Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Almost Advent

Tomorrow starts our Advent, as we countdown to Christmas.

"How is it already December?" I seem to keep asking myself.

Anyway, as some of you recall, I had an Advent Activity plan last year that didn't work out as planned. Basically, we were going to choose one each day from a basket I never put together. We did some, but I didn't figure out how to control the choosing, like we can't make snow ice cream if there is no snow.

But I've got it figured out this year: socks! I'm hanging a swag of socks on my mantle, cheerful holiday-themed socks I picked up for $12 total in the dollar section. Each sock, hanging from a numbered clothespin, will contain an activity. I got the idea from Family Fun (though, my activities differ from their gifts). And since we won't check the sock until after school, I can manipulate the choice by inserting an activity we can do that day.

And so here is my list, very similar to last year, of activities I might include:

  1. Make a holiday wreath with greenery from yard.
  2. Make gifts for teachers and others.
  3. Decorate our chalkboard with holiday pictures.
  4. Make paper decorations for doors and windows.
  5. Make snow ice cream/angels/paintings/snowman.
  6. Have a holiday tv marathon--Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch, Olive!
  7. Go caroling by telephone by calling family members and singing to them.
  8. Donate canned goods to the local food pantry.
  9. Make fleece blankets to donate to the Linus project or scarves for another charity.
  10. Hang our holiday branch on the front porch to decorate.
  11. Make gingerbread houses.
  12. Walk around the neighborhood at dusk and look at decorations.
  13. Start a neighborhood Secret Santa chain.
  14. Have dinner by candlelight.
  15. Have a holiday book read-a-thon.
  16. Watch Emmett Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, The Nutcracker, or other seasonal movie.
  17. Learn about another winter holiday.
  18. Stuff, seal, and send Christmas cards.
  19. Make a holiday treat for animals (either our cats, birds and squirrels, or shelter animals).
  20. Print covers of thank-you notes.
  21. Decorate a backdrop for our Nativity.
  22. Host a family Solstice party and stay up late.
  23. Play "Christmas morning" and practice how to thank someone for a gift.
  24. Read the Christmas story in the Bible and talk about how every child is special.
And when I'm not up for those, a couple of pieces of candy in the stockings will no doubt be greeted with cheers, too!

Swallow Easier

The Senate has passed a much-needed sweeping overhaul of the nation's ineffective and outdated food safety regulations. Now the FDA will be able to do all the things you thought they could already do, like demand a food recall and inspect food imports (which account for 1/5th of our food! Right now they only check one pound in a million!!) and increase the number of factory inspections. To paraphrase Rep Tom Harkin, now when we tell our kids to eat their spinach, we can be more certain it won't kill them.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Lil' Dumplings

It is a Hungry family tradition, going back to Gommie and before, to make something unappetizingly labeled "turkey carcass soup" right after Thanksgiving. Love the soup, not so much the name. It's basically turkey stock (bones, carrots, onions, celery, leftover gravy, salt, pepper) with noodles and leftover turkey meat.

And now I've adapted it a bit. See, my kids are new devotees of Gommie's Chicken and Dumplings, not to be confused with TJ's Chinese chicken dumpling potstickers. They especially love the doughy homemade dumplings, which I adored as a child (whose recipe is this, anyway?). So, I've made two pots in a week, adding extra vegetables (either bagged mix or carrots etc from the fridge) to make it more substantial. And I leave the chicken out until serving or sometimes entirely, if we used it for something else. I'm tempted to double the dumplings but that has always seemed like too much.

Anyway, this year I made what I could call "turkey n' dumplin' soup." And it was a hit, though I have a whole stock pot of soup leftover but no dumplings.

Which means I should've doubled the dumplings.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Dumplings

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk

additional: 1-2 tablespoons butter and 1/2 cup milk

Combine flour, salt, and milk. Roll out on floured surface and cut into diamond shapes (don't know why). Drop in layers into near boiling broth. Do not stir. Cook 10-15 minutes, until dumplings float. Add butter and milk to broth and simmer 5-10 more minutes. Serve.

Gommie Hungry

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Force Was With Us

All weekend.

Yep, I finally let the kids see both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Call it desperation as our expected four-day family weekend of outings and activities degenerated into my doing whatever I could to salvage it while Mama recovered from a lingering stomach thing. Besides, they were getting tantalizing views of the other movies at Neighbor Boy's house ("Mom, we saw them kissing. And Neighbor Boy says kissing is icky." Sigh); I wanted to control their introduction to what are actually two fairly adult movies. They love the characters, though, and were excited to finally see what happened to them.

From the Rebel battles with AT-AT walkers on Hoth to the introduction of Yoda, from Han Solo's carbonite hibernation to his rescue in Jabba's vicious palace, from the "Battle of the Teddy Bears" to the end destruction of the Emperor and Empire, the kids sat mesmerized, scared, excited, nervous, and happy. Questions were fast and furious. It's almost as if Bud can't watch without talking. Mama noted that when he ran out of questions about plot points he started with anything just to ask it, such as "Why is Yoda green? Why does he have big ears?" They were both upset that Luke's arm gets cut off, that Han was frozen, that the Sarlacc ate lots of people, that the Emperor shot lightening out of his fingers, that Darth didn't get to be good for long, and that both Yoda and Darth died. It's probably a good thing that we'd prepared them for all of that, plus the revelations about Darth as twins Luke and Leia's father. They loved the AT-AT walkers, the Ewoks, the Tauntauns, Dagobah, Yoda, those speeders on Endor, the Millennium Falcon.

There were a few revelations for Mama and I, even though I've seen the films dozens of times. But it's been decades and I'd never seen the new versions of either. Mainly, I disliked the ending of ROTJ, with the elimination of that great Ewok celebration song and the addition of young Anakin's ghost in Luke's vision. Oh, well, I have the old versions and can watch those. The films were also darker, more desperate than I recalled, with Luke's temptations, the uncertainty of his resisting the Dark Side, plus the sacrifices and struggles of the Rebels. I'd forgotten how strong and feisty Leia is, also how good her aim is and how often she uses it. How many princesses have you seen kill people?

But the lessons are still there: loyalty to friends, dedication to justice, persistence and perseverance in the face of obstacles, the importance of the fight of good over evil, the possibilities and promise of forgiveness and redemption. The storylines are ancient, the archetypes foundational.

They reenacted it all weekend, inventing new narratives, rewriting existing ones, as well as reproducing the movies faithfully while playing with their figures, drawing pictures, and talking backwards like Yoda. Which they also had me doing, "If eat your dinner you do not, dessert for you there will not be."

It's just good plain fun.

Deck the Halls

With Mama at home still recuperating (hey, she can keep down crackers today!), we spent half the day at church, first with a service about service (specifically Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova, who did so much for humanity through the Canadian UUSC) followed by a bring-your-own-lunch and decorating for the holidays. The kids had a blast dragging garlands around, setting up candles, hanging wreaths, helping with lights. We got lots of thumbs up, their new favorite sign of encouragement and approval. And it really did look pretty. I can't believe it'll be time to trim our own tree soon, with Gommie and Pop here in just about three weeks. Was Thanksgiving "late?" Time is moving so fast. As usual.

Urban Legend

We were playing Native American village yesterday in the cold and blustery, very November weather, inspired by our Mashantucket Pequot museum visit. Bud's already become quite a shot with his bow, sending arrows more than 25 feet. Luckily the arrows have little power and no tip so they won't hurt anyone, but we're still encouraging safety and aiming only at trees, bushes, or the ground. Sis was the medicine woman in the two-story wigwam (aka our playset fort). "It's a New York wigwam," she explained, "with a shop on the bottom and the house on the top." Plus, apparently, it has tv: when Bud went on his elk hunt, we stayed behind to watch on television! Very urban Indians, these, which is in keeping with our continued emphasis that Native Americans today don't live in wigwams and wear feathers all the time but are still very much present and living their culture. It's very present for us too, because as I type, here at 8:30 on a Sunday morning, the kids have headed outside into yet more cold to continue playing.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Get Well Soon!

This one's for Mama, who came down with a violent tummy bug yesterday. She's alive, though not well, but at least improving. We're hoping it isn't contagious. It also means I have more leftovers than I know what to do with.

Also, to Cousin S, who sounds on the mend from the same thing. You know those computer viruses!

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Second Holiday

Today we celebrated Native American Heritage Day, though we didn't know it when we set out this morning to visit the Mashantucket Pequot museum. With the celebration of Thanksgiving and all the discussions of first peoples at home and at school, Sis and Bud have been very interested in Native Americans these days. So we decided to revisit the museum.
Our favorite part of the Pequot museum is the walk-in, life-size, recreated village panorama, with several wigwams and numerous Pequots performing various tasks from hunting to weaving, fishing to cooking. Sis particularly likes the medicine man healing the sick warrior. Bud likes spotting various animals and activities; today it was find-the-papoose (since he made a paper one at school which he has been wearing along with his bow). They both loved operating and listening to the audio tours on "magic wands." They went from number to number, learning about aspects of village life.

Today there was a special performance of a puppeteer and ventriloquist ("venticklist!"), Buddy Big Mountain. At first the kids were nonplussed . . . because they didn't realize he was making all the voices, songs included! Such modern, high-tech kids--they thought it was a recording. They were pretty amazed when they realized how it all worked. Though, many of the jokes (like the one about "Custer had it coming") went over their heads. But we did learn that it was the relatively new annual observation of Native American Heritage Day, always celebrated the Friday after Thanksgiving.

As per usual, we ended our visit in the shop, where we finally consented to Bud having a bow with an arrow (and Sis got yet another critter, this time a woolly mammoth). I picked up a James Beard Award-winning cookbook, Spirit of the Harvest, and hope to cook up some more appreciation of indigenous peoples here at home this weekend, another way to celebrate Native American Heritage Day.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010: Leftovers

The last of the hot coffee is gone and, with it, Ma, Gong, and Goo. The leftovers are dispersed to them as well. Turkey bones simmer with onions, celery, and carrots for soup later this weekend. We've nibbled at the bits left out, but Mama is heading out with the last bag of trash. The kids are in bed, though not asleep, having heard Brother Eagle, Sister Sky and Julius is the Baby of the World. We were thankful for each other, our health, friends, family, peace, and turkey. Day is done.

Thanksgiving 2010: "It's a Brain Effort"

After clean-up, Star Wars, and naps, it's game time, first checkers and now a big Star Wars puzzle. "It's a brain effort," declares Bud.

The pumpkin souffles are heating. The jello jigglers (strawberry, of course) are solid. The pies--pumpkin, pecan, and cranberry-fudge--are ready. I will whip the cream soon.

Then it will pretty much be time for goodbyes and bedtime.

May the Force be with us!

Thanksgiving 2010: Last Girl Standing

Sis was the last person eating. We can't be sure where it all went. Four servings of turkey, three rolls, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, dressing, gravy. All brown or carbs. We couldn't believe she kept going.

Dinner went well, only about an hour off schedule which was fully expected. The rolls actually tasted good, even if they were heavier than they should've been. The 13 lb turkey actually did roast in about an hour, a la Mark Bittman's de-backboning method. The gravy was divine (and is now almost all gone). Bud liked the cranberry sauces. The rest of us ate (almost) everything. The adults then cleaned up while the kids, Goo, and I played some DS (actually, I napped until Bud crawled on my head!)

And after a little rest time watching Star Wars, she wants to know where the pumpkin pie is!

As we said for our blessing, holding hands and then passing around a squeeze, "We are thankful for being. We are thankful for being here. We are thankful for being here together."

Thanksgiving 2010: Grand Slam

(Yes, I know baseball season is over, but the metaphor works.)

Even with Mama, Goo, and Ma pinch-hitting for all the cooking of today's meal, I'm still the go-to girl for the gravy.

And I just hit it out of the park, baby.

Thanksgiving 2010: Fast and Furious

Things are speeding up now. Mama is doing Mark Bittman's 45-Minuted Roasted Turkey, which seems to have accelerated the pace of the day. Though, the kids are still "STAR-VING!" The delicata squash came out delicious. The rolls are, so far, a disappointment, but we'll see how they do in the oven. And now Mama is waving the remainder of the Potato Buds, originally for the rolls, at me--"Will you talk to me if I make these for Sis?" Instant mashed potatoes? Not my family's tradition to have mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving (is that my family's peculiarity or is it regional to eat mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving?) so go right ahead . . . Anything will be good with my gravy!

Thanksgiving 2010: Big Fat Man in the Red Suit

. . . has come to town! Yep, Santa appeared at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Even though we tape the parade (and haven't watched any of it yet), I always like to watch the Santa part live.

And I cry everytime.

A good cry.

Merry Christmas Season!

Thanksgiving 2010: A Special Hello

Hi to Mama Teacher and CJ, who are having a family pajama day, with their big celebration tomorrow. She's reading the blog live today. I'm thankful for your friendship, Mama Teacher!

Thanksgiving 2010: Takin' it Outside

We just had a nice spell outside, in the 36F ish cloudy weather. The kids played Star Wars with Gong and Goo, full on attacks with lightsabers, while I went for my morning constitutional. Ma stayed inside to sew yet more patches on Shirt (next, the petals on Sis's Daisy tunic). Mama started some mid-morning appetizers--baked brie with apricot preserves, spinach dip, and roasted nuts--so we're about to have our first course.

Thanksgiving 2010: Rise Up!

Yep, it's baking time over here. We're making KAF guaranteed Soft White Dinner Rolls, a new recipe for me. In the bread machine. Goo's in charge, though he's never used the machine before (and so, out of curiosity, is trying it). I'm just overseeing.

And Sis sat on the butter. A very important part of the recipe because we needed it room temperature.

Thanksgiving 2010: The Family is Together

Ma, Gong, and Goo have arrived from NYC, food and gifts in hand: Star Wars figures for Bud and a pizza-making Barbie for Sis. The kids are so engaged that they haven't eaten anything.

Well, except several salted caramels from Trader Joe's.

It's a TJs Thanksgiving for us, with almost everything coming from there. The dressing doesn't look the same but I think it will be okay.

If not, there is a ton of other food to eat.

Thanksgiving 2010: "That's What I'm Best At"

The kids were up before 6:30 a.m. "It's Thanksgiving harvest feast!" I think they expected turkey and fixin's for breakfast! Or something, the way they tore downstairs--hidden drumsticks? turkey day presents? Or just a day full of family and food.

Sis was rearing to get started with the cooking. "That's what I'm best at!" she declared, falling it up with something about eating chocolate a la the cranberry-fudge pie (and I think, in the end, that's what she actually meant she was best at, not cooking).

And so it has begun. Mama and Sis worked on the dressing while Bud started building "hidden houses" out of Lincoln Logs all around the house for Ma, Gong, and Goo to find when they arrive in about an hour.

We talked to Gommie briefly and are glad she'll be having a good day with the new baby and parents. Lots to be thankful for.

I realized we didn't have enough yams and so Mama, foreseeing my annual Thanksgiving breakdown on its way, has promised to go out. The tears came on schedule--she reminds me that I always cry on Thanksgiving--from being a bit homesick, from feeling like there was so much to do, and, this year anyway, from not being able to do much of it.

Yams will help.

So will some mindfulness.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010: Let the Live Blogging Begin!

I had forgotten, until Mama Teacher asked, that I usually "live blog" Thanksgiving. And so I'll do a bit (not sure if that was a request or just an inquiry, Mama Teacher!). Recipes are either here or below.

Sis and Bud helped us make two cranberry sauces earlier today, the basic orange juice/sugar one a la Martha Stewart and the horseradish/sour cream one a la NPR. We had our traditional take-out Chinese meal after kung fu (we always seem to have take out on Thanksgiving eve) and then headed upstairs. The kids were almost too excited to sleep, wanting Thanksgiving now--in fact, they are still awake an hour after tuck in.

Now Mama and I are full on in pie mode, with a graham cracker crust perfuming the kitchen as it cools for Cranberry-Fudge Pie and the pecan pie in process. Which means, Pop, that the vast supply of Karo syrup that you noticed in August is running low!

Oh, and there's that warm strawberry jello smell too.

Not sure what else is on our plate for tonight. A little more cooking, a little more cleaning.

Have a good night!

Let Thanksgiving Begin!

They got off the bus arrayed in all manner of colored construction paper, with Indian headdresses and cardboard papooses (has political correctness changed nothing in elementary education? But I remember how much fun that is--I once made an entire outfit out of decorated brown paper grocery bags). And styrofoam "Thanksgiving Guest" turkeys with feathers and pipecleaners for our table.

The holiday has begun!


"Behold the Singer of Love!"

As part of their school celebration of Thanksgiving, the kids attended a performance of local Native American song and dance and stories. They came home full of information about a water whistle, the duck dance, a game of hunters "catching" girls to ensure a successful hunt, Mother Earth, "Thunder Beings," and the like. Soon, their drums were out, their costumes on, their wigwams (previously igloos) occupied. And Bud gave a performance. "Behold the singer of love!" he called, singing songs to spread peace and thanks.

"It's Moving Art!"

It was foggy yesterday morning, wet and almost warm. And the kids were stir-crazy with the encroaching holiday, threatening to mess up the careful balance that is our straightened house. So, with 15 minutes left before departure for school, Mama brilliantly led them outside to run around.

Soon, we found ourselves writing in the dampness on Mama's car: hearts and "I love You," smiley faces for each person in the family, bunnies, the Death Star with intergalactic dogfight, you know, all the important things.

Then they got in and drove off to school. "It's moving art!" Bud called through the open moon roof, pictures all around them.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Sound and the Fury

"When you sound angry, I feel angry," Bud shouted as he stomped down the basement stairs.

Things weren't going well: the brownies for our sick babysitter weren't cooking up as expected, homework time ended in tears of frustration, the alarm system issued yet another false alarm despite an expensive repair and the customer service rep couldn't help, there were complications with our Daisy meeting tonight, Mama called to say she was running late, a call to the babysitter was dropped and couldn't reconnect, and then the kids had started fighting about their DS systems.

"But Neighbor Boy can play his all the time," Bud taunted, not realizing the real impact or import of that statement.

"We have different rules."

And then he tossed a chair because his sister had the game cartridge he wanted, which she then threw across the room. I snatched up the games with thoughts of crushing them under my minivan, along with the alarm system hardware.

I took to the kitchen dishes to try to regain my composure, a cramp forming in my back, as Bud headed downstairs with his observation. I should say I was proud that he could vocalize his emotions, but that only came later. At the time, I was just mortified at how right he was.

We've hugged and apologized now. And I'd like to say it won't happen again. But it will. Parenting is like that: you have ideals and ideas--expectations of how you'll be, how you want to be--and sometimes it doesn't go as planned. Forgive and forget. Live and learn.

But always hug and apologize.

Tidbits

The cousins are putting together a package for the new baby, with somethings we picked up at the store yesterday and the cards we made today.

"But, Mom," Bud inquired, "why do all babies like pink?"

We know that Baby Banana (hmmm, I don't think so) has a very pink room. And I had tried to steer the kids to pink, especially because the blue outfit Bud had chosen actually said "boy" on it.
"Well, honey, babies don't care at all what color they have. But moms care very much sometimes. And Aunt Banana likes pink."

"I like it too," he said.

-=-=-=-=-=-

"Mom," one of the kiddos hollered, "quit calling the baby 'cousin.' We know she's a cousin. That's not her name."

And I can't remember for the life of me whether it was Sis or Bud.

Tales from Texas: Talkin' Turkey

Okay, I won't be telling any baby stories here, as those aren't my stories to tell.

But I do have a funny grandparent story to relate: Gommie is in charge of Thanksgiving dinner for the new mom and dad. But she has, by her own admission, been walking on air and therefore a little out of touch.

And so she went to get dinner makings--celery, onion, gravy makings, rolls, cranberry sauce, green beans, sweet potatoes--and was standing in line to check out when she saw the basket of the woman in front of her. With a turkey.

Gommie had totally forgotten the Thanksgiving turkey.

Well, at least Cousin Hungry* wouldn't have noticed!

(*Thanks to Lambeth for suggesting some blog names for the new cousin, including "Chelsea" after Uncle Soccer's beloved football team and "Angel" after one of their coaches. We're still thinking on it.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Birthday!

To Mrs. Lambeth! Hope you have a great day.

Raise the Red Curtain

We did some home decorating over the weekend: Mama hung a deep red curtain in the middle of our downstairs, separating the playroom from the living room. Not because we think a big red curtain is such a pretty decor item.

But because she wanted the kids to have a curtain so they could play stage. And all stage curtains are red!

It looks like the Red Light District over here.

But the kids had a fabulous time putting on shows last night, their version of Harry Potter (knowing nothing beyond the fact that the characters are magic! I figure that it's the only version we'll see until I can sit for more than 15 minutes! Though, really, it would be worth the bursitis! Maybe for my birthday when Gommie and Pop are here. . . . ) and a variety show with Chinese hat-balancing and sword dancing. And they just beamed with excitement.

Which, in my book, means Mama is a pretty cool mom.

Sad Little Face

There was a sad little face looking up at me today, blotchy with tears and forlorn with disappointment.

But it wasn't one of my kids; it was the neighbor boy.

Sis and Bud had been playing with him when he decided, I'm told, to change games. When Bud didn't want to, Boy supposedly pushed him, causing Bud to fall back and hit his head on the bed frame. He came running home hurt and upset.

Of course, it didn't end there. Sis and the Boy came over about 15 minutes later to see if Nate was ready to play. I talked to them both, trying to ascertain what had happened.

"It was an accident," Boy said. "He didn't want to play so I pushed him."

"That's not an accident." And so we talked about how to be friends.

But Bud didn't want to play with him; neither did Sis, really. Later she said, "it's not that fun." Bud elaborated, "he always says, 'my house, my rules.' And we never get to pick the game."

And so Boy left because no one wanted to play his game (should I mention it was DS? Probably don't need to).

My kids and I had more conversation. Because the pushing wasn't the only incident--they had also watched some of a non-approved movie (thankfully, not Twilight). "But it was already on when we got there. Mom, why is Princess Leia in chains? And who is that dancing girl?" Sigh. And I wanted to encourage Sis to come home with Bud when something like that happened, and vice versa. And to encourage them to seek out the adults in the house if there was ever a real problem. As I've blogged, I recognize the value of their navigating their own friendship, even or especially with our neighbor, but this one has some obstacles that even I'm having issues with.

Then the doorbell rang.

"Can they play yet?"

"They're taking a break now. They can play tomorrow."

He came back again about 10 minutes later. Neither of my kids wanted to play with him, so I answered the door.

"I don't have anyone to play with!"

"Honey, where are your parents?"

"They aren't playing!" And I wasn't sure if he meant his parents or my kids.

He came back twice more, all by himself, crying and demanding and pleading. And, as far as I can tell, his parents knew nothing, never noticed that my kids had left the house and that their son had left the house and come over 5 different times. I walked him home once, getting Bud's lightsaber, but I never saw Boy's parents. I'm not sure I know what I would've said, but I thought it was important to try (I have some ideas for next time; sometimes, I'm slow with parenting ideas, especially with conflict).

After the last visit, I needed to leave. I wanted to stop Boy from hurting so much but wasn't going to make my kids play with him, especially all things considered. So, we piled into the car and went out for ice cream, as Bud kept talking about his head hurting from hitting the bed (he's fine). Mama, who had been at the hardware store, met us there. We talked options, ideas, and she agreed to take over answering the door for the evening.

But sad little Boy didn't come back.

I hope he does. I think.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Unmeteoric

The Leonid meteor shower occurred earlier this week. And I made the mistake of mentioning it to the kiddos. It was a mistake because a). I had no intention of waking them up at 3:30 a.m. to see it and b). there were only about 20 falling an hour, not really impressive, especially considering the bright, almost-full moon (for comparison, Mama and I had witnessed the spectacular meteor shower several years ago from a dark, wide beach, spotting more than 400 in less than an hour). But we did go out into the chill night air right before bed and searched the sky for falling stars. We saw lots of blinking planes and stars and the big moon but no meteors, much to their disappointment. And they were still talking about that disappointment the next morning when none of us had gotten up in the middle of the night and seen any. Perhaps I should've just said those blinking lights were falling stars!

She's Here!

Cousin Hungry was born today! Mom, Dad, and baby-sized baby girl are doing well. (And grandparents, too.) We're all excited to welcome her and can't wait to see the pictures.

We'll have to come up with an appropriate blog name for her.

(And while I'm not going to post specific info, I will say she shares a name with Lambeth's wife!)

"The Flour is Dancing"

It was a very busy morning in the Hungry household as we prepared for the potluck at church today.

But first, I had promised the kids Dutch Baby Pancakes for breakfast, easy enough to make, even though I'd need the oven for two more dishes (Swedish Apple Pie and Curried Coconut Rice). And we listened to the new Sugarland album while we did it, with "Stuck Like Glue" on repeat as Bud danced around the kitchen. Sis, meanwhile, stirred, "Look, Mom, the flour is dancing!"

We all were; the house was swingin'.

Mama and I had started it all the night before, watching a 2-hour Sugarland concert streamed through the web to our tv (sorry, 24 hour availability only). It's our group of the moment (though, our first love remains, of course, the Indigo Girls, Emily of which has actually sung with Sugarland--and you can find a fuzzy video of that on YouTube) and we're enjoying the country/pop (think Dixie Chicks, sorta) tunes. Mama even sings them with her twang on. So, this one's for you, Mama:

I've got someone who loves me more then words can say
And I'm thankful for that each and every day
And if I count all my blessings, I get a smile on my face
Still it's hard to find faith..

[Chorus:]
But if you can look in my eyes
And tell me we'll be alright
If you promise never to leave You just might make me believe

--Sugarland, "Just Might (Make Me Believe)"

"I Wish"

On this, a great day of (early) thanksgiving for our blessings, old and new, which we celebrated at a church potluck (we took the curried rice below), all the kids delighted us with a song:

"I wish that no one was hungry or cold
Or hurt or frightened or sad.
I wish that I could turn straw into gold.
I'd share each ounce that I had.
I wish that people would learn to listen
and understand all the words.
I wish that no one was ever upset
And no one ever felt bad.
I wish
I wish
I wish
I wish."
--Teresa Jennings

-=-=-=-=-=-

(which I made without the cilantro, of course)

Makes: 4 servings

Time: About 1 hour, largely unattended

Baked brown rice is mostly hands-off—no fussing or checking for doneness, just a relaxing, undisturbed 45 minutes in the oven. Your reward for doing next to nothing is a pot of tender, fragrant, slightly spicy grains (if you want more heat, use up to a tablespoon more curry powder). This recipe would go perfectly with any simply seasoned pot of chickpeas or other beans.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 cup brown basmati rice

Salt and black pepper

One 14-ounce can coconut milk

1⁄4 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut

2 tart apples, cored and chopped

1⁄2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1⁄4 cup yogurt, optional

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Put the oil in a large ovenproof saucepan over medium heat. A minute later, add the curry powder and ginger and cook, stirring, for about a minute. Add the rice and some salt and pepper; cook, stirring, until the rice is glossy and translucent, just a minute or 2.

2. Measure 13⁄4 cups of the coconut milk; stir it into the rice mixture. Bring to a boil, then cover tightly and transfer to the oven. Bake, undisturbed, for 45 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, put the shredded coconut in a small skillet over medium heat and toast, shaking the pan and stirring often, until it begins to brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the rice from the oven, uncover, and use a fork to stir in the shredded coconut, apples, and cilantro. Replace the lid and let it rest for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning and fluff again. Serve immediately or at room temperature, topped with yogurt if you like.

Mark Bittman, Food Matters

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Shopping Day

Today is shopping day for the Hungry household, in preparation for Thursday's feast. Mama and the kids hit one store this morning; Mama's at another this afternoon. We're scaling back the size of the feast somewhat, if only to make it easier on us in my "diminished capacity" (Mama has also begged me not to bake "too much" this season because it's hard on the back; I acquiesced . . . by roping her into helping!). But that doesn't mean we aren't having a proper festive meal. Here's what we're planning (everything is homemade, at least partially, unless noted), not including the Swedish Apple Pie and coconut-curry rice I'm taking to church tomorrow:
  • roasted nuts
  • brie en croute (pre-packaged)
  • turkey (from our farm, probably gobbling as I type!)
  • gravy
  • dressing
  • rolls (new recipe: Parker House, from scratch, in bread machine)
  • green bean casserole
  • sweet potato casserole
  • baked sweet potatoes
  • rice
  • cranberry sauce (one in the can; two homemade, probably)
  • strawberry jello (does this count as homemade if I add boiling water?)
  • pecan pie
  • cranberry-fudge pie (new recipe from KAF)
  • pumpkin pie (frozen)
You should've seen the list before we scaled back!

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Rewards of Volunteering

I had quite a busy volunteer week, at school and after school. And I was more than amply rewarded:
  • At Daisies, several of the girls, including mine own, when asked about things for which they are thankful, said that they were thankful for our Daisies meetings and the leaders (that's me!).
  • When I made a surprise visit to the school yesterday, subbing for a volunteer whose child was ill, I got a huge smile and enthusiastic wave from Sis and a jubilant thumbs-up from Bud.
  • When I volunteered today, both kiddos held my hands and gave me hugs.

Family PA System

I know that a few people are fervently checking this blog for updates on the impending arrival of my sister's baby girl.

I don't have an update.

It's not quite that impending--with a week left til her due date and first babies notoriously slow, it could be awhile.

And, I don't think this will necessarily be the place you hear it first. I'm checking with Banana to see if she'll be sending an email to family and friends first. I don't want to impinge upon that exciting announcement.

Though, I imagine I'll make it eventually.


Wrong Number

Me: "Hon, I left the gourds on the dancing platform."

Her: "Who is this?"

Wrong number.

And perhaps the oddest thing I've ever said to a stranger.

Going on a Bear Hunt

We went on a bear hunt today, right after Bud shot a turkey, Sis netted fish, and I gathered green beans, berries, and squash (real decorative gourds from our farm!). Sis also made a salad. Yep, we were preparing for our big annual harvest feast.

They wore deer skins (brown flannel with ragged edges a la a real skin) and carried spears and bows (I wasn't appropriately dressed in my fleece). We had a wigwam, albeit two-storied (but at least not a Plains Indian tipi, which they made in art class in school this week as part of their holiday observances!), complete with a cooking fire, which tinder we gathered around the yard. "Everything we have comes from Mother Nature," except the things we traded with the settlers. Like our iron cooking pots.

It's the historically-accurate way to play Indians! Without pilgrims. Or cowboys. And we were specifically the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, remembering our visits to that fabulous museum (and the Museum of the American Indian in DC). Our neighbor, Miss J, who came out to say hi and request some of the bear meat (which was, hilariously, the big blue recycling tub) was of the same tribe but lived in a different village.

At our feast of thanks, Sis and Bud devised a ritual: "smooshing peace rocks." Inspired by our tattered Tibetan prayer flags, which blow prayers to the wind as the fabric unravels, they decided we would crush mud clots with our feet, while standing atop our turtle sandbox, and spread the dirt around "to spread peace and thanks."

Not a bad way to celebrate.

(Which we then did by going inside for hot chocolate and marshmallows. Now, they're inside playing in their igloos. Welcome back, Brother Bear!)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Au Naturale

I'm sorta going chem-free over here. No, not in my food, which we try to keep as local/organic/seasonal as reasonable. And not in my habits, since I don't smoke or do drugs or drink. And chocolate is not a chemical!

Nope, in my "beauty regime."

I've given up deodorant, moisturizer, face soap, and, half the time, shampoo.

Though, it wasn't all at once. Nor for any crunchy granola agenda. (Though it sure sounds like it. Especially if you take into account all my natural supplements for back care--Nordic Naturals fish oil for inflammation, Slow mag water-soluble magnesium for muscle memory and PMS/ovulation cramps, wild blueberry extract for help with weight loss--as opposed to big pharma. Which I do keep handy just in case!)

It dawned on me, when I read an article about older women with long hair, that shampooing every night wasn't working and so I researched "no 'poo," the shampoo-free movement that advocates use of baking soda and vinegar OR rinses and head massages. So I skipped shampoo for a week and realized two things: my hair has more shine, body, and curl when I don't shampoo regularly but that I don't like to go without it. So now I'm on an every few days schedule, with a rinse and massage in between. And I love my locks! Which are growing longer everyday (since I can't sit for a cut . . . )

Similar thing with face soap. I don't have great skin. Never have. And I've used soaps and scrubs and cleansers and moisturizers and drinking water and and and. . . . Nothing would improve it. And so I adapted Mama's technique: rinse twice daily. No soap. And she has pretty, clear skin. We can do this because neither of us wears make up. And now, I don't need moisturizer either. And I'm pretty much the same, though not as dry.

As for the deodorant, it goes like this: I had read a long time ago that aluminum in deodorant was dangerous; don't know if it's true but I turned to more natural deodorizers without it, like Tom's of Maine. But in doing so, I realized my underarms turned dark. Googling that led me to realize I was probably allergic to the natural stuff. And so I've given it up--and the dark spots disappeared in just a few days. And I don't smell. Besides, I saw Dr. Oz on Oprah once say that we don't need deodorant as long as we wash regularly.

Which I do, every night, with soap.

Natural, chem-free kinds of soap.

Congratulations!

To my MIL Ma, who has worked at the same place for 30 years!

It's Wednesday

I've been trying to think of lofty posts or even something interesting. But I'm coming up with nada. Not that anything is wrong. It's just mostly very usual. Remarkable in its unremarkableness. Some random thoughts:
  • The yellow leaves are gone. Now there are bright red trees. Fall didn't seem to happen all at once this year. Or it's just the first year I've been out so much (210 minutes of walking outside a week!). Yesterday, our yard guys came and cleaned up all the yellow leaves. Last night's storm knocked down all the red ones, which I guess will be with us til spring! But the yard is beautiful in its crimson cloak. At least there are more leaves. The kids were bummed to see their yellow piles disappear.
  • Bud has realized that school is permanent. On Monday morning, he cried about going, preferring to stay home with me to play. And then the moment passed and he got ready to go and had a good time.
  • School is taking it out of them. They hold it together really well there--do their work, follow directions, cooperate with others--and then come home and pummel each other. When they aren't playing divinely.
  • Daisy Scouts continues. Oddly, I feel weird blogging about that. And so haven't. Not sure why, exactly. Sis likes it and Bud continues to want to join. And nothing seems to substitute.
  • I had breakfast with Mommy Goose today. It was great to catch up after what seems like too long. And it wasn't even all gossip or bitching! Though it was pretty much all kids.
  • I got to know one of my neighbors better last night, when after 8 years of saying we would, we had coffee together. She's delightful.
  • My bursitis is improving and I'm driving some, though it's still the hardest thing to do, much harder than sitting on the couch drinking coffee. The rest of my back is quiet right now.
  • The squirrels are chunky this year. And a red-tailed hawk has been bothering the parrots who live nearby and keep swarming to distract it.
  • I can't believe Thanksgiving is next week. It really has all begun. I know, we've all said it, but where has the time gone? The kids have even made Christmas lists! December is packed with activities. And the planning (and stress and emotion) of it all has begun.
  • Mama's cold is improving, I think. And now I've got it. I think.
  • I talk to Mama Teacher everyday on her drive home. It's a (sometimes!) sane call into our wild afternoons.
  • The family store isn't really working anymore. But losing DSi privileges does. Even though I admit as I type that how much I dislike parenting-through-punishment-and-reward.
  • Reading interesting articles on line sometimes, including mindfulness for Thanksgiving, a poet's exploration of death and dying (plus several other posts on similar topics), saying yes, lentils, drinking water. You know, I really ought to do a links list soon (because I'm not even sure when I'll add the links to this bullet).
  • Divorce seems to be in the air for some of my friends and neighbors. Haven't given divorce as an occurrence much thought, not having known too many families who've gone through it, and no peers. I've seen several articles on it recently too. And have just been contemplating it in an abstract kind of way. (No worries, Mama and I are just fine, which is why perhaps I'm so curious about relationships that aren't.)
  • Aunt Banana's baby will be here soon, give or take. I had thought to write the mother of all mothering posts (for this blog, anyway) but realize that my advice is so particular to me and to Mama and to twins and to our experience and personalities and situation. Everyone is different and we all do the best we can under the circumstances. I try not to judge (except when I do. Sigh.) She said "adaptability" will be her motto; that works. No "if I knew then what I know now" from me. So I'll just wish them good labor and a homecoming soon!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Breakin' the Rules

I broke the rules the other night.

For the first time.

Well, for this rule anyway: the kids sleep in their beds, not ours.

The other night, we were all having nightmares. All except Mama, that is, who was so hopped up on cold medicine that she didn't notice that there were two extra, squirmy people in the bed. I don't know what was in the water--and it wasn't a full moon--but I'd been up about half an hour reading, alternately, the entertainment pages of Huffpost and WebMD, when Bud and then Sis came into the room upset from bad dreams.

It was 3:30 a.m. And I think I needed a better diversion than my 'droid. I could also be useful and comforting. So I encouraged them to crawl into bed and cuddle up, one in front and one in back, both clinging, arms everywhere, hands in my hair and on my neck and over my chest.

How does anyone sleep like that?

I certainly didn't.

Probably because it was the first time for us all to sleep together, I was intrigued with the changes in their breathing, the flutterings of their eyelids, the small movements of their hands. It certainly was distracting. But not sleep-inducing. We rarely co-slept when they were babies (no judgments here--do what works for your family), mainly from a fear of rolling over them in our exhaustion and a desire to get as much sleep as we could between feedings every 45 minutes or so (when we were doing it on demand and they were on different schedules; we gave that up pretty quickly!). And even from a desire to retain the bed as our space from our pre-baby lives. But mainly for that first reason. Then as time passed, we kept the rule, for those other reasons plus a hope that they would be comfortable in their own beds, able to go back to sleep on their own. And it was never much of an issue. They easily go back to bed after nightmares or noises, with a quick kiss and a tuck-in. We're all generally happy with the arrangements.

But for that night last week, and for any subsequent ones when the need arises, I imagine I'll say yes again.

And maybe even get some sleep.

Scooter Pod Races

With this mild weather, we've been outside a lot, often without jackets even, playing for hours in the leaves, dirt, as acrobats, as Star Wars characters, with sticks, and especially with scooters.

In fact, the combination of Star Wars and scooters is the most popular. The kids strap on their helmets, grab their scooters, and race back and forth on the long sidewalk pretending to be X-wing or TIE-fighter pilots, either destroying or protecting the evil Galactic Empire. (We call it podracing, though they're not really pretending they're on Tatooine or in podracers.) They make pit stops for gas, communicate with each other as "Red Five" and such, and either rescue or attack me, Princess Leia. It's all very exciting.

Especially as they go zooming around the corner at the end of the next street at lightspeed.


Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies

It feels like spring both inside and outside the house. Outside, it is warmish, especially for mid-November, end damp. Inside, we're the faeries of spring. We dressed up in our costume finery--wings, dresses, headdresses--and danced around to Tchaikovsky (the "Chinese Dance," though), while spreading springtime. Sis was in charge of plants. Bud was in charge of spring in general. And I was in charge of baby animals. Most importantly, we had to shake this green glitter ball, for if the glitter is not suspended in the liquid, winter will fall on us unprepared. So we shook the ball, prepared the land for winter, and gathered food inside our own little faerie houses. Winter did fall, only once, when we literally dropped the ball and forgot it, but it was cozy in our hut with ice cream and soup. The plants and animals fared just fine and we woke them up minutes later. Spring again.

Impatient

At least three people this week have expressed surprise that I am not back to "normal" yet. "When are you going to be better?" "Hasn't it been too long?" "Does your back still hurt?"

Yes, it has been a long time. Almost 13 weeks by my count. Longer than I imagined; certainly longer than I would've liked. I feel the disappointment, too. Mostly because I'm doing so much better and have come so far from that first completely immobile 24+ hours and then weeks in bed and literally months not sitting or driving or going much of anywhere. But I'm not doing it all yet. I could give you a long list of what I'm not doing, from sneezing without fear to bathing (I hate showering but what can I do?) to any kind of crafting (which means storebought for all, not as many cookies to bake, and a delayed homemade present for Cousin Hungry), but I really am trying not to dwell. I'm doing the best I can; as a family, we're coping and doing what we need to get through (I should say "Mama is doing what we need to get through). And no, I don't know when I'll be, if ever, normal--Gommie likes to call it "the new normal"--if only because I'll remember.

And I'm working hard to be okay with that. To do everything I can (lost 2 lbs this week; took my myriad of supplements for inflammation and muscle memory; didn't sit much beyond necessary; walked everyday--that's 210 minutes of exercise each week!). To accept "chronic" and any limitations and learn to live with it. To be mindful and present. To be grateful for where I am. Because I know it could be worse. Middle-of-the-night googling of symptoms and medical terms has taught me that, as well as stories I keep hearing. And my imagination. And my experience.

But there's more to me than my back.

Which I am trying desperately to remember.

And to forget.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Second Chances

I have started this post several times and can't figure out how to express myself about a situation that is either big or small: I am uncomfortable that my kids play videogames and spend too much screen time instead of playing outside or even actively together when they play with the neighbor boy.

I like the boy. I like his parents. And, in general, I don't believe I need to or should intervene in my kids' play with their friends.

Okay, that last bit can't possibly be true. These are helicoptered, policed kids whose only friendships have so far been orchestrated and overseen by me. But they're five. That's part of my job. But my job description is changing and I think I'm having trouble adapting. Again.

I guess the truer statement would be that I don't want to be one of those moms, with too many rules, meddling instead of trusting her kids. I think they need to navigate their friendships on their own, with me watching from the sidelines for support, guidance, and only the occasional intervention.

But is this one of those times to intervene?

Let me explain: yesterday was a holiday and all the kids were home. Sis, Bud, and I had made cookies in the morning and then gone outside to play our new game of "podracer scooter," where they race along the sidewalks pretending they're in X-Wings fighting the evil Galactic Empire, which is blowing up planets with the Death Star. Soon enough, neighbor boy appears and, instead of heeding my suggestion to continue to play outside, they all go into his house.

Let's stop here. I know already that I was probably a mite hurt that they abandoned me to play with him. That all my posturing about playing outside is just that.

I went over about a half-hour later to find them watching Star Wars and eating on the couch. I don't object to their seeing Star Wars because we'd actually watched the ending for the umpteenth time that morning. But I had told the neighbor boy no when he had asked if they could watch it. Not because I object to the movie or even them watching together but because I thought they should play instead.

See, my judgement, my values, my opinion of what was best. When, maybe, bonding over their favorite film with their favorite neighbor was just what they wanted.

And I messed it all up.

So the neighbor boy suggested they watch Twilight together.

Twilight. The tween/teen vampire flick.

No way.

And I panicked that they could've done just that and I wouldn't have known. Or worse, in my mind, watched Empire Strikes Back, which he then suggested. I want to be the one to watch that with them. Yep, my issues. My control.

And then he said they would just play videogames.

In general, I like this kid. Sure, he says "Oh My God!" and "Dang it!" more than I like, dubious exclamations that Bud has now adopted. But he's a nice kid. Even with his God and Jesus hang up. He's not mean, aggressive, violent, or rough. And he likes my kids. And my kids like him. And I like his parents, who are friendly, casual, liberal, live-and-let-live types.

Who let their boy watch more tv, movies, and videogames than I allow. We do about an hour of screen time a day, all media combined. And I think that is enough for now. Though, I'll admit I feel the allure of the DSi for Sis and Bud, and a burgeoning struggle with them over how much is too much videogame time. It doesn't help that I don't see the attraction of videogames at all, never having been into them, having missed that boat as a tween. Mama, who has her own videogame addiction and her own DSi games, has tried to explain it to me, but it is as foreign to me as baking (or blogging) for fun would be for her.

So it comes down to this: should I manage this relationship tightly? and if so, how? They played about 4 hours together yesterday and only a little of it was inside screen time. But only because I intervened. And I'm wondering if I should have. The boy's dad was doing his own thing and didn't care about screen time (his one comment: "he plays outside when we go camping but won't go outside at home"); his mom was at work. Maybe I should've just let them watch Star Wars or play Mario Kart instead of insisting they play outside or something more active. Maybe instead of controlling the activity, I should've set a time limit. Or maybe I should've just butted out. I mean, what damage could one four-hour screen marathon have done? Maybe I should've waited to see? But I panicked in a jumble of conflicting emotions about friendships, mothering, responsibility, their growing up and leaving me behind, being the cool mom, etc etc etc.

They did finally have a really good time outside. Sis and Bud got to try his two-wheeled scooter and his skateboard while he practiced riding a bike with his dad. And then they played various yard games before coming inside to build marble runs and racetracks. All good, interactive, healthy play that is better than screen time. For now. In my mind. But I know that is judgmental and out of touch with how today's kids usually socialize. But I see and read about how too much screen time can be so detrimental to children's mental, emotional, physical health.

People, moms all, though at different stages, I spoke to yesterday basically all said it was my job to watch my kids' friendships and limit what I find unacceptable. Sure, I get that, especially about sex and drugs and late nights and keeping curfew. But does that mean I need to practice on videogames? Do they? Videogames in moderation? How do you enforce that at someone else's house without causing real, unnecessary, hurtful conflict with your own kids, the other kid, and/or that kid's parents? Isn't experiencing how other people do things an important part of growing up? What's acceptable? What's not? When can the unacceptable be a learning experience? For us all . . . .

In the end, I don't think any of it was a big deal for the kids, who spoke more about making cookies at dinner than anything else, which I have to admit made me feel so good and so guilty all at the same time. I'm glad it wasn't "how Mom ruined our holiday," even though that's how I felt; there's time for that, though. We did agree on a new family rule: if you're going to watch a movie, you have to ask Mom first.

I hope they do, too, soon. I think I need a second chance at this.

Later. When I have figured more of it out.

My Enemy, My Friend

Exercise.

I have a hate-tolerate relationship with it that has never approached anything like love.

The only B I got in junior high was in P.E. And I always failed the Presidential Fitness tests we were subjected to. But did I get a remedial class or any investigation into why I wasn't good at it? Nope. Just teasing (and bad grades), though mostly minor.

And now, decades later, exercise, I believe, has led to at least three injuries. In truth, I should admit that I probably began each exercise unprepared for it, even though I was under doctor's orders. When I took up walking in the summer of 2007 as part of my WW regimen I threw out my back a week later and only realized after I was diagnosed with a significant leg differential, that it was probably the burst of exercise that put my muscles over the edge. Then this summer, when I began swimming, my thoracic gave out within about a week. This led to the discovery of scoliosis and my two curves, one lumbar, one thoracic. I didn't put two and two together until much later because everyone said you couldn't get hurt swimming. Then, I replaced swimming with an elliptical, and while obviously other things were involved, I can't separate the beginning of my use of my elliptical with the herniation of my disc. Yep, less than a week later.

Of course, every doctor and PT I've seen says exercise is the key to back recovery because I need to strengthen my core (after diastasis, hernias, c-section). So I've been walking. Everyone tells me I can't get hurt just walking (now that I have orthotics and a lift, of course). That it might be the only thing I can do with my overly sensitive musco-skeletal system. So I have been walking since the second week of September. Long past my one-week-of-exercise-injury track record. They might be right this time.

Let's hope. Because I'm back on my elliptical a little each day--no more than 5 minutes--trying to gear up for the winter when I won't be walking outside in the snow.

And it's been about a week . . . .

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Holiday Baking 2010: The Beginning

We've started our holiday baking marathon today with KAF's Brown Sugar Cookies. They were a fun cookie to make because, once you roll the dough into a little ball, you smoosh them with a sugar-coated glass. And we opted for colored sugars; green and red today, because that's what I have, but I'm going to find some blue as well. We'll freeze them for the church bake sale, after the kids eat several. Then, a day or so before the sale, we'll defrost them, dip them in chocolate, and add yet more sprinkles (but probably only on the white sugar ones; the colored sugar ones are pretty enough). It's quite a tasty cookie, almost caramel-y because of the brown sugar. And crisp with some chew in the thicker ones. They don't "grow" much in the oven so ours are relatively small--a bit bigger than a silver dollar--and yet we still only got 45 instead of 55 cookies from the batch. We'll probably make at least 2-3 more batches for the bake sale, which would give us about 12+ dozen cookies to take. And that's just the beginning . . . .

-=-=-=-=-=-

Brown Sugar Cookies

Dough:
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Topping:
1 cup chocolate chips
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
colored jimmies, colored nonpareils, finely chopped nuts, or other sugar decorations

To make the dough: In a large bowl, beat together the butter, egg yolk, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt until well combined. Mix in the flour. Cover and chill the dough for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets (I needed three).

Break off teaspoonfuls of dough and form them into balls. Place on the prepared baking sheets and flatten to 1/4 inch thick with the bottom of a glass dipped in granulated sugar (it helps to moisten the glass the very first time. We also used colored sugar for fun, but won't top those with chocolate).

Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, until they're lightly browned. Remove them from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool.

To make the topping: In a small bowl in the microwave, or in a small saucepan set over very low heat, melt the chocolate chips and butter together, stirring until smooth. Stir in the corn syrup.

When the cookies are cool, use a flat butter knife or small icing spatula to cover half of each cookie with the topping, so you're looking at a cookie that's half iced, half bare. The make small piles of whatever garnishes you use--it's fun to mix and match--and dip the chocolate-coated side into the decorations. Nonpareils and colored jimmies are fun. Toasted, finely chopped nuts are tasty. Refrigerate the cookies in a single layer on a baking sheet until the chocolate sets, about 1 hour.

The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

We Told You So

That lesbians make good parents: study shows child abuse rate at ZERO in lesbian households.

So let us get married and/or foster or adopt!

The Secret Code

At the book fair last month, Bud chose a Star Wars ABCs book, which we have now read pretty much everyday since then.

And now we're playing it.

Because we're using the alphabet it provides as a code. To spell out things we want to say.

You can only imagine how that goes, especially since the kids are only beginning spellers.

But it's cute to hear them spell our names, which they do repeatedly, and their sight words from school, and find new combinations they like. Such as "Yoda-Obi-Ugnaught ("you"), which just sounds funny. We also noticed that we use a lot of "Millennium Falcons." This morning, I even wrote their school snack notes in code.

Star Wars fever shows no signs of abating (mine lasted, what, 6 years between SW and ROTJ? Which I suppose is short compared to some), especially with Christmas lists already in production here.

In case you want to play, too, here is the not-so-secret code (and, no, I don't know where I, V, or Z come from):

A is for Anakin.
B is for Boba Fett.
C is for C-3PO
D is for Darth Vader.
E is for Ewok.
F is for the Force.
G is for General Greivous.
H is for Han Solo.
I is for IG-88.
J is for Jedi.
K is for Kaminoans.
L is for Luke Skywalker.
M is for Millennium Falcon.
N is for N-1 fighter.
O is for Obi-Wan Kenobi.
P is for Princess Leia.
Q is for Queen Amidala.
R is for R2-D2.
S is for stormtropper.
T is for TIE fighter.
U is for Ugnaughts.
V is for Vulture droid.
W is for Wookiee.
X is for X-Wing.
Y is for Yoda.
Z is for Zam.

101 Possibilities

Check out Mark Bittman's 101 Thanksgiving recipes compendium for some great holiday ideas. Right now, I'm partial to Pumpkin Noodle Kugel (#35) and Cranberry Polenta Cakes(#27).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Art of Cooling Dinner

In magazines articles about dinner prep, there is always a lot said about timing, "from table to store" in 30 minutes or "time-saving tips" or how to get Thanksgiving on the table all a the same time.

But the most important aspect of cooking and time that I deal with is this: having enough time for the food to cool down before it's ready for them to eat!

The Fall of Fall




Upside Down You Turn Me

Sis and Bud saw a troupe of Chinese acrobats performing the most amazing tricks this weekend: body contortions, balancing acts on chairs and bicycles, spinning plates, flipping bowls on their head while pedaling unicycles, something we can only call "the yo-yo," tumbling (which is such a simple word for such amazing maneuvers!), lion dancing, among other things.

So of course that came home and wanted to do the exact same things.

Despite the fact that the performance was prefaced with an announcement "not to try this at home," a warning reiterated by Mama several times, along with "they've practiced for years."

Suffice it to say, those warnings didn't stick. The kids have been trying to replicate the easiest-looking of the tricks, only to find that it's really hard to catch a bowl on your head, even when you use your hand and not your foot to toss it there, or that you can't spin one plate on a stick much less three in each hand while flipping yourself back and forth.

They were a little more successful outside, on the rope ladder and monkey rings and the swings. Thank goodness we mulched that playset this summer! Not that I think 2 inches of bark will keep it from hurting when they fall on their heads. But that's the theory.

I did enjoy both their own acrobatic performance for us on Sunday and also watching the video of the troupe with them, particularly because I hadn't gone with them. Really amazing stuff, that, though I kept holding my breath lest they make a painful mistake and imagining how much I would hurt myself if I tried the same thing!

And I managed to teach the kids how to do a headstand, memories of my own thumping against the living room wall of my childhood home suddenly fresh in my mind. Note: couch pillows help.
But at least you can try that at home.

We Got Game

We've started a new family tradition: game night!

Except it's more like nights, in the plural, because we've played three different times in four days, since beginning the activity last Friday. But the kids loved it so much, as did Mama, and even game-averse me, that we've played a lot.

As originally organized, game night included playing games in our pajamas downstairs after dinner with special snacks to eat in the living room. Which was fun for several reasons--we usually go straight up for stories; we're rarely downstairs in our pjs at night; and we never eat in the living room. That night, we each chose a game--Zingo, dominoes, Hi-Ho Cheerio, and Bingo. The next night, Mama taught us Old Maid, played with a regular deck of cards and the Joker as the Maid. We used foil and plastic wrap boxes for the kids to hold all their cards at once and they laughed and laughed each time they got the Maid, alerting the next player. "Game face" means nothing to these kids. But that's all part of the learning process.

Which continues. Mama's on the hunt for the next generation of games, one step up from Chutes and Ladders and CandyLand, something with a bit more strategy but that doesn't involve lots of reading or math. I'm not sure how we feel about team games. She's thinking Sorry or Trouble or something new. We'll probably also expand our card game repertoire--Slap Jack, Go Fish, Battle, whatever. My knowledge of games is extremely shallow. Eventually, I imagine, game night might even involve group video games. We already did a three-way MarioCart race. But I'd need my own DSi.

I can't believe I just typed that. Things, they are a-changin'. And it's good.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Early to Rise, Early to Bed

The time change is for childfree people or parents of teenagers, those who do not have to contend with little kids who do not see the value in sleeping in an extra hour every fall.

Sis woke up at 5:45 a.m.--the new time--on Sunday, because, for her, it was 6:45 a.m.--the old time--and wake-up. And no amount of explaining could convince her it was not really morning.

The only saving grace? Bedtime last night was at 6:30 p.m. by the clock--it felt like 7:30 p.m. to them and it was dark, so there was no complaining.

Except from us, because regardless of the fact that we were awake the same number of hours, it was just all backwards.

It's one of the things I miss about my childfree days (hope you enjoyed it, Aunt Banana!). Though, that's not to say that I'm ready for them to be teenagers.

My Big Fat Greek Bean Pot

Revisiting one of my favorite cookbooks, Fresh From the Vegetarian Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson, I came across a recipe for that tomato-y white bean dish that I love so much (called fassolia, usually, I believe). And it so happens that I had purchased two bags of Greek gigante beans at the Greek Festival in the spring. I put the huge beans on to soak last night, with salt as is my new way (I've found that it's the acid not the salt that toughens beans), and boiled them til tender this morning. The smell of the garlic and onion sauteing in a ton of olive oil was perfect on this cold and windy morning. And the beans, now mixed with that and tomatoes in my slow cooker, smell fantastic! And you can eat them hot or cold . . . I just wish I had some bread and some baklava!

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Greek Big Beans

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups slow cooked beans or two 15.5 oz cans lima or butter beans, drained and rinsed (or actual Greek gigante beans. I wonder if you could use fava?)
28 oz can diced tomatoes, with juices
salt and pepper
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

Heat oil and cook onion, covered, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook another minute or so.

Transfer the onion and garlic to a 3 1/2 to 4-quart slow cooker. Add beans, tomatoes, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir. Cover and cook on LOW for 4-6 hours. Just before serving, stir in parsley.

Robin Robertson, Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker

Our American History

A timeline of history, according to Sis and Bud:

Star Wars
"little creatures"
dinosaurs
"Pequot people"
settlers
Revolutionary War
us

Surpise!

Sis woke up this morning, crying "Mommy!" something she hasn't done in a very long time.

Mama molted into her room, where Sis had been scared by a noise outside, as if the gutter was falling off.

Not quite, we realized, as we opened the window: SNOW!

Okay, not really snow, because it is above freezing and all but a very unexpected ice storm that looks like snow. (Actually, Accuweather is now calling it a mix of snow and rain).

So, they coated, mittened, hatted, and booted, rushing outside to play in the first white precipitation of "when we are 5!" The scraped together several snowballs and generally marveled at it all. And it is pretty.

Let the season begin!

Update (7:00 a.m.): It's falling as snow now! Big white chunky flakes. Against the red and yellow leaves . . . .

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Halloween Fun 2010: The Finale

The orange-and-black boxes are almost completely backed, save the ghost we haven't unhooked from its spot on our porch or the wreath on the door. Otherwise, most vestiges of Halloween are gone. Well, except the two buckets of candy into which the kids occasionally dip.

And the jack o'lanterns.

Sis's is outside, happy fodder for the local wildlife, mainly brave squirrels who have already dragged off the lid and are making a mess of the remaining pumpkin.

But Bud's is on the porch, with a few pockmarks from marauding squirrels. We had (I thought) prepared him for the inevitability of the squirrels and how it was actually a nice thing to let them graze on the squash instead of tossing it in the trash. But he was distressed by the half-eaten eyes and couldn't bear any more rodent vandalism, weepily grabbing up the pumpkin that he had lovingly and carefully designed and carved and placing it safely on the porch.

Where it still sits.

I guess we're going to have to sneak it away sometime this week. Before it rots all on its own, which will be similarly depressing.

Waiting

I'm alone in the house. The kids went with Mama to a Chinese acrobats performance. And then for ice cream. They probably won't be home for awhile yet, having lots of fun on their afternoon out. And I, at home with my "weaver's bottom" (ischial bursitis), have been having a very quiet afternoon, with two episodes of "Tudors" and a walk, plus some cleaning and reading and emailing and talking on the phone. But even though I appreciate the rest and quiet, I can't wait to hear all about the lion dancers and the soft-serve . . . and have it be just a bit noisier.


Two of My Favorite Things

I haven't done an "In the Papers" since I've gotten out of bed, mainly because I'm not in bed anymore and am not reading as much.

But, I am reminded that this is my favorite time of year for two reasons: 1). holiday dinner recipes and 2). holiday baking recipes. I'm a glutton for all of those "bookazines" with 101 new cookies or great vegetable side dishes. And I watch the papers for interesting ideas to clip. In fact, I'm already planning 1). Thanksgiving dinner; 2). Thanksgiving potluck at church; 3). Cookies for a). our church bake sale and b). my playgroup cookie swap; and 4). edible gifts for teachers, service staff (you know, postal workers, vet personnel, pediatrician's staff--I'm not sure what the rubric would be for all of them), and friends. The only thing I'm not quite occupied with yet is Christmas. That will come in a few weeks. I love it!

And I have two places I'm avidly watching, the NYTimes' Vegetarian Thanksgiving series over at the Well Blog, and Baking Banter at King Arthur Flour. If you need ideas this holiday season, head over there and be inspired . . . .

They Might be Gods

It rained two inches on Thursday. But, because it was warmer, and there was no thunder, and, even more importantly, because school let out early, I let the kids play outside in the drizzle. Our driveway is not flat and thus develops great puddles and eddies when it rains. Perfect for splashing in. Then they began to sail leaf-boats and I suggested they were giants stomping over a little world.

But they wanted to be gods. Sis was the god of the sea, Poseidon, while Bud was Athena, god of crafts and wisdom. I was Artemis, in charge of all the animals, since I helped them save a worm. We splashed around the continents and oceans and peppered the lands with leaves and dug up and redistributed mud, wreaking havoc, causing floods, but sometimes taking care of the little people. We were good gods for the most part. Well, except for the flood.

So, I mentioned Noah and Gilgamesh, telling them that most cultures have flood narratives. All they could wonder is how all the animals of the world could fit in an ark. And I didn't even mention the unicorns . . . .

Friday, November 5, 2010

"All the Children Are Above Average"*

We had our first (and, I believe, only) kindergarten parent-teacher conferences today. One for each, of course. And I think we did an pretty good job of listening to the teacher's report, asking pertinent questions, and finishing on time.

Well, except perhaps with Bud's teacher, who got us giggling about Bud's forgetfulness. Earlier this week, apparently, Bud was at the computer station with the headphones on when it was circle time. So he hopped up, got tangled in the wires of the headphones, and ended up all twisted on the floor, wires everywhere, shouting out, "I'm okay! I'm okay!" Our sweet Bud, who forgets his backpack, folder, library book, milk tickets, his head if it weren't attached.

And has three women to keep him in line. Which means he'll never learn. (And might drive Sis to distraction before he does!)

We were pleased with all reports (no cute stories about Sis, though . . . not that she's not cute, but we spent the extra time talking about strategies for working with left-handed kids), about reading, writing, and . . . yes, you guessed it, arithmetic. But also about classroom behavior and social skills with peers. Which for me is more important. I know they'll learn to read and that most academic discrepancies equal out by 2nd or 3rd grade. I want them to learn how to listen to the teacher, follow directions, be kind to others, navigate the playground and snack tables and bus happily, respect all.

But we'll still be doing all that homework!

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*That's Garrison Keillor on "Lake Wobegon," "where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average."

Happy Birthday!

Happy, happy birthday to my little sister, Aunt Banana!

With a full-time, long nightshift nursing job and a baby-on-the-way in 3 weeks, I doubt you have much downtime but hope you get a chance to celebrate YOU!

Love from all of us . . . and some virtual cookies that we'll be making in your honor!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

VOTE

Okay, so the polls are closed everywhere in CT but Bridgeport where they purchased something like 48,000 ballots less than needed. Bridgeport. A heavily Democratic city. Was a Republican in charge of placing the ballot order? (No, for the record, it was one of each. But the Republican chair did try to stop the polling extension, thereby threatening the disenfranchisement of all those Democratic voters. Of course.)

We took the kids with us to the polls on our way home from the city, explaining to them how it is our right and responsibility to vote. As our "we voted" sticker read, "I made freedom count."

The kids were intrigued, not least because we let them feed the ballot into the machine, "Did you vote for Obama? Did you vote for Obama's people?"

Of course, because we agree with what the NYTimes editorial board says here.

It's a wonderful freedom to live in a dark blue state. It's our right and responsibility to vote to keep it that way.

Someone's in the City with Mommy

We took advantage of the Election Day school holiday to take the kids into NYC today, first for my doctor's appointment and then for some fun. The doctor, who continues to be a supportive and good listener, confirmed after looking at all my x-rays and MRIs that I have trouble in my mid-thoracic because of scoliosis and the resultant bulging discs. There is almost nothing to be done about it because it is a hard spot to exercise and very dangerous to operate. So I am just supposed to keep walking to strengthen what I can. And take pain pills when it flares up. At least it was nothing new, right? Except there was something: bursitis. In my tail bone. Which is making it uncomfortable to sit those full 15-30 minutes I sometimes sit in a day when I drive the kids to school. It should get better on its own; if not, injections. I probably just sat funny, even just once. Great. I think I can safely say that I'm never going to sit again--just causes too much trouble.

The drive into town was stressful when Sis remembered that she'd forgotten Shirt at home, something we do regularly but it must have mattered more today. And she was hysterical. But eventually calmed down. Until Bud brought it up again. And he was obsessed with fire escapes--what were those ladders for? why did you need them? what happens if you can't get to the escape? And all I can picture are the Twin Towers. Soon, however, the still intriguing novelty of being in Manhattan took over and they were admiring the tall buildings and longing for a street-cart hot dog.

After my doctor's appointment, during which they played on their new Nintendo DSIs, bought specifically to distract them during the visit (that, and Mama wants them to be videogame literate, so it was on her list to do anyway), we went to the Met. Our main destination was the Kublai Khan exhibition, which didn't really interest them on the first viewing and disappointed me on this, my second (we'd seen it when we were early for my last doctor's appointment). The objects were rare and intriguing, though impenetrable, and the dense labels were not at all helpful explanations for laypeople (I'm more than a little familiar with Chinese art, Taoism, and Buddhism, and I found them impossible to comprehend. Shouldn't let curators write labels. Ever.). We did, however, really enjoy a small exhibition on Chinese birthday celebrations, including the imagery of the 7th-century (or was it 6th?) General Guo Ziyi's 80th birthday, dragon robes, and decorative arts with the symbol for longevity, cranes, and peaches. And they liked the Buddhas and Indian gods with several arms. Of course, we also visited Egypt, to see Sis's beloved "William" the blue hippo, and Arms and Armor (where she likes the Samurai helmet with the bunny). And, in American, the Versailles panorama and Frank Lloyd Wright room. But no Washington Crossing the Delaware yet. We saw Panini's Ancient Rome in the exhibition on Roman views and Bud immediately recognized that it was a painting of a museum (though an imaginary one with a hole in the roof). We spent some time in 19th-century European, particularly once Sis and Bud spotted the Van Goghs, recognizing the trees and the swirls from their study of MoMA's Starry Night. And they liked the dots of the Seurat (though not as much as the thick impasto of Van Gogh). Sis was also intrigued with Moreau's Oedipus and the Sphinx; Bud liked the story and asked me to retell it repeatedly, particularly the riddle part, which Sis actually guessed right off (though, I'm not sure at first that she knew why humans are the ones who walk on four legs in morning, two at midday, and three in the evening). Then, Sis wanted to see a Jackson Pollock and they both pondered--stared dumbfounded at--Autumn Rhythm. And in the room of Clyfford Stills (like the big red dog?), Sis said, "This is the room of paintings that don't look like something." Over and over, "why did they paint this, Mom?" We talked about how this is what artists wanted to paint after a long time of painting people and stories and landscapes. We talked about how the viewer helps decide what the paintings are about. We finally agreed that they were paintings about paint. Smarter than some of my Art Hist 101 kids, I say.

We did notice in the Temple of Dendur ("the building within a building") that the crocodile in the fountain was missing. For the rest of the visit and the drive home, we imagined where it could be, making up fantastical tales about him wandering the Met at night, befriending "William," and eventually escaping out a door left open during party clean-up (not that I'm saying that happens!). Then the crocodile wanders the city, meets dinosaurs and diorama animals out and about from AMNH, and can eventually be found all over the city and back at the Met, just in different rooms. But not in any of the ones we saw today.

So, head to the City and look for that crocodile . . . no telling where it will show up next!

It might even be worth sitting down for.

Monday, November 1, 2010

New Hobby?

I think I might take up a new hobby: sewing.

Sure, I can cross-stitch and hand quilt, under duress, and make pillows and the like on my little sewing machine, using skills form my intro to sewing in 8th grade Home Ec (Probably one of the last groups to actually take that class. And I was "Homemaker of the Year" in my grade! But like typing, it was some of the most useful stuff I took in high school.). But I can't make clothing. And I'm realizing that I'd very much like to be able to. I am so impressed by people who can sew, from my Aunt T's intricately pieced quilts and M.Q.'s three-fabric holiday pillowcases to the apron (and other pieces shown on her blog) made by Ms. Sew-and-Sow.

I want to be able to make Sis and Bud's Halloween costumes next year, regardless of what they choose. I mean, this year, I should've been able to make the Jedi and knight costumes. Just like my mom did, from my pink fairy princess dress to my pink pioneer/prairie dress, from my maroon and white pep squad outfit to my black and white clown costume. And my sister's authentic Gizmo from Gremlins costume.

And, I want to be able to make period garb, for the Renaissance festivals we go to, and particularly if I become a docent at an early American house and need a colonial costume (more on this if it happens, but it's in the works for spring).

But, those are very advanced. I better start with something easier. Any suggestions or advice? Maybe I can practice on Christmas presents for everyone . . . .

God and Jesus

"Where did you come from?" the neighbor boy asked Bud and Sis, as they ate lunch and I hovered inconspicuously, stirring something on the stove.

Oh, no. No discussions about sex and reproduction with a first grader and two kindergarteners at my house.

"Our mommy made us," came their reply. Whew. But I wasn't out of the woods yet.

"No, that's not true. My mommy didn't make me," the neighbor boy said to my kids, "God and Jesus did. They put me together with parts at church."

Okay, I think I'd rather talk about sex than God. My kids stared at him dumbfounded.

Thankfully, I know his mom and dad and their very liberal ideas on such matters (for instance, they didn't send him to CCD because they don't want him "infected" (their words) with Catholicism. And so I knew he wasn't getting this at home, but probably from the CCD kids at school), because then I said, "Well, not everyone believes that."

"Yes, they do. Because it's the truth."

"It's okay for you to believe that. And we respect your beliefs. But we believe something else."

"Well, you are the only one."

"No, we're not. We were at church this morning with a whole bunch of people who don't believe that."

And he stared at me as if I'd grown horns. Literally.

Sis kept insisting that she came from me, that plants come from seeds, that our brains and bodies evolved from monkeys, as the neighbor boy pressed his case. But my heart nearly stopped when Bud said that God had made his brain.

Now, as you know, I'm uncomfortable with God language, first because I don't actually believe in an omniscient, omnipresent, or omnipotent divinity and, second, because I am concerned about using the word "God" to refer to whatever natural, spiritual force I believe exists in the universe because it might be confused with the biblical God and all the theology that has been built up concerning him. But, I try to be open-minded and not reject out of hand my children's use of the term God, however they might understand it. But I'd be lying if I didn't have a knee-jerk reaction to Bud's statement.

I wished I had put more clearly what I do believe into words, both for the neighbor boy and for Sis and Bud, since I've read how important positive affirmations can be in faith formation. But I don't have my God-and-science-and-mythology-as-metaphors-created-by-humans-to-understand-the-world-around-us speech boiled down to the elementary school level yet. And that's not positive, exactly; it still doesn't answer how I do think the world works, which, frankly, I believe is completely beyond our scope of understanding, hence the metaphors.

Anyway, the kids went round and round and round, getting nowhere and everywhere at the same time.

But when the boy asked, "Where do toys come from?" and I said, "Santa Claus," Mama kicked me.

Let's not puncture all the myths. Especially because I like that one.

On the bright side, the boy's parents, whom I called immediately after they all headed outside to play, got a good laugh at it all. And Mama, who had just sworn off church the night before because she just doesn't enjoy weekly socializing, said she'd go back, if only to help our kids with answers to these kind of questions, no doubt the first of many.

Though, the questions are just as important, I think, as the answers.