Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pros and Cons

My holiday weekend:


  • Sis had mild fevers off and on all holiday weekend, which meant we cancelled all of our plans and stayed home. This made us all cranky, since we had already been homebound since Monday night.
  • My mom had a violent bout of the stomach flu. Or is it something else? She sounds awful.
  • My cat swallowed plastic, maybe. But watching him (and her) made us stressful and reminded us of when Morgan was sick.
  • Knowing I have to say goodbye to Miss T today. And having her actually leave, after knowing this day would come for more than a year or so now.
  • The drama surrounding Thanksgiving and the absolute failure of the few techniques my minister suggested for addressing it. I'm not so hopeful about the rest of the holidays.
  • My computer has been touchy and not working well at all, which means I haven't been online much. Mama's been running scans but can't find what's wrong. So, if my internet presence is intermittent, that's why.
  • The house, after our being locked indoors for 6 days, is a pit.
  • My stress eating for the last 4 days because of all of the above.
  • Even today's sermon at church on World AIDS day was sobering and saddening, as is all the news coming out of Mumbai. Big problems, no viable solutions. While these certainly put my complaints in perspective, my sense of being unable to help only saddens me further.


  • The kids loved seeing Ma, Gong, and Goo, and really enjoyed eating on Thanksgiving.
  • Catching up on a season's worth of "The 'L' Word." I just love that Shane character, even if she is a trainwreck. Ooooh, and I love the actress Marlee Matlin, who played Jodi, even more. Bette's a bitch for cheating on her. Such television fun! I'll be sorry when the show ends after next season.
  • Baked brie and poached pears in chocolate sauce.
  • Watching football with the kids on Friday. We missed the UT-ATM game but saw some of the red team (Arkansas) and the yellow team (LSU).
  • Going through the Christmas decorations and getting excited about the next holiday. We even put up several of the stuffed critters and other decorations.
  • Choosing buttons at the craft store with the kids to put on their stockings this year--Sis chose white bunnies; Bud chose a baseball and a bat. I got a cupcake. Mama got an armadillo. We put new buttons on each year to represent us that year.
  • The Christmas music CD Mama made for me, with my new favorite song "All I Want for Christmas" (or, as I call it, "I Don't Want a Lot for Christmas") from the movie Love Actually.
  • Our minister's support and suggestions. And just her loving personality.
  • I loved playing in the snow with the kids and Mama this morning, then having hot chocolate and popcorn.
  • Having an intellectual discussion analyzing the documentary My Kid Could Paint That with Mama last night. More on that soon.
  • I have some supplies for my upcoming craft projects after a trip to the craft store. I'm hoping to sew up a blanket this evening.
  • My birthday is in less than two weeks, and we also have two Christmas parties in that time period, plus a birthday playgroup. Something to look forward to.
  • Spending these 4 days with Mama, even if they have been hard.

That about sums it up.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

How to Talk to Children About Their Art

Given time, opportunity, and supplies, children will draw, write, paint, glue, or otherwise create art, both impressing and overwhelming parents, who then hang the works in frames on the walls, on the refrigerator, and on various other household surfaces, or send them off to the houses or offices of family and friends. While there are numerous solutions for honoring, cherishing, and storing these creative gifts, I want to talk about the moment of creation and its immediate aftermath: what do you say to a child engaged in the artistic process?

We've all done it. A child shows you a work of art and you say, "I love the dog you drew" only to find out it was a space monster or something else far removed from the canine world. Then, both you and the child are disappointed by your interaction. The biggest rule of thumb for talking about their own artwork with children is not to ask or try to guess what it is. Sometimes "it" isn't anything in particular, but an exploration of color, line, texture, composition, moods, feelings, or some other unidentifiable, unexplainable intangible. When asked, children are either hurt that you don't understand their work of art or confused that they can't quite explain it to you.

What to say, then?
  • I really like the [line, color, shape] you used here.

  • How did you feel when you made this?

  • Would you tell me about your picture?

  • How did you make this?

The point is to avoid trying to identify specific objects in the work and instead talk about the creative process.

For more ideas for discussing and encouraging a child's creative process, see Susan Striker's Young at Art, especially her great introduction.

Fare Well

We have a few recoveries and a few new illnesses.

Neither of the cats seem to have suffered any ill effects, if indeed they ate that red plastic garbage bag handle. I think we're mostly out of the woods on that one. Knock on wood.

Gommie is back in the land of the living, having suffered through a violent stomach bug. Ugh. Glad you are feeling better!

Sis's fever still hovers, still low grade, still no other symptoms. We'll go to the pediatrician on Monday if it persists.

And lastly, thoughts out to a little friend who has the stomach bug. Hope you are feeling better soon!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Speedy Recovery

Get well wishes go out to Gommie, who came down with the stomach bug last night and is feeling a mite poorly this morning.

Also to Sis, whose low-grade fever is back again. We're just watching her, per doctor's instructions--it's probably just one of those seasonal things, even though it's been off and on since Monday night.

Lastly, cat Albus may or may not have eaten, this morning or some other time, about a 6" strand of the red plastic handle of a garbage bag stashed away in a basket in the laundry room. We've called the vet and are watching him (it could've been Hermione, but he was the one running out of the laundry room and the bag was found wet and ripped. He was only in there a few minutes and he could've gotten to the bag at any point over the last few days). So far, so good. No doubt, in five years, we'll find the plastic stuck under the dryer somewhere.

Take care all!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Finale

Poaching the pears smelled so good. Nothing like real vanilla bean boiling in a sugar syrup. I fell sound asleep on the couch while they cooled and the kids played blocks with Goo (who had napped earlier while the kids played parade). It was a short but fully restorative nap.

Desserts were a hit (though much later than I had planned, but we weren't hungry or energetic enough to start them): Bud has his container of strawberry jello salad (though he kept spitting out all the bananas. Note to self: no bananas in jello), all the adults devoured and enjoyed the poached pears in chocolate sauce (which I thought was a little watery for my taste), and Sis ate chocolate sauce with a little whipped cream. A few of us had tiny slivers of pumpkin pie, just to tell the kids we liked it, and coffee (some with whipped cream, some with chocolate sauce, mine with both).

Soon after, it was bathtime. Mama and the gang got them washed while I cleaned the kitchen; this is our usual ritual now anyway because it gives me a break before bedtime and I don't then come downstairs to a messy kitchen. Stories and tuck-ins went just fine, with Sis naming the horses in the parade as one of her happy thoughts.

And that was it. The guests left with little containers of leftovers, the kitchen was done, we ate a few leftovers just because we could. And now with movie channels on demand all weekend, we're going to catch up on "The 'L' Word." We actually checked STARZ, HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, and TMC and that's all we wanted to watch. But, since the tv is downstairs until after football tomorrow, we thought we'd sit and enjoy a little girl time.

Which reminds me, to sum up with a few last thoughts: Did anyone else notice the Little Porno Mermaid, Disney's new Broadway show, on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade? I was appalled. Coral g-strings, starfish pasties, Vegas showgirls and Chippendale dancers. grinding and jiggling their various obvious bits. There is just no need for any of it in a children's musical. I can't fathom taking kids to this. It looked so trashy. Have I become a prude? Or do I just have taste?

Was it a good Thanksgiving? I think so. The kids had fun, the food was good, we celebrated the occasion. There were no fights, no tense parts. There were some things left unsaid, unresolved, not understood, but such is life. And we're working on it.

I am thankful.


We have finished dinner, which was served around 1:40. It's always later than I expected but no one was too impatient. We finished watching the parade and only the adults were excited about Santa. I think the kids were worn out from running around playing "5-4-3-2-1 surprise" and couldn't muster much enthusiasm. That, and we haven't made such a big deal out of the big guy in the red suit yet.

Before we ate, Sis distributed our little folded index placecards; she was very exacting in where she put people and insistent that we stuck with it. And her arrangement did work--one kid and one grandparent on each side (of our foldout table that can accomodate the whole crew, but not the food, which was served buffet style). Then, we all traced our handprints on my new white cotton tablecloth purchased expressly for this purpose. We wrote our names, the dates, Goo made his hand a turkey. The fabric markers make the cloth colorful and, if need be, I can stitch the outlines later when the markers begin to fade. We hope to decorate our tablecloth in some way for every holiday. Gommie and Pop, start thinking of what you'll add.

Also new to our holiday table was a set of red transferware (I think) with a realistic engraving of a turkey in the wild and floral borders, a thoughtful gift from Ma and Gong (along with an entire box of delicious Yellow Label Tea). So, at least, there was turkey on my plate. Sis was insistent that her turkey face her; even when she would eat off the other edge of the plate, she wouldn't let us turn it around.

We said what we were thankful for (the usual suspects: Shirt, cats, family) and dug in. Bud loved the marshmallows on the yams and the cooked cranberry sauce. Sis inhaled rice and gravy and some sweet potatoes (yes, pardon me, I use those interchangably). None of the mashed potatoes and turkey that she had said she loved so much. Oh, well. No one will get rich predicting the eating habits of a preschooler. Later we unmolded the strawberry jello salad, if only to distract Bud from the marshmallows, and not only did it look beautiful out of my Tupperware mold (do I get a discount for a plug, Mama Teacher??) but everyone was pleasantly surprised at the jello-sour cream combo. Sis is holding out for pumpkin pie. I liked the fresh cranberry relish, the mashed potatoes, and the green bean casserole. And of course the sweet potatoes. The cooked relish was a little bitter, I think because of the addition of a friend's marmalade (which grew bitter with more cooking; next time I'll stir it in at the end). The gravy was a little too thin, but tasty, and we have 8 cups of it! I doubled my usual recipe. It was good on the potatoes and dressing. I never missed the turkey. Oh, and I was the only one who ate a roll. Who eats Thanksgiving without rolls? We finished the meal with a rendition of our "family song."

Now, Goo is asleep on the couch. Ma and Gong took the kiddos outside for a walk and now they are inside doing a puzzle, at our request. I cleaned all the plates, cups, and dishes while Mama transferred leftovers and is now tackling the pots and pans. Only hitch was the spilling of an entire pitcher of iced tea, so now I have no dry kitchen towels left. We'll do a laundry load, with the new tablecloth which withstood dinner pretty well.

Dessert will happen eventually. I have to whip cream and Goo has offered to help poach the pears.

Oh, I missed something in my last post: Goo taught us a potato trick. Cut a ring around the middle of an unpeeled potato, boil it whole, and then when it's done the skin will pull right off. I missed the procedure but saw the result. If you can handle the heat, it does work well and quickly.

Thanksgiving Brought to You Live

Like Kim Severson of the NYTimes, I'm going to blog a little of this Thanksgiving live (except Alice Waters probably won't call and Scott Peacock isn't coming over).

So far, so good. The guests arrived around 9 and we immediately sat down to Bob Evans sausage and egg sandwiches on Portuguese rolls. I had orange biscuits. Three of them. These are a divine breakfast treat from my childhood, though never as I recall actually served on a holiday. Only holiday breakfast was corned beef hash on Christmas. But I had a craving and made them. Goo remembered them fondly and had one too.

The baked brie was delicious, except I think our round was too big because it burst through the dough. Goo called it a casserole. But the apricots were great with the cheese, even without the almonds, in case the children wanted a taste. The mulled cider was a hit. And Gong peeled a few persimmons for the kids.

Aunt Banana, Uncle Soccer, and his mom just called. They're having lunch in a few hours, with my mom's dressing and her delicious sweet potato souffle (which has this great candied nut and oatmeal topping; maybe next year). Happy eating to you!

Anyway, the mashed potatoes are done and delicious. The dressing, yams, and green bean casserole are in the oven. We have about 30-45 minutes so we're going to watch the end of the parade that we DVR'd--they lost interest when it was snack time--and Mama and I will make the gravy, add the marshmallows to the yams and the onions to the green beans, and heat the rolls.

Then it's time to be thankful and eat, eat, eat. More before dessert . . .


Orange Biscuits
Mom’s note (10/01): “Whenever we spent the night with someone, we’d make these for breakfasts (1950s). The traditional snack at night—Rice Krispy candy. We didn’t worry about calories (or cholesterol) then!”

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

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


Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Cranberry sauce (the cooked one with orange juice--and I stirred in the last of my friend's homemade marmalade). Check.
Second cranberry sauce (the uncooked one in the food processor). Check.
Third cranberry sauce (the one with onions and horseradish and sour cream). Check.

Hey, everybody has the one they like. I like two. And we didn't even get the jellied kind in the can this year.

Dressing. Check.
Yams. Check.

We're all done for tonight and are heading to bed. Tomorrow is another day.

(By the way, Mama says I quote Gone With the Wind on a weekly basis. And if it's not GWTW, it's the original Star Wars triology. But I think that's the first time on this blog.)

Happy Thanksgiving to You All

Sis is thankful, in the same order every night, for her Shirt, Amy the bunny, Bess the bunny, Gommie and Pop, Mommy and Mama, Hermione and Albus, and horses.

Bud is thankful for baseball, Mommy and Mama, Gommie and Pop, Mr. Big Penquin, and orchestras.

Mama and I are thankful for each other, our children, our cats, our families, our friends, our church, and her job.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Day Without

Until about half an hour ago, I would have said that today was a day without fevers. I was wrong. Sis's fever is back for its mid-afternoon visit (yes, she has fevers in the middle of the day, usually, not the morning or evening).

But, on a happier note, Sis has been without diapers for more than 24 hours. No accidents! We ran out of diapers and just casually switched her to underwear at night. YAY!

The CEO of Thanksgiving

The piece in the NYTimes entitled the "CEO of Thanksgiving" is a funny combination of the corporate with the domestic, a traditionally male sphere with a still relatively female sphere. Two business professors--one from Harvard and one from Wharton--good naturedly describe two management styles and a variety of techniques for creating the most successful holiday dinner. "Stakeholders," "management team," "outsource," "subcontract," and the like sound odd in a domestic setting but remind me of the elevation of housekeeping to "domestic science" in the early 20th century in an effort to command respect for the female sphere. Is the corporate holiday meal just the latest result of rising numbers of men in the home kitchen in the last several decades? The humor, of course, stems from the incongruity and incompatibility of the two. The funniest part? All the commentors who said that if business is brought to bear on Thanksgiving, it was going to be the end of the holiday, just like it has been the end of the economy! Let's give thanks this season that there are some areas of life where a business model is still completely inappropriate and unwelcome.

Let the Countdown Begin!

(**I do not know why Blogger has decided to insert lines in some places and not others. I've tried reformatting in Word and Notepad but nothing corrects it. Just ignore the annoying blank lines.)

The Thanksgiving cooking marathon has begun in earnest. We drew up (and drew on) our to-do list for today:

  1. Make a pumpkin pie.
  2. Make strawberry jello.
  3. Make cranberry sauce.

Well, check off numbers 1 and 2.

But we ran out of sugar completely so I'm not sure we'll get to the cranberry sauce until Mama can make yet another last-minute run to the store.

And then, tonight, in another family tradition, Mama and I will pull together several of the other make-ahead dishes: dressing, her horseradish cranberry sauce, maybe the sweet potatoes. It varies depending on time, energy, and refrigerator space. We're low on all three this year. This means, tomorrow, we will mix up the green bean casserole, make gravy (yes, I can do that without turkey drippings!), poach the pears and make the chocolate sauce, and bake the brie appetizer.

So, with the parade first thing in the morning and relatives coming soon after, the day's timeline looks like this:

Thanksgiving Timeline (times are approximate; and, yes, I like Thanksgiving for lunch)

(*pre-cooked; #pre-assembled)

Mulled cider
Dressing and Gravy
#Yams with Marshmallows
#Green Bean Casserole
*Strawberry Jello Salad
*Cranberry Sauce (x2)

Mashed Potatoes

Dinner Rolls
*Pumpkin Pie
Poached Pears


-3.0 hrs before dinner (10:00 a.m.) Prepare stock for gravy with sauteed carrots and onions; serve late-breakfast sandwiches

-2.5 (10:30 a.m.) Assemble Brie, baked, and serve with crackers; mull cider and serve;

-1.5 (11:30 a.m.) Begin to wash, peel, and cut potatoes
-1.0 (12 noon) Start gravy; mix dressing; begin to assemble yams and mashed potatoes (separately!)
- .75 (12:15 p.m.) Dressing goes in the oven; begin to assemble Green Bean Casserole

- .5 (12:30 p.m.) Yams and Green Bean Casserole into oven (don't forget marshmallows!)
- .25 (12:45 p.m.) Dinner Rolls in oven; assemble poached pears and cook when dinner starts
0.0 (1:00 p.m.) DINNER
+1 (2:00 p.m.) Poached Pears, Pumpkin Pie; whip cream

+2 (3:00 p.m.) Somebody else does the dishes!


Miss K's Baked Brie

Roll out a boxed pie crust ( I use the Pillsbury pie crust found in the cold section near the orange juice - 2 in a box) with a little flour into a large circle. Spray the baking dish with Pam (or whatever) and put the pie crust in the dish. Place the large brie in the middle (I use the President brand), top with a layer of preserves (for the party I used apricot but I've used others like orange, etc.) then top with sliced almonds (if you use cranberry then walnuts are good). Fold up the pie crust around the brie, pinch closed and tear off extra crust. Put a light egg wash all over and then if desired, put another thin layer of preserves and nuts on top. Bake at 375 for 25 minutes or until the pie crust is golden brown. Let it sit for about 10 minutes.


Be patient and really let that roux brown!
Heat 3 tablespoons grease. Add 3 tablespoons of flour. Brown til copper-colored. Stir in 3 cups drippings. Add chicken bouillon and salt and pepper to taste.


It took awhile to get the moisture right, but now I know to double (at least) the stock with the dried bag stuffing.

½ cup margarine
½ cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 bag of stuffing
2 cups dry bread (or 2 more cups of Pepperidge Farms)
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
½ teaspoon sage
1 cup chicken stock (double this amount!)

Saute onion and celery in margarine. In mixing bowl, crumble breads and add spices and onion/celery mix. Add chicken stock. Refrigerate over night. Bake at 350°F for 45 min.-1 hour.


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.

Martha Stewart

Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish
Apparently, this recipe is a legend. Two years ago, for Thanksgiving 2001, I believe, my mom made it, having heard it on the radio and liking the horseradish idea. She told me about it and I thought Mama would be intrigued. So I looked it up on the internet—well, there are several sites about it—how awful it is, how it ruined a cook’s reputation and/or family relationship, how pink it is. Only a few letters and sites say it’s any good. Mama liked it but I don’t think anyone else did. This copy of the recipe is straight from Apparently, Susan Stamberg reads it every year and has only since learned that it was originally a New York Times recipe by Craig Claiborne in 1959.

2 cups whole raw cranberries, washed
1 small onion
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons horseradish from a jar ("red is a bit milder than white")

Grind the raw berries and onion together. ("I use an old-fashioned meat grinder," says Stamberg. "I'm sure there's a setting on the food processor that will give you a chunky grind -- not a puree.")
Add everything else and mix.
Put in a plastic container and freeze.
Early Thanksgiving morning, move it from freezer to refrigerator compartment to thaw. ("It should still have some little icy slivers left.")
The relish will be thick, creamy, and shocking pink. ("OK, Pepto Bismol pink. It has a tangy taste that cuts through and perks up the turkey and gravy. It’s also good on next-day turkey sandwiches, and with roast beef.")
Makes 1-1/2 pints.

NPR radio

Fresh Cranberry Orange Relish
1 12-ounce package Ocean Spray(r) Fresh or Frozen Cranberries, rinsed and drained

1 unpeeled orange, cut into eighths and seeded

3/4-1 cup sugar

Place half the cranberries and half the orange slices in food processor container or food grinder. Process until mixture is evenly chopped. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with remaining cranberries and orange slices. Stir in sugar. Store in refrigerator or freezer. Makes about 3 cups.


Green Bean Casserole
The old standby. Everybody has this for the holidays. Though, it is hard to remember where they keep those onions in the stores. Mama had a devil of a time finding them the first year we made Thanksgiving. She’d never had it before and now loves it.

2-16 oz. cans whole green beans, drained (can also use frozen)
1 can Cream of Mushroom soup
½ cup milk
Dash pepper
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1-2.8 oz. can of French-Fried Onions

Combine soup, milk, soy sauce and pepper. Stir in green beans and ½ can of onions. Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes or until hot; stir. Top with remaining onions. Bake 5 minutes.


Jello Salad--Aunt J’s Strawberry-Cream Squares

The jello recipe my mom remembered and sent along. She recommended substituting mayo for sour cream but I opted to wait. She never has found the recipe pages from her BH&G cookbook that she wanted to copy for me. My edition only had 2 recipes; hers had 3 pages! Such are the times (11/07).

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 (about 20-30 minutes). Spread sour cream on layer; pour remaining jello on top. Chill firm. Cut into squares. Top with sour cream dollops.

Aunt J

Libby's Famous Pumpkin Pie

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2 large eggs

1 can (15 oz.) Libby canned pumpkin

1 can (12 fl. oz.) evaporated milk

1 unbaked 9-inch (4-cup volume) deep-dish pie shell

Whipped cream (optional)

MIX sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk.POUR into pie shell.BAKE in preheated 425° F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F; bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream before serving.NOTES:1 3/4 teaspoons pumpkin spice may be substituted for the cinnamon, ginger and cloves; however, the taste will be slightly different. Do not freeze, as this will cause the crust to separate from the filling.FOR 2 SHALLOW PIES: substitute two 9-inch (2-cup volume) pie shells. Bake in preheated 425° F. oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F.; bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until pies test done.FOR HIGH ALTITUDE BAKING (3,500 to 6,000 ft.): Deep-dish pie- extend second bake time to 55 to 60 minutes. Shallow pies- no change.

back of the Libby's pumpkin can

Poached Pears in Chocolate SauceYield:

4 servings

Cooking Time: 20 minutes, plus cooling time


4 pears (about 6 ounces each), preferably Anjou

3¼ cups sugar

2 vanilla beans

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, such as Valrhona or Hershey’s

½ cup heavy cream


Peel and core the pears. Combine 2½ cups of the sugar and 5 cups water in a saucepan large enough to hold the pears. Split the vanilla beans the long way and scrape out the seeds; add both seeds and pods to the water. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.Add the pears and adjust the heat so that the mixture bubbles, but not too vigorously. Cook for 8 minutes, or until a thin-bladed knife inserted into the pears meets with little resistance. Let the pears cool in the liquid for 30 to 60 minutes (do not refrigerate).Meanwhile, combine 1 cup water with the remaining ¾ cup sugar in a small saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Turn off the heat and whisk in the cocoa, along with the cream. Return to very low heat and cook, stirring, just until thickened slightly. (This can be made several hours in advance; keep at room temperature, then rewarm gently.)Serve the pears with the warm chocolate sauce spooned over them.The pears should be large and just about perfectly ripe before cooking. To judge ripeness, gently squeeze their "shoulders," which should yield to your touch.The easiest way to core a pear is with a small melon baller, digging up from the bottom. An ordinary teaspoon works almost as well.NotesIf you are not going to cook the pears right away, once they are peeled and cored, drop them into a bowl of cold water mixed with the juice of a lemon to keep them from turning brown.© 2000 Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark

The Beats of Their Own Drums

We're on Day 2 of at-home-alone, though Sis's fever abated in the night and Bud is not yet sick. We might be clear by tomorrow, if all goes well today. Still, sadly we had to cancel this morning's playgroup and Chinese food extravaganza and are trying to make do by ourselves.

And so out came the pots and pans. Sis and Bud spread blanket "stages" on the living room floor and lined up anything that would make a noise when hit with a drumstick. My kitchen pots and pans and lids, those from their little kitchen, makeshift oatmeal can and yogurt container drums, and actual little drums and tambourines.

Bud lined all his up in a row and played them sequentially, one at a time. Sis, on the other hand, flailed her arms to play several simultaneoulsy and to make the maximum sound possible, even testing different lid and pot combos for the most noise. Oddly, this is the exact opposite of how they paint: Sis makes individual, discrete color circles, never mixing colors, while Bud mixes as many colors as possible across the entire sheet of paper.

But most telling is that Bud continued to play his drum scales, while Sis eventually picked up her pots and pans and moved to the little kitchen, where she is now making "vegetables from the farm."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pie Crust Cookies

We're home from school today, trying to make the most of it. They aren't acting sick (well, Bud isn't sick. Yet). But Sis's temperature read 100.5F this morning. And so we're home.

And we made cookies. Not real cookies, with flour, butter, and sugar. But Pie Crust Cookies. I had a crust leftover from a 2-pack, of which half became a pumpkin pie. And Sis wanted to make cookies. So, I hauled my tub of cookie cutters up from the basement and, while they chose shapes, I split the crust, rolled it a bit, and mixed cinnamon-sugar.

Some hints for doing this yourself: You can bring the dough to room temp by nuking it for 10-20 seconds; beats waiting 15 minutes. Don't roll the pie crust too thin. You probably don't need to roll it at all, but I wanted to have enough for both of them to make several cookies. Watch the cookies carefully--they only really needed 8 minutes in a 450F oven.

Have fun! It's easier--let's sticky/messy--than even store-bought sugar cookie dough.


Pie Crust Cookies

1 roll store-bought refrigerated pie crust (brought to room temperature)
1/4 cup sugar
1-2 tablespoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 450F. Unroll pie crust dough. Flatten or roll out as desired (they puff better--and don't risk burning as easily--if the dough is left thick). Cut out desired shapes. Place on silpat or parchment-paper lined cookie sheet. Mix cinnamon and sugar. Dust cookies. Bake 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Eating at Home

So, Americans ate more meals at home this year than last, by 12 (242 meals at home this year vs. 231 before), according to data reported in the NYTimes. We certainly have; we've eaten out once as a family in about two months. And Thanksgiving is no different. Now, we will officially have two households at ours (Goo is on his own now and doesn't live with Ma and Gong), as is the average apparently, but we will not have the nine people present that is standard. We'll have 7.

I think. This holiday season is off to a rocky start as far as family relationships go and promises to be fairly stressful, especially with our wedding on Christmas Eve thrown into the mix. We're muddling through, getting some advice from our trusted friend and minister, and trying not to ruin the season (or the future), while also reexamining our needs, priorities, and boundaries. Wish us luck and keep us in your thoughts, but let's not dwell; it doesn't help.

Check This Out: Rape of Europa

Airing on your local PBS station this week is the documentary, "Rape of Europa," based on the 1995 book by Lynn H. Nicholas. The film chronicles the Nazi looting of Europe's artworks and the subsequent restoration of those works by American and European scholars after the war. The legacy of the looting persists today as conservators still try to repair damage and collectors and their children try to reunite with works stolen from them during WWII.


We have illness in the house. Sis has a fever, which came on unexpectedly last night. I am keeping her and Bud, who is most likely contagious and soon to be sick, home from school today. This makes me extra-sad as I'm sure today would've been a big day at school.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Museums Past and Present

Today on NPR, "All Things Considered" examined the origins of the museum in the United States. Even though I am a museum professional, it surprised me to learn that if you added up attendance figures at major leagues sports--about 140 million--it would not top the 840 million people who annually visit museums. Of course, we don't get paid nearly what those professionals get paid! The article goes on to cite the "boring" factor of museums, the ambiguity of their place in the educational infrastructure of the country, despite Philippe de Montebello, the outgoing Director at the Met, calling them the "memory of mankind."

It has been the educational mission of museums, I think, that has in part led to their "boring" reputation. In 19th-century England, art museums were conceived of as educational institutions to improve the lot of the working classes, who were supposed to visit the National Gallery to improve their minds and therefore their stations in life. While the language, and the missions have certainly changed, museums have not quite shaken the patronizing reputation of "we're good for you." We used to laugh, in our Chicago museum education basement, that we were the vegetable at the buffet of recreational choices. Who would come see what was good for them when they could have a tasty hot dog at Wrigley Field? Children are taken on field trips to museums where they are sometimes, even now in what I considera heyday of museum education, subjected to long-winded docents and boring worksheets. Adults, who experienced the same as children, feel as if they don't know enough to go to museums, or, that if they go, that they have to learn something while they are there. Enjoyment, until recently, has played little part. No one questions the enjoyment factor of major league sports; that is one of their primary missions.

But those same working classes who were encouraged to visit the National Gallery in London to improve their minds, also went to have fun. Records indicate that they often picnicked in the galleries or brought their children there to play on rainy days. How do we know this? The people in charge of the National Gallery testified before Parliament about the unacceptable behavior of the working classes. Public exhibitionary culture was in its infancy and what eventually became proper, quiet, focused, "boring" museum behavior had not yet taken hold. Museums and exhibitions (just think of the Crystal Palace of 1851 or the cartoons in Punch) were still very much exciting, social, fun places. But it is happening again, thanks to museum professionals thinking outside of the academic box about exhibitions, audiences, programs, and amenities. Museum professionals are injecting life into these "boring" institutions and obviously the public has responded.

My New Professional Blog

I was going to wait to premiere my new art history and museum education blog until there was more content, but NPR ran a feature about museums in the 21st century this evening and I wanted to comment on it.

So, check out another me at Look to Learn, Learn to Look.

A Day without Diapers

Bud has gone a whole 24 hours without a diaper. No accidents.

In truth, he hasn't needed his nighttime diaper since we started potty-training but we left them on for comfort, familiarity, ease, safety. But now he's outgrowing them and he's getting a dry spot on his belly where they rub. So last night, spur of the moment, we just put him to bed with no diapers. Done.

Sis has about 6 nighttime diapers left and we're not buying anymore so pretty soon, she'll be diaperless too. She's not looking forward to that but we're hoping we can get her excited about totally outgrowing them.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

We Gather Together

"We gather together in joyful thanksgiving
acclaiming creation, whose bounty we share;
both sorow and gladness we find now in our living,
we sing a hymn of praise to the life that we bear.

"We gather together to join in the journey,
confirming, commiting our passage to be
a true affirmation, in joy and tribulation,
when bound to human care and hope--then we are free."

UUA hymnal

Today was our church's annual Thanksgiving potluck dinner. We arrived early to help sort foods and set up. Our own foods--roasted carrots and cranberry upside down cake--were at home with Mama, still in the oven, and arrived later. The kids were amazingly helpful, mainly because they didn't try to eat everything in sight and stayed out from under foot. They also helped put out the decorations their class had made, including giving-thanks leaves. Sis's said she was thankful for Shirt. Bud was thankful for the cats. They also helped one of their RE teachers unmold her jello salad; this was particularly exciting since they'd never seen that done.

There was a ton of yummy food. And an odd coincidence: three people brought brussel sprouts. Now, people usually have strong feelings for or against, often the latter, about those, so I thought it was odd that three different people chose to bring them. It's always something. Last year I think we had too many pumpkin pies. This year there were none. Next year, there won't be any brussel sprouts. Or carrots. There were lots of carrots, including our own roasted ones. The best were a friend's root beer carrots. Sounds weird; wasn't. And I googled it--I think it must have been a Rachel Ray recipe. I loved Miss M's cranberry relish, complete with marmalade-like slabs of practically candied orange rind. Mmmmmm. And the mushrooms-butternut squash risotto! I loved this dish. And Bud loved that jello salad.

Unfortunately, I have very few recipes to share with you. Yet. The relish and risotto are on their ways. And I'm going to guess at the jello salad (and there are thousands of options if you google jello/whole cranberry sauce/mandarin oranges). So, keep checking back. Just like with Thanksgiving and its leftovers, time will just make this post better.


Root Beer Carrots
EIGHT SERVINGS Prep Time: 10 min Cook Time: 20 min

One 12-ounce bottle root beer
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 pounds ready-peeled baby carrots
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

In a large skillet, bring 1/2 cup water, the root beer, sugar, cinnamon, cumin, cloves and salt to a boil. Add the carrots, return to a boil, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Uncover and boil until tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the thyme. Using a slotted spoon, place the carrots in a bowl.

From Every Day with Rachael RayNovember 2006

Cranberry Jello Salad

2 (6 oz.) boxes raspberry Jello
2 cans whole berry cranberry sauce
1 c. mandarin oranges
1 (20 oz.) can crushed pineapple, drained
2 lg. apples, chopped
4 c. hot water
1 c. pecans, chopped (optional)

Place the Jello and hot water into a large bowl and whip until dissolved. Into another bowl put the chopped apples, cranberry sauce, oranges and pineapples which have been drained. Combine with the dissolved Jello and pour into a 9 x 13 inch pan. Chill until set. A cup of pecans can be used if desired. This is very good with ham or turkey.

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

8 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon allspice
1 ¾ cups cranberries
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¾ cup all purpose flour
1 ½ cup teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk

Preheat oven to 350°F, with rack in center. Rub the bottom and sides of an 8” round cake pan with 2 tablespoons butter. In a small bowl, whisk together ½ cup sugar with the cinnamon and allspice. Sprinkle mixture evenly over bottom of pan; arrange cranberries in a single layer on top.
With an electric mixer, cream remaining 6 tablespoons butter and ½ cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; beat until well combined. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture to butter mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the milk, until well combined.
Spoon batter over cranberries in pan, and smooth top. Place pan on a baking sheet; bake cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake; invert onto a rimmed platter.

Martha Stewart Everyday Food

Saturday, November 22, 2008

On Your Mark! Get Set! Stop.

Every year Americans seem to run the same Christmas marathon: beginning around Thanksgiving, we start the gift run to Christmas, saying all along the way that we shouldn't spend so much, that gifts are not the "reason for the season," that no one needs anything else. And every year, pretty much, we finish the holiday marathon with more gifts, more debt, more stress under the holiday tree.

But how to stop this? How do you opt out of this seasonal race? Well, I'm not much of a runner--we give gifts to immediate family (including each other, kids, siblings, parents, and an aunt and uncle), a very few number of friends (mainly because they send us gifts), and people who help us (babysitter, teachers, mail carrier, minister, etc). Not too many, not too much. But how do you even decrease the financial toll that this little bit takes?

First I should say, we don't want to eliminate holiday giving; we like the excitement, the tradition. Hell, I like unwrapping gifts and getting new things! Nor do we want to make rules for other people. We won't be organizing a family charity event or name-picking system. We won't be limiting grandparents (I know, I know, Gommie, you already think I give you several guidelines. I see it as suggestions and if you want to give Bud that 6' tall, 3-D foam dinosaur puzzle for ages 8+, you just go right ahead!!). But we do want to decrease the focus on cost and quantity, especially since the kids are more aware of it all this year (though they don't even know you can make lists for Santa and ask for particular presents. Let's keep it that way.) This is our chance to get out of the holiday race--or is that get ahead?

I think, for us, we want to limit what we spend on each other (because we are incorrigible about this) and make more meaningful what we buy for us and the others. And so I was struck today by a series of articles and links in the NYTimes about holiday spending and how to decrease it. My favorite was Get Rich Slowly's 34 homemade gift ideas. I think this is the route I'll be going for most gifts this season. Sure, there is supply costs involved, but I like to think that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Certain people will still, of course, get particular store-bought gifts. I like to remember the distinction between a gift--something you give someone because you think they'll want it--and a present--something you present to someone (and perhaps not as individualized, or thoughtful, as a gift). I don't want my homemade things to be presents I give that are more about me (and my creativity) than about them (especially in the instance that everyone would get the same thing. Ugh). But I do see them as little tokens of love, affection, and care. So it will be a combo of things this year. Besides, I like making things much more than I like shopping. And the kids will enjoy getting into the act. And so here are some gifts, my own top ten list that I hope to make this holiday season (because, yes, of course, I know I am running out of time):

*************SPOILER ALERT for those of you on my Christmas List**********************

  1. Cookie Cutter candy: Buy metal or plastic seasonal cookie cutters. Lay these out on aluminum foil greased lightly with cooking spray. Make rocky road candy (or bark, or even fudge) and spoon it into cutter (or, in the case of fudge, cut it with the cookie cutter). Allow to harden. Place in decorative bag and tie with pretty ribbon, including recipe (see below for Rocky Road).
  2. Homemade Soap: I have this glycerin soap kit I bought on clearance at a craft sale. I've always wanted to try making soap. Now I'm going to.
  3. Personalized cookbook: All my favorite recipes are stored electronically in three volumes. I'm finalizing edits and will be printing these out to give to people. For locals, there might be samples of candied nuts, candy, fudge, quick breads.

  4. Tree Ornaments: There are wooden ornaments for the kids to decorate with markers, glitter, and other doodads. Who can resist a child's homemade ornament?
    For me to do, there are hand-stamped ornaments: Gather a selection of holiday (or other) rubber stamps, cookie cutters, inks, and polymer clay like Sculpey. Roll clay thin, approximately 1/4". Apply ink to stamp and apply image to clay. Cut shape out with cookie cutter. Make hole in ornament with juice box straw. Bake according to package. Glaze with sculpey glaze. Attach ribbon.

  5. Coffee mug candles: In the same pot I use to make glycerin soap, I am gong to make coffee mug candles, inspired by Martha Stewart's much more dainty teacup lights.
  6. Personlized Photo Magnets: Buy a package of business-card sized magnets at an office supply store. Print wallet sized photos. Merge. You could also, for kids, make your own ABC magnets or anything of that ilk.
  7. Knitted Amigurumi: Little Japanese knitted stuffed animals very popular with the Etsy crowd.
  8. Fleece blankets: tied or sewn blankets made of two pieces of fleece.
  9. CD/CD-Rom/DVD compilations: Of favorite music, photos, home video clips. This I'll need help with from Mama . . .
  10. Handpainted Everything: The kids' are great painters--they can do shirts, hats, totebags, you name it. And what they can't paint on, I can make iron-on photo transfers for.


Easy Rocky Road

A standard and reliable candy. I have recently seen an alternate that adds 8 chopped candied cherries—might be good.

2 cups (12 oz. package) chocolate chips

¼ cup butter or margarine

2 tablespoons shortening

3 cups miniature marshmallows

½ cup coarsely chopped nuts

Butter 8 inch square pan. In large microwave-safe bowl place chocolate chips, butter, and shortening; microwave at medium for 5 to 7 minutes or until chips are melted and mixture is smooth when stirred. Add marshmallows and nuts; blend well. spread evenly into prepared pan. Cover; chill until firm. Cut into 2 inch squares. 16 squares.

Going Cold Turkey

We have decided to forego turkey this holiday. Between NYTimes editorials that I could not even finish and headlines about undercover video of turkeys being stomped to death, I couldn't fathom actually celebrating Thanksgiving by serving (let alone eating) one of these poor beasts. It just doesn't put "happy" in my holiday. Especially with Sis thinking a turkey is going to be a guest at our table.

So, we're going to focus on sides. Lots of them. Old standbys, new experiments. More appetizers. More desserts. No faux turkey, though. No Tofurkey or Quorn roast. We don't need them, even if vegheads swear they are good. Will Sis and Bud miss out? Yep, but I'm okay with that. More okay with that than a de-beaked, de-clawed, sleep-deprived, antibiotic and hormoned-laced, inhumanely-slaughtered meal. Yes, we were going to do it, in the name of tradition and such. But Mama just couldn't buy it at the store tonight. And I'm proud of her for deciding not to. Maybe next year we'll get our act together in time to get a heritage turkey raised free-range, cruelty-free, and organic on a local farm, because there are other answers. But right now, this year, Butterball just isn't one of them.

The Sun Also Rises

Bud wanted to know where the sun goes at night. I said it was in China. And so now, every morning, he notes that the people in China are going to bed, and every night he remembers that the people in China are waking up. It's concrete, even if he doesn't really know why.

But the whole Australia-has-summer-when-we-have-winter hasn't quite stuck yet.


I am proud of myself. I lost weight this week and got below a number that has been eluding me for months. To reward myself (because I am all about extrinsic motivation, even though it doesn't work), I'm going to purchase a beautiful poster from Northern Sun called "How to Build a Community." All my good liberal, progressive friends--if you like t-shirts, posters, buttons, bumper stickers with liberal progressive messages, check out this site. I love the text, which I include here (yes, I love stuff like this and Robert Fulghum et al):

How to Build a Community
Turn off your TV.
Leave your house.
Know your neighbors.
Look up when you are walking.
Greet people.
Sit on your stoop.
Plant flowers.
Use your library.
Play together.
Buy from local merchants.
Share what you have.
Help a lost dog.
Take children to the park.
Garden together.
Support neighborhood schools.
Fix it even if you didn't break it.
Have pot lucks.
Honor elders.
Pick up litter.
Read storeis aloud.
Dance in the street.
Talk to the mail carrier.
Listen to the birds.
Put up a swing.
Help carry something heavy.
Barter for your goods.
Start a tradition.
Ask a question.
Hire young people for odd jobs.
Organize a block party.
Bake extra and share.
Ask for help when you need it.
Open your shades.
Sing together.
Share your skills.
Take back the night.
Turn up the music.
Turn down the music.
Listen before you react to anger.
Mediate a conflict.
Seek to understand.
Learn from new and uncomfortable angles.
Know that no one is silent athough many are not heard.
Work to change this.

Are You Happy?

Interesting new tidbit from the NYTimes:

"Happy people spend a lot of time socializing, going to church and reading newspapers — but they don’t spend a lot of time watching television, a new study finds. That’s what unhappy people do."

Tracking, It's Not Just for Diets Anymore

I'm tracking. No, not my food intake. My blog visitors.

I noticed a week ago that my profile had been viewed 400+ times. Mama assured me that most of those would be automated searches, but it still made me wonder who in the world reads this blog besides the friends and family who tell me so (and I only think there are, at most, a dozen of those).

And so I found a free blog analysis site from Google and have installed it here. Don't worry. I can't figure out your email or url, just your country of origin (Hi Lambeth, my sole international visitor!) and how you got here (search engine, directly, or referring site such as Love Big, Bake Often), how many pages you looked at and how long you stayed.

I'm totally addicted. Yesterday, I had 6 visitors. Today it's up to 30. Wow. Weird. Who are you people? And do I really want to know that you are reading my blog? It's a little exciting. Unsettling. Addictive.

Wanna know what you are looking for? It seems to be Thanksgiving meal planning and the Super Turkey song mentioned in my holiday post last year. If you Google "Super Turkey song," my blog comes up on the first page of returns. If you know any of the lyrics, it can rise as high as second! I'll try not to let this new-found "fame" go to my head.

So, to please my "fans" I've located the lyrics to "Super Turkey" and include them here for you (though, my farmer was a Brown and there was a "boom-boom-boom" after "he always gets away). Enjoy!!!


Super Turkey Song

"I’ll tell you a story ‘bout a little bird,
strangest story you’ve ever heard,
Super turkey is his name,
and gettin’ away is how he earned his fame!


Super Turkey!
He always gets away-ay-ay-ay!
Super Turkey!
You won’t eat him this Thanksgiving Day!

Mama Turkey was so glad
about this little chick she’d had,
She made sure she did no wrong,
so he grew up to be big and strong.


Papa Turkey was so proud.
He strutted around and he gobbled out loud,
“My son is so quick and wise.
He’ll never be eaten with pumpkin pies.”


Sure enough, that little chick
grew up to be smart and quick.
He out-smarted and out-ran
every animal and every man.


When Thanksgiving comes around,
Farmer Jones can be found;
Sneakin’ around with his turkey net,
he’s gonna get that turkey yet.


Farmer Jones is getting mad.
He wants to catch that bird so bad.
He gets tired of eating fish
instead of his favorite turkey dish!


Ice Kids Cometh

The car thermometer read 21F and there was a stiff wind, no doubt dropping the perceived temperatued into the teens. And what did we do? We went for a nature walk! We headed to a local nature and science center and spent half the morning running around the castellated playground. Not to worry, as we were fully coated and mittened and hatted. Though, I could've used a scarf and Mama forgot her hat and mittens. The new family rule is you have to wear hats and mittens if it is below freezing. Otherwise, I'm not really a good judge of when you need what winter apparel (and the whole coat process is slowing down and throwing off my whole morning departure routine). Obviously, neither is Mama.

After playing in the castle--and on the very cold metal slides--we took a walk down to the pond. On the way, we must have seen the world's fattest squirrels. Bud thought one was a raccoon! We also saw chickadees, sparrows, a blue jay, and a cardinal at the center's bird feed area. We walked around the frozen pond on the boardwalk, recalling what Sid the Science Kid had said about water turning into ice when it is cold (and how it turns back to water when it is warm). We also imagined all the frogs sleeping in their burrows, just like Felix on Miss Spider. We even found a spot where we could throw rocks onto the frozen surface of the pond and watch then skid all the way across. The kiddos were also able to lean over and touch the ice, which Mama then broke with her foot to demonstrate why you never try to walk on ice. They were fascinated with the 1/4" thick chunks, which they also threw across the pond. We also found a few spots under a bridge where the water was still running.

It wasn't an entirely outdoor experience though because there was a program in the afternoon. We saw (and were able to touch) snakes, turtles, a dragon (bearded, which they liked and feared less than the turtles!!), a bunny that sat in Sis's lap twice, and a bird that laughs. The bunny was so soft and warm, quite opposite of the snake, which I reluctantly stroked trying to encourage the kids. Didn't work, though.

We had lunch out--the first restaurant meal in something like 6 weeks, which they really seemed to appreciate. And, having spent some of the morning discussing what various creatures eat, we imagined which animals would eat plates of what, such as "who would eat a plate full of flies?" A frog! Then we tried to guess what each of us would most like to have on a plate. They chose pizza for me, pretty accurate. Which is why we were there in the first place. At least I got to choose where we ate: Sis wanted to have a picnic outside at the castle.

Many Happy Returns!

Happy Birthday to Mrs. Lambeth!!! Hope you have a wonderful day.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I Heart Art

It looks like it's Valentine's Day at the Met. They've got a new exhibition entitled "Art and Love in Renaissance Italy," complete with paintings by Titian from the Prado. While the review in the NYTimes suggests that the show is inconsistent, I still think it sounds like a perfect way to warm up this winter (complete with 16th-century pornography!). Or to celebrate our impending nuptials. Whadya say, hon?

A Desk of One's Own

I have a new desk.

Well, not "new." I found it in someone's garbage about a year ago (yes, I am occasionally a dumpster diver; this was on the curb of a big house nearby. I'm always shocked what people throw away, especially with a Goodwill not too far away). It's a beautiful wooden desk with cubbies that has been thoroughly cleaned and been in our entryway and now bedroom. For awhile, Mama was storing her stuff in it, but it wasn't really working for her. Or for me, because even when it was hers, I would sit here during rest time and work on the computer. So, yesterday, I traded her my coveted downstairs letter sorter hanging on the wall for the desk. She gets downstairs storage and easy access and I get to have the space where I actually already work. It's a perfect solution.

I have always loved my desks. From the yellow one with three big drawers and a thin drawer at the top, to various dorm desks, a few cheap pressboard office supply store desks, even my huge, L-shaped, ultra-modern (and not very me) IKEA computer/dissertation desk that is currently in the basement, I love sitting at and organizing and working at my desks. My office desks have been pretty great too, from the one in the basement of the museum in Chicago (which was my first) to the one overlooking Central Park from a 19th-century mansion to the last one, again in a basement, complete with bookshelves, drawers, bulletin board, and cubby walls in my own huge office space (which served a double function as the museum's art studio and later housed my assistant at her own desk near mine). And now I have a desk again; I had put the IKEA one in the basement with the end of the dissertation project and the beginning of the baby project. Why did I need a place to write? But with the blogs, the job search, and the possible job, I'm so glad to have a desk again. I've put my knick-knacks on it, put some office supplies in the drawers, purchased a desk tray and am extremely happy with the result.

While I won't equal Judith Shakespeare's or even Virginia Woolf's writings at this desk, it is mine and already feels like home. I think I must have missed having a desk, the first time in some 35 years. I'm looking forward to spending my rest times here. It's kinda like coming home to the old me.

Confession Time

I lied.

I told everyone that we couldn't go to playgroup this morning because someone was coming to look at a leak in the basement.

That wasn't true.

We have a mouse.

Well, probably actually more than one.

But I am embarrassed to admit it.

I am already ashamed of and sensitive about my housekeeping skills.

But the appearance of mice makes me feel worse.

Of course, I've been told that the appearance of mice does not necessarily indicate dirtiness.

But I don't think I believe it. Because I know we are guilty of not being neat and clean all the time.

We first started noticing that soemthing was amiss when the cats quit coming upstairs in the evening and overnight. We would find them in the morning huddled in front of the cabinet underneath the sink. Obviously they could hear, see, or smell something that we couldn't. Now, we've had a mouse or two before, usually in the spring, usually one that we have trapped in the basement. It's an old house with no doubt lots of ways for mice to get in and it does get cold outside. So we looked for droppings, but didn't find any and so put down baking soda to see if we could find any tracks.

Well, two nights ago I found droppings and tracks. The cats' vigilance had paid off; we had been clued into our problem. But instead of our usual traps in the basement, we decided to call in our pest control people who came this morning. It's not a huge problem, he said, but it's good that we called them so they can seal up holes and the like before we have a real little colony. He also suggested we get rid of all the cardboard boxes in the basement so they can't nest. Now, most of you haven't been in my basement, thank goodness (and those of you who have made fun of my basement stairway have no idea what lies below; let's just say we value family time above organization) but I bet there are 100-plus cardboard boxes of books, holiday decorations, childhood memorabilia, clothes, housewares, and other crap down there. We would love to finish half the basement but there is a lot of stuff to move, and we haven't had the money or incentive to declutter. Until now. I think we'll be spending a lot of our evenings in the basement cleaning, transferring things to plastic bins, and hopefully not coming across too many mice.

And the kiddos. They of course are now aware of what's going on because I couldn't tell them it was a leak in the basement if the man and I were looking under the sink and behind my stove. At least the nice man said he was going to put the mice in a field instead of send them to their deaths in little wire traps (I know, I know, I'm a vegetarian and I should use humane methods but I want them out now and none of the humane methods--glue traps, peppermint oil, cohabitation--work). But Bud wants to name the mice. Sis wants to call ours the "mouse house" and feed them cheese. I tried to explain that real mice aren't all that nice and that they are eating our food, and then Bud got worried and asked if the mice had angry faces. Oh, boy. First the damned turkeys, and now the mice.

So there, I told you. The kids would have anyway so I might as well beat them to it. I'm coming clean. And am cleaning. I guess that makes it a win-win situation. Just, please, don't tease me.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wish Me Luck

I've lined up some professional references and have started editing my most recent resume (which I had tidied up for a museum job this summer so it has to be reconceptualized) and am actually going to apply for a couple of adjunct positions at local colleges for the spring or summer. Just to teach a class or two, probably introductory survey. The timing has to be right, the money more than I made ten years ago without my Ph.D. I haven't taught in a lecture hall in years but lectured extensively at my four museum positions. It's kind of exciting, kind of scary. But let's not count chickens or move carts in front of horses. Let's just revel in the moment as I consider reentering some semblance of my former professional life. And if I end up not getting one or not taking one I get, just the act of thinking about it has been so good for me.

Which is why I'm in the process of starting a whole new blog, one of art and museums, a more career/professional/academic one which I will premiere probably in January once I've written (and actually edited) several posts.


As I've said I've been singing Les Mis in the car the last few days, crying as I go. Yes, I am PMSing. But, I've also radically altered how I see this musical. Once, for me, it was a love story, requited and unrequited; I wasn't that interested in Valjean's personal, spiritual journey. But now, I also see it as a story of parental love (which is why I'm crying as Fantine gives Cosette away in the beginning and Valjean says goodbye to Cosette at the end; but I don't really like Cosette. That "Castle on a Cloud" song grates on my nerves.).

But in the end, it's a story of spirituality and religion, of Valjean and Javert, morality and righteousness.

And all I keep singing is "to love another person is to see the face of God."

Was Victor Hugo a Unitarian Universalist*?

I might actually have to read the novel (please, oh please, tell me the line is in the book and not just the musical??)


**Nope, because they were separate religious movements in the 19th century. But he did abandon Catholicism for a more liberal spiritualism according to Wikipedia.

Good Luck

A shoutout to Mrs Teacher, whom I saw at Starbucks today studying for her bio exam. Good luck! Let's have coffee when you're not studying . . .

A Secret Dream

I've been listening to musicals these last few days (after several days of listening to Bob Marley with the kids), mainly Passion and Les Miserables, mainly in the car, where I can sing my heart out with impunity. See, I always wanted to be a Broadway star. As long as I can remember, I loved playing musicals on my record (then tape, then CD, now MP3) player and singing along as if I were the actress. Guinevere in Camelot, Liesl in Sound of Music, Laurie in Oklahoma, any of the women in Carousel and Fiddler on the Roof, the Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the cast of Chorus Line, Evita, Christine in Phantom of the Opera, on up through Into the Woods, Secret Garden, Rent, Titanic, Ragtime, Jane Eyre, Lion King. And today, Les Mis (either Fantine or Eponine, never Cosette!) and Passion.

Of course, I never had any real professional aspirations. I wouldn't even join choir in junior high because someone told me that you had to sing in front of the class alone. I did muster the courage to try out for my high school's rendition of Fiddler but didn't make it (my best friend at the time did, though). I'm what you might call an enthusiastic singer, best around campfires and in groups. I was a great Girl Scout. I was in a woman's chorus in Chicago, which accepted everyone and didn't care that I wasn't an accomplished singer. I loved all the folk and world songs they sang. And I'm just learning to sing along with my church's hymnal. See, I can't read music and so unless I know a song already I can't sing it. I don't have to know it very well because I'm great at making up lyrics and coming up with rhymes on the spot (I get this skill from my mom, who rarely remembers lyrics correctly but is great at ad-libbing). Besides, I'm naturally an alto who desperately wants to be a soprano, so I'm not too particular about maintaining my key.

Which is why the car is the perfect place for me to sing, with or without the kids who as yet think I'm a great singer. I don't tell them otherwise, as I believe for a non-professional like myself it's the passion that counts (besides, they are too young to learn that typical adult complex of "I'm not a good ______."). What do they say in Chorus Line? "What you lack in talent you sure make up in volume!" Just don't laugh if you see me belting my solo at the stoplight. I'm having a grand time, living a childhood dream, in my mind, which is sometimes the only and best place.

New Foodie Website

Check out Cookstr, the new foodie website profiled by the NYTimes a few weeks ago. It's got lots of "names," such as Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters, Mollie Katzen, just to name a few, with thousands of their recipes and lots of pretty pictures. I haven't spent too much time with the interface but the content looks intriguing.

I'll probably be using their poached pears in chocolate sauce by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman (though I should note that when I searched "pears helene," which also has chocolate, it didn't appear--though I know that it is there--because I didn't use accent marks. They need to fix that.)

Poached Pears in Chocolate Sauce

Yield: 4 servings
Cooking Time: 20 minutes, plus cooling time
4 pears (about 6 ounces each), preferably Anjou
3¼ cups sugar
2 vanilla beans
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, such as Valrhona or Hershey’s
½ cup heavy cream

Peel and core the pears. Combine 2½ cups of the sugar and 5 cups water in a saucepan large enough to hold the pears. Split the vanilla beans the long way and scrape out the seeds; add both seeds and pods to the water. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.
Add the pears and adjust the heat so that the mixture bubbles, but not too vigorously. Cook for 8 minutes, or until a thin-bladed knife inserted into the pears meets with little resistance. Let the pears cool in the liquid for 30 to 60 minutes (do not refrigerate).
Meanwhile, combine 1 cup water with the remaining ¾ cup sugar in a small saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Turn off the heat and whisk in the cocoa, along with the cream. Return to very low heat and cook, stirring, just until thickened slightly. (This can be made several hours in advance; keep at room temperature, then rewarm gently.)
Serve the pears with the warm chocolate sauce spooned over them.
The pears should be large and just about perfectly ripe before cooking. To judge ripeness, gently squeeze their "shoulders," which should yield to your touch.
The easiest way to core a pear is with a small melon baller, digging up from the bottom. An ordinary teaspoon works almost as well.

If you are not going to cook the pears right away, once they are peeled and cored, drop them into a bowl of cold water mixed with the juice of a lemon to keep them from turning brown.© 2000 Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman

Is Hope Contagious?

Yesterday at Chinese class, the little four-year old sitting next to us was wearing a private school nametag. And she wouldn't take it off, so proud was she of her name emblazoned in marker on the white sticker, with the brand name of the prestitigous school elegantly inscribed at the top. Her dad kept asking her to take it off--because, well, we wouldn't want to gloat, now would we?--but she refused. She's four; she gets it. What's the point of going to one of those schools if you don't let everyone know?

I've been following the lifestyle pages' reports of where the Obamas will be sending their little girls--which tony Washington private school will be able to boast of their enrollment? Georgetown Day? Sidwell? Why do I even know the name of that school? Oh, wait, that's where Chelsea Clinton went. It comes at a time when my friend who is moving to sub-suburban (i.e. not near Atlanta) Georgia is researching schools and tells me that my town's schools get lower grades on the website than those in her new part of the world, which I find great for her and depressing for us (given that we are in one of the richest states in the nation).

But I found hope it the pages of the NYTimes this morning, on Sandra Tsing Loh's blog; she's one of the education writers. And she too is contemplating schools, public policy (or lack thereof), and the Obamas. Her kids go to school in L.A. where budgets and bureaucracy are depressing. But she finds hope in the coming era, even for oft-ignored education, which has taken an even further backseat during this economic crisis. She writes:

"The time is perfect for an American renaissance revivifying this most Jeffersonian of ideals — quality public education, available for all — where an educated citizenry is the heart of a thriving democracy. . . . With any luck, in the next generation, the meritocratic dream conveyed in the ascension of Barack Obama will not hinge on a lucky jaunt at the Punahou School but will be entwined in a narrative that reflects the triumph of public school, a fought-for hearth in which burns the essential goodness, fair-mindedness and optimism of America."

I hope so. We desperately need it. But at least for now, my kiddos marched off to school this morning proud to be seen in their matching school logo shirts.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

We played Thanksgiving dinner all day today. And I was thrilled to see them getting excited about this holiday; so thrilled, in fact, that we even practiced Thanksgiving by making a real pumpkin pie. Throughout the day, Sis and Bud set the table with cloth and plates and then laid out a delicious spread of "first vegetable soup." Even Amy the Bunny's baby chair was set with tasty vegetables. I was invited to share the holiday meal.

And then the Great Turkey came to dinner. Sis would rush out of the playroom and come dancing back to us with one of our decorative, festive, Pilgrim-dressed play turkey waving in front of her face (These are now Mr. and Mrs. Turkey; we used to laughingly and lovingly call them, pre-babies, Butch and Femme Turkey. I'm just not up for explaining that to the kiddos, so our turkey family, at least, is traditional). We were encouraged to stand and cheer, then to invite the Great Turkey for dinner.

Because, as all of you know, you have turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

If you don't get it, substitute the word "friends" for "turkey."

It's like something out of Charlie Brown, an odd confluence of the Great Pumpkin and Santa Claus, but using the mascot for this holiday. I always did think it was sick that we use the sacrificial animal of the holiday as its symbol. Well, this year it has gotten worse. Sis thinks the Thanksgiving turkey is coming for dinner. And Bud's right there with her, dancing with the Great Turkey. I'm a vegetarian, so I'm not going to eat turkey--do we really need it? How do I tell them that the turkey is the main course not the honored guest? (I know, I know, just one more example of how squeamish and naive Americans are so far removed from their food sources. I can't transcend my culture in all things, people.)

Especially because Sis asked me, "Mommy, what is the difference between a farm turkey and eating turkey?"

I think it just became my least favorite holiday.


Libby's Famous Pumpkin Pie

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 can (15 oz.) Libby canned pumpkin
1 can (12 fl. oz.) evaporated milk
1 unbaked 9-inch (4-cup volume) deep-dish pie shell
Whipped cream (optional)

MIX sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk.POUR into pie shell.BAKE in preheated 425° F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F; bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream before serving.

NOTES:1 3/4 teaspoons pumpkin spice may be substituted for the cinnamon, ginger and cloves; however, the taste will be slightly different. Do not freeze, as this will cause the crust to separate from the filling.

FOR 2 SHALLOW PIES: substitute two 9-inch (2-cup volume) pie shells. Bake in preheated 425° F. oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F.; bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until pies test done.

FOR HIGH ALTITUDE BAKING (3,500 to 6,000 ft.): Deep-dish pie- extend second bake time to 55 to 60 minutes. Shallow pies- no change.

back of the Libby's pumpkin can

Visiting an Art Museum with Children: I Spy

Going to an art museum with children? Try playing "I Spy." This game allows kids to adapt a familiar game to an often unfamiliar setting. It also gives them a way to look at art by helping them locate ordinary objects. Finally, it encourages close looking at a single work of art. You can play this game with almost any genre, style, or period of art. Seventeenth-century still lifes feature wonderful foods and objects. American nineteenth-century landscapes allow discussion of weather, buildings, and land features. Portraits from any period contain interesting clothing, settings, and objects.

Start the game by reminding kids that this is a game for eyes only, not pointing fingers. Then pick a painting (though this also works with most sculptures) and have someone start the "I Spy" game by locating an object and waiting for others to spot it. The "spotter" can then spy the next object. You can also start with a question such as "What do you see?" and then follow that up with "What else do you see?" For many children (even young ones), identifying the objects can be a jumping off point for deeper discussion of what is happening in the painting. Later, with some children, you can ask questions about time and place, as in "Do you think this peron lives here now?" or "Do you think this is a picture of our hometown?" Follow it up with "what makes you say that?" which encourages supporting evidence for an answer.

If you are familiar with the museum or have a quick eye, you can enter an entire gallery asking children to find a particular kind of work of art, stating something like, "I spy a moutain," and letting the kids search the whole room. This works best in small galleries with few other visitors. An offshoot of this would be a treasure hunt, a very standard museum field trip activity.

But that will have to be another post.

Bon Voyage!

Gommie is on her way to a four-day vacation in Savannah and Charleston. She and her Mah Jong buddies are celebrating a significant birthday with the trip, a new tradition for them (I think they've also done Door County and St. Louis for others. Where will you go, Gommie?) Have fun, Gommie! We look forward to hearing all about it.

Mommy Come Lately

By definition, I'm a mommy blogger. I am a mommy. I have a blog. I post about my children and my experiences as a mommy. But I don't consider myself a Mommy Blogger, one of the connected members of the mommy blogger community who keeps up with happenings and information via other mommy blogs, Twitter, and the like. I read my friends' blogs and I post mine because I like to share experiences with people I know. I'm not dissing the Mommy Blogger community, far from it, I just see myself as outside the main part of it (mainly because of time constraints) while empathetically watching it from a distance.

Which is why I'm only just learning from the NYTimes blog Motherlode about the Mommy-Motrin PR disaster that happened this weekend. Apparently, Motrin ran an ad about babywearing (that's slings, folks) and how it is trendy and can cause back pain. I quote it from the NYTimes here:

"Wearing your baby seems to be in fashion. I mean, in theory it’s a great idea. There’s the front baby carrier, sling, schwing, wrap, pouch. And who knows what else they’ve come up with. Wear your baby on your side, your front, go hands free. Supposedly, it’s a real bonding experience. They say that babies carried close to the body tend to cry less than others. But what about me? Do moms that wear their babies cry more than those who don’t. I sure do! These things put a ton of strain on your back, your neck, your shoulders. Did I mention your back? I mean, I’ll put up with the pain because it’s a good kind of pain; it’s for my kid. Plus, it totally makes me look like an official mom. And so if I look tired and crazy, people will understand why."

Well, folks, the Mommy Bloggers went nutso, offended that Motrin would ridicule, in its own attempts to be trendy, the very personal and some would say sacred art of babywearing. What is amazing as blogger Belkin points out is how the companies (I think it was an external creative agency) behind Motrin and the ad were clueless about the maelstrom developing on the internet over the weekend after the ad appeared. Only now have they pulled the ad and apologized for its offensive content. They really must be fools to have thought that ad would fly; someone wasn't doing their homework. Didn't they learn from the Pampers disaster earlier this year, when that company invited Mommy Bloggers to a conference but wanted them to come sans children?? The clout of Mommy Bloggers is intense. I mean, even in my little group, mommy-ord-of-mouth really has an effect. I'm sure moms have always had this kind of local clout, anyway, but with the internet it is fast and national

All I have to say to Motrin's ad execs, if you think wearing a baby causes back pain (and I tried it but could never manage carrying two that way), try pushing a full double stroller around. Mommywork just hurts sometimes.

Besides, I take Advil.

In My Bookbag

I just returned a few books to the library, cookbooks I barely managed to crack open much less cook from. I had long wanted to peruse Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone but both are a little too involved for me right now: too many ingredients, too much prep. I need Fix It and Forget It Vegetarian/LowFat/Healthy. That doesn't really exist. I also took back Frozen Assets; no, not about the current state of the economy, well, not specifically--it's about cooking meals for a month all at once. And all I can say about economic cooking is that it doesn't seem like it would taste very good at all, so maybe you're saving money because you just won't eat. Finally, I returned Nathan's Jewish Holiday Cooking. Okay, right, I'm not Jewish and thus don't observe the holidays but I love Nathan's sociological/anthropological approach to food, the way she records cultures (Ashkenazic/Sephardic/Jews in Delhi/Americanized Jews/you name it). I read her columns in the NYTimes every year during the High Holidays and always find something worth trying. This is the one cookbook I had that I actually read some of; her introduction to Jewish cooking and the Jewish dietary laws or kashrut in the beginning were enlightening, even though I had a grasp of some of them already.

So what am I reading? I am in the middle of Unredeemed Captive about the effects of the Deerfield Massacre on a particular family while also illuminating the colonies and colonial period as a whole. It's at times pedestrian but the story is fascinating and the research sound. I just rediscovered my unfinished George Eliot bio which had been in the car when the tree fell and will get back to that soon.

And then I'm also revisiting Fulghum's Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned In Kindergarten. I had loved this book when it came out in 1990, despite the fact that the author was a minister; I was more judgmental and closed-minded back then. Well, now I've learned that he is a UU minister, which tickles me to no end, and I'm enjoying the book again, having found it at a bookstore closeout sale. While his essays are shorter than I remember, and I now long for more explication, I am still inspired by his message. I think there are at least two more in the series; I wonder if they are at my mom's house, on the bookcases upstairs (hint, hint). In case you don't know the book (and I thought everyone had seen the poster, at least--it's on the walls at my PT office), I'll include his famous list here.

Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in Kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school. These are the things that I learned:

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don't bite people.
Put things back where they belong.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say sorry if you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life.
Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing
and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, wath for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the plastic cup?
The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hampsters and dogs and cats and even the little seed in the pastic cup~they all die. So do we.
And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK.
Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The golden rule and love and sanitation.
Ecology and politics and sane living.
Think of what a better world it would be if we all ~ The whole world, had cookies and milk every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap.
Or if we had a basic policy to always put things back where we found them and cleaned up our own messes?!
And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

Robert Fulghum, Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

Let It Snow!

We woke up to snow this morning, actual big snowflakes not little, tiny flurries. Nothing stuck but we enjoyed watching it fall in the sunrise sky.

And then we went outside and danced around in our pajamas and socks, celebrating the first snowfall.

Because, sooner or later, it will be winter and the snow will stick. I need to stock up on cocoa, marshmallows, and popcorn for when it does.


My Hot Chocolate

4 cups milk (rice milk and soy milk will work as well)
¼ cup cocoa powder (Droste)
¼ cup sugar (or slightly more)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch salt

Combine all ingredients and heat until warmed through. Serve with marshmallows and popcorn. Delicious!

Monday, November 17, 2008

How to Visit an Art Museum with Children

Thinking of taking your kids to an art museum? Want to make it as successful and happy a visit as possible? Whether you are a seasoned museum-goer or a novice visitor, the tips below will make taking children to the art museum a joy:

Before You Visit

  • Plan a short visit--a few galleries, one exhibition. An hour is usually more than enough and about all a preschooler can happily handle.
  • Visit the museum's website to see if they have any children's materials (most do--and I have written many) to help you prepare or to complete there. Call to ask if you can take pencils (never crayons or pens) and paper into the galleries. Most museums I've worked at get edgy about children with art supplies unless in a program accompanied by staff members.
  • Eat beforehand. Because you can't snack in the galleries. Even cheerios or sippy cups.
  • Discuss the rules. Try to phrase them positively, such as "look with your eyes not with your hands" and "use your inside voice." Museum behavior is not the modus operandi for most children but knowing what to expect--and keeping it short--helps.

During Your Visit

  • When you arrive, find a map and locate the bathrooms, cafe, and shop.
  • Depending on how your kids do in shops, go there first to look at the postcard display. Let the children choose a few postcards they like and use those to guide your visit. Some museum maps have pictures and you can use those instead.
  • Review the rules.
  • Introduce your child to a guard. I always explain to my school tours that guards are there to protect you and the art. And if you get lost, they are in almost every room and can help you out. Most guards are glad to say hello.
  • Let the children lead the way.
  • Talk. It's okay to talk in a gallery. Comment on what you see, ask open-ended questions (what do you see? what do you think is going on?).
  • Embrace the family (or one-on-one) time. Avoid programs the first time, until the kids are comfortable in the space, unless your child really thrives on group activities. Tours especially often require quiet, still, attentive behavior which can be difficult for little ones. And programs for kids in the galleries can be overwhelming to a newcomer (or difficult for a family depending on the age span of your children).
  • Take a break midway--outdoor sculpture gardens are ideal for getting the wiggles and giggles out.

After Your Visit

  • Don't forget what educators call the "follow-up activity." Do something based on your visit: draw a picture inspired by those you saw; make a collage with your map, tickets, and postcards; look at other, similar works of art in books or on the internet.
  • Discuss, discuss, discuss: What did you like? What didn't you like? Tell family and friends.
  • Plan your next visit!

For more ideas (and there are several lists of tips on the web), see this interview with Jean L. Sousa, head of Family Programs at The Art Institute of Chicago.

Love Cupcakes, Eat Often

Miss T and I had an awesome time in NYC on our cupcake tour, but not because of the cupcakes. Most of the places we visited were pretty standard and unimaginative; we were looking for cupcake creativity. What we found did not match what Miss T creates (you should be proud, Miss T--yours are better than the best we found in NYC). But we didn't let that hamper our good time, especially because we also managed to shop at a few other stores, including Balducci's, have tea at the iconic British shop Tea and Sympathy (where I had scones and tea and Miss T ate--get this--Spaghetti Os on toast!), and finished off the tour by sitting on a comfy couch and sipping deliciously rich hot chocolate at Chocolate Bar in Henri Bendel overlooking 5th Avenue. I include my thoughts below and look forward to Miss T's more professional opinions.
  • Buttercup Bakeshop--Because this was near Mama's old office, I have had many of their cupcakes before--Lady Baltimore, German Chocolate, Lemon, Devil Dog, Red Velvet--and was excited that they were on our list to visit. And they didn't disappoint! While there isn't much seating or space, the staff were friendly and the cupcake variety inspiring. Indeed, it was my favorite cupcake stop of the day. I had a delicious almond-y Lady Baltimore, with merengue-coconut topping and a cherry, my favorite. I even bought the cookbook so I can try making some myself.
  • Cupcake Cafe--the other place I had been before, this cupcake place is in new digs across the street from its former hole-in-the-wall locale behind the Port Authority. The detailed, accurate, floral decorations on the cupcakes, made with this delightfully colored frosting in many shades, are simply gorgeous. The frosting is very buttery, not very sugary. And the cupcakes were standard chocolate or vanilla, with a few different buttercreams, so not very adventurous. I had vanilla/vanilla, but it was so cold that it tasted like the refrigerator; the one Sis ate at home--chocolate/chocolate with pink tulips--was better because it wasn't ice-cold. The urban eclectic space--the best space and decor of the four shops--certainly added to the enjoyment of otherwise standard tasting but beautiful cupcakes.
  • Magnolia Bakery--Eh. Yes, yes, I know, it's famous from "Sex and the City." Too urban hip for me, with its young NYU see-and-be-seen crowd gathering outside (because there is no seating) to inhale the rather standard chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with buttercream frosting. No real taste adventures; nothing big in the decoration department. I read on the menu that you can order special flavors, if you are going to get a dozen. I didn't, and so had a chocolate/chocolate, which I took home and didn't even finish (and Bud had a pink-frosted chocolate cupcake, the closet to strawberry I could find; he quit halfway through). Best thing about it? Well, there are two: I love the "I [cupcake] NY" t-shirt even if they made it in sizes that only fit young NYU students (and Miss T!); and I'm glad the former owner was successful enough to leave and open Buttercup Cafe!!
  • Babycakes--This was the vegan/hypo-allergenic bakery on our list, having been featured everywhere for its gluten-free, low glycemic fare. I had seen Erin McKenna the owner/baker on Martha Stewart and in several magazines. Of course, wth the kids having had allergies, I was familiar with these kinds of treats, in theory. Most of the gluten-, egg-, dairy-, and soy-free cakes and cookies I had made or bought were mediocre to inedible. But Babycakes's sweets were definitely edible, even good. Well, good enough. There is nothing that mimics the crumb of flour but they do a good job of creating a lighter, cakey baked texture, not the dense, gritty cornbread-like cake I often managed to make. And the frosting--which is palm oil based (she finally released a recipe of the frosting, which is a real jewel if you need a dairy-free one and don't want to go the Crisco way)--is very good. Period. I enjoyed my GF lemon cupcake, well, as long as I had frosting left. There was a little sadness for me that we hadn't been able to get such cakes for Bud and Sis when we needed them. Even with the familiar retro, 50s chic decor, I didn't feel comfortable there, especially with aforementioned Erin frosting cakes in the visible, tiny kitchen without any air of warmth or welcome. Miss T even tried to engage her in conversation without much success. And we were obvious cupcake fans. Oh, well. I recommend it if you need vegan or hypoallergenic--you'll be in heaven. And there is a cookbook coming out, which I wish I could've had three years ago.
A lovely day, a wonderful experience, great memories, and even pictures (which I will try to send to Miss T so she can post them, as they are all of her). And I understand that as I type, Miss T is researching local CT cupcake shops for a last whirlwind Moms Night Out. I'm in!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mission Statement

In every museum I have worked, the creation of a mission statement and our adherence to it has been central to our activities. To guide the path of this blog, I include here my working mission statement:

As a museum professional with experience heading departments of education in New York City and as an academic art historian with a Ph.D. in nineteenth-century British art focusing on the representation of the art public, I am committed to the study, investigation, and enjoyment of works of art and the museums that protect, research, and exhibit them. Through this blog, I will
  • Encourage the exploration of art and museums with children, their adults, and other audiences;
  • Share my knowledge, interests, and experiences of art and museums;
  • Invite others, both professionals and nonprofessonals, to share their knowledge, interests, and experiences of art and museums;
  • Provide related news, information, resources, and links.