Friday, December 31, 2010

The Legend of the Christmas Turtle

You know about reindeer, elves, even that new Elf on a Shelf, but do you know about the Christmas Turtle? We didn't, until a woman at church mentioned him on Christmas Eve. See, Sis and Bud had received Woot shirts (pictured here at left; and you can still buy one, at the link!) with a turtle dressed like a Christmas tree and Bud wore his to Christmas Eve services. We thought it was just a cute picture; we didn't know it was real.

Santa's helpers come in all shapes, sizes, and species, indicative of the beautiful melange that is life on earth. But the Christmas Turtle, being a turtle, is slower than the other helpers, taking longer to perform his Christmas duties, which include delivering toys.

So, if you've ever found a gift under the tree a few days later, one you know wasn't there on the big day, you've been visited by the Christmas Turtle. The Christmas Turtle doesn't visit everyone, and not every year; it just depends.

And we were visited this year! We found a gift bag under the tree as we were taking it down, a gift of several Star Wars pjs for Sis and Bud. It was a sweet surprise, extending the holiday, giving a little extra joy during what is sometimes a post-holiday letdown. Now that I think on it, we had been visited before--and I remember several visits during my childhood--but I never knew why. I just figured Gommie or Mama had forgotten a gift.

Now I know. So I'm grateful to the Christmas Turtle for this last gift of the season--not the pjs, the magic.

Date Night

Canceled during Gommie and Pop's visit, date night happened last night because of the generosity of our young neighborhood babysitter M (the 11-year old who comes over on Tuesdays). She and her mom gave us a free night of babysitting for Christmas! I think this is one of the best presents we've ever gotten.

And so, like in days of old, before it was even called "date night" because we didn't have children and pretty much every night was date night, we went for dinner and then grocery shopping! (Usually, we would've done the bookstore, too, but we were ready to go home.) Dinner was Indian: masala dosa (this great potato-and-pea-filled crunchy rice crepe) and shaam savera (spinach/cheese dumpling in sweet-tangy tomato sauce), my beloved mango lassi, followed by chole peshwari (chickpeas and tomato in tangy sauce, a lot like chana masala, in the packages at the grocery) and paneer hare pyaza (paneer cooked in creamy tomato sauce with spring onions), plus lots of rice, chapati and poori breads (the poori reminded me of unsweet fried beignets! Boy, how I wanted powdered sugar). AND we ended with our favorite "squeaky cheese dumplings in creamy rose-pisatchio sauce." It was happy birthday, happy 2nd wedding anniversary, and happy new year all in one!

Then, surely not disposed to make unwarranted purchases, we headed to the special grocery store. "Let's get what's on our list first," I remarked, causing a man next to me to laugh. And while it's true that we always buy off-list at this store more than any other, I was more concerned that my grocery app hadn't uploaded my latest list yet. It did but the store was out of black-eyed peas!!!! A helpful clerk steered me to canned, at which I audibly balked. "See, I'm from Texas and I make my own black-eyes." He was from Alabama and understood, having mistaken me for a canned-pea-eating Yankee. But we did get some heirloom bean mixtures, a bag of farro, a few pomegranates, some funky museli, and a rose syrup, which rang up free, a nice little present.

The babysitters reported an easy and fun evening, offering to do it again in 6 weeks or so, a fantastic gift, to borrow Bud's evaluation of the evening, that keeps on giving!

My Holiday Shame

What is it about me and Christmas cards these days?

There was that regrettable post last year, which I wish I hadn't posted because it caused a maelstrom of hurt feelings and misunderstanding (find it if you must, but I won't link to it). And then I never got out my own Christmas cards.

I haven't yet this year, either. Truthfully, it's the frigging picture that holds me up (this year and last): taking one, choosing one, cropping, printing. And while I can't point fingers without pointing fingers, Mama is in charge of most of that. Though, honestly, this year, I was very slow to pen the Star Wars-inspired letter, too. And that needs technical help on top of the picture, which we haven't chosen, much less printed.

So, um, cards will maybe be out eventually. But I think next year, I'll go paperless--sure, it's green, but it's also easier. Virtue out of a necessity.

I have enjoyed the cards I've received, fewer this year. And not because of that post, because the people I didn't get cards from don't read my blog. Many of my friends report receiving fewer cards this year--is it the expense? the time? the picture? The ones we did get hung on our Advent string over the mantle for us to admire.

And envy, with guilt and shame.

Oddly enough, I am pretty good at thank-you notes, which we just stamped this morning and will sign this afternoon to send along to everyone. The kids even excitedly made them for each other.

One out of two, right?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Truth Be Told

Lest you think all is always rosy at the Hungry House, an impression I know I give because I usually don't like to tell negative stories on my blog about my kids (I will in person, though!), knowing that what happens on the internet lasts forever (and who wants to remember that?), I should confess that mere minutes after typing that idyllic post about our morning, all hell erupted: Bud tried to pull away the chair that Sis was standing on to wash her hands (and went to time out in tears) and then they had a fit about clearing the table to eat those biscuits because they weren't done playing with the dough! And, just to make the picture prettier, I was on the phone talking to a friend at what I had expected to be a quiet moment before breakfast.

Oh well, that's how holidays go too, no?

All Noisy on the Northern Front

The relative quiet on my blog belies the state of my house and family: we are rambunctious and busy over here in a post-Christmas frenzy of playing, ignoring schedule and routine, and, in general, unleashing a semester's worth of pent of energy. Everyday is pajama day.

For instance, today we hung out in bed watching Polar Express for the first time (scaring Bud--he doesn't like when people don't follow the rules and the boy in the movie does all sorts of unsanctioned things--but intriguing Sis, who already has many questions about Santa inconsistencies). Then we played Jedi training (a cross between Star Wars and How to Train Your Dragon--call it "How to Train Your Jedi") while my sourdough starter warmed up. Now there are biscuits in the oven and the kids are playing with their own small pieces of dough, getting flour all over every surface in the kitchen.

But that's what vacation is all about, right? And I'll be able to tell you more about it when they go back to school!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

They're There!

More than 10 hours after leaving us, Gommie and Pop finding landed safely in Houston. Cancelled trains, delayed flights, who knows what else, made it a long, long day. But it was a great visit! Thanks so much for helping to make it another wonderful Christmas.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Prime-Rib Princess and Other Answers

One of the gifts I received this Christmas was a dinner conversation game. You know, a series of questions to get the family talking. Of course, it could be pointed out that talk is something our family is really never short of. Perhaps we should play more of the quiet game at dinner!

Anyway, there have been some illuminating answers:
  • Sis's favorite family recipe is Standing Rib Roast. Yep, she's a beef girl.
  • Bud likes to ask Sis for advice; Sis prefers to ask her parents.
  • Bud described himself as "leader of the pack." Sis was "an A+ student."
  • Coziest spot in the house: the kids both said their beds; I said the kitchen.
  • Superhero power: Sis would fly and Bud would be invisible.
  • Place they want to visit: Texas. ("Why would we go to Rome, Mom?")
  • A proper punishment for your parents? Washing dishes all the time..
  • Least-favorite chore: cleaning up for both; washing hair and brushing teeth for Sis.
  • Favorite day of the week: Saturday and Sunday.
  • One word to describe your family: "super!"

Monday, December 27, 2010

Holiday Fun: Winding Down

We've eaten, rested, played, and baked this afternoon since our last snowball fight. While I made rosewater madeleines, Bud and Sis designed separate Dagobah scenes with blankets, blocks, animal figures, and Yoda. With the flashlights and blankets, they made great shadows. Now Bud wants "air-conditioning" to make it swampy.

We've also been debating when G&P need to head into town to get to their flight on time, with the delayed and local trains, snowbound streets and dearth of cabs, and crowds already at the airports. I'm sorry they're not flying out later in the week.

But I'm glad they got to see the snow.

So, it's going to be dinner, spray bath, and bedtime. We'll do goodbyes quickly in the morning. And holiday fun will officially be over.

Holiday Fun: The Battle for Hoth

After our warmth break indoors, with snacks and puzzles, we headed outside again. Hoth Battle: Rebels vs. Empire. Rebels won! By a landslide, literally, because they kept sliding down the walls of the fort to gather and launch snowballs. For about an hour.

Now it's lunch of leftovers--rib roast, potatoes, green beans, cheese and crackers--and my new bean soup. Yum.

But I'm sure the Battle for Hoth will resume again soon.

Holiday Fun: All Clear!

Gommie and Pop made it here just as Mama was finishing the driveway and sidewalk. And so we all poured out of the house to play with them in the snow, making angels, throwing snowballs, and, finally, making a snow fort, with Gommie and Mama doing the bulk of the shoveling as Sis, Bud, and Neighbor Boy, who joined the fun, helped. I'd say it's 4 x 8' with 2'-high walls. Perfect for the Rebel encampment on the ice planet Hoth!

When we were redder and colder than we could bear, we came inside for a snow snack: freshly-made popcorn and hot chocolate. Plus samples from the array of cookies, including pizzelles, Danish butter, and homemade sugar. Now Mama and Gommie are doing Star Wars puzzles while I put the finishing touches on a soup of Good Mother Stallard beans, my favorites. Then, I'm going to brown and cool butter to make rosewater madeleines in my new pan. Pop is reading his book on Custer, though I teased him saying he should save it for being stranded in the airport tomorrow!

Holiday Fun: Hiccup

No, not Hiccup the Dragon-Training Hero.

This would be a hiccup in our plans. Though the snow has stopped falling and the sun is out, Gommie and Pop can't come over yet. Because snow plows and drifting have left about 3' of snow at the end of our driveway and we're under street-parking bans. Until Mama clears the snow, G&P can't come. She's plowing as fast as she can (which is a challenge because the bank is taller than the whole plow! At least we have one, which we didn't our first year here).

And the kids and I are inside drawing How to Train Your Dragon tales and now playing with the HTTYD figures they found in the Christmas tree.

Holiday Fun: Whiteout

The snowfall is finally tapering, but it's hard to tell because the wind is still blowing snow everywhere. "It's a winter wonderland," Bud said, as Sis sketched the view from our back door. You can't see much: our rock wall, garden fence, rosebushes are all completely covered. Though, because of the drifting, parts of our deck, car, and roof are snow-free. I imagine that they'll say we have between 8-12" by the time it's all done; hard to say, though (and I don't care if we had 20"--after several years in snow country, I'm over needing the biggest, heaviest, deepest). The main road is unplowed, so we're not sure when we'll see Gommie and Pop (for her second blizzard, after the 1996 NYC one, and his first in the North. We did live in CO for 6 months when I was about 6 months old). And we're trying to postpone the kids' desire to go out to play until the wind dies down some. Breakfast first.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Holiday Fun: Snow Badger

We read the kids a tale on Solstice called Redwall's Winter Tale (not the feast one I mentioned previously) and it related the tale of the Snow Badger who would bring the first snow.

Well, the badger is here.

There are ice polka dots all over our windowscreens and drifts creeping up the ledges so that we can barely see outside. When we do get a view, through a half-frosted window, we see the shadows of bare limbs dancing on the smooth snow as wind races across the surface making eerie music; the snow is horizontal, except when it seems to be little balls of frozen rain. Everything is bright because everything is white; also, because all the motion-sensored house lights are on up and down our street, including our own. Talk about "gave a luster of midday."

Imagine what it will look like in 8-12 more inches!

Holiday Fun: Safe and Sound

Gommie and Pop made it back safely to the hotel for the night. And we're here having games (Star Wars Who is It?) and now dinner. The wind is howling like a banshee outside, so we're all glad to be in for the day. And relatively ready for the morrow.

Holiday Fun: R&R

There was rest time, with a movie for some and a nap for others; Mama finished her 500 piece Met puzzle. Then we went out in the blowing snow to walk around for just a bit, but mainly to gather our snow for ice cream. Which was delicious, as usual.

Now G&P are gearing up for the drive to their hotel. The weather is not awful, the snow not too deep. And this way they'll be more comfortable tonight, even if we don't know when they'll make it back tomorrow, their last full day here.

Holiday Fun: Baby, It's Cold Outside

Sure, the snow isn't even deep enough to cover the grass, but it's blowing enough to be serious. Still, the kids don't mind and proceeded to have snowball fights, shovel paths, take the inaugural snow slide on the playset (sending Bud hurtling far into the snow), even make a snow angel. It'll be more fun once there's a few inches (I'm guessing we have less than 1" now). And by then, we'll have enough snow for all of those activities, plus snow ice cream! It's only going to get better.

Holiday Fun: Suiting Up

We're heading outside . . . to play ice planet Hoth.

Holiday Fun: It's Here

The snow has started. Not flurries, real snow. Small flakes, seems dry. But it's already sticking and blowing, whitening the streets and yard and cars, because it's too cold for any of it to melt upon landing.

The snow blower works; we have food, water, lanterns. And games and toys and books. No generator, but I'm not too worried about losing power (besides, basements will keep a constant 55F, I understand, and we have coats and blankets and food that doesn't need cooking). Knock on wood. To delay cabin fever, the kids ran around outside playing "Star Wars tag," where someone is it and calls out the names of characters and, if you're name is called, you have to try to get to base without being tagged. Of course, Sis was Luke everytime, and Bud was Rex, which was easy. Until I had to catch them!

Pop is out taking a walk, enjoying his belated Christmas present. Be specific in what you ask for, I say. I think he would've been as happy with 4-6" as 15-20"!

Holiday Fun: Storm Preparedness

"Mom, what do we do in a blizzard?"

"No worries, hon, your Mama and your Pop are two of the safest people to be with. Everything is going to be fine."

So Pop gassed up the car. Mama is at the grocery now for meals for 2-3 days and then heading to the hardware store for snow blower bits. They've winterized the outside of the house, putting away the last bits of fall. I even have makings for snow ice cream and snow candy, plus all those new Christmas presents.

Sure, if we lose power we're in trouble because even our gas heat has an electric regulator-thingy, but otherwise we're good to go.

And since we're mostly ready, it'll be fun.

Or it won't come.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Holiday Fun: Day is Done

The kids are asleep; the grandparents are back at the hotel. The kitchen is "closed," since Pop did all the dishes, and the downstairs is straight as toys were tucked under the tree and the last of the garbage/recycling taken out.

In celebration, Mama and I ate a Christmas pud with brandy butter, indulging in our favorite Victorian treat. With cups of Earl Grey. We'll go to bed soon, too. Because tomorrow, with something like 12-18 inches of snow predicted over the next 36 hours, will be fun and crazy and exhausting.

And I'll tell you all about it then. But for now, thanks for a great Christmas. Good night, sleep tight.

Peace.

Holiday Fun: "Bless Us, Every One!"

Dinner was delicious, even if a bit chaotic in getting to the table. The rolls were late, serving more as dessert, but as they were the best rolls ever, according to all, it was worth the wait. The standing rib roast and homemade cream of mushroom soup were similarly outstanding. Squash and green beans, good. Bottle of red from Mama's office, a nice addition. There is no formal dessert, not yet. And we'll just see if I even make them. It would be lagniappe now. But I'm sure we'll want a nibble in a few hours. After some well-deserved relaxing on the couch (thanks to G&P for cleaning the kitchen while Mama checked the snow blower for the possible BLIZZARD!!!! And I played with the kids) while the kids continue to play Star Wars/Hoth attack.

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French Cream of Mushroom Soup

Wipe clean (do not wash) and slice 1 pound mushrooms. Fry in soup kettle in 1 stick sweet butter until mushrooms are well cooked, liquid is gone, and mushrooms are beginning to brown. Add 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed, and stir until garlic is lightly cooked. Add 1/2 cup unbleached white flour and cook, stirring until flour is well blended.

Gradually add 1 quart milk, stirring with a wooden spoon. Then add 1/3 cup dry white wine, 1 teaspoon salt, fresh ground pepper, and grated mace (or nutmeg, which is stronger) to taste. Bring to a boil and taste. Add about 1/3 cups water, 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped, and 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped.

Best of Bloodroot, Vol. 1: Vegetarian Recipes

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Soft White Dinner Rolls
my rewriting of KAF-guaranteed recipe for bread machine

2 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
7/8 - 1 1/8 cup lukewarm water (summer vs winter)
3 cups unbleached flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
1/2 cup instant mashed potato flakes

Dissolve yeast in 2 tablespoons of lukewarm water and a pinch of sugar. Let sit until bubbly, about 15 minutes.

Combine yeast with remainder of ingredients in pan of bread machine. Run on DOUGH cycle.

Lightly grease two 9" round cake pans. Gently deflate the dough and transfer to a lightly greased work surface. Divide dough into 16 pieces. Form into balls and place 8 in each cake pan, not touching.

Allow to rise at room temperature, about an hour, until doubles in bulk and sides of rolls are touching.

Preheat oven to 350F. Bake rolls for about 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove rolls from oven and let sit 2-3 minutes until transferring to a rack. Serve as soon as possible.

King Arthur Flour website

Holiday Fun: "Roast Beast"

After snacking on more cheese, membrillo, "pickle," crostini, dolmades, Greek olives, and the like, we're in the midst of dinner preparations. We'll be having "roast beast," soft dinner rolls, roasted veggies including winter squashes and sweet potatoes and Brussel sprouts, green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and whatever else. Plus cranberry upside-down cake, poached pears, and . . . oh, no, I forgot to make the strawberry jello jigglers. Ooops. Be back later . . . .

Holiday Fun: "Christmas Gift!"

Merry Christmas!

And it is here.

Bud was up at 6:15 a.m.. "I've been singing carols all night," he told me as he crawled in bed. Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Joy to the World. "Pa rum pa pum pum." And he was ready to get downstairs. "I heard bells in my head last night. Jingle bells." But he hadn't heard Santa.

Amazingly. Because Santa made lots of noise for quite awhile.

We heard a key in our front door. Gommie and Pop had arrived. Just then, Sis's little voice called from the other room, "It's Christmas!"

Yep.

They ran down to meet G&P, but the lit tree and pile of presents were hidden behind the red curtains. So we had the unveiling as they pushed through the curtains to see. Wow. So many gifts, such filled stockings.

And what chaos to unwrap it all. Fun, too, of course. Star Wars everything: figures, ships, puzzles, sheets, jammies, games, Legos, books. Also How to Train Your Dragon. And Harry Potter, for the adults. Arts and crafts, cooking (books, beans, and tools), clothes, beans, knickknacks, books, soaps, candy. There were even toys in the tree! Lavish, indulgent, delightful abundance. Given in love and generosity and pleasure. Received in the same way. A huge thank-you to Santa, Gommie and Pop, Cousin Hungry (we love all the wonderful gifts and will call later), aunts and uncles, friends.
Sis and Bud, for the first time, actively participated in the giving. Sis dug under the tree so her present would be the first Bud opened. She had consulted with Mama and chosen a Captain Rex helmet for Bud; he chose a Playmobil nativity for her. They were so excited and wrapped it up themselves. And opened them first. Giving each other hugs of gratitude amid exclamations of "awesome!" They gave us gifts too. Gommie and Pop had gotten their fleece scarves early because Texans suffer in our New England cold. The kids had chosen the patterns--red with white polka dots for Gommie, moose-cammo for Pop--and we'd tied them. Sis even made me a "thank-you" bag, with notecards written with "thank you" and pictures of singing, baking, Star Wars, for all I do. I also got a school decorated box with some chocolates in it. And they loved watching Mama open her Lego Hogwarts castle and me the hedgehog figures and Harry Potter pop-up.

The kids are playing with everything, literally. Open, play, switch. Open, play, switch. Mostly sharing, no tears yet. The adults alternately sit and watch, or prep food--monkey bread for breakfast and prime rib roast etc for lunch. The angelic voice of that little girl soprano plays in the background. The cats prowl for stray plastic and ribbons. And the Elf on the Shelf--Shaun, after the sheep, this year--after two days of moving constantly and inspiring desperate and frantic searches, has returned to the North Pole.

And best of all, the gift I desperately want but cannot give: the forecast of 2-4" of snow tonight and tomorrow.

Love and Joy Come to You

Wishing you and yours the warmth of a happy holiday shared with loved ones.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday Fun: Last-Minute Preparations

After returning from a delightful carol sing and light-viewing, we put out the cookies for Santa and tossed "reindeer food" on the lawn. Bud left out his note along with the milk. "I have been a good boy this year," it starts.

We read a few stories and the kids were ready to call it a very exciting day.

The adults made their final preparations too and will be going to bed soon. The cats are in their room now so they don't eat all the wrappings by tomorrow.

Holiday Fun: Excited!

The excitement continues: we went to church, enjoying all the stories and songs for young kiddos. Sis and Bud especially sang out loud on the carols, like the "Gloooo-oooo-ria" part and "Away in the Manger." We wolfed down leftover deli dinner and some Star Wars sugar cookies. Then opened the traditional Christmas jammies and story books. Sis was so excited by them all that, in dressing for the car ride, she got excited about having Christmas jammies and then said it would be great to have Santa undies so everything could be Christmas. And wouldn't it be even better if there were Baby Jesus undies?!!! That just might take religious fervor a step too far (and it certainly made all of us grown ups laugh later). Bud got Texas Night Before Christmas, which I read with a twang. Gommie said Texans don't sound like that, but Pop said I sounded like several that he knew. We all had a good laugh, except the kids who didn't get why it was funny.

Holiday Fun: "La Rose to Catch Meddlers"

Gommie and Pop arrived midmorning with Christmas eve presents to unwrap: checkers and a magnetic hangman game. They've played both games with both grandparents back and forth for more than an hour.

Meanwhile, I made cookie dough for making our sugar cookies for Santa later (Star Wars-shaped, of course). And now Pop and Mama have headed to get deli treats for our Christmas Eve snacking, a new family tradition that pleases all (not least of which because there is no cooking and little clean up and everyone eats something).

So we'll have lunch, some playing outside, cookie-making, maybe gingerbread house construction, who knows what. And then church later and looking at lights while singing carols and drinking nog. Mama's even made up a special playlist of our favorite carols.

Holiday Fun: Christmas Eve Morning

The children were cuddled all snug in our bed, while visions of "Olive the Other Reindeer" played on the tv, in a morning loungefest. While waiting for G&P to come this morning, they're working on some last-minute gifts.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Fun: Adults Only

We left the kiddos here with beloved Babysitter, returned home from college, with whom they were only to happy to spend the evening.

And we went out for dinner and then to their hotel to chow down on a variety of premium ice creams, having uninterrupted adult conversation. Novel and good.

Holiday Fun: Burgers and More

We had burgers, chili dogs, chips, fries, onion rings, and shakes for lunch, while watching very minor flurries outside off and on (though Pop says that can't count as snow; he might see more on Monday). Now we're home and the kids are playing cards with Gommie while Pop thinks about napping on the couch. We're inside for the afternoon--games, maybe some pretzel candymaking, basically just R&R. Because G&P haven't even been here 24 hours yet.

Holiday Fun: School's Out!!!

Gommie and Pop wrapped presents the first hour the kids were at school. For the second hour, Gommie and I went to school and helped the kids make graham cracker gingerbread houses. Frosting and candy everywhere, though surprisingly not so much in their mouths. We had fun, took pictures, and were glad to celebrate the holiday season with school friends and their teachers. And for the first time, they opted to ride home with us instead of take the bus (though we showed the candy creations to their beloved bus driver). Gommies trump all!

Lunch soon, after we retrieve the apron we left at school . . .

Holiday Fun: Good Morning!

The kids actually slept in instead of waking up thinking G&P were here, which they won't be until carpool time. So instead the kids took to shaking every present under the tree, few of which are for them but instead are for neighbors and babysitters. They have a half day today, with a gingerbread house-making activity that Gommie and I will attend; Pop will wrap all the packages that have arrived on our porch over the last few weeks. We'll all do lunch out and then play until babysitter time, because the four adults are doing dinner together and it is the RETURN of BABYSITTER, home from college. With most of their favorite people around, they couldn't be happier.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Fun: Bedtime

The kids were in bed, exhausted by 7:30; the grandparents, not far behind at 8 ish. And we'll be following soon. Gotta rest up for the big weekend.

Holiday Fun: Hit the Ground Running

We pick them up at the station.

They play for 45 minutes--two costume changes, one story, one game, some "let's go fly a kite" air time, lots of show-and-tell.

Kung fu.

Then pick up Chinese.

Eat at home.

And that's just 3 hours.

Holiday Fun: They're Here!

Gommie and Pop are here!!! And already we've had two costume changes, one story, one game, and some show-and-tell. In all of 10 minutes.

Holiday Fun: Distractions

The kids are watching Return of the Jedi to pass the long time between Gommie's call and their arrival. Pop doesn't hurry as fast as Gommie and so they made a later train. The train-ride time is long for everyone. Still, we should see them in about 45 minutes. Right after the Ewoks.

Holiday Fun: Touchdown

Gommie and Pop's plane landed 3 minutes early. Now begins the mad taxi dash from LGA to Grand Central to catch the earliest train to come north into CT. If things go perfectly, they are on the train about now and will call me in about 10 minutes when they exit the tunnel around 125th Street. Otherwise, trains leave about every 30 minutes so they'll be here with 2-3 hours hopefully. So far, the kids are containing their excitement, barely, but I'm expecting the eruption once lunch of Ponyo noodles, cornbread, and ham roll-ups is done.

Holiday Fun: The Beginning is Nigh

Yep, the official kick-off of the Christmas holiday happens today in the Hungry household: Gommie and Pop arrive from Texas this afternoon! We couldn't be more excited. Though, there is also a minor insurgency to open presents the minute they touch down. Waiting is the hardest part about it all--waiting for Gommie and Pop, waiting for school to be over, waiting for Christmas.

But the wait is almost over.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How to Be a Socialist

Eat your vegetables.

“The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta said people in America are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. They want to give all the power to the federal government to force you to eat more fruits and vegetables. … This is socialism of the highest order!” - Rep. Paul Broun, Georgia

Maybe that's why I'm a vegetarian.

See Mark Bittman for an explanation of it all.

Advent Activities: Happy Solstice!

On this the shortest day of the year, the sun is shining brightly overhead reminding us that the light comes back. To celebrate, we've got lots of plans today, from making our own candles (the rolled kind, not the melted-wax kind) to eating round and golden foods like oranges, grapefruit, and cornbread, to go with our beef stew and beanbag soup. We might even make gingerbread cake (from a box; don't have a good recipe and I like the box, but I'm making the hard sauce myself). Best of all, for the kids anyway, we've promised they can stay up "late" (and since they can't tell time, it won't have to be that late) in their jammies downstairs. I think we'll read The Great Redwall Feast and, of course, dance to "The Christians and the Bagels."

Beanbag Soup

I'm making "beanbag soup" (a title I've taken from Emilie Barnes's The Twelve Teas of Christmas) for dinner tonight and for several dinners after by combining a cup or two of several selections from my bean stash in a big container. Later, I'll cook a couple of cups of the mixture with carrots, celery, onion, carrot, maybe tomatoes, always garlic, sometimes lemon juice, a variety of herbs like bay leaf and parsley to make a wonderful winter soup. The beans are:

  • black beans
  • pinto beans
  • red kidney beans
  • brown lentils
  • "autumn" lentils, or a colorful mix of French puy, yellow dal, and red lentils
  • Corona/runner sweet white beans
  • Christmas lima beans (or any other lima)
  • pearl barley
  • Great Northern (or navy or cannellini)
  • Swedish brown beans (this is the only one I'm not sure about in a soup)
  • Vaquero beans (spotted, like Jacob's Cattle)
  • yellow or green split peas (I have to go to the store to get these, the only one I didn't have)
That's 12, my favorite number, though 4 shy of the traditional* "16 bean." Oh, twelve is a better number for Christmas anyway. (And believe it or not, that still means lots of my beans didn't make it in the mix!)

By the way, if you'd like some of my beanbag soup mix, just ask!

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Update: you'll notice from the pictures that I altered the beans a bit, only because I liked the colors and/or size--I used both yellow and green split peas and small navy instead of Great Northern. Which takes us to 13 instead of 12, which is fine because it's Mama's favorite number.

*For the record, Goya's 16 Bean soup includes: pinto, small red, pink, red kidney, Great Northern, baby lima, large lima, blackeye, small white, black, whole green peas, yellow split, green split, lentils, chickpeas, pearl barley.

Hmmm, chickpeas. I have chickpeas. I'm going to add some of those, too. 14. Oh, well, don't know whose number that is.

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Jamie’s Beanbag Soup Recipe

2 cups mixed dried beans
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste

Soak dried beans in 6 cups lightly salted water overnight OR boil beans in 6 cups water for 2 minutes and simmer on low for an hour. DO NOT DRAIN.  In olive oil, sauté onion, celery, carrots, and garlic.  Add beans with their liquid to pot with sauteed vegetables and also bay leaf.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until beans are tender, about 1 ½-2 hours. 

Optional:  To bulk up the bean soup, you can: 
                    add spinach or kale (or other greens), fresh or frozen, along with carrots, celery, and onions
                    add ¾ cup dried macaroni (or orzo) when beans are almost done
                    make the soup with ½ the beans (1 cup or so) and add a variety of vegetables like green beans, corn, and potatoes for a vegetable soup

Italian version:  Add 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning with the salt and pepper.  Later, when beans are almost done, add 1 can diced tomatoes.   

French version:  Use Herbes de Provence with salt and pepper.

Slow Cooker directions:  Place presoaked beans and soaking liquid in 6-quart slow cooker.  Sauté  onions, carrots, celery, seasonings, and garlic in olive oil.  Add these, plus bay leaf and optional vegetables except tomatoes, to slow cooker.  Cook on LOW 6-8 hours, adding tomatoes or other acids and/or pasta in last hour.

Monday, December 20, 2010

"The Christians and the Bagels"

I'm laughing just typing that title, from Bud's misunderstanding of the song "The Christians and the Pagans" by Dar Williams that occupied our afternoon dancefest.

I love that song, which I recalled because of its frequent references to Solstice, which is tomorrow. Along with a total eclipse, the first time those have occurred simultaneously in 456 years! But you'll only be able to see it from 1-5 a.m., which, because it is a school night, precludes the kids' inclusion.

Anyway, back to the song, from the middle:

The food was great, the tree plugged in, the meal had gone without a hitch,
Till Timmy turned to Amber and said, "Is it true that you're a witch?"
His mom jumped up and said, "The pies are burning," and she hit the kitchen,
And it was Jane who spoke, she said, "It's true, your cousin's not a Christian,"
"But we love trees, we love the snow, the friends we have, the world we share,
And you find magic from your God, and we find magic everywhere,"

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,
And where does magic come from? I think magic's in the learning,
'Cause now when Christians sit with Pagans only pumpkin pies are burning.
Being a non-Christian with pagan (and Buddhist) leanings, I always appreciated the description of finding magic everywhere. And, now as a parent raising non-Christian children in the UU church, I appreciate the mention of, and respect for, pagan practices. Especially as we're here getting ready for Solstice tomorrow.

That, and it has a catchy tune . . .

Advent Activities: Advantages and Disadvantages

Having been much more industrious with our Advent Activities this year, I have recognized a detriment: the daily activities ratchet up the excitement factor while seemingly prolonging the wait for Christmas. In other words, Bud's words: It. Takes. So. Long.

And so, you'll have noticed that we're skipping some days or designating activities as the one for the day in hindsight. Like this weekend, the kids were in NYC with their Mama and grandparents; the whole weekend--the tree at Rockefeller Center, the creche at St. Patrick's, the Lego Store, Fifth Avenue windows, Korean BBQ, Christmas decorating, Christmas presents, dim sum--was Christmas. No extra Advent Activity was needed.

There was a similar occurrence today. Sis brought home a library book, Crepes by Suzette by Monica Wellington, which tours Paris through the crepes cart of a young girl. We savored the book, with its Parisian population taken straight from famous works of art by Leonardo, Picasso, Matisse, Cassatt, Toulouse-Lautrec (not all currently in French collections, but I believe all painted in France), etc., and then decided to savor some crepes. Which I'd never made and they'd never eaten. I always thought it was so hard but the recipe in the back of the book (I love children's books with recipes in the back!) didn't sound too hard, kinda like a Dutch Baby you make on the stove. So we did, filling them with melted chocolate chips, some of our summer strawberry pickings, and orange marmalade for me. Not half bad, actually pretty good, especially for a first go. And not a predetermined, official-from-the-stocking Advent Activity, (and hard to relate to the season in any way except as something new and fun), but just what we needed today.

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Suzette's Crepes

2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine eggs and milk in a blender, food processor, or by hand. Add flour and mix until smooth. Add butter, sugar, and salt. It should be the consistency of heavy cream. The batter can be used immediately, but is even better chilled 1 hour or overnight (I had to add a little milk to lighten the consistency after 2 hours in the fridge).

Heat the pan and brush lightly with melted butter. Pour in a ladleful of batter (about 3 tablespoons). Quickly swirl the pan around to spread out the batter. Cook over medium-high heat until the crepe is set and the edges are lightly browned and lift up easily, about 2 minutes. Flip it, spread it with your favorite filling, and cook for about another minute. Fold in half and then half again, creating a triangle, then serve.

Monica Wellington, Crepes By Suzette

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Last-Minute Gifts?

Check here for Nicholas Kristoff's humanitarian gift ideas. While I know we'll be getting a beehive, we might also check out the books.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cookie Crazy!

We had a marvelous cookie party: a few friends, 6 dozen cookies each, several bottles of wine, lots of snacks, and party games with prizes (namely, Decipher the Canticles of the Yuletide Season)! It really was a delightful night, thanks especially to Mama Teacher who did most of the prep, set up, and clean up.

And, as per usual (last year), here are the cookie recipes:

Miss J’s Chocolate Spritz Cookies

1 ½ cups butter (3 sticks) 3 ½ cups flour
1 cup sugar chocolate chips
1 egg white chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla colored sugar/sprinkles
finely chopped nut (walnuts, hazelnuts)

Preheat oven to 375.
Beat butter until creamy. Add sugar, egg and vanilla; beat well. Add flour one cup at a time and mix well. Dough will be soft- do not refrigerate. Use in cookie press. I have a Pampered Chef one that works really well with a lot of cute designs. Bake for 10-12 minutes until firm but not brown. Cook 2 minutes then place on cookie rack. Once all the cookies are done you can start decorating!!

Melt the chocolate. Dip half the cookie in the chocolate then nuts and place on a plate. For the sprinkles cookies you can dip each one then sprinkle them.

The chocolate will harden pretty quick. This recipe makes about 6-7 dozen.
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K’s Oreo Chocolate Balls

1 pound chocolate sandwich cookies, crushed
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 pound vanilla-flavored candy coating, melted

In a large mixing bowl, combine crushed cookies and cream cheese to form a stiff dough. Roll into balls and dip with a fork in melted candy coating. Let rest on waxed paper until set.

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My MEXICAN CHOCOLATE SURPRISES

Sift together: 1 1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup cocoa
` 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
Cream: 3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
Beat in: 1 egg
Mix creamed and dry ingredients. Form into 1 or 2 rolls 2" in diameter and roll in waxed paper. Freeze and then cut into 1/4" thick slices and place on ungreased cookie sheet.Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes.
Note: I usually make a double recipe and measure 1/8 teaspoon each of the peppers.

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K’s Chocolate Gooey Butter Cookies

1 (8-ounce) brick cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (18-ounce) box moist chocolate cake mix
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Beat in the egg. Then beat in the vanilla extract. Beat in the cake mix. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours to firm up so that you can roll the batter into balls. Roll the chilled batter into tablespoon sized balls and then roll them in confectioner's sugar. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake 12 minutes. The cookies will remain soft and "gooey." Cool completely and sprinkle with more confectioners' sugar, if desired.

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Mama Teacher's Peanut Butter Blossoms

½ cup shortening 2 TBS milk
¾ cup creamy peanut butter 1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup sugar 1 ½ cups flour
1/3 cup brown sugar 1 tsp baking soda
1 egg ½ tsp salt
Hershey Kisses


Heat oven to 375. Remove wrappers from Hershey Kisses. Beat shortening and peanut butter in a large bowl until well blended. Add sugar and brown sugar, beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla – beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda, and salt. Gradually beat the dry ingredients into the peanut butter mixture. Shape dough into 1-inch balls, rolls in additional sugar, place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 – 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a Hershey kiss into the center of each cookie. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

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S’s Seven Layer Magic Bars

1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
½ cup butter or margarine, melted
1 (14 ounce) can EAGLE BRAND® Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch-flavored chips
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut
1 cup chopped nuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (325 degrees F for glass baking pan). In small bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs and butter; mix well. Press crumb mixture firmly on bottom of 13x9-inch baking pan.
Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over crumb mixture. Layer evenly with remaining ingredients; press down firmly with fork. Bake 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool. Chill if desired. Cut into bars or diamonds. Store covered at room temperature.

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two more cookies to come . . .

A Cup of Good Cheer

Getting ready for tonight's party, which includes making some drinks. Besides all the wine people will bring and wine spritzers Mama Teacher is making, plus coffee, tea, cocoa, and cider on demand, I have Hot Buttered Rum and Almond Tea Punch, which have to be prepped in advance.

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Hot Buttered Rum

Combine and keep refrigerated:
1 lb. brown sugar (about 2 1/2 cups packed)
1/4 lb. butter
pinch salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon, ground cloves, nutmeg

Add one rounded teaspoon of mixture to 1 cup hot water and 1 jigger rum.

Aunt J

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Almond Tea Punch

1 cup lemon juice
3 3/4 cup sugar
1 3/4 quart cold water or strong tea
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 cups almond extract (1 cup Amaretto may be substituted for 1 cup extract but don't use 2 cups)

Mix together above ingredients; chill.
Add 2 quarts of gingerale right before serving.

J.S., special ed teacher

We're in the Army Now!

Senate repeals "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

While joining the military was never in my career plans, I am glad to see that it can be for thousands of gays and lesbians. We must end all government-sanctioned discrimination. And this is a good step in the right direction.

Marriage is next.

Temporary Separation

The kiddos and Mama are headed into the city today to spend their Christmas with Ma and Gong (I think Goo is studying, though). And I'm staying home. Because it would just be too much right now, as much as I would enjoy it. But they'll have a good time and they've promised to buy me chocolate ("and a toy at the toy store," Bud added). Leaving was tough. "We've never been separated before," Sis said, as Luke to my Leia. And Bud had said, arising early from a nightmare, "I want to see you a lot before we go." Sniff. But they're off and I've got a list of things to do, from WW this morning (lost almost 3 lbs last week. LOVE the inspiration of the new program) to prepping for our annual (4th?) playgroup cookie swap tonight at my house. I'll settle in and enjoy the 36 hour mommy-break as a mini-Christmas vacation; it just takes awhile.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent Activities: Holiday Party


For the fourth year in a row, we have all gone to the children's holiday party at Mama's office. And, as usual, it was a delightful affair. Lots of activities for the kids, including 3-D paper gingerbread houses to decorate with stickers, foam gingerbread people ornaments, gingerbread house placemats to decorate with stickers, a gingerbread man beaded necklace, a large cardboard gingerbread playhouse to color, and best of all, our all-time favorite party activity, cookie decorating! (Yes, the theme was gingerbread, on a day that I had helped construct the bases off 80 gingerbread houses for the kindergarteners to decorate next week!) Not gingerbread but it mattered not at all to Sis or Bud who carefully painted rainbow-colored royal icing on angels, trees, stars, and snowmen, and then decorously applied sprinkles (as opposed to the so-called shotgun approach they've used in previous years, when the decorations were twice as thick as the cookie!). They had their picture taken with Santa, warily, but gladly hugged the walking snowman (but not the walking gingerbread man). And we all ate and ate and ate: dino nuggets, fried macaroni and cheese (!), hot artichoke dip, a delicious pesto/cream cheese/pine nut layered torte with amazing 7-grain fusilli bread, plus brownies, cookies, cake, and lots of fruit. We hadn't really had lunch and didn't need dinner. And like previous years, they didn't fall asleep on the winding way home, instead waving their glow-in-the-dark party-favor wands, our own glowing Rudolphs in the backseat.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's Christmas in Austin!

Happy holiday celebration to our family in Austin, as Gommie and Pop travel to celebrate with Cousin Hungry and her parents, Aunt Banana and Uncle Soccer. May your first Christmas be a sweet taste of the many wonderful ones to come. It does just get better (and more expensive!!!).

Advent Activities: SWAK

Today is our delivery date for many things. This morning, we dropped off our breakfast breads for the teachers at school, though the prospect of entering the teachers' lounge was daunting to the kids, who quickly retreated outside. I hope the teachers will enjoy them. Later today, we'll be secretly delivering our "You've Been Jingled" surprises to a few people chosen by the kiddos. I also picked up dozens of cans of vegetables and also turkey gravy and boxes of stuffing and mashed potatoes to deliver to the food pantry collection at church. And I also finished shopping for the two teenage boys (twins) in the shelter for whom we are providing gifts through church--teenage boys are tough but I had help from a neighbor who has one (and I got gift receipts). I don't know if we'll get those and the food to church today, only because I don't think anyone is there. This weekend then. Lastly, I just gave our friendly mail lady a huge box of hot chocolate packets because that's what she likes, though she couldn't carry it yet because her arms were filled with cards and parcels for the whole street. It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas and I feel like a busy elf. Or our mail lady.

Name that Person


It's Glenn Close in her new movie Albert Nobbs (see here for George Moore's story) about a woman who crossdresses to get a job as a butler in Victorian Ireland. What could be better than Glenn Close, the 19th-century, and a woman in a suit? I can't wait to see it!!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Family Values

"Family values" is a much-bandied about term but usually not by my demographic. But I've been reclaiming that term recently by trying to foreground our values in talking with the kids and in considering my own actions. Aligning action with values, however, is quite a challenge.

Values weren't something I remember talking about as a kid, not overtly, consciously, specifically. Perhaps it was the rejection of organized religion in a hotbed of Southern Baptist conservatism, but we learned our lessons more subconsciously, without commandments, golden rules, or the like. I've written about some of those lessons here.

But, with the help of church and our UU principles, I talk about family values everyday. And my favorites are the first and last ones, about the inherent worth and dignity of all people and the interconnected web of all life. As I've noted, these are really important when parenting kindergarteners--being nice to others, cleaning up after yourself, you know, Robert Fulghum's "Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" (he was a UU minister, you know). It might surprise you, but Mama talks about values at work--yeah, evil corporate America, her "Republican job"--all the time: about goals and tasks aligning with company values and how to prioritize values. It's a very philosophical consideration of why and what you believe and how what you do aligns or doesn't.

And so Mama and I have been talking about values at night together, what our family values are and how sometimes one value overrides others. In general, we value the beliefs stated in the UU principles--the worth and dignity of people, respecting the earth, the importance of searching for truth and justice and knowledge, helping to build a fair and peaceful world. But enacting those values, concretizing the words, is a daily practice. With little ones watching, what I say needs to be what I do. Or I risk teaching the wrong lesson. I've realized that many of my habits aren't actually in line with my values and so it's a process of scrutinizing old habits and learning new. For instance, as I've posted, local, seasonal etc etc etc food is important for the environment and our health, but we still eat out a lot, often at national chains (gasp, sometimes even the big Mc), none of which share our values. They're child-friendly and the food is good enough, but we're trying to reduce those visits. It's a balance between practicality and idealism. We try to remember to keep our values supple and flexible; rigidity has few benefits. Take my vegetarianism: I might not eat meat but I also won't interrogate providers of dishes at potlucks and parties. If it happens to have chicken stock or even bits of beef, I will often partake because I am a member of a community. That's the value of values; they help us live in community together and create the community we want. However, when values isolate us from community (or even more, isolate our community from society at large), I believe they do us a disservice. What service do meals at Mc provide? They allow our children to be aware and part of the dominant culture, even at its lowest denominator. But we'll let them know why we don't do that often. Again, it's like being a vegetarian. Not eating animals is a value I hold but I don't foist that on the kids, allowing them to eat what they will, while carefully explaining why I don't. They can choose later. When they negotiate their own values, hopefully informed by the ones they grew up with, not reacting against them.

That's one of the landmines of stressing values education, reacting against and judging other people's values. We try to respect other people's values, which is a hard one, especially when they deny us or conflict with ours. As a biracial, non-Christian, lesbian household we have witnessed our fair share of negative judgement. "Where did you get those chink kids?" "You can have two mommies. I'm glad my son doesn't." That doesn't even begin to touch on diatribes and invectives exchanged on the national cultural stage and not thrown directly at us. But judgement is dangerous and easy. And conflicts with our values of learning from each other and giving each person a voice. Even when they voice conflicts with mine.

Christmas is a perfect test case for values. I mean, we're a non-Christian family celebrating a specifically Christian holiday. Though we don't hold with all of the tenets of that faith in its many guises, we can embrace the values of family, children, peace, and hope that the season brings. Other examples arise: do we value being environmentally-conscious more or less than we value respecting our kids, specifically their interests in toys (made in sweatshops in Asia)? Okay, sure, phrased that way, you go with "no plastic toys." But that is a difficult reality. Especially to explain to a five-year old who is not quite ready for the overwhelming helpless feeling of slave labor and melting glacial ice. And so we notice, in practice, that our tasks, i.e. buying dragons and stormtroopers, don't always align with our values. So, while they are getting brand-name, movie tie-in, plastic toys for Christmas, they aren't getting as many as they would have, frankly, because it is easier and more fun to buy the toys (and we worry about being so strident that the values we set are wholly rejected later, like the kids who can't eat sugar at home and so gorge everywhere else. Or children who abandon the faith of their parents). But we struggle with not living our values, especially the contradiction of talking one game and playing another (and I am feeling more ashamed of myself as I write it all out; consciousness sucks). Same with the Neighbor Boy: our educational values (only one hour of approved media, the importance of outdoor and/or interactive and active play) are challenged by being friends with (and respecting the worth and dignity of) our neighbor, who only likes to play video games. Am I really going to choose ignoring a person who likes video games because of the video games? But what if my kids don't like playing with him anymore, because he's "bossy" and not so much fun? I need to respect them too, by not pushing friendships on them, especially because one of my parenting values is being child-centered or letting the child lead (with guidance). How do you negotiate a compromise here?

So values are a constant work in progress, a series of checks and balances in our family system. Even discussing why we don't always live our values helps because it allows me to explore and understand more fully what and why I believe. But we have found that when the values are right in front of us all the time, it is easier, and more important, to live them.

Which is exactly why we're talking about them with the kids.

Work in Progress

I'm working on a post entitled "Family Values," which appeared for a bit but I yanked to do some more tinkering. Though, with a title like that, I imagine I could go on forever . . . .

Mommy the Hutt


"Mom, when you lie on the couch like that, you look like Jabba the Hutt."

I'm hoping that's a positional similarity not a spatial one.

Morning Gory

Some mornings flow more smoothly than others.

And those others can be downright awful: late wake-ups, fighting over who gets to hug Mommy first, races to get to the toilet first, refusals to brush/dress/put pjs away, dawdling over breakfast, heel-dragging about snack and bag packing, complaints about going to school and not having enough time to play, purposeful slowdown on socks/shoes/coat, late departure in tears.

When it's one of the above, it's all of them, with no real discernible cause. For example, last night they slept a full 11.5 hours and even woke up relatively happily. But something happened in the first five minutes that changed the flow of the morning. I'm just not sure what that something was. Bud cried in the beginning, Sis cried by the end. Mama and I try to stay calm or at least neutral, loathe to start the day at full pitch, aware that not engaging is often the best way of engaging, attempting to model peace and respect in the morning.

And somedays that, like our morning routine, works better than others.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

This Time of Year

It occurred to me, as I looked over my Christmas card address list, that an entire address had effectively been erased. I mean the deaths this year of my aunt and uncle, to whom I'd always sent a card. Loss seems especially hard this time of year and so I remember them and others to whom I can no longer write. And I send loving thoughts to those who are trying to celebrate their first holidays, or even second or third or any, without important loved ones, from my cousins to my playgroup friend. Lastly, I send hope to the family of another friend as they struggle with uncertainty and fear. It's very dark now but the light comes back.

Teacher Gifts

Following Mama Teacher's suggestions and coming up with some of my own ideas, I have finally decided what to do about gifts for the myriad of teachers, aides, specialists (2 music, art, Spanish, PE, library), administrators, and staff who assist in the education of Sis and Bud: we're bringing a platter of breakfast breads--pumpkin, banana, strawberry, and chocolate--this week, on a day when they're all in the building, to put in the staff lounge. Because they so enrich the school experience and because the kids will have them all for years to come, I thought it was important to remember them. Also, Mama Teacher tells me they rarely get a thing. And while I'd considered some kind of homemade gift like hot chocolate packets in a mug (realizing each person would then get two, so I'd have to differentiate for Sis and Bud) or individually wrapped little loaves per teacher or a large donation to Heifer International in honor of all of them, this is what we decided on (no worries, we're donating to Heifer as a family). Additionally, next week, the kids will take tins of something (right now, it will probably be specialty chocolates from Teuscher's in the city) for their classroom teachers (I'll save the book gift cards for summer. Which seems so far off at this point). Wish us happy baking before then, we're doing all the bread tonight.

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Pumpkin Bread

Makes 2 loaves

3 cups sugar

3 ½ cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons each nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon

4 eggs

2 cups fresh or canned cooked pumpkin

1 cup oil

½ cup water plus ½ cup apricot or peach brandy (or another ½ cup water)

1 cup each chopped pecans and raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Combine sugar, flour, soda, salt, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon in large electric mixer bowl. Mix eggs pumpkin, oil, water (or brandy) and combine with dry ingredients; beat until well mixed. Fold in pecans and raisins. Bake in large greased Bundt pan until cake tests done, about 1 hours and 30-45 minutes.

Gommie Hungry
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Banana Bread

Beat:

1 ½ cups sugar

½ cup butter

½ cup shortening

Add:

2 eggs

4 tablespoons milk

Sift and add:

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

Add:

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 cups mashed bananas (appx. 6 bananas)

1 cup nuts

Grease and flour pan. Bake at 350°F for about 40 minutes. For miniature muffins, bake at 350°F for 15 minutes.

Makes 2 loaves


Gommie Hungry

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Strawberry Bread

3 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups sugar

4 eggs, well beaten

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup chopped pecans

1 ½ pints strawberries, washed and stemmed (Note: 2-10 oz. packages frozen

strawberries, thawed, may be substituted for fresh.)

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a bowl, combine flour, soda, salt, cinnamon and sugar; mix well.

In a separate bowl, mix eggs and oil; add to dry ingredients. Stir in pecans. Fold in strawberries until moistened. Pour into 2 greased 9 x 5 x 3 in. loaf pans. Bake at 350°F for 50 to 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

Gommie Hungry

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Church Cake Lady Chocolate Cake

Devils Food Cake mix

8oz sour cream

4 eggs

1/2 cup oil

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup coffee or liquor

2 tablespoons grated orange peel

1 teaspoon cinnamon

12 oz chocolate chips



Mix all that together and pour in a greased and floured pan. I usually flour it with unsweetened cocoa powder, that way the flour doesn't leave a white mess on the fininshed cake. Bake at 350 for around an hour.

If you are so inclined, when the cake comes out of the oven, pour on the following.

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup orange juice or orange liquor

1/4 cup water.

Heat this together until the sugar melts and pour in over the cake while it is still in the baking pan.

Happy baking! J.W.

Advent Activity: Snow Day

Considering the very slow start to snow season, we're treating today as our first snow day, even if the night's dusting was light and all gone by noon. On snow days, we go outside to play--snowmen, snow angels, painting in the snow (no, not yellow)--and gather snow in bowls for snow ice cream. Well, today the kids wandered around drawing pictures in the snow on the car and sliding once down the slide to clear it off, but that was pretty much it for accumulation. No ice cream today. But we will have hot chocolate and popcorn--real popcorn made in a pot on the stove instead of in the microwave, a first for them and a first for me to make (though it's how my mom made popcorn in her pressure cooker--the only thing she did with it, and not even as a pressure cooker)--when I was a kid. We'll make cut-out snowflakes, out of white and also out of wrapping paper scraps, but abandoned our plan to do coloring-page snowflakes because our printer is completely, surprisingly out of ink. No worries. There's enough to do, even on such a minor snow day.

SNOW!!

Not much, just traces, not even a school delay, but enough to don mittens, hats, and snow pants (so they could slide off the playset) first thing this morning. Breakfast was skipped, bags almost forgotten, cats left unfed in the excitement of the first dusting of the season. You can still see grass and roof tiles but it's the idea of it. "Mood snow," I've heard it called. Well, it does put me in a happy, winter wonderland, cozy kind of mood.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Birthday Bonanza: A Feast with Friends

On Saturday night, I had yet another birthday celebration, this time with friends over dinner at my favorite restaurant. Sure, it was vegetarian. Sure, it can be hard to find (and off our normal track). But several people came and we had a great time. I'd emailed them all about the quirks of the place--the unique ordering system, the bus-your-own-table m.o., even some of my favorite foods on the ever-changing menu--and so everything was smooth. We had three tables and pretty much the whole restaurant. We ate minestrone, French onion, Czech mushroom and potato, porcini and cream, and even parmesan rind soup. There were plates and plates of oatmeal bread. Plus several marinated tofu salads and house green salads. Then the entrees: Thai "chicken," solianka (a deconstructed stuffed cabbage dish), quinoa and mash with tomato gravy, I forget what else. And Chocolate Devastation cake, pumpkin bourbon ice cream with hot fudge, ditto persimmon ice cream, orange-hazelnut cake, and cranberry kissel with cream. Lots of good conversation, split between my playgroup buddies, my church friends, and my PT, most of whom have met at various parties at my house. Because I can't sit for long, I wandered among the tables able to chat with most everyone. Five "yes" RSVPs didn't show, mostly from this stomach bug which is creeping around the region. So we missed them but had a good time, chatting with the owner Selma, perusing the bookstore, sampling chocolates, reading the political posters. And there were gifts which they all kindly and generously brought--books and magazines and videos, coffees and teas, cups and mugs, cookies and candies, picture frames and candles and scarves and soaps, and different gift cards, all thoughtful things--which I didn't open (from time, space, and shyness, I think, though I'm beginning to realize, belatedly, that it's always best to open in front of people--it's more fun and meaningful for everyone) until we got home, late, after a drive along the water. And so the thank-you notes are in the mail, not even primarily for the gifts or the celebration, but for our friendships.


Birthday Bonanza: Intergalactic Birthday

Sis had told me the theme of my birthday celebrations, careful not to mention any presents. It was to be a Star Wars party, probably my second or third of that theme! But my first with kids.

I was sent out of the house after kung fu on Saturday, told to walk my full 40 minutes.

When I came back, the kids were bouncing in anticipation. There were streamers on the tree, my chair, and the stairs, hanging decorations on the windows, and a huge centerpiece on the table. There was a "Birthday Jedi Knight" button with Yoda to wear (and wear I did, all day, that night, and to church and lunch the next day!). Immediately gifts were pulled out from underneath the tree. And unwrapped almost as quickly . . . if this is any indication, the opening of presents on Christmas will last 10 minutes and the kids will open everyone's! I got a Princess Leia figure in Endor outfit with Wicket, a Han Solo, and a random rebel pilot who looked like Luke. I also got a Hoth Jedi fighter that the figures can fly in. Plus a Yoda pencil case. I also got two books, Toot and Puddle Around the World and A Bad Case of Stripes. And a lovely rainbow-colored basket made out of tightly-wound newspaper. And even though it sounds like most of those are for the kids, since I do play Star Wars with them everyday, it's nice to have my own figures (well, plus all my original ones and the Ewok Village, which I have gladly passed along).

One of those presents, I learned, has a story. When Mama and the kids were at the bookstore, Sis piped up, "Mom will like the book about the rainbow kid." Mama was floored; what was Sis talking about? Sis tried to elaborate, which sent Mama googling. Mama eventually figured out "stripes" and found the book. About a girl who loves lima beans but won't eat them for fear of being different. Sis is right; I love that book. And my girl, who has the most amazing memory . . . since I read that book to them only once more than a year ago.

To finish up the party, we played "pin the blast on the space ship" game, trying to take out the Empire with our eyes closed, while Mama got out cake and treats. Chocolate-orange flourless cake for me and Mama, vanilla cupcake for Sis, and blueberry frangipane tart for Bud (who only ate the blueberries!).

And then we went to watch . . . . How to Train Your Dragon!

Drop Off

We're in the midst of a drop-off playdate, our very first here. I have left the kids at others' houses in time of childcare need a few times (and much more rarely, vice versa), but this is the first time a child has come here for a pre-arranged, unchaperoned visit.

And it's odd.

The kids were exuberant getting off the bus and almost couldn't bare the time it took for their little school friend to get here. They cheerfully changed clothes while planning all the games they could play.

After a bit of a reluctant start as the friend settled in, the playdate is in full swing. The house is trashed--dolls out, fort built, rock band instruments abandoned, stuffed animals strewn about. But at least the frantic exuberance of those first 15 minutes is over as they jumped off furniture, couldn't settle on a game, and ran from room to room trying everything. Still, though, "what do you want to play now?" erupts every now and then. I think they've changed games a dozen times.

And the twins are gracefully taking turns as the guest plays with one and then the other based on the game at hand. First dolls, then dancing, Star Wars and then fairies, race track and then music. We had talked about being a good host and they are performing the task perfectly. So far.

Lunch is soon, my main role in the whole thing. Macaroni and cheese. Meatballs and vegetables. Fruit and cookies. Otherwise, I'm standing here at the computer, present but not visible, listening but not interacting, making sure no one (and nothing) gets hurt while they have a good time. So far, so good.

Birthday Bonanza: By Candlelight

Historic New England dominates this Texan's Christmas ideal: snow, sleigh bells, a-wassailing, gingerbread, candles in the windows of old salt boxes. Sure, it's an idyllic combination of German customs, Currier and Ives imagery, Little Women story lines, and modern sensibilities, but it's how I like to picture the holiday. And so, on Friday, we visited a place that attempts to reify the dream: Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village.

The evening started with dinner by fire and candlelight, traditional Yankee fare of roast turkey and the fixings, with cornbread in those little pones. Except Mama had prime rib and I had mushroom strudel, along with a tasty cheese plate of local artisanal offerings. There was mulled cider with rum and both heavily spiced apple and pumpkin pies. The kids were awed and subdued by what passed as fancy: dim lighting, candles, glasses glittering, cloth napkins. The wandering minstrel, first with bouzouki and then with mandolin, contributed to the 19th-century feeling.

We soon entered the village, after a stop in the shop--Sis chose a pink bonnet, Bud a straw hat--to get into the spirit. It was full dark by then and the candles showed the way to the green, where we spent 4 more hours visiting all the houses, absorbing all the period ambiance, learning new historical tidbits, and having a wonderful time.

Of course, I liked all the recipes. Each historic kitchen was at work: roasted chestnuts in one, "marchpane" in another, fruitcake and gingerbread being baked in the ovens of still other houses, all by interpreters in costume. Sis and Bud liked seeing how it was done, especially all the miniature marzipan fruits, but wouldn't partake. But Mama and I had more than one helping of the crunchy-topped, fruit-laden fruitcake delight. We did all enjoy the mulled cider--heated with a poker straight from the fire.

We made tinsel at the tinsmith's shop, twisting a strand of tin around and around and then pulling it straight to make a little icicle. We created cornucopiae for our tree out of shiny paper. We rode the horse-drawn carriage. We listened to carolers. We warmed ourselves by the bonfire while consuming Joe Frogger cookies (and blueberry muffins and chocolate chip cookies, too) and cider (and lemonade! Not everything was period). Bud loved the magician's show--"he turned balls in cups into potatoes!" Sis loved the creche.

And Santa. She had abandoned the magic show during the first trick and so I took her for a walk. We entered a building which usually has crafts only to find Santa Claus enthroned in his workshop. Usually reticent, she marched right up to him, sat on his lap, and proceeded to have a conversation about what she wants (Star Wars figures, Calico Critters) and how she likes school. He told her that he knew her teacher and knew her teacher loved her and was proud of her; she was thrilled that he knew her teacher. And he gave her a bag of candy. So she asked for one for Bud, but I said Bud would come back and she could introduce them. Then, she went right over to the letter table and penned Santa a note:"Dear Santa, Kan I have Star Wars, Calico Critters, and surprises." Proudly, she carried it right over to him and gave him a big hug. It was magical.

Later, Bud met Santa and was equally excited, talking about Star Wars and Transformers (?!) and How to Train Your Dragon. Also how he was a twin and how he picked on Sis and Sis picked on him. It was very cute. But because Bud hasn't been as timid and frightened of Santa, it wasn't quite the same.

We ended the evening by walking through all the houses, seeing real stockings hanging from mantles, admiring the small trees bedecked with American flags, wondering at sweet meats for a treat, and just exploring what it would be like to live in a world with so much less light.

On the way home, we listened to Little House in the Big Woods on CD, obviously not New England Christmas but redolent of Christmas past regardless. Sis had also gotten the paper dolls and fell asleep dreaming of recreating Laura's prairie cabin. Bud fell asleep clutching a groundhog. And they slept the whole way home, as Mama and I admired the snow which gently fell the whole way home, putting the icing on our day.

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all recipes from Old Sturbridge Village handouts:

"Marchpane," the Modern Method

1 lb almonds, blanched, peeled, and coarsely chopped
3 large egg whites, kept at room temperature
3-4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 tablespoons rosewater

Using blender/coffee grinder/mortar and pestle, grind the almonds into a fine powder. Place egg whites and salt in mixing bowl. Use the egg beater or mixer, beat egg whites and salt until they're frothy. Add the rosewater into the mixture. Sift in the first three cups of powdered sugar, one cup at a time. Knead the mixture after each addition. Add only enough of the fourth cup of powdered sugar to make mixture into a smooth dough, which should be pliable and not overly sticky. Divide dough into desired portions and wrap in plastic wrap. Enjoy at your leisure and store any uneaten portions in fridge, packed in an airtight container. If properly store, the marzipan should be good for up to eight weeks.

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Fruitcake, the Modern Method

1/2 lb raisins
1/4 cup brandy
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon mace
2 teaspoons nutmeg
1 lb currants
3/4 lb butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 eggs
2 tablespoons molasses to 1/2 cup
2 oz. citron

Soak raisins in brandy overnight. Preheat oven to 350. Sift flour before measuring. Sift flour with spices. Add currants and citron if desired. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend after each addition. Stir in molasses and any brandy not absorbed by raisins. Stir in sifted flour with spices and fruits. Grease two 5 x 9" loaf pans, three 8" round pans, or one 10" tube pan. Pour into greased pans and bake 45-60 minutes.

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Mulled Cider

1 gallon sweet cider or hard cider*
9 whole cloves
9 whole allspice
6 cinnamon chips

Simmer the above for 3 hours over low heat, skimming the top as necessary. The cider should then be cooled and set for 24 hours. Before serving, simmer for 1 hour. Heat a poker cherry red and quench it in the cider as it is simmering. Do this once more immediately before serving.

(*If hard cider is difficult to obtain, use sweet cider and add 2/3 quart applejack and 1/3 quart brandy immediately before serving as the spirit will dissipate if heated in the cider.)

Note: To serve as a Yard of Flannel, add heavy cream and rum!

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Molasses Gingerbread, Modern Method

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup molasses
1/3 cup lukewarm water
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
4 3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350. Combine flour, salt, and spices and set aside. In another bowl, cream butter until very soft. Add sugar and cream until light and fluffy. Beat egg and add to butter and sugar mixture. Add molasses. In a cup, combine water and baking soda. Stir into creamed mixture. Stir in dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Batter will be very stiff. Press batter into a greased baking sheet or jelly roll pan. Bake for 20 minutes or until a tester comes out dry.

Note: The interpreter said hers had been made without egg so that the egg version would be more cake-like (Mama called this one "chewy."). Also, she said if baked low and slow it would make gingerbread like a cookie.

Old Sturbridge Village