Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Restaurant on Memory Lane

Just looking at those images will trigger wonderful memories for my immediate family.  Memories of scampi, escargot, sliced chicken salad with green peppers, garlic bread, Bolla Valpolicella, veal marsala, veal parmesan, fettucine alfredo, spaghetti with meatballs, spumoni, cheesecake, and coffee.  Birthdays, graduations, homecomings, celebrations, and just because we had a hankering.  The long drive down and back, tipsy parents, great conversations, the 2+ hour meals, feeling like a grown up, the paper placemats of Italy, the teensy bathrooms that were renovated, the tv  in the lobby, the carts full of food, the restaurant's owners always greeting us when we arrived and coming to talk to us at our table, the same waitress for years, Pop's generous tipping, eating with "Champ" and Jeanie, always people waiting to get in, the wine cellar room, the room with mirrors, the wrought iron little fences, doormen who helped us out of the car, the narrow parking lot, weren't there mints?

Yep, Pino's.  The restaurant central to our family for years. Nowhere has replaced it in our traditions or memories.  So important that when Mama Hungry came to Houston for the first time, we took her there.  But I think that visit with Mama might have been one of my last, as the restaurant inexplicably closed not too long after.

And today,  in a nostalgic Google search, I came across the website!  Complete with pictures.  And a history.  And jars of sauce for sale!  Yep, you can buy Pino's sauce in stores all over Texas.  I think I know what I'm adding to my Christmas list!

Even though there's no way a jar of sauce can compare with the memories.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"I Kissed a Girl" Too

Loving "lady music" on Glee tonight (right now)!  Melissa, k.d., Dolly, Cyndi...but where are the Girls?


ERGH.  Santana's abuela sucks.  I hope nothing bad happens.


Go, Shannon Beiste!

More Cat Drama

Well, Albus is home and happy, but Hermione is now at the vet's.  She stopped eating and drinking when Albus went to the hospital and she sat in the same place downstairs on the couch for the 24 hours he was gone.  But she was no happier when he got home because she didn't like his hospital smell (they recognize each other by scent more than by sight).  She actually hissed and hid from him.  And still didn't eat or drink.  So this morning, after we spoke to the vet, Hermione went for observation and tests.  Good news:  it really is probably  stress.  Our poor sweet cat is totally freaked out.  We're hoping that she'll be home from the vet later this afternoon.  And that maybe her brother will smell more like himself and she'll calm down some.  Yep, we'll be doing some play therapy with her tonight.  And wishing for the best.  I knew cats had separation anxiety when one died (and so they tell you to show the deceased cat to the living one because they understand death better than disappearance) but not when they were separated for a day.  I guess next time, she'll just have to go with him to the hospital!  And vice versa.  It's like having another set of twins . . . .

Advent Activities: Getting Ready

For the past two years (here and here), we've counted down to Christmas with a variety of holiday, or Advent, activities.  At first, I'd put the activities in a jar and we'd pull out the project for the day.  Last year, I happened upon the holidays-socks-on-the-mantle idea to help us count down.  The kids are looking forward to it this year and have been ready to start since we put up the tree--and the Advent Activity socks--on Sunday.  Yep, we started Christmas really early this year, with interior and exterior decorations all in place.  Which is great except it used up some of our usual December Advent Activities!  The list is very similar to last year's list, which is the nature of Christmas, I suppose--tradition.  And it will change as time progresses, based on available time, energy, and  variables like weather.  Which is why I only put one activity in a sock at a time.  That, and the kids peek!

  1. Make gingerbread houses
  2. Bake sugar cookies
  3. Go caroling on the phone
  4. Make teacher gifts
  5. Deliver treats to doctor/vet/etc
  6. Deliver Secret ELF gifts
  7. Make thank-you cards
  8. Mommy's birthday party
  9. Look at holiday lights
  10. Send Christmas cards
  11. Gifts for others (via church)
  12. Donate savings jar to an organization
  13. Make glug for Santa Lucia day
  14. Leave out shoes for Saint Nicholas day
  15. Watch holiday movies 
  16. Holiday read-a-thon
  17. Write letters to Santa
  18. Go see the Nutcracker
  19. Make latkes 
  20. Stay-up-late Solstice party
  21. Wrap presents
  22. Snow ice cream
  23. Play Christmas bingo
  24. Make Christmas candy
"Understudy" activities:   make origami ornaments; have dinner by candlelight; donate food to food pantry; make birdfeeders with pinecones; NYC visit; 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Happy Ending

Albus is home!

A Big Thank You

Here on Cyber Monday, I'm sending out a big thank you for something you can't buy:  friendship.  Our neighbors down the street have been so helpful this year.  Their daughter comes over once a week to play with the kids while I cook dinner; they look forward to her arrival and are sad when she goes.  Their son mows our yard (while his mom does the edging, etc) every week and makes it look better than the professionals ever did--and without cutting down our vegetable garden or sunflowers!!  (And sure we pay them, but it's not near enough for what they provide.) The mom always waves and stops to talk, encouraging the kids, chatting with me.  She works at the school they'll go to next.  I love talking to her and we're finding that we have many commonalities.  And always have a good laugh.  She's one of the most jovial and generous people I've ever met.

Well, this weekend, they went above the call of neighborly friendship:  they spent almost 6 hours getting all the leaves out of our yard.  First it was the mom and her son, who finally went home with a fever!  Then the dad came to help out.  By dark, the leaves were finally all gone.  It looks beautiful.  Better than beautiful, as our  yard went from fall to winter, with the Christmas decorations the only thing left in the yard.  They even carefully raked out the kids' fort!

It was a long, hard afternoon for them, but we loved having them around (I bet we slowed down the work some with all the conversation!).  We're even more grateful to have them as neighbors and friends.


On Saturday, we took a little outing to a wonderful place:  the Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop, in Hamden.  A small, local museum in an old munitions factory where inventor and guns manufacturer Whitney worked on interchangeable parts and muskets.  Now the museum--which isn't really, in the sense that there isn't much of a collection or historical interpretation on view--functions primarily as a hands-on imagination workshop for kids and grown-up kids.  Every week there is a different craft, more of a woodworking/design/invention activity than the more traditional art museum paint/scissors/glue activity (admission is generally free but there is a fee for the craft kit, about $9).  And the kids loved it.  They made wooden trains, starting with gluing blocks together, then attaching axles and wheels, which they tacked together, ending with decorating.  All while wearing safety goggles.  With great concentration, they focused on all the details and carefully completed their work, surrounded by walls full of other projects, from catapults to castles, puppets to pull toys.  It really had that wonderful dusty, cluttered, full of inspiration workshop feel, magical even.  The staff, of predominantly very young (high school?) volunteers, were extremely kind, encouraging, and helpful.  When the kids were done with their project, they experimented with the wall of marble runs, including Pascal's Triangle and Archimedes's Screw.  Special for the holidays was Mr.Gilbert's Train, a large model train layout complete with New Haven green and a circus, plus, best of all, trains that the kids could take turns driving.  Then we all went across the covered wooden bridge to see the mill's "waterfall" and to walk in the park some.  It's a great place and we'll definitely be going back.  

A Little Cat Drama

Our cat Albus is at the animal hospital but should be home tonight.  He had gotten out on the (thankfully) enclosed porch and was there long enough to eat a plant and perhaps other things.  After we found him (his sister alerted us to his adventure by meowing at the door), he spent the evening throwing up and obviously feeling quite unwell.  So he spent the night at the animal hospital, got some fluids, some tests that indicated he probably ate something he shouldn't, but is doing well this morning.  We hope he has a good day and can come home tonight.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Next Up

Look!  We have decorations.  Early.  And even more amazingly, we ordered our Christmas card photos and will do those for the first time in three years. 


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Live: Sweet Endings

Pecan pie
Pumpkin pie
Apple cake
Junior's Cheesecake
Strawberry jello
And whipped cream!

With coffee and tea, if course.

Thanksgiving Live: Rest Time

After the best Thanksgiving dinner we've ever made, Goo, the kids, and I are having a "Phineas and Ferb" nap, while Mama, Ma, and Gong clean up and take their own naps sans kids.  And "Phineas and Ferb."

Thanksgiving Live: On a Roll

Thanksgiving Live: Gravy Magic


Thanksgiving Live: The Countdown Begins

The gorgeous turkey is out of the oven.  And so the chaos begins:  dressing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, roasted vegetables, gravy, and rolls all need to be finished.

Goo is helping Mama.  The kids are coloring with Ma and Gong.  And I'm "supervising."

Thanksgiving Live: Sis Won!

Thanksgiving Live: Checkin' In

Gommie and Pop just called from Aunt Banana's house to say hi.  They're having breakfast and will soon be heading to my sister's MIL for the day.  We just had egg sandwiches for breakfast and are now playing games (chess and Lego Meteor Strike).  Mama's prepping the turkey and we're thinking about heading outside.

Thanksgiving Live: Something to Be Thankful For

Thanksgiving Live: Good Morning

Thanksgiving is here!  And family almost.  We're doing last-minute clean up and Mama is starting the slow cooker mashed potatoes a la the NYTimes.  I'm trying to get in my 45-minute treadmill walk.  Bud is writing "The First Thanksgiving" and also making centerpieces.  Sis is writing a list of all the fun things she wants to do, such as games (chess with Goo), biking, Gratitude Tree, arts and crafts, and play fort.  It's going to be a wonderful day.

Thanksgiving Live: A Blessing for Today

"Join hands and sing a happy song,
Join hands and sing a happy song,
Join hands and sing a happy song,
We are one family.

"We're thankful for the food we're going to eat.
We're thankful for the people that we meet.
We're thankful for the world that is so sweet.
We are one family."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Live: Almost Bedtime

We've done a clean-up, finished the plain strawberry jello (Bud is stirring it right now), and baked the chex mix (oh, that scent takes me back to Gommie making huge batches before an adult gathering, probably a bridge party.  I didn't like the mix or the scent.)

Thanksgiving Live: Wednesday Dinner

Chinese takeout.  What else?

Thanksgiving Live: Pucker Up

Bud ate one.  And he liked it.

Thanksgiving Live: Extra! Extra!

If you have extra pumpkin pie filling, as we did, you can apparently cook it down on the stove and then refrigerated to make pudding.  Voila!

Thanksgiving Live: Cooking Up a Storm

With aprons donned, Sis and I have started the holiday cooking with Butternut Squash Indian Pudding Recipe, except we used a cup of canned pumpkin.  Next, the pumpkin and pecans pies it the cranberry sauces.


Pumpkin "Indian" Pudding
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 2 cups 1% milk
  • ⅓ cup yellow cornmeal
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. ground ginger
  • ⅛ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 large pinch salt
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 Tbs. blackstrap molasses
1. Preheat oven heat to 275ºF. Coat 1-qt. baking dish with cooking spray.
3. Whisk together milk, cornmeal, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt in saucepan. Cook over medium heat 10 minutes, or until thickened. Remove from heat, and blend in butter. Stir in pumpkin purée, brown sugar, and molasses. Pour into prepared baking dish, and bake, uncovered, 1½ hours, or until knife tip inserted in center comes out clean.
adapted from Vegetarian Times

Thanksgiving Live: Table Manners for Thanksgiving

Have little ones with impeccable social graces?

Okay, then, read right here at Cindy Post Senning's website (yes, that Post family), The Gift of Good Manners, to make it better (thanks to Motherlode for the link).

The Wonderful World of Oz

I don't really know how it started, though it might have been when we visited the fairy tale birdhouses at the Florence Griswold Museum.  There was a birdhouse of the Wizard of Oz and, since we hadn't seen the movie, I told them the story, as I knew it from the film (which I loved as a little kid and apparently told people my name was Dorothy; I haven't seen it in decades, finding it creepy as a teenager).  And they loved the story and the birdhouse.  So, now, we're reading the actual Frank L. Baum novel from 1899, which is new to me, too.  I'd read that the book isn't as scary as the movie, with its flying monkeys and cackling witch.  And it's true; we're halfway through and the Wicked Witch of the West hasn't made her first appearance, though she's about to.  And there are many scenes that aren't in the movie, with Kalidahs and the Mouse Queen and more.  But I do keep hearing the songs in my head, which are, of course, not in the book.  The kids love it so far and, as with so many things, they're adapting to their play--mainly, drawing their own illustrations of the book (we're reading a copy with the early line illustrations) and writing their own versions.  It's been really enjoyable so far--and I can't wait to show them the movie over Christmas.

Thanksgiving Live: The Cooking Has Begun

I made my first Thanksgiving recipe this morning.  

Right, not yesterday with the kids as planned.  Time and energy were in short supply, as was motivation; they were making their own Wizard of Oz novels (more on that soon).

So this morning.  I started with the rolls, a new recipe, Big-Batch Quick Dinner Rolls (no worries, I trust King Arthur Flour)--simple ingredients, big batch, enough for everyone.  It wasn't technically a bread machine recipe, but I adapted.  And it seemed to turn out just fine.  There are three pans of eight, sealed and safe in the freezer, where they'll stay until bedtime when I'll pull them out to defrost (it doesn't say, but I'll probably defrost in the fridge).  Two pans for us, one for Mama Teacher.  I hope it works.  And I'll let you know.


Big-Batch Quick Dinner Rolls

  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 cups warm milk ( 100 - 110°F)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons yeast, instant preferred
  • 6 to 7 cups KA all-purpose flour
I put everything in my bread machine (using 5 cups of flour and then adding 1 1/2 more as needed).  I let it knead and then rise about 30+ minutes (i.e. not the whole cycle).  And then removed the dough, made a 12 x 8" rectangle, divided it into 4 rows with 6 rolls each, rolled them into balls, and placed them into greased aluminum pie tins.  Then I covered them tightly and put them in the freezer.  I'll defrost overnight.  In the morning, I'll preheat to 350F and bake 20-25 minutes until golden.  Yum!

King Arthur Flour

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Live: On Gratitude

How to practice gratitude, and why, in the NYTimes, including:

  • counting blessings not sheep, to sleep
  • writing a letter to someone who changed your life for the better
  • play "it could be worse"
  • say or do one grateful thing to each member of your family
Thanks, John Tierney of NYTimes, for this article!

Thanksgiving Live: Shopping Done

Okay, kind Driver and I spent more than an hour at the very crowded grocery store but managed to get practically everything I needed, minus Portuguese rolls (none looked good so I'll buy some at the deli tomorrow) and turkey stock (I can just use chicken for gravy, because vegetarian or not, I'm having gravy!).  Driver helped me put all the perishables away, but the other goods are on the enclosed porch, mainly because there is no point putting away that which a) we will cook tonight and the next two days and b) has no place to go because it's extra.  It was funny to shop with someone--I've never had a helper before and it'll take some getting used to.  She's a friend but also someone working on my behalf; it's an odd balance.  Not that she is awkward or anything--she's great, calm, encouraging, generous, helpful, casual, and a great talker and listener, --but I can tell I'm still getting used to needing so much help, from picking up a bag of potatoes to pushing the cart, from loading to unloading the cart.  I hadn't been in that grocery store, or done any grocery shopping, in almost eight full months, so I hadn't needed help like this before, as much as I've gotten used to help in all other areas of my life.  So, it felt strange but also exhilarating and fun and exciting.  I even got to choose my own magazines!  And have a coffee!  It was wonderful and I am so grateful that she makes it possible.  Who'd have thought grocery shopping before Thanksgiving could be so fabulous?

Now to start cooking it all . . . .

Thanksgiving Live: Getting Ready

I read recently that food editors dread Thanksgiving because they have to come up with new recipes when really all anyone cooks is their traditional meal.  Well, that's true for me.  I have dozens, if not hundreds, of cookbooks and recipes.  And yet we'll make the same holiday foods.  They're neither fancy foods nor healthful; in fact, so 1970s America is it that I can't buy the ingredients at Whole Foods!

In an hour, my Driver is taking me to the grocery and helping me shop for all the regular ingredients.  And this afternoon, the kids will help me make some of the dishes--jello, cranberry sauce, and the like.  Because the holidays are here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

It's a Small World After All

As far as coincidences go, this might match the big Bread Kismet.

I have a blog reader named Shelley, who comments periodically, and whose blog, My Little Chickadees, I visit.  We've never met, though we did both take the online 30 Day Vegan Workshop.  At some point, I realized we were both in Connecticut.  I just didn't realize how close.

On Saturday, I went to a Slavic festival at the church of a friend, Mrs. S, and then blogged about it.  Shelley commented that she thought I was at her church.

Well, Shelley, you were right.  I asked Mrs. S, who asked her SIL, who is a lay leader in the congregation, in your congregation!, who asked her daughter.  And the daughter knows (knows of?) you, your husband, and your children.  All based on your first name and the picture on your blog!  You apparently live one town up from me.

Not only am I completely surprised by the coincidence that you read my blog and  know people I know and live so close (I won't say more, as I try to keep this relatively anonymous), but I'm amazed by the network of Mrs. S, who pieced it altogether in about 6 hours.  I mean, there's now only 2 degrees of separation between us and yet we just randomly connected online.

I've been singing the Disney song in my head all evening.

(Maybe we should meet up in person sometime (or did we already brush elbows on Saturday?))

Happy First Birthday, Cousin Hungry!

We love you and wish you a wonderful day!

(And your parents, too!)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Life is Like the Weather

Unpredictable. Variable.  Impermanent.

And tonight, I'm having a thunderstorm.

My pain has increased since seeing the PT, who did more harm than good, despite being a great listener with an appealing theory; I regret going and am paying for it daily.  Hindsight.  And church just isn't the same--I stood by myself eating at our Thanksgiving supper, not wanting to hover over the adults sitting at other tables, but also not wanting to be all alone.  I felt so awkward, though everyone is always nice and asks how I am.  I'm tired and lonely and frustrated and angry!  And now there is a big brouhaha with a playgroup moms holiday party we've been planning since September--delays, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, general confusion, disappointment.  I've been so looking forward to it (even though we canceled my favorite part, the cookie swap, to please some people).  And now who knows what will happen.

I know, with weather practice, that I'm supposed to acknowledge the "weather" and move on, without getting caught up in the vagaries of it.

Tonight, at least, I'm stuck in the rain without an umbrella.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Another Slavic Saturday

It seems to be a theme this fall:  cabbage feasts in the basements of Orthodox churches!  Today we went to a larger, more elaborate Christmas Fair at a local church, spiritual home of Mrs. S and so many of the local women we know (and new ones we met--Mrs. H's was an hospitable guide through the fair!  And her family was just as welcoming).   In fact, the kids were shocked to run into beloved swim teacher Mrs. M and former preschool teacher Mrs. G.  (They talked poor Mrs. M's ear off but not Mrs. G's, because they were eating!).  They loved decorating gingerbread houses with their new little friends, Mrs. S's grandchildren.  And these weren't just small, plain gingerbread houses but elaborate creations made of graham-cracker-covered milk cartoons with steeples!  Plus two huge baggies of candies and cereals to decorate.  And a vat of frosting!  (It was the most organized kids' activity I've seen in a long while, if ever.  Oh the advanced prep work!)  Kid heaven!  Sis and Bud went to work earnestly, adding stained glass windows to their buildings, while their friends made chimneys, fences, and fanciful architectural features.  Apparently the older girl had really looked forward to our arrival so they could decorate the houses together, since she was an experienced fair-goer and knew how it went.  So sweet!  We also ate a ton--same food as last time--halupki, haluski, kolbasi, pirohi, and a new one, pagachi, which was like a double-crust pizza made out of egg dough with potatoes or cabbage flattened between (yum!).  And just like last time the kids inhaled the food.  We bought brownies and shopped a little, dropping our raffle tickets into the can for the lovely gingerbread house, of course. Bud told Mrs. M, selling the tickets, that he hoped she called him. (He was being extra charming--as I told her, he loves adult women.  "Adult" sounds better than the "older" I managed at the fair!).   It was a great fair, not only for the fun, food, and friends, but also for a glimpse of such a tight, cohesive, friendly, active, organized, vibrant church community.  No, I'm not planning to convert and yes, I'm sure there was drama behind the scenes, but it really had the feel of a giant family reunion (and we laughed, it could've been my half of the family!  Except there wasn't any Staff's barbecue!).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Goodbye, Old Friends

Crisco.  Velveeta.  Cream of mushroom soup.

These are the ingredients of many of my favorite childhood and early adulthood dishes:  chocolate chip cookies, cheese dip, Ranch chicken, chicken spaghetti, broccoli noodle soup.  Mmm, mmm, good.

I haven't made most of those dishes recently, eschewing the unwholesome ingredients without locating an adequate substitute.

But now I think I've found some.  Coconut oil.  Colby cheese.  A white sauce with mushrooms.

Actually, I've only tried the first two--substituting equal parts coconut oil for Crisco and equal parts Colby cheese (or 3/4 Colby and 1/4 American) tossed in a little flour for Velveeta in dishes where it's not the main ingredient (i.e. I don't think it would work in cheese dip as well, but I might try it, perhaps with Colby-Jack).  The coconut oil was indistinguishable from Crisco in a quick bread; the Colby was far more complex than Velveeta but the right consistency. And I understand that the white sauce with mushrooms is a good substitute too. It's worth a try.

Of course, such substitutions make sense because these convenience products were originally shortcuts for home cooks tired of (or looking for cheaper or easier substitutions for) lard, melting cheese, and a roux.

I guess more than getting rid of old friends, I'm actually embracing the originals.

Dharma Christmas?

I'm obviously on a new mailing list, probably because of my Buddhadharma or Shambhala Sun subscriptions.  I've recently been getting a lot of Buddhist/Asian knick-knack catalogs, filled with the trappings of practice (bells, incense bowls, statues, and the ubiquitous cushion) but also a variety of Asian-inspired crafts (jewelry, clothing, household objects, art, etc) and resources such as books and CDs.  I had no idea that the religion of non-attachment had so much stuff!  And all in time for that oh-so-Buddhist holiday, Christmas.


I'm so glad it's the weekend, even if we have to ramp up some errands because of the holiday next week.  This week just had a lot of tears, though none of them mine.  Sis and Bud both seemed to cry about something everyday.  And Bud made sad exclamations, "Mommy, it's a bummer of a day!"  "Mommy, can I stay up late and have a do-over [of today]?"  "That is a not-good miracle."

Yep, Bud, let's have a do-over, starting now.

A Time to Pray

I'm taking a course on prayer offered by the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF), the UU online congregation.   I had been exploring prayer as a spiritual practice and am enjoying new practices and approaches suggested in the course, as well as the ideas of my classmates.   

We've had two lively discussions in our class forum, one on the meaning of prayer for each of us and one on conflicts regarding prayer requests, both of which end up centering on who hears prayers and why we pray.  Being UUs, few of us have traditional concepts of a deity as omnipresent, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent; in other words, we don't think a) there is anyone, i.e. an intercessory, who hears our prayers and b) that prayers have a direct, predictable, or controllable outcome.

I wrote, as an introduction:

I am very new to prayer. Raised an atheist (in Texas!), I've been a UU for about 8 years in my local brick and mortar congregation in Connecticut, where we observe silence and rarely address the "spirit of Life and Light." Of course, I saw prayer as a child at football games (always "In Jesus's name we pray") and such, but never prayed or understood prayer (or the theology behind it), especially because I don't really believe in a personal, responsive divinity. However, struggling through my own recent health challenges and watching friends and family also deal with challenges, and having also started down a Buddhist path of meditation (which is almost the opposite of prayer--the emptying of the mind of thoughts instead of the focusing of it--I'm still contemplating this), I find myself wanting to acknowledge, to reach out, to address, to thank something . . . else. I read Simply Pray by Erik Walker Wikstrom, which I found a great introduction for a neophyte like myself, especially as he addresses prayer for those who don't believe in a traditional prayer-answering God but instead use it to be mindful, grateful, etc. And so I was thrilled to see this CLF class. . . . 

This paragraph, from the beginning of Wikstrom's book, solidified for me not only what I was hoping to do, i.e. connect with something sacred, but also how, by just doing it, and encouraged me to overcome the obstacle of having nothing to pray to:

"If you long to connect with the Sacred, if you desire to live a life that is more in touch with the Holy, stop listening. If you have given up on an anthropomorphic deity--the old white guy with the long white beard, or any of his stand-ins--yet can't figure out what to put in its place, stop looking for something and start simply looking around you. Notice those places in your life where you have felt yourself in the presence of the Holy, remember those experiences in which you have heard your connectedness; seek in your own life--your own feelings, your own moments--those places where you have encountered, or are encountering, the Sacred. In other words, simply pray. Pray without any preconceived notion of what you're doing or why. Simply do it, and see what happens."

Before I considered prayer an option for me, when people would ask me to pray for them or their loved ones, I would say yes, but wouldn't use the word prayer (likely "I'll keep you in my thoughts"). But instead of explaining to them that I didn't believe in an intercessory divinity or even in the power of prayer the way it is often commonly understand (as in having an effect on that divinity), I translated their prayer requests into my own spiritual practice, which was, for the most part, to think of them, keep them in my thoughts, wish them the best, remember them in their time of need, light a candle during "Candles of Community" at my brick & mortar church, etc. It was never a good time to discuss theology, especially because the phrase "pray for me" is used colloquially, almost secularly, by believers of all stripes. 

Now, while I still do the same things, I consider it prayer, no qualms about thinking it so. What has changed? Me. I'm not as literal in my approach to spiritual language anymore (though I recognize that some might be appalled at my definitions!); UUism has opened me up to experiences, to terms I rejected out of hand before (I guess I was something of a fundamentalist atheist!). Do I believe my prayer goes to a higher power? No, but they often do. And I do it for them. Focusing my mind in a statement of intention of hope or love or peace, call it a prayer, is for me more about the recognition and acknowledgment of my fellow human being than of a divinity. And I am grateful when they do the same for me, not because a deity has thought of me, but because a friend has.

This week has focused on labyrinths (not to be confused with Labyrinthe, the Jim Henson/David Bowie movie Mama and I watched yesterday when she wasn't feeling well) and on dialogue prayers (i.e. talking to the divine, however we conceive it).  I've explored labyrinths before (here and here) but never so consciously as a prayer--we are supposed to think of a prayer/thought/idea and then trace our finger around a paper labyrinth while concentrating.  I can't wait to see what the next three weeks hold. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Is it a Book if You Don't Read It?

The Bonesetter's Daughter.  Freakonomics.  Mr. Popper's Penguins.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  Room.  Secrets of Droon.  The Lady and the Unicorn.  Mary Poppins.  Shakespeare: The World as Stage.  The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.  Reading Lolita in Tehran. Nuture Shock. 101 Dalmatians. Fight Club.

What do these have in common?

They are all audiobooks that we have listened to recently.  We have all become aficionados of the media:  Mama listens to books almost two hours a day during her commute, the first to embrace audiobooks and the one to choose all the ones we hear; the kids, who almost can't ride in the car without their recent book; and now me, the last to embrace them, who listens while I walk on my treadmill for 45 minutes everyday.  I had heard Mama's stories when she drove me to various appointments or the kids' when we all went somewhere together, and all of them talk about what they were listening to.  But I've never much been one for really enjoying audio, beyond music--I don't listen to NPR, I read it.  But I had to find some way to pass the time on the treadmill and it was too much to read sometimes (with my head bent); music alone is never enough and I can't always find someone to talk to on the phone).  So, I'm listening to my first book, The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracey Chevalier.  I don't follow every word and find myself wishing I could see a name, a phrase on the page, or wishing I could re-read or skip sections.  I can't control the pacing, the emphasis, or the inflection, which is determined by the acting of the readers.  Audiobooks are somewhere between reading and performance (movies, theater, tv) for me; neither fully literary nor fully dramatic, neither fully within my control (i.e. my interpretation of the written word) or fully beyond it (where I am a passive recipient of another's vision).  I know none of the research on hearing vs. reading a book and am not sure I much care at this point.  But I feel, for me, that it's certainly not the same, though I'll be curious to see what the cumulative effects are--will I remember audiobooks better or not, will I uncover the literary value if I hear it instead of see it?  Of course, originally, all stories were transmitted this way; but we are now much more a literate society (okay, yes, some would say we are not as literate as we once were, but overall we are less oral).  Still I'm glad of my audiobook so far, enjoying the story about medieval artists and weavers and a real work of art more than I would a similar hour of tv.   But I can tell I haven't embraced audiobooks altogether . . . because I still plan to read the book someday.

How I Can Be Sick

I've just finished the most inspiring book, How to Be Sick, by Toni Bernhard.  It's a Buddhist-inspired exploration of chronic illness and pain with exercises in mindfulness to help cope and adapt, based on the author's own life, which was inexorably altered by a virus ten years ago.  I finished it in less than a day and will probably re-read it again this week.

It is powerful.  It is true.  It is useful.  I found myself agreeing, "Yes, that's how it is," or planning, "That will totally work for me," on every page, as Bernhard recounts her own struggles with isolation, longing for health, frustrations with limitations, and sadness about loss, and then explains the various techniques she employs to still her mind as she embraces compassion, equanimity, and loving kindness for herself and others.  Some of my favorites:

  • Drop-it Practice:  Summon a thought of the past that troubles you ("I wish I'd been able to go on that trip") and then drop it, focusing instead on something present, preferably sensory.  Do the same with a negative or troublesome thought of the future ("What if I don't feel better for Christmas?")
  • Byron Katie's Inquiry Practice which ends with a "turnaround":  take a thought that troubles you and turn it into its opposite and contemplate ways that it is true, such as "I hate being in pain" becomes "I don't hate being in pain because there is less pressure to do what I don't want to do" (just a  random example).  
  • Four Sublime States Practice:  apply the four sublime states (karuna, metta, upekkha, and mudita, or compassion, equanimity, loving kindness, and sympathetic joy) to your troubles to slow or stop the wheel of suffering (dukkha).  My favorite is metta, or equanimity, or this is my life, not good, not bad, just as it is.  
  • Weather Practice:  recognize that life, and your emotions and thoughts, are like the weather, unpredictable and variable and impermanent.  You can rage like a thunderstorm and then smile like the sun.
  • Labeling Practice (my name for it):  state objectively what is happening when you are upset or troubled.  For instance, if I stand outside and fret about not being able to tumble in the leaves with the kids, I would say, "Woman, outside in the yard" and go from there,  having grounded myself in the present.
I thought it was interesting that Bernhard has been mostly unable to meditate, having had a dedicated twice-a-day practice, because I too have found it hard to meditate and have been disappointed with myself.  Now I realize there are these other practices I can turn my mind to fully.  I also appreciated how, while touching on the pain, disappointment, loss, etc of her experiences, she did not dwell overly much, didn't relive the pain minute-by-minute.  She wrote about this regarding right speech, which is supposed to be true, kind, and helpful; at some point in her journey, she realized that regaling everyone with every symptom and update was neither kind nor helpful, and so practiced engaging and conversing with others on other topics.  I'm trying to practice this too (but not here).  In fact, "practice" is the operative word in her book, as she notes that she has to practice and does not expect to be perfect, embracing and forgiving times when she is overwhelmed, showing compassion to herself.  Such is the path of those struggling with chronic illness and pain. Not only did I find a sympathetic companion on this path but also learned more about Buddhism (she follows Theravadin Buddhism, but touches on Zen; I'm still so new that I haven't chosen a particularly Buddhist path) and about future resources, such as Byron Katie, the haiki of Issa (my favorite that she includes:  "don't worry spiders/I keep house/casually"), Sharon Salzberg's Lovingkindness, Sylvia Boorstein's Happiness is an Inside Job, Charlotte Joko Beck's Everyday Zen, Thich Nhat Hanh's Miracle of Mindfulness and biography of Buddha Old Path White Clouds, among others. Best of all, I'm looking forward to reading her posts at her blog, Turning Straw into Gold.

Spinning Right Round, Baby

Mama has vertigo.  From an inner ear imbalance caused by sinus pressure.  She is dizzy, nauseous, groggy from a variety of meds, and all-round fairly miserable.  And home.  Because driving makes her car sick.  Actually, being awake makes her "car sick."  But she's still working, even on a conference call right now.  Poor thing.  Get better soon!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Warm Air Rises

I've made No-Knead Harvest Bread twice:  once it was fabulous but once it was awful.  The difference:  the overnight rise.  The first time I made it, the dough didn't rise at all, almost seemed to dry and toughen somewhat.  I realized it was probably too cold in our mid-fall kitchen, not near the mid 70s it ideally should be to rise.  So, Mama did some research and we had a plan:  put the dough in a warm oven overnight.  So, combining suggestions online, we turned the oven on to 400F for 2 minutes (not preheated and then waited two minutes!), turned off the heat, turned on the light, and place the covered dough (in an oven-proof dish) near the light, along with a pot of boiling water from the stove.  And it worked!  The dough rose and the oven was still warm and moist.  And the finished bread was delicious--not too sweet but hearty and flavorful.  

No-Knead Harvest Bread

  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (King Arthur, of course!)
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (ditto!  You can also use white whole wheat)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 3/4 cups cool water (we actually used warm, as per other no-knead recipes)
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (we used chopped apricots instead)
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts (we had walnuts, but fairly finely chopped)
1) Mix the flours, salt, yeast, and water in a large bowl. Stir, then use your hands to mix and form a sticky dough.
2) Work the dough just enough to incorporate all the flour, then work in the fruit and nuts.
3) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it rest at room temperature overnight, or for at least 8 hours; it'll become bubbly and rise quite a bit, so use a large bowl.
4) Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and form it into a log or round loaf to fit your 14" to 15" long lidded stoneware baker; 9" x 12" oval deep casserole dish with cover; or 9" to 10" round lidded baking crock. (We just put it in two regular loaf pans--could have probably have made a big loaf in one pan)
5) Place the dough in the lightly greased pan, smooth side up.
6) Cover and let rise at room temperature for about 2 hours, until it's become puffy. It should rise noticeably, but it's not a real high-riser.
7) Place the lid on the pan, and put the bread in the cold oven. Set the oven temperature to 450°F.
8) Bake the bread for 45 to 50 minutes, then remove the lid and continue to bake for another 5 to 15 minutes, until it's deep brown in color, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers about 205°F. Remove the bread from the oven, turn out onto a rack, and cool before slicing.

King Arthur Flour

Viva Zuccotti!

Protesters were forcibly removed and arrested in the darkness of the middle of the night by police, who tried to maintain a media blackout by keeping journalists away, all on the order of a wealthy leader for the benefit of corporate interests.

Sounds like something in a authoritarian state ruled by a dictator, where pro-democracy protesters fight for their freedom and very lives?

Except, of course, this was New York City.

I was disappointed, depressed, ashamed.  But like many enablers, not enough to do something about it directly.

The New Ice Age

I have a new favorite kitchen secret:  frozen greens!  Yep, frozen, organic, chopped kale and collards from Whole Foods.  Bud will eat it straight up.  Sis ignores it in soup, not bothering to pick it out because neither the taste nor the texture offend her.  Which means frozen greens aren't much like fresh but they a) don't go bad in the fridge quickly and b) are always available to toss in things.  Sure, I could buy fresh, chop, cook, and freeze, but, well, I haven't (and Sis didn't eat those when I did).  I actually put greens in chicken and dumplings (ours has more veggies than Gommie's) last night and added huge handfuls to my pasta lenticchie.  I might even throw some into my chickpea biryani today.  So, glad to have a little extra green on the table.  Especially because it's actually being eaten!


Chickpea Biryani

1 small onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small sweet potato, diced
8 oz cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (if canned, drained and rinsed)
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups stock

Saute onion and bell pepper in oil.  Place in crockpot with remaining ingredients.  Cook on LOW6-8 hours.

Vegan Slow Cooker

Monday, November 14, 2011

Germs, Germs Everywhere

Seems like everyone has the sniffles.  Repeatedly.  More than usual.

And Mama Teacher's school's nurse blames it on a new law in Connecticut:  the Green Cleaning Products Law, which requires schools to use eco-friendly, safe cleaning products instead of their usual bleach, petroleum-based products, and anti-bacterials.  The teachers can't even have wipes or hand sanitizer (though, I re-read the law and it seems these might be exempt.  I'm no lawyer though).

And it shows.  At her school alone, whooping cough and Fifths Disease have gone around twice, plus chicken pox, strep, and now pneumonia.

I'm not actually saying that's a bad thing though (except for the pregnant teachers).  Rather it points to the lack of immunity of children, something that clearly needs to be boosted.  So, beyond being green and safe, this new law seems to be healthy too, just not in the way I think they expected.


I don't know where it started--probably with my mom, as childhood things often do--but somewhere I picked up the superstition, or the game really, of making a wish whenever the clock showed repeated numbers.  Of course, it only comes true if you don't look at the clock again until the number changes.  Sorta like wishing on the first star or a bale of hay ("bale of hay, bale of hay, make a wish, and go away", where you're not supposed to look at them again.  I mean, in a way, it's even like birthday candles--you wish on the flames and then blow them out.  Does anyone else do these things, beyond the candles?

Anyway, that's why I posted about making a wish at 11:11 on 11/11/11.  Actually, 5:55 is the usual wishing hour in our house, now that the kids aren't home for 2:22 or 3:33 and are outside playing at 4:44.  We find ourselves eating dinner everyday and making wishes on the digital clocks at 5:55.  Bud will wish on the microwave and Sis on the stove (and sometimes these are a minute apart) and then they tell each other when it's safe.  And they're very careful not to tell anyone their wishes, though I understand they each have a list of them in their diaries.

I like how for just a minute we stop everything, pay attention to time, and embrace the moment.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Hidden Fairy Houses

A beautiful, sunny, warm yet windy (the kind of wind, once a year, that strips the trees of most of their fall glory) November day, so we were outside playing baseball, excavating boulders, and building these:

Make a Wish

11/11/11 @ 11:11

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Best Medicine

From today . . .

  • the kids running to hug me when they got home
  • talking to a friend on the phone
  • getting email from another friend
  • riding in the car and chatting with another friend
  • pizza
  • yellow and red fall leaves creating an orange glow outside
  • seeing a hawk land on a tree branch
  • watching squirrels chance each other around our tree
  • "the biggest plate of nachos ever"
  • coconut ice cream
  • "Glee"
  • listening to my audiobook as I walked on my treadmill
  • the kids enthusiastically congratulating me as I sat for longer than two seconds before standing up
  • play baseball in the waning light (and having each kid hit several homeruns)
  • seeing Mama midday
  • hot tea in my favorite mug
  • two purring cats
  • my new slip-on shoes (very supportive Merrills)
  • receiving support and encouragement from my PT friend
  • blogging
  • taking pictures of the leaves
  • looking forward to a three-day weekend
  • thinking about our Thanksgiving menu
  • weather just warm enough to wear a skirt
  • my soft pink blanket
  • Harry Potter Legos
  • thinking about holiday cookies
  • chili recipes (and finding some frozen in the fridge for dinner!)
  • dance party!
  • pot pie crusts
  • inspiring readings (like, right now, here)
I feel so much better already.


Thanks for the ride, Mrs. S!  Hope you found your way home.

Tug O'War

So, the medical journey continues this week, but it feels more like a tug o'war.  After my doctor's rejection of my PT's diagnosis, the PT today rejected more forcefully his theory of discogenic pain.  She had more than one good point, but my favorite was that I should choose the path that actually had some options, somewhere to go (which, really, my doctor doesn't).  But she also admitted that my case is more complicated and that medical back-up is necessary, in the form of some specialists in, of course, NYC.  This time a gynecologist, perhaps the rheumatologist, and, if I wanted, a pain psychologist.  Beyond the muscle/ligament issue, she wondered about underlying causes of systemic inflammation and hormonal fluctuation (if that's what I have!)--virus?  disease?  hormone imblance?  Yep.  More things to consider and worry about.  And all the while, an insistence on continuing the therapy techniques she's using which are, well, painful (TMI: internal manipulation of my coccyx.  'Nuff said).  

After the appointment, which was both reassuring (because I think she's partially on the right track with the causes of pain) and disconcerting (because it hurts), I finally got in touch with my much-beloved previous physical therapist, who's been out of the country for the last six plus weeks.  And she had even more good points:  therapy shouldn't hurt like that and there should have been some improvement in four visits.  But best of all, she observed that my new PT is trying very hard to release muscles that don't want to release without addressing the underlying cause.  Which encapsulates my fear in a nutshell:  I'm afraid these visits are going to cause more harm, in addition to the pain and discomfort that follow each visit.  So my old PT suggested her own therapist, who is magical and, in her words, fifty times more intuitive than she is.  Wow.  

Sure, it's more appointments and evaluations, and new decisions about whether to see PT #1 and her specialists or PT#2 who comes highly recommended.  Or meet the second while continuing with the first?  More confusion.  More decisions.  But at least it's something.

Though, it's not much of the break I'd hoped for.