. It wasn't as icy as our street--did they not get our squall?--and so we made it easily. With time to kill. Which we did delightedly by perusing their bookstore. Where I located a brand new book, Heirloom Beans, by Steve Sando and Vannessa Barrington. It's a compendium of recipes for heirloom beans, which are sold by Rancho Gordo. I wasn't familiar with many of the varieties, legume-lover that I am (my experience is mainly limited to the common Goya varieties), but I'm so excited by all the recipes and will be buying some new beans from them soon (now read: I just did it and can't wait!), as I can't get may of them at the local grocery--Good Mother Stallards or Calypso beans, Yellow Indian Woman or Swedish Brown beans, anyone? At least, I can try the recipes for anasazi beans, which I can find around here, first. That, and I imagine the recipes would work on a variety of beans anyway (once I "vegetarianize" them!). I think soon, though, I'll want an olla de barro, which is a special clay bean cooking pot that supposedly makes the best beans--and if I start with good heirloom ones--well, I just can't wait.

But I digress. Dinner was delicious--marinated tofu salad (very sesame), black bean soup (but not alas made in the olla), spinach noodles with vermouth cream sauce with pignolis and parmesan cheese, a celeriac-apple tartlet with mushrooms and endive, oatmeal bread (not at all like mine, but probably my next attempt. Or Rev. M's.) plus brandied fruit with ice cream and caramel coconut cake. Yum! the conversation was good, too, even though it was the kind of get-to-know-you give-and-take when two people among four know each other. But we had a good time and would like to repeat it (excepting they are both busy working women living in the city and we're out here in CT with childcare restraints).

And so we came home and I desperately tried not to want to blog it all last night.

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Oatmeal Bread

3 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1 cup rolled oats (old-fashioned oats)
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
2 teaspoons instant yeast OR 1 packet active dry yeast* (I used 1 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast, or 1/2 teaspoon per 1 cup flour)
1 1/4 cups lukewarm milk
3/4 cup raisins or currants (optional)
*If you use active dry yeast, dissolve it in the warm milk before combining with the remaining ingredients.
Directions
1) In a large mixing bowl, or in the bowl of an electric mixer, combine all of the ingredients, mixing to form a shaggy dough. Knead dough, by hand (10 minutes) or by machine (5 minutes) till it's smooth.

2) Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover and allow it to rest for 1 hour; it'll become quite puffy, though it may not double in bulk. Shape as directed below.

3) Bread machine method: Place all of the ingredients (except the fruit) into the pan of your machine, program machine for manual or dough, and press Start. About 10 minutes before the end of the second kneading cycle, check dough and adjust its consistency as necessary with additional flour or water; finished dough should be soft and supple. Add the raisins or currants about 3 minutes before the end of the final kneading cycle. Shape as directed below.

4) Shaping: Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled surface, and shape it into a log. Place the log in a lightly greased 9 x 5-inch loaf pan, cover the pan (with an acrylic proof cover, or with lightly greased plastic wrap), and allow the dough to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, till it's crested 1" to 2" over the rim of the pan.

5) Baking: Bake the bread in a preheated 350°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 190°F. If the bread appears to be browning too quickly, tent it with aluminum foil for the final 10 minutes of baking.

Yield: 1 loaf.

King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour bag

Back Again

Good morning! So, a whole 24 hours without posting . . . and I realized something: I think of blogging as a delayed, rather one-sided conversation, but social nonetheless because I think of friends and family reading, reacting, and sometimes responding. And I do it to keep myself from being lonely for adult company on long days at home, in addition to the stated purposes of getting updates to said family and friends as well as recording for memory's sake our experiences and activities. But it was clear to me yesterday that it was more than that. And that I missed it. Not blogging was like not talking to anyone, even if oftentimes people don't respond right away (but they do respond, which means yesterday in my email were responses about not blogging--a delay, but a back and forth). I found myself missing my side of the chat. And so I emailed some people to check in instead, phone calls still being rather difficult to manage satisfactorily for long periods of time (so, I wasn't really on the computer less, but I thought about it less, after awhile, instead of planning my next post, which meant I was more present with the kids, which definitely has value). Of course, it didn't help that it was an especially interesting day (snow, oatmeal bread, date with Mama) that would have suggested several posts, but I'll just do them today (and if they are a bit condensed, well, I'm too wordy regularly anyway). And I'll probably be skipping blogging again next Thursday, if only to see what else I can learn about myself.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Undivided Attention

Mama and I spent the whole evening with no distractions--no computer, no chores, no tv (well, we never watch tv, but we didn't even watch the State of the Union. I'll read up on it tomorrow), nothing but us and lots of good conversation. Not stressful "we need to do this, we need to fix that," but "did you see the article in the paper/hear the story on NPR?" or "do you remember when we . . . ?" kind of stuff. Perfect. I highly recommend it. We're looking forward to doing it again.

And now for radio silence . . . . have a great Thursday! Let's meet back here on Friday morning, once I get the kids off to school.

Turn Off Your Engines

Turn off the engines. Discipline TV and computer usage and reduce artificial distraction, escapism, and stimulation. This begins with you.


And so I am here to declare Thursdays "Turn Off Your Blog" day (though it might sound better if it were "Tuesday Turn Off Your Blog Day"). I'm going to see what happens when I intentionally stay away from my blog (but not email or the NYTimes. Let's not be crazy here. Though, that probably means I should try i t!) for one day a week--and that's not just publishing, but writing as well (because it wouldn't count if I wrote a post and then just postdated it!). Starting tomorrow.

Let's see if I can do it. Let's see if I even remember. Let's see if it matters.

I'll let you know . . . on Friday!

(And I might just have to squeeze in a few more posts tonight!)

Valentines Redux

I'm trying to avoid Valentine's mania here again this year, trying not to go overboard with the cards for the kids' class. In fact, I'd been pretty certain that I'd take them to the store and let them choose a box o'cards to sign and pass out, maybe include some playdough or stickers. But Sis beat me to the punch: she wanted to make cards again. And so today, she begged me to pull down all the pink and red and heart-shaped art supplies I could locate so she could get started on the approximately 18 valentines she'll need for school. Bud gamely played along and happily punched and stickered and markered a pile of hearts (because this year, instead of folding cards, I have just cut out a bunch of different colored hearts for them to decorate). Sis decided to paint hers and completed just a few before deciding she wanted a snack. But the ones she made are lovely. I'll want to keep them all for myself! But apparently there will also be valentines for me, Mama, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and Babysitter, too. And her stuffed bunny Amy.

We'll see if we get the full 18, plus extras. But I'm proud of her for wanting to make them. Maybe a bit . . . what's the word? . . . . justified (avenged? relieved? what is the word?) for the commotion I caused last year by having them spend days and days making cards, faking a few myself there at the end when we came up short. Apparently, it wasn't such a bad idea after all (well, faking it was a low point).

Though, it's good to start three weeks early, too! That's only one card a day most days! And if we get tired, there will still be boxes of cards and candy at the stores, I'm sure.

In the Paper

This time, it's some art and history:

Mighty Knights

The house is the castle keep, with the basement filling in as dungeon. Upstairs are the royal bedrooms, where the royal cats tend to spend their days. The living room must be the main keep, with the area near the front door the surrounding battlements, for it is here that we do all of our battles against the encroaching armies who regularly attack us (but only after we have finished feasting). I am Lady Mommy, while Sis is Lady Sis (or Sir Sis sometimes), and Bud is either Sir Knight or Sir Bud, depending.

Bud says, "I heard on the internet that four armies are coming. Let's prepare!" (don't you just love that? He has no idea how funny that is). And so we huddle and make our game plan for defending ourselves from the north, south, east, and west. Sis has the bow (and usually wears her pith helmet), Bud the dagger (and his black cape). "Move out! Charge!" I usually get beads for swinging or a scrub brush, but it matters little because I'm magic and use the words "abracadabra presto!" to ward off my foes. "Mighty knights! Fight for right! Defeat the evil knights! Go!"

We always catch the foes and take them to the dungeon, then rest and regroup. And then we start all over again.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Of School and Scones

Mama just called that her meeting is over and she is on her way home. She should be here in 15 minutes so I've popped a batch of our favorite scones in the oven. Because we're going to need to talk. See, she hasn't been at work.

She's been at a meeting about kindergarten.

Tonight was the first informative meeting about our kids entering school next year. And she went to get all the forms and information. She missed dinner and tuck-in, which I handled myself (though, an hour later, they are still awake and chatting, intentionally and secretly hiding critters and loveys and Shirt so that we have to search for them). All at my own request. I didn't want to go to the meeting. Which surprised the few people who knew in advance. I mean, I'm the stay-at-home mom and school is my domain, as are all occasions when any socializing or ingratiating might be required. This meeting clearly fell within my purview.

And I didn't want to go. Is it because I'm stressful about school? Sure. Not really ready yet for our path to kindergarten to begin in earnest? Uh-huh. Willing to trust the first meeting to a cooler, calmer head so that we get all the facts straight? You bet. All of it and more, I'm sure.

So, I'm here at home baking, waiting for Mama to come home from school. Just as I will be for the kids come September.

Feel Better

Hope you feel better soon, Mama Teacher, and that nothing turns out to be wrong. Here if you need something!

On a Day Like Today

. . . when nothing seemed to go as scheduled, it helps me to read Momma Zen's wise writings on practicing the life you lead, both here on making your home life your spiritual practice, including the instruction that

assignments are performed not because we might want to do them, or like to do them; not because we choose to do them; not because we think we're good at them or because of any egoistic rationale; but simply because it is time. Thus, every activity embodies the full and unhindered expression of the awakened mind, our buddhanature, as it responds immediately and effortlessly to immediate conditions.

and here with practical suggestions for parents such as

Give more attention. And less of everything else. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your children. Not in activities driven by your agenda, but according to their terms. Use a timer to keep yourself honest. Undivided attention is the most concrete expression of love you can give.
(It occurs to me that this is good advice for a marriage too!)

And again here on raising a Buddhist child by raising a Buddhist parent.

And so today, after abandoning the kvetching about the changes in our day (and that took a bit of time), we played castles and knights, then wigwams and Native Americans, finally heading outside for more play--and the ground had defrosted enough to build two more "hidden" (i.e. not in our fenced in village) fairy houses (the sticks have to be grounded) out of all the branches that fell yesterday--as well as tricycling until we came inside for a "backwards" lunch consisting mainly of dessert.

It's a practice . . . but you actually have to practice.

Change in Plans

Well, it was going to be what I might term a "quick" day, meaning full of enough activities that it seems to pass easily. But we bowed out of our morning playdate when one of my friend's girls complained of a sore throat. I hope she feels better soon! I just couldn't take the chance . . . Then, our babysitter is having wisdom teeth trouble and needs to go to the dentist this afternoon, so we won't see her at all today. She'll probably need one or more of them extracted, poor dear. So, errands and exercise will wait . . . . besides, the house is a castle and I'm Lady Mommy, with Sir Buddy and Lady Sis and there are evil knights who need to be forced into our dungeon.

It's a New Night

We have two new changes in our nighttime routine that, while seemingly simple, are having huge effects on our evenings.

First, we're having dinner together. Until Monday night, the kids and I would eat around 5:30 or so, with Mama getting home after 6:15-6:30 p.m., thereby missing dinner. But because the kids are staying up until 7:30 now, we realized that we could push dinner back just enough so that Mama could join us. Last night was our first official weekday dinner together. Sure, my timing was off because I started cooking too early and, yep, the kids were very hungry by dinnertime despite our concerted effort to have a real snack late in the day. But we all sat down together at 6:15 p.m., sang our family song (which we hadn't done in so long that I'd forgotten how it started), and then ate. Which means the kids got to spend quality time with Mama (because the house had already been cleaned and we could just eat and talk), Mama got to eat her meal hot when she was hungry (instead of an hour or so late), and I got some adult company for my last meal (instead of choosing with whom to eat, or worse, snacking on whatever with both). Big, positive change. And they even liked my first batch of homemade meatballs. (I can tell it's going to change the way I plan meals, but that will be a later post).

Secondly, we've totally altered how we handle getting ready for bed, which has always been the one occasion that causes stress in the house on a regular basis. The kids dawdle getting dressed, keep playing, act silly, refuse to accomplish teeth-brushing and final potty stops, all around frustrate our efforts to get them settled down for stories, which then makes Mama and I quite peevish. It's just not pretty. So now, we come upstairs, light the magic clock "green," at which point it stays green for 30 minutes. In that time they have to do everything they are supposed to so we can read stories. When the clock turns blue at the end of 30 minutes, we finish whatever book we are reading and tuck them in. If they hurry through all the clothes changing and teeth-brushing, they can get almost a full 25 minutes of reading. If they dawdle or refuse, and the clock turns blue, no books. Mama and I don't get involved--don't cajole, argue, insist, or yell--we simply monitor to make sure everything gets done. They are in control. So far, they have rushed to be ready and get as many books as possible, which means they are each getting 5-8 books read to them every night. And no one gets tense. I love that magic clock!

Unfortunately, all this is on hold for tonight because Mama has a late meeting and won't be home in time for dinner or bed.

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Homemade Turkey Meatballs

1 lb ground turkey
1 egg
1/3 -1/2 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs (or, if using plain, add salt, pepper and spices)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine ingredients and shape into balls. Place on cookie sheet (preferrably lined with foil) and bake for 25-30 minutes or until centers are no longer pink.

I might consider adding an extra egg and about 1/4 cup minced onion next time, for more moisture, as ground turkey is so dry.

Mommy Hungry

Our Mama Cat

Hermione, our girl cat, has become quite the little mama cat. No, not real kittens. But the kids! The pattern has been emerging for several weeks now. During the day, if one of the kids begins to cry, Hermione comes running from wherever she has been sleeping to check things out, which usually consists of circling and sniffing us a few times. For the most part, during the day, she sleeps out of our general vicinity, but sometimes she comes down looking for attention and sits in my lap (and she can hear me sit, thereby making a lap, from anywhere in the house), calmly, resolvedly, patiently letting the kids (try to gently but often not quite) rub and pet her. I imagine it's the same look she would give a litter of kittens crawling all over her. She is always with us for tuck-in, as soon as the lights dim and we begin "happy thoughts" and final kisses. She'll wander the room until it's time to leave. At night, anytime one of the kids wakes up, either to go to the bathroom or to request something else, she shoots past the open door circles the room completely, going under the beds, and then emerges to leave when we do. Once in awhile, none of us, her included, are paying attention and we forget her and she gets locked in--sometimes she stays for a bit but always she meows to be let out eventually. Ah, here she is now (really, it's true, not just a writer's trick). No doubt her kids will soon follow.

A Flagpole Falls in Connecticut

The weather was so stormy yesterday that my neighbor's flagpole snapped near its base and fell into his trees, almost on his car. All's well now, but it was quite a storm. If it had been cold--and not 50F!!--it would've been a great blizzard, with 60 mph gusts and 8" inches or so of snow (calculating 4" snow per 1" rain, though I'm not sure where I got that. Wow. Just checked Wiki and it says it's 10:1!)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Scope Creep

When my projects threaten (or actually do) spread out so as to involve the majority of our resources, time, and energy, Mama calls it "scope creep." And she says I'm having that now.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

See, our annual Groundhog Day party is this weekend and I've been planning the menu for awhile, as you may recall.

But it's changing again. I'm thinking of adding so-called Bohemian coffee cake, orange biscuits (to replace french toast casserole), creamy breakfast couscous, and a batch of muffins (probably 1/2 strawberry, 1/2 chocolate chip). That's in addition to sherried eggs and hashbrown casserole. Plus punch and other drinks. And Mama thinks I'm going overboard, that we'll have too much food, especially because guests always generously bring dishes as well. But I either like or want to try or want to share all of those. Bud and Sis would only eat the muffins, as would, I imagine, all the other kids. Mama must have the savories, which don't interest me much. The couscous is WW point friendly. And the coffee cake is just plain good. And who can resist orange biscuits??

So what to do?

At least I have a few more days to figure it out, do the shopping, and start the cooking!

But I'll include some of the recipes here (and here) so you can help decide . . . .

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Orange Biscuits

1 can refrigerator biscuits
½ stick oleo
2/3 cup sugar
½ cup orange juice

Melt oleo and sugar; add juice and coat biscuits. Bake at 350°F til brown (15 minutes).
Gommie Hungry

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Bohemian Coffee Cake

1 cup oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup whole milk plus 1 tablespoon vinegar added)
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped pecans
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all ingredients. Pour into greased and floured pan (I think it's 9 x 13). Bake 1 hour at 350F.

teaching colleague in Texas

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Creamy Couscous Breakfast Pudding

1 1/2 cups water
1 cup whole wheat couscous
pinch salt
3 cups fat-free milk
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 cup fat free egg substitute
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup sliced almonds (optional)

Bring the water to a boil in a heavy saucepan over high heat. Stir in couscous and salt. Reduce heat and simmer until the water is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Cover and let stand about 5 minutes.

Whisk milk, sugar, and zest into couscous. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking frequently to break up any lumps. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat.

Whisk together 1/2 cup of the couscous and the egg substitute in a small bowl. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring, until the pudding is thick and creamy, about 5 minutes longer.

Stir in wheat germ and vanilla. Serve topped with almonds.

WW Momentum Cookbook (3 pts per 3/4 cup w/o almonds)

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All-Star Muffins

3 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose or cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
(Note: the KA cookbook mentions all sorts of add-ins, approximately 2 1/2 to 3 cups of whatever you desire)

Preheat oven to 400F and lightly grease 16 muffin cups or use paper liners.

In medium bowl, whisk flour, powder, soda, and salt, then set aside.

In large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy and almost white in color. Scrape down the bowl to make sure all the butter is incorporated, then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and sour cream and mix until incorporated. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until the batter is smooth. Fill muffin cups and bake 18-24 minutes , until tester comes out clean. Remove from oven, cool for 5 minutes, then remove from pan to finish cooling on a rack (muffins left in pan with become touch from steaming).

(1 basic muffin, 274 calories)

The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion All-Purpose Baking Cookbook (Hi KA blog reader! You always stop by when I include your company's name, so I'm dropping you a note this time. Hope it's okay that I included the recipe here. I'm excited that I found the unbleached cake flour at one of the local stores; can't wait to try these muffins).

Twinspeak

Having not written on twins for quite awhile (see here and here), I have been promising my grandmother-of-twins friend a new post on my twin experiences. Here are my most recent reflections on the uniqueness of twins (bearing in mind, of course, that I know no other way! And I can't be sure if twinness is the cause of these things, or something else)

Best of Friends, Worst of Enemies
I think, of all of the aspects of twindom that we have experienced recently, this is the most powerful. The kids have a real love-hate relationship. They have the ability to make each other happier, angrier, sadder, more excited than anyone else can. Sis can make Bud laugh harder than anyone; Bud can make her madder than anyone else can. They bring out the best and worst in each other, with moods being much more contagious than any germs (which, oddly, they rarely seem to pass to one another). This probably explains why they are rarely interested in other children: they much prefer each other's company, or no company at all. Because, like magnets, they are always stuck together. Unless they are repelling one another! But for now, they can't imagine sleeping without the other nearby or being in separate classrooms. They help one another complete tasks; "teamwork" is one of their favorite concepts. They are always yelling "wait for me" when one twin takes off faster or begins something earlier than the other. And even though they never engaged in any twinspeak, oftentimes they are the first or only ones to understand the other's ideas, jokes, games, wants, or needs. I get asked all the time, right after "are they twins?", if they get along. And the answer is, like most siblings, they get along except when they don't. But, perhaps unlike other siblings, I think they will always be connected to one another, positively or negatively, not indifferent or distance or not close. I think it's some kind of twin co-dependence or symbiosis (though, I haven't checked my theory with any adult twins).

Olympic-Sized Competitors
Bigger. Faster. Longer. Stronger. Better. Everything can become a competition. Because they do everything together and are learning new skills at approximately the same rate, they always want to one-up their sibling. It's a challenge to stress that they are both wonderful, capable individuals with unique traits and talents. Especially when one is always faster than the other, one can always write more clearly than the other. And of course, I am often at the center of the competition, not just positioned as the judge ("Mom, my gingerbread house is better, right?") but also as prize. They still rarely adhere to the "one knee for each" rule and can't often bear to see their twin absorb my attention without wanting theirs RIGHT NOW! I try to do his turn-her turn, but they don't grasp delayed gratification well when it comes to Mom. We tried to do separate outings, with my taking one twin out each afternoon the babysitter came, but Sis couldn't bear the days it was Bud's turn, even if she'd had a great turn already herself. That system is on hiatus for a bit until I figure out how to avoid the weeping she would do all day leading up to and during the outing. Yep, jealousy is at the center of a lot of the competition, with one wanting what the other has or has done, hence the upset about the outings or the infamous gingerbread tea party, which still upsets Bud. Perhaps it is because they are so desperate to both differentiate themselves from their sibling but also to remain connected, the same. Sometimes, they are so desperate not to have to share, and then next they are so desperate to be the same. Next year with separate classes for kindergarten should be quite a challenge, which is why we are planning on only half-day; they couldn't bear to be separated for 8 whole hours yet.

Separate But Equal
The competition bit segues directly into the important "separate but equal" rule. Everything must be fair. Equal. But different. Unless, of course, it should be the same. Bud wants strawberry; Sis wants chocolate. She likes bunnies and is excited about Easter; he prefers penguins and insists there is an Easter Penguin. He's blue; she's all about pink. She wants the girl happy meal toy, unless the boy one is cool, and vice versa. He eats pizza; she eats chicken fingers. Then there are the times they must match--she often dictates when they are going to wear matching t-shirts or insists that they play something exactly the same way, with matching pillow houses or block structures. And of course, they get upset when the other won't follow the rules (see below). Finally, I think there is a twin pact that, if I give them a choice, they are obligated to choose oppositely. Do you want to go to the library or the playground? They never choose the same. And then I have to be the tie-breaker, which invites all sorts of unwanted sibling jealousy (I remember my mom being in the middle of Aunt Banana and I choosing opposites, such as to eat at the deli or not, and having trouble figuring out how to make a decision fairly). So I'm an eeny-meeny-miney-mo/coin toss expert. I can't wait til they understand even-odd numbers because then the date will be the tie-breaker (she'd be even and he'd be odd, based on the times they were born and the number of letters in their names). Finally, I think gender will instill in them the strongest sense of separate identities, particularly in elementary school as the genders begin to divide themselves. For now, they both play with both gender-stereotyped toys: she loves blocks and knights and tools while he loves his tutu and dancing. They don't really understand why people are divided or excluded by gender (such as the gingerbread party), but they hear a lot of talk of boys- or girls-only at school and are picking up the lingo (which we strongly resist and disallow as much as possible). And she does sometimes ask for "girl" things or he asks why boys can't do something; I can see their confusion. I can only hope we are instilling a respect, even an understanding of the other, before they are separated (ideologically? theoretically?) for . . . how long does that last? Anyway, with both a boy and a girl, I sometimes joke that we could do amateur gender studies or nature vs. nurture experiments. I would've said gender identity was often the result, even subconsciously, of parenting and culture; but, mercy, sometimes it seems to come straight from their DNA.

Who's In Charge Here?
Of course, I'm officially in charge, but truth is, they spend a lot of time trying to dominate one another. Just the other day, Sis kept reminding Bud about a dinner table rule, and Bud objected, "Quit controlling me!" Sis replied coolly, "I'm controlling myself." Sis is like Mom #3 most of the time (with our cat Hermione being Mom #4, but that's another post), reminding Bud of the rules, tattling on him to me when he doesn't follow them (even if they don't affect her), and in general trying to get him to do what she likes. He of course similarly tries to force her to play the way he wants, but it doesn't happen as often. The preschool teachers say she is a classic first-born girl. (And, with two first-born girl moms, rules and order, particularly to control the boy, are important. Poor Bud.) And four, even according to the AAP, is a bossy age. Even so, that doesn't mean they like the rules enforced on themselves--anytime one tests a rule, like don't stand on the couch, the other one will immediately do the same thing to test if the rule applies to all. So, I constantly find myself saying things twice. And reminding them that I'm the mom and I'm in charge and I will be the one to worry about what the other twin is doing, so long as they take care of themselves. None of it seems to have an effect though!

Twin Culture
People rarely identify them as twins anymore. It must be the missing double stroller. Or that they aren't clearly, i.e. identical, twins. Sometimes, I think people forget that boys and girls can be twins. But really, they are almost exactly the same size--do you really think they are more than 9 months apart? When people ask their ages, I say, "oh, they're four." And the people stammer, "what? You mean they're twins?" Yep, twins. And Sis and Bud don't really know what it means to be twins. I don't think they grasp that not all siblings were born on the exact same day, even though we don't play often with any other twins and most of their friends have younger siblings (which clearly mystify Bud and Sis, who aren't that fond of most toddlers--too much interference, not enough fun). Of course, for me, it's hard to think of them as anything other than twins. When I'm talking about them, I always mention them in the plural; if I say something about one, I'm obliged to mention the other. When I'm out with just one and someone comments, I feel the need to mention that they are twins. I can't conceive of them separately (I know, punny). Of course, I recognize their different characters and (believe) I do a good job at not comparing them. People then often say, "oh, twins, that must be extra hard." Well, I say, it's all hard, right? And I don't really know any differently. Besides, I look now at my friends with preschoolers and toddlers--with different interests, abilities, schedules--and am grateful mine are in synch, even if it was a steep learning curve in the beginning and seems to cost more (perhaps even take up more space) because we need two of everything and can't rely on intra-family hand-me downs (like cribs, high chairs, tricycles, etc etc).

Okay, Miss D-with-a-Y, that's all they'll let me write today and it's about all I can think up about twins for now . . . you have a lot of wonderful things to look forward to, but different too, as your grandchildren are both girls, which is a whole other experience.