30 December 2008

Brandied Fruits And Felted Ponchos

Not because of the economy, but because of an inborn general frugality coupled with a crafty urge, I managed to purchase very few Christmas presents this year. There were a number of things culled out of the cellar (yes, I regift!), there were things I found at the thrift shop when I was donating some stuff we no longer needed, and there were things I made.

The two little girls of my acquaintance (Miss M. and her six year old cousin) both got ponchos. Months ago, I'd seen a poncho for sale on the website of an Atlanta based craft cooperative, and I said "I can do that". I felted a couple of shetland wool sweaters, cut them out freehand, blanket-stitched the edges, and added some appliques made from scrap felted wool (from last year's projects).

Here's one of the sweaters, showing how it was cut. I also cut the neckhole just along the transition to the collar ribbing, though if it had been a v-neck sweater, that would have been completely unnecessary. The V at the bottom starts just above the ribbing along the lower edge of the sweater, and the indent under the arms is at the point where the sleeve meets the body.

The blue sweater had been a cable-knit, but once it was felted, I decided I liked the inside better - it had a more interesting appearance. The points of the star are plain pearly shirt buttons, and both ponchos are blanket-stitched along the edge with black wool. Miss M. got the one with the star, and her cousin got the one with the heart.

Funnily enough, that same Atlanta craft cooperative has just opened a shop in the next town over from us. I went in there before Christmas and found a rack of the ponchos, and felt oh so smug for having made my own.

For grown-ups who needed gifts, I started some brandied fruits in June, with 13 ounces of perfect strawberries.

By mid-July, I'd added sour cherries, blueberries, apricots and plums. And in August, peaches and nectarines went into the jar.

Last week, I decanted it into seven assorted jars and gussied them up as gifts with scraps of ribbon and tags made from last year's Christmas cards received. I kept one for myself, and I'm looking forward to spooning some of it over a dish of vanilla ice-cream.

29 December 2008

What 48 Looks Like

Because Bennie wanted to know.

There's rules on his blog if you want to play. But, it's my birthday and I make the rules today, so I'm just posting the picture of me. Actually, though, since I took it yesterday, it's really what 47 looks like.

28 December 2008

Time Stands Still

It's that time when time stands still. We're between Christmas and New Year's, between life and death. We've two weeks off of work and school.

I'm at my mother's house, with my sister. We left our various children home with their fathers, the aides have the weekend off, my brother and his wife have decamped to Canada until after the new year. Christmas feels like it was ages ago, and time is just standing still.

Pinky and I have been drinking wine, going to the supermarket, incompetently nursing our mother, and playing Royalty.

The phone rings, the doorbell rings, the kitchen timer goes off, and time stands still.

Moky sleeps, and we get her up for a meal. And then she sleeps some more. Sometimes she says nearly nothing and needs to be fed, other times she perks up and feeds herself. Last night she asked for a glass of wine, so we gave her a shotglass of the Fat Bastard. At breakfast, her toast was too crunchy crusty and she was having trouble biting into it. She looked up at us and said "get me my wolf". Humor still sneaks through the fogginess.

But it's hard to avoid feeling like it's a death watch. Time stands still.

24 December 2008

Wordless Wednesday: Great Balls of Fire

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

22 December 2008

The Fruitcake, Redux

You haven't forgotten the story of the fruitcake, have you? We haven't gotten a holiday fruitcake since the fruitcake tradition died with my grandfather. Oh, my father sends out canned cheese every year (really, in a can, and it's good), and my uncle sends nuts (and it's just not Christmas without Uncle Phil's nuts), but fruitcake has gone the way of all things.

Not too long ago, though, I was flipping through the Archie McPhee catalog, and came across this:

The thought crossed my mind that I could step into my grandfather's shoes and send a "fruitcake" to everyone on that side of my family. But I restrained myself.

Anyway, if I had sent it, would I then have to send one every year? Or could I just send a postcard, "don't forget to blow up your fruitcake!"? Gosh, life is complicated.

21 December 2008

Silent Night, Redux

Bennie posted a list of his top ten Christmas tunes, and asked for readers to post their favorites.

I just can't.

Two years ago, I had 36 versions of Silent Night in iTunes.

This year, I'm up to 39. It's more than two hours of Silent Night, or, too much to burn to one music CD. It's a sickness, I tell you.

The funny thing about it is that if you start playing 39 version of Silent Night in a row, it takes people a while to catch on. Because the song is so sweetly innocuous and the renditions are all so very different, they don't realize what's happening to them.

Not all songs are so insidious. Once upon a time, my husband was doing some woodworking in the cellar at my mother's house. There are speakers down there, but they're connected to the stereo in the living room. David Garland was on the radio, on WNYC, playing nothing but covers of the Hawaiian War Chant. After a while, W. came out of the cellar in an altered state. I long to recreate that but I only have seven versions of the Hawaiian War Chant. Can anyone help me out?

20 December 2008

The Coconut, Redux

A few weeks ago my brother asked me for my husband's new contact information. I thought nothing of it, figuring that he was just updating his so-called Rolodex.

Yesterday, I got the following email from my husband:

A box addressed to me in T's handwriting arrived at my office today. It contains our old friend from Key Largo, the well-traveled, well-decorated Cocos Nucifera.

Wearing a red Christmas watch-cap.

Hmm. The mind reels with possibility. Any suggestions as to its next appearance?

(If you missed the backstory on this here coconut, click here.)

19 December 2008

Little Hats and Just Posts

Those splendid Just Post bloggers put out the penultimate edition of the Just Posts last week - go check out Mad and Jen and Su, and click through to some great posts about making the world a better place.

My post about turning old tee-shirts into hats for Haitian babies was included, which inspires me to show off another found material baby hat that I made.

This tiny knit hat is made of scrap yarn that I found in a drawer at my mother's house, little balls of yarn leftover from other projects, none of which were enough for a full project. So I picked out complementary colors and just kept changing yarn.

Yesterday, I mailed that hat off to Save The Children, for their Knit One, Save One project - the caps will be collected and sent off to babies in need of warmth.

I'm a kind of terrible knitter - I have two lots of yarn at home in a box because I'm just terrified about making the sweaters that I got them for - but little tiny hats, either for newborns I know, or for needy babies I don't? That I can do.

17 December 2008

Lions and Tigers and Teeth, Oh My!

This morning was the kindergarten "Winter Sharing Celebration". PC to a fare-thee-well, right? I say, let's call it Festivus Hanukwanzmas and be done with it.

But I digress. Up on the bulletin board in the classroom was each child's response to discussion of gifts that would "make people we love feel happy".

Most of them were on the order of "a chapter book for my sister" or "a robot for my mother".

My lion and tiger and leopard obsessed child? Would like to give a sharp toothed animal to her cousin.

16 December 2008

Cookies, Christmas and Otherwise

It being that time of year when one's thoughts turn to Christmas cookies, I've been baking with the small child. She's a great helper monkey, loves to turn the mixer on, dumps with abandon, eats flour straight up. We made a batch of gingerbread the other day, rolled out and cut into bears and bells and trees, undecorated save for the few she scored and poked with a toothpick before they went in the oven. There's twice-baked shortbread to be baked tonight, using an Alice Medrich recipe found at the redoubtable Smitten Kitchen - and it is the best shortbread ever.

And last night, the girlie and I made my favorite Christmas cookies ever - well, as of last year anyway, when I found the recipe on the intertubes - a crispy, chewy, peppermint oatmeal shortbread kind of thing called a Candy Cane Crisp.

This, people, is why I was looking for candy canes the other days and cursing the gods for having invented the abominable fruit-flavored candy canes which were all I was able to find. Luckily, I texted the husband who scored a box of the real thing. Half of them were broken, but hey - the first step in the recipe is to crush the candy canes.

It's a simple recipe - no egg, no leavening - just butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal and crushed candy canes, with more candy canes sprinkled on top giving them a nice pink sheen. You'll want to eat every last one of them because the texture is awesome and the flavor is better.

Candy Cane Crisps

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 1/3 cups flour
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 t. salt
about 3/4 cup crushed candy canes (I ran them through the blender)

Preheat oven to 325.
Beat butter and 1 cup of powdered sugar until creamy; beat in vanilla. In another bowl, stir together flour, oats & salt; gradually add to butter mixture, blending thoroughly. Add 1/4 cup of crushed candy canes and mix until well combined.

Roll dough into 3/4-inch balls, then roll in remaining powdered sugar to coat. Place balls about 2 inches apart on greased and flour-dusted cookie sheets. Gently flatten cookies with a fork making a criss-cross pattern with the tines. Sprinkle each cookie with about 1/2 t. of crushed candy canes, or just pile it on top if you're five years old.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Let cool on baking sheets for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to racks and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 4 dozen, depending on how much dough the five year old eats, and whether you really can make 3/4-inch balls.

(Note: 13 full sized candy canes grinds up to about a cup of dust.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Over the weekend, I got an email from one of my sister's friends. She'd grown up down the street from us, and her mother was a bit of a foodie who catered as a hobby. Occasionally, for pocket change, I worked KP for her mother when she was catering or having fancy dinner parties.  

Attached to the email was a scan of a handwritten recipe, a cookie recipe that I'd given her mother when I  was eleven years old.  Susie and her mother were doing their holiday baking, and were about to make a batch of these molasses cookies, lo these thirty six years later.  And clearly Lee's made them often - the card shows the evidence of dribbles and greasy fingerprints (oh, and that's not my handwriting, it's hers).  I haven't made these cookies in a long long time, but they were terrific. What's more, I remember exactly where that recipe came from: the mother of an elementary school classmate who lived around the corner from us.  I wonder what ever happened to her.

Cookies kind of worm their way into your soul, part of the memories we make and remake and call our own.  What are your favorite cookies to make?

15 December 2008

To Somebody's House Wii Go

Wow. Just wow. I spent the weekend mulling over the many posts and comments from people hoping for that Wii Fit that Nintendo is letting me give away.

The posts ranged from funny to poignant, and from witty to painful. There are lots of mamas out there hoping to lose baby weight - even with babes old enough to be walking and talking and going to school (though Heidi claims to have given birth to varmints, not children). Monkey's Momma and Marmite Breath can't ever set foot in their health-clubs again because of embarrassing treadmill incidents, and some are just too shy to ever go to a gym in the first place. Many people used to do (and love) yoga, but can't find the time to get out of the house to get to the yoga studio.  Rima signed up for Jazzercise, and then didn't go for a year - even though though they were billing her credit card every single month. 

Well Read Hostess nearly seduced me with a recipe that requires copious amounts of egg and butter.  Andi has flat out declared that she'll never be fat again.  Robbin needs a Wii Fit because she doesn't laugh as much as she once did, and her abs are suffering.

Melanie and PicaboDaddy both recounted their video game history, because after all, what's the Wii Fit but the latest in a long line of video games?

And the posts got personal!  Nicole included a photo, with personalized plea on a blackboard, and Cold Spaghetti enlisted her son to make a video.  Ree says she'll make out with me if she wins.

Rick started a blog just to enter the contest, because they need one to take with them when they move to Ethiopia next summer.  On the other hand, Jen declined to participate, because she can't imagine taking one to the jungle with her.

Furrow wants a Wii Fit, because she likes the idea of quantifying her exercise (her cellphone has a pedometer - go figure.)  Stimey wants to set a good example for her kids.  And Painted Maypole - bless her creative heart - rewrote a Shel Silverstein poem as her entry.

But the post that got to me, the one that moved me the most, was from She She.  I can't quite put a finger on it, but her beautifully written and naked tale of her weight struggles - alongside the advice she wants to pass along to her children - resonated with me in a way that demanded that She She be awarded the Wii Fit.  

Here's a little bit of what she said: 

A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me what would be the one piece of advice I would give to my children if I knew it was the only advice they would take. Without hesitation, I said, “I would tell them to say ‘yes’. Some opportunities only come once. Say ‘yes’.”

There are so many things I didn’t say ‘yes’ to because of my weight. Hiking through the Puerto Rico rain forest, dancing with a Frenchman, having sex with the light on. 

I look back at my 20 and 30 year old selves, and I want to shake them by the shoulders and shout at them, “Say ‘yes’! You will only be here once! Stop using your weight to protect you from new experiences! Stop using it as an excuse not to participate in your life! Say ‘yes’!”

I know, unless disaster strikes me, that I will someday be a 52 year old, and hopefully a 62 and 72 year old. If I’m terrifically lucky, 82 and 92. I don’t want my future self admonishing my 42 year old self to say 'yes'. 

Some opportunities only come once.

I know my weight struggle will be a lifelong one. Genes, habits, and a big taste for cream sauce dictate this. Nothing will make it less so -- not acupuncture, not special tea, not denial. But I feel like I’m ready to take it on. Again. I think I’m ready to say yes to my very own life.

Thank you all for participating - I wish I had a prize for everyone.

12 December 2008

The Christmas Elephant

I love Christmas. I love picking out a tree, pulling the ornaments out of the boxes, hanging up a wreath, putting lights on the house, wrapping packages, getting together with family and friends.

It’s always been the holiday in the family. Every year, going back to the early 70s, my mother had a huge Christmas Eve party – kids running around, old neighbors dropping in, lots of wine and cheese, many different cookies, a five pound bag of pistachios. Eddie, the Joyce scholar from down the street, bangs out Christmas carols on the piano and everyone sings, gathering steam for a blockbuster belting of O Holy Night. Stragglers hung around until the wee hours, drinking scotch and telling jokes, until finally stumbling home, leaving us to clean house so as not to awaken on Christmas morn to too many half empty glasses and scrunched up cocktail napkins.

And my mother did Christmas right. Everything had a place – the Christmas tree always in the same corner, a garland over the living room fireplace, another over the hall mirror. Presents – perfectly wrapped in a palette of green, red, silver, white, gold – spilled across the room. My mother made appliquéd, embroidered, felt stockings for everyone – first for the core five, then with additions for cats and spouses and grandchildren and the siblings-by-temperament who’ve joined the family, like David, who was clearly our brother in another life. There are so many stockings now that they have to hang doubled up on the hooks along the mantel. She has enough ornaments for an enormous tree, almost all of them old and glass and fragile, but some of the plain little gold balls ended up on a permanently lit and decorated tree, an artificial tree that spends 11 months in a box in the attic, awaiting its turn in the dining room window.

This year, that little tree is just about the only sign of Christmas at my mother’s house. Oh, there’s a garland around the front door, and one over the hall mirror, and a forest of tiny trees on the mantelpiece, but there’s no big tree, because my mother’s living out her days in the living room.

I’m so at odds. It’s always been that we go to her house for Christmas, to be there for Christmas Eve, and the Christmas morning present orgy, and a big Christmas dinner at the end of the day. And then, we disperse, on the 26th or 27th or so, to spend time with other parts of the family. I’ve never woken up in my own house on Christmas Day. It’s not that I don’t want to – it’s just that it’s never been that way. It’s been Christmas at my mother’s house. Period.

We’re still working out when we can get together with my siblings and their spouses and Mir’s cousins. It’ll probably happen a day or three before Christmas, and then everyone but my brother and his wife will stay with my mother through a quiet Christmas, unlike any other. And then he’ll leave and my sister and I will return, to care for our mother while her aides have some off time.

On Christmas Eve, Mir will go to sleep in her own bed, and Santa will come down our chimney and tuck presents under the tree and eat cookies and milk, and we’ll work on inventing our own Christmas traditions, but still, a part of me is dreading Christmas a little.

Because there’s an elephant in the room where the tree should be.

11 December 2008

You know, I'm actually sore

Muscles. I have muscles that are sore. Go figure.

The Wii Fit party was at my house the other night. It was a riot.

The team arrived, flew into action, installed three Wii Fit set-ups (using our TV plus two they brought), commandeered the kitchen to prep and plate food, made sangria, stashed all the bags and boxes in the garage and started the indoctrination of the guests.

I'm "snowboarding".

People laughed and "ski-jumped" and ate and "hula-hooped" and drank and "rhythm-boxed". They stared with great concentration at the TVs as they tried to ride the bubble down the stream or gaze mindfully at a burning candle. There was aerobic stepping, and yoga, and tightrope walking, not to mention penguin sliding and table tilting.

At the end of the evening, the team handed out Wii Fits (and yoga mats and exercise suits) to the guests. There was shrieking and carrying on like we were on Oprah or something.

And then they cleaned up, stashed some tasty leftovers in my fridge and went merrily on their way, spreading Wii cheer in their wake.

The muscles across/under my scapulae are sore. I think it was the boxing. Running up and down the stairs all the time means that my leg muscles aren't too terrible. But boxing? I don't do a lot of hitting. I think this might could actually be a way to get in shape in the privacy of my own home.

* * * * * * * * * * *

You still have a chance to win a Wii Fit (and the Wii console). Pop on over to this post before midnight tomorrow, and let loose with why you need one to get you moving.

10 December 2008

Modern Art and Ham Tacos

We went up to DIA: Beacon on a recent grey and sleety day, taking the five year old along for some culture.

The space is huge, enormous, expansive - and there was hardly anyone there. It felt like a gift, seeing the art and the building through the eyes of the unrestrained child.

She danced around the Bourgeois spider, navigated past Sandback's delicate strands of yarn, and peered into all of Heizer's holes and Judd's plywood boxes.

"I want to go in the sculpture."

"It's a pile of broken glass?"

"It's NYC! It's like your office, Mommy!"

Afterwards, we had lunch in the small cafe. I ordered a turkey wrap for her, and asked them to hold everything but the tortilla and the turkey. To my great happiness, we were only charged $1.50 for it; I was fully expecting to have to pay for the whole sandwich and all its adult accoutrements. Later, in the car, she asked me for the second half of it: "Can I have my ham taco now?"

(All photos from the DIA: Beacon website; clicking on the photos will take you there.)

09 December 2008

We have One Winner!

The winner of the gift card from The Children's Place is: PsychMamma!

But there's still time for you to enter my Wii Fit giveaway! Get your posts written and leave me a comment on the Wii Fit giveaway post. Your post and comment deadline is 11:59 pm EST on Friday December 12. Get cracking!

08 December 2008

And Six Things That Make Me Happy

Last month, Kate gave me a Kreativ Blogger Award. (Thanks, Kate!) Acceptance requires me to list six things that make me happy, and the past month has been full of angst and cranky and I've just not been feeling the happy. But today? For some reason, today is good - here's some of the why:

  1. We took the kiddies to the Rockettes yesterday - awesome kitsch, enjoyed by all.  I came home with many yards of mylar streamers stuffed into my bag.
  2. Across the street from Radio City, I got the perfect Christmas card picture of the girlie - and got the cards ordered last night.
  3. When I got home yesterday - not only had W. hung the lights up on the outside of the house, he was making steak and spätzle for dinner.
  4. There were soft, fragrant, clean sheets on my bed last night.
  5. The hot cider from the greenmarket this morning had a mess of sliced apples in it.
  6. The sky is blue and the sun is out even though it is bitter cold outside. 

I am supposed to pass the award along to six other blogs, but that seems to be beyond me today. Revel in the general creativity of the blogosphere!

05 December 2008

A Conundrum And TWO Giveaways

Over on my other blog (which you didn't even know I had), I've a review of something from The Children's Place, and a gift card giveaway. Click on over to Magpie Housekeeping for a chance to win.

And if you haven't yet entered my Wii Fit giveaway contest, you've got another week! Get your posts written and leave me a comment on the Wii Fit giveaway post.

04 December 2008

One Word

Tagged by: Eva

  • Where is your cell phone? Desk
  • Where is your significant other? Work
  • Your hair color? Blonde
  • Your mother? Sick
  • Your father? Traveling
  • Your favorite thing? Reading
  • Your dream last night? Evanescent
  • Your goal? Freedom
  • The room you’re in? Cubicle
  • Your hobby? Craftiness
  • Your fear? Cancer
  • Where do you want to be in six years? Home
  • Where were you last night? Home
  • What you’re not? Girly
  • One of your wish-list items? MiniCooper
  • Where you grew up? Suburbs
  • The last thing you did? Lunch
  • What are you wearing? Jeans
  • Your TV? Off
  • Your pet? None
  • Your computer? MacBook
  • Your mood? Adequate
  • Missing someone? Yes
  • Your car? Saab
  • Something you’re not wearing? Necklace
  • Favorite store? Muji
  • Your summer? Beach
  • Love someone? Yes
  • Your favorite color? Blue
  • When is the last time you laughed? Earlier
  • Last time you cried? Yesterday

Tagging: Nobody

03 December 2008

Birthing Babies

My sister and I watched The Business of Being Born the other night. Between us, we've had two C-sections and two vaginal births (one of the former for me, the rest for her), and we're both busy firing off information to our pregnant sister-in-law, who is planning to use a midwife for her delivery. I like to think that we are reasonably enlightened women with a pretty good sense of the choices involved in pregnancy and delivery, but man, some of the statistics in that documentary are hair-raising.

  • Among 33 industrialized nations, the United States [has] the second worst newborn death rate in the developed world.
  • In the five countries with the lowest infant mortality rates -- Japan, Singapore, Sweden, Finland and Norway – midwives were used as their main source of care for 70 percent of the birthing mothers.
  • Cesarean section is the most commonly performed surgery in the US, at a cost of $14 billion per year.
  • Cesarean-delivery rates are now at an all time high in the United States, standing at 1.2 million, or 29.1 percent of live births in 2004. The increase represents a 40 percent increase in the past 10 years. (In 1970 the rate was 5.5%) In several New York City-area hospitals, the Cesarean-delivery rate is even higher – over 40%.
  • In one 1999 survey, 82% of physicians said they performed a C-section to avoid a negligence claim.
  • Overall, the cesarean section rate for hospitals with nurse-midwifery services was about 13 percent lower than the average cesarean rate for all hospitals.
  • Complications from cesarean surgery and anesthesia [are] the leading causes of maternal death in developed countries, including the United States.

The gist of the documentary is that women in the United States don't make informed choices about their births and that one simple medical intervention (induction) tends to lead to another (pitocin) and another (epidural) and so forth until the doctor says "we must do a C-section for the health of the baby".

I had that kind of interventionist birth, and I'm torn between rationalizing it as justified and wondering if it was avoidable.  I was induced a couple of weeks before my due date because I'd had a couple of bleeding episodes.  Inexorably, the one thing led to another and another, and then I was being wheeled down the hall for the C-section.  Did it have to happen that way?  I just don't know, and that's not the end of it. After the baby was out, I had a post-partum hemorrhage which nearly necessitated a hysterectomy. If I'd had a vaginal birth, and the uterus had done its thing, would that hemorrhage have still happened? Or not? If I'd hemorrhaged after a vaginal birth and not been in the OR, then what?

Halfway through the movie, my OB turned up. Yes, the very woman who cut me open and delivered my baby is interviewed in The Business of Being Born. She comes off squarely in the anti-home birth camp, but she does redeem herself when she says "the risks of a vaginal delivery are much less than a C-section and what most people don’t know is a C-section is major surgery."  Hell yeah, it's major surgery - and apparently it's often unnecessary major surgery.  

The whole thing almost makes me want to run off and become a midwife. But in order to become a midwife, I'd have to become a nurse, and before I can start nursing school, I'd have to do undergraduate work in microbiology and anatomy and statistics and psychology and I just don't think I've got that in me.

Instead, I'll suggest that all women of childbearing age watch The Business of Being Born and/or read Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth and make an informed decision. Please.

(Note - all those bulleted stats come from the press materials posted on the movie's website.)

02 December 2008


In case you’re wondering, the shark in Jaws

is the cousin of Bruce in Finding Nemo.

And yes, this means that my husband was watching Jaws with our child. Oy.

01 December 2008

Working on Your New Year's Resolutions Yet?

Every year, I make the same three new year's resolutions:

  1. Eat less
  2. Exercise more
  3. Dress better

And every year, I really don't do anything about anything. Because, I like to eat good food, I don't have time to exercise beyond hiking up and down the hill to the train station, and I really like wearing jeans every day. It's my uniform.

Long ago, I had time to exercise. I rowed crew in college (exhilarating) and I've dabbled in running (boring). My favorite exercise ever was taking ballet class. When we were in the city, we lived near the 92nd Street Y, which has a nice dance program for adults. What gave me the courage to take the class was that they ran the program on a semester basis, so there was always a starting point. Prior to taking that class, I'd been chicken - there are lots of places to take class in NYC, every single day, but they run as open classes and to dive in as an adult beginner takes balls. Anyway, I took class at the Y for three or four years, once or twice a week.

Ballet is great for the body, but it's almost as terrific for the head. For an hour and a half, you're standing there trying to make your foot go in the right direction. There is no way you can think about anything else, like your mother or your crazy boss or what to have for dinner. Your foot. That's it. I used to tell people that I was taking ballet class in lieu of seeing a shrink; it was that good for the head.

Alas, I changed jobs - ironically, to work at a ballet company - and I could no longer get out of the office early enough to get to a 6:30 class. And then I had a baby, and then we left the city, and...

Yeah. No exercise, other than that hiking up and down the hill and occasional sweaty bouts of weeding.

I'm hoping this year will be different. Last summer, at the BlogHer conference, I was intrigued by the Wii Fit set-ups though I never actually tried one, because frankly it looked like a fun way to get moving without leaving the house. So I was secretly thrilled to get an email a few weeks ago from a Nintendo person, asking if I wanted to have a Wii Fit party at my house and give away a Wii Fit on the blog. Honestly, what on earth were they thinking? Do they think I run with people like Jenny The Bloggess? I wish. But I digress.

Next week, a bunch of friends and the Wii Fit ladies are descending on my little house - I'll tell you all about it afterwards. In the meantime, do you want to win a Wii Fit package – including a Wii console and Wii Fit game and balance board? Here's how:

Post a tale of fitness on your own blog – a good story, a funny one, something embarrassing – your choice. Include a link back to this post and mention that you're trying to win a Wii Fit – and how that Wii Fit is going to change your life. Come back and comment with the link to your post, because if you don't comment with your link, I won't know that you're playing. If you haven't got a blog (and why is it that you don't?), leave your exercise tale in the comments along with your heartfelt and moving description of how the Wii Fit is going to solve all of your New Year's resolutions when you win it. Whatever you do, make sure I can find your email address, because I'll need to contact you when we pick a winner! The package will be shipped from Nintendo, not from me, so I'll have to forward your name & address & phone number to them. Your post and comment deadline is 11:59 pm EST on Friday December 12. My crack team of readers will read your entry and we'll pick the most charming and genuine post that follows all the rules, resorting to a random number generator only if we get totally stymied. The winner will be announced on Monday December 15.

What are you waiting for?

28 November 2008

Repurposed > Hats & Blankets

So last weekend, while I was at my mother's house and casting about for things with which to occupy myself, I found myself raiding a drawer of tee-shirts to turn them into hats for babies in Haiti. I swear, there must be two hundred tee-shirts in her house - but that I had the time to cut and sew more.

Two tee-shirts, a red one and a yellow one, became four little baby hats - one yellow, one red, and two half and half. But then, the remaining pieces of the shirts cried out to me, "you can't throw us out!", so with a rolling cutter (a genius device if ever there were one), I cut out a mess of 5" squares, sewed them together, backed it with a piece of a flannel sheet, and tied it with red embroidery thread. Ta da!

You may notice that there's some blue & white striped fabric in that there quilt, but no matching hats. Well, that's because the first two hats I tried, using a blue & white polo shirt, were a complete disaster because I failed the cardinal rule of sewing: I sewed the right side to the wrong side. And since it's a jersey knit, it was just impossible to rip the seam so I gave up.

Today, the hats and quilt are going in the mail to Maine, and from there they'll be packed up to be sent to Haiti, to be included in Safe Birthing Kits. These kits - consisting of plastic sheeting, hand sanitizer, a sterile piece of string and razor blade, and these newborn baby caps - have the potential to reduce infant and maternal mortality, and give babies a safer, healthier start.

There is something inordinately gratifying about repurposing a tee-shirt to help make the world a slightly better place.

(crossposted at Did You Buy That New?)

26 November 2008

Wordless Wednesday: Apple Pie

Proud mama reporting back from the first kindergarten parent teacher conference. Just today, for the first time, she wrote two words all by herself:


Oh, and that isn't a picture of a sleeping dragon - it's the side view of a pie in a blue pie dish - that's the crust along the top edge.

I think I have to make an apple pie tomorrow?

Also, she's not a psychopathic serial killer - I started by asking that and the teacher laughed merrily and said she thought she was a politician or lawyer in the making. Which is funny because from day one we've said she's going to be the Mayor (and yes, that was well before I got to know O The Joys, who has a Mayor of her own).

I'll shut up now. Have a lovely Thanksgiving tomorrow.

25 November 2008

No Smoking, Or ... ?

Not that I want to, in fact I've never even tried it, but you really can't smoke anywhere in New York City. My favorite sandwich shop, around the corner from my office, has a decal on the wall reminding you that you're not allowed a cigarette.

Every time I'm in there waiting for my decadent hot delicious sandwich, I ponder the sign. What I think it means is, if you light up, someone will hit you in the head with a hamburger. But the thing is? They don't sell hamburgers.

24 November 2008

Lava Girl Returns to Award a Prize!

Remember Lava Girl?

Well, I entered her in a contest and won best homemade costume.

Remember Nana Star?

Well, she's the prize. And since we already have the doll, I asked if I could give the prize away. So, if you have a smallish child who would like a charming doll whose clothes come off and who fits into the Groovy Girls clothes, leave me a comment by the end of the day on Wednesday the 26th, and I'll make a random pick.

21 November 2008

It's Christmas!

You know how our Canadian neighbors celebrate Thanksgiving six weeks before we do here in these United States of America? Well apparently they do the same with Christmas, because I came home yesterday and found a shoebox full of Canadian sweets in the mailbox, thanks to the divine Mad. I tell you, it made my day.

I had a couple of the maple cookies with my bedtime tea last night, my husband devoured a box of Smarties and found himself transported back to England as a five year old, I ate the Coffee Crisp with my coffee this morning (breakfast of champions?) and I'm looking forward to the Chicken Bones.  Candy called Chicken Bones?  Bestill my heart.  

Thank you, oh sweet and fair Canadian for spreading social justice, erudition in children's literature and treats throughout the blogosphere.

20 November 2008

Arte y pico

All week long, there have been six or seven workers on the penthouse roof of the building across the street from my office. I can't quite tell what they're doing, but it has something to do with the facade, or the iron railing, or both; they're all lined up along the railing, evenly spaced and reaching and bending pretty much simultaneously. The best part of the whole spectacle is that each one of them is in a red hooded sweatshirt. It's kind of like the seven dwarves, though I can't hear if they're whistling as they work.

An embarrassingly long time ago, Ms. Scribbletown gave me an prize, the Arte y Pico Award. It's pretty, isn't it? Here's what she said about it:

I did a little digging and discovered some rules for awarding this prize. I won’t bore you with any but the crucial piece of information: you have to pick five blogs that you consider deserve this award in terms of creativity, design, interesting material, and general contributions to the blogger community, no matter what language.

Herewith, five blogs that make me want to whistle and therefore deserve a prize.

  • For creativity, Bookmaking With Kids. If you have kids or work with kids, you'll want to go see what she's got to suggest for book arts projects with said kids.
  • For design, A Very Mary Design. She's all about the rubber cement - gluing bits of this and scraps of that together to make all sorts of charming things.
  • For interesting material, Kyla. Honestly, I don't know how she does it. But she does it with grace and strength.
  • And for general contributions to the blogger community, Mothers With Cancer and Glow In The Woods. Both are group blogs, the first focused on what you might expect, the second on "babylost mamas" - and both form community around tragic, difficult, awful circumstances.

Now what have the seven dwarves across the street have to do with the Arte y Pico? Style points for the matching sweatshirts (creativity & design) and teamwork (community).

Fragile threads we hang by. Oh well, I tried.

19 November 2008

Wordless Wednesday: My Daughter, the Rock Star

At least she's strumming with her right hand...

18 November 2008

First Glasses

I started wearing glasses when I was five, because I had amblyopia. The amblyopia - lazy eye - was treated with patches and exercises and bifocals. Imagine, bifocals on a five year old. My peers always thought my glasses were broken.

My mother has always been anti-frou frou, anti-pink, anti-rhinestones. She dressed her two girls in blue (and her boy child as well). When it came time to go get my first pair of glasses, she took me to the optician in the moderne building in the next town, where they pulled out a tray of child-sized frames. It was divided in half - rhinestone-bedecked pastel cat eyes on one side, sober-looking tortoise shell on the other. My mother picked out a pair of tortoise shell frames and proceeded to get into an argument with the optician. He insisted that "those are for boys, she can't wear those" and tried to force her to buy a pale blue number. My mother won - after all, she was paying for them.

I ended up wearing those glasses for four years - they appear in the class photos for third grade, but not fourth.

Not long ago, I found a loose photo floating around at my mother's house. In it, I'm nearly seven, my brother was four, and my sister was about a year & a half. And I'm wearing those glasses.

These days, I still wear glasses, but I've got a cunning rimless pair that disappear on my face. Over the weekend, I went to the optometrist because I felt like I couldn't see anymore. What did she recommend? Bifocals. I feel like I'm in kindergarten again.

17 November 2008

Groovy Santa

A couple of weeks ago, after the child got invitations to five birthday parties in a two week period, I thought I was being the clever parent by ordering five Groovy Girls on-line in one fell swoop. You know, to populate the gift closet.

I'm here to tell you it backfired.

On Saturday, we went to the supply to pick one out for the Sunday birthday party. We discussed the merits of each of the five, and she picked one to give away to that particular friend. Shortly thereafter, she dissolved into whining hysteria "but I want one too". Mind you she already has five or six, including the bride she'd gotten for her own birthday a week prior and the mermaid she cadged out of Daddy on a recent trip to a mall. After much carrying on, I caved and told her that if she was very good all day long, she could have one.

She lived up to her promise and I let her pick one of the four dolls at day's end. We took its tags off, she took its clothes off, everything was copacetic.

At the end of the day on Sunday, she came to me tearfully. "This is not my favorite; I want a different one." I explained that she couldn't have another one, the tags and clothes were already off of this one and that we had to save the rest for her friends who were about to have birthdays. "But this is not my favorite" she whined.  After an idle threat that I would take them all and throw them out, I told her that she could ask Santa Claus.  She ran off and got paper and pen, and after a couple of false starts (like using a piece of paper the size of an index card), and my dictation of all the letters, she produced her first letter to Santa.

And the doll who wasn't her favorite? She went to sleep clutching that one in her arms.

14 November 2008


I'm a little obsessed with recycling clothes into something new. Last year for Christmas, most of the people on my list got a felted bag made out of an old sweater.

This year, I think the little girls will get felted ponchos, inspired by something I saw at the Beehive Co-op. I haven't yet started the washing machine, but I have the sweaters to hand.

In the meantime, I've got another inspiration percolating: Hats for Haitian Babies. The October Just Posts were announced the other day by Mad, and Jen, and Su (and you should, as always, go check them out, especially because one of my posts was included). Su's post pointed me towards a project called Caps to Cap-Haitien - turning your old t-shirts into hats for newborn babies in Haiti. As soon as I have a few spare minutes, I'm pulling out the sewing machine.

This post inspired by Parent Bloggers Network and Klutz, and I approved this message.

12 November 2008

11 November 2008

How to have a really memorable day

Start by going to the dentist. Learn that the tooth you broke last week during your teaching moment with your child, when you did a compare and contrast analysis of Smarties vs. SweeTarts, is going to require a crown, to the tune of $1600.

Go to the office for forty minutes, drooling because your mouth is shot full of Novocain.

Head home so you can catch the train that will get you home in time to be at child’s school by 1:30 for birthday "story/snack".

Space out on the train and forget to get off at your stop. Take cab home from the next stop, to the tune of $15.

Go to child’s school. Read "The Gardener" and hand out Rice Krispie treats.

Drop car off at gas station, because you noticed that the inspection expired at the end of last month. Walk home.

Get a call from the mechanic, who tells you that the twelve-year old car won’t pass inspection without two new front tires. Discuss situation with husband, who says you need four new tires, to the tune of $500. Breathe a sigh of relief that he didn’t insist on high-performance tires, which would have cost twice as much.

Go to a last minute appointment with the gynecologist because you’ve had your period for two weeks. Sit in the waiting room for half an hour, irritated because there is neither phone service nor internet access.

Grit your teeth through an endometrial biopsy, because the gynecologist wants to see if there’s anything amiss with the lining of the uterus. Be calm when the scheduler says you can get a pelvic sonogram appointment in a month, even though the gynecologist wants it done within the week. Grit your teeth through a blood draw by a phlebotomist who can’t find a vein.

Pick up child. Pick up husband. Pick up prescription.

Decide to go out to dinner with child, even though there’s really no need to spend any more money and there are leftovers, because it is her birthday after all. Arrive at restaurant and find most of the tables lined up into a table for 30 for someone else’s birthday party. Order a scotch on the rocks because it’s been a long day. Have heart sink when the birthday party guests turn out to be eight years old, because 30 eight year olds? Make a lot of noise.

Go home. Give child her presents.

Go to bed at 7:30.

10 November 2008

Birthday Girl

My girlie turns five at 5:36 this afternoon. When I asked her what kind of birthday party she wanted, she said "I want a surprise party." Um, okay.

So I sent out invitations to a "surprise party", arranged for her to spend the afternoon at her grandparent's house, and proceeded to obsess about the party without actually doing any preparations. But in the 24 hours before the screaming children arrived, we pulled it together.

I liked the idea of a party game called "Clean Up Your Room" which involves dividing up the players and having them throw socks at one another, so I got twenty pairs of socks at H&M (wonderful socks, sold cheap by the five-pack), figuring that the socks would be fine party favors. In fact, we never did play the game, but every little girl went home with two pairs of new socks. (I think I get a prize for the queerest party favors ever.)

I scratched my Smitten Kitchen itch, and made four of her recipes that I've had bookmarked (the cake, two kinds of cookies, and a squash/onion galette). We made a mess of sandwiches for kids (jelly, peanut butter & jelly, cheese) and adults (ham), along with a potato frittata (so there was something for the gluten-free friend). Drinks on hand were cider, seltzer, milk and red wine (you know, for the grown-ups).

The children (and their adults) arrived promptly at four, ran screaming around the house (well, the kids did, anyway), and then quieted down and hid in the living room when Mir was approaching the house. When she came in, they mobbed her - it was a sight to behold (she's the tall blonde with her eyes shut, and the party favor socks are in the bowl on the right).

They ran around the house, hid in her closet (I found six girls in the small closet at one point), played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey (with the inflatable donkey my husband brought home from the party store - who knew such a thing existed?), ate cookies, opened presents (yes, I'm a fan of public present opening, it's chaotic, but the little girls seemed to love the giving) and finally blew out the candles on the strawberry pink lady cake with cream cheese icing. I tell you, that cake is something else. I think it's one of the best cakes I've ever made.

Finally all the children went home, and I had a glass of wine.

Verdict? Fun.

Most hair raising present? Mermaid Barbie. Yup. Barbie has entered my house by means of her flipping flapping tail.

Most entertaining present? The eensy digital camera that came with a scrapbooking kit. The child has been taking pictures left and right, and they are art. Art, I tell you. The thing has no viewfinder, no flash, no focus, no nothing, and she's just shooting at everything - posing the dolls, posing the Barbie, posing the Daddy. Of course, the thing doesn't work with a Mac, so we had to download the pictures to Daddy's work laptop, not very kid-friendly or anything, but the pictures we did rescue? Priceless.

That's Mermaid Barbie, leaning against the dish drainer full of glasses. Art, right?

07 November 2008

Friday Funny

Yesterday morning, the child woke up and the first words out of her mouth were "What for you bury me in the cold, cold ground?" It still makes me laugh. She says it with an accent, just like the Tasmanian Devil does. Do your kids watch Looney Tunes? They should. Here's Devil May Hare:

If that doesn't do it for you and you need bloggity funny, go read I Need a Martini Mom, a post that I nominated for an October ROFL award.

And if that's not funny? Tell me a joke, 'cause I'm out of funny.

06 November 2008


Her spark is gone.  She’s a weakened shell of a person, sitting in a wheelchair, no longer complaining about the profligate use of paper towels under her roof, or the stains on the living room carpet.  Disinterested in eating much other than toast, perhaps because toast is what she remembers to ask for.  She’s always cold now, this woman who for years hasn’t had the thermostat above 60° in the winter.  And she sleeps.  For a while, she’d claim to be awake with her eyes closed – no longer.

It’s harder and harder to get her up and out of bed – besides being weak, she’s lost some ability to control her legs, and a fall the other day reinjured the ankle she’d sprained last spring.  It wasn’t even much of a fall – just a gradual guided sinking to the floor between the bed and the wheelchair – but her ankle seems to have been twisted and now it hurts.  

Fortunately, she’s not otherwise in pain.  For whatever reason, the cancer, untreated for quite some time now, is not manifesting itself via pain.  Oh it’s there, we know it’s there, it doesn’t just disappear, but it’s not hurting her, not physically anyway.  

I wonder what she knows.  She hasn’t recently said "I don’t know how much longer I’ll need to be in this hospital bed", but when she did say it, not so long ago?  She was planning to get better and move back upstairs into her own bed.  I honestly don’t know if she knows that she’s dying.  How does one know?

04 November 2008


I voted this morning. I took the girlie into the booth with me and she helped me pull the big red lever to close the curtains. We clicked the little levers, none of this electronic stuff where we live, no sir, thank you very much, pulled the big red lever again to record the vote, and exited, blinking into the sunshine.

I was the 130th voter in my district. When we arrived at around 7:45am, there were about 10 people on line, and it didn't take long to get finished. The press corps dramatically outnumbered the voters. There were satellite trucks outside, still and video camera crews, print reporters. They were all awaiting the Clintons, but to fill out their stories and pass the time, they were interviewing people on the way out. I talked to an AP reporter, and was interviewed on camera by a local TV station. The TV station wanted to know if I'd been a Clinton supporter; the AP reporter asked if I was going to be able to accept whichever candidate won. It's a curious question - I'm not going to like it if McCain wins, but I won't have any choice about "accepting" it.

My mother voted several weeks ago, and I am relieved to report that she is alive (though not well) today. My relief stems from the fact that I helped her with her absentee ballot, and stamped and mailed it for her. At the time, it crossed my mind that she could well-nigh no longer be amongst the living come Election Day. In that case, I wondered, would her ballot still be valid? But who would know, besides me? Would it have been incumbent upon me to report her demise to the Board of Elections? It is a conundrum, a predicament which I am glad to have avoided.

Interestingly, the answer to this puzzle is dependent on the state in which you live* even though the Federal Help America Vote Act dictates "minimum election administration standards" and includes a mandate that election officials "shall perform list maintenance with respect to the computerized list on a regular basis" by coordinating with State agency records of deaths and felonies. That would seem to dictate the disenfranchisement of dead voters. Except in Florida. Ah, Florida.

Anyway. Clearly I'm not the only person who wonders about these things. Here's a cartoon that was in last week's New Yorker.

Did you vote? What are you waiting for?

*If you want to read more about dead voters, check these articles at USA Today and Slate and WCIV.

03 November 2008

Sorting Moky's Books

I find myself staring at the bookcases everywhere. The past several times I've been to see my mother, I've distractedly perused the books lining the living room, where she lives these days. Finally, I started pulling things off the shelf, stacking and restacking, looking for just the right sequence. I showed some of my "drafts" to my mother - she thought I was trying to sort the books with some content-driven rationale. Ah but no, it's just the titles we're interested in here, with a little attention to the design of the spine - the title must run the long way, not crosswise.

Somehow, the earnest "Towards a New Psychology of Women" led down one dreadful path.

And "This Thing Called Love" comes to no good end.

I tell you, it's like eating peanuts.

02 November 2008

Bat Out Of Hell

Here’s the thing about meatloaf – it doesn’t need a recipe, it needs an attitude. Yeah, you need some meat, but everything else is mutable.

Start with an onion. Whack it up and toss it in a pan with some fat – olive oil, butter, bacon fat. You choose. Sweat the onion until it’s soft, maybe a little golden. Try not to burn it; you’ll just have to scrub the pan. You really object to onion? Skip it. You’ve got scallions or shallots or garlic? Sure, use ‘em.

Use whatever ground meat you like – beef, turkey, pork, veal. I like a mixture of beef and turkey. 1 ½ to 2 pounds of meat will work in a regular loaf pan. You need some starch to bulk it up – use oatmeal, bread crumbs, crushed crackers, leftover rice. I freeze the bread crusts that my diva daughter rejects – “it’s too crunchy!” – and buzz them in the blender for tossing in a meatloaf. Recycling, you know.

Now comes the fun part. Open the fridge and cast your eye upon the myriad odd jars and leftovers. Ketchup is a natural, but why not replace the ketchup with chutney? Or duck sauce from the Chinese takeout. Mustard’s good, either prepared or dry. I like a bit of sautéed chopped greens – spinach, braising mix, swiss chard. Or a handful of chopped fresh parsley. Oh, look at that! Baba ganoush! In it goes. You got an egg? Toss that in. Don’t forget some salt and pepper.

Work all the ingredients together with your fingers, fling it in a loaf pan, and bake it for a while. Yum.

The basic premise is meat + starch + flavorful wet stuff = good mixture for divine meatloaf. Be brave! How can it go wrong?

(And you thought this was going to be about Meat Loaf...)

31 October 2008

Introducing Lava Girl!

I asked her what she wanted to be for Halloween. She said "Lava Girl". Behold the transformation of one suburban kindergartener into Lava Girl: Superhero with Super Powers!

By the end of the evening, she'd fallen down and ripped a hole in her tights, the fusing had failed causing the "L" to go missing, and the superhero crashed into her bed following a surfeit of Smarties.

The fusing failure not withstanding, and not to toot my own horn or anything, I think it wins a prize for best handmade costume. It certainly took enough hours of slaving over a hot iron, sewing seams at midnight, and figuring out how to improvise boning. Next year? Maybe I'll buy something.

(This post partially inspired by Parent Bloggers Network and Blurb - a really cool site where you can make your own books - and I approve this message.)

Obama for Pumpkin

Yup. Carved the Obama logo into my pumpkin, inspired by Yes We Carve.

30 October 2008

Playing the Flute

In my home town, most kids started playing an instrument in elementary school, in fourth or fifth grade.  My mother wanted me to excel at the piano, so she didn't let me start a band instrument with my peers.  Finally, in seventh grade (in junior high school), she relented and I started flute lessons. I continued with piano lessons until eleventh grade, but I did much better with the flute.  I ended up as a music major in college, performed a senior recital, and spent the summer after graduation at a conservatory in France. And then, for all intents and purposes, I dropped it. I’ve hardly played at all in the past 25 years. But unlike the piano, I could actually pick up the flute again, and someday I will.

And I just have to say that even today, with no chops, I could do better than Sarah Palin did in the talent piece of her pageant.  Oy.  She should have been a toe dancer.