Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful 2012!  

Right Now

Kids (not) doing yoga with Gommie while monkey bread baked.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Right Now

Playing backyard baseball, without costs, on this spring-like day.


I have been unable to write about the devastating Christmas Day fire in Stamford that claimed the lives of three young sisters and their grandparents, while their mother and a family friend, as well as the arriving rescue workers, were unable to help.  And so, with my current reading of Happiness is an Inside Job by Sylvia Boorstein, I offer this metta meditation for them.

May the souls of Lily, Grace, and Sarah be at ease.
May the souls of Lomar and Pauline Johnson be at ease.
May Madonna Badger be comforted.
May Michael Borcina be comforted.
May Matthew Badger be comforted.
May their family members and friends be  comforted.
May the firefighters and other rescue workers be  comforted.
May their Stamford neighbors and community be comforted.
May other people who suffered loss, pain,and  illness during these holidays be comforted.
May people who suffer loss, pain, and illness be comforted.
May the people who help and care for them be comforted.
May we all be at ease and come to the end of suffering.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rest in Peace, Sweet Violet

Violet the Red-Tailed hawk of NYC has died.
May she soar high,  free from pain....
Thanks to those who tried to help her.

Right Now

Just had a wonderful dinner at Bloodroot with Gommie and Pop as well as great conversation with Selma, one of the owners.

Right Now

Watching Wizard of Oz with the kiddos for their first time.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Right Now

While the kiddos swim with Gommie and Pop at their hotel, we're taking down the Christmas tree because the cats have eaten, and now thrown up, a lot if needles.  It is a great tree, changing with the passing days as we added paper chains, school and homemade ornaments, and gifted ornaments.  And we'll do it again next year.

Right Now

Playing chess (Sis and Pop, who just lost to Bud), doing a Christmas puzzle, and reading my new books on Buddhism (thanks, Aunt Banana!  And the shirts are fabulous!).

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Right Now

Headed to PT after hamburgers with Gommie and Pop, who stayed home with the excited kids.

Right Now

Playing chess and DS games while waiting to hear what train Gommie and Pop are on to come see us for almost a week.  Very exciting!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Holiday Fun: Christmas Day, Part 3

3:00 p.m. Play a bit more, then have dessert.

4:00 p.m. Ma, Gong, and Goo head home; we settle down to "Phineas and Ferb" Christmas episodes

5:15 p.m.  We call Aunt Banana, Uncle Soccer, Cousin Hungry, Gommie, and Pop just as they are having dinner.

6:00 p.m.  We have a dinner-snack of leftovers.

6:30 p.m. The bedtime routine begins early, with bathtime and then story.  Lights will hopefully be out by 7:15 p.m.  And ours will follow not long behind.

Good night, all!

Holiday Fun: Christmas Day, Part 2

12:00 p.m.  We're still talking about when to start cooking.  So we make Christmas punch, adding some orange juice to round it out (about a cup, to half the recipe).

12:30 p.m.  Cooking underway--prepping ingredients for gumbo and a quiche.  Ma and Gong are doing Nutcracker paper dolls with Sis and Bud.  I'm getting some of my treadmill time in.  Mama teases me when I inquire about the roux, reminding her of the best gravy ever for Thanksgiving.  She said she had it under control  "because the Roux Queen is on the treadmill."

1:30 p.m.  As lunch is almost ready, we're prepping the Panettone Bread Pudding to bake while we eat. Mmm,  fiori di sicilia, a creamsicle extract.  Sis and Bud have moved onto Playmobil--the pool and penguin zoo enclosure respectively.

2:00 p.m.  Lunch is served:  gumbo, shrimp remoulade, mushroom and onion quiche (a la Bittman's How to Cook Everything), leftover muffalettas, leftover Chinese (start a new Chinese tradition here), sparkling cider, and punch with sherbet.

Holiday Fun: Christmas Day, Part I

1:30 a.m. Moms head to bed.

6:20 a.m. Kids begin to stir; Ma and Gong arrive from hotel, sneaking in quietly.

6:30 a.m.  The clock is yellow!!  Meaning it's okay to get up.  Merry Christmas!!!  Bud and Sis agree that they heard jingle bells in the night (Goo said they would because I dropped a bell while cleaning up!  But of course we didn't tell.).  They get Goo out of bed and we all head downstairs to start the festivities.

8:30 a.m. Taking turns, we open all the marvelous presents (except the ones from my side of the extended family, which we'll open with Gommie and Pop).  Legos, dragons, penguins, Calico Critters, items from Colonial Williamsburg (foodstuff, jewelery, books), Star Wars things, cooking things, games, and things to make and do (science projects, arts and crafts, models) dominate the day.  We're overindulged.  But very grateful.  Sis and Bud give each other huge hugs after each gift they opened from one another.  The cats get high on sushi-style catnip toys; they're sleeping it off.

9:00 a.m. Bacon, eggs, scrapple, corned beef hash, and orange biscuits.

9:30 a.m.  Playing with toys--Bud and Goo are building a Lego Emerald City.  Sis and Ma are doing sticker mosaic arts and crafts.  I look at Mama's 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up.  At some point, I fall asleep.

11:00 a.m.  The kids switch to their new "Phineas and Ferb" DS games.  The adults are delaying the start of fixing lunch, which will be a hodgepodge of New Orleans foods and things Goo brought to make, plus leftovers from Chinatown.

Christmas Gift!

Good morning, Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you a joyous Christmas full of everything you hold dear!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Holiday Fun: Christmas Eve Today

So much to tell:

8:30 a.m. breakfast of leftover almond poundcake since the top collapsed and we can't take it to church tonight (yummy Wildtree mix, with slivered almonds on top!)

10:00 a.m.  Mama and Sis head to Italian deli to get cold cuts for dinner; Sis receives myriad tastes from the boisterous men behind the counter. She chooses some panettone-like croissants and pandoro to share.  Plus cannoli.  Meanwhile, Bud and I make more fantastic snowflakes from the Make Your Own Snowflakes book (which basically involves a funky 6-fold shape and tracing a snowflake stem)

11:00 a.m. We head outside into the barely above freezing weather to burn off some excited energy by scootering.

11:45 a.m.  We glue our gingerbread houses together and wait for them to harden

12:15 p.m.  Ma, Gong, and Goo arrive from the city with tons of food from Chinatown in Flushing

1:00 p.m. We have a huge lunch of Peking Duck, vegetarian Peking Duck roll, and lots of other steamed dumplings, scallion pancakes, scallion noodles, and such.

2:00 p.m. Sis and Bud play chess and Cranium Jr with Goo.  I talk briefly to Uncle Sis in coastal Texas (Aunt Sis wasn't near the phone.)

3:00 p.m.  They make holiday Shrinky Dinks and the accompanying tree (Shelley, we didn't realize the tree came with the set!).  I nap on the couch.

4:00 p.m. I wake up; Goo sleeps.  We start decorating gingerbread houses.  Sis creates the most colorful and ornate roof ever.  Bud devises a door made out of fruit leather.  I make an English cottage with thatched (Chex) roof and half-timbering (pretzels), plus a fence and an open gate.  Goo wakes up later and makes a teepee.

5:00 p.m.  We eat dinner--muffalettas, while listening to our Preservation Hall holiday CD, the first of our New Oreleans-styled Christmas food.  Ma, Gong, and Goo surprise me with candlelit Hong Kong pastries for my birthday.

6:15 p.m.  We change clothes and head to (our new) church.  Mama has warm virgin Gluwhein for the car and a faux sheep fleece blanket for me to lie under.

7:00 p.m.  Service is beautiful.  Lots of music.  And a congregational carol sing.  And for the first time ever, Sis and Bud actually read the lyrics to the songs we sing, including "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," "Come All Ye Faithful," "Joy to the World," "Silent Night," "In the Bleak Midwinter," "The First Noel," "Angels We Have Heard on High," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" (one of Mama's favorites.)  It made me teary to hear their little voices (I was already teary--not our "old church," our third wedding anniversary, Gommie and Pop weren't there, etc.).  There was an hilarious story read about Eddie the Elf, an injury to Santa, and Murray the substitute Santa who thinks the reindeers' names were "Mason, and Dixon, and Richard M. Nixon."  Cookies (we take store-bought chocolate-dipped, raspberry filled madeleines) and cider afterwards rounded off the evening.

8:45 p.m. On the way home, while singing more songs, we spot an amazing sight:  a boat fully decorated with lit tree, other glowing decorations, and mini-lighthouse, tooting down the river.  We turned around so we could see it again.  And again.

9:00 p.m.  We feed the reindeer oatmeal, put out warm chocolate chip cookies (because that's what OSV Santa said were his favorites) and egg nog, put on our new  Christmas pajamas (candy for Sis; penguins for Bud), and head off to SQUIRT time with new Nutcracker books for each.

9:30  Ma and Gong head to their hotel.  Goo, Mama, and I are up chatting and wrapping presents.

Merry Christmas Eve, y'all!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Advent Activity: Emmet Otter!!!

An annual tradition for me for decades now, we watched Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas with the children tonight.  I love those adorable puppets.  I love the singable songs.  I love the story, from the recently-deceased author Russell  Hoban's book of that name, which a recent article (which has some video clips) described as O. Henry meets Little House on the Prairie (see also an NPR story here).  And so we watched it together, all curled up in bed, this evening.  Best. Christmas. Show. Ever.

Holiday Fun: Making the Magic

I think this is one of my favorite parts of Christmas:  Mama and I alone getting things ready.  We're trying to do most of it tonight so that we aren't up for an extra long time tomorrow night.  We've made the olive mixture for the muffalettas for our New Orleans-style feast (with gumbo and bread pudding); I baked an almond pound cake for church tomorrow night (it didn't come out, stuck solid to my pan, c'est la vie--maybe I'll make trifle!  Too bad it's too late to get new pans for Christmas.)  I wrote up a last few Christmas cards.  Mama is wrapping dozens of presents.  Christmas music is on the "stereo" (is it still a stereo?) and we were snacking on Wensleydale and crackers.  So far, so good.

Holiday Fun: Let the Break Begin!

The kids are officially out of school but won't be home on the bus for about half an hour.  I'm really excited about their coming home, about the beginning of our holiday week together, which will go as follows:

  • Today:  Sis actually has a follow-up doctor's appointment this afternoon; then we'll bake cookies or glue gingerbread houses or watch a holiday movie or, well, whatever strikes our fancy.  After the kids go to bed, there's a lot of wrapping to be done.  Essentially all of it.
  • Christmas Eve:  Ma, Gong, and Goo come tomorrow; they'll spend the night (with grandparents at a local hotel).  We'll play, eat, go to church, spread out reindeer food on the grass (oatmeal and glitter)
  • Christmas!
  • Monday:  Mama has the day off!
  • Tuesday:  Gommie and Pop are here through the rest of the vacation.
Let the fun begin!

An Early Christmas Present

I sat this morning for 5 minutes!!!!!

My new physical therapist, in concert with my new pain doctor's prescription, has made all the difference.  On Tuesday, one visit eased pre-menstrual cramps and back tightness.  Last night's visit eased a hitch I had in my side from leaning into the refrigerator to get something.  I don't know how she does it--integrated manipulation, visceral energy release, chakra work--but I believe in it.  Because it's working.  Working more than the pills, working when the pills don't.

It feels odd to sit, almost like I've forgotten how.  And I get so caught up in the act of sitting that I need a distraction so I don't stress about doing it (I sat for 1 1/2 minutes twice yesterday). Good thing I always have my phone with me.  There is some reverb discomfort upon standing up but it goes away in seconds.  I worry a bit that I could herniate a disc or something else again, but it's a risk I'm willing to take for the reward of sitting again.  Of course, I realize there may be setbacks on what is still a long journey to a full recovery but for now I'm focusing on the positive.

I think it's going to be a good Christmas and a better new year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Right Now

Babysitter is here!

Right Now

Asked Mama to buy three boxes of butter at the store.  Let the festivities begin!

Soup's On

Mmm, mmm good.  Just made this up with what I had on hand, inspired by similar soups I've had at our local deli and Mama Teacher's winter vegetable soup . . . .

"Tuscan Sunset" Tortellini Soup

carrots, onion, celery--chopped, amount to taste
3+ cloves garlic, chopped
olive oil
6 cups stock
1/2 package three-cheese tortellini (you can use any kind)
1/2 can diced tomatoes
1 cup cooked chickpeas
"Tuscan Sunset" Penzey's Italian seasoning or your favorite herbs and spices

Saute carrots, onion, celery in oil.  Add garlic.  Then add stock and tortellini.  Boil according to package directions (about 10 minutes).  Add tomatoes, chickpeas, and seasoning.  Simmer until blended.  Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and bread.

Mommy Hungry

Advent Activity: Almost Done

It's always at this point in December that our Advent Activities become less formal and more a part of our preparations for the holiday.  The kids forget to check the socks; I forget to fill them with a slip of paper revealing the days' activity.  In truth, we do more than one.  For instance, on Wednesday, the evening that we honored Hanukkah, we also hand-delivered Christmas cards to our neighbors (each accompanied by an enthusiastic "Merry Christmas!" from Sis) and then the kids wrote Christmas cards to people they wanted to give them to (separate from my list).  Yesterday we talked about Solstice in the morning and then had a dinner playdate with a friend after kung fu (Driver and her daughter).  I called it a Solstice Supper because the food--pizza--we were eating was round!  Yep, a stretch.  But it was still a cheerful, celebratory activity on a dull day. And today's activity?  I don't know yet.  Except beloved Babysitter is home for college and will be coming to see them tonight.  There will be gifts and maybe cookies, if we bake them before she gets here.  But since no one thought about Advent socks this morning, I didn't either.  But obviously we're still counting down til Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Let it Rain, Let it Rain, Let it Rain

Actually, I'm not complaining about the rain.  I like dark, gray days; it's only right this time of year, especially today, the shortest of them all.  And I'm actually glad it's not snow which, while beautiful, makes me nervous and keeps me even more homebound than usual.  I like that it's been unseasonably warm.  Though, a little of the predicted snow for Christmas Eve would be nice.

Until then, Happy Solstice!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Advent Activity: Right Now

Frying latkes for Hanukkah.  And listening to the Maccabeats' new song "Miracles."

A New Kind of Date Night

Date night used to be a semi-regular part of our lives. But, of course, under the circumstances (yes, my back and, perhaps even more, the loss of our now-collegiate babysitter), we don't do that anymore.  But my new therapist--a LCSW and cognitive behavioralist who is helping me cope with the emotional issues surrounding chronic pain and teaching me some techniques to "manage gracefully" (my new favorite phrase from Sylvia Boorstein's introduction to Buddhism, It's Easier than You Think)--suggested we try to adapt our enjoyment of date night (usually a restaurant meal and some casual bookstore browsing.) to our new circumstances, to think outside the box, to give us something else to do or talk about besides our worries and to-do list.  Take out, a new movie, another at-home activity, anything new that we can do once a week or so at home once the kids are asleep.

And so, being an A student and loving a project, I spent some time thinking on what we could do.  I remembered that Gretchen Rubin, in The Happiness Project, mentions that one piece of good advice she'd learned was for every couple to have two games they enjoyed together, one outdoors (like golf, tennis) and one indoors (like Scrabble).  Mama and I don't have an outdoor game (and probably won't, beyond short walks), but we do like to play chess and our new Harry Potter Lego game.  And we also used to do puzzles.  So we opted for a puzzle night, focusing on a holiday puzzle Mama had gotten last year after the holidays and was eager to do.  We brainstormed how I could do a puzzle--sideways on a board on the bed--and we rushed cleaning the kitchen and such last Friday night.

It was such fun!  We issued a moratorium on digital gadgets and stressful discussions to help protect the evening.  Then we curled up with the puzzle while listening to our music playlist on shuffle.  It was just what we needed to get us out of our rut and have some relaxing fun.  It will be so easy to do again--and we want to, especially because we didn't finish it.

Singing the Canon

Aunt Banana gave me a great book for my birthday, All Together Singing in the Kitchen, that I'm enjoying immensely, though only a chapter or so in.  Written by the musical Nields sisters, the book encourages all families to explore their musicality, even if they wouldn't call themselves musical.  One of the early exercises is to list your family's canon of songs that you sing.  I did that here once, though that's not nearly all of them.  I'm going to keep working on our list.  And on singing with the kids.  You'll be hearing more about this later.

But I've realized something interesting about the transmission of songs and nursery rhymes:  I think kids learn lullabies and nursery rhymes not because you sing it to them but because later, when they're older, they hear you sing and say them to younger siblings.  We sang songs and did Mother Goose all the time when they were young--"Itsy Bitsy Spider" was my go-to for years--but they don't remember any of them.  However, if I had a baby now, they'd hear me sing the same songs and recite the same poems to the little one.  I don't sing them those songs much anymore because we've moved on, but when I do, the kids have no clue what it is.  So I have this suspicion that my kids are going to be early-childhood illiterate, which is so strange considering how much time we actually did spend on "Baa Baa Black Sheep" and the like.

So, only kids and twins (real or "Irish"), does this ring true to you?

Humor: Goodnight, iPad

Thanks to Mommy Goose for finding this jewel.

Another Coincidence

It's my year for coincidences:  through a mutual friend, I just got in contact with a woman with an L5-SI 1 disc herniation who is also completely unable to sit or drive and is homebound with a young child--and she's hyperflexible, too!  We exchanged some email and then spoke on the phone for an hour, comparing notes, tests, treatments, doctors, mothering through pain.  It's fascinating to have someone where I am. I thought I was the only one in this very odd situation.  I'm sorry for her but happy for me!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Right Now

Two red-tail hawks just flew low overhead.

Background Noise

Many of you have kindly asked how I'm feeling with the new pain medication.  And the answer in a word:  great!

Except I still can't sit.

Still, I've suddenly realized how much low-level pain permeated my day because it's all gone.  It's like the phone line was filled with static, but I didn't realize it until it stopped.  It's glorious.  Maybe too glorious.  I could become mentally addicted to feeling this way, though I was clearly getting along without it and still could (though, now every six hours when that background pain comes back, I notice, which is a bit more annoying and distressing than it used to be)  The medication was supposed to make it easier for me to sit, but there hasn't been much progress in that regard (it might have added a few seconds and dulled the pain response that does come, which isn't nothing).  It hasn't been a  week yet so maybe there's some kind of accumulation effect.  Also, I can't imagine it's that easy--one pill and I'm healed.

I'm waiting on the oral nerve blockers for a bit, just want to see what physical therapy with the new PT can do, as it seems promising.  There's always time for another pill after a few weeks.  I hope it's as good as this one.


We liked the new UU church we tried yesterday--the flow of the service, the adult and children RE programs, the social and social justice activities, the reading of the ministers (neither preached as it was a music service).  Still, thinking of leaving our current church is painful.  We know it's not meeting our spiritual or educational needs  anymore, but we still value and enjoy the people.  It reminds me of divorce, stories I've read about wanting to separate from your spouse but not his or her family.  I don't want to attend our current church anymore, but I'm not ready to not see the people every week. It feels like a betrayal or something.  Definitely a loss.  And while the new possibility is alluring, I know it too will present all the challenges of a typical church family.  I'm just hoping the positives outweigh the negatives.  So, we're in limbo for awhile.  We want to go to the new church a few more times, especially to hear the minister preach.  But in truth, the decision is made.

Advent Activity: The Weekend

The weekend was full of activities, Christmas related and not.  On Saturday, as I posted here, I worked on Christmas cards.  But I didn't mention what Mama and the kids were up to:  they were doing Christmas in the city with Ma, Gong, and Goo, the annual pilgrimage to the Rockefeller Tree, Teuscher chocolates, FAO Schwartz, the creche at St. Patrick's Cathedral, the windows at Saks, and everything else that makes the city wonderful this time of year.  Then they went for Korean barbecue in Flushing and home to their grandparents to play and decorate their live tree.  They got home late, but I was not here.  I went to our playgroup's holiday Christmas party (formerly the cookie swap, and it will be a swap again next year!) which also doubled as a surprise 40th birthday party for one of our number.  We ate, talked, ate, laughed, ate, shared, and then ate some more!  Yummy Mexican dips, stuffed mushrooms, iced sugar cookies, birthday cake, Christmas punch (pineapple, cranberry, gingerale maybe, sherbet, and some almond extract), and, my favorite, Mommy Goose's spinach bites (I thought I had the recipe--I don't--but she said she'd give it to me).  I managed to stay for almost three hours, mostly on the couch, enjoying talking to all my friends, or even just listening.

Sunday's Advent Activity was actually completely unexpected:  a new train set!  Gommie and Pop sent us a battery-operated (perfect for the cats with no wires), holiday train set to go under the tree.  The kids were thrilled as Mama set it up and got it started!)  It fits perfectly under the tree and is fun and festive.  The kids enjoy watching it go around in circles, especially if the cat is standing there getting agitated.  The only downside is that it sings!  Oh, the music.  Bud loves the music and wants it on all the time.   Mama is going to find the speaker and cover it, at least to dampen the sound.  Still, it's fun.  Thanks, Gommie and Pop!  It was a great surprise and addition to the season.


Mommy Goose's Spinach Bites

2 10-oz. packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
4 eggs
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 c. Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Stuffing mix
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. dried thyme
1/4 t. black pepper
10 T melted butter (1 stick + 2 T)
Squeeze water out of spinach through a colander until just about dry. Beat the eggs in a bowl, then dump rest of ingredients in and mix. Cover bowl and refrigerate for an hour.
Heat oven to 350. Shape mixture into 1-inch balls and bake on lightly greased cookie sheet until browned and cripsy, 30-35 minutes.

Christmas Punch

1 (48-ounce) bottle cranberry juice drink
1 (48-ounce) can pineapple juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 (2-liter) bottle ginger ale, chilled
  1. Stir together first 4 ingredients until sugar dissolves. Cover and chill 8 hours.
  2. Stir in ginger ale just before serving.
Makes 6 1/2 quarts.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Be Well

Get well soon, CJ!

And I hope you don't catch it, Mama Teacher!  We'll be thinking of you tonight.

The Score

Check back for the Christmas card update:

@ 10:13, 32 down
@ 10:53, 46 done (yes, that's slow, but I write a note in each one)
@  11:27, taking a treadmill and then pizza break; about 2/3 finished
@12:21, 59 done, about 20 to go

@ 12:50, 72 cards done (still need to fill with photos and legend, address, and stamp), 7 more to write if I can find addresses, and 10 for the kids to do, which brings us to a final card count:

89 cards!!

Right Now

Writing my first batch of Christmas cards in three years!

Good Night, Bright Prince

I've been thinking about Christopher Hitchens frequently these last few days.  I should start by saying I haven't read but one article by Hitchens--that on his own physical decline from esophageal cancer that defies the maxim and does not make him stronger--plus a review of his last compendium, then the NYTimes obituary and a eulogy and a few other reminiscences (and here and here and here and here).  He seems a brilliant man, and not just because I neither recognize authors he quotes, speak languages he dissects, nor grasp history as broadly or deeply as he does.  There is a wit about him, a clarity, a frankness.  Or I should say was, for he died earlier this week at MD Anderson in Houston, aged 62.  It is a loss I didn't fully realize until after the fact.  I'd say requiescat in pace, but as he was a renown atheist, I'll hold his surviving family in my thoughts.  And perhaps best of all, read more of his works (a selection of his Vanity Fair columns is here).

Friday, December 16, 2011

Advent Activity: Chalkboard Decorations

By Sis, Young Babysitter, and Sis again (Bud did the decorations on the tree and an igloo with penguins that were too hard to photograph):

Not Lovin' It

We're trying not to "love" things these days.  We noticed that culturally the word "love" is tossed around very casually--as a nation, we love shoes and movies and chocolate and toys and clothes and celebrities.  But that's not love at all.   And so now, we're trying really hard in our house to save the word "love" for special relationships with people.  Like "I love you."  Otherwise, we really like things a lot or they're our favorites.  And I'm the biggest offender, using "love" in my usual exuberant, hyperbolic way.  But I'm working on it.

And yep, we don't "hate" either.

A New Theory

Twice this week medical professionals have questioned my accepted narrative about my back injury, which we've always thought, and doctors have concurred, was primarily a herniated disc, L5-SI1.  But on Tuesday, the pain doctor said that the herniated disc was resolved and the pain was a secondary injury in my coccyx, though he doesn't know how the two are related.  Last night, my new physical therapist said she even wondered if the second incident, in April, when I ceased entirely being able to sit, wasn't a disc herniating that I felt, but my SI joint popping out somehow.  I know they've done studies where something like 20% of a random sample of people have herniated discs but are asymptomatic, i.e. without back pain.  Is it possible that the pain wasn't originally or always the disc?  Hard to say now, but apparently it isn't my current trouble.  And, I must say, that is quite a paradigm shift for me.  Just thinking about another kind of injury, though it's 9 months past, gives me the heebie-jeebies.  I mean, who wants to think of their pelvis getting out of joint?  I had gotten comfortable, so to speak, with having a herniated disc, even if it didn't always make sense experientially.  Now I have something else to wrap my mind around.

But I'm trying not to think on it too much, since it doesn't actually change what I'm going through.  In fact, the notion that it is something else gives us a new path to follow after 18 or so months chasing the disc.  And this new physical therapist has some ideas how to help.  And all without the painful internal tailbone manipulation of the last therapist (whom she used to work with)!  Anyway, she practices, if I have this right, Integrative Manipulative Therapy, with techniques derived from the French osteopath Jean-Pierre Barral.  Plus a sprinkling of cranio-sacral, energy healing, biofeedback, and chakra work.  I know, it sounds like magic.  But, she watched me walk with pain in my c-section scar and tightness in my back, laid me down, popped my sacrum painlessly, and had me walk again . . . with none of the symptoms of a few minutes earlier (though, she said for awhile it would pop back . . and that's just the beginning of the work to get me to sit, but she thinks I will be able to).  I told her that 400 years ago, they would have burned her at the stake!  It was amazing.  Then she did some soft tissue, visceral work (something about fascial envelopes connecting parts of our bodies) that was so gentle but released energies, she said, that clearly made my legs shake.  She even touched my head and tailbone alternately and said I had no spinal blockages and that she wouldn't have known I had a herniated disc.  All I have to say is that if it works, I'm a believer.

Which might take me further along in my project to understand the idea of  prayer and  spiritual energies, for sure.

Advent Activity: Reindeer Droppings

Lambeth sent me this recipe a few years ago and, this year, we're going to try them:

A recipe for Christmas, the kiddos may be able to help

2 cups of sugar
1/2  cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup cocoa (powder)
2 cups quick oats amd 1 cup of desicctaed coconut 

US or UK cups will do, or even Lapland. 

Boil the sugar, milk, butter and cocoa together.  Remove from the heat and 
add in the oats and coconut.  When cool enough to handle let the kids mix 
together to form a homogeneous mass.    Then , with a table spoon, let them 
make their own 'sweets' with the mixture on some wax paper.  Let it set.    
To add texture put some chocolate raisins into a few. 

The name for this delicacy, chocolate reindeer droppings. 

Go wild, put it on your blog with acknowledgement to The Childrens Society 
of England. 

The Straw

My church is not having a service for Christmas.

This was always my favorite service of the year--candles, singing, community.  We even got married before the Christmas Eve service in 2008.

And so I think this might be the straw--either the last one or the one that broke the camel's back.

It just doesn't feel like church anymore, after years of money woes, divisive politics, the loss of our minister, the loss of our building, and now the loss of Christmas service.  It's not the kind of church I want for myself and my family, even though I love many of the people and treasure the memories we've shared.

So this Sunday, we'll be going somewhere else to see if we can find a church home elsewhere, still Unitarian Universalist though.  At the very least, I need a break, especially because I have so much trouble attending late afternoon service.  It's not officially goodbye to our old church just yet, but I'm sad to say it is a start.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Advent Activity: Right Now

Partying with Mama, the kids, and  Santa....

More Holiday Humor

If you have an Elf on the Shelf and have ever forgotten to move it, read "Overachieving Elf on the Shelf Mommies" at People I want to Punch in the Face.  It's hilarious!

My New Project

About a year ago, I was deep into research on the history of slavery in Connecticut, as part of my work on the education committee of a local historic house.  I learned how this state was the "Georgia of the North," with more slaves than any other New England colony, and also how slaves continued their West African religious practices such as hiding minkisi under floorboards for protection.  I also spent some time looking into pirates and privateers who operated in the waters of Long Island Sound.

Now I'm beginning research on Native Americans in colonial Connecticut, in the 18th-century.  It's just the beginning of my research, but with both the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and the Institute for American Indian Studies here in the state, I know I'll turn up some interesting information to share with the fifth graders come April.  But one statistic strikes me:  there were approximately 30,000 Native Americans here in what is now Connecticut when colonists arrived.  By 1762, there were less than 1,000.

We're also going to be including some discussion of archaeology, essentially how we as historians and docents learn about the ordinary people who didn't make it into the written historical record.  There have been thousands of artifacts discovered at our site, which should make for wonderful discussion, even if we can't show the classes anything more than pictures of objects or replicas.  Of course, when I was in elementary school, Indiana Jones popularized archaeology.  I hope our tour will be able to do the same and get the students excited about our local history and how we learn it.

God, the "God Particle," and Me

I've just completed a UU course in prayer, participating in inner and outer prayer practices such as meditation, using a finger labyrinth, a universal rosary, and guided imagery, as well as discussing readings and our own experiences.

And so, with this in mind, I've been talking with many of my spiritual friends, asking, particularly, "How do you think prayer works?"

One believed in a universal consciousness, with energies directed through prayer that could directly reach their intended recipient.  Another believed in an intercessory God but also said that the prayers were as much for her own mental and emotional focus than for direct effect.

As I've mentioned several times before, I don't believe in an intercessory, omnipotent, omnipresent deity.  And so I can't conceive of prayer as being directed to God like a phone call is routed through a telecommunications satellite, but I'm learning that you don't necessarily need a deity to pray.  My friend, the one who believes in the universal mind, believes my skepticism is a childhood trauma, something that I need to heal from, an energy blockage that needs to be worked out.  And so I ask her--in all seriousness--how that energy works, how prayer energy and spiritual blockages work, what part of the body makes that energy?  It doesn't work that way, she said patiently, mentioning qi and other metaphysical ideas about spiritual energy.  But I asked for evidence, proof, scientific explanation and she said it can't be tested that way.

Just because it can't be tested by traditional scientific means doesn't mean it doesn't exist, she says.

That would be faith.

I take certain things on faith, things I don't understand but can accept, knowing that other people have the answers.  Like a car engine.  Or particle physics.

Except I'm beginning to understand that, as scientists dig deeper at the far reaches of our knowledge, the questions and answers are as murky as theology and the nature of prayer.  I recently read, though I recall not where, that biologists looking at cells in the human body now believe that mitochondria function like viruses, which surprised them.

And then there is the so-called "God particle," or the Higgs boson, that may or may not exist but is central to the Standard Model of understanding the Big Bang and how particles of energy gain mass.  (Okay, remember, I'm not a scientist, so I only think I have that correctly).  I've been reading several articles about the announcement this week that physicists have tantalizing evidence but no real proof of the Higgs.  In one article, which I cannot locate now, a scientist quoted the "unknown principle" in physics--sometimes things happen for reasons we don't understand, in ways and at times we don't understand.

That sounds a lot like prayer.

Oddly, I'm also a skeptic about science sometimes, feeling that science often labels events and systems without actually understanding it.  They can call it the Higgs boson without knowing if it is real, how big it is, and where to look for it.  Naming something, though, gives you a sense of power over it. (I've long wondered that we can put a man on the moon but can't tell if a woman is pregnant for weeks and weeks after conception.)  Still, as Mama points out, science focuses on quantifiable, predictable, reproducible theories.

Prayer is none of those.

My religious friends acknowledge that there is no 1:1 correlation between prayer and outcome.  There is always an effect, though, either on themselves or on those for whom they pray, the latter usually being as amorphous as "what is best."  In other words, if I pray for a sick friend and the friend dies, some people would say that was the best outcome, even if I don't like it, or that it's part of a larger picture.  But if you draw the effects of prayer so broadly and randomly, it seems to water down the power, no?  Clearly, prayer doesn't follow scientific principles, even if science has started to study it.  There is an oft-referred to study that shows people who are prayed for heal faster, with lower mortality rates, even when they are unaware of the prayers.  (Though, a recent article in Woman's Day, given to me by Mommy Goose, says a Harvard study recently refuted that.)  There again, I'm focusing too much on proof and evidence and control and rationality.

If I can allow myself to accept the murkiness of biology and physics and to be comfortable with my not knowing the intricacies of said disciplines, why not prayer?  Is it possible that spiritual energies exist but that we can't understand how they work?  Is prayer the Higgs of the spiritual universe, giving mass to our deepest joys and concerns?  Why do I need the proof?  Or do I have proof?  Lots of people from a variety of religious backgrounds--New Age, Judaism, Baptist, Catholic, LDS, Buddhist, UU--have prayed for me.  True, I haven't had a remarkable, miraculous healing, but I am better and it could be worse.  Has prayer worked on me?  I know it helped me emotionally to know that people were keeping me in their thoughts and so there is a demonstrable effect.  And when I pray for others, or even myself, I know that at the very least I remember to do things for them, check in, make a meal, or treat them or myself kindly and compassionately, and so there is an effect, even if it isn't miraculous or divine.

I guess I'm like those physicists looking for the Higgs--I've got tantalizing information about prayer but I need more time to think on and study it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Advent Activity: The Countdown Continues

Slowly, the Christmas cards we receive are replacing the Advent Activity stockings we've removed as we're more than halfway to Christmas!

Advent Activity: Santa Lucia Day

Yesterday we learned a little about Santa Lucia Day, or Saint Lucy's Day, a holiday observed mainly in Scandinavian countries on December 13.  Traditionally, the eldest girl in the family dresses in a white gown dons a wreath of greenery and lit white candles and serves her family coffee and Saint Lucy buns in the morning.  Some towns also have processions.  Bud was very hung up on the fact that it was the eldest girl, sensing, I think, that he was excluded (though,  now I understand boys are more involved in the rituals).  Sis was curious about the candles, which gruesomely refer to the failed attempt to burn Saint Lucy.  And so, when we got home from NYC with our bottle of Kinder Punsch non-alcoholic Gluwhein (similar to the Glögg we knew from living in Andersonville, the Swedish and lesbian neighborhood where we lived in Chicago), we made a toast to the holiday season.


Virgin Glögg
a recipe from the Swedish Museum's Jamarkand in Chicago

Glögg spices (cinnamon, raisins, almonds, cardamom)
2-12 oz. cans frozen cranberry juice concentrate
12 oz. can frozen purple grape juice concentrate
12 oz. can frozen apple juice concentrate
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Thaw and mix juice concentrates together with vinegar and keep refrigerated.

Simmer 1 package glogg spices in 1 cup water in tightly covered pot for one hour. Add boiled spices and water to glogg liquid. Bring to a simmer and turn off heat. Let cool and leave in room temperature for one day. Strain and pour back into bottles. Save the drunken raisins to serve with the glogg.

Heat with water in a 2:1 ratio and serve

The Christmas Marketplace

As I've posted before, we always try to add some fun to our NYC doctors' visits, like checking out a specialty shop or going to a museum.  Yesterday, we didn't really have a set destination but knew we'd wander the area around Union Square.  Upon exiting the parking garage, we immediately spotted the telltale kiosks of a festival and I remembered that it was the Christmas Market.  For the time we had before our appointment, we wandered among the stalls:

  • sampling salsas and chocolates
  • ordering Belgian waffles with gingerbread sauce (speculoos) from Wafels and Dinges and also a variety of Persian soups (vegetable, lentil, and chili), plus the best cookies ever from Rubyzaar (Kashmir with almonds and cardamom: HoiAn with chocolates and espresso) and chewy sweet pastel French macaroons.  
  • drinking Gluwhein and hot chocolate
  • selecting a precious, brightly-colored, whimsical print of two children flying over the Chrysler Building by an artist named Edie (you can purchase prints at her site)
  • having a mini-hand spa treatment with Israeli Dead Sea Salt that left my hands feeling so soft (we bought the scrub because it helps with psoriasis and dry skin)
  • and just wandering through stalls of knit wear, teas and spices (laid out just like a Silk Road merchant), Celtic and also Tibetan tchotchkes, puppets, toys, jewelery, and so much more, while also people-watching, which is a wonderful sport in NYC
Just a wonderful reminder of why I love NYC (besides, it makes going to the doctor just so much better).

All Bud Wants for Christmas . . .

. . . is to lose his front tooth!

Bud is eagerly, and albeit a little nervously, waiting to lose his first tooth, right up top in the middle.  It is very wiggly, especially with all his attentions.  He's so excited that he's even written a letter to the Tooth Fairy to tell her it's coming soon.

I hope so.

I Have a Golden Ticket!

"Mommy, Charlie found the golden ticket!" was the first thing said to me last night by the kids after we got home late from NYC.  They've been listening to their teacher read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.  I get periodic updates on the plot (I read it years ago and mostly know the story from the original Gene Wilder film, not liking the Tim Burton version as well) and they have been eagerly waiting to see if Charlie would get to go to the factory (being young, I guess they didn't just assume from the title).  And one day, when they told me about the workers in the factory that people had only glimpsed in the windows of the factory and I called them Oompa Loompas, they got mad at me because that hadn't  been mentioned in the book yet!  The kids have even taken to making paper Wonka Bars and hiding golden tickets in them.  But in their candy factory, everyone is a winner!

Mommy's Magic Bean Pot

I'm the New England Strega Nona!

I picked up a redware bean pot at Sturbridge Village two weeks ago, wanting to make my very first batch of Boston Baked Beans after attending the New England cooking lecture.  So, after prepping the navy beans and mixing in the ingredients sans salt pork, I put my big pot in the oven and left it there for most of a day, just like Yankee goodwives would've done after a day's bread baking (as the hot oven cooled overnight).

MMMMmmmmm, so much better than pork 'n beans in a can!  Not too sweet, not too sticky, just right.  And it makes a lot.

Even better with cornbread!


Boston Baked Beans
*I halved the recipe.  And I imagine, should you not have a magic bean pot, you could bake this in any covered   dish.

1 lb dried  navy beans, sorted, rinsed, and pre-soaked using your favorite method (overnight or boiled and simmered), retaining soaking water
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 cup molasses
1 medium onion, sliced

Preheat oven to 300F.

Mix brown sugar, mustard, and molasses with 1 3/4 cup reserved soaking liquid.  Then alternate layers of prepped beans with sliced onions and "sauce,"

Cover and bake for 5-7 hours.  Add more liquid if needed.

Boston Beanpot Cookery

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Glee Saga

Tonight's "Glee" special was fun, but Artie was right--the Star Wars holiday special in 1978 was fantastic!!!!  And I absolutely remember watching it, Wookiees and all.

Today's Specialist

Today, we ventured down into NYC--near Union Square, this time--to see a pain and palliative care specialist who is a neurologist by training.   We got to town early and had a wonderful time cruising the Christmas Market in the square, but more on that later.  I don't think I've ever seen a more depressing waiting room before--discomfort, pain, suffering, and all the attendant emotions clear on their faces and in their postures.  I felt healthy in comparison.

The nurse practitioner saw me first, performing all manner of neurological and physical diagnostics and taking a very complete history after reading the various papers I brought along.  Then we met the doctor, who performed even more diagnostics.  And said he doesn't believe the pain is from the disc.  He thinks the disc pain has pretty much resolved itself (which he said right after I managed to touch my hands to the floor!).   He believes the pain is in the coccyx.  Though, he isn't sure what the relationshipof the herniated disc and the coccyx pain is though they happened together, saying it was a very good question.  He had some ideas for prescription medicines (pain killers and nerve blockers) and wants me to see his colleague who specializes in injections (I have an appointment at the end of January).  I'd been pretty conservative about what I'd take (so far, no opiates this year), but I'm ready to try something.

So, I'm supposed to see how the pain meds work and to try a bit of sitting, if I can find a comfortable position and don't hurt (i.e. he doesn't think I'll hurt the disc).  I'm not exactly cautiously optimistic, just glad there is a new path to try.

A Huge Thank You

A big grateful thank you to Miss R who babysat the kiddos during a holiday playdate that lasted three hours (about an hour longer than expected, because we got stuck in traffic).  My two and her three (well, probably not the baby) played outside, played inside, ate dinner, and watched holiday specials.  The kids said it was the Best.  Playdate.  Ever.

A big thanks also to Mrs. S who met them after school and drove them to the playdate and who stood by in case we might need more help.

Thank you both for making today possible!  

Right Now

Sitting in traffic on the way home from a long day in the city.

I Love NYC

Right Now

Defrosting ice off windshield so we can head to NYC to see pain and palliative care specialist.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent Activity: I'm a Super Dude

As befits my love of stretching out celebrations, we've been celebrating my birthday for days now, especially if you include parties last Thursday and Friday, cookie baking and ballet on Saturday, and then yesterday and today!  Yesterday, the kids decorated the house with lots of "Phineas and Ferb" decorations and even gave me a button to wear proclaiming me "Super Dude."  Yep, I'm a cool mom.  Then we had an elaborate tea with ham and cheese sandwiches, curried egg salad sandwiches, and several little cakes from the bakery.  Mmmm, chocolate truffle and also gingersnap with cream cheese frosting and a fruit tart!  We hung out making our new Lego holiday village, part of my birthday present.  Actually, the kids worked on the Legos while I perused my new books Harry Potter: From Page to Screen and Homesick Texan, the cookbook.

Today, I had a special birthday lunch at school with the kiddos, which was an extra treat for me because I hadn't been to school in a long while.  We all sat together at those long cafeteria tables--I brought a cheese sandwich and chips from the deli, Mama got chicken nuggets in the lunch line with Sis.  I had brought them both cookies to eat with their lunches.  School lunch sure has changed--they eat off styrofoam trays that get thrown away (oh, the waste!), but not by them--they raise their hands and the lunch ladies toss their trash and give them a coloring page or word search to complete while they wait for lunch to be over.  And then, if they are still hungry at the end of lunch, they can rush up when their class is called for a snack to eat then and there--chips or ice cream!!  I guess I can see not wanting your entire first grade getting up, but it seemed a bit much considering they could easily bus their own stuff, and the need for a coloring sheet to fill the time (maybe they should try talking to one another!  Or gasp, shorten lunch and add it to recess!!!!!) and the extra snack is ridiculous (though Sis's tray with 6 tater tots and 6 nuggets and a chocolate milk was hardly a meal; she opted out of fruit . . . and they let her!  That'll keep us from letting them have school lunch more than a couple of times a month as is our current custom).  Still, it was great fun for me and I hope for them; having Gommie to lunch was very special to me when I was in elementary school.

I fielded calls from England (Hi Lambeth!  Thanks for calling!), Austin (Hi Aunt Banana, sorry I missed you!), Houston (Gommie and Pop together), and, the biggest surprise of all from Dallas from my close friend from high school!  She's still practicing law and still has the thickest East Texas accent I ever hear.  I hadn't talked to her in three years (she says congrats on the baby, Aunt Banana!) so we had a good time catching up.  Also, thanks to everyone who emailed (Hi cousin S and Mrs. S!) and who helped me celebrate last week.

Later this afternoon,we had fondue with bread and apples for after-school snack.  So tasty!  And then they did Legos again, while I napped on the couch.  Finally, we ended my birthday extravaganza with pizza and ice cream and called it quits.  What a great way to celebrate!  I do just love having birthdays.

UPDATE:  I totally forgot some of the most touching highlights:

  • The first present I got was actually a "How Much I Love You & I Love You Because" book made by Sis and Bud.
  • Sis had made me two great cards all on her own, with the sweetest sentiments--that I'm the best mom (remember, Mama is a "mama") and she loves me with all her heart.
  • Neighbor Boy came back to wish me happy birthday when I told him the kids couldn't play because we were doing birthday things.
  • Miss K's daughter brought fudge crinkles and Lindt candies as a birthday present.
  • The kids in their class wished me happy birthday (some sorta sang), as did several of the teachers  . . . because I was wearing my "Super Dude" button at school!

Advent Activity: Spreading the Cheer

We combined two of our Advent activities, wrapping presents for the child for whom we signed up to get toys.  The kids even gathered a bag full of candy to send along with the set of Hot Wheels cars and a track.  Then this morning, we piled a huge pan with a variety of cookies and made a card for the teachers and staff of their school, which Mama and I deposited in the teacher lounge today.   Later, probably tomorrow, we'll drop off tins of cookies for the vet's and the pediatrician's offices, again with cards from the kids.

Finally, we might even be delivering a few Secret Santa surprises today!

Right Now

Heading to have my birthday lunch at school with Mama and the kids. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Baking the Day Away

Before the ballet yesterday, Mama Teacher came over and treated me to a birthday baking extravaganza.  We made six kinds of cookies, some double batch:  oatmeal with craisins and white chocolate, pecan sandies, chocolate orange dreams, gingersnaps, fudge balls, and cranberry-orange-walnut cookies (those last three using the versatile Domino Sugar 1001 Cookie Starter).  The house was redolent with the warm scents of sugar and spices. And the kitchen was filled with dirty bowls, sloppy measuring spoons, damp towels, and little drifts of flour!  (All of which Mama Teacher cleaned up as part of her gift while I rested on the couch! Mama Hungry says a big thank you!)   Mercy, we had a good time, eating lunch and opening some birthday presents (thank you!  Blog readers, you'll hear more about The Happiness Project later) between batches.  It was extra-special because I can't really bake that much on my own (and it's not Mama Hungry's favorite activity) and because we didn't have a cookie swap this year (but we will again next year, I promise!).  I bet we made over two hundred cookies.  And so now we'll have them for teachers, the pediatrician, the vet, and visitors during the holidays.  Oh, and for breakfast this morning!

Thanks so much, Mama Teacher!

I'll get Mama Teacher's recipes later.

Chocolate Orange Dreams
These taste just like those Pepperidge Farm Orange Milano cookies.

4 dozen cookies

1cup Butter flavor Crisco
1 cup sugar
1-3 oz. pkg cream cheese softened
2 eggs
2 t. grated orange peel
2 t. orange juice
½ t. salt
2 cup flour
1 cup chocolate chips

½ cup powdered sugar
2 ½ t. orange juice
1 ½ t. orange liqueur (Grand Marnier)

Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Grease cookie sheet.
Combine crisco, sugar, and cream cheese. Beat on medium. Beat in eggs, orange peel, orange juice, and salt. Add flour. Mix well. Add chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonfuls two inches apart on cookie sheet. Bake at 350°F for 8-10 minutes or until edges are light brown.
While baking, combine powdered sugar, orange juice, and liqueur. Stir. Brush on cookies immediately upon removing from oven.

American Cookie Celebration II


1001 Cookie Recipe Mixture from Domino Sugar
The mix makes 10 cups, which usually can cover 3 different kinds of cookies.  For more recipes for this mix, see here.

5 cups flour
3 ¾ cups sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons butter, softened

Spoon flour into measuring cup and level with spatula. Put in large bowl with at least 4 quart capacity.
Measure sugar, baking powder, and salt into flour. Stir until thoroughly blended.
Add butter and use pastry blender or clean hands to work into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Makes 10 cups. Store covered in airtight container in fridge or freezer. Use mix at room temperature.

Domino Sugar

1001 Fudge Balls

2 cups 1001 Cookie Recipe Mix
½ cups plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
powdered sugar
***we added  1 teaspoon cinnamon and pinches of black and cayenne pepper to make these Tex-Mex

Preheat oven to 375°F.
Mix together in large bowl all ingredients except powdered sugar.
Shape into 1” balls and roll in powdered sugar to coat lightly. Place 1” apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake at 375°F for about 8 minutes. Cool on wire rack.
Makes about 36 balls.
Domino Sugar

1001 Ginger Snaps

4 cups Domino Sugar 1001 Cookie Mix
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg
1/4 cup dark molasses
Granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease cookie sheets.  In large bowl, mix together all ingredients except sugar.  Drop dough by slightly rounded teaspoons into small bowl of sugar.  Roll to coat lightly. Place 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheet.  Bake 12-15 minutes. Do not brown. Let cool 2 minutes and remove to rack to cool. Makes 48 cookies.

Gingerbread Men: Prepare Gingery Snaps dough. Divide in half. Cover and chill 1 hour or until dough is easy to handle. Roll dough, half at a time on floured board to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into Gingerbread Men using cookie cutters. Arrange cutouts 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheet. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 375°F for 8-10 minutes. Do not brown. Cool on wire rack. Makes 48 cookies.

1001 Cranberry Nut Cookies

3 cups – Domino Sugar 1001 Cookie Mix
1 tablespoon - grated orange rind
1 teaspoon - cinnamon
1 - egg
1 cup - fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup - chopped nuts
Domino(r) Granulated Sugar

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Grease cookie sheets.  Mix together in large bowl cookie mix, orange rind, cinnamon, and egg.  Stir in cranberries and nuts.  Shape into 1-inch balls and roll in granulated sugar to coat lightly.  Place 3 inches apart on prepared cookie sheet.  Bake for about 12 minutes or until lightly browned around edges.  Remove at once to wire racks.

Makes about 48 cookies.

Advent Activity: Best. Show. Ever.

Yesterday, we took the kiddos to see the New England Ballet Company's performance of The Nutcracker, only their second live theater performance (after a puppet show of Goodnight Moon; concerts of Laurie Berkner and Imagination Movers don't count.).  They'd seen part of the ballet in school and watched some of Pacific Northwest's version on dvd.  And so, after talking to to them about theater culture (blinking the lights to send you to your seat; intermissions) and etiquette (no talking or getting up; go to the bathroom beforehand), we dressed in our holiday best--Sis in her new red tulle over black skirt tutu-like holiday dress and Bud in a button-down shirt with reindeer sweater--we headed to the theater.  Yep, me too.  Because this particular theater has boxes set aside for people with disabilities--large empty spaces at the back of the theater with movable seats primarily for people using wheelchairs but perfect for me to pace in with no one behind me and lie down in the extra seats pulled together.   Sis, Bud, and Mama sat in real seats right in front of me.  It was beyond perfect and I sniffled through the whole first act, having never thought I could go to the theater again in the near future, which was a loss because Mama and I love musicals.  It was perfect.

I also sniffled for other reasons, being a sniffler.  I remember the last time I went to The Nutcracker, the only other time actually.  I was probably 7 or 8.  Gommie and her friend, dear Miss Betty (who died a few years ago), and maybe another adult though I'm not sure, took me and the other neighborhood kids (Aunt Banana, do you remember this at all?  Was I older?  Were you there?) to Houston's fancy Jones Hall to see the ballet.  I felt so grown up being in that big theater and the performance was beautiful and magical.  I bought a small red Nutcracker to hang on the Christmas tree that I still have.

And I was so glad that the kids were getting to see the show.  They're interested in the story and love to dance around the house.  More than that, I hope that going to the ballet (though, it's our least favorite performing art), musicals, the opera, plays, the symphony become a regular part of our lives.  Especially with Broadway, Lincoln Center, and Carnegie Hall not so far away.

This production was perfect for us.  Small, local, child-friendly.  Colorful, vibrant costumes.   Loud, fast-paced score (Tchaikovsky on speed!).  And with a large children's cast, including two of their little friends from Daisies, that they could identify with.  Bud liked the Mouse King best, and even bought a Mouse King nutcracker.  Sis liked the finale when they all danced together.  I liked the Waltz of the Snowflakes and the Waltz of the Flowers.  Basically any scene with the corps de ballet and a principal.  And the whole score.   Mama, well, I think Mama was caught up in all the body and gender issues inherent in the art art form.

When it concluded, Sis yawned and stretched (she was bored by all the Sugar-Plum Fairy and her cavalier), but Bud proclaimed it, "The best show ever!"

We celebrated afterwards with a run to Pinkberry, the tony frozen yogurt place. Chocolate with M&Ms, peppermint with chocolate, mango with fruit, original with fruit, almonds, and mochi.  And then we danced and hummed the rest of the evening away . . . .

Next year, Lincoln Center and Balanchine.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Advent Activity: Deck the Tree with Paper Chains

From Friday:

Right Now

Gawking at "crazy big" moon rising.

Right Now

Fabulous, warm scents of chocolate, cinnamon, orange, walnut, cranberry, and molasses wafting through the house as Mama Teacher and I bake cookies.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Our Fifth Year

  • muffalettas (so good I quit being a vegetarian for a few hours!!)
  • cavatelli with wild mushroom cream sauce
  • wild mushroom truffle pizza
  • prosciutto and pear pizza 
  • spinach and cheese empanadas
  • spinach souffle
  • parmesan fried bow ties
  • garbanzo "bar nuts"
  • pulled sauerbraten with spaetzle (for Mama)
  • roasted vegetable salad
  • saffron couscous with curried chickpeas
  • macaroni and cheese
  • steak frites
  • artichoke dip puffs
  • lobster grilled cheese (Mama again)
  • braised short rib with chimichurri on polenta puff (Yep, Mama)
  • paella (ditto)
  • pastrami on rye with mustard and a half sour (mm-hmm)
  • a coffee bar with all the fixings--whipped cream, hazelnut cream, shaved chocolate, peppermint sticks, caramel syrup, marshmallows, and two kinds of biscotti (which substituted for dessert because I couldn't make it to 11:30)
Guess where we were?

Right Now

Two warm cats, one soft blanket, and me ....

A Zen Short

There is a well-known story in Zen Shorts about luck and perception.  You've probably heard a version of it.  A horse wanders up to a man's farm and his neighbors say he's lucky.  Maybe, he says.  Then his son breaks his leg trying to tame the horse.  His neighbors say he is unlucky.  Maybe, he says.  Then soldiers come to draft all the young men but don't take his son because of his broken leg.  He is lucky.  Maybe.  Things change.  A lot of life is how you look at it.

Today was like that for me.  I had an ultrasound appointment, ordered by my concerned gynecologist because I've had cramping for more than a week (not severe, just long lasting, constant, and more intense than usual).  Well, the first radiology office couldn't accommodate my back issues and I couldn't climb up and use the awkward pillow they had in lieu of the usual exam table with stirrups (TMI, I know).  I got achy and uncomfortable just trying.  So they transferred me, sending Driver and I to a totally different town which could squeeze me in.  Achy, I was also discouraged.

But at the second place, the tech was more chatty than she was probably supposed to be and, after examining my ultrasound from two months ago, told me she saw nothing new, different, or alarming.  I hope she's right.  Especially because it always takes almost a week for the doctor to get the report.  But I was glad to get any feedback.  She also had back issues and so we could commiserate about injections, therapies, specialists, and such.  In the end--though, I'm sure it's not the end (because, of course, all things change!)--it was a good, if exhausting, morning.

Good for a Laugh

Holiday preparations getting to you?  Have a laugh over at Toni Bernhard's blog, Turning Straw into Gold.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Tonight, at a holiday party for the historic house association on which education committee I sit, I was surprised to be thanked for my work on the 3rd and 5th grade curricula!  My friends, the director and education coordinator (the wonderful Mrs. S about whom I've written frequently) had encouraged me to stay to have fun when I said I could only stay a bit.  But I thought they were just being nice, you know, wanting me to enjoy myself since I don't get out much.

Yes, I can be dense.  Then, when the dedicated and hard-working director, Mrs. A, stood up and thanked the illustrious guests as well as the long-standing house docents, she also acknowledged me!  I couldn't have been more surprised.  Seriously.  I thought she was talking about my two other main colleagues on the committee who had been there much longer.  I had no clue until she looked at me and mentioned my work in Chicago.  And then I think I blushed deeply from my spot in the back of the room where I had been comfortably pacing on the rug. I shook hands, we took pictures, and I went back to my spot in the back, this time with people smiling and nodding at me.  And I could barely contain my sniffles.

I can't begin to say how touched I was.  See, the historic house and these wonderful women (it's mostly women) have been such a light in what has been not exactly a dark but definitely a gray year.  Because while they supported and accomodated me in my health struggles, they also allowed me to do what I love to do, which is engage children in learning about history through material objects, interactive tours, and hands-on experiences.  It was an intellectual challenge (learning colonial history) and professional challenge (stretching my museum ed legs again but in a new living history as opposed to art museum setting), in an inspiring, open-minded collaborative environment, so far from my "sick room" that it was a wonderful distraction, even when I couldn't participate as fully as I'd like.  It was--they were, and still are--a life line for me, for which I will always be truly grateful.  So the honor, the gratitude, the appreciation were all mine.

But it was really wonderful to be recognized.  (In fact, I'm not sure how much that ever happened in my professional life--people are always nicer to volunteers!).  And I will always treasure the paperweight with its hand-drawn depiction of the historic house.  (When we met up right afterward, Sis and Bud oohed and aahed over it.  Bud said, "Congratulations, Mommy!  That's cool." And Sis offered me a tissue!)

And I'm rearing to go for the spring tour season!

Thank you so much.

Advent Activity: Candlelight Again

Today's Advent Activity was looking at lights, not because I knew that our area is fully decorated but because I knew that we would be out after dark.  We had Daisies this evening and then another party; more on that soon.  And so we made a point of noticing the lights as we drove home.  And then, as we approached our house, Mama suggested I lean up to look and I thought it was because our lights look so nice.  But no, it was because we had new lights:  there were flickering candles in every window, my favorite holiday look!  Sis and Bud knew in advance (Bud had helped while Sis and I were at Daisies and then he told her immediately in a hurried whisper) but pretended they were surprised.  "Oh, lights!"  "Where did the lights come from?"  "I don't know."  Me thinks the kids doth protest too much.  (But I'm glad they can't lie convincingly.  Yet.)  There were even a few pillar candles inside on the tables.  (All battery powered, of course.)  It was a wonderful effect and a lovely surprise.

Right Now

Happy tears of gratitude for my friends at the historic house.

Right Now

Listening to the sound of cheerful Daisies at our Nutcracker party.

The Great Worm Rescue

It dawned on us gradually--first one, then  two, then more and more--that there were worms all over the driveway.  After 2 1/2 inches of rain last night, we found dozens of worms on our new driveway.  I guess they washed down with the torrents, even with the blocks edging the driveway.  Some had clearly perished, but many were wiggling on the asphalt with little hope of making it across alive as the sun rose higher in the sky.  And so, as we waited for the bus, we relocated as many as we could find, carefully scooping them up and putting them in the grass, glad to do what we could, even for worms.  And thinking all the while of Diary of a Worm, as the worm says at one point that rainy days are one of his biggest enemies.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Right Now

Listening to the complex melody of the pouring rain.

Healing Thoughts

To my neighbor, Neighbor Boy's mom, who had surgery Monday for a torn ACL and is starting to feel the pain now that the initial drugs have worn off.

To my church friend, Miss M, who would visit the kids on Fridays last summer, who is in a rough patch with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Advent Activity: The Magic of Christmas

I think we might have rather inadvertently started a new holiday custom:  Saint Nicholas visited last night, bringing the "Phineas and Ferb" holiday CD and two nutcrackers, Clara and the Mouse King.

From my quick reading, I know we should have actually put our shoes out the night before (in honor of the Bishop of Myra who secretly gave gifts, like coins in shoes left out), but this was just an experiment to show how kids in other countries celebrate (or at least used to, in that I'm not sure if there are any Christians, of those who celebrate holidays, who now don't do Dec. 25; I'll have to check.)

Bud pondered the experiment later as we waited for the bus, "Is magic real in the world?  Or it is all just a cartoon?"  Which I took to mean, "is it all not real?" since we often contrast live action with "not real" animation.  He moved on before I could address his mature musings.  Thankfully, because I'm not prepared to define magic.

There have been lots of questions this year about whether Santa is real.  Not real questions, not direct, just indirect musings that I have answered just as indirectly.  "Someone brings the presents."   Though, I did completely dispel the whole Elf-on-a-Shelf thing, because I don't like the tattling and material reward focus of that story, and told the kids outright that I was the one who moved the Elf and I'd be glad to keep moving it for a fun game as long as we understood that the story about flying to tattle to Santa so kids can or cannot get good gifts is made up.  I told them not to tell their friends, though, because some families like the Elf story and we wanted them to have that magic. I know, playing with fire. And they understood and are still perfectly happy to play with the Elf.

And just when I think, because of their questions (and my risky Elf move), they are toying with belief, they really truly embrace that Saint Nick was here last night, happening upon our shoes out in the rain even though we'd never put shoes out before, moving them indoors, filling them, and even loading our iPod with the new CD immediately so we could play it this morning.  It's the faith of childhood.  And it's beautiful.

Yes, Bud, magic is real in the world.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Here It Comes

30 Day Vegan Workshop leader Heather Bruggeman, of Beauty That Moves, is set to offer a new three-month course, Whole Food Kitchen.  Registration begins very soon.  And I'll be signing up!  The last workshop effected me immensely, even though I couldn't participate fully.  I'm ready, ready, ready for this one.

Right Now

Watching a red-tailed hawk devour a tasty morsel in a tree outside my window.  Too far for a picture and not such a pretty subject.

Advent Activity: Behind Already

Well, it didn't take long for us to fall behind.  Yesterday's activity was "write a letter to Santa," but they didn't.  Instead they played with Neighbor Boy, whose mother had had ACL surgery that morning.  for 1 1/2 hours, they fought with lightsabers, spun Ninjagos (Ninjagoes?  Ninjagi? Ninjagoi?), and ran around outside in the dense, wet fog.  But since they were getting along beautifully, I didn't interrupt.

They remembered the activity this morning before school but didn't have time to write them.  They won't this afternoon either, as we have another friend coming over for a visit.

Which means we're behind two days, both yesterday's activity and then today's ("learn more about St. Nicholas's Day").  At least it's because we're having fun!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Right Now

I am hugged by the fog.


Actually, the first one is a "mommy bit."  Having read all 307 pages of The Wizard of Oz, using special voices for every speaking part, I now have a much deeper appreciation of audiobook readers, particularly Jim Dale, who did all seven books of Harry Potter.  Remembering each voice (regular for Dorothy, growly for Lion, country for Scarecrow, whispy for Tin Woodman, and all the others), keeping straight alternating lines of a conversation, and having the vocal stamina to read two or more chapters a night is more difficult than I imagined.  But I think it made it all the more enjoyable.  And it was a great and not at all scary story, which I highly recommend for kiddos.

The kids are playing rhyming hand games like "Miss Mary Mack" now.   And so I contributed the only one I know, "bobo skee watten totten" (more commonly called "bo bo skee rotten totten" online).  I learned the words thus (but can't begin to describe the above and below slapping and clapping):

"Bo bo skee watten totten
eh, eh, eh, eh, boom boom boom.
Eeny meeny watten totten
Bo bo skee watten totten
Bo bo skee watten totten
BOOM!" (at which point both players try to slap right hands)

Bud learned both words and movements quickly and gets a huge laugh out of it.  Sis, who is left-handed, is also catching on and laughs just as hard.

They also love a new game called "push the kid."  Okay, it sounds violent but is actually very sweet.  It starts with a kiddo standing on the bed giving me a big ol' hug (my favorite part) and then ends with me tickling them and letting them fall backwards onto the bed (their favorite part).  Sometimes I prolong the hug or the tickling which just heightens the hilarity.  Oh the games kids will play.

Lego Lovefest

Bud's own Nutcracker
On Saturday, while I rested in the hotel from our long OSV excursion and rested up for our afternoon trip to  the historical society, Mama and the kids headed to the Lego KidsFest (and another coincidence:  My Little Chickadees' Shelley was there with her children!  You can see her pictures of the event there.).  And they had a very grand time building tall towers, constructing pieces of a mural, admiring models of various pop culture icons such as Chewbacca and Hagrid and Lightning McQueen (which weighed in at 3 tons!!!), being awestruck by a huge Hogwarts Castle and amused by an igloo with bits of lots of other sets altogether, making and racing cars on a ramp (just like the one at their birthday!), being mesmerized by a Rube Goldberg-esque soccer ball machine, creating something to put on the large map of the USA, and getting freebie after freebie--Ninjago spinners, Ninjago wristbands, Christmas tree sets, mini-Night Bus, pamphlets with instructions for other sets, etc etc etc.  And they weren't even there the whole time, coming back to the hotel early to have lunch (takeout from the incomparable Black-Eyed Sally's, including fried pickles, fried catfish, jambalaya, red beans and rice, collard greens, and cheese grits, all the best I've had here in the North, for truth be told, traditional New England cookery is not all that tempting) and go to the historical society.

And so what have we done since then?  Yep, Legos.

Advent Activity: Our Candle Night in Words

Friday night at Old  Sturbridge Village was superb, as their special candlelight program always is (we've been once before with the kids and a few times before them, once the night of an amazing snowstorm).  We had a wonderful time:
  • admiring the gingerbread house competition entrants (I got a great idea for half-timbering with licorice and thatching with shredded wheat)
  • tasting fire-roasted chestnuts and hearing about a blight on the very tall trees that left them functionally extinct in the 19th century; the kids liked the trees but not the nuts
  • sampling gingerbread (softer than a cookie, denser than cake)
  • making their own paper cornucopiae
  • helping whisk the ingredients of fruitcake and tasting the finished product (that only Mama and I liked)
  • making real tinsel with the tinsmith
  • hand-stamping Christmas cards
  • watching the roasting and grinding of cocoa beans
  • admiring the creation of realistic marzipan fruits
  • talking to Father Christmas about the symbolism of holly and ivy
  • drinking poker-heated mulled cider
  • listening to carolers
  • watching the bonfire and being entranced by the sparks flying into the night's sky
  • perusing a porcelain historic village
  • listening to Full Gael sing "Soul Cakes" accompanied by period instruments
  • watching a model railroad train
  • wondering at a detailed nativity scene
  • riding a horse-drawn carriage
  • eating dinner in the old tavern
  • and finally, meeting Santa Claus and talking about his favorite chocolate chip cookies (and when Bud asked for "surprises," Santa teased that his muddy boot would be a surprise!  They thought this was hilarious.)