Saturday, February 28, 2009

No (Gender) Allowed

Gender identity solidification.

That's the term for the stage all our little ones seem to be entering about now.

And it ain't pretty.

No boys allowed. Girls can't ride tricycles. Boys don't eat carrots.

Yep, Sis actually uttered that last one on Thursday (and the first one, too. I made up the second one. Bud just doesn't care yet). It makes absolutely no sense, except she was eating carrots. And she's a girl. Which means girls eat carrots. And therefore boys don't.

I informally polled my playgroup moms yesterday to see if we're all in the same boat, wondering if I'm seeing it because my girl and boy are the same age. Nope, they all do it--even some of them with no siblings have started excluding boys.

Apparently, as our resident social worker explained, it's all about solidifying one's gendered identity (Miss J, feel free to jump in here and clarify anytime! It's fascinating). They are becoming aware that they are boys and girls and will stay boys and girls and are trying to figure out what that means. And to a three-and-a-half year old, it can mean no pink or no trucks, no backpacks or no carrots. For Sis, girls do what she does; boys don't.

As I mentioned, Bud just doesn't seem to care yet. But then, he has often been a few weeks behind her socially. And don't they say girls mature faster? All the moms I asked had girls (or girls first, and then baby boys), so of course they're seeing what I see.

I imagine as they grow through this stage, the gender identities become very rigid. But, of course, that's the point, right? Internalizing the rules and norms--evident in tv shows, books, daily observations and interactions, particularly at preschool. Can children ever remain gender neutral through this stage or will they always start classifying each other based on gender? And is the gender always so stereotypical? Well, except for those carrots. And is that because we are pretty gender-complicated over here, with no dad, a butch Mama, and a--mercy, I'm not femme or androgynous or butch--granola Mommy? Or because Sis is still working out the rules, which will be more rigidly enforced by peers as she gets older. Heaven help Bud if he still likes to wear his tutu this time next year, or in a few years, right? And when in the world do they start to outgrow this? Of course, some adults never do (i.e. a woman can't be president). Can we mitigate it somehow? I'm sure I went through it, though I don't feel so rigid about gender roles or relationships now. I have an androgynous name, though, and I really wonder if that contributed to my questioning of gender rules as a kid--I was never exactly a "girlie-girl" or a tomboy. Just somewhere in between. Like a lot of kids, I imagine. Or was it because I turned out to be a lesbian (which, when I think back on it, I was all along)? Is this when kids who grow up to be GLBT really first start realizing that they are different? Or, to borrow an overused phrase, is this when men start to come from Mars and women start to come from Venus? Until this stage, are we all gender-blind?

It all reminds me of that Dar Williams's song, "When I Was a Boy."

"I won't forget when Peter Pan
Came to my house, took my hand
I said I was a boy, I'm glad he didn't check
I learned to fly, I learned to fight
I lived a whole life in one night
We saved each other's lives out on the pirate's deck
And I remember that night
When I'm leaving a late night with some friends
And I hear somebody tell me it's not safe
Someone should help me
I need to find a nice man to walk me home
When I was a boy, I scared the pants off of my mom
Climbed what I could climb upon
And I don't know how I survived
I guess I knew the tricks that all boys knew
And you can walk me home, but I was a boy, too
I was a kid that you would like
Just a small boy on her bike
Riding topless, yeah, I never cared who saw
My neighbor come outside to say
"Get your shirt," I said "No way
It's the last time I'm not breaking any law"
And now I'm in a clothing store
And the sign says, "Less is More"
More that's tight means more to see
More for them, not more for me
That can't help me climb a tree in ten seconds flat
When I was a boy, see that picture, that was me
Grass-stained shirt and dusty knees
And I know things have gotta change
They got pills to sell, they've got implants to put in
They've got implants to remove
But I am not forgetting
That I was a boy too
And like the woods where I would creep
It's a secret I can keep
Except when I'm tired, except when I'm being caught off guard
I've had a lonesome awful day
The conversation finds its way
To catching fire-flies out in the backyard
And I tell the man I'm with
About the other life I lived
And I say now you're top gun
I have lost and you have won
And he says, "Oh no, no, can't you see
When I was a girl, my mom and I we always talked
And I picked flowers everywhere that I walked
And I could always cry, now even when I'm alone I seldom do
And I have lost some kindness
But I was a girl too
And you were just like me, and I was just like you"

Bungalow Cake

We had a cake I'd never heard of today: the bungalow cake.

The mom of the first birthday boy had mentioned it as if I would know. Do you?

It's one layer of chocolate cake and one layer of vanilla cake, with a filling of fresh strawberries, bananas, and whipped cream, and a whipped cream frosting.

An initial googling seems to indicate that it's a Connecticut thing. Is it?

While I like certain banana desserts--banana pudding, bananas foster, banana breads (might as well be dessert), baked plaintains, fried bananas with honey, bananas in coconut milk--I don't usually like them with strawberries. Especially not as a smoothie. But this really worked. It was almost like a pink banana-pudding-cum-strawberries for filling. The one we had was two layers of vanilla, no chocolate, which I think I might actually prefer. Though, I kept wondering where the coconut was.

I mean, it does sound tropical, right? So, maybe it's a New England way to beat the winter? 'Cos otherwise, when you think Connecticut, you don't think bungalows.

(BTW, Miss T, I think it would make an awesome cupcake!)

Melled da Kunk

No, it's not Dutch.

It's how Bud said, "I smelled a skunk" when we passed by one on the way to playgroup yesterday.

And tonight at the dinner table, we had a grand time laughing about just how "pee-ew" skunks smell.

Peas in Our Pod

My favorite vegetarian restaurant, the lesbian/feminist institution Bloodroot, has a sign up near its food window that reads something like "out of respect for our large sisters, please don't discuss the calorie content of our food." I love this sign! I like the respect part--since respect for overweight people is sadly missing in our society. I like the part about not agonizing over the calories, since women especially so often will spend a whole meal talking and worrying about what they're eating while not actually enjoying it as they do so.

And now it's getting to our kids. Discussing the anxiety children are experiencing about "good" and "bad" foods these days, egged (are those "good" or "bad" these days?) on by their hypervigilant and health-obsessed parents, specialists quoted in a NYTimes article have said the children's (and their parents') obsession is bordering on eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. Reminds me of somewhere that I read that veganism is just the 21st century's eating disorder, a way for women and men to rigidly restrict and control their eating while feeling righteous in a completely socially acceptable way (not sure I buy that, but I have been witness to some extremism)--just think of those Skinny Bitch books.

Bud weighs himself everytime he is in the bathroom upstairs. Not because I do--he's never watched me weigh--but because he loves the numbers on my digital scale. He gets such a thrill from operating the scale correctly (you have to turn it on, wait for it to reset, and then stand on it). And then these great numbers appear. Sometimes he reads them forward, sometimes backwards, always thrilled that he's growing, even if he's down a half pound or so (it's all about when he ate and pooped). Sis loves the scale too and has joined Bud in his weigh-in obsession (though sometimes they call it "how tall I am"--they really have no clue). I thought it was cute too until they asked me to try. What would they say about my numbers? Would they repeat them to anyone? Suddenly, I was extremely self-conscious about getting on the scale. And then I was concerned about being self-conscious in front of them. And so I gamely stepped on the scale and they were just excited to see numbers, didn't even see them all, but were just glad that I too was growing (actually, I'm not, was down another pound this week). Whew, passed that test. Will I have to take it again?

Anyway, though I am on a diet (I know, I know, it's a lifestyle), I don't like to discuss it around my kids. And I try not to dwell on vegetarianism either. My word, they barely grasp that meat used to be animals. Just as we don't have power struggles about what they do and do not eat, I try not to laden food with emotional and psychological baggage. As the author of Momma Zen noted, a pea is just a pea. Kids are great at reminding us that food is just food. That we eat for nourishment, should only eat what we enjoy, and stop when we are done. Not because we're tired or bored or sad or anxious. So, here, I'm trying not to get in the way of that; we just try to eat. And keep all that anxiety at bay. It's hard though because inevitably when women eat--and, yes, it's always women--me, my friends, whomever, we all comment on what we're eating, our bodies, that it's "bad" or "good" (and we're not talking quality here), whatever. On Thursday, our beloved babysitter bemoaned the cupcake we had gotten her for her birthday as ruining her diet, right before she ate it all. I'm tempted to hang a sign up that reads, similar to Bloodroot's, "Out of respect for our children, please do not talk about diets or negative body images here." It would be a good reminder to me to leave the baggage out of the kitchen, just like there are no toys at the table.

The advice in the article said that young children should know two things about food: to eat different colors and never to supersize anything but water. We're working on the first one and, remembering the article at lunch today, I made a big deal out of Sis's yellow corn and orange sweet potatoes and Bud's red apple and yellow corn. They then remembered we had green broccoli in the fridge and got excited about making that later.

In her response to the article on food crazies, Motherlode's Belkin wrote about moderation. She had noticed that

Every day, when I read through the comments here on Motherlode, I am struck
by how absolutely positive so many commenters are that they are right. They are
even more certain that someone else is wrong. “I would never” — give my baby
formula, give my child an Oreo or a Diet Coke, let my child watch THAT program,
allow my child to act that way.

Their intentions are pure, of course. They are ferociously determined to do
everything that is good and right for someone they fiercely love. To protect
them. To keep them safe. To make them strong.

She goes on (and I quote at length again)

If we can control what they eat, and who they are friends with, and what
they watch and hear and learn, then maybe we can push back, just a little, the
fact that the world we are sending them into is unpredictable and chaotic.

The alternative to hyper-vigilance is not neglect. It is flexibility.
Because the best way to prepare children for a messy world, is to jump right
into it now and then, and the only way to handle ambiguity, is to embrace it. It
is up to us to show our children that life is full of maybe and sometimes and
uncertainty and once-in-a-while. If you are using words like “always” or “never”
that’s a time to stop and make sure you haven’t taken things too far.

Along with this call for moderation, I would add one about suspending or witholding judgment. I think they go hand in hand. As parents, we become so wrapped up in "getting it right"--that hyper-vigilance that is not flexible--that we are often defensive of all of our choices, even small ones, out of fear and insecurity. And our reflex is then to judge those who differ from us. Hence, I believe, all the immoderate comments that Belkin often receives, and which the article on the food obsession had in spades. I swear, none of those commenters have weight problems. And their opinions about and attitudes towards those who do are shameful. Had they similar prejudices against GLBTS or ethnic or religious minorities, they would be loudly castigated. But it's okay to pick on fat people, to patronize, to lecture, because, you know, there is an "obesity epidemic." In truth, people fear fat more than death itself, I think, and so must hate most what they fear most. No wonder overweight people are depressed and looking for twinkies. We carry the proverbial weight of the anxieties of our nation on our souls.

Who would want to share all this with our children? A pea should just a pea.

Monkey Love

I have never particularly liked monkeys, not real ones at the zoo or cartoon ones like Curious George, or the ones in between that star in movies and commercials. I read with horror about the recent chimpanzee attack on a woman here in Connecticut. And then with total incomprehension when I saw this article on primate pets in the NYTimes. These aren't cute little furry critters--they're wild animals that would instinctively kill you in their need for dominance. That's not to say I don't understand the love and dedication people have for their companion animals--and it must have been devastating for the chimp owner to stab him in an effort to save her friend--it's just that I didn't know that my mistrust of monkeys was actually well-founded.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Do You Woot?

Mama checks Woot shirt! every morning (it will change by Saturday, so check today). Today's was perfect--"Exercise Motivation" with a T-Rex. If it hadn't sold out before dawn, I would've gotten one for my 5K walk. Bud liked it, of course. Anything to keep me going on the elliptical and treadmill. I got my walking plan from my PT yesterday and am starting it (but not on my stairs, Lambeth!). Wish me luck.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Checking the Web

So, Bud has this magnetic dinosaur playset that has become a favorite of his again. We were downstairs this morning before school playing with it, naming all the dinosaurs. And there was one I didn't know. Of course, they weren't labelled. So, knowing we had no books with it, we came upstairs to check the internet. And after googling "dinosaur with claw thumb" we found it, almost the exact same picture. He was thrilled. He ran downstairs and told Sis immediately. "We found the dinosaur on the computer. It's an Iguanadon!"

Long live research (made so much easier by the world wide web)!

For Our ABR, an LDA

Understand that? Check out Motherlode's guest blogger today on aunts.

Here's to you, Banana!

(And, to be non-sexist, to our own Goo, too).

The Rumors are True

Yep, Wondertime is ceasing publication. I received an email about it today. I can probably transfer my balance to my Family Fun subscription, as both are owned by Disney. Truth be told, WT was the better magazine, with longer essays and some projects and a sleeker look, while FF follows the genre with almost no content beyond recipes, crafts, and activities formatted in a busy, frenetic style. Maybe that will change. But the quality is still higher than most and so I'll keep reading it. But I will miss the other. Of course, what subscribers think is often of little or no consequence in the world of magazines, where ad sales not readers dictate the viability of a publication. Which is why other favorites of my friends, like Domino, are also shutting down despite loyal followings. I wonder what other magazines of mine will disappear?

Smile, It's Picture Day!

It's picture day at school! You remember picture day: you debated with your folks about what package to buy (there were no proofs--you decided in advance), wore clothes you never wore to school, fussed with your hair all day, enjoyed the altered school day schedule, jockeyed for where you stood in the group photo, and later liked exchanging pictures with your friends (and writing notes on the back in pen that inevitably impressed the front) when they came back in their little cellophane-window envelopes, complete with full class picture.

My kids have picture day today. My goodness, they are in school, growing up, having formal pictures made. It'll be their first studio picture because unlike every other family we know, we don't take formal studio pictures at Sears, JCPenneys, or any of those places specifically for kids' pictures. We take thousands of candid shots and have some more formal pics from my sister's wedding, but nothing with that telltale white border and gray sheet backdrop.

The paper announcing school pictures came home a few weeks okay. Children should wear solid, bright colors, would be photographed full-length, and could bring a special toy. The first the kids mentioned of it was Tuesday. I had mentioned that picture day was coming up and Sis said that the teachers had said they wouldn't get to play in the block room, where the photographer would be set up. She was annoyed. And frustrated. I tried not to giggle.

I didn't make a big deal of it--no new haircuts, though we did wash last night (a mistake, since they had slight bed-head from the damp hair this morning), no new clothes. I did choose clothes they never wear, though, to meet the clothes suggestion. A blue turtleneck for him, red for her, jeans for both, and regular shoes. I thought having them both in turtlenecks would be like matching but not too twin-y and not too unlike what they usually look like. And of course, Shirt, Amy the Bunny, and Litte Mr. Big Penguin were going to be in the pictures too. Pictures of the kids separately and then of them together.

And then we got to school. Bud said his tummy hurt, probably from expectations of something new (oooh, Pop, I think he has our tummies). Both Bud and Sis clutched their pictures as we entered. Sure enough, the block room was filled with lights, backdrop, blocks to sit on, and big camera. The children all stood around silently watching the photographer pose and then photograph the first volunteers. Bud clutched my hand, Sis stared silently, not even greeting their visiting student teacher whom she adored. I'd forgotten the butterflies that school picture day could create. "Mommy," Bud asked quietly, "can you take the picture with us?"

I knew it was time to normalize the day for them as much as possible and extricate myself from the premises. So I gently coaxed them to the marker table and encouraged them to make cards for their babysitter's birthday celebration this afternoon. That worked. And I left.

But I had a complete crisis of conscience on the way home. All the other kids were totally dressed up: fancy dresses, jewelery, new hair bows, sweaters, neckties! Sure, they were nervous too (one cried, one said she wouldn't smile, one was upset his mother was leaving), but they looked fancy. Should I have dressed the kids up more? Did I really need to embrace our differences as a family (not the lesbian part, the casual part, though I guess those are often one and the same) on picture day by allowing them to look like the comfortable kids they were instead of acknowledging the culture of picture day and getting them all dressed up? Don't they deserve (deserve??!!!!) to be fancy on picture day too? Oh, goodness. But neither had shown any interest in what they wore. They do sometimes, but not now (which is good because they would've chosen their Halloween costumes!) And when I'd suggested the turtlenecks, explaining the look-similar-but-not-alike idea, they were fine with it. Sure, Mom, they might have said, whatever. The most I had done was fuss over their hair a bit because of the bedhead (any is a lot because we almost rarely even comb them--their short, straight hair falls neatly naturally). And taken a comb, just in case.

It's probably good that I had left. I would only have fretted more--should I have chosen the pink turtleneck albeit the one with the flower pattern instead? maybe they should've worn their best clothes too, or even some of their favorites, even if they would clash in their paired photo? Bother. At least what's done is done. I go get them soon and I imagine their pictures are over.

And really, in the end, no matter what they wear, their our kids and they'll look wonderful to us. And we'll buy lots of photos and send them to family.

And we'll get to do it all again next year.

I wonder how I'll do it then.


What the kids said: Yep, they had their pictures taken. The only mention beyond confirmation that it happened: Bud was sad that not every picture had his penguin in it.

And when I confessed my mini-crisis to the teacher, she said she liked the more casual clothes. Sympathetically adding that I'd mess them up somehow (or at least be blamed for it!) so no sense worrying about the pictures! Gotta love and appreciate the voice of experience.

An Embarrassment of Toilet Paper

My mom once told me that my dad can handle a lot of economies but that reducing their AC use (in Houston) is not one of them. I like my AC, but I like my soft toilet paper more. And now, I feel guilty for the environmental impact: soft toilet paper is made from standing trees because recycled paper just can't be made soft. And, oh ugh, some of that is coming from old-growth forests here in North America. So Greenpeace has issued a ratings guide, which gives good enough marks to Trader Joe's and Seventh Generation, the only acceptable brands I'd heard of, and horrible marks to my preference.

But then I read here that I shouldn't really worry, that personal consumer choices often have little impact, even if they were to be adopted by the majority. At least I've done the first suggestion, which is vegetarianism. We don't do so well with driving less, though we drive less than we did when the kiddos were sleepless babes. The other experts basically had no suggestions, just saying that perhaps we could try buying more from developing nations (though he was the most skeptical about personal consumer choices) and that taxing pollutants would provide incentive to major corporations.

Maybe we'll continue with trying not to use paper towels or paper napkins, and maybe I can use less toilet paper. And I might try squeezing those recycled brands, just to see. Because, in the end, isn't it better to hug a tree than toilet paper?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

More Joys and Concerns

This time for the humpback whale entangled in fishing gear off Sandy Hook, NJ. They're hoping to get him cut free.

Reading the paper tonight is bumming me out.

Lighting a Candle

I hadn't heard the story of Ivan--the son of the British Conservative Party leader who had severe epilepsy and cerebral palsy--before his death today, at age 6. But I am no less sad for his family. It reminds me of the young man I took care of years ago who had Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy. I light a candle for them both.

Go Outside, It's Good for You!

I'm sure it's just coincidence that that vitamin D (from the sun, primarily) deficiencies may increase dementia and that recess, often outside, improves class performance. Regardless, anyway you look at it, going outside for a break is good for you. Come on, spring!

Obamas for Mamas

There have been a few items in the NYTimes recently about the Obamas as parents: one examines President Obama's role as First Father as it parallels his role as our governing "parent"; the second provides some information on the Obamas as parents. As I commented on the article (I know, I commented--I almost never do, not sure why, or why not. Will think on that soon), I think these articles indicate (mercy, how self-referential and narcissistic is it to quote myself??)

that many American parents are hungry for a real parenting role model. With the
entire parental-advice industry of television, books, magazines, and websites,
it’s refreshing to see actual, real parents who seem to be trying hard and seem
to be doing a good job (acknowledging of course all their advantages but also
the real challenges of raising children in the White House fish bowl). I for one
will be eagerly watching and reading what becomes known of the Obamas’ parenting
(though I certainly respect their decisions to keep that at a minimum). Just as
I am inspired by him politically, I would be inspired by them parentally.

And so I read with interest that the kids make their own beds, clean their own rooms, set their own alarms, get up on their own, watch only some tv, eat healthy oragnic food (at home, though another article I read somewhere said they prefer cheese to their dad's healthy choices), and go to bed at 8 pm. Hey, if I manage that much when the kids are Malia and Sasha's ages, I figure I'll be doing pretty well. Does that make me Commander-in-Chief at home? I wouldn't want his day job . . . .

Sending Love

. . . to EC and Austin, where friends of the family struggle with difficult medical issues. I hope that, despite recent setbacks, the road ahead is bright and clear.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


"Mommy, is that Oscar?" Sis asked pointing to her Sesame Street book. But she wasn't talking about the grouch. She was wondering if he was connected to the "movie prizes" or Academy Awards.

Yep, my kids watched the Oscars. Well, some of them. The next day. Mainly, I showed Bud the musical number with Hugh Jackman and Beyonce et al and the Original Song performances from Slumdog Millionaire and Wall-E.

Sis wasn't as interested, except in Beyonce's costume. "Mommy, why is that lady naked?"

But Bud loved both sequences and had me show them again and again. "Mommy, Mommy, it's the marmalade song!" Yep, he knows "Lady Marmalade"--I like it and it has a catchy beat so we've danced to that before (though, thankfully, he hasn't learned the lyrics yet! But hey, it's French, right??). He particularly loved the drums and we tried to make one out of an oatmeal container later, but he said it didn't have the right tilt or the right sound. So, instead, he donned his pink tutu and mimicked the moves of the Bollywood-style (Bhangra?) dancers.

I guess that's one viewer, anyway, who really likes the big dance numbers!

(For the record, they were my favorite part too. But then I hadn't seen any of the films and had to wait until almost midnight to see if Kate Winslet had won, as she was the one I was rooting for).

Love to You

Sending love and hugs to my friends who are going through troubles. I'll be thinking of you and wishing for the best.

Opposites Attract

I just finished two books that couldn't have been more diametrically opposed, on the surface. Fun House is a tragicomic memoir illustrated by Dykes to Watch Out For creator Alison Bechdel which examines her relationship with her father before and after his death/suicide, including her own coming out as a lesbian and his closeted gay life which she discovers right before his death. Momma Zen is also a memoir, but that of Zen Buddhist priest Karen Maezen Miller who writes (would it be wrong to say) enlightening pieces on the aspects of motherhood such as the importance of being present, embracing change, self discipline, and the like (Mama has my copy so I can't look specifics up) that resemble Zen practice. But, on reflection, I realized that each is a memoir examining the parent-child relationship and its effects on parent (Momma Zen) and child (Fun House).

I have long loved DTWOF but only recently learned about Bechdel's memoir, which a friend loaned me last week. At first, it was odd to see a young Mo, but soon I was completely entranced by the narrative, the illustrations, the heavy literary analysis (Proust, Joyce, Hardy, Wilde in a "comic book"?). As the tale progresses from the early a-ha moments of her father's death (a suspected suicide) and his closeted gay life to her more substantial reflections on those, often through the books that she and her father, an English teacher (and funeral home director!), shared, my reactions to the family and family dynamic became similarly increasingly complicated. I might have to read it again. And again. If only to (and I can't believe I'm going to write this about a lesbian memoir) penetrate all the multifaceted layers.

While Fun House is a child's look at what many would term a dysfunctional family, Momma Zen is a mother's attempts to avoid just such a thing. Following upon my readings of Everyday Sacred and Plain and Simple, as well as my attendance at the NVC workshop and reading a couple of NVC books (and maybe even The Bean Trees), this book spoke to many of the strands of spirituality, identity, purpose, and practice that I have slowly been gathering. Miller is my kind of mother: admittedly flawed but trying anew everyday out of this enormous love. I read the book awfully fast--in less than a day, as I recovered from my cold in bed on Sunday (blessedly alone, as the kids went to church with Mama)--and will likely refer to it often (and there's a handy list in back of chapters to read when you need to hear something particularl, like patience or presence), especially because I want to try the meditation technique at the end (Mama had taken meditation through work but hers is different--there's a secret word and stuff that I don't know--but this is accessible). I remember practicing my breathing when I was pregnant and how I could lower my heartrate as I watched the monitors (which in those last few months, I was hooked up to on a weekly basis). I think I might even check out her blog. Because, I think, of all the parenting books I've read (both advice and memoir)--though admittedly, that's not many, since they aren't usually my thing (who wants to spend "down time" being told that you aren't doing motherhood correctly, as many of the books do)--this is the one in which I most see myself, both flaws (making everything work, not easily being present, for example) and aspirations (not doing those two things! among others . . .).

My next book, which is for the Hungry Book Club, is Geraldine Brooks's March, a fictionalized biographical account of Bronson Alcott, father of famed Louisa May (you remember him from Little Women, he was off at war until he came home but then still didn't figure in it much--they call it the first homosocial/all-female novel). But he was famous in his own right, an educator and Transcendentalist, friend of Thoreau and (I think) Hawthorne. And, if I understand it, there's parenthood and sexuality, though probably no Zen and little advice, in that book too. Can't wait, love that I'm reading again. And what I'm reading.


We were reading nursery rhymes at bedtime last night and Sis always ask's for "Tom, Tom the Piper's Son" (right after "Wee Willie Winkie").

Tom, Tom, the piper's son,
Stole a pig, and away did run.
The pig was eat,
And Tom was beat,
And Tom went crying
Down the street.

I don't like this one particularly because of the eating of the pig (which I just read on Wikipedia is probably a pastry not a live animal)--there's even a cartoon of a pig! And then there's the beating. Well, last night, Sis asked me what a beating was. And I said it was like spanking. In unison, they both asked what that was. So, I explained that parents used to hit their children's bums when they were in trouble, instead of sending them to timeout (no sense telling them that this is still around, because it's not in our house). They thought this was very funny, obviously confusing "hit" with "pat" or the like, because then they proceeded to spank themselves and laugh hysterically. Maybe that's why kids love the Brothers Grimm and other gruesome tales, while today's PC parents cringe. I have to remember the humor. Right?

So, if the kids start talk about being beaten at home, you'll know where it comes from.


"Willaby, Wallaby Woo
An elephant sat on you.
Willaby, Wallay Wee
An elephant sat on me."

This has been one of the kids' favorite songs for days now. And they change the "woo" each time to rhyme with someone the know--"Wama," "Wommy," "Wis," "Wuddy," and the like. And it goes on and on and on and on. The other day we ran out of real people and moved into tv--"Wiego," "Wora," "Waillou," and Sis's personal favorite "Wuper Why." We've even done Shirt, loveys, and other animals. "Welephant" gets a lot of giggles. Except when they have to ask me, "how do you rhyme elephant?" Because I think they only sorta get that we're putting "Ws" in front of words. And I think that might make it even funnier.


We have a magic window in our house. Did you know? It's the one in the playroom overlooking the backyard, behind the couch. And if you talk at it, or sing, or play an instrument, or the like, the sounds go straight to a particular house in Texas. It started with a phone call with Gommie, when she and the kids exchanged her signature "smacky kisses." At some point during the call, it morphed into the kisses were travelling out the special window straight to her, and not via the phone. But now, even when we're not on the phone, the kids will go to the window and send her things like songs or kisses. I hope you're getting them all, Gommie!


Bud is on a dinosaur kick. Again. This time it's dinosaur songs. Sure, Laurie Berkner's "We are the Dinosaurs," and one I know from Girl Scout camp entitled "Me and My Dinosaur" ("I've never had such a friend before/as big as a house/twenty times and a half/and fifty times taller than any giraffe/legs as long as sequoia trees/teeth as big as piano keys/no two people are buddies more/than me and my dinosaur"). But the one I should never have sung? "Walk the dinosaur." It's been an endless round of "boom-boom-acka-lacka-lacka-boom." The best part is, though, that he picks up his little echo-mike and makes up his own songs about loving dinosaurs, listing all the different ones.


We've been reading The Kissing Hand some recently (our nightly books go in phases of about 3-5 days and then switch). And as we read it, we act out the unfurling of fingers, kissing of palms, and placing of kissed hand on cheek. Then the other day at dinner, out of nowhere, Bud asked for my hand and did the same thing. Soon we were all exchanging kissing hands. Maybe we should read this every night instead of those nursery rhymes!

Monday, February 23, 2009

My Turn

I'm sick. Nothing much, just the cold that has been lingering for two weeks and fluid in my ears. So I have antibiotics and am taking it easy. But that hasn't included posting, even though I have a few thoughts on the Oscars, some articles on Obama as parent in the NYTimes a few days ago, two books I've just finished (Fun House and Momma Zen), and usual kid updates.

Maybe tomorrow.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Conversation Starter

I had an interesting insight into the position of some friends of mine who read my blog: they don't feel the need to check in or check up on me in person via email, phone, or visit, because they know how and what I'm doing by reading my posts. It must be true. Three of them said so yesterday at playgroup. And I think it's true with my sister. I know she reads this blog fairly regularly, but we almost never get a chance to communicate directly (huh, Banana, maybe we should).

I have a small cadre of readers who respond to me digitally or personally. They will either concur or contradict me, or just use the post as a catalyst to start a conversation. Otherwise, I'm in the dark not only about what people think but who reads this at all. And while I do write this blog to work through my own thoughts and ideas as well as record certain events for posterity, my other main goal is keeping in touch, communicating with others. But how do you do that on a blog, which is predominantly one-sided? Well, hopefully, if I write something that interests or incites you, you'll let me know and we can talk about it, a real, honest-to-goodness two-way conversation. And not just the posts where I get on my digital soapbox, but any posts that have reverberations in your own life. In the end, a post is a conversation starter, not a conversation substitute. Because I want to know about you, even if all I'm doing is writing about me. .

Friday, February 20, 2009

More Magic Beans

The first book of our Hungry book club was Barbara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees (Harper & Row, 1988). I've finished it, owing to a few sleepless nights of coughing, and await Mama finishing it so we can have our discussion.

We have been talking about it as we go along, though. Especially because I didn't like it in the beginning. I found the main character, Kentuckian Taylor Greer, to be too folksy, too country, practically a caricature of a Southerner, with her quaint microstories about characters from her home town. I don't consider mysef a person of rural Southern origins, but I know people like that, have family like that, indeed, have a mom who grew up in a small, segregated farm community in Texas. And I wouldn't call her, or any of them, folksy. So, I think, I took offense and couldn't embrace the first third of the book as Taylor describes growing up a "nutter"--country kids who blackened their hands picking walnuts to earn money for new clothes--in a town trapped in the 1950s, which she miraculously escapes unpregnant in her testy Plymouth. The road soon leads her to Oklahoma and the Cherokee nation that she'd always been told she had "head rights," being a quarter Cherokee.

It is in Oklahoma that she acquires a child, the one thing she had avoided and escaped in Kentucky. An Indian child, who is soon called "Turtle," who she learns has been molested and mistreated, a child who is left--mind you, saved, not abanndoned--in the front seat of her car. The rest of the novel--the part that I savoured--involves Taylor coming to terms with her newfound motherhood and the people she meets in Tucson, where the road finally desposits them when the Plymouth needs two new tires, who form her support community.

The New York Times reviewer Jack Butler, in describing this "Southern novel taken west," analyzes it, in part, as a journey through language: Taylor's folkisms, her and a fellow Kentuckian discovering that they talk alike, Turtle's catatonic silence and eventual acquisition of words, and Guatemalan refugee and English teacher Estevan's perfect English and conscientious awareness of the meanings of language (which he passes on to Taylor). And while I see these strands flowing throughout Kingsolver's book, I don't think it is the main theme. Indeed, motherhood and community--the notion of "it takes a village"--most resonated for me.

It is in the last chapters that the reader finally learns the meaning of the book's title, though there have been references to beans--Turtle's first word--and "bean trees," or wisteria, throughout the story.
The wisteria vines on their own would just barely get by, is how I
explained it to Turtle, but put them together with rhizobia and they make

Wisteria vines--which like many of the characters in the book--thrive in poor soil and need a community. It is no surprise that Kingsolver began as a science writer--her descriptions of and integration of science in this novel are entirely readable, even powerful. If Taylor is the wisteria, the first rhizobia of which we are made aware is in the first pages of the novel--her mother, who believes she "plugged in all the stars." When first reading of her mom, I turned to Mama and said that it was Taylor's relationship with her mother that would drive the book, even indirectly. Once Taylor acquires Turtle, she worries constantly about being a mother, about being a good mother, a mother like her own. And I would say that it was the relationship with her own mother that even made Taylor open to trying (and Mama and I had a long talk about whether it was our own good mothers who made us want to try). Indeed, mothers and mothering are central: fellow Kentuckian Lou Ann and her mother and grandmother and her own child; the mothering between Virgie Mae and her friend (was it just me or are they "family"?) Edna who is blind; the lost child of Estevan and his wife Esperanza; Mattie and her mothering of Taylor and the refugees in her sanctuary; the absent (and then presumably dead) mother of Turtle; and of course Taylor. It is Mattie who summarizes motherhood for Taylor:

"You're asking yourself, Can I give this child the best possible upbringing
and keep her out of harm's way her whole life long? The answer is no, you
can't. But nobody else can either. . . . That's why it's the wrong question to
ask, if you're really trying to make a decision."

"So what's the right thing to ask?"

"Do I want to try? Do I think it would be interesting, maybe even
enjoyable in the long run, to share my life with this kid and give her my best
effort and maybe, when all's said and done, end up wth a good friend."

So while Butler didn't like the predictable path he believed the novel took, it was this path--in the end an optimistic one about the hope of motherhood and mothering, of maternal connections, the wisteria with the help of rhizobia thriving in the poor soil--that I so appreciated, perhaps because it resonates so deeply with me. Even if I am nowhere near folksy, I found I had many of the same fears and worries of Taylor, which in the end, made her a character, and this a book, that I really cherish.

Those Awkward, Awful Questions

"So, did you get them in the same place?"

An odd, awkward question, but I knew exactly what the checkout lady at the grocery store, who had been raving about how cute the kids were, was asking. Even if there had been no other indication, I've gotten similar questions before--"are they yours?", "where are the from?", "how did you get a boy out of China?", "are you their real mom?".

Of course, smart-ass me would have answered the grocery lady with "Yes, my womb." But I am trying to model civility, even in the face of insensivity. I don't want smart ass 3 1/2 year olds.

I know why people ask me about the kids. They are obviously "ethnic," from somewhere "other." And I'm really pretty white. While most people do seem to recognize that I'm their mother--natural or adopted--there have been several people who aren't quite sure and want to know. I've even been asked about being their nanny, because, you know, this is CT and there are white nannies.

Because of course, they always ask. Curiosity is a powerful motivator and baby porn is everywhere--I'm like a walking tabloid just ripe for getting a story out of, for the asker's entertainment. You might wonder if they ask because they are in a similar situation--with bi-racial, or even adopted kids or relatives--but nope, it's just idle curiosity. There just doesn't seem to be any social barrier that keeps them from asking what could be deemed very intimate questions, like how did you conceive or contrive to get those children? I actually hadn't been asked in awhile, after a flurry of intrusive questions about their origins when they were about 8-12 months old. But I find it odd that in an era when we have a bi-racial president (even though he identifies as an African American) that people are still so surprised by half-Chinese kids and a white mom. I'm guessing they don't look half-Chinese, but full, and so people think I've adopted them. But then why ask? Wouldn't that be pretty obvious too? And if they realize they aren't fully Chinese, but half, wouldn't the logical conclusion be that the other half of their genetic make up was Asian? No one ever asks "is your husband Chinese?" Which of course would mean I'd have to take a turn down the lesbian/these-kiddos-have-two-mommies path--which by the way is much easier and always ends all conversation at a full stop, no one ever has a comment on that (or a lesbian relative, much less a lady partner of their own). I guess asking about my partner-in-conception is considered beyond some social barrier, as many people are aware that the individual might not currently be on the scene. But it does seem a more direct question than trying to politely phrase "do those kids look so different from you because you aren't their 'real' mom?"

Is it racism? Is curiosity about race inherently racist? Is directly asking about it racist? Or, is talking about race the only way we'll become more comfortable with our racial differences. As a Southerner with a Chinese partner, I have considered and discussed racism in our society, though often in an academic way (even with Mama being Chinese), but this is racism in a way that is very personal. And it's not about me, particularly, but about my children, of whom I am extremely protective when it comes to questions of their identities. I want us to sort it all out as a family, instill our values first, and don't need grocery-store strangers (and dammit, it's always in the grocery store, like the time the man said, "Well, look at the little Chinks." Maybe I need to change stores) bringing it up. But, of course, I'm realistic and know that that's how sensitive issues--sex, religion, politics, the existence of Santa--often come up, in reaction to an experience with other people. Only, when they were babies, I wasn't working out my own issues, my own responses, with an audience. Now I have two bright-eyed and bright children listening and hearing my responses, even if they don't understand. I want to get it right. I want to forestall any damage.

And so I can't be a smart ass, even if the asker is being a dumb ass (oooh, that's not at all NVC of me). I'm not about to model defensiveness or awkwardness, in case the kids perceive this as shame or embarrassment. I never want them to be ashamed, embarrassed, or awkward about us (even though, I know that will come. It does for everyone. And mine have more reason than some). I'm not ashamed of my kids or my family or even of the way they were conceived with the help of fertility treatments and anonymous sperm; I'm proud of our family. Actually, I'm more embarrassed for the asker. Because really, shouldn't you know--and know better?--by now?

From Snow to Snowdrop . . . And Back Again

As I mentioned yesterday, we had a strange combination of rain, sleet, and snow, but by this morning it was all gone with just sogginess and damp everywhere. And it was warm! Well, for CT in February. So we headed outside to play before our ill-fated trip to the grocery store (see below).

Besides kicking the ball around and playing on the swingset, we examined our garden and found the first snowdrops of the season. For those of you unfamiliar with this plant, it is a tiny green plant with delicate, white, droopy buds. I think it grows from bulbs but, as I didn't plant the ones we have, I am not sure. They always are the first flower to come up in the winter time, often after a break in the cold, and they do resemble falling snow. You will often even see them covered in snow, compounding the meaning of their name.

Sis was fascinated. She carefully cleared leaves off of the shoots pushing up through the ground and had me mark the areas with sticks so we wouldn't inadvertently trod on them. Then she talked excitedly about how she was going to help me in the garden this spring. After looking, finding, and clearing a few more patches of snowdrops (which are in the same places in our rock wall year after years, so I had an idea of where to look), she corralled Bud to go play garden in the front bushes which sprouted apples, oranges, tomatoes, and carrots in their imaginations.

Those same snowdrops received another dusting of snow tonight, when two strong snow squalls passed through our area with blizzard-like conditions. And it's getting cold tonight, in the low 20s. But I know those hearty little flowers will still be there tomorrow and it makes me joyful. For me, they always herald the beginning of the end of winter. Even if there will be be snow on them again.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I was Lost, But Now I'm Found

It was a usual outing for us: Bud and his lovey, Sis and I, with Mommy driving. We were headed to the store to pick up some groceries to make chocolate mousse for Miss L from church. And to spend the $5 each that Pop had sent to Sis and Bud for Valentine's Day. They'd only just opened the cards today, not having noticed them in the family mailbox inside. But when Sis did finally open the pink envelope, the kitty card opened and a $5 bill fell out.

"Huh!" she exclaimed. "I have a money."

Mommy explained to her that it was $5 but she was incredulous, mainly because there was only one bill. That's my Sis, smart as a tack. "What would you like to buy? We can look at the store--there are books, art supplies--"

"Chocolate pudding."

And Bud wanted "fruit cookies," or fruit leather. So we all headed to the store after playing outside a bit. But Mommy didn't want Sis to get me dirty--Sis hates it when I have to take a bath--and so she put me in Sis's carseat to wait.

We got to the store and saw one of those "car carts" that Bud and Sis love. We all piled in and off we went. Mommy asked to hold the money but Sis had the bill clutched in one hand and me in the other. At one point, in produce, she dropped me but picked me up immediately. Mommy then offered to carry me so I wouldn't land on the floor again, but Sis said no, she would carry me.

At some point, however, she dropped me again. And no one noticed. Off the cart rolled, with Mommy, Sis, and Bud shopping for mousse makings, pudding, fruit leather, etc. And I just sat there on the dusty grocery store floor. At some point, a nice person noticed me sitting there and scooped me up, depositing me on an empty checkout aisle so somebody would find me. I was off the dirty floor and had a better view of things.

And I saw them all leave the store. They didn't know I was missing yet. Oh, dear. I love Sis. And she loves me. I can't live at the store. What will happen to me? I want to go home!

But not 10 minutes, later, I saw them again. I could hear Mommy talking to Sis, saying they would find me, that she had talked to several staff members, that she had drawn a picture of me and left our phone number, that we were going to walk every aisle again looking to see if someone had stashed me on a shelf, that Mama was on her way to help. They passed by me a few times, with Mommy and Sis becoming increasingly sad, Bud increasingly tired. And then I saw Mama and she walked up and down the aisles with Sis, left the store to check under the car, peered in trash cans, stopped every worker. Sis said she was a lucky girl to have two loveys, Amy Bunny and me. But then she said she couldn't go home because I always went with her, and she couldn't eat lunch because I always sat in the chair behind her. And she started to cry. And Mommy was crying too. But they all left.

Then about ten minutes later, Mama reentered the store. I could see her coming back to look again. And then she saw me! She found me! Mama found me! She scooped me up in one hand and began dialing Mommy's cell phone with the other.

"I found him," Mama said. "I'll meet you at home." I could hear Mommy tell Sis, who squealed with delight. And the relief was palpable for all of us.

It seemed like a long ride home but there Sis and Mommy were, getting out of the van. And when Mama stopped her car, Sis ran up to the car and Mama passed me over. Sis gave me a big sniff. I need a bath, but everyone decided that could wait til another day. It's good to be home.


The Minister's Chocolate Mousse

1 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks or chips
1 Tbsp granulated sugar

Place 1-2" of water in the bottom half of a double boiler. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Melt chocolate in upper half, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat once melted. Set aside.
In a chilled metal bowl, whip cream until soft peaks begin to form. Add in granulated sugar and whip for an additional 10-15 seconds.
Gradually stir in one spoonful of whipped cream into chocolate to temper. Continue to fold in whipping cream to chocolate until thoroughly combined.
Note: The Minister used Ghiradelli chocolate and did put lots of chocolate shavings in the mousse too.
Transfer to a martini glass, wine glass or other serving glass and chill for at least 15 minutes. Garnish with fresh berries, strawberries or whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rocketship Run

"5-4-3-2-1, Blast off!
Another Rocketship Run!"

The kids are hooked on outer space and Laurie Berkner's music is their themesong.

They have been talking about outer space regularly for a few days. I don't know what started it--the trip to AMNH with its giant meteorite, an episode of "Caillou" where he goes to the Planetarium, "Magic School Bus Gets Lost in Space" episodes complete with space helmets and asteroids heading to Earth, or a new-to-us book called Here in Space about how Earth is part of space and a great place for a little boy space explorer.

"5-4-3-2-1, Blast off!
Another Rocketship Run!"

Bud and Sis have repeatedly asked me if we live on a planet. They want to know if Gommie and Pop, Aunt Banana and Uncle Soccer, and Miss T live on our planet (for awhile Miss T, they thought you'd "left the planet" and Sis said it just wasn't "the same planet without you.") And are curious if our planet is in outer space. Does that make us aliens? or astronauts? They want to know if the sun is a planet and how far away the stars are. They are concerned about the meteorites that wiped out the dinosaurs (it's in one of their books) and want to know how big that rock must have been.

"5-4-3-2-1, Blast off!
Another Rocketship Run!"

Today, they played rocketship. They set out two big pillows on the floor, with wooden blocks under them (Sis said they were "mission control" things; Bud said they were "landers"). They filled the pillows with their critters, fetched magnifying glasses, put on their outdoor plastic rainboot "space boots," and then donned their great big Rubbermaid reusable plastic salad bowl "space helmets."

"5-4-3-2-1, Blast off!
Another Rocketship Run!"

In space, they headed to the moon where they picked up their magnifying glasses and looked for "space insects," walking around the house with those bowls on their heads, and their pink (hers) and yellow (his) boots. At one point Sis's hat rolled away and she rushed back to her spaceship pillow, knowing she shouldn't float around in space without her gear. The game pretty much ended there because she didn't want to fetch it and didn't want Bud to be "swooshed away" either.

"5-4-3-2-1, Blast off!
Another Rocketship Run!"

Later, Sis was drawing circular rocks on a doodle board, explaining they were "pretend meteorites heading right here." Bud took her very seriously and got quite upset, even when we both explained to him that she was pretending and that the meteorites weren't real. It might be all fun and games, but outer space can be a scary place. I just hope it's fun again tomorrow.

"5-4-3-2-1, Blast off!
Another Rocketship Run!"

Snow, Snow, Go Away

Weird weather today: snow, then rain, then sleet, then snow, then rain again. And I don't think it ever dipped below freezing. It's wet and mushy all over the ground and the streets. I guess it was pretty to watch falling but it almost felt like the walls were closing in. I've really enjoyed seeing the grass, hearing the birds, playing outside in the sunshine, not worrying about slipping on ice, even not having to wear a coat. I know there is always a spell in February that is cruelly, deceptively warm. And it's over now.

Feel Better Trio

1. To Mr Teacher, who developed a fever this afternoon and just doesn't feel well.
2. To Mama Teacher, who had dental work today.
3. To Miss L from church, who had 5 teeth pulled yesterday and is feeling rather sore.

Get well soon!

Sorta Tidbits

My favorite part of "Sid the Science Kid" is the song he sings each episode to his mom, "I love my mom. My mom is cool. And now it's time for having fun at school." And so, one day last week, I asked if I were cool. Sis responded, without missing a beat, "Sorta cool, Mom. You're sorta cool." I guess my "cool" -ness plumets like the value of a new car. By the time she's a tween, I won't have any coolness left.


Bud and Sis had an opportunity to play on a neighbor's trampoline the other day. Absolutely thrilling. For them. Actually, if there hadn't been three older kids on it at the same time, I probably would've been fine; as it was I was just very observant. Especially when Bud would do his "Super Duper Ooper Mooper Silly Flop." This mainly consisted of jumping and landing on his bum, legs stretched out forward. He's tried to do it since then on the beds at home but can't get the same bounce. Thankfully.


Sis was having trouble coming up with happy thoughts a few nights ago, so I was trying to help, "Trampoline? Picnic from the deli? Playgroup?"

"Forget about it, Mom. I can think of happy thoughts by myself."

Hmmm, maybe I'm already down to zero coolness.


On our list for the wholesale store recently was two big empty cardboard boxes, you know, the kind you get at check out to carry your stuff home. And so, Mama showed up with two nice new boxes. "Everything boxes," a la Olivia (I think. Maybe Caillou). On the first day, they just played in them. By the second day, they were decorating them with markers and collaged construction paper. But the best part, on the third day, involved punching small holes in the boxes to insert Tinker Toys. Bud put a wheel on each side and added a steering wheel. Sis has a periscope for her, and one for Amy the Bunny. It's ingenious. Mama had long thought that the Tinker Toys needed some kind of base or platform to be more interesting to younger kiddos (who don't always understand solid construction and would make wonderful but wobbly creations). And these boxes are perfect. I've read people waxing poetic about refrigerator boxes in childhoods of long ago--how often do you get a new appliance? But you can go to the wholesale store a few times a month. The possbilities are endless. Well, until the kiddos physically outgrow them.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Magic Beans

It's been bean week over here at the Hungry house. And I learned something: besides the fact that the kids won't even consider eating beans, Mama apparently doesn't like them much either. She'll eat them--after polishing off any leftovers in the fridge--but that's about as far as it goes. She'd never really said as much before, but, then, I'm not sure we'd been eating as many of them as we are now, since beans are my main source of protein. (Actually, when we first got together, I shyly and demurely didn't eat beans for at least the first year. Oh, what 12 years of togetherness will do! And I keep forgetting the beano.) She told me not to worry about the bean dinners too much, though, because she eats her main meal at work and can handle some beans now and then, in moderation. Which is good, I guess, because I love these recipes: Mediterranean Beans, French White Bean and Cabbage Soup, and Dal, all of which come from my new favorite cookbook, Robin Robertson's Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker.


Basic Beans
I've discovered that I don't like the tinny flavor of canned white beans. I like black and red beans just fine from cans, but the white ones are subpar. And so I made a batch of basic beans with a leftover bag of cannellinis I had in the cabinet. They'd been there awhile so they had to cook longer and were still a bit tough but the flavor was incomparable. But I didn't eat them straight; instead, I split the recipe in two and made Mediterranean Beans, which I served with some wheat pasta, and White Bean and Cabbage Soup. YUM!

1 lb dried white beans, picked over and rinsed
1 large yellow onion, quartered (optional)
2 garlic cloves, crushed (optional)
2 bay leaves (optional)

Soak the beans in enough water to cover plus an inch or two for 8 hours or overnight.

Drain the beans and place them in a 5 1/2-6 quart slow cooker. Add the onion, garlic, and bay leaves, if using, and enough water to cover (6-8 cups). Cover and cook on High for 8-12 hours, or longer, depending on the type of bean. [I actually cooked them on the stove.]

Robin Robertson, Fresh From the Vegetarian Slow Cooker

Mediterranean Beans
This was especially good as a "sauce" for pasta. I imagine it would be equally good the next day as a cold pasta salad (I reheated it).

1 recipe Basic Beans (above; I used 1/2 a batch)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup pesto
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in hot water to cover until softened, drained, and chopped

Heat oil in skillet, add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the pesto and tomatoes. Add the beans. Heat til warm.

Robin Robertson, Fresh From the Vegetarian Slow Cooker


French White Bean and Cabbage Soup
I liked the novelty of using Herbes de Provence (instead of thyme, which isn't my favorite in concentrated amounts), which gave this a unique and bright flavor. I just wished I'd had some hearty bread. I think Mama liked it because of the cabbage, which outnumbered the beans!

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped
1 medium-size carrot, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 smal head green cabbage, cored and shredded
1 large Yukon Gold potato, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed (from the Basic Beans batch, above)
6 cups stock
3/4 teaspoon thyme (I used Herbes de Provence)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and garic, cover and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the cooked vegetables to a 6-quart slow cooker. Add the cabbage, potato, beans, stock, and thyme; season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook on Low for 8 hours.

Just before serving, stir in liquid smoke, if using, and parsley. Taste to adjust seasonings. [My note: I accidentally put the liquid smoke in to cook. And it was just fine].

Robin Robertson, Fresh From the Vegetarian Slow Cooker


What a Dal
This Indian lentil dish was amazing! I loved the colors of the spices as Bud helped me measure them out into a bowl. And the enticing aromas while it was cooking made me hungry all day. I adjusted seasonings some, based on personal preferences and my spice rack. I just wished I'd had some Peshwari Nan and a mango lassi to go with it.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, cut into pieces
2 garlic coves, peeled
1 teaspoon peeled and minced fresh ginger (I used my zester)
1 teaspoon ground coriander (nope)
1 teaspoon ground cumin (probably 1/2 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (nope)
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (nope)
[2 1/2 teaspoons Penzey's sweet curry spice, to make up for missing spices]
1 1/2 cups dried brown lentils, picked over and rinsed (I had 1 cup brown lentils and 1/2 cup red)
1 1/2 cups kidney beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups water
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pour the oil into a 4-quart slow cookier and set it on High.

In a food processor, puree the onion, garlic, and ginger and add it to the cooker (I just used my Pampered Chef chopper to mince it all). Cover and cook to mellow the flavor and remove the raw taste while you assemble the other ingredients. Stir in spices and cook, stirring for 30 seconds.

Turn the setting to Low. Add the lentils, kidney beans, and water; cover, and cook for 8 hours. Before serving, season with salt and pper and adjust the other seasonings if necessary.

Robin Robertson, Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker

Vacation Week

It's winter break up here, one of two holidays in what I grew up calling the spring semester (but we only had one week off, not two)--there's winter break and then spring break. No wonder these poor students go to school until almost the end of June! Anyway, for us right now, it means no preschool, no Chinese class, and no afternoon babysitter, which also then means no "exercise class," no cofffee, and not as much blogging for me.

Anyway, instead of our going anywhere this vacation, I'll be taking a virtual tour of rural England, joining Lambeth's journey down the Thames, which he is recording--with lovely photos and intriguing bits of information--over at his blog Renwickgenes. Check it out!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

How to Talk to Kids about Nudity in Art

My daughter saw the nudes in the painting first, but it was my son who asked in his loudest voice possible, "Mommy, why are the boys touching each other's penises?" Not only did my children look to me expectantly, curious of the answer, but about 20 other adults in the gallery turned to hear it, too. I should have expected as much when I decided to take my 3 1/2 year-old twins to The Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition "Art and Love in Renaissance Italy." If there is art, chances are there is nudity. And children are the fastest and most adept museum visitors at finding the single nude figure in an entire gallery of art. Even if you are in a room of fruit and vegetable still-life paintings! You'll probably first hear the whispers and then the giggles. There are almost always giggles. You'll know immediately what they've spotted.

What do you do then?

First, you might have to wait for those giggle to die down. And they will. Children are often curious about what an adult is going to say, even if slightly uncomfortable. Nudity in art allows you the opportunity to talk about many things from the universality of the human body to the history of its representation in art, including its use as a symbol and various definitons of beauty. Artists from different times and culture have long depicted the human body, often with no clothes, because it is something we all have in common, even if sexes, shapes, sizes, colors, modifications, and abilities vary. This, in part, explains nudity's omnipresence in art and museums. Oftentimes, simply explaining this, especially to the younger kids, is enough. Signaling your comfort with nudity in art encourages their own comfort with art but also with their own bodies. Older children and teenagers will be able to discuss idealism vs realism, sexuality, beauty, symbolism, and the like.

Much has been written and debated about the difference between naked and nude. In the end, when discussing art with kids, I tend to use "naked" to indicate a figure that would otherwise be dressed (i.e. if there are clothes nearby signaling their become undressed) and to use "nude" to indicate a metaphorical or symbolic figure whose lack of clothes seems "natural." For instance, the goddess Venus in ancient Roman statuary is nude but the women in Manet's Dejuener Sur L'Herbes are naked. This is a slippery slope at best and not necessary for an introductory discussion.

In the end, however, sometimes you have to improvise. Before I explained the universality and commonality of the human body in preschooler terms, I simply and directly answered my son's question about the nudity, "They are touching their penises because that is what little boys do."

Other tips:

  • If possible, prepare children in advance for the fact that they will see nudity in the museum so that they aren't as surprised when they see that first nude sculpture or painting.

  • If possible, address nudity in art before the giggles start, i.e. intentionally choose a nude--they're going to be looking at it anyway!

  • Allow space and time for giggles and discomfort--and then follow it up with observation and discussion--instead of denying, rushing, or glossing over nudity.

  • If you stop and talk about a female nude, play it fair and stop to look at a male nude somewhere else. Also vary body types, cultures, time periods, styles, if possible.

  • Use the accurate terms for body parts and encourage others to do the same.

  • If you are a teacher, be very aware of cultural and religious sensitivities regarding nudes (a teacher was fired in Frisco, TX, after a student saw a nude sculpture at a museum on a field trip in 2006). Plan appropriately for age, physical and social development, familiarity with art, etc.

I Want to be a Giraffe

Almost a year ago, I attended a wonderful workshop on compassionate caregiving, during which we were introduced to the theories and techniques of Nonviolent Communication, or NVC. Yesterday, I followed up on that original workshop with one devoted entirely to NVC--what better way to spend a holiday devoted to love than in learning how to communicate with a more open heart?

As it was just an introduction, I can't fully explain the history, theories, or strategies of NVC here. Clinical psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, having grown up in a violent Detroit neighborhood, later identified and developed strategies for communication that created and supported less violent, more compassionate relationships. At the basis of this is an awareness and understanding of needs, or basic human requirements ranging from physical well-being to freedom and the pursuit of happiness; feelings, which are the result of needs being met or unmet; and strategies, or the things we do to meet needs. Compassionate communication strives to create a quality of connection between people that supports needs getting met (resulting in positive feelings, as opposed to needs remaining unmet through conflict which results in negative feelings).

So how do you do that? Well, that's the tricky part. Self-awareness through "needs consciousness" and "emotional literacy" allows us to understand our own motivations and behaviors. A formula such as "I am feeling _______ because I need ______" allows us to connect our emotions with the needs that are met or, more usually, unmet--this then provides a way to address the needs and negative emotions. For example, let's say it makes me crazy when the kiddos drag their feet, literally and figuratively, about getting out of the house. I could say something like "I am feeling frustrated" but not because "the kids don't leave the house in an orderly or timely fashion"--I am responsible for my own feelings; blame and causality have no place in NVC--but because "I need to be helped and supported (by them) in my efforts." I can then ask them "would you be willing to help me get out of the house so that we don't have fights first thing in the morning?" (actually, that's jumping ahead to an "action request"; often you start with "connection requests" like "would you be willing to tell me what you think you heard me say?' so that you can be certain you were heard and understood). Of course, that all sounds very awkward and formal (and silly when talking to 3 1/2 year olds), but as I see it, the first efforts in any new language or way of speaking are artificial--just look at your beginning Latin text. Who ever needed to say "puella bella est?" Even in English we don't usually say things like "the girl is pretty." But that's the kind of grammar and syntax I learned for weeks in beginning Latin (and Greek, and German, and French, and ASL. And we don't even know verbs in Chinese yet!).

I'm gliding over all sorts of things, mainly because it's complicated to shrink several handouts (themselves shrunk from a larger text) and several hours of lecture and practice into one post (and if I've misunderstood or made a mistake, it is mine and not NVC's or the workshop leader's--check out the links for clarification). And because I don't grasp all of it yet. Besides, I'm not qualified to teach NVC. But I wanted to give some sense of why I'm fascinated by it. Mama and I are pretty good about communicating and expressing our feelings, I tend to think; we'd even come up with ways to talk about needs and feelings, though without really getting to the heart of NVC. When we lived in Chicago, we had a lengthy discussion about the "orange juice glass." If Mama left a dirty orange juice glass on the table and I freaked out, it wasn't because I really couldn't bear dirty dishes, but because I felt taken for granted, disrespected, whatever. And then of course, Mama would feel like I was overreacting--or maybe she left the orange juice glass out because I never said I appreciated what she did do. While there was no actual orange juice glass beyond our hypothesizing about how we (mis)communicated, the orange juice glass left on the table became our metaphor for those little things that can eventually lead to conflict, disaster, and the end of relationships when overlooked or ignored, at a time when many of our friends were dissolving their unions. Updating that to NVC, the orange juice glass was not just an orange juice glass but a symbol for unmet needs and negative feelings. And in the intervening years, it has been our shorthand for "something else is going on here entirely and we need to pay attention." It's always important to do the dishes, you know.

Even our solid communication skills have been tested by exhaustion, overwork, and especially our lack of a language for understanding and interpreting the challenges and experiences and emotions of parenthood. I think NVC might give us those tools. Because, really, yesterday when I identified my unmet needs which resulted in frustration at not getting out of the house easily, it was a need to feel capable and competent at my work, not just a need for help and support from the kids. I get so upset in the mornings because I think I've done everything I need to do to get out of the house smoothly--packed bags the night before, given plenty of time, given plenty of warnings and reminders, issued clear instructions about coats and shoes--and still we're just not progressing. And then I feel incompetent. I hadn't realized that until yesterday. At the same time, I realized what the kids' needs must be: they need to play and they feel sad, angry, and frustrated that I'm cutting their playtime short to put on shoes to go to school (really, it's any transtition, not just school). I have a feeling that the next time we head out the door for school, it'll be different than before, if only because I am more aware of what's happening. Of course, going to school isn't a choice (or a "request"), it's a "demand," something that is non-negotiable. But the way that we actually get out the door to get there can be approached in many different ways. And NVC allows me to attempt a less confrontational, less "violent," more compassionate way. In NVC lingo, to be a giraffe--the land animal with the largest heart whose head rises so high that it can see the "big picture" and who only uses force in self-defense.

There's more to it--empathy for others and empathy for self, being beyond "right" and "wrong," taking responsibility for our own feelings and actions, the belief that we are all doing our best at any given time--and that's just the introduction. I purchased Rosenberg's intro to the subject, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, and a parenting book highly recommended by several parenting resources, Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids, which contains feelings and needs cards which seem to be a hallmark of NVC training. It's funny, because it was by sorting through the cards trying to figure out my feelings and needs surrounding disorderly departures from home that I came across the "capable" needs card and had an "a-ha!" moment. I've also signed up for another workshop, which goes beyond introducing these ideas to actually implementing them. So if you hear me talking a lot about observations, feelings, needs, and requests, about giraffes and jackals ("the judge"), about empathy and connection, about causality and blame and power and violence, being hooked and being curious, about the spiritual practice of compassion, you'll know where it came from and what I'm doing, even if it sounds like I'm speaking some weird new language. I am--it's giraffe.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Hearts Day!

Happy Valentine's Day to all and sundry! I hope you and yours spread the love around.

I spent the day at a Nonviolent (or, Compassionate) Communication workshop, about which I will post at length later this weekend. It was really eye and heart opening. And the ability to spend 8 hours learning

a way of relating to ourselves and others, moment to moment, instead of letting
the past dictate our present. By learning to identify your needs and express
them powerfully, as well as to bring understanding to the needs of others, you
can stay connected to what is alive in you and create a life that it is more

was the best Valentine's Day present I could've gotten this year.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentine Bonanza

We've been building up to Valentine's Day, or more specifically the celebration at school, for almost 10 days now. First, we painted hearts on our house in anticipation of the big day. Then we started to make the 17 valentines each kiddo would need for class, including 4 for teachers. We had to start early because no 3 1/2 year old is going to be able to sit down and create 17 cards in one sitting, or even two, or, to be honest, even three. In the end, I made about 5 valentines each, mimicking each child's distinct valentine style: foamies for Sis and doilies with rubber stamps and/or punches for Bud. We even had a practice run, throwing our own Valentine's Day playgroup on Monday, where we decorated bags and exchanged cards (well, we gave out playdough). And swapped the chocolate heart cutout cookies we had made.

And so this morning was the big day. The kiddos took their zipper bag full of valentines--unaddressed for easier and fairer distribution--and a container full of heart cookies to school. Immediately, Bud got that zipper bag open and tried to give Mrs. Director a card to go with her cookies. But passing them out had to wait. I'm sure it was a long day for them.

Just as it had been a long week for us moms. I had been set on us making our valentine's cards because I thought it was a good way to show that we cared, but I might have been overreaching and, well, vain in that my-kids-made-their-cards/we're-too-good-for-storebought-cards kind of way. Since they can't sign their names yet, I didn't want to be the one to choose a store card set, sign their names, and get them ready to give out without any of their own input. They could have, however, signed their letters and colored envelopes and actually chosen the set, which would have involved them and put them imprimatur on the activity. I just hadn't thought of that. Next year. Because, in the end, making that many valentines just ceased to be a pleasurable activity by the third hourlong+ session.

I know other moms gave just as much thought to their Valentine's Day treats. Mama Teacher spent all last Friday, and another evening besides, making cards for her son's class--complete with stamps and punches. And I think there were going to be some treats too, right? Another mom had decided to take corn muffins to her child's celebration but had those vetoed by her husband as not celebratory or appropriate; she was calling me for advice on royal icing and ideas where to find merengue powder (I hope those turned out, Miss J). Lastly, another Miss J was whipping up a batch of chocolate chip cookies for her daughter's class, a new class that the daughter just joined a week ago and so the mom wasn't even sure she had the class list or was supposed to address the cards. We've all been giving this a lot of thought. Heck, even the moms whose kids aren't in school yet were asking questions about the whole thing!

Is it worth it? Well, my kids were thrilled beyond belief, tickled "pinkalicious," to bring those Valentine's Day bags filled with cards and treats home this afternoon. Bud had eaten two lollipops from his stash before we were halfway home. Did they look at the cards? Sure, to color in the coloring pages with the little markers they had gotten. The cards were shiny and glossy, with neat tabs for closing or slots for candy or stickers or pencils--lots of cars and princesses and Thomas--boy, valentines have gotten more sophisticated since those generic, perforated cartoon cards in little envelopes that we had. But there wasn't a single box of Sweethearts! So, progress isn't everything . . . I liked looking at how each child, when they did so, signed his or her name. Something about being able to write their names makes the kiddos seem so grown up. It's such an accomplishment to be able to write your name, to mark ownership, to forge identity. My kids are so proud of writing their first initials--wait til they can write the whole thing!!

I think I had forgotten the magic of the holiday. Mama and I have often made it special for each other, but it is a small, intimate holiday now (even though Mama despises it as an artificial, commercial holiday, but she humors me and plays along). But I remember the sheer delight of choosing valentines, making boxes (aways shoeboxes, I think), getting cards, eating candy--the happiness of the big pile. I never remember any angst of who gave me what and who didn't. And this was before the days of you-must-bring-one-for-everybody. But I think we did. Or if we didn't, I just didn't care. It was just happy. As their teacher said today, there just aren't any expectations so the joy is rather pure and unsullied. Even for those of us moms full of expectations and working behind the scenes to make it happen, I'd say it was worth it.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Get Well Soon

Our best wishes for a speedy recovery go out to CJ, who seems to have gotten the awful stomach bug/flu virus that has hit our area. Several other little friends have had versions of it. And we hope you and Mr Teacher don't get it, Mama Teacher.

It'll Make You Cry

Our 4-weeks early kids were only in the NICU for a bit, and then as big, healthy babies with slight sugar and breathing problems and thus not in the same jeopardy of the other babies there, but this post on preemies at Motherlode still captures the way we felt those first few days. Even when they got home, we were scared that they were somehow more fragile than non-preemie babies who didn't go to the NICU. You'll read it and weep.

Baby Come Back

The kiddos are 3 1/2 now and I can only sometimes see the baby in each of them. The personalities haven't changed much: Sis is still curious, persistent, and fearless, and loves animals and Shirt; Bud still loves music, a cuddle, and being around people instead of by himself. But physically, there is very little left of the babies they were. If Sis is sitting in my lap, and I brush back her hair and look down on her face, I can see the chubby cheeks that were her hallmark. And if Bud rolls on his back and lifts his legs so he can pull off his socks simultaneously, it's the roly-poly baby who played on the floor a few years ago. Neither of these happen often so it makes me smile, if a bit wistfully, when it does.

24 Hours and Counting

I have been brace-free for more than 24 hours, for the first time since October 2007. I have even played outside, driven the car, gone on errands, and dropped the kids off at school. All without that darned, old back brace. And I feel pretty good. Of course, I'm thinking about it a lot so that I move and sit correctly. But nothing hurts. I had been working up to it for months now--loosening the brace, removing its metal stays, not wearing it a few hours off and on when I was home alone. And there were aches and pains, especially when I first started going long stretches without it, as my body adjusted again, but that was to be expected. I'm glad to be almost rid of the crutch that has been physically unnecessary for awhile (my diastasis recti has shrunk as far as it can and my core is so much stronger). But as my PT said when I told her last week that I was really making progress with weaning myself from it, fear of pain, not just pain, can be very difficult to overcome. I still worry about hurting my back again, which is a constant motivation for going to my workout. But I don't want the fear made real in the form of that backbrace anymore.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

5K Mania

No, not $5K mania, though in this day and age, I imagine $5000 could create some excitement for almost anyone. But I can understand your confusion. I never talk about exercise.

Yep, I'm talking the walk-run kind.

I don't even know how it started. And I was there. It was playgroup, moms were chatting, and the next thing I knew, it was like we were in a huddle getting ready to break. Everyone was gung-ho about getting in shape and training to run a 5K this May. I listened, not being one of those standing around swearing she used to love to exercise, to work out, even to run; I'm just not one of those people.

That afternoon, I laughingly, jokingly mentioned the hubbub among my friends about running a 5K to my physical therapist. She forbade me, laughing at the prospect along with me. But then she did qualify that by saying she would be in full support of my walking one. Uh-oh. I should have seen that coming.

And so, I'm thinking about it. I've half-heartedly googled "how to train to walk a 5K" and come up with these bizarre-looking calendar charts of WU, Rx2 (5), CD and other incoherent abbreviations. But I wrote my PT a note asking how she would do it, if she were me. And, here now, I'll ask Lambeth how he trained to walk the Thames (loving those pics, Lambeth!). And I've even looked up which 5Ks in the area I can walk. See, I'm a joiner, like being with my friends, so even though it's exercise we're talking about, I'm thinking about it.

Actually, cynical me gives it 3 weeks. I think we'll all realize we don't have a ton of spare, non-child time to actually do any real training for a 5K. I mean, I don't have a few hours daily to practice walking 3.2 miles. But then, novice that I am, I don't even know if that's how you do it. But I'm looking into it. Mama was so shocked when I mentioned it--not in an unsupportive way, just in a you've-never-mentioned-exercise-voluntarily-before way--it might be nice to do something completely outside of my little sedentary box.

Fast, Mommy! Hungry!

It's 4:45, you haven't been to the store having played outside with the kids all afternoon, and there's nothing coherent in the cabinets and thus far nothing on your stove. There's nothing frozen and you had take-out last night. What do you do?

An article in the NYTimes today explored several multicultural answers to the usual "what's for dinner-in-a-hurry" question: Korean Pa Jun (like scallion pancakes), Ecuadoran Sopa de Tortilla de Huevos (Egg Tortilla Soup), and Hungarian Lentil Stew.

Mercy, makes my go-to dinner sound very boring: scrambled eggs. Not cheese eggs, not a Western omelet, not even "toad in a hole." Though, if I have any ground turkey in the house, I will make a version of Ar-Ma's omelet, which is basically scrambled eggs with meat, soy sauce, and (though not for the kids) dried radish. What do I eat? Two fried eggs and a piece of wheat toast.

If I have a little more time, I can make my favorite, an adapted version of Mario Batali's Pasta e Lenticchie, which takes about 30 minutes tops and can be served with a variety of seasonings (Italian, sweet curry powder, or chili con carne seasonings) and starches (pasta of any shape, couscous, or rice). For the kids, I can throw together a chicken rice meatloaf or chicken cutlets (provided I have any protein in my freezer) in 30 minutes, with frozen veggies on the side.

What does Mama make? She's an expert at throwing together whatever is in the fridge to make a stir fry over any type of noodle or fried rice. She could make cardboard edible with some baby corn and Maggi! But her favorite is Ketchup Macaroni, which her dad would make when her mom worked late. It's actually an Americanized Chinese noodle stir fry, even if it sounds more Italian.

I'm not sure what my mom served when under pressure. I don't really remember her being harried around dinnertime. Most of the food she made for dinner would have had to have been put together a couple of hours before (baked chicken, rump roast, stew), when we were at school. But I barely remember faster food, except maybe spaghetti every now and then. And that meatloaf (but she makes hers in a loaf, which takes longer than my muffin tin loaves). Swanson's tv dinners were for babysitter night and McDs was only when we were already out; I almost can't remember having pizza at home as a child.

Do you maintain any specific cultural heritage in your homecooking? I think, if you looked at my weekly menu, which rotates between new dish for us/leftovers for them and leftovers for us/new dish for them, you would guess that I'm a middle-class white woman of mixed Euro stock without too much sense of culinary adventure and a detectable Southern dedication to rouxs, gravies, greens, and cornbread. Well, you'd also know I'm a vegetarian but my kids are omnivores. Having become a vegetarian, I have been trying lots of new, often international recipes (though tonight it's a Euro peasant-style cabbage and bean stew in my crockpot, but it was Morocca chickpea stew the other day) and don't really make most of the foods my mom made us, even though they were all good. And the kids are in the picky stage and never eat much of anything so it makes little sense to make a whole roast for them (and that's not a quickie have-the-ingredients-ready meal anyway). They do inhale baked chicken with rice and gravy, well, the rice and gravy at least (and I do have a chicken in the freezer, but that would take some planning to defrost and then bake). Mama does go through stages where cooking Chinese and Thai food are more important to her and the kids do really like whatever she makes, as long as we say the recipe is Ar-Ma's. I think it's the soy sauce. And baby corn.

What do you make when you're in a hurry? Is it something from your childhood? Something you've just discovered? Will you try the recipes in the article? I will try them, but not on my harried nights. For those, I make meals I can throw together with my eyes closed. And that's just not going to be an Ecuadoran or Hungarian stew. Yet. Though, I used to think Pasta e Lenticchie was a challenge. It's all about practice I guess. And familiarity. Which is what makes homecooking homey.


Pasta e Lenticchie
I have really started to pare this down--no fresh parsley, cook the pasta separately so it reheats better, any kind of seasonings (instead of the hot pepper flakes), any kind of canned tomatoes (diced, crushed, stewed), any kind of starch actually. And I love all the varieties.

5 cups water
3/4 cups lentils
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped canned plum tomatoes, with some juice
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1/2 pound vermicelli, or small tubular pasta, or pasta mista
2 rounded tablespoons finely cut or snipped parsley
Optional: extra-virgin olive oil and hot red pepper flakes or hot pepper oil, for garnish

In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a rolling boil, add the lentils, and cook, covered over medium-high heat, until nearly but not entirely tender, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic, the olive oil, the tomatoes, the salt and the pepper. Reduce the heat, cover and continue to simmer briskly for another 10 minutes, stirring a few times, or until the lentils are fully tender.
If using capellini, break it into 2 to 4-inch pieces and add them to the lentils. Cook, covered, at a steady simmer, stirring several times and scraping the bottom of the pot when you do. Cook until the pasta is just done, stirring more frequently as it gets closer to the point of being cooked. If using a small tubular pasta or pasta mista, cook the pasta at least halfway in plenty of salted boiling water. Drain the pasta, add it to the lentils and simmer to finish cooking the pasta.
When pasta is cooked to taste, remove the pot from the heat, stir in the parsley cover the pot, and let stand about 5 minutes before serving. Serve hot, passing hot pepper oil or the best-quality extra virgin olive oil for drizzling on top.

“Molto Mario”


Mama's Ketchup Macaroni
I can’t believe she adds ketchup and I freaked out the first time, but I’ve grown to like it.

vegetables: bamboo shoots, waterchestnuts, snow peas, baby corn, straw mushrooms
soy sauce
worchestershire sauce
chicken and fried egg, optional

Saute veggies, while boiling pasta separately. Add pasta to veggies and fry until slightly dry. Add ketchup, soy and worchestershire sauce. Mama likes it slightly burned.

"Give Yourself a Thumbs Up": Playing Hooky for the First Picnic of the Year

"How are you two feeling right now?" I asked, wondering if they were coming down with the colds and flu everyone seems to have.

"I feel great," Sis said. Bud concurred.

"Okay, that's great. Then we can go to Chinese class today."

"Cough-cough. Hear that? I'm coughing so I must be sick," Sis backtracked. Bud coughed in solidarity.

"No, I think you're faking it. Don't you like Chinese class?"

Sis admitted, "I'm shy and don't talk."

"That's okay. You listen and learn."

"Um, can we do that question over again, Mom?"

Ah, the do-over. Tricky and clever. No wonder Mama and I call her "Sis, Esquire."

Well, we actually didn't go to class because I started feeling under the weather--headache, achy, maybe even fluid in my ears, soar throat, sniffles. Was is psychosomatic because I didn't really want to spend the afternoon going and coming? Or do I finally have what everyone else has (again)?

Later, I told the kiddos that I didn't feel great and that we weren't going to class.

"You sound awful, Mom," Sis sympathized. "Here, have my Amy Bunny to feel better."

And I did. So well in fact, that we walked to the deli for lunch--our usual half-meat ham sandwiches on rolls for them, with chips and candy, and a veggie wrap for me, plus a 1/2-1/2 lemonade-tea because I was craving something besides water and unsweetened iced tea. And then because the sun was shining, birds were chirping, and squirrels were frolicking, I pulled out all the outdoor blankets I could find and layered them on the spongy ground in the middle of our side yard. And we sat, eating and waving to neighbors, for our first picnic of 2009. Sure, the damp eventually came through the layers, but then we all just got up and kicked our big ball around.

After we finished eating our lunches (though Sis was still slowly finishing every single chip crumb--they eat at completely different speeds), Bud and I filled the bird feeders and played kickball. Sis soon joined us to play in the backyard--more kickball, time in the little house, and then "ice-skating" on a slick patch of ice in the shade, just like Olivia does in one of the new episodes of her show (though, we weren't practicing for Ice Capades. Thank heavens for tv sometimes--"Olivia" has been giving them some great ideas. Besides the ice, we've been playing hotel recently too. And not playing "Olivia" play hotel, but just in our own way.). They took turns sliding across the ice, sometimes while holding on to me, other times holding on to the slats of the deck. Bud was much more tentative about doing it by himself, while Sis practically danced across the ice, even sticking out her leg like figure skaters do. She is fearless and adventurous. Then she'd cheer him on (they had to take turns because the patch wasn't that big) and, when he successfully crossed over and back again by himself without holding on, she said, "Give yourself a thumbs up!" as she waved both her thumbs at him. They each only fell once (Sis said, "There is no pleasure in tummy skating." Even if that's what penguins do). But it was enough for us to eventually move to the swingset. And in the house when our wet clothes got the better of us as the sun dipped behind the house.

Feeling under the weather never felt so good.