Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy 2013!

Here's to a new year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Today With Words and Pictures

We did a few things today that I haven't done in such a long time, perhaps even five years:  I rode the train into the city and I went to see the Rockefeller Christmas Tree.

We also did something brand new:  we all saw the Radio City Christmas Spectacular!   (Well, new to the kiddos and me).

Yes, we woke up before dawn to catch the train in time for our 10 a.m. curtain, which they suggested arriving an hour early for (note to self:  no more early-morning activities in the city!).  It was a pretty ride in, with all the snow (at least until we hit Harlem, which had a dusting; no snow in Midtown).  And I got a pretty picture of the sunrise as we left.





We met Ma and Gong at Radio City Music Hall  . . . where we saw the famous camels of the living nativity!!  I'd just read in the NYTimes about how the camels are aired in midtown at odd hours and there they were.  We even all posed with them.  They're dromedaries (not Bactrians).  And they only spit defensively.




Then went inside early to explore the beautiful theater, take a photo with a Rockette, and buy programs and popcorn!   I'm trying to remember what all we've seen at RCMH.  Mama saw the Indigo Girls there, twice, the second time with me.  And I will swear I saw an early premiere or something of the movie, The Lion King there (I think there was even a little pre-show).  But what else?  Riverdance.  Lord of the Dance. I'm not sure what else.  




Our seats were first row mezzanine, Mama's favorite seats in any theater, which gave us an excellent view of the stage, the flanking pipe organ players, and all the snowflakes overhead.  



And then it began.

It's hard to be cynical with that much unbridled enthusiasm--and Santa Claus--on stage.  And the Rockettes really are amazing endurance athletes (that's 1500 kicks in 5 five shows a day for three months!  Read about it here) with incredible precision skills.  Only two of the pieces were a bit showgirl-glamorous or cookie-cutter chic for me, but I really liked the tap dancing to "Twelve Days of Christmas," the Nutcracker Teddy Bears, and, of course, the Tin Soldiers. The kids liked the 3-D and video game bits, which did update it somewhat; both Mama and I were very distracted by the imaginative geography of the cruise around NYC--no one drives north on Fifth!  And of course, we liked the living nativity--complete with our new buddies, the camels, and some real live sheep (Mama would have loved to have seen them outside, too).   And every time they did those kick lines, as cliche as they are, I was just amazed and impressed.

We met up with Goo afterwards and then headed to see the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and to take the requisite pictures (if you ever go, don't stand on the benches, people!  The guards will yell at you before you take the picture). We also made our traditional stop at the Swiss Teuscher Chocolates, where we over indulged in champagne truffles, marzipan, chocolate-covered orange peels, and other treats.  



Skipping the Lego store (for Bud), the Met store (for me), and the AG store a little ways off (for Sis), we did go to the Japanese dessert shop, Minamoto Kitchoan.  Goo helped us pick out many tasty and beautifully-wrapped treats, including candied Yuka (citron), Yuka jelly, benihanaringo (bean jelly), sakuramochi (a rice cake flavored with cherry blossom), and kusamochi (a bean-filled rice cake with mugwort-flavored mochi).  We ate them when we got home (Bud realizes he likes sushi but not Japanese desserts!  And Sis didn't notice there were beans in her favorite, the cherry blossom one--she wouldn't eat the leaf though.)  I laughed to think of a compare and contrast between the Teuschers and Minamoto--one flowery baroque and chocolate-covered and cream filled, the other embodying wabi-sabi with simple decor, packaging, and flavors.

Then we went to eat lunch at Sapporo, a Japanese ramen shop off Times Square.  Mama took me there years and years ago (also, Dosanko, but it's closed now); it's one of the family's standards.  We liked the edamame, the potato and egg salad served over lettuce with crispy taro fries and creamy dressing.  The kids inhaled their gyoza and ramen; Mama her spicy curried chicken.  

It seems short, but we called it a day then.  I'm usually good for about 6 hours, which is about what we did, plus train time.  We did make a quick stop at the New York Transit Museum shop in GCT, where we saw a mini train layout of the city.  It reminded me of our old favorite Christmastime site, the train at Citigroup Center, which is no longer displayed.

Still, the Radio City Spectacular was just that and we had a great day!

Today in Pictures









Saturday, December 29, 2012

Just Keeps Snowing

It's a veritable winter wonderland outside, with snow falling thickly and thinly but constantly nonetheless for hours and hours.  The kiddos enjoyed another nighttime romp in the yard--they really like playing in the snow in the half-lit darkness (and they've had practice--it seems that most of our snow has fallen in the evenings until today).  I'll get some more pictures in the morning, I hope, that show the fluffy accumulation on everything.  I liked the earlier pictures because they showed how big the flakes were; Mama called it "movie snow."

Let it Snow




Thursday, December 27, 2012

Bittersweet Again

Gommie and Pop are on their way home.

Kinex-icut Lagniappe

The extra 6+ hours--the lagniappe, or extra bit (think baker's dozen)--we got to spend with Gommie and Pop might have been one of the best parts of the trip (once the stress of figuring it all out passed).

Pop spent almost all of Wednesday building a Kinex rollercoaster set with Bud on our coffee table.  Slowly at first and then building speed with familiarity and experience, they constructed (with consulting help from Mama, who finished off the tracks at the end) an almost 4'-tall, double track, motor-powered rollercoaster, which they then watched fascinated for the rest of the evening (which track is faster?  why?  is it the momentum with which the car jumps on the chain?).

Meanwhile, Gommie and Sis played American Girl dolls go to college, packing bags, changing clothes, discussing school, having tea, going to class.  It was fascinating to hear Sis's rendition of college, which mainly involves moving away (a la Beloved Babysitter) but still has much the same structure as elementary school ("We're in the same class!  In room 4.")  They also made an AG iron-on apron and played a questions game on the iPad.

As a break, after a lunch of leftovers, Gommie and the kiddos watched the end of Polar Express.

And eventually it began to snow, the whole raison d'etre of the extra hours.  Though it was dark, we all bundled up and headed outside.  It's rare that Pop and Gommie have gotten snow on their Christmas visit to CT (much less winters in Houston!) and they enjoyed watching it, though not so much being out in it.  The kids excitedly took their new snowball makers which make very nice round snowballs (thanks, new Babysitter!  I have to come up with a better name for her.  Babysitter II?  Jr.?).  And the fluffy stuff was falling fast enough that they could make good snowballs.  So I had a great snowball fight with them.  When I got cold, they played in the backyard together, in the new garage lights, for another 45 minutes or so, all of us adults checking on them and the weather through the windows.

After a delivered Italian restaurant meal (I hadn't prepared for guests for dinner, nor a snowstorm), the kids played games with Gommie and Pop.  Bud and Gommie played Uno in the kitchen, while Sis and Pop played chess in the living room.  Later, Sis and Gommie painted each other's nails, and then mine.  All while resting our feet on my new foot massager!

I got pictures of it all--grainy, over-lit cellphone photos--pretty much the only pictures we took the whole week (excepting the family Christmas pictures we took at the end of that 12+-hour day!  I haven't even seen those and can't imagine they're wonderful either).  Still, in the microcosm, the photos and the hours encapsulate the fun the kiddos always have with Gommie and Pop and the joy we all get from Christmas together.  And there's nothing better than stolen hours together with loved ones.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Santa Secret

We keep wondering if this is the year that Sis and Bud will figure Santa out.  We thought so, especially after last year's repeated questioning about the logistics.  But we realized that they are still deep in belief, with Sis leaving Santa not only a very sweet thank-you note but also a questionnaire on whether he liked her cookies.    They also insisted on distributing reindeer food, as well as leaving out cookies and eggnog.

Still, Christmas morning there were tests of faith.  Sis immediately noted that Santa's gifts had one kind of paper and ours had others (something I, remembering that as one of my own litmus tests, had insisted upon with Mama, who didn't think it mattered).   Then she was quizzical when I mis-remembered who gave her what--I think I messed up the Brave-like AG doll clothes, thinking they were from us.  And then I knew about the Cadbury chocolates in her stocking, so I had to say that parents sometimes helped with stockings. But she didn't seem fazed.

If that weren't bad enough, why is it that all children's Christmas shows seem to deal with questions of Christmas faith?  Miracle on 34th Street, The Polar Express, "Yes, Virginia," "Twas the Night Before Christmas" (tv show, about the mice and the clock).  And there are others, I'm sure.  Perhaps we encourage children in their doubts with all of our protestations of belief.  I don't even like to watch anymore because I feel they beg the big question.

So, despite the curiosity and the shows (which we've kept to a minimum), we seem to have escaped again this year.  About this, I find myself quire relieved and pleased.  Such childhood joy is the miracle of the season.

And, I'll throttle the kid who tells her . . . or ban the tv . . . though I suspect it might be my own "tells" that give it away.  If I haven't already.

One Day More

No, not Les Mis, though I want to see it.

My folks are now booked on a flight tomorrow midday.

Delays

Weather causing delays in Gommie and Pop's flight (4 hours before take-off and it's already delayed at least an hour, with the flight before it delayed 2 hours already!). Trying to decide if they go for it and risk sleeping on cots at LGA or try to change flights to tomorrow and hope to get out. Being in CT and having to decide hours early to account for travel into the city complicates things . . . .

Bittersweet

Gommie and Pop return to Houston this afternoon, always the hardest part of the holidays.   But not every visit can be 6 weeks long!  And we're glad we don't NEED them to stay.  It's been a great visit.   May the next one be our going to Texas in May or so!

Christmas 2012: Christmas Gift!

"Christmas gift!" is the traditional holiday greeting in my dad's family.

And we would have all greeted each other that way if it weren't 6:45 a.m in the morning with my folks coming in the door just in time to stop the kids bounding down the stairs so we could all gather together to see the tree and gifts for the first time.

So, Gommie, Pop, Mama, Goo, the kiddos and I came downstairs to see that "the big fat man in the red suit" had indeed visited.  He loved Sis's gingersnaps, even leaving her a response to her note.  He filled the stockings and left a pile of gifts--knee-high!--under the tree.

Bud said, "Can we skip the stockings and get straight to the presents?"

Good thing we don't read the Christmas story from the Book of Luke before opening anything as we did when I was a child--that's an extra benefit of going to church on Christmas Eve!

I won't bore you with the details of our unwrapping marathon, except to say that there were lots of "oohs" and "ahs," "awesomes!," hugs, and "thank yous."  Also, lots of Legos, American Girl doll accessories, Calico Critters, Kinex, art kits, Doctor Who merchandise, and books, books, books--on the Revolutionary War, WWII women in England (Mama is very interested in Special Ops, after reading Code Name Verity), cooking, Star Wars, and the like.

We eventually came up for air, about the time that Ma and Gong arrived from the city.  We had a lavish breakfast, with orange biscuits, monkey bread, sausage, Taylor pork roll, bacon, corned beef hash, scrambled eggs, and English muffins.

As you might know, we have never had both sets of grandparents here for Christmas, usually spacing them out separately, actually rarely getting together as a group.  But this year, with the ravages of Sandy and the loss of so many of their belongings (I'm thrilled to announce that they have been able to return to their house just this week!  The biggest Christmas present of all!), we decided to have Christmas together.  It went exceedingly well and we're glad we could celebrate together.

And then we opened gifts again, this time with Ma and Gong.  Hallmark ornaments to begin to replace all the ornaments Ma and Gong lost (they lost all but one box of Christmas, saving only their beloved set of dancing snowmen from Hallmark), cake pans for me to replace my old nasty ones that Goo noticed on Thanksgiving, and new Razor scooters to replace the ones lost in the garage accident this fall.

So we went outside to scooter and to show off bike riding, now that both kids are on only two wheels.  The rest of the afternoon was a combination of playing with various toys and relatives, making and serving snacks and then dinner, conversation, and napping.  Variously, Gong, Gommie, and Pop hid in Bud's bunk bed for a  little shut-eye!  Goo never got a break, nor did Mama or Ma.

Our late dinner--who was hungry after that breakfast and then black-eyed pea dip and Texas trash?--was delicious (and so easy, having been cooked the day before).  We all liked the chicken and sausage gumbo (with file received in Mama's stocking!) and the shrimp remoulade, followed by my bread pudding with rum sauce plus treats from the city--Junior's cheesecake, a pear and almond Cabernet tart, and a slice of my favorite Junior' sDevil's Food cheesecake with a candle on top for my birthday!

The day ended with Bud playing a few Christmas carols on the piano and then Goo delighting us with the Turkish Rondo.  Bud sat mesmerized watching him play.

Then Ma, Gong and Goo headed back to the city.  Gommie and Pop lasted long enough to clean the kitchen (thanks, Pop, for all the dishwashing this week!  It is so appreciated.).  Mama and I then lounged on the couches for a couple of hours while the kids played with all their toys, getting everyone up to bed by 8 p.m.

Bud and Sis were very interested in the plush Tardis (Doctor Who's time and space traveling machine) and asked me to use it to take them to first the Pokemon universe and then the Star Wars universe.  When Bud heard the telltale sound of the Tardis departing, he yelled from another room, "Hold the Tardis!  I'm coming!"

Apropos of this, Mama and I ended the day watching the special Doctor Who Christmas episode on the BBC, which for me, at least, was the perfect ending to a great day.

Christmas gift!


Hopes

I hope all of you, my blog readers, had a merry Christmas (if you celebrate), with friends, family, food, generosity, hospitality, conviviality, and joy.  I also hope for you a wonderful 2013 filled with all of that and more, but most specifically PEACE.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas 2012: Christmas Eve

Just 24 hours later, Christmas Eve is a blur.  I know Mama and I spent most of the morning prepping the house, the gifts, and the food, while the kids did some wrapping and last-minute card-writing.  Gommie and Pop showed up mid-morning, after their own wrapping marathon, and then there was a little Christmas gift:  Pop helped Bud ride his bicycle!!!  Yep, after practicing and being discouraged, Bud figured it all out and rode back and forth on the cul-de-sac, while Mama, Gommie and I hid inside to give them privacy but meanwhile stared out through the windows to watch the progress.  Yay!!!!

We had pizza for lunch, after picking up our special deli platter for Christmas Eve, and then Goo arrived!  The kids were ecstatic and swamped him, much to the relief of the other four adults.  They immediately decorated gingerbread houses, taking lots of time to put the finishing touches on their houses.  

We had muffalettas and shrimp remoulade for Christmas Eve, plus the deli platter.  We opened the Christmas Eve traditional gifts of new books and pajamas and then headed to church services.  The service was predominantly a carol-sing, which sounded wonderful with a couple hundred congregants, the choir, the pianist, and the member orchestra!  I like singing with a big group--I'm not self-conscious about my own singing and I sound good!  There was also a short pageant and a homily, followed by treats in the social hall.

And then on the way home it started to snow!!  Light at first, like flurries, but then definitely real snow.  Merry Christmas, Pop!  You got the one thing on your list.  We stayed outside quite awhile enjoying the snow, with the kids trying to eat it and the rest of us marveling that it would be a real white Christmas.   After  sprinkling some (expensive, organic Bob's Red Mill oatmeal) "reindeer food" with green sugar on the ground, we got the kids into bed in their new red-striped reindeer (Sis) and black-and-white polar bear pajamas.  They actually fell asleep really, really fast, especially considering that earlier in the week they'd laughed at the idea that Christmas would come sooner if you feel asleep.  Apparently, they changed their minds and told Mama that maybe if they pretended to be asleep that they might actually fall asleep.  It worked.

Of course, we didn't get to go to sleep.  Goo, Mama, and I had a good time staying up chatting and went to bed early on Christmas morning, much later than we should have with little kids desperately excited about waking up to Christmas!

Best Cookies Ever


Monday, December 24, 2012

Pop's Christmas Wish

Santa delivered early:  SNOW!

Advent Activities: Gingerbread Extreme Makeover


Advent Activities: Gingerbread Surprise




Christmas 2012: Sunday

Here we go, yesterday . . .

  • Gommie, Mama, the kids, and I went to church, where we participated in a spiral "dance" reflecting the cyclical nature of time (later the kids walked a spiral and lit candles in Children's Chapel); the sermon was powerful, touching, and, to me, right on--about darkness in the light . . . and how 26 isn't the right number.  We lost 28 souls in Newtown.   And as a spiritual person, it's my path to show compassion not only for the children and teachers but also for those despised, hated, ignored last two. More on that after the holidays, when I have time to blog.
  • Then we went to brunch at Bloodroot.  Yes, two meals in a row.  But Gommie wanted to try their poached eggs on a spinach nest with Hollandaise--and she loved it!  We also had omelets, pancakes, muffins, and a delicious carrot-orange frosted walnut cake.
  • While Mama and I did yet another last-minute shopping run, both groceries and gifts, Pop (who'd enjoyed a morning by himself) and Gommie took the kids swimming.  Bud even went down the Super Slide!   And both Sis and Bud stood on Pop's shoulders (only Bud actually jumped in.)  Later, they hit the drugstore and got containers of Flarp!  And they've been "farting" ever since.
  • In the evening, the kids went to visit the babysitter down the street while we cooked.  Then we had round steak with rice and gravy, also Bloodroot burgers (which you can buy frozen) for me and Mama.
  • Gommie and Pop went off to wrap presents when the kids went to bed.  Mama and I stayed up watching Patrick Stewart in "A Christmas Carol," our favorite version.
Next up, Christmas Eve!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas 2012: The First 24 Hours

Gommie and Pop always hit the ground running, so to speak, and this trip was no different, except that they should have been exhausted from a long day of delayed flights and traffic.  But they weren't.  We went straight from the train station (where Sis and I had waited expectantly through a few trains before theirs finally arrived, much to Sis's relief and excitement--it is as disheartening not to see your people on the platform as it is heartening to see them!) to Bud's kung fu class, where Pop and Gommie got to see him perform his "slappy" form (he does a lot of arm movements and body slaps) and his team basic form (or whatever they call this).  Then we all came home and had snacks around the table ("Trash" Chex mix, peanuts, a variety of cookies), while Gommie and Pop had homemade chicken noodle soup.  Eventually we put the children to bed under the Christmas tree for their Winter Solstice celebratory camp out.

Saturday morning without kung fu for almost two weeks found us all (G & P slept in, too, but at their hotel, where they sleep more comfortably) sleeping in.  And then we watched "Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas," which songs struck me as more spiritual, even sad, this time.  "When night lays sad upon you/go watch a simple sunrise."  

Gommie and Pop showed up soon after and everyone headed outside for bike riding (Sis got to show off her new skill) and then archery (I hit the arrow through the hole in the target!  And Pop was impressed with my strong pull on the 28 lb draw).  But the cold blustery wind sent us inside soon enough for a few games and more cookies!  And then a deli lunch.

And then we watched Brave, my early Christmas present (G&P are leaving the day after Christmas so if we want to enjoy these things together, we're opening them early!  Which is why I gave Gommie the variegated red Merino wool scarf that I just finished knitting and tassling yesterday afternoon.)  It was good if not better than the first time we saw it.

Afterwards, all rested, Pop and Gommie took the kiddos swimming at the heated hotel pool and Mama and I went shopping for Christmas groceries.  On Christmas Eve, we're having shrimp remoulade and then gumbo, muffalettas, and bread pudding on Christmas day (after a corned beef hash and also orange biscuits and/or monkey bread breakfast!)  

Finally, wonderful Babysitter, being home from college, came over to watch Sis and Bud for the evening while we all went out to dinner.  They were so excited to see her (and to give her fuzzy socks, nail polish, and body "butter") that they didn't notice we'd left for Bloodroot!  We like going to Bloodroot with my folks--good food, relaxing atmosphere, great conversation with each other and with owners Selma and Noel.  MMMMmmmm, Czech cream of mushroom soup, Cambodian  kanji, three salads (tossed, arugula, and marinated tofu), oatmeal bread, black bean and butternut squash chili, three mushroom stroganoff, Solianka (cabbage and onions with tomato sauce), and Kulebiaka (a Russian cabbage and wild mushroom pie), plus cranberry kissel and chocolate pudding with coconut cream.  Mmmmmm!!

Gommie and Pop are back at their hotel and we're settling in for a long winter's nap.  Or not.  The kid will be up in less than 8 hours, I'm sure, ready for another great day with the grandparents.

Friday, December 21, 2012

They're Here!

It's officially the holidays!

The Grandparents have Landed!

Now just a cab, train, and automobile to get here.  With rush hour, I'm going to guess 7:30.  Long day for them (that's 14 1/2 hours after they left home), but we're glad they'll be here soon.

Christmas 2012: Safe Travels

Wishing my folks a safe journey from Houston to us, in this rather Apocalyptic weather.  It's blowing and raining so hard I had to bring in the Christmas decorations from the yard!

UPDATE:  The flight has already been delayed an hour.

UPDATE #2:  Now the flight is delayed two hours.

UPDATE #3:  Three hours.

UPDATE #4:  3 1/2 hours.  And they are leaving Houston when they should've arrived in NYC.  It'll be after dark before they are here.  The kids are going to be stir-crazy and my parents exhausted.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A New Blog to Read

Looking up alternate recipes for pounded cheese, which we had at Sturbridge Village--their online recipe has curry and mustard and pepper, but the pounded cheese they served taste of farmer cheese, cloves, and orange peel--I came across a new-to-me blog, Historic Cookery.  Historic foodways are my favorite part of living-history museums (I think that might be one of my dream jobs!), so I really enjoyed reading about the experiences of the blogger and professional historic foodways historian/culinarian, Carolina.  She posts about her experiences cooking and interpreting at historic houses in New Jersey.  I think we'll have to catch the Essex County Holiday Historical Houses Tour next year and see Carolina at work!  Until then, I've put her blog link in my blogroll.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Advent Activities: Fridge Art


Advent Activities: Home Stretch

We've taken brownies to school for all of the teachers and staff.  We've made ornaments out of Sculpey using cookie cutters and a pasta machine to give away as gifts.  We've packed up tins of cookies for the vet and pediatrician.  We've prepared cards and gift cards for bus drivers, postal worker, babysitters, and others.

And now there are just a few days until my folks arrive and then just a few more until Christmas.  I don't know how many more of our activities we'll do, but that doesn't really matter.  The ones we've done have kept us in the holiday spirit and helped us countdown to the big day.

Advent Activities: Last Batch


Monday, December 17, 2012

Thoughts on Newtown

"There will be many explanations but none will fully explain."

It is a different experience living so close to such a national tragedy.  Sure, I mourned the victims in Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and elsewhere, but here and now I feel like I know them.  At most I am two degrees of separation from the victims, survivors, and first responders. Friends of friends.  A friend's brother-in-law was on the scene as a firefighter; another friend's sister-in-law was one of the school psychologists working with the families at the firehouse on Friday; our teacher knew the teacher who died while hiding and protecting her students; yet another teacher texted a friend who teaches at Sandy Hook and reached her during lockdown unsure of what was unfolding.  It's not just national news here; it's local and personal and immediate.  

I went to church yesterday, looking for some time and space to sit with my thoughts and feelings.  It was the music service, with some additional readings and meditations.  And while I had perhaps looked forward to a whole, thoughtful sermon, the music was perfect, allowing me the chance to sit, hug Sis and Bud, put my arms around Mama.  Once the kids went to class, the assistant minister rose and spoke briefly, giving a uniquely Unitarian Universalist take on the Newtown shooting.  She said that there would be many explanations but none that would fully explain why Adam Lanza killed so many people at Sandy Hook.  And then she talked about the shooter, how he was so divorced and disengaged from comprehending his own worth and dignity that he couldn't begin to perceive it in others.  His only answer to the precious gift of life that he could not understand was to end it for others and then himself.  

We can't know, ever, I believe, what triggered him that day to shoot and kill people, to go to the school of all places and end young lives just at their very beginnings and those of the adults protecting them.  And for me, the specific "why" of Lanza's motives doesn't matter because it doesn't change what happened (and beyond that, I accept the fact of human suffering, in all it's incarnation, even the most incomprehensible and tragic; it's not rational, it just is).  I have compassion for him, for the isolation he must have experienced that led to his separation from his humanity.

And I have compassion for his victims:

Charlotte. Daniel. Olivia. Josephine. Ana. Dylan. Madeleine. Catherine. Chase. Jesse. James. Grace. Emilie. Jack. Noah. Caroline. Jessica. Benjamin. Avielle. Alison.  Dawn Hochsprung.  Mary Sherlach. Vicki Soto. Lauren Rousseau.  Rachel Davino.  Anne Marie Murphy.

These are the names to remember, the lost children and teachers.  

But I do believe change needs to happen.  Change in our treatment of people with mental illness (for a touching essay on this, see here).  Change in our laws controlling guns and ammunition, and I hope Obama follows up and is able to help us change our answer about protecting our children from "no" to "yes" (see here for President Obama's speech at the memorial service; here for a thought-provoking essay on widespread and public gun ownership as the antithesis of a civil and free democracy.)  Change in the sensationalist media that thrives on such news (and some believe--though NOT Morgan Freeman originally--that the media is one of the culprits by canonizing evil-doers and creating one-upmanship.)  Even change in our support (financially and morally) of teachers and schools.

I have to admit to some pessimism that we will reach a compromise on these issues, particularly when FB is full of posts quoting Mike Huckabee who believes the removal of prayer in school led to the uptick in school shootings, other posts saying we deserve it because of abortion deaths, even others saying that if there weren't laws banning carrying guns in schools those teacher would've shot back and no one but the shooter would have died. I'm waiting to see the quote that says Connecticut deserves such murders because we have same-sex marriage (Falwell said something similar about Florida and Hurricane Andrew).  Of course, the liberals have their posts (and can be just as intractable as conservatives) about gun control stating guns do kill people (as opposed to the Chinese school tragedy, where the 22 children stabbed all lived) and the importance of mental health initiatives.  Clearly we are a house divided, very much along the same geographical lines at almost 160 years ago.  

But we'll try, in memory of those named above and in honor of our children and teachers and first responders still living, so that perhaps no one will go through this again anytime soon.

Because today, right now as I type, they are burying Noah Pozner.  I don't know Noah or his family.  When I first heard about the loss of the kindergarten class, I thought, "If it were our school, our family would be gone," because our twins are in the same class.  And I hoped twins weren't killed.  Well "twins" weren't, but one twin was.  Today as Noah Pozner is buried, his six-year-old twin sister Arielle will be at his funeral.

And so I make prayer shawls and huggable monsters, sign petitions and make donations, hug my children and pray:

May the souls of the victims be at ease.
May their family members and friends be comforted.
May the survivors be comforted.May the firefighters and other first responders be comforted.
May their Newtown neighbors and community be comforted.

May their fellow Nutmeggers be comforted.
May those who have lost loved ones to gun violence be comforted.
May those who have been survivors of gun violence be comforted.
May other people who suffered loss, pain,and  illness during this holiday be comforted.
May people who suffer loss, pain, and illness be comforted.
May the people who help and care for them be comforted.

May those who struggle with the challenges of mental illness be comforted.
May those whose loved ones struggle with mental illness be comforted.
May we all be at ease and come to the end of suffering.

A Party Goes On

Last night was our cookie exchange, which Mama Teacher and I had been planning for weeks, if not since last year's aborted swap.

And then Friday.

Because the guests were all close and/or long-time friends and because we thought we might all appreciate the chance to gather in mutual grief and support, we decided to go on with the party, recognizing that some people would not feel up to coming and that it wasn't going to be a light and festive occasion.

About half the originally-RSVPing people came (but not my poor co-host, Mama Teacher, who has pink eye!) and we did share our thoughts and feelings about Newtown throughout the evening; all other threads of conversation came back to the shooting, but we did talk about other things.

And we ate, eventually just moving the entire spread to the coffee table in the living room as we cozily gathered around it to chat.  Chips and salsa.  Brie baked in crescent rolls.  Cream cheese and chutney on crackers.  Mini quiches. Texas "Trash" or Chex Mix.  And Texas Black-Eyed Pea Dip, which was the most popular dish of the night, with the recipe unanimously requested.

I include it and all the cookie recipes below.

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Texas Black-Eyed Pea Dip
1 stick butter
5 scallions, chopped
8 oz. Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded
2 cans black-eyed peas (I used Sylvia's Specially Sesasoned Black Eyes, at Shop and Stop in the "Southern" section; Trappey's is traditional but not available here), drained 
1-4 oz. can green chilies, chopped (like Old El Paso)
1 clove garlic, minced, or garlic powder to taste

Heat butter in saucepan until melted, adding all remaining ingredients.  Heat through, stirring occasionally.  Mash beans to desired consistency (I like to leave it half-chunky).  Serve immediately with corn chips.  Can be reheated in microwave if it gets too cool.


Holiday Cookie Exchange Recipes 2012

K.J.’s French Cookies

1 stick of butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup half & half
3 cups crushed graham crackers
2 cups chopped walnuts
1 bag mini chocolate chips
Hershey bars


Pre-heat oven to 350.  Cream together butter, brown sugar and half & half.  Mix in 3 cups of crushed graham crackers, chopped walnuts and mini chocolate chips.  Stir well. 
Grease mini muffin tins or use mini papers.  Fill cups with cookie mixture.  Bake for about 8 minutes.  These cookies have the tendency to stick, so use plenty of grease and don’t let them cool in pan for too long.
Frost cooled cookies with melted Hershey bars! J

K.S.'s Italian Cookies

5 tsp baking powder.   
2 stocks butter
1 c. Sugar               
5 c. Flour.               
1/2 tsp. salt
6 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 Sambocca.


Melt butter. Beat eggs  than add sugar, cooled melted butter, salt, vanilla, b. powder and Sambocca. Mix well.
After mixing add flour 1 c. @ a time. Then roll in hand into a ball1 inch in size. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten slightly with thumb . Bake @ 350 for 12 minutes bottom should be golden brown.... Not top.

ICING
2 c. Powdered sugar
1 tsp. Sambocca
Boiling water as needed

Mix to paste. Put on cooled cookies and sprinkle with colored dots Let dry completely( 1 hr) then can be packaged and frozen until ready to serve.


W.Y.'s Cinnamon Tea Cakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon , divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar , divided
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Makes:  About 3 dozen cookies.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
In small bowl, combine flour, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and salt. In large bowl, beat butter, 3/4 cup sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add flour mixture; mix only until combined. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets, placing 2 inches apart.
Bake 8-10 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown. Remove to cooling grid; cool 5 minutes. Combine remaining 3/4 cup sugar with remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Roll warm cookies in sugar mixture; cool completely.


Miss J.L.'s Peanut Clusters

12 ounce bag of peanut butter chips
12 ounce bag of semi-sweet chips
1 tsp. vanilla
1 12 ounce jar of roasted peanuts


Melt both chips in micro. Stir in vanilla and peanuts. Scoop spoon full of mixture onto wax paper. Chill.



Miss K.K.’s Peanut Butter Bars

2 sticks of butter, melted
3 c. powdered sugar
1 c. smooth peanut butter
1 sleeve of of graham crackers, crushed
12 oz. package of semi-sweet chocolate chips


Melt butter in microwave. Stir in sugar, peanut butter and graham crackers. Spread and press into 9x13 dish. Melt chocolate in microwave. Spread evenly over peanut butter mixture. Place in fridge until cool enough to score. Score slices and return to fridge to harden completely. 


Shelley's Oatmeal Scotchies

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or grated peel of 1 orange
3 cups quick or old-fashioned oats
1 2/3 cups (11oz package) butterscotch flavored morsels


Preheat oven to 375F

Combine: flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in small bowl.  Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract in a large mixer bowl. Gradually beat in flour mixture.  Stir in oats and morsels.  Drop by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake: for 7 - 8 minutes for chewy cookies and 9 - 10 minutes for crispy cookies. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.


Mama Teacher’s Soft Almond Sugar Cookies

1 1/2 C white sugar
2/3 C butter (cold)
2/3 C shortening (room temp)
2 eggs
2 tsp almond extract
2 3/4 C cake flour
1 C all purpose flour
1 Tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
sugar in the raw (I like raw sugar for this, but any coarse sugar would work)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare baking sheet.

Cream sugar, butter and shortening.  Stir in eggs and almond extract.  Combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt and add to butter/egg mixture.  Use electric mixer to ensure dough is thoroughly combined.  Chill dough in fridge for 30 minutes.

Roll 2 tsp of dough (I used a small cookie scoop) into a ball and roll in raw sugar.  Place on prepared pan.

Bake cookies for 7 minutes.  Remove from oven and gently press rounded tops of cookies flat with the back of a spoon while the cookies are still warm and pliable.  The cornstarch will keep the dough from spreading, so this step just makes them look better!

Return remaining dough to fridge in between baking each batch.

Allow to cool on pan for 1 minute.    Remove to cooling rack.  Allow to cool completely.

A tip:
~DO NOT bake longer than 8 minutes!!  They may seem under-baked, but when they cool they will firm up.


J.D.’s Russian Tea Cakes

2 sticks softened unsalted butter
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 walnuts, finely ground in food processor or blender
2 cups confectioners' sugar for coating


Heat oven to 400 degrees
Beat butter, sugar, vanilla and salt until blended
On low speed beat in flour and walnuts until blended
Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets
Bake 10 min (cookie may crack slightly)
Roll hot cookies in remaining 2 cups sugar until coated and cool on cookie rack.  Once cooled roll again in confectioners' sugar.   Enjoy!!


Mommy Hungry's Irish Cream Delights (from Penzey’s)

1/4 Cup butter, softened (1/2 stick)
1/4 Cup shortening
1 Cup sugar
1 TB. Irish cream liqueur (more if you like)*
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. CREAM OF TARTAR
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. PURE VANILLA EXTRACT
13/4 Cups flour

Frosting:

3 TB. butter, softened
2 TB. Irish cream liqueur*
3 Cups powdered sugar
3 TB. half & half

Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl combine the butter and shortening and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add the sugar, liqueur, baking soda, CREAM OF TARTAR and salt and beat until combined, scraping often. Add the egg and VANILLA and mix well. Stir in the flour. Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and bake on ungreased cookie sheets for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Frosting: Mix the butter and liqueur until combined. Gradually add the powdered sugar. Beat in the half & half until smooth. Frost the cooled cookies.

* Feel free to use whatever coffee-based liqueur you like. We mixed our own with 2 TB. strong coffee, 1 TB. cream, 1 TB. whiskey and 2 tsp. VANILLA SUGAR. You can also leave out the whiskey, if desired.

Yield: 4 dozen

Miss J.S.'s Chocolate Crinkles Recipe

4 tablespoons (56 grams) unsalted butter
8 ounces (230 grams) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated white sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Topping:
1 cup (110 grams) confectioners (powdered or icing) sugar, sifted

Chocolate Crinkles: In a heatproof bowl, placed over a saucepan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
In the bowl of your electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat the eggs and sugar until thick, pale, and fluffy (about 3 to 5 minutes). (When you slowly raise the beaters the batter will fall back into the bowl in slow ribbons.) Then beat in the vanilla extract. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and beat until incorporated.
In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture, stirring just until incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm enough to shape into balls (several hours or even overnight).
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Place the sifted confectioners sugar in a shallow bowl. First, form the chilled dough into 1 inch (2.5 cm) balls, and then roll each ball in the sugar. Make sure each ball is completely coated, with no chocolate showing through. Place the sugar-covered balls on the prepared baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches (5 cm) apart.
Bake cookies for about 8 to 10 minutes or just until the edges are slightly firm but the centers are still soft. (For moist chewy cookies do not over bake. Over baking these cookies will cause them to be dry.) Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. These cookies are best eaten the day they are baked.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.





Saturday, December 15, 2012

Advent Activity: History by Candlelight


 
On a whim, we headed up to Old Sturbridge Village this afternoon for their evening candlelight event, which we've attended several times (for instance, 2010 and 2011.)  Amazingly, we got a table for dinner in the tavern, lit by candles and fireplaces.  We munched on pounded cheese (which tasted subtly of cloves and orange peel) and crackers while waiting for lobster pot pie (Bud!), turkey dinner (Sis), clam chowder and roasted beet salad (Mama), and a cheese sampler to share as well as mushroom ravioli (me).

Then we headed into the Village to all the familiar spots.  We immediately realized that OSV would have been a great place to have watched the meteor shower--dark and with an expanse of sky.  It is dark and the kids marveled that the real 1830s would have been much darker still.  We sampled fruitcake and gingerbread and candied ginger and sugar plums (this time, candy-coated fennel--ugh!), watched cider being caramelized with a hot poker, made tinsel and cornucopiae and a mulling spice sachet, rode in the horse-drawn wagon, played with a Jacob's Ladder and whirligig, listened to singers and musicians (one on a bowed psaltery, of all things), admired the creche, and learned about the history behind traditions such as fruitcake, candy canes, the Yule log, Christmas stockings.

We had thought it would be hard to go tonight.  Mama couldn't even listen to carols earlier in the day, thinking of presents under the tree for kids who will never open them.  Those kinds of thoughts just up and smack us in the head at times.  But in the end, we welcomed the distraction and enjoyed the familiar festivity.

But we held a moment of silence before dinner and wished for all beings to be comforted.  Isn't that what this time of year--be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice--is about?  Remembering the light will return even during our darkest of days?


Something To Do

For my crafty friends looking for some small way to help and for something to do with themselves instead of watch the news, I'm posting this link to a Ravelry group that is collecting handmade "monsters" to give to the survivors of the Sandy Hook tragedy.  I've never knitted or crocheted anything that wasn't a rectangle, but I'm going to try crocheting a monster to send along.

UPDATE:  The Prayer Shawl Ministry is collecting prayer shawls.  See here for details. This I can definitely do.  

In Memoriam

We've added to our Christmas decorations.   Blue and yellow are the Sandy Hook colors.


A Difficult Conversation

We told the kids this morning, wanting to talk to them first before they heard it from others. Bud's first question: Does that mean 20 moms were waiting at home and their kids didn't come? 

Sob. 

But we hugged and reassured and said they could ask us anything and it was okay to be sad. Because, I said, all the adults in the whole country are sad this morning.

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Resources for talking to children about the shooting in Newtown, CT: