Tuesday, November 27, 2007

We're a Mess

Throughout this most recent bout of sickness (thank you, the kiddos are much better but I'm coughing a blue streak and therefore still not sleeping), I have relied somewhat heavily on the distracting powers of the tv to get me through the rough bits. There are our usual staples, the much beloved Dora and Diego, plus Barney in the early a.m., Thomas for DS, and Sesame Street when we happen upon it.

And then there is The Big, Comfy Couch for DD. Have you seen this show? Lunette and Molly, a clown and her dolly, explore life's little lessons in clown town where they live. There's her gypsy (definitely a stereotype, and not something the Roma would embrace, I'm sure) grandmother and "Major Bedhead," the unicycling courier, plus dust bunnies, freaky mime dolls in a house, her aunt or uncle (depending on the season), and the cat something-Fritz. It's colorful, lively, and moralistic (keep promises, try new things, etc). I'm sure you know it--she's the clown who does the stretches on the clock mat to the perky music with big huge pony tails coming out of a blue hat.

(By the way, there are actually two Lunettes--I read about it on the internet--but I think I've only seen the first one, Alyson Court--this actually becomes an obsession of mine--is that the right clown?)

Anyway, towards the end of each episode, Lunette notices a mess on the floor of all the things she's pulled out of the couch to play with. "Who made this mess?" she asks. Realizing it is hers, she does a "10 second tidy" and gets it all clean in time-lapsed video.

DD loves this part. Or, more specifically, replicating it. She's been standing around our (rather messy) playroom saying "who made this mess?" and then says, "I'll clean it up." And she does. Sometimes. Other times, she wants you to do a call and response and so I do.

"Who made this mess?" I ask.

"I did!"

"Let's clean it up."

And then we do.

Today she added something:

"But we like it like this."

Maybe that explains the state of the house!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Separate but Equal

I think I've blogged about DD's obsession with keeping her food separate, to the point of wanting new or separate plates for different foods. Well, today, DS got into the act. With a twist. He had a plate of jello, a plate of fried rice with a few sliced cucumbers on the side, and a bowl of egg drop soup (they're both sick, so anything to get food and liquids in them).

He would take a spoon of jello, scoop up some rice and place a cucumber on top. Then he'd dip the whole thing in the soup. And devour it.

Not exactly what his sister had in mind.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Wonders Never Cease

The First Wonder
I had gone yesterday to our local doc-in-the-box walk-in clinic for a raspy throat and persistent dry cough that wasn't responding to anything I was taking. Apparently, I've picked up a virus that causes bumps in the throat and lots of coughing, which is being irritated by allergies (which are not usually a problem for me). I'm contagious and I could be coughing for up to 2 weeks. Yay. So they gave me a prescription to fight the allergies, since you can't take anything for a virus.

And I promptly lost the piece of paper.

After yet another sleepless night, I returned to the clinic to get another copy of the Rx but was early and had to wait outside. While I stood there, in line with other sick people, I started kicking around the pile of leaves on the sidewalk and noticed a piece of paper face down. Wouldn't it be funny if . . . . ?

And it was!

The Second Wonder
I didn't gain any weight this week. YAY! As DP says, staying the same isn't a neutral event, it's a positive one.

The Third Wonder
There wasn't really a third one but these things always seem to come in threes.

So, I guess they do cease.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

We Did It!

For you Dora fans . . . "We made it through the prep, we cooked the bird, oh yeah we did it. We ate it all and cleaned it up, oh yeah we did it. We did it!"

All in all, the day was more "excellente" than "ayudame." The kiddos woke up very excited that it was finally "turkey time," though they looked for Goo, Gong, and Ma right away and we had to distract them. And that parade starts late when you wake up at 6 a.m.! Our guests were here before they cut the ribbon on the Upper West Side but we watched some of it together. Wow, Sesame Street! Wow, Police Officers! Wow, Marching Bands! I love the parade and have been many times (5? 4x in Times Square, 1x in actual seats my sis got at the starting line. Each time a great experience. Though, it'll be awhile before we take the kids--a little taller, fully potty-trained.)--Garfield is my favorite balloon. And Of course, DS was mesmerized and could've sat through the entire parade--the only one in the nation (except the band parents), probably, to eagerly anticipate the marching bands--but that his stomach called. DD was soon playing with everybody, not as entranced with the tv. She'd go from Goo (Uncle), to Gong (Grandpa), to Ma (Grandma) and back again. I always get teary at the end of the parade when Santa Claus appears--no one was watching by this point. DP is so sweet-- she managed to know when Santa came on and called me into the living room so I could see it live, even though we were taping. It's my favorite part.

We snacked early and often as the day progressed. Ma had brought some Thai "khanom" or sweets to share with the kiddos. DS wolfed each piece down while DD waited for her plate to fill first. There was the "green jello" called Kanom Chan, which is multi-layered squares of coconut-flavored gelatin which was DP's childhood favorite. I like Khau-Niew, which is a coconut custard over either red or sticky rice. Kuam Dow comes in either flowers, shredded strings, or little balls and is yellow sweet egg paste, which doesn't sound as good as it really is. Nung Led are like deep-fried Thai rice krispies with palm sugar drizzle. The only ones the kiddos didn't get to try were the Mekrop, which is red, tamarind-flavored deep fried crispy noodles--DP is close to finishing the whole lot of it. Later in the day, Ma made Thai iced tea with sweetened condensed milk and light cream (you can make it with coffee too). And she told how when she was younger, they spread sweetened condensed milk on toast and sprinkled it with sugar.

While DP finished various dishes, the rest of us enjoyed walking in the balmy weather, yellow leaves falling around us like snow. We visited neighbors, took pictures, petted the local inflatable turkey, and played on the playset. The only hiccup was a neighbor's dog. DD continues to be scared of dogs, including the nice, gentle one down the street, after her run in at the mall pet shop this spring (a dog jumped the glass where she was standing, scaring her). So we had to leave visiting with a little friend because she was upset.

We got home, though, and she was thrilled that it was almost lunchtime. She helped DP finish up while DS played on the deck in the sand with Gong--it was that warm! Well, "helped" is an exaggeration. She helped us set the table with paper plates from my folks and then sat asking for turkey every five minutes.

And when we asked her later, at dinner--well, lunch, I'm part of the eat early crowd (we ate at noon, on time--didn't the NYTimes publish an article this week that it was healthier to eat early? The article claims the Pilgrims did it early, after church services, but considering how long those went on, I imagine it was midday at least!)--what she was thankful for, she said, "Turkey." That was her favorite part of the whole day--turkey--I think she ate an entire breast of the 12 lb turkey herself. And gravy--DP had found an organic, gluten free gravy by Pacific which we doctored with drippings--DD loved it on everything. Meanwhile, DS was inhaling Martha Stewart's tangy and sour cranberry sauce--he tried to take it off Goo's and my plates as well as following the dish of sauce around the table with bits of turkey! The turkey was delicious--golden brown, juicy, and perfectly cooked. We even remembered to get a picture this year. DP did a great job. We did a toast in the middle, having forgotten in the beginning, with sparkling cider, which we drank out of little dinosaur dixie cups, the only clean ones we had--but it tickled the kiddos' noses--their first carbonated beverage--and they didn't finish it (actually, I think DS thought it was juice and the bubbles bit him, poor thing). But they do like toasting. It becomes a contact sport.

The menu was perfect--they could eat everything on the table--and I think we'll use it again for Christmas. I will try not to process the veggies for the dressing so small but that was about the only thing (the bread crumbs could've been bigger too--hmm, maybe use vegan cornbread). Oh, and not enough brown sugar in the sweet potatoes. And they loved dessert! DS thought Crown Jewel jello was the best ever--he kept waving cubes of jello and saying he liked that color best. Then he would change colors. He wasn't that interested in the pink jello/cool whip binding as it hid the cubes of jello. Can't wait to see what he does with fruit in jello! DD on the other hand danced around the house when she learned we were having pie. "Pumpkin Pie! For me? PIE!!!" And she ate two pieces--one of regular pie and one of pumpkin fluff pie, which she liked better (mainly because I think she likes cool whip). Later, she asked for pie for snack. And for dinner. With turkey. And gravy.

The rest of the day was spent playing (DS and Gong had a catch and hide the purple bouncing ball game going, while Ma and DD played dolls; everybody played trains) and NAPPING!!!!! Somehow, we managed to get a nap, the first nap in beds in 3 months!!!! DD napped for an hour, DS for 2.5!!!!! And I got an hour. The best early Christmas present ever. Who needs shopping?

By the way, don't get me started on shopping. I'll blog about that later. No, wait, gotta rant now: I think it is pitiful and embarrassing that on the one day off that most of the nation has that is not committed to a kind of ritualistic celebration (i.e. 4th of July picnics, egg-hunting, turkey dinner, present-opening, etc), that as a nation we express ourselves by shopping and watching football. This points to rampant consumerism and the fragmentation of the family or division between the sexes. It's gross. Yeah, yeah, I know, you can save money at Kohl's tomorrow at 4 a.m.. But what does that mean, especially when there are workers who therefore must be there before 4? I won't be spending money tomorrow. We're going to come up with some other way to "spend" the day together as a family. If we didn't have kittens, we might put up the tree or something. Maybe we'll test run salt dough or cinnamon cut out ornaments. Or bake the apple pie we didn't get to today.

So, it's almost midnight now. The cats and kids are sound asleep (or at least in their rooms) and DP is asleep here beside me. We spent the evening watching The Incredibles while I worked on my woven scarf project (more on my weaving class someday). And ate some more leftovers and khanom while reading email replies to our Thanksgiving wishes. I have a lot to be thankful for.

Thank you.

How Am I Going to Eat Turkey Tomorrow?

We've been talking turkey for weeks now. Every morning, the kiddos ask when they are going to see Goo, Gong, and Ma (DP's family)--"is it turkey time?"--not today. We've painted turkeys, glued turkeys, and colored turkeys. Sung songs. Made special trips to view the two different inflatable turkeys in the area--the one without the backpack and the one with. We received a package from my folks tonight with lots of turkey decorations and paper goods and spent the evening prepping the house with the table centerpieces as well as the stuffed turkey toys retrieved from our basement. Tonight we even read about Dora's Thanksgiving and talked about who we were thankful for. Tomorrow we'll watch the parade and the Charlie Brown special on DVD, a tradition from DP's childhood.

Turkeys, turkeys everywhere . . .

and now a bite to eat?

It all almost makes me want to be a vegetarian.

I mean, what other holiday uses its sacrificial victim as the symbol of that holiday?

Oh, except Easter.

And the Winner Is . . .

. . . Crown Jewel Jello!

Who could resist the name? Or the pretty picture on the Jello website.

There were many other contenders, including a family favorite, a relatively healthy one published in the paper recently with applesauce, and an adaptation of the one I usually serve that has cream cheese. In fact, most jello recipes submitted to me had cream cheese, sour cream, or heavy cream. My mom suggested substituting mayonnaise, but I just couldn't. And Cool Whip doesn't have the same consistency.

There was a big family drama, probably complicated by the fact that I didn't even choose the recipe that caused all the trouble. My mom took out pages from her BH&G cookbook, her edition of which is filled with gelatin salads (unlike mine), to photocopy and send to me for future occasions. And she lost them. Before copying them. She's searched everywhere to no avail. And so she began a search online, at her used bookstore, anywhere for a duplicate. But her edition is undated, probably from the early 1960s when she was married, and she doesn't know which is hers. Then she emailed all her friends and family members of approximately the same age. Luckily, my cousin S had the same book and soon scanned in the pages and sent them along. But my mom is still a little heartsick, I think, about the missing pages. I would be upset too.

So I include all the recipes I received and send along a hearty thanks to all those who helped out, especially Mom, Cousin S, Aunt T, V, and A who flagged me down at a red light to tell me about the recipe in the paper (and K who mentioned the same recipe about an hour later).

Bon Appetit!


Crown Jewel DessertRecipe (The one in my fridge right now).

1pkg. (4-serving size) JELL-O Brand Lime Flavor Gelatin
1 pkg. (4-serving size) JELL-O Brand Orange Flavor Gelatin
2 pkg. (4-serving size each) JELL-O Brand Strawberry Flavor Gelatin, divided
1 qt. (4 cups) boiling water, divided 2 cups cold water, divided
1 tub (8 oz.) COOL WHIP Whipped Topping, thawed, divided

PREPARE lime, orange and 1 package of the strawberry gelatins in 3 separate bowls as directed on packages, using 1 cup of the boiling water and 1/2 cup of the cold water for each flavor. Pour each flavor of gelatin into a separate 8-inch square pan. Refrigerate 4 hours or until firm. Cut gelatin into 1/2-inch cubes. Reserve 1-1/2 cups of each flavor of the gelatin cubes. Cover and refrigerate remaining gelatin cubes for snacking or another use.

ADD the remaining 1 cup boiling water to the remaining package of strawberry gelatin; stir 2 minutes or until completely dissolved. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup cold water. Refrigerate 45 minutes or until slightly thickened (consistency of unbeaten egg whites).

ADD half of the whipped topping and reserved gelatin cubes; stir gently until well blended. Pour into 9x5-inch pan sprayed with cooking spray. Refrigerate 4 hours or until firm. Unmold. Garnish with remaining whipped topping. Cut into 18 slices. Store leftover dessert in refrigerator.

7-Up Salad (my usual jello salad)
I don’t know when I first had this but I fell in love with the funny color and the sweetness. I added it to the holiday menu and it is now one of DP’s favorites. I made this for Thanksgiving 2002, as I always do, but put it in a beautiful Victorian jello mold DP had bought—it looked great.

1-8 oz. (large) package lime jello
2 tablespoons hot water
12 oz can 7-Up
20 oz can drained pineapple
8 oz package cream cheese
1 cup pecans

Heat can of 7-Up. Take off heat and add Jello. Add the cream cheese that has softened in hot water or let sit at room temperature for awhile (you can microwave it for 1-2 minutes to soften). Add pineapple and pecans. Refrigerate.
Note: This looks beautiful in a jello mold. Just spray it with Pam and wipe with a paper towel before filling.


2 packages (3 ounces each) strawberry gelatin
2 cups boiling water
1 can (16 ounces) whole-berry cranberry sauce
1¾ cups chunky applesauce

In a large bowl, dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Stir in cranberry sauce and applesauce. Pour into a six-cup ring mold coated with nonstick cooking spray. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Unmold onto a serving platter. Serves 12. - From Gloria Coates of Madison (CT Post)

Aunt T's "Green Stuff"

Lime Jello Salad

2 cups miniature marshmallows
1 cup milk
1 large box lime jell-o
6oz. cream cheese ( or 8 or 9oz. works)
2/3 cup Hellman's mayonnaise
2 l/2 cups undrained, crushed pineapple (a 1 lb. 4 oz. can)
1 cup heavy cream, whipped ( or use cool whip)

Melt marshmallows in milk over low heat; pour over jell-o, stirringuntil dissolved. Combine softened cream cheese and mayonnaise,mixing until well blended. Gradually add jell-o, mixing untilwell blended. Stir in pineapple. Chill until slightly thickened.Fold in whipped cream. Pour into 2 qt. mold or 9" x 13" dish.Chill until firm. Can be served right out of the dish or to make it fancy, cut a square and put it on a lettuce leaf.

V's Aunt Roslyn’s Cranberry-Jello Mold

Get one can of whole cranberries (I use the type that’s almost a solid—without much juice). If you get the type with juice—I would take two cans--drain the juice and save to use to mix with the Jello. Two small boxes or one large box of black raspberry or black cherry jello (good to also use one of each for flavor—can also use sugar-free jello).

Lay cranberries in bottom of a mold. I make the jello (heating and mixing in with water or juice from above according to directions. Cool in refrigerator a bit and stir in 2 cups of sour cream (non-fat works if you want—or it can be left out completely or substituted with cool whip for sweeter more desert-like taste). If no mixing in, just harden mold in the refrigerator—unmold and serve.

And last but not least, the recipe Mom sent:

Aunt J’s Strawberry-Cream Squares

Two 3-ounce packages strawberry jello
2 C water
Two 10-ounce packages frozen strawberries
13 ½ ounce can crushed pienapple
2 large ripe bananas, diced
1 C sour cream

Dissolve jello in boiling water. Add frozen strawberries; stir until thawed. Add pineapple and bananas.
Pour half into 8x8 dish. Chill firm. Spread sour cream on layer; pour remaining jello on top. Chill firm. Cut into squares. Top with sour cream dollops.


Lunch: 12 noon

T-6 hours: soak turkey to complete defrosting
T-4: prep turkey for oven
T-3.5: bake turkey
T-3: Parade begins (I think); hopefully, guests will have arrived; start drinking (mulled apple cider, of course).
T-2: prep dressing
T-1: bake dressing; make green beans
T-.75: bake yams
T-.5: rest turkey; make corn
T-.25: put marshmallows on yams

Lunch is served, probably buffet-style.

Somebody else cleans.
Somebody else entertains kids.

Let's hope at least that first part goes smoothly.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Give Us This Day

I can't bake bread.

Sure, I make a mean quick bread--several of them, actually, including the Amish Friendship Bread I've blogged about here (yep, still feeding the starter on my counter, if you want any!). And I can bake cakes, cookies, and a wonderful crumb crust apple pie (albeit with frozen pie crust).

But if the baking requires some actual manual dexterity--i.e. kneading or rolling (as for pie crust)--I don't know how. Apparently, my mom's mom, could bake, and I know that my mom's sister, my Aunt T, bakes, but I have never really gotten a bread baking lesson (though, I did get a wonderful noodle lesson from Aunt T. Homemade croutons are the best. And she makes a wonderful dewberry cobbler). I don't really remember my mom baking, though she says she knows how--I mean, she did teach me the cookies and cakes, but not bread.

I've tried. I followed Laurie Colwin's recipe for bread and it was too hard and chewy--overkneaded, right? I also tried Julia Child's recipe--same results. I think breadbaking is not a skill you can learn from a book or television show. You need numerous opportunities to stand with a real baker and learn as you go along--I think a lot of it is about feel. Something books and tv just don't have.

I haven't tried bread baking in awhile, mainly because of the kiddos' wheat allergy. Seems a waste of time, maybe even cruel somehow, to perfect a skill I can't share with my kids right now. About a year ago, the NYTimes published a recipe that was easy and practically no-fail. But I didn't try it then. I'm reminded of it because today they've published yet another no-fail, no-knead bread recipe. I read the article and that desire to bake my family's own bread crept up on me again. I could be a secret, midnight baker, providing loaves surreptiously for DP and myself. The holidays are coming up. Maybe it's a good time to try again.


Recipe: Simple Crusty Bread
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough
1. In a large bowl or plastic container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose. Cover, but not with an airtight lid. Let dough rise at room temperature 2 hours (or up to 5 hours).
2. Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two weeks. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough and cut off a grapefruit-size piece with serrated knife. Turn dough in hands to lightly stretch surface, creating a rounded top and a lumpy bottom. Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal; let rest 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it.
3. Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and turn oven to 450 degrees; heat stone at that temperature for 20 minutes.
4. Dust dough with flour, slash top with serrated or very sharp knife three times. Slide onto stone. Pour one cup hot water into broiler pan and shut oven quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely.
Yield: 4 loaves.
Variation: If not using stone, stretch rounded dough into oval and place in a greased, nonstick loaf pan. Let rest 40 minutes if fresh, an extra hour if refrigerated. Heat oven to 450 degrees for 5 minutes. Place pan on middle rack.

Dr. Jeff Hertzberg, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Are They Twins?

It was lunchtime today, after a small but delightful playgroup, and we were having ground turkey burgers, mixed veggies, and ketchup. They devoured the burgers and ketchup, which surprised me because we'd inhaled a whole bowl of fruit salad earlier. They even ate some of the veggies (the mixed veggies--typical corn, carrots, and peas--are hard to eat because they are so small--they actually prefer big broccoli and cauliflower because they're easier to munch).

DS finished first, as is usual, and started to play. It's been a struggle to get him to finish, meaning to announce that he is done and then wash hands. Often he hops up and runs off. But we all like them in big kiddo chairs instead of the booster seats with straps. It's more flexible when other people visit. And it's cleaner because there aren't all these straps and nooks.

DD has been finishing much more slowly. I'm not sure it's because she actually eats more slowly or more food. I think it's because she likes to sit with me. When DS runs off in the playroom, I often sit with DD in the kitchen. At the least, I'll clean up and go back and forth. But it is quality singleton time. And so she has gotten slower and slower at eating.

Today, seeing a long pause in her picking at the carrots, I asked if she were done. Yes, she was, and wanted to wash hands.

Then I made the mistake.

"Okay, now it's time for rest time."

"Don't wash my hands, Mommy, I'm not done." Nope, needed to eat every last small veggie on her plate. DS, sensing things going on longer than usual, kept coming back in to check. She even fed him some of the peas, like you'd feed a puppy dog from the table (one of these days I'll get to blog about DP's theory that DS is a puppy and DD is a cat).

But DS was looking so tired that I decided to take him upstairs to start rest time, hoping he'd get a nap, which has not happened in the three months they've been "resting" together. He wasn't thrilled about that, asking where sis was as we climbed the stairs.

I was surprised to hear from downstairs, "I'm done, Mommy, I'm done. Come wash my hands."

Then, "Brother, I'm coming!"

I guess they really are twins.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Holiday WW Recipes

So, I've been having some struggles on WW recently but I'm still going and committed to it. I liked Saturday's meeting because instead of focusing on exercise or portions, we talked food. I was shocked to add up the points (for those of you who don't know WW, each food has a points value. You get so many points a day--for instance, right now, I get 27. There's another plan, too--Core--it's a lot like South Beach). Even with the healthier, kiddo-friendly menu, the meal adds up to 3/4 of my daily allowance easily. Good thing it's the only meal we eat that day!

I came away with some new recipes and lower calorie versions of favorites. I think we're adapting the stuffing recipe for the kiddos (i.e. GF bread crumbs and/or a box of wild rice) and maybe the pumpkin fluff (get this, by loading it with fat and real sugar to avoid the fake stuff). Otherwise, our menu is much as I listed a few posts ago--heavy on the veggies, light on anything starchy. With only the sweet potatoes exactly the same.

Happy Turkey Day!


Bavarian Cream--3 pts (you know, I hope I copied this down right)

Whip 3 egg whites. Fold into prepared pudding. Mix as trifle with 24 ladyfingers and 3 1/2 cups berries. Try these combos: vanilla pudding with orange sections; white chocolate pudding with raspberries; chocolate pudding with strawberries.

Pumpkin Fluff--2 pts

8 oz ff cool whip
1 pkg butterscotch or cheesecake pudding
15 1/2 oz pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice


Banana Split Cake--4 pts

Vanilla pudding
ff graham cracker crust
1 sliced banana
1 cup strawberries
1/2 cup pineapple, crushed I think
1 container ff cool whip

Make vanilla pudding with 1 1/2 cup milk. Pour into graham cracker crust. Layer banana, strawberries, and pineapple. Spread with cool whip. Refrigerate. 4 servings.

Debbie's Dressing--2 pts

2 packages mushrooms
1 big onion
1 whole package celery
low sodium chicken stock
appx 2 cups stuffing (1/2 Pepperidge Farm bag)

Saute veggies in chicken stock. Add stuffing. Bake. Serving is 1 cup.

Other interesting tidbits:

You can substitute ff evaporated milk for heavy cream; 1 egg and 3 whites for 3 eggs; 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa for 1 oz baking chocolate.

Try making mashed potatoes with a mix of potatoes and cauliflower, mixed with skim milk and sour cream.

Green bean casserole made with all ff ingredients has 3 pts a serving.

A Bertucci's roll has 9 points!!!!

And totally unrelated to Thanksgiving, a crockpot recipe:

Cheesy Chicken Crockpot--5 pts

2 lbs boneless skinless breasts
2 cans ff cream of mushroom soup
1 can cheddar cheese soup
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Combine and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I Love Potlucks

I love potlucks. Even the word is cheerful. Seems to recall to mind leprechauns and rainbows and something special in a pot. Or is that just me?

Handy Wikipedia tells me that the word "potluck" does not derive from the Native American potlatch but appeared in print as early as 1592 in England and meant serving whatever you find to guests (I abbreviate the article.) That doesn't sound so lucky.

I'm not sure when I first went to a potluck. We didn't go to church when I was growing up so I have no fond memories of church suppers. We had family gatherings, usually around 4th of July and at Christmas, and everyone took something but no one called it a potluck. I think I first remember a true potluck when DP was invited to one when we were living in separate states. She told me then, and I remember it everytime we go now, that lesbians are into potlucks. Something about the equality of it all. So, she called me to ask what in the world she could take. I suggested a Toll House Pie. Easy. Cheap. Chocoloate. Over a series of days and phone calls, I got her the recipe and the list of ingredients--we were in love so why email when you could talk on the phone? We could pay off our mortgage with what we spent on phone calls then!--and talked to her while it baked. And then talked her down when the smoke alarm went off. What could've happened? I failed to mention she should put the pie on a cookie sheet, thinking she knew that. But of course, this was her first foray into baking and she had no clue. Nor did she have a cookie sheet. All's well that ends well. They liked her pie.

Now I go to potlucks quite regularly. Church, playgroup, neighborhood gatherings. I used to always take dessert--Mexican Chocolate Sheet Cake, some kind of bundt cake, always chocolate, rarely cookies. Now, with the kids' allergies and my being on Weight Watchers (more on that if I have time in another post), I take fruit salad a lot. But I'd love to have a signature dish that everyone always expects and raves about. Like my friend J's cornbread that she serves with peach jam. Out of this world! We moms dig in like we've never eaten when she brings that over. And T's baked good! Very exciting when she goes to playgroup. People at church vary it just enough that I never know what we'll be eating. There will be vegetarian dishes, gluten-free dishes, and the marvelous baked good of Miss L, but it's never exactly the same.

Which is what I love. I love trying new dishes, especially dishes that people are proud enough of (or competent enough to cook) to bring to share. Sometimes it's the very standard cream cheese/salsa/cheese bean dip; other times--like church today--it's something that tastes good but is almost impossible to identify exactly (was it pumpkin or squash mixed with yogurt or sour cream or whipped cream to make that dip that might have had some sugar or some curry? My palate is just not that developed). Of course, there's always a slight fear about the cleanliness of thy neighbor's kitchen or their standards of quality. But I haven't gotten sick yet. Then there's the "that wasn't what I thought it was going to be" knee-jerk reaction when the orange stuff is curry pumpkin dip for veggies and not pumpkin pie dip for fruit. Ugh. It is the surprise factor of potlucks that make it hard to take the kiddos--you just can't be sure what's in a dish if you didn't make it. So, this week found me hovering over the table with a tasting fork asking passers-by if they made the dressing and what's in it. Luckily, everyone knows why I'm asking.

Potlucks do drive me nuts, in one respect, though. I always want the recipes. And I don't always get them. Take for instance a funeral supper we went to this year--amazing almond bar cookies--but despite asking practically everyone (not at the actual funeral but later), I have never found who made them or how. Sometimes, people do promise me the recipe and never follow through. I only feel comfortable bugging someone for a recipe so many times. And sometimes, of course, there is no recipe, like Mr. K's chicken and rice curry bake that he described to me in theory but which I'm not sure I can reproduce. Happily, I do often come away with a recipe. And of course I always share them (see below for Toll House Pie and the sweet potatoes I made this week for playgroup).

Tis the season for potlucking. I have several more and can't wait. But please, if you read this, bring along the recipe!


Toll House Pie

½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
½ cup flour
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans
2 beaten eggs
2 sticks hot melted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla

Mix all ingredients together. Pour into unbacked pie shell. Bake 45 minutes at 350°F. Top with Cool Whip when serving.

Mexican Chocolate Sheet Cake

1 stick margarine or butter
½ cup vegetable oil
2-1oz. squares unsweetened chocolate or 6 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sugar
½ cup buttermilk or sour milk (to sour regular milk, place 1 2/2 teaspoons white vinegar in ½ cups measure, fill with milk)
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine margarine, oil, chocolate and water in a saucepan and heat until chocolate is melted. Combine flour, baking soda, sugar, milk, eggs, cinnamon and vanilla in a large bowl, then blend with first mixture. Pour batter into a greased 12 x 18 sheet cake pan and bake 20-25 minutes or until cake is down (top springs back when touched lightly). Leave cake in pan and frost with Mexican Chocolate Icing while cake is still warm.

Mexican Chocolate Icing

1 stick margarine or butter
2-1 oz. squares unsweetened chocolate (or 6 tablespoons cocoa plus 2 tablespoons
of margarine or butter)
6 tablespoons milk
1 lb. powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup chopped pecans

Combine margarine, chocolate, and milk in a saucepan over medium-high heat until bubbles form around the edge. Remove from heat. Stir in powdered sugar, a little at a time (this is important). Stir in vanilla and pecans. Beat to a spreading consistency. Spread warm icing on warm cake.

Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows

No holiday is complete without these. The browning of the marshmallows was always my job. I only found out when I went to make my own Thanksgiving meal in 1997 that Mom always doubled the recipe so I would have enough for leftovers! This is the pre-doubled version.

29 oz. can yams, drained
4 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
orange juice

Bake at 375°F. Add marshmallows to brown.


My Needy Children

It's that time of year again. Boxes in church for food and clothing donations. Catalogues from charities touting gifts to support their causes. Craft fair and cookie cafe fundraisers. Toy drives. It is the time of year when we are most encouraged to help others.

But of course, the most desperate people of all are my own children as we walk them past the toy aisle at Target. "Mommy, I need more stuff," DD pleads. Soon, boxes of Diego snow rescue vehicles and Dora's twin siblings are coming off the shelves in twos and threes. No, no, I say, no more toys until Christmas.

They're two and they don't really remember that you get gifts at Christmas. DD eyes me suspiciously.

"That's right, we're not buying anything new until Christmas. But you can make a list for Santa of things you would like."

"But I NEED this," she cries. "I need Dora babies. I need Diego helicopter."

"No, sweetie, you don't need them. You want them."

Soon, DS starts in, "Tell Santa I NEED Diego. Tell Santa I NEED Diego."

They are chanting in unison, a ghastly consumerist carol, "I NEED it! I NEED it!"

It makes me want to give all their toys to tots and never go to Target again.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Beware of Dinosaurs

So, I thought that Barney was pretty simple and easy to understand (too easy, don't get me started on the gender stereotypes on that show). We don't watch it much, just if the kids are up extra-early, i.e. before 6 a.m. As they were today.

Anyway, DD said, "Here comes Barney and his babies." Meaning those other little dinosaurs (Baby Bop, BJ, and Biff? Riff? Whatever).

Sure, makes sense. Anytime there is a grownup and a child, we think of the relationship as parental.

Except, I'm pretty sure in this case, it's not true. Just can't see Barney with kids. Are they cousins? Friends? Do dinosaurs in Barneyland even have children? Does Barney have sex?

Nope, it's way too early in the morning to think about that.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

DD's Theme Song

DD: I'm James.

Me: What, sweetie? (because, well, her name isn't James, even if it is a family name).

DD: I'm lots of fun. And Nate is Thomas. He's the cheeky one.

Maybe you have to know the song.

Ten points to you if you can guess.

The Cat Did It

First, you should know that we have a cat named Albus.

I was in the bathroom the other day with the door open (as is required, even when I just have to pee--some people have a family bed, we have a family bathroom. Privacy is only something the kids get when I change their diapers. And boy are they adamant about that. DD gets upset if the cat walks by) and heard DS making a noise that seemed to indicate something was amiss. I asked DS if he was intentionally dropping food on the floor, and he replied, "It was Albus."

Mind you, the cat was in the bathroom with me.

DD Doesn't Have Two Mommies

It's happened several times recently: I mention to DD that she has two mommies and she says no. Hmmmm, odd, because, well, she does.

And then she clarifies: she has one "mommy" and one "mama."

No, DD!

My daughter has a new favorite book, No, David! by David Shannon. It's about a little boy who hears "no" and its variants all day long. Until his mother says, "Yes, I love you," at the end. (By the way, does anyone else think he looks like a satanic Charlie Brown?)

Now, when I taught Sunday School, I learned of a discussion about people who really don't like this book. They don't like all the negative language (though they found that their kids really identify with it). These are the same people who don't like The Giving Tree because they think it is all about selfishness and enabling, not love and generosity. Anyway, there is also a faction who love the book because a). their kids do and b). they think it reflects some realities of parenting and c). the kid does hear I love you at the end.

I hadn't read the book when we found it at a used book store when we were cashing in points before the kiddos arrived. But I knew the controversy and bought it anyway. And I've got to say, I like it. First, it's fun to read--you can get very dramatic with the reading. I even wag my finger. DD does it right along with me. Secondly, I don't use "no" much so I don't take it personally--I'm into positive language and rephrase "no" accordingly (like, for safety). Thirdly, they like it (though DS looked a little stricken tonight as I was reading, until I stopped and he asked me to do it again). In fact, I can hear DD on the monitor now reciting the story back to herself.

DP first suggested that DD liked this book because she was getting ideas of things to do--climb up chairs to find the cookie jar, run around outside naked, play ball in the house--all things David gets in trouble for. Tonight, I figured out what she likes--she likes being bossy. She's the mommy telling David "no," right down to the hand gestures. That's why she always wants to see the mommy in the front with her hands on her hips. We do always joke that DS has three mommies!!

And tonight, the funniest thing happened. After I read each page, I heard DD translate the "no" language into what I would say--instead of "don't play with your food" it was "food is for eating" and not "be quiet" but "use your inside voice."

I guess that means the positive language is getting through.

Or not.

Monday, November 12, 2007

High Praise

A quickie because my battery is going to go: This weekend, we were at Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum, where the kids were enjoying playing in the farm house. At some point, DP tells me, another boy--probably 6 or 7 years old--brought DD a wooden bowl to help with her cooking. He effortlessly held the bowl while she transferred the play eggs. But she was impressed and she congratulated him, very mommy-like, "Good holding the bowl."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Super Turkey Day

I'm working on my annual Thanksgiving menu right now. I'm hoping to go shopping on Thursday night, to both the local big grocery store and the natural food store too.

We've considered many options for Turkey Day this year--from all-out traditional meal with many dishes the babes couldn't eat, to restaurant meal (either traditional or Thai/Chinese) with more option for the kids, to our current choice of a full allergy-free meal.

Which means mostly new recipes.

Here's what we have so far:

Gravy (with cornstarch instead of flour roux)
Rachael Ray's dressing squares (with GF crackers)
Mashed potatoes (sans butter and milk)
Sweet potatoes with marshmallows (one of the only original recipes besides the turkey and cranberry sauce, if we don't just buy canned. Keeping the rings preserved intact, of course.)
Cranberry sauce
Corn niblets
Green beans with onions and bacon
Jello salad (see previous post)
Pumpkin pie with GF crust (or just a regular pie, de-crusted for babes; by Mrs Smith!)

We haven't really figured out appetizers yet. Maybe chips and salsa, maybe even deviled eggs (though it's very Easter-y) plus crudites and a pickle plate. DD loves half-sours. And DS loves olives. Plus tomatoes, celery, carrots, baby corn, hummus.

I think my in-laws are bringing Thai desserts, if they can find ones that meet the allergy criteria (currently no wheat, dairy, nuts or honey and only moderate soy and eggs). Otherwise, I'm hoping Ar-Ma will make her Thai iced coffee and iced tea--with sweetened condensed milk!

The kiddos are very excited about "Turkey Day" as we call it. I think they don't realize that we're going to actually EAT turkey. Or that the turkey we eat comes from the animal itself. No sense ruining the day just yet. But they see the lit, inflatable turkeys in two of the yards on our block (and have seen the family of turkeys that often meanders around the neighborhood) and are eager for the day to arrive. Unfortunately, I only know one Thanksgiving song, "Super Turkey"--"he always gets away, boom boom boom, Super Turkey, you won't eat him on Thanksgiving Day." That might clarify for the kids what happens to the turkeys. Ugh.

But at least they'll love the parade!


DP's Turkey

DP is in charge of turkey now and for our first Thanksgiving in New York, in 2001, she researched it well. We bought a really nice calphalon roasting pan, with rack, an instant read thermometer, and a whole Butterball turkey, that resisted defrosting, especially because our fridge was so cold. Her technique was derived from Alton Brown on Food Network. What an amazing golden brown beautiful turkey! The very best ever!

Preheat oven to 500°F. Wash turkey. Rub with soft butter. Salt and pepper. Insert onions and other aromatics in cavity. Using tinfoil, make a triangular bonnet for the breast of the turkey, smear with butter, and save.
Sear turkey in oven for 30 minutes.
Reduce heat to 350°F and place foil bonnet on turkey. Roast for 15 minutes per pound (approximately 3 hours total for 15 lb bird), or until breast reaches 161°F and thigh reaches 181°F. If more color is desired on the breast, remove bonnet for last 15-30 minutes. Do not baste; do not add water; do not open oven.
Rest for 30 minutes before carving.

Stuffing Squares from Everyday Food with Rachael Ray

4 ounces (1 sleeve) saltines
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
One 8-ounce package white mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 carrots, coarsely shredded (about 1 cup)
2 ribs celery, coarsely shredded (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs, beaten with 1/4 cup water

1. Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 400°. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Using your hands, crush the saltines into fine crumbs over a bowl.2. In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until browned, about 5 minutes; add to the ground saltines.3. Add 3 tablespoons butter, the onion, salt and pepper to the skillet and cook, stirring often, until the onion is softened and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add to the mushroom-saltine mixture. Add the carrots, celery and baking soda; mix well. Stir in the eggs.4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared dish and spread evenly. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and brush on top of the mixture. Bake until browned, 25 to 30 minutes. Cut the stuffing into squares and serve hot.

Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows

No holiday is complete without these. The browning of the marshmallows was always my job. I only found out when I went to make my own Thanksgiving meal in 1997 that Mom always doubled the recipe so I would have enough for leftovers! This is the pre-doubled version.

29 oz. can yams, drained
4 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
orange juice

Bake at 375°F. Add marshmallows to brown.


Cranberry Sauce
A la Martha Stewart in 2000. I’m not sure we ever wrote the recipe down but substituted orange juice for water on the Ocean Spray package, with a little less sugar. It’s almost replaced the canned as my favorite.

12 oz. cranberries (one bag)
1 cup orange juice
¾ cup sugar

Bring orange juice and sugar to a boil in a high-sided saucepan. Add cranberries and return to a boil, stirring regularly. Boil gently for 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate. Make a few days ahead for best flavor.

Tangy Green Beans
A savory way to improve canned green beans, even with just the vinegar.

4 slices bacon
1/2 cup chopped onion
2-16 oz. cans whole green beans, drained
3 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon beef bouillon
3/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Microwave bacon until brown, removed and crumble. Combine other ingredients; cook until thoroughly heated.


Jello, Jello Everywhere . . .

I need a recipe. For jello salad.

I have googled jello salad and come up with so many (gross sounding--spam jello, anyone?) examples that I need to thin out the contenders a little bit.

So, if you have a jello salad recipe that you like (or think kids will like) please post it as a comment.

I'll post the one I serve for Thanksgiving!

Many thanks.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Update on Bathtub Crayons

Well, our bathtub crayons finally dried, though I'm not sure we had a sunny day (as the recipe called for).

I give them a thumbs down.

First, they are way too soapy. I had to drain the tub 3 times to get the kiddos rinsed off.

Secondly, and more importantly, they didn't really write.

But they were fun to make.

Soup for Nuts

DS loves soup. Magically, he can actually get the soup to his mouth with a spoon without losing a drop. Which is good because he had 5 bowls tonight. Now, he doesn't always like the ingredients in the soup, it's the broth itself that he loves. I think this is due to his Ar-Ma and Ar-Gong, DP's parents. They first gave him fresh spring chicken broth at lunch at their house and he loved sipping the soup from a deep Chinese soup spoon.

Tonight's soup was pretty good, though not at all authentic. Let's call it "I bought most of the Ingredients at Target" Mock Italian Wedding Soup.


Mock Italian Wedding Soup

6 cups low sodium chicken stock
2 cups water
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 carrots, chopped
1 pkg frozen chopped spinach
meatballs (I used 1/3 of a big bag of Swedish Meatballs from IKEA we had in the fridge)
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Combine stock and water. Add garlic, carrots, spinach, and meatballs. You can add the spinach and meatballs while still frozen. Cook until heated through. To finish, slowly pour egg into boiling soup while stirring. Serve.


The Real Recipe for Italian Wedding Soup (at least the one we've used before)

1/2 pound extra-lean ground beef
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs (or finely crushed cracker crumbs)
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
5 3/4 cups chicken broth
2 cups thinly sliced escarole (or spinach)
1 cup uncooked orzo pasta
1/3 cup finely chopped carrot
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed

In medium bowl, combine meat, egg, bread crumbs, cheese, basil and onion powder; shape into 3/4 inch balls.
In large saucepan, heat broth to boiling; stir in escarole, orzo pasta, chopped carrot and meatballs. Return to boil, then reduce heat to medium. Cook at slow boil for 10 minutes, or until pasta is al dente. Stir frequently to prevent sticking.


Amuse Bouche

Why it's hard to dress a toddler: the other day I was trying to get DS changed out of his pajamas top and into his clothes, "Here, let's change your shirt."

"No thanks. I have one."

But of course.


Parroting: We were coloring on the butcher paper taped to the coffee table the other day and DS kept bringing me handfuls of crayons, "Pick one from me." And I'd choose a color and draw a color in a dot. Then he, and later DD, would say, "good job," or "great," or "good idea."

Is that what I sound like?


DD and I had a fascinating conversation in the car the other day. It went something like this:

DD: "Mommy is Thea's Mommy. Mommy is Thea's Mommy."

Me: "Yes, sweetie, I'm your mommy. I'm proud to be your mommy. I love you."

DD: "I love you, Mommy."

DD: "Mommy is a girl."

Me: "Yes."

DD: "Nate is a boy. I am a big girl. Gommie is a girl."

Me: "Yes, and Pop is a big boy."

DD: "Gommie and Pop coming to the mall for Christmas with Santa."

Me: "Yes, we can go to the mall to see Santa with Gommie and Pop. Later."

DD: "And the Easter Bunny?"

Me: "Well, the Easter Bunny won't be there with Santa."

DD: "Where is the Easter Bunny?"

Me: "The Easter Bunny is, uh, in a garden in England."

DD: "Where is Santa? At the mall?"

Me: "Santa lives at the North Pole."

DD: "Santa Claus's name is Santa?"

Me: "Yes."

DD: "And the Easter Bunny's name is Easter? She's a girl."

Me: "Okay, sure, she's a girl."

DD: "And Mommy's name is Mommy."

Me: "Yes, sweetie, it is."


Our First Bit of Name Calling: DS proudly swiped a grape from DD's plate during snack this week. She hysterically yelled "No! MY GRAPE!" while he gloated, "I have your grape!" And then she said, "You are a booger boy!"


Imagination: DD, as I think I've mentioned, imagines objects are all sorts of other objects. Recently, grape stems have been caterpillars and grasshoppers, while large sticks in the backyard have been flying dinosaurs.


More holiday trouble: everytime it's dark, the kids think it's Halloween and time to trick or treat. (It's our own fault; they just haven't been outside much at night.)


We were outside making a huge pile of leaves yesterday, and DD and DS decided it was very much like playing in the bathtub. They used the branches of the rosebush as the "faucet" and hopped up repeatedly to turn the water off and on. Then they would "splash" the leaves all over themselves and lie down to kick.


DD was pulling her dolly around today and I asked--you know, I'm not sure what I asked, let's just say I asked where they were going--and DD said, "Baby is having a rough day."


The kiddos often like to play like they are going somewhere. Their top three: playgroup, church, and Target.

Our family's Holy Trinity.


Last but not least: I might have to start calling DD and DS by the nicknames "Rosie" and "Thomas," respectively. They actually asked if I could call them that the other day. It lasted just a few minutes, while they were playing trains, but it was fun all the same. Those might make great blog nicknames.

Oh, and they said I was Sir Topham Hatt!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

That be Fun

I thought we were going to the Laurie Berkner concert for the kids. But I realized today that I wanted to go for myself. This became abundantly clear when DD had a breakdown 20 minutes into the show and wanted to go home. DP took her into the lobby to recover, though she was calling for me, but I stayed behind with DS. He quickly decided that he couldn't be without his sissy. So we left. And I didn't want to. I like Laurie Berkner. She's pretty much the only music I listen to these days and I like it. She's kinda like a silly Indigo Girl. Maybe a little funkier. And I wanted to see her. And I didn't want to go home. This was my day in the city, something wildly different from my usual suburban day, and I wanted it to be perfect, transcendant, even.

Let me start from the beginning.

The inspiration came to me as I was checking out the LB website for upcoming tv appearances. There was a concert. In the city. "That be fun," as DS says. We liked her CDs, watched her DVD, and saw her on Noggin and Jack's Big Music Show. Everytime we passed a certain clump of trees outside the library, DS would sit down and start singing, "Under a Shady Tree." I always invoked the dinosaur song, with "stop and take a rest," during naptime. We loved to play chase to "I'm Gonna Catch You," ever since we first heard that song at a church playgroup. Surely we were old enough to sit and listen to our favorite musician for an hour.

I told my friends and my playgroup, and three other families thought "that be fun" too. On the day the tickets went on sale, DP was charged with securing the best seats. Then the Carnegie Hall website crashed, sending panic throughout tristate suburbia and preschooler parents everywhere. But got the tickets we did, eventually. DP swore she wasn't going to be the one parent to turn up ticketless. I think it took her an hour. By then, we had balcony seats, but all the way at the front. This made me a little nervous, given our propensity for throwing things and climbing, but surely there would be enough distractions.

For weeks, we discussed ideas for the day (being the New Yorkers in the group--her by birth, me because we were living in the city on September 11. Yes, Mom, I'm still a Texan. It's a paradox. And another post.): driving, train, or a combo? Would we travel together as a group and have lunch? We learned it was NYC Marathon day. Hmmm, that made driving a challenge. So we were going to drive halfway and take the train the rest of the way. But the availability of seats on the way in and the traffic on the way home squashed that. So, train all the way it was. Where to eat? Something toursity and predictable like Hard Rock? Or take our chances with local cafes. Finally, we decided Carnegie Deli would work for our allergies, with turkey and matzo ball soup.

The day arrived--beautiful, especially after the hurricane that was Day out with Thomas--and the kids were excited. They loved the train ride in, even enjoying playing "fort" in the shelter on the platform with DP as we waited for it to arrive. Perfect facing window seats let each of them have a window and they looked out excitedly identifying clouds, trees, cars, trucks, boats, and bridges. And talked about all the people and what they were wearing--the man behind us, fully decked out in Redskins paraphenalia for the game, was the "Red Man." Apropos, no? Actually, looking around the train--with the orthodox Jewish family next to us, several Asian men, and several African Americans--reminded me of the importance of leaving our rather uniform small town (where we are the diversity for others) and visiting the menagerie of the city. Though, I soon became rather uncomfortable with the "talk about the people" game and issued a "it's not nice to talk about other people" edict. I could just hear them saying something about someone being big or old.

They loved walking off the platform into the giant space that is GCT. DD just stood there, mouth agape, spinning around looking at the stars and all the people. DS was a little overwhelmed and needed us in hand for the walk to the subway. Which they loved. DP let DD hang from the overhead bar, the city's littlest straphanger. DS followed suit and they (and the other, probably out of town, riders) laughed all the way to Carnegie Hall.

And we got out in the crisp, cool air of a beautiful fall day, surrounded by imposing, impressive skyscreapers. The sidewalks were full of cops and pedestrians heading to the marathon, with taxis and buses and cars heading away from the closed streets. And, oh, that NYC smell. We walked towards CPS and got lots of orange doo-dads from the ING people--hats, glasses, and pom pons--to cheer for marathoners. We didn't see too many, just a few men and women in the wheelchair cycles. But DS wore his hat and waved his pom pon each time they passed. DD was more interested in the smell. I had realized I could smell horses and so she started sniffing and then kepty asking where they were. A pile of manure proved they had been there recently.

Lunch was at Carnegie Deli--corned beef for me and DP, turkey and matzo ball soup for the kids--though both ate more pickles than anything else. And DD liked the corned beef more than the turkey; she is DP's daugher, afterall. And as lunch ended, DP realized the waitresses were talking about the twins in Thai, so she interjected and suddenly we had a whole coterie of waitresses admiring their skin color and wider-than-almond eyes--"not the slit eyes of the Chinese''--DP held her tongue. And the kids said "Sawadee" to them all.

And it was time for the concert. At Carnegie Hall. Ironically, it was my very first concert there. And it's beautiful, even filled with crying toddlers missing their afternoon naps. We got two "Shaky Eggs" to play with and then tried desperately to wait for the doors to open. The poor house staff; I'm not sure they're used to preschoolers running and climbing everywhere and they were so flustered. They even opened early, I think, because of the mounting chaos in the lobby.

Our seats were frightening--first row, top balcony--perfect for dropping shaky eggs or programs on other preschoolers, or whole toddler bodies. Did I mention I don't like heights? I'm sure I scared the kids with the death grips in which I held their little excited bodies.

And then some guy talked. Yadda-yadda-yadda. We need Laurie! Don't you understand we were up an hour early because of the time change? That we walked and left strollers at home? That we didn't nap yet? This concert needs to start and finish before BREAKDOWN time.

Later, DD told us that Laurie wore yellow and Susie wore brown. DP didn't even know Susie's name. But then she doesn't know all the words to "I'm a Mess" either. And they played guitars. And the piano. DD sat mesmerized and stared at it all. DS did too, as I bounced him on my knee and sang the songs. Most of our favorites.

But we lost it before "Pig on Her Head." And I could see the pig sitting on the prop table so I knew it was coming. But DD was done. And then DS didn't want to be there alone. And we quickly took a cab to GCT, where we caught the same train we would have if we'd seen the whole thing.

And I cried all the way there, just as they cried all the way home on the train. I was disappointed. I wanted to see the concert. I wanted it to be this memorable, amazing experience. And we didn't get to see it all. And they weren't happy; indeed, they were miserable. And it was my fault. I had dragged us to this concert, thinking it was such a good idea. With no strollers, with no nap. And I was embarrassed, ashamed even, in front of my friends, not because the kids were upset but because it hadn't gone well, because somehow I had done something wrong, because I had failed my kids.

The next day, all they remembered was how much fun they had. That Susie had worn brown. And Laurie had played the guitar. That we had sung and danced. And they had ridden in a taxi. That be fun.

Is that a Question?

"Mommy want to leave?"

The children looked at me from the edges of the coffee table, desperate to climb on top.

My kiddos don't need me anymore. Just now, both DD and DS queried, "Mommy want to leave?" Which sounds like a question, but isn't, if you are familiar with their sentence structure. When they want you to do something, they phrase it as an question, when actually it is more of a statement. The above should be translated, "Mommy, I want you to leave." It took me awhile to understand this construction but, after weeks of "Mommy want to put my shoes on?" and "Mommy want to hold Shirt?", I figured it out.

So, today's question was actually a direction. One that asked me to vacate the premises so that they could play on top of the table.

I never thought the day would come.

Now I can catch up on those long blog posts.

Right after I stop crying.

While they dance on the table.

Elements of My Style

After a few months of blogging, I've realized a few things about my style. I tend to have two kinds of posts: long, narrative pieces intended mainly for faraway family and friends who want detailed kiddo updates and shorter, (hopefully) comic pieces that tickle my funny bone and (hopefully) that of any other reader. Recently, there have been a lot of the former, not as many of the latter. This is mainly because all of the funny things have happened during larger events, i.e. Day out with Thomas (where do you put the capitals in that, anyway?), and are thus embedded in those stories. But these long ones take me longer to write and, as there have been a lot recently, I am woefully behind. Meanwhile, I'm forgetting the cute, random things that happen everyday that would otherwise make it in a post.

By the way, writing for an audience that isn't the casual recipient of a late-night email, has made me very aware of grammar and spelling. I don't spell check because usually I'm pretty good (as well as an accurate typist), but I do have a habit of substituting homynyms--like warn for worn and the like--mainly because I say my sentences outloud in my head as I type. Besides, spell check wouldn't pick that up anyway. And grammar. I pride myself on being a decent grammarian, and even understanding the rules (thanks to years of Latin and Greek, and a lot less French and German). I sometimes intentionally break the rules--I like dashes and fragments. But I find that I am increasingly flummoxed by the placement of commas, at times (especially near quotes, or lists of quotes). And way too lazy to check grammargrrl.com for the rule. I am partial to the comma. And still a firm adherent to the old rule that commas go after ever item in a list, including the one before "and." I'll never forget the example my teacher used. It was about a will. The will left money to "Albus, Hermione and Morgan." Which meant Albus got half and Hermione and Morgan split the other half. If the will had read, "Albus, Hermione, and Morgan," they would've split it equally. Right. Nowadays, apparently, Hermione and Morgan would be much happier.

You should know, I believe, in storytelling anyway, that truth is relative and hyperbole is important. Poetic license is my guiding principal. DP knows this applies to everything. I naturally exaggerate by about 25%. Ask me how many people were in line in front of me at the grocery store or how many time DD dropped her Shirt in the car, and I will increase the number almost exponentially. Without even thinking about it. I think it's a Lone Star State storytelling characteristic--everything is bigger and better.

Oh, and I love titles. Usually, I think of the title before I even write the post. Like today.

Okay, enough deconstruction, back to writing my long post on our trip into the city to see Laurie Berkner.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Connecticut Yankees in Sir Topham Hatt's Court

We had a hurricane on Saturday, the day we had bought tickets months ago to spend a Day out with Thomas. And despite the dismal weather, we went to Essex and had a wonderful time. Good yankees (even transplants like myself) aren't deterred by a little rain and 45 mph winds. Besides, it made it all more British. I mean, who expects perfect, sunny weather on the oh-so-Anglo Isle of Sodor? And our kiddos don't notice weather anyway.

Which is good, because it started to spit as we arrived in eastern CT. As a sign of good things to come, however, we got one of the last parking spots in the closest lot. From there, we entered the festival grounds and almost immediately saw Thomas the Tank Engine pulling in a passenger train. DD and DS were beside themselves--it was Big Thomas! And they were going to ride on him!

But first, they wanted to ride all the kiddie rides. Carousel, first. Up and down, around and around--their favorite ride at the zoos. Then they spotted the little train. Which parents aren't allowed to ride. Hmmm, two year olds alone on a questionable mechanical ride. But you have to let go sometime, and they seemed so determined as they climbed into the train car themselves and sat on the same side but not too close to one another. Stoically, they rode around on the jerky, miniature train, smiling each time they saw us wave. Our little kids were all grown up. And wanted to ride again. DS headed straight to the engine--he didn't even exit and re-enter, but luckily there was no line--and sat right now with the bell pull within reach. Sis sat across from him and they drove the train. And then moved on to the fire trucks, on which they were the only kids not crying like the visitors to Santa in A Christmas Story.

As the downpour picked up we headed to the Thomas shop. While not thrilled with the commercialism (or burgeoning brand loyalty), we perused the offerings and chose two little trains for our wooden track. A Thomas for DS and a purple train named Rosie for DD (her choice, because of the purple, no doubt. Though, when asked, she says her favorite color is green). And we loved watching the model train at the back of the shop. ImaginationStation downstairs was equally enthralling, with toy train sets and coloring sheets and free tattoos. Oddly, the kiddos, especially DD, were really excited about Sir Topham Hatt (though she calls him Sir Captain Hat). See, we don't really watch Thomas and Friends, they just like trains. So, I can't imagine how they really have any grasp of who the man in the morning suit is. But DD wanted to see him, though not enough to stand in line, and so we took her back over and over.

It was our ticket time to ride Thomas. "All Aboard," the conductor called. And we gleefully climbed aboard our passenger car. Sitting in facing seats, the kids jubilantly waved out the window at anyone, and most of them waved back. Soon the train pulled out of the station and we were on our way. I'll hand it to the organizers, the little stories they told during the trip made sense of why Thomas was in back of the train and then why we later reversed direction. There were also stories about being good. None of which my kiddos paid any attention to. They were driving their own Thomas and Rosie up and down the window ledges and across the seats, then drawing pictures in the condensation of the glass. DP draws a mean tank engine and several kids in nearby seats watched. The ride was just long enough that we enjoyed it but didn't get bored. We disembarked and waved goodbye to Thomas, soon heading to lunch in a nearby restaurant and home.

The epilogue of my story wraps up our very British day: we had a tea party at home. Using her pink and green tin tea set, DD served tea to myself and her brother, repeatedly. She'd pour the tea, we'd drink, she'd take the cups and pour again. Over and over. We added the milk bottle from the baby set because I like milk in my tea. There were even slices of cake, from the birthday cake set, and we ate those on pretty little plates, singing "Happy Birthday" for each of us, a few times. And when I told her how much I liked her tea, DD hopped up, grabbed a post it and crayon, and wrote out the recipe for me.

All in all, a marvelous day.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Out of the Mouths of Babes, III

DD likes to play with her food. Sometimes, she uses banana peels as ladders from the table to her plate so the other food can "walk" up and down. Often, she identifies objects in the food she eats--that's a train, that's a car. I'm hoping she'll find a Mary or Jesus so I can sell it on eBay and send them both to college. And today she was making families out of vegetables.

"This is Mommy Carrot. This is Baby Carrot, next to Mama Carrot. Daddy Carrot is way over there, hiding in the peas."

Every Dog Has Her Day

I felt like Super Mommy today, offering lots of interesting experiences and surviving all the ups and downs with great patience. I should've asked to borrow my friend J's Halloween costume complete with cape! We had a grand day. Mostly. But I'm going to skip those bad bits since I'm writing this blog. The truth is all relative, of course. And if I'm a superhero, this is my mythology.

First off, we skipped storytime because the kids wanted to stay home to play. Considering we're going to be out all weekend, and have traveled a lot recently, I thought this was fine.

We lined up the little chairs and played train. Numerous times we bounced our way along--DD said we were going to a party--and then "de-trained" with our bags of party supplies, food and musical instruments. We did our exercises. Listened to Zydeco, our favorite type of music right now, the Laurie Berkner concert notwithstanding. Watched a few of our favorite Dora the Explorer and Thomas the Train episodes. Ate green grapes (hooray!), bananas (BA-NA-NAS!), and corn chips (yay!). And two whole bags of mixed vegetables. Full of snacks and lunch, we headed to the grocery store where we rode in the special car cart and searched for items on my list.


We even went for a walk, which is a recent addition to our schedules. We used to ride in the wagon but haven't done much walking outside recently because the kiddos haven't been sticking together well. So, we've been practicing walking in the neighborhood, picking up leaves and looking around. Today we even ran into a neighbor and went inside for a bit to visit her family. DD was scared of the big English Mastiff but liked sitting in the daughter's wheelchair (at her invitation). When it came time for DS's turn, DD insisted that he buckle up "so he can be safe" (guess what tv show that's from.). Afterwards, we played in our backyard. They like playing pirate ship from the playset with the new "spotting scope" and steering wheel my folks installed. DD spots dolphins orcas, and the like, while DS drives. Then they colored the deck with chalk

But the best part was art in the afternoon. DD spent a long time painting. She did 10-12 sheets of paper, carefully narrating what she was painting. My favorite was what I will call the transportation painting. She started with two colorful blobs, a yellow one for the train and a brown one for the boat. The she added lines--the way to church, the way to Target, the way to school. There were also lines for the sky and then blobs for clouds. I was amazed. And luckily it was the one painting on the last sheet of good watercolor paper.

To finish our arts and crafts time, we made the bathtub crayons that were featured in the recent Parent and Child. After much coaching not to eat the ingredients (I had made the mistake of calling it a recipe). we stirred pink, yellow, green, and blue paste and poured it into an egg carton to harden. We won't know for a few days if it works, but until then, I'll polish my Super Mommy crown.


Bathtub Crayons

1 cup gentle soap powder (I used Ivory Flakes)
4-6 drops food coloring
2-3 teaspoons water

Stir until you have a pasty consistency. Spoon the mixture into an ice cube tray (we used an old egg carton; I've also read that people use toilet paper rolls) and let it dry for about four days in a sunny spot. Use in the tub.

Parent and Child

Holiday Withdrawl

It's my first experience not liking a holiday.

Mind you, I loved Halloween this year. On Halloween.

But for two days now, I've soothed tears cried because Mr. Dave's pumpkins and ghosts aren't decorating his yard, attempted to explain that we won't be going trick-or-treating dressed as jaguars again tonight, and denied the consumption of candy at every meal and snack and in between. It's been rough going. Particularly because every time they see the pictures from the evening, they want to start it all over again.

And who can blame them.

Especially because Thanksgiving just doesn't promise to be as interesting.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A Family that Exercises Together . . .

What is it about a mommy on the floor that is an irresistible draw to toddlers and cats?

I've been trying to do the new exercises my PT gave me yesterday and everytime I start a clamshell or the like, I find an extra 27 lbs on my legs and fur in my face. While resistance training (is that even a concept?) is great for tip-top shape athletes, I'm sure, it isn't quite what my therapist ordered. Besides, it's not like I never sit cross-legged on the floor playing trains or animal farm, or throwing foily balls and catnip mice, but there is something about the supine position that is just too much fun.

You should see how excited everyone gets when I pull out my stretchy band!

At least they're getting excited about exercising, right?