Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Fun: A Quickie

We've had a great Halloween, from the party this afternoon to trick-or-treating this evening. But it's late and I'm exhausted after walking an extra mile--a mile!--with Sis (and rolling my ankle not once but twice on the uneven ground). More tomorrow! And Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Mischief Night

Tonight was trick-or-treating at Mama's office and so, by 3 p.m., the kids were rearing to go, even though we didn't need to be there until 4 p.m. But we needed that time to finalize costumes. What accessories did Sis need to complete her Kenai costume--a spear? a little stuffed bear? In the end, just her totem necklace and the omnipresent Amy-Shirt combo. Bud was a little more tricky, as he completely altered his Halloween costume in the last 24 hours, going from Denahi to a faerie.

Fine, fine, snicker. Then, grow up.

Yep, Bud was a faerie. In his Denahi blue tunic and belt but with his blue faerie wings. And he was wonderful "spreading magic around the world" and being so happy in his chosen costume. Did we have reservations? Frankly, there wasn't that much time to agonize over or debate his choice. Coincidentally, I had recently read the Motherlode post, "When a Boy Wants a Tutu," and empathized with the parents who felt awkward about letting their kindergartener wear his tutu to the school Halloween parade (mainly because they didn't want him teased). Mama and I had discussed the post at length, before Bud chose to be a faerie. It's an unenviable position--the kindergartener''s parents can protect him now but possibly send a message that they don't accept him or send him out into the often cruel world of the elementary school playground in his tutu and see immediate and maybe longlasting repercussions when he is labeled a "fairy." Would parents worry about a girl being a firefighter or even, say, a Native American boy who became a man by becoming a bear?? (That's Kenai, folks. A boy. Who Sis dressed up as. But then this whole "boys-can't-dress-up-like-girls" has its roots in misogyny because "real men" would never want to be like girls, right? Don't get Mama started.). Bud has a pink tutu just like that five-year old, but we don't let him wear it out of the house. Not because we are embarrassed (he can wear it, and has, around anyone who comes into the house) but because costumes are not street clothes and we don't wear costumes out of the house (nor does Sis; we keep rules the same). Except at Halloween. Which is why we were happy with Bud being happiest as a faerie (And, with Sis as Kenai. Though, Mama's office is not Bud's school; the ramifications are different, and so might our decision be). And all but one of the people at Mama's office were totally cool, even nonplussed about it; the one guy was an asshole, saying that Sis and Bud got their costumes backwards. You're the backwards one, mister.

The kids are now expert trick-or-treaters. We knew they would be. When she was very little, at her second Halloween, when she was just over one (and a gnome, along with Bud), Sis knew she had two hands and therefore must have a piece of candy for each hand whenever anyone offered her the bowl of treats! This year, they could spot a bowl of candy in the various cubicles from half a hallway away and didn't really want to stop to exchange pleasantries--"and what are we this year?" just drew quiet stares--with Mama's coworkers if there was no candy in sight! Sis was very selective in her choosing, picking out her favorites: Tootsie Rolls, Hershey bars, and Hershey Kisses. Yep, chocolate. Bud was indiscriminate in his grabbing, often of much more than the 1-2 pieces we had practiced this week when we played Halloween. He even got several off-limits peanutty candies in his greedy grabbing. But the enthusiasm was evident and no one minded much--there really was a ton of candy, which was the focus of the evening. At one point, Mama asked if they wanted to go get a balloon animal or keep trick-or-treating and they both said "candy" as they took off to yet another cubbie. At least they both remembered the "trick-or-treat" and "thank you" we had also practiced.

Finally, having exhausted every office, they collapsed into bean bags and started sorting their loot: Bud had 6 popcorn balls! And probably about 3 lbs of candy. Sis had substantially less, but it was all chocolate. And so, there they sat, inhaling anything they could open. At one point, Sis buried her head deep in her tote bag of candy so that all you could see was her back! And Bud got popcorn all over his costume. And the bean bag. And the floor.

When even they'd had enough sweets, we headed to dinner. As we left Mama's office, one of the most magical events of the evening happened: we spotted a 6-point buck munching grass on the side of the office drive, staring at us as we came to a stop to watch him. "Look, Mommy, " Sis cried out happily, "he's not scared of people!" We sat there for 5+ minutes watching him watching us. Then, on to the restaurant, which was more for us than for them, though surprisingly, they did manage to eat their food. But there was enough sugar in them to keep them awake all the way home in the dark, way past their bedtime. They're asleep now, though, getting ready for the main event tomorrow!

Though, interestingly, Bud says he wants to be Denahi, without wings, tomorrow.


Welcome to the new twins in our extended family, a boy and girl born to the daughter of my mother's cousin (so, let's just say, to my cousins)! Seeing the pics reminded me of Sis and Bud in the NICU, in their little yarn hats (and not much else) and those striped blankets! They get so big so fast. As the babes won't be home right away (at 4+ lbs and several weeks early), I'm wishing all health, strength, and sleep.

A Tale of Two Dinners

These two magazines arrived in my mailbox on the same day recently. Now, tell me, which Thanksgiving meal would you rather have?

Me too.

Date Night

The magic of last night continued well into the night because we had a babysitter for the evening! Yep, we're much better about scheduling our monthly date night. And so, last night, the kids were thrilled to tell their beloved babysitter all about the faerie village and the pizza/train restaurant and we left way before bedtime--it's such a treat that someone else can tuck the kids in without any trouble!

And what did we do? Grocery shopping! But not at just any store: we went to Balducci's and Whole Foods. Yep, fancy grocery shopping. We love wandering the aisles of upscale markets (and as granola as WF tries to be, the prices are upscale) and seeing what there is to buy (and laughing when we find strawberry fluff at one and snack pack rice pudding at the other). At Balducci's, we were fascinated by the truffle popcorn--that's not chocolate, folks, but dehydrated truffles which lent an earthy sophistication to the moviehouse treat. And I got a big jar of bitter-sweet marmalade, even though I was strongly tempted by all the specialty chocolate bars (well, not the bacon chocolate!). We also picked up some Icelandic strained yogurt and some Australian grapefruit-flavored yogurt, which turned out to be very, very soft, almost drinkable. We gorged on gouda and barbecued chorizo samples while considering what we would take home. I wasn't particularly tempted by all the oils and vinegars, but I did pick up some rosewater and orange blossom water for cookie making this holiday season. We almost bought, but didn't in the end, get any gourmet gelato.

Then off we went to Whole Foods, a store we used to visit on date night in Chicago (back when, without kids, every night was date night!! Remember those days??). We almost changed our dinner plans and raided the paneer and tikka masala at the buffet but decided we weren't ready to eat yet. So, we spent time studying the tea--oooh, rose petal black tea!!!--though in the end I opted for hot chai chocolate. And we also enjoyed looking through the cookbooks (Moosewood Restaurant Desserts or Baking Illustrated, anyone?) and rummaging through the organic cotton clothes. I almost got some caper and olive chips, with garlic, but they were corn not potato chips, which didn't sound right to us. And then there was a chickpea salad with edamame, bell peppers, and . . . cranberries?! Mama doesn't like fruit in her savories so we skipped that. I was also interested in an Amy's orange pound cake in the frozen section, at which point we realized it was time for dinner.

So we headed to our favorite vegetarian restaurant and had a wonderful light dinner, light in that we didn't each get one of each course! Instead, I got a creamy Czech mushroom and potato soup, with oatmeal bread, and a salad, while Mama had the pastitsio with a great cinnamon flavor. We finished dinner with a pumpkin tofu custard, which is one of my favorite desserts there. We even talked to one of the women about how she makes it, since Sis loves pumpkin: they use hubbard squash. Well, I have a sugar pumpkin and canned puree, so I'll have to use one of those to make it.

Food and fun, oogling and eating. A great date night.

"Spreading Magic All Over the World"

After our rather medical day on Wednesday (thank you, the stitch-removal and intranasal vaccinations went well), we spent yesterday in a magical, mysical Wee Faerie Village at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme.

It was a beautiful, colorful fall day to wander the grounds of the museum on the banks of the Lieutenant River. After checking in at admissions and receiving our map of the houses and our twinkling, beaded bracelets (so much more fun than an admission ticket or badge!), the kids took off across the grass searching for more than 30 hidden houses constructed by artists out of found objects and natural elements. Under bushes, up in branches, in the hollows of trees, amid the flowers, the kids found a variety of hidden houses, with tiny baskets, little ladders, miniature furniture, and all matter of accessories. Sis's favorite house was filled with white bunnies! Bud preferred the "faeries working" house hidden in a basement window because harp music from the parlor upstairs filtered down. Mama liked the little mill set on a rock in the stream. And I like the giant tree whose hollows were filled with houses and doors, whose trunk was covered with ladders, and from whose branches hung numerous wee baskets. We all liked wandering the huge stickwork sculpture, The Rambles, which was like an oversized faerie house for people.

And then we got to build our own faerie dwelling in a cluster of trees near the stream. Having had lots of practice building faerie houses for the last year, the kids set to looking for building materials--bark, sticks, chestnuts, leaves, branches, all went into the making of our house. Such fun! The kids were so excited to add our own house to the woods. But then they started asking if we could come back to visit our house and all the others. And so we told them that the magical houses would disappear after this weekend (when the exhibition closes), fading away in the mist until they were invisible--and maybe we could come see other houses next year or find different houses in other places, including our back yard.

We distracted them by touring the galleries of American Impressionism (which had a great gallery activity of finding paining details) and then visiting the house of Florence Griswold which was the center of the Lyme Art Colony at the turn of the twentieth century. I enjoyed seeing the paintings, especially in the famous dining room filled with panels contributed by resident artists such as Hassam, Chadwick, and Ranger) but didn't have much time to linger. Off to the shop where Bud got blue faerie wings and Sis got pink. They danced around the grounds some more and we headed to lunch.

Lunch was almost as exciting as the museum because we ate at the train station at Pizza Works, which has a model train set up on the second floor. Sis loved the focaccia; Mama and I loved the dipping marinara. And the baked potato pizza with red potatoes, broccoli, sour cream, scallions, and bacon (on half). But best of all, beside the trains, was the Kentucky Derby Pie, just like a warm chocolate chip cookie. Mmmmm. Both the kids loved it, even with the pecans (which they can have now).

We headed home with them jabbering the whole way about faeries. Sis put her wings on Amy the Bunny and flew her around the backseat; Bud followed with Penguin. And the fun continued at home. Donning the faerie wings, they pretended their igloo tents were faerie houses. We also acted out the story from Tracey Kane's Fairy Houses, the book that galvanized the current faerie house obsession (which got it's start here on an island in Maine). So, I was the little girl in the woods building a faerie house and they were the faeries who come to thank me. And Bud, when telling me about himself and his fairy sister, said they were "spreading magic all over the world."

And they still are this morning, asking for their wings and to play faeries first thing upon waking. I think he might even switch to being a faerie for Halloween, at least for the party at Mama's office this afternoon.

May the magic continue . . . . (pictures to follow)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

We were talking about breakups, because a friend of the family had broken up with his girlfriend, also someone known to the kids. I hadn't meant to start the conversation with the kids but was overhead telling Mama the news. Lots of questions ensued about what dating was, what a break up was, why it happens.

Suddenly, Bud was out of his seat at the table and next to me, arms around me in a cuddle. "Mommy, don't ever break up with me."


Medical Day

This morning, Bud gets his stitches removed. It's time. He's become increasingly agitated when people ask about his bandage and is even having nightmares about getting hurt (either the specific incident or just in general). I'm hoping today puts a lot of that behind us. Though, the kiddos have started to play "getting stitches," which is a good sign--they played "getting a staple in your head" for weeks. But then, I think that upset him less because he couldn't see it, even if it upset and worried me more.

Then, after lunch at the restaurant of his choosing (looks like it's going to be the "chip" restaurant) and a little rest time, we'll head to get their H1N1 flu vaccination. I hope it's not too late: swine flu has entered our playgroup, with two of our friends and their mom very sick with it. We haven't seen them in awhile but knowing it's so close only solidifies our decision (though, oddly, hearing that the Obama girls got their vaccinations was very reassuring).

Whew. That's our day. I'll tell you about it after . . . .


A friend of mine has become engaged to her girlfriend. Wishing you both great happiness together!

Thinking of You

My thoughts are with Miss T's family as her husband is deployed to Iraq today. She begins a long stint alone at home with her two boys. Sending love from Connecticut . . .


Thanks to the ghost who visited my house and left behind a pumpkin bucket filled with fun treats. Sis even took her pumpkin water container to school today! And Bud loves the airplane. And now I can bake our party treats in a cute container. Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Adventures in Cooking Our CSA Share: Spaghetti Squash

Okay, officially, we didn't get the spaghetti squash from our CSA box but we did buy it at a neighboring farm. Last year, when my folks were visiting, we had a mini squash cook-off, preparing a variety of winter squash. I liked the spaghetti squash with either butter/cinnamon/sugar or butter/salt/pepper or butter/herbs. Here's the way we prepared it two nights ago.


Spaghetti Squash with Garlic

2 spaghetti squash (appx 2 lbs each)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, slivered
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 400°. With a fork, prick squash in several places. Place on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until soft to the touch, about 1 hour.
  2. When cool enough to handle, halve squash crosswise. Scoop out seeds; discard. Scrape flesh into strands.
  3. In a large skillet, heat oil over low heat. Add garlic; cook until fragrant and just starting to color, about 5 minutes. Add squash; season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing frequently, until squash is very hot, about 5 minutes.
Everyday Food

Adventures in Cooking Our CSA Share: Warm Comfort

It's a rainy fall day, with drizzle wetting down the colorful leaves gathering all over our yard and deck. It's the antithesis of yesterday's beautiful clear fall day but another favorite fall day of mine. And so, cozy in our house, I am making Potato and Greens Soup, with the leeks and potatoes (as well as greens we froze earlier this year) from our CSA box. I found the recipe in a magazine I pilfered from PT yesterday (mea culpa, mea culpa, I am an office magazine thief sometimes, but I've asked at PT and they're good with my thinning of the collection). I hadn't ever cooked with leeks before. I think of leeks as a "yankee" vegetable, just not sure I'd ever seen or heard of them growing up in Texas. I'm sure you can get them there; they just weren't part of our regular menu. Same with winter squash (butternut, acorn, etc), actually. But they smelled so wonderful sauteing in oil and butter. Mmmmm, can't wait for lunch!

Potato and Greens Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 bunch leeks, thoroughly rinsed and thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
4 1/2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
salt and freshly ground pepper
8 white potatoes (about 3 1/2 lbs), peeled and cut into 3/4 cubes
1 bunch arugula or other bitter greens such as curly endive or escarole, washed

Heat the oil and butter in a large heavy saucepan over low heat. Add the leeks and stir well. Cover and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add stock and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add potatoes and bring back to a simmer. Cook until tender but not mushy, 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off heat.

Ladle about 3 cups of soup into a blender (don't fill more than halfway). Hold the lid on with a dish towel to prevent splattering, and blend until smooth. Return pureed soup to saucepan, stir to combine, and bring back to a simmer. Season to taste.

Stir in greens. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until wilted and bright green, and serve immediately.

Martha Stewart Living

Monday, October 26, 2009

Swine Flu Fatigue: Safe or Sorry?

H1N1 seems to be everywhere: in the closed high school in Guilford, infiltrating other towns around the state, in that hospital waiting room in Texas, at the home of a friend of ours from church. And that's the actual virus.

But perhaps even more insidious is the constant talk about swine flu among parents and friends. I can't say hi to anyone without some talk of the epidemic starting. Worried parents wondering what we're doing about the vaccine, friends and family sharing the latest stats and rumors and theories, articles about scarcity of vaccines, newstories about that pregnant woman (read at your own risk) in the hospital for 4 months who lost her baby under extremely tragic circumstances.

In the beginning, I was pretty impervious to all the talk, not too worried about the virus, definitely not getting such a new vaccine for my kids. But like water on a rock, I've been worn down. I worry about my kids being so little and small. I worry that they will be very sick if they get the flu. Or worse. I worry about worrying about it for the whole flu season. I worry about it coming back like the flu of 1918. I can see that washing hands as a preventive measure to save us all from sickness is a joke: have you ever seen how quickly kids can get snot all over themselves and others? Or how they forget to cover their mouths for coughs and sneezes every other time? We can't count on hygiene, even soap and Purell, to keep us healthy.

But I also worry about side effects of the vaccine: of Thimerosal, of auto-immune issues down the road, especially considering all the food sensitivities the kids had, of catching it in the lag-time before they are immune, of the vaccine not actually protecting them. I mean, in general, the FDA, CDC, USDA--you name a governmental agency in charge, even indirectly, of our health and safety (not to mention Big Pharma)--have had some spectacular failures (even if, I'm sure, most of the time, things are fine). Thimerosal. Thalidomide. Transfatty margarines. Peanut butter. Yaz. Spinach. Fen-phen. Vioxx. Cold medicine for kids. Doesn't make you trust them as far as you could throw them.

Our pediatrician office's official line follows the AMA, AAP, CDC, etc etc etc. Of course. But privately, she has questioned the safety of the vaccine. The other pediatrician in the practice doesn't seem to worry as much about the safety of the vaccine, but doesn't seem to think it's absolutely necessary. And so I ask everyone, hoping to find the Holy Grail of H1N1. Except I only seem to ask people I know are either on the fence or against it, in other words, people pretty much in my boat--I haven't asked my friend who already had her children vaccinated, though perhaps her calm confidence is just what I need. And so many are saying, nope, no way.

And still. Both sets of grandparents keep asking if we've done it. My sis says she would. I wonder what my bio-lab BIL would say? I think he even worked on it for awhile . . . Mama and I are, in general, law-abiding and rule-following people. Despite all the reasons not to trust various agencies and Big Pharma, I don't think they are actually out to get us. And they make a seasonal flu vaccine every year under what, as far as I can tell, are generally-accepted protocols. Why would H1N1 be different? Except . . . . it just is. As it the amazing panic, as well as indifference but also distrust, surrounding it.

So I have what I'm calling "swine flu fatigue." I can't vacillate about this anymore, can't worry about it all season everytime they get a sniffle. I won't ever know if I've made the "right" decision. I can only do the best that I can do right now. And I'm no medical expert. Lots of medical experts are officially saying do it. Lots of parents are saying not to. Could they be wrong? Could I be? Mama and I have talked and talked and talked and talked and talked. We don't take this lightly. In the end, it all boils down to fear. And I am more scared of the flu than I am of the vaccination. One is real and right now; the other is an unproven, future possibility.

And so, the kids have an appointment for an intranasal H1N1 vaccination (sans preservatives) on Wednesday.

Unless we cancel it.

(Please, just don't tell our pediatrician!)

Walk this Way: On Exercise and Kinhin

While the kiddos triked around the cul-de-sac and sold me food, I walked around in circles, enjoying the gorgeous fall day with light breeze, bright blue sky, overhead red-tail hawk, and brilliant New England autumn leaves.

At first, I was exercising, continuing the pace I set on the treadmill this morning. It felt good to walk outside for a change, warmed by the sun, cooled by the breeze, with more to look at than a wall or other exercisers. And then, I remembered what I'd read about walking meditation, or kinhin. I couldn't remember the exact posture described in Three Pillars of Zen (I've just looked it up and I think I'll have to see the arm positions to understand it fully), but I thought I remembered that you stepped on your inhalations and exhalations (though, the book doesn't quite describe it that way). It is so much harder than it sounds. Maybe it was me, with my PT issues, but walking that slowly really through off my balance. I couldn't manage to count and breathe and balance at the same! It also reminded me of yoga--it doesn't look like you're doing much--here, you're just walking really slowly--but you are using every muscle. I could feel each muscle engage as I stepped. Amazing how it slowed me all down, brought me right back into my body and the moment. I wasn't zoned out but very attuned to everything (of course, I had to be: the kids were still riding around in the streets). So, I might not have aspects of it "right," but what I did manage to do was pretty amazing.

Triking in the 'Burbs: Of Mud, Marathons, and Markets

The kids have been out tricycling around the cul-de-sac for about an hour, playing all the while. First it was just races, then they liked to pretend they got stuck in the "mud puddles" of the sewer lids in the street. They took turns pulling each other out. And then they pretended to be the ice cream man and fruit lady, selling treats and produce to each other and me (and still getting stuck in the "mud"). I had chocolate and hot fudge sundaes and creamsicles, and strawberries and apples and grapes and blueberries. I grew up on a cul-de-sac, too, and it's really the best kind of suburban street.

Adventures in Cooking Our CSA Share: In Season

As you know, I've been in a roasting phase, wanting to roast anything that entered my kitchen. And now I'm craving asparagus, having seen some in a grocery store earlier this week. This morning I was at another store, again, picking up a bell pepper and a yellow squash to add to my CSA eggplant to make ratatouille, when I decided to roast some asparagus. But I didn't see any at this store (which stocks much better produce, but is more expensive, than the other store). And that's when I realized: if asparagus were in season, I would have had some in my CSA box. But I didn't. Which means whatever asparagus I found in the store would either be a). icky or b). from so far away that I didn't really want to "eat" the food miles. So, besides meeting new vegetables, experimenting with new recipes, supporting a local farm, and eating more healthily, I'm really learning about growing seasons and cycles. We'll definitely be doing this again next year.

Building Texas

Bud has been building Texas in the basement.

In his assigned square (each child has a spot in the basement, about 4 x 4', that they can fill with toys and not have to clean up each day, so that their creations can stay around for multiple days of play), he has been recreating everything we did on our vacation, with some minor alterations.

There's a museum with Chinese warriors. And a cabin next to a forest of little plastic trees. The forest is filled with animals, like wolves and beavers and deer. And monkeys. But the nearby pond is not freshwater, it's salt, and has sharks in it. And an alligator. Nearby, knights on horseback joust, in their own little Renaissance Festival.

Texas is a crazy place, but it would be even crazier if Bud were in charge!

Dirty World

In our book, David in Trouble, the young, mischevious protagonist is pictured with a bar of soap in his mouth and the caption, "But Dad says it!"

Sis and Bud didn't understand.

"Why is he eating soap?" Sis asked. "Is it good?"

Not wanting them to try the soap for a snack during their next bath, I tried to explain what a dirty word is.

"A dirty word is a word that adults use when they are mad or frustrated and can't think of anything else to say. But they're not nice words."

"What are they?" Bud wanted to know.

"You'll learn them. Later."

"Is it like 'I don't want to clean up'?" Sis queried. "Or, like 'no'?"

Um, no. They kept trying to guess, coming up with the worst things they could think of to say, like "I won't do that." Or making up grunting sounds. Oddly, they didn't actually guess "dirt," or "poop," or the like.

I try really hard not to curse in front of the kids and I do pretty well, not wanting them to sound like preschool sailors. I do curse though, after dark, and have found a joy in cursing that didn't exist before I had to curtail myself--ask any of my friends what creeps into my otherwise civilized conversation when the kids aren't around. It's like I'm the Incredible Hulk Mommy. though, rationally, I find cursing to be uncreative. But there is a power in it, even if it's becoming prosaic. So, I'm not teaching them any dirty words now, but when it's time, I'll be a great teacher!


The New York Yankees are going to the World Series!!!!!!

(I might almost be too nervous to watch, though.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Warp Speed: Starting Mama's Scarf

After a two-week absence, I was back in weaving class today, but not too far behind because some people started late. My teacher examined my sample--my beating is good but I need to pay attention to my edges (a trick with that magic weaver's angle--hold it in place; also, she told us that everyone has a better edge! Mine is the right edge.), and she likes my color combo. She also looked at my loom and didn't see that collapsing it to travel was causing too much change in the tension. But I'll still be glad that we'll be taking the next few weeks "off" to weave at home (though next week is our "midterm"--we have to make a new warp, just a few inches, to practice).

So, after everything checked out okay, I put in a cardboard spacer between my sample and my scarf, which saves room for tassles later. And I hemstitched it altogether to hold it in place. I actually really like to hemstitch--it looks so neat and tidy when you basically tie down the bottom row of your weaving to keep it from unravelling. It almost makes these tiny little tassles (later, we'll do a twisted tassle, which takes forever). (Note to self: I put in 12 picks of plainweave after the hemstitching; my other teacher said to pick a number that I can remember and that would be it).

We talked a little about patterns and drafting. She suggested getting something like cash register/adding machine ribbon to pin into your fell, the edge of your weaving, to track which patterns you do for how long so you know without having to unwind it what your scarf looks like. I wrote it all down on a sheet of paper the first time but that got very messy (though, Mama and I did manage to read it and match it to my scarf so that I could identify some patterns). And she talked about ways weavers organize their pattern, particularly Fibonnaci numbers. In case you aren't up on your mathematical theorems, Fibonnaci numbers go 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 . . . etc etc etc. Just adding the "last" two numbers to get the next one. Fibonnaci numbers are often found in nature, including:
Fibonacci sequences appear in biological settings, in two consecutive Fibonacci numbers, such as branching in trees, arrangement of leaves on a stem, the fruitlets of a pineapple,the flowering of artichoke, an uncurling fern and the arrangement of a pine cone.
Apparently, the sequence can also be found in chambered nautilus shells and the seeds of sunflowers. Weavers often then incorporate the numbers into their patterns, for instance doing one patter for 3", then another for 5", and maybe another for 3", using some combination of the numbers in or out of sequence (see here for an example). Of course, weaves are inspired by many things, apparently, in drafting patterns: from letters in a name (each one getting a color) to musical sequences (ditto with notes) to astrological signs (as described in this month's Handwoven magazine).

Of course, I'm not worrying too much about that because Mama has selected her pattern, which will basically be a series of alternating weft- and warp-faced horizontal stripes (I think that is how you would describe it). I had considered changing color to do a few other stripes but I think that might be a bit too complicated (or something; my teacher wasn't that jazzed on the idea). Besides, Mama likes simple.

And so the weaving begins. Or will. After all that, I had to head home for tuck-in instead of weaving a few inches. There will be lots of that, though, in the weeks to come.

Jack's Back

We carved our pumpkins today. Mama was in charge, taking design ideas from both kids as to how they would like theirs carved. I was in charge of getting the seeds out, which Sis was very intent on roasting and eating. Halfway through the process, the kids wandered off to rake leaves and jump in their piles, which was cute (good thing the leaves had dried some after all of yesterday's rain!). Then they proudly posed and paraded with their pumpkins to the front steps. We have one more big pumpkin to carve but are saving in for later in the week, fully expecting squirrels and raccoons to eat the faces off the ones from today as soon as possible--and we want a jack o'lantern with a face for Saturday night! And by then, we'll need more pepitas because Sis liked the ones we made today.


Oven-Roasted Pepitas

This is an oven method, which I like better than the skillet method we used last year, below (those were too oily).

  1. Rinse pumpkin seeds under cold water and pick out the pulp and strings. (This is easiest just after you've removed the seeds from the pumpkin, before the pulp has dried.)
  2. Place the pumpkin seeds in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet, stirring to coat. If you prefer, omit the oil and coat with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. Sprinkle with salt (we used Penzey's seasoned salt) and bake at 325 degrees F until toasted, about 25 minutes, checking and stirring after 10 minutes. (We roasted a lot longer than this because they just weren't getting crunchy).
  4. Let cool and store in an air-tight container.

Skillet-Roasted Pepitas

1 pumpkin
oil or butter

Gut one pumpkin, saving the seeds. Save the pumpkin for jack o'lantern carving. Wash and dry the seeds.

Heat oil or butter in skillet. Pan roast the seeds until brown. Spread on paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Let's Get the Party Started

Despite the downpour and Mama's late arrival to the party, last night's Halloween fete at church was great fun. We were a little late arriving at the party ourselves because Shirt went missing inside the house, occasioning a 30-minute search during which time Amy the Bunny went missing too! Once we found everything, we piled ourselves in our costumes, our food (roasted veggies and Swedish Apple Pie), and the found objects in the car.

Food always comes first at these events and so Bud and Sis dug into the potluck. Sis most enjoyed these crunchy, coated sweet potato fries (coated with bread crumbs and parmesan cheese and then baked). Bud liked the fried chicken and lemonade. There were lots of veggie options, which was a nice change, and so I enjoyed a butternut squash pasta, veggie bean chili, and those good fries.

Then we headed off to the activity tables, with the same--very popular--activities as last year. Sis liked gluing a variety of beans and noodles on paper, just like last year (the model is of a noodle skeleton but who cares? She did her initial). Bud made a teepee. Then he ran off to marker-color a little pumpkin. Her next stop was another pumpkin table: you wrap rolls of toilet paper in this plastic-y orange tissue, use rolled-up brown paper as a stem, and raffia and ribbon to decorate. She just wanted a stem. Bud eventually made one with everything.

Then it was group activity time: the wrap-a-mummy race. Mama arrived just in time to be wrapped in toilet paper by the kiddos, who were very intent on covering her up (if only from the waist down, where they could reach!). Then all the kids had a giant tp toss! One of the other parents called it the "environmental part of the evening," since we wasted probably 15+ rolls. But it got cleaned up quick because it was . . . pinata time! Oh, how Sis and Bud love a pinata (a jack o'lantern, which was homemade by one of the parents). Everyone got 3 swings at it blindfolded, except the little ones--and Bud and Sis got in some good whacks--but we sped it up by un-blindfolding the older ones, at which point the candy and trinkets fell everywhere. Bracelets, parachute guys, rings, SweetTarts, Runts, Nerds, and, Bud's personal favorite, the kazoo. Oh, heaven help me, he got 4 kazoos and plays them constantly. (And he was so excited to realize tonight that the word "kazoo" has "zoo" in it.)

Of course, no one knew what they were. One friend guessed "ninjas." And Bud took to telling folks he was an "Indian" or "Native American," which I then had to explain in relation to Brother Bear. But the kids didn't care; they knew who they were and love their tunics and totems. What Bud didn't like was everyone asking about his hand injury, at which point he would hide behind me until the inquisitor would wander off. He said it made his hand hurt; I figure the memory of it did make him hurt, in a way. But soon everyone knew and quit asking.

At 8:15 p.m., so late for us, we headed home and off to bed. Of course, that was after a piece or two of candy and a few songs on the kazoo. It's going to be a fun week--one party down, two parties plus trick-or-treating to go!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Making Deadlines

So, Mama's work schedule is off and she is there later than expected. And we're off a bit too. We did finish the costumes (simple orange and blue felt tunics with belts) and the totems (Best. Sculpey. Project. Ever. You can rubber stamp with normal stamp ink polymer clay that has been put through a craft pasta machine, cut it with cookie cutters, and bake it, glazing afterwards. I've made tree ornaments and now necklaces.).

We are being held up by the food. We decided to do our Swedish Apple Pie with our excess apples but it is taking longer than usual to crust. So now the vegetables to be roasted--our original contribution to the potluck--haven't gone in yet. And we need to leave in 30 minutes.

They are so excited about getting dressed up. The pie beeper just rang, again, and Bud ran upstairs asking if he can put on his costume. Why not, right? I'm kinda excited about donning my flower garland and butterfly wings.

Let the holiday season begin!

Her Mama

Mama is being held at work late again today. She thought she would be home around 3 pm. Now it looks like we'll be lucky if she makes the Halloween party at church. Sis and Bud are taking it in stride, though they are hoping she can make "at least half at work and half at the party."

"Is Mama a leader?" Sis asked me.

"Yes, at work she leads her team. We should be proud of her."

"I'm just proud because Mama is my Mama."

Tomorrow, Tomorrow

Is actually not a day away anymore. I realize that it just passed midnight.

Anyway, Mama works again today/Saturday, leaving around 6 a.m. and so missing the kids until she gets home in the early evening.

At least she'll be just in time for our first Halloween party (of 3) of the season, the potluck at church.

Which probably means not much blogging tomorrow, if only because I haven't started on the Brother Bear costumes yet!! And there are also potluck dishes to make. . . .

Friday, October 23, 2009

Snack Cake and Brussel Sprouts

Yep, those are the two foods on my mind today.

We picked up a pound or two of brussel sprouts at the farm today. I have dreams of roasting them. I'm roasting anything that enters my kitchen these days--after brussel sprouts (evoo/s&p@400F for 30+, to write it in Twitterese), I'm planning on asparagus. But tomorrow, I'm doing a cauliflower/broccoli/carrot mix to take to our church Halloween family fun night.

And then, this afternoon, we made one-bowl chocolate snack cake--with an extra handful of chocolate chips on the top for good measure--in honor of Uncle Soccer, to take to playgroup. It was well-received. And so easy to make! But now I'm dreaming of a vanilla version of the same kind of one-bowl cake, thinking I can't just take out the cocoa and have it be good, so I've been googling recipes but not happy with what I've found.

Stay tuned for the results . . . .

Warp Speed: Dressing the Loom and Off We Go

It always takes longer to dress the loom than I think it should, which is probably just beginner's impatience. But
  • putting end stick through end loops and securing
  • placing lease sticks in raddle cross
  • placing the raddle between both sets of sticks and spacing out the bundles
  • attaching end sticks to loom end stick
  • winding warp onto loom
  • placing paper bags between layers
  • moving lease sticks from inch-by-inch cross to thread-by-thread cross
  • cutting the front end loop
  • tying warp into bundles
  • tying lease sticks up for threading
  • threading the heddles
  • sleying the reed
  • tying onto front apron stick
  • adjusting tension
. . . . all with special knots--surgeon's, lark's head, slip, overhand, choke ties . . . .
. . . . all while you count and recount, tie and untie and retie bundles . . . .
. . . . all while everyone asks why you haven't started weaving yet . . . .

Well, it's no wonder it took more than 3 weeks of class! And I'd even done it before, two years ago. But the repetition was good. Besides, Albus the cat watched me from the wide castle of my 16-shaft loom the whole time I threaded those 200 heddles! And then sleyed the reed, again, with 200 threads.

I just wish I'd remembered to take pictures of all the steps as I did it.

Now my loom is finally dressed, with its indigo Jaegerspun warp. And I have a shuttle full of plum weft. It's time to start weaving, but only my practice swatch (think of it as checking the gauge in knitting). I started with several rows of plain weave (1-3, 2-4) and then experimented with a few patterns. Mama checked in as I went along--it's her scarf, after all--and chose a horizontal stripe pattern (4, 3, 2, 1, 2-3-4, 1-3-4, 1-2-4, 1-2-3) for her scarf. My first scarf is much more of a sampler, with about 20+ different patterns separated by bands of plain weave. But I wanted Mama's scarf to be more composed, if you will, than that. I think it will be pretty, showing off both the indigo and the plum well.

I wove about 4+ inches tonight and will do the same tomorrow night, just to get the feel for it again--remembering to go over and then under my selvage thread, how to keep the special weaver's 45-degree angle to make my sides as straight as possible, establishing a routine for when to beat (after a pass, generally, but before I change my shafts), how hard to beat, when to advance the warp (mind you, I'm still practicing doing it all and am not sure of the exact phraseology). And then, hopefully, on Sunday, I'll put in a spacer between my sample and my "real" scarf (probably a piece of chip board, at least for awhile) and start working on it. I just have to remember that even though it is my second scarf, it is still only my second scarf and I'm still learning. I'm kinda thinking of it as my second "first" scarf!

Besides, experience tells me that many of the mistakes are so much less obvious once there are tassles and the scarf has been washed (which seems to help the uniformity). Besides, once you wrap it around your neck and tuck it in a coat, whose looking at each row of weaving??

So, let the fun begin!

Slower, Less Intense

The other day I had a rare experience: instead of needing to rush the kids, I needed to slow them down. Like most parents, I'm usually hustling kids--into clothes, down the stairs, out the door. But on Wednesday, I needed to time our arrival home from school to coincide perfectly with Mama's early arrival home for work so that I didn't need to unload the kids before we all headed out in the car again to go apple picking. And so, with a close eye on the clock, just like I usually have, I found myself killing time--slowing down in the walk to the car, not rushing them into their seats, taking more time to buckle seat belts and chat with the kids while I did it, driving the long way home, going the speed limit exactly, meandering to pick up our picnic lunch. Compared to many of our rushed and scheduled activities, the decreased pace was a novel experience. I like to think I'm good at proverbially smelling the roses, but intentionally and pointedly slowing down--with a close eye on the clock to see just how slow--reminded me that I should do it more often. Besides, really, all that slowing down only used up about 10-15 extra minutes. And really, on most days, I can spare that.


Sending hope and best wishes for a safe delivery of healthy twins to my cousin!

Happy Birthday, Uncle Soccer!

We're wishing you a very happy day, Uncle Soccer! And in your honor, the kids and I will be baking later today and hosting a little party for some of our playgroup friends. May Chelsea win all their games and may you be there to see some of them! We love you . . . .

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Broccoli My Way

We picked up some broccoli at the farm yesterday, too, and I roasted it, along with some cauliflower I had. And we all loved it! What could be better than a fresh vegetable, olive oil, salt, and pepper? MMmmmmm. I've done this now with broccoli, cauliflower, kale, yellow squash, and carrots. Does it work with everything? I'm trying it with asparagus next!


Roasted Broccoli

1-2 bunches broccoli
1-3 tablespoons olive oil
salt, pepper

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cut broccoli into bite-size florets. Toss with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast on baking sheet for 20-30 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Note: You can add herbs or even 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese (omitting the oil). I've noticed that oven temps very by vegetable, with carrots baking at 425. I imagine you can bake it anywhere between 350-425F as long as you watch them.

A "Fresh" Sound

My kids have a favorite new tv show: "The Fresh Beat Band." Four college-something musicians going to music school and singing their way through preschool-aged challenges--it's an odd combination of High School Musical and Noggin. A preschool Fame, if you will, with cheesier dance numbers and pop songs with lyrics about bananas (and no, this is not like Gwen Stefani).

But they like it. I even like it. In the way I used to watch "Saved by the Bell." As an adult. Completely without irony and with this odd pleasure at the silliness of it all. It's not "good for us," it's not even particularly good. But we all like it (well, except Mama, whose musical tastes are more sophisticated than mine--she never really embraced pop. I'm a child of the 80s. And I'm pretty sure she's never seen "Saved by the Bell."). I hadn't meant to start a new show. But the other morning, Bud woke up and his bandage had come off in the night. We needed to distract him to re-wrap it. And I found the show on demand. And he loved it. And Sis, who is an "Imagination Mover" devotee, liked it. They like the songs; they even like the dancing.

And so I did some research, knowing nothing about the show. It used to be called the "Jumparounds" but there were copyright issues so it was renamed. I can't tell if the actors do their own singing, though it really doesn't matter much. Several posters on parent forums hate the show, hate the music, hate the kids, with a venom usually reserved for Barney. Okay, Barney isn't my favorite either but it's not poison. And once in awhile, even Barney is okay. Moderation, people. Though, we're on a steady diet of FBB these days, watching the 4 episodes we have recorded over and over again during their 1-1 1/2 hour rest time. I miss the music of "Imagination Movers"--those songs are more complex--and of Laurie Berkner, whose music is more singable (but she doesn't really have her own show and the kids don't like "Jack's Big Music Show," because of the puppets, I think. They don't like "Sesame Street" either.). So far, there are no MP3s of FBB, which is fine with me for now. But, when their album does come out, I'm sure we'll get it. And they'll listen to it in the car and while they play "band" in the living room together (he's the drummer-in-blue "Marina" and she's the DJ "Twist."). And I won't even mind "hip, hop, and pop"-ing around the living room to it. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy it.

Striking a Chord

(Or should it be sounding, since it's about yelling not spanking?)

I saw an article this morning on parents who shout. This is me:

Many in today’s pregnancy-flaunting, soccer-cheering, organic-snack-proffering generation of parents would never spank their children. We congratulate our toddlers for blowing their nose (“Good job!”), we friend our teenagers (literally and virtually), we spend hours teaching our elementary-school offspring how to understand their feelings. But, incongruously and with regularity, this is a generation that yells.

“I’ve worked with thousands of parents and I can tell you, without question, that screaming is the new spanking,” said Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, which teaches parenting skills in classes, individual coaching sessions and an online course. “This is so the issue right now. As parents understand that it’s not socially acceptable to spank children, they are at a loss for what they can do. They resort to reminding, nagging, timeout, counting 1-2-3 and quickly realize that those strategies don’t work to change behavior. In the absence of tools that really work, they feel frustrated and angry and raise their voice. They feel guilty afterward, and the whole cycle begins again.”

Sound familiar? I'm one of those helicopter parents (trying desperately not to hover too close) who doesn't believe in spanking, who really prefers "time-in" discussions of feelings and actions to timeouts, but who sometimes finds herself yelling to get attention and action. And I don't like it. Timeouts haven't been working well for us, mainly because the kids refuse to go and I can't physically force them because of actual worries about my back and philosophical concerns about using physical force, similar to spankings, to achieve results. So, I resort to putting toys in timeout instead. And this whole, completely ineffective negotiation begins--"You have a timeout. Go sit in the timeout spot"--"I'm not going!"--"Go to timeout or I'll put a toy away"--"Which toy?"--"I'm not telling. Go to timeout!" AGGGGGHHHHH. It's asinine. And so sometimes I yell. Or I yell when they are fighting like cats and dogs, wrapped up in each other's arms and legs, intent on hurting each other and I can't pull them apart--yelling makes them stop long enough to separate. My goodness, I knew it was bad the day I yelled at them to stop yelling! Even as I did it, the irony did not escape--or stop--me. (Insert the required statement that I really don't yell that much, certainly not everyday, just a couple of times a week. But I'm not sure either of us would believe me. Let's just say it's not everyday but more than I like).

But out of guilt that I am out of ideas, that I am sometimes not the parent I want to be, I apologize after I yell (though usually not until after everything has died down). And they apologize that they were acting up and acting out. And so some progress--is that what it is?--is made. Recently, though, I've altered my timeout strategy somewhat: I'm not arguing with a 4-year old over going to timeout. So I've eliminated the issue of "go," of where timeout--that way I need not figure out how to move them--they choose the spot as long as they aren't near their sibling or playing with toys. Suddenly, there is less to argue about and they just do it (grudgingly, of course). It's working like a charm now. And the need for it is decreasing as my consistency with the strategy increases. I think, by letting them choose the spot, it's more like Dr. Rao's Sendakian time-away than a timeout.

Of course, the NVC-er in me recognizes that all coercion, even if it's more civilized than yelling, is a form of violent communication. And I've read about unconditional parenting and using reason and love. And I believe in it and do it. I'm even getting much better at it. And so are they--they can identify their feelings and say what they need. But when it doesn't work, when I'm out of ideas and out of patience, when they are still fighting, when we are all beyond talking and thinking and reasoning, the only thing left is to yell. And, in the silence that follows, to say "sorry" and start again . . . .

A Family Day

Mama took a half-day off yesterday, both because everyone is experiencing a bit of family-time withdrawl after our long vacation and because she is working all day this Saturday and wanted to break up the week. Also, we realized we hadn't been apple or pumpkin picking yet and have few weekends left to go.

Apple picking is something we like to do every year, enjoying munching different apple varieties as we wander the orchards, with surrounding views of beautiful fall colors. Yesterday, we discovered several new types we like: Sis preferred crunchy and sweet Macouns (which made her giggle when Mama called them "raccoons" to help her remember the name); Bud liked the huge Jonagolds, finishing an entire juicy apple that had to be bigger than my two fists together. We also really liked the Crispin-Mutsus. But we really didn't like the Ida Reds or Red Delicious. We didn't see the Fuji rows until we were leaving, but we can get those, and our old Gala staples, at the grocery store.

The first time I saw an apple tree I was almost 23 years old. And truly, I had trouble believing that apples grew on trees, having rarely seen fruit trees. I took it on faith, just like snow (which, until I was well into high school, I believed fell automatically as soon as it was freezing out, not understanding that snow comes in storms like rain). But, Gommie and I were leaf-peeping in the Hudson River Valley during my first year of grad school and decided to pick our own. And there they were--apple trees. I had never been much of an apple eater, having only know those nasty, mealy grocery store Red Delicious, but found fresh apples right off the tree to be one of my favorite foods ever.

And I think the kids are finding the same. They probably each downed 2 apples yesterday, in the orchards alone, and then another at home last night. And they've already had two today. Later, when the apples aren't at their peak (even though we're keeping them in the fridge where they'll last almost 10x longer), we'll make apple sauce and apple pie and other apple treats. But for now, they're best just cold and crunchy.

After apple picking (and visiting the market, where we also fed the ducks), we headed to the pumpkin farm. Sis wanted sugar pumpkins to bake in pies and cookies--pumpkin is her favorite flavor after chocolate. Bud just enjoyed playing and pushing the cart. I chose some spaghetti squash, butternut squash, and buttercup squash (pumpkin?) to roast and make in soups. Plus, the kids chose gourds and a big pumpkin to decorate for Halloween. We went on a nice long hayride and then headed home. But we'll be able to enjoy the bounty of our family day for days and weeks to come.

Comfort Food

I miss all the good Texas food we ate on our vacation. Sure, most of it wasn't homecooked--we never cook as much as we mean to--but most of it was good. And so, upon arriving back in Connecticut, the first thing I really wanted to do was cook something. With a bag of Camellia red beans which I'd picked up at the store down there--the only beans our friend Miss B said should be used for red beans and rice--I made a pot of vegetarian red beans and rice. And it was just what I wanted and needed, a little bit of home at home.


Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice

1 onion, chopped
3-4 stalks celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
1 lb red kidney beans (Camellia band recommended), rinsed and sorted
8-10 cups water
1-2 bay leaves
1-3 tablespoons Creole Seasoning (I use Tony's)
1/2-1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke

Saute onion, celery, bell pepper, and garlic in olive oil until softened. Add beans, water, and bay leaves. Note: I do not pre-soak or quick soak the beans, just simmer all day--you can pre-soak or quick soak, drain, and then start this recipe if you choose. Boil for 5 minutes and reduce to a simmer for 3-4 hours, or until beans are tender.

When beans are almost at desired consistency, add creole seasoning. Before serving, add liquid smoke. Serve with steamed rice (brown or white, your preference).

Mommy Hungry


Miss B's Red Beans and Rice

This recipe comes from Miss B, complete with tips on ingredients—Camellia beans and Tony’s Creole Seasoning. I think this was my first Cajun food, sitting at her kitchen table with a bowl ladled from a simmering pot. Mama and I made it at the end of the 9/11 week and the beginning of fall—with Goya beans and Chicken Apple Sausage. And it was perfect! Just what we needed.

1 lb. kidney beans
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons ground bay leaf [or 2-3 whole leaves]
1/3 cup bacon drippings [or 3 pieces of bacon]
2 lb. smoked sausage
garlic salt, salt, pepper [or 1 tablespoon Tony’s]

Wash beans. Fill pot with water (2-3 quarts). Add onion, celery, green pepper, parsley, bay leaf, and bacon drippings. Bring to boil uncovered. Simmer and keep adding water until beans are softened, and gravy and beans are desired consistency (we added 1 quart more), approximately 2 hours. Add sausage, then Tony’s. Simmer uncovered about ½ hour longer. Turn off heat, let rest for 30 minutes. Make rice. Serve.

Miss B

Sign of the Times

Bud and Sis's appetite for language is enormous, almost matching their appetite for food!

During most meals the kids spell out the letters of the words around them, on our walls or on cereal boxes or on t-shirts or on anything they can see. And on our trip to Texas, Bud did several word searches, on the plane, in restaurants, and in the hospital waiting room. Sure, he can't read the words, but he can find the letters, circle them, and then cross out the word in the list. He loves it! And he's pretty good. Sis likes word searches too, especially if they're homemade by Mama, who excels at making up themed puzzles--with family names, animal names, Texas words, etc. And they are both expanding their sight word knowledge--Bud and Sis both recognize "zoo," while Bud knows "Pop" (he asked yesterday why Pop's name was on the pop-up book!) and "Gommie" and Sis knows variants of Mommy and Mama. Plus their own names.

And we just spent all of lunch, which we ate out at the Tex-Mex place, signing to one another--about food! They kept asking for words--hot, food, eat, now, later, chicken, want, like, dislike--and Sis even made them into sentences. Luckily, I know most of those words in sign, having learned signed English from my Aunt P and some ASL from a class I took years ago. And of course, from watching "Signing Times" with the kids when they were very young. It was great then because it got them interested in communicating--they could sign 10+ words to communicate requests before they were one, which I think made life much easier back then. Later, they loved learning all the animal signs as they learned the sounds of the animals too. But then there was a sign hiatus. For awhile we were focusing on Chinese, then it was identifying the English alphabet. Now, it's back again. They're close to learning the whole manual alphabet and each can sign out his or her name. Which I think is great--I loved knowing sign language as a child and always wished I was more fluent than I am (though I can hold a simple conversation with a very patient person). It's pretty much the only language I can pass on to the kids, there being almost no need for reading ancient Greek and Latin in preschool. And, of course, I've recorded my troubles with teaching them Chinese or Thai, two languages I neither know nor can pronounce.

I feel like Professor Higgins over here, with words and letters around me morning, noon, and night. Sure, I'm proud and impressed. But also a little nervous about how their learning how to read will change things. For now, I control information that comes to them in written form, but, with reading, the whole world will be open to them. One more layer of parental protection, control, will be gone. Of course, there are more up-sides than down--all the wonderful books, access to information, a better understanding of the world around them. So we just keep on spelling and signing and searching.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Because Everyone Keeps Asking

This is an example of a deer feeder:

And this is pretty much the winch of a deer feeder:

And he was being such a big boy and helping Gommie and Pop turn the crank and must have put out his left hand to help. No one's fault, an easy accident.

Oh, and you should know, for the record, at Pop's cabin, deer feeders are used just to feed deer corn so we can watch them--there is no hunting on his land.

CORRECTION: Football Finale

Mama has requested that I correct my earlier story about the football game.

She's right. I didn't tell it exactly how it happened; I just liked my way better. This happens sometimes.

Mama did not ask Sis if she wanted to be a cheerleader or a dancer or play in the band during halftime. Mama turned to Sis and asked, very specifically, what instrument she would like to play.

But Sis's clarion answer remains the same. She said she wanted to be in the football game!

Hugs to Miss T

This week, Miss T's husband will be deployed to Iraq. Our thoughts and prayers for a safe deployment go with him. And our love and support go to her and their two boys, who will weather the year or more at home without him.

Thank You

To Mama Teacher (and especially Mr. Teacher) for gathering our mail while we were gone.

To Miss L, for handling our CSA pick-up and making us broccoli soup.


Vacation Blogging Backlog: Football Finale (Day 8--Saturday)

"Saturday Night Lights."

Well, sort of, but it was a Saturday afternoon and a hometown football game, with my alma mater, in Texas.

We didn't get there for kick-off, mainly because Bud was just getting home from the ER and wanted a homecooked spaghetti-and-meatball dinner. But we were there for the 2nd quarter and, most importantly for Bud (I thought), halftime.

The funniest thing was listening to us all trying to explain football to two Yankee baseball fans. Gommie was the most avid in this. And I am my mother's daughter: at least once, we both turned to the kids and started to explain, in the exact same words, "that the man in the black and white shirt is in charge." Mama got into the act, too: as the marching bands came out, we both turned to the kids and said, "Just like in the 'Imagination Movers' show!"

Football is, of course, a huge deal in Texas (I went almost every weekend, home or away game, in high school. And Aunt Banana went to them all, as a member of the drill team), but halftime, with its marching bands, flag corps, and drill teams is also very important. Both schools present a halftime show, with the visiting team usually going first, both shows facing the home stands. And these are elaborate, 15+ minute shows with props and complex choreography, even narratives. Bud and Sis were mesmerized, especially by all the drums, xylophones, even electric guitar used in the performances.

While I had expected Bud to be fascinated by the performing bands, I was surprised at how much he liked the actual game, cheering enthusiastically for every play (luckily, most of the plays went our way and so it wasn't odd that he was cheering all the time! Our team scored several touchdowns in the quarter and a half that we saw). But it was Sis who, when asked during half-time what she would like to do (play an instrument, dance, cheer), answered that she wanted to be in the football game. You go, girl!

Vacation Blogging Backlog: Deep in the Heart of Texas (Days 7/8--Friday/Saturday)

We knew it was remote when our GPS screen was all white with just our little car icon floating in a blank space. No roads, nothing that the computer could graph--truly uncharted territory. At least for the GPS. But Pop and Gommie in the car ahead of us with the kids clearly knew the way to their cabin, called WildWood, after the neighborhood where Pop grew up in Dallas. And, well, because it is a wild wood. And for 24 hours we really enjoyed being off the map. Though, thankfully, not off the grid--we had power and running water. It was camping out in comfort, not roughing it. My kind of camping.

And the kids loved it, starting with the deer they saw even before the cars were parked. They now know the differences between bucks, does, and fawn, maybe even a spike. Because we saw three deer that first afternoon and about half a dozen the next morning, including 3 bucks--the largest of which Bud was the first to spot as it crossed the yard, several doe, and a few fawn. And deer weren't the only wildlife in evidence. We saw a pack of feral hogs--yes, wild pigs--crossing the marsh, with a giant (perhaps 250 lb) leader and a few baby hogs. We'd seen evidence of their rooting around but were happy (well, Gommie wasn't) to see them in person--Mama was intrigued, there not being too many feral hogs up in the northeast. And Sis got to see a real cottontail rabbit, very quickly, just sitting in the driveway munching on grass while deer munched on corn nearby. What else? Hawk, turkey vultures, green wing teal, black ducks (or were they wood ducks?). And as darkness fell, the coyotes started a chorus only matched in length and loudness by the kids imitating them! Pop said he'd never heard the coyotes (not the kids) go on for so long. And then there were the noisy frogs that would start up out of nowhere, croak for awhile, and then just stop, hundreds of them. But I especially liked the sound of the owls hooting as the sun set--I don't think I'd ever consciously noticed owls hooting in the woods before--and I happily pictured the woods filled with beautiful barn owls, like the one I'd seen a few days earlier. Later, we heard the scream of birds of prey--hawks? peregrine falcon? No telling. But unmistakable.

The campfire was probably by far the kids most favorite cabin experience. Pop built a big one in his rock-lined fire pit, with the kids gathering what kindling they could find. And then they promptly begged for s'mores. And so we all roasted marshmallows, though Sis had only chocolate on hers and Bud only marshmallows. More for the rest of us, I guess.

In the afternoon, the kids played Brother Bear with a canoe and paddles in the yard and a pup tent that Pop had set up. They each went hunting, found dinner, and had a blast running back and forth. Later, they all went for a hike through the woods. Both he and Sis loved picking up sticks and rocks, which they threw into the creek. Sis even found a "dinosaur bone" (an unusual piece of wood), which she kept near her for the rest of the day and even brought home in the suitcase.

For dinner, we roasted again, this time hot dogs and banana boats, which Pop and Mama had never had. What is a banana boat? Bananas sliced open and stuffed with chocolate chips and marshmallows and then enclosed in tinfoil and roasted over hot coals. Pop suggested skipping the chocolate and marshmallows and adding cinnamon and brown sugar instead to make a Bananas Foster-like treat. But we didn't have any cinnamon at the cabin. Except what I'd brought in a baggie to make our Swedish Apple Pie, which we finished in one sitting! (I loved that we made it in a tin pie plate--so very campfire! Even if I baked it in the oven). We sang campfire songs from my Girl Scout days, with the most requested song being "Little Bunny FouFou." Yippee. Second? My song about the buffalo brothers (lyrics below), which words I changed so I didn't have to ask a million questions about why the buffalo was dead. Couldn't they like "Deep in the Heart of Texas"?

With the silhouettes of oaks surrounding us in the darkening sky, Gommie brought out the colored glow sticks and the kids danced around the porch making "lassos" with them. And Sis spotted the first star. Soon the sky was filled with them. Really a "the-stars-at-night-are-big-and-bright" moment. Which is exactly why we let them stay up way past their bedtime. After singing with the coyotes and the owls (and a cow constantly mooing in the distance. Hopefully not because of the coyotes), we got the kids into bed and we returned to the campfire for awhile. While we were sitting out there, I saw a shooting star. And a doe! I had scanned the surrounding woods with my flashlight and been caught off guard by eyes glowing back at me--a doe was eating the corn at Pop's feeder. She wasn't scared of us, though, and kept right on eating, ignoring us and our talking and our flashlight, and was still there when we all headed to bed about 30 minutes later. Then after a "moonbath" in the shower outside which absolutely reminded me of Girl Scout camp, except that Pop's shower had hot water, I went to bed on the noisiest air mattress ever.

The next morning, after our deer and bunny and hog spotting, Pop and Gommie made bacon and eggs for everyone, and we all went on another hike through the woods, with Bud trying to show the way to the footbridge which they'd crossed the day before--but his sense of direction must be like mine and he kept walking the wrong way.

Then of course came the fateful deer feeder/winch accident which put an early end to our campout (though only by about an hour). Luckily, when the kids remember Texas, the campout is the first thing they mention. And Bud only remembers the deer feeder when someone asks about his bandage. Which is good.


Buffalo Song
Out on the windswept desert
Where nature knows no man
A buffalo spied his brother
A laying in the sand.
Said the buffalo to his brother,
"Why do you lie that way?"
But the buffalo did not answer.
His brother had been dead,
Since way, last May.
(January, February, June and July,
I don't know why he had to die.

Settling In

This morning was more of a challenge than I expected, even though we had clothes sorted and snack boxes ready for school beforehand. The kids slept in late and then were sad to wake up and realize we weren't at Gommie and Pop's. The three of us sat on the bed and cried a little bit (Mama's was running around doing all the things that still needed to be done). But soon enough, they were ready to play. And then not ready to go to school. Then they were ready for school, which they love, and finally got out the door in the coats, hats, and mittens we didn't need before we left (and had to locate this morning) but now do because it frosted overnight, carrying postcards to show their teachers. Once at school, they settled right in, though Bud was wary about talking about his bandaged and stitched hand. But there are lots of sandwich baggies to cover his hand so he can play with playdough, sand, and paint.

The house looks like a tornado hit it, with every single toy they own in the middle of the living room from a past-bedtime play session last night; clothes--clean and dirty--are everywhere that toys are not. But the cats are home. I'm heading to the grocery store so we have something to eat over the next few days. And I've called the pediatrician to make an appointment to get Bud's stitches out next Wednesday.

Hopefully, by then, the tears and most of the mess will be gone.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Home Again, Home Again

With lots to tell about Bud's stitches, the football game, dinner from a North African restaurant, plus the aforementioned 24 hours in central Texas, I am just writing to say we are home, after about 9 hours in transit. No worse for the wear, with lots of great memories but also lots of tears from leaving.

Tomorrow is getting-settled day--back to school, pick up cats, go grocery shopping, call pediatrician, straighten up house, recover--but I'm sure I'll blog, too.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Vacation Blogging: Stitches

I have lots of wonderful things to tell about our 24 hours in the center of Texas--s'mores, roasted hot dogs, a dozen deer, a bunny rabbit, glow sticks, hooting owls, crying coyotes, "dinosaur bones," more "Buc-ee nuts," a pack of feral hogs, banana boats, a pup tent, showering outside, a shooting star, ducks.

But that has to wait.

Bud is at the ER now with Pop and Mama having his finger stitched up. He cut it on the crank of a deer feeder. Blood everywhere. And it took a long time to locate a hospital. None in the first town. Too much swine flu at the hospital in the second town. Third stop (an urgent care clinic)the doctors looked at it and referred them to the hospital, where they are now. We're just waiting to hear that they are headed home (we split up so they could leave the cabin earlier and get the stitches while we closed up.).

Poor little boy.

But there's a local high school football game this afternoon to distract him. And fudge we got on the way home.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Vacation Blogging: Hiatus

Tomorrow we head to the center of Texas, or at least halfway between Houston and Dallas, to go to Pop's cabin for our "campout." While the land may be relatively wild (though he's groomed paths) with foliage, beaver, and feral hogs (there even used to be an alligator in his swamp), it isn't exactly roughing it since Gommie and Pop built a little house complete with all the amenities. But it's still the woods and we'll roast hot dogs and make s'mores so the kids are calling it a campout.

But there's not wi-fi or even cell coverage and we'll be gone until we return on Saturday for a football game (but not THE football game between UT and OU). Then, after the football game, it's pretty much downhill to our departure from there. We travel all day Sunday to get home to Connecticut. I expect I'll post again on Monday.

When I'll definitely need a vacation from this vacation!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Vacation Blogging: Hook and Needle (Day 6--Thursday)

**Thanks go out to cousin S and daughter C who, seeing the post about our fishing trip, contacted us immediately about the use of children's lifevests. Ah, the magic of the internet. We appreciated the offer. Maybe for next summer at the bay . . . .


Bud and Sis wanted to go fishing. And Pop and Gommie wanted to take them. So, despite bugs and heat, we headed up to Lake Conroe this morning, after a quick stop at the sporting goods store to pick up lifevests and worms. (Thankfully, the kids didn't notice the pup tent Pop purchased as a surprise for our "campout" tomorrow, nor the arrows sold alongside deadly steel tips that Bud would no doubt love for his new bow). The sun was hot, wind blowing, waves chopping, and fish just not biting, despite numerous attempts. But I don't think the kids cared much. They loved just watching Pop handle the worms and bait the hooks, holding the rods by themselves, riding across the choppy water, eating our "Buc-ee nuts" snacks. Bud did like to try to cast a bit too much, pulling his line out of the water and swinging it around trying to put it back in a new spot. Surprisingly, he actually never hooked anyone on the boat! He also loved to reel, so his worm spent little time in the water. Sis liked to make waves in the water with the tip of her rod, much less interested in the action of her cork. So, I don't think they cared much that the fish were not biting. Pop was less sanguine but handled the disappointment of not getting even a nibble. Of course, he's also planning another fishing excursion tomorrow!


Once fishing was done, I took Gommie up on her offer to take over the kids so Mama and I could head to the International Quilt Festival in Houston, which I thought I would have to miss because of scheduling changes with our different outings. I've made a couple of very simple quilts, mostly before the kiddos, as quilting isn't, for me, a child-friendly hobby. But I love the ones I made (a lap blanket and a quilt for our bed), have a stash big enough to make several more big ones (either in the muted brown-ish palette of reproduction Civil War-era fabrics preferred by Mama or the more rainbow-hued fabrics that I like as well. But not together.), and enjoy talking with Aunt T about her craft and learning from her (she got me started on it when she gave me Great-Grandma M's featherweight Singer sewing machine).

So Mama and I hightailed it downtown, picking up more bean-and-cheeses on the way, and made it in good time. We also managed, luckily, to meet up with another aunt (Aunt T) and a family friend (Miss D), who were reveling in the quilting delights of the marketplace and in the artistry of the juried show. They'd been in town for the festival since Monday, taking classes and such. They walked us around for awhile, looking at hand-dyed fabrics, stencils, machines, etc. So many vendors, so little stash space! Then they insisted that we check out the exhibition while they grabbed a seat and a snack. Such amazingly beautiful quilts. I loved the Founder's Award-winning entry, with the elaborate entwined flowers and gradated background fabrics. But my favorites were actually the antique quilts on view from the International Quilt Festival Collection, particularly the star quilts (variously called "Lone Star," "Amish star," "Native American star," "Prairie star," etc.). I'm not a great quilter, much less a careful piecer, favoring easy quilts with square blocks and yarn-tied "quilting," so I can only aspire to the piecing necessary to make a star. But I was inspired, as was Mama, and we enjoyed the festival so much we might even quilt again soon (she measures and helps cut; I design and choose colors, as well as do the actual sewing and quilting. It's a team thing, one of the only hobbies I have, besides perhaps baking, where we really collaborate). That is, after the two baby blankets, two Christmas stockings, and two prayer shawls next in line for my crafting time.

Vacation Blogging: What-a-Buc-ee! (Day 5--Wednesday)

This post is dedicated to Gommie and Pop, whose babysitting made our swazu possible.

On Tuesday night, after tucking the children in bed, Mama and I hightailed it out of Houston to visit my aunt and uncle in Rockport, whom I hadn't seen in a few years. Google said the trip would take 4.5 hours; GPS (once we changed the time to CST) estimated it at 3 ish. It took almost 5!! But that's because, enjoying our first night away together from the children EVER, we dawdled and made several stops, including:

  • Taco Cabana is my go-to fast food restaurant in Texas. From my college days of midnight bean-and-cheese runs, I have loved this regional Tex-Mex chain. We ate there several times during last year's Texas trip to Aunt Banana and Uncle Soccer's wedding. And so we had googled TC locations and found one on our way to the coast. Such a delight to eat bean-and-cheeses (refried, not black bean), with their new creamy Ranch Salsa dressing (no tomatoes in sight, but a mild smokey/peppery flavor). And since we went in to fetch them, Mama could pile on all the cilantro, onions, and hot salsas she liked. Sure, I know that these are really vegetarian--there's animal fat in the beans--but once a year, I'm not bothered by that.
  • Target. You would think I get enough of that store in Connecticut but I was craving a frappuccino to keep me awake on the drive and knew I could get one there. That, and Mama was craving a long-sleeved shirt, even though it was 90F+. So we got her a new flannel shirt and a coffee. And the store was exactly the same as the one I'm at weekly. Except our Target doesn't sell wine right at the cash register! Guess suburban moms in Houston need their wine, easy to find and readily available . . . .

  • Whataburger. Pronounced "water-burger," which greatly confused Mama the first several times she heard us all rave about it. But she's used to the pronunciation now (along with "Genada" for Ganado, "Porta-Conner" for Port O'Connor, and "Tie-voli" for Tivoli) and knows that the burgers are good. So are the fries and onion rings. Especially around 11 p.m. And they have these fried pumpkin pies! Just like McD's used to make their apple pies, with the hot filling and crispy, bubbly skin. De-yicious, as Bud says. Definitely good late night driving food.

But by far the very best place we went was Buc-ee's. What's that, you asked? It's a new chain of gas stations cum convenience stores cum food stops with the "cleanest restrooms in Texas." And these fried maple-y, kettle-corn like snacks called beaver nuggets that we took to calling "Buc-ee nuts." Yum-o. (The kids loved them to, polished off our bag, and are clamoring for more). I loved this store (and as you know, I try not to fall for such blatant marketing ploys and rampant consumerism). But I loved the clean restrooms--the women's room was larger than our entire downstairs in Connecticut, with probably 20 stalls!!!--and all the friendly and helpful staff and the snacks. And the vast array of kitschy Texas, country, and Southern souvenirs. I am Texas proud and always like to buy something tres tacky to take home and this was the place to find it. I got a corrugated sign painted with the Texas flag, opting not to get the one in the shape of Texas. I almost got branding irons with my initials, thinking to use them on cookies instead of steak of course, or a big Texas flag throw blanket. Mama and I both got Buc-ee shirts, giddy with the fun of it all. We didn't get the kids anything but will let them choose their own souvenirs at the Buc-ee's on the way to Pop's cabin tomorrow. It'll be a highlight.

But the night wasn't all shopping and eating. We saw lightning in distant clouds, marveled at the irridescent creepiness of all the industrial plants down on the coast lit up like giant Christmas villages, listened to our new CD of old Texas dance hall classics (guess where we got that?!), and frequently commented on how dark and deserted the roads were, and discussed suburban Texas mall-sprawl and the new, 21st-century Manifest Destiny of leaving no grassy field or forest empty of yet another overly-designed complex of chain stores and restaurants, exactly like the one 5 miles back (more on my observations about what Texans seem to buy most--God, custom-built homes, and restaurant meals--later). I also spotted, on the side of the road near Tivoli, a barn owl with its white oval face and narrow eyes having a late night snack. I'd never seen an owl live in the wild before so that was quite a treat (and, no, I didn't hear it call my name, though it did turn its head and just stare at us, which was almost discomfiting). We arrived at our destination around midnight and got almost 8 hours of sleep.

Best. Date. Night. Ever.

After a mediocre hotel hot breakfast, we headed to my aunt and uncle's house around 9 a.m. On the way over the bridge I spotted dolphins playing in the glassy-still water of the bay. And then there were the mosquitos. Unbelievable. Swarms of them at my aunt's house. Mama and I probably got 30+ together in the few minutes it took us to pile out of the car and get inside. But no matter. We had a great visit, talking about books we're reading (both of them have just finished a bio of Algernon Swinburne, one of Grandad Johnson's favorites), movies we liked (they recommended Copying Beethoven), trips (particularly their experiences in Scotland because we gave Aunt some Scottish things as belated birthday presents), kids (ours and then their grand and great-grand kids), and the like. After snacks, pictures, and more conversation, we headed to lunch at a local Vietnamese place where Mama got a bowl of noodles she really enjoyed.

Then we had to go back to the big city, having sworn to Gommie, Pop, and the kids that we'd make it home before dinner and bed. And we did. But not before a few more stops:

  • For chocolate sheet cake at Prasek's. But no kolaches or coconut pie to be had. I also got some pinto bean spices. I love beans.

  • For pinto beans, banana pudding, and sweet tea (my favorite!) at Mikeska's.

  • And, of course, Buc-ee's!

Vacation Blogging: Fishing Trip

We're going fishing today! Yep, as a nor'easter strikes our part of the world (or nearby), it's 90+ down here and so we're going fishing and boat-riding.

Lots to do before we leave, including buying little lifevests for the kids.

More later.

Or, if I get too far behind, by Monday!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Vacation Blogging: An Update

No time tonight to tell you all about our whirlwind trip to the coast to visit my aunt and uncle, on what was our first 22 hours completely away from the kids together! I'll leave some tantalizing nuggets:
  • wine and flannel shirts at Target
  • the new ranch salsa dressing at Taco Cabana
  • suburban sprawl and Manifest Destiny
  • barn owls
  • lightning
  • fried pumpkin pies
  • classic Texas dance hall music
  • "beaver nuts"
  • dolphins
  • bagpipe rock
  • squirrels planting peanuts
  • mosquitos
  • Vietnamese noodle soup
  • banana pudding
  • sweet tea
  • 98F and 96% humidity

I'll tell you all about it in a post to be titled, "What-a-Buc-ee!"