Friday, December 28, 2007

Birthday Girl

laughing at us for thinking a book would help...

playing dress-up (still a favorite occupation)

sleeping (not a favorite occupation for many years, but she's good at it now)

first school picture

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Mariah was almost born in 1990. We thought she would be; everyone said so. Her due date was January 8, then it was January 5 (I never understood why it changed, but it did), and everyone said first babies were late, and we were heartily sick of the 80s (the ME Decade, right?), so we thought that was fine. (Later we realized about the tax deduction, but that was later.)

So 18 years ago today, I went to the doctor for my 38th-week of pregnancy checkup. I'd had my appendix out at about 29 weeks and had been briefly reclassified as a "high risk" pregnancy, but I'd healed nicely and was back with my regular doctor at the regular time. He checked me out and all was well. He left the room at one point--maybe the checkup was over and I was supposed to be getting dressed? I don't remember--and when I stood up my water broke.

And that was that. Someone got some towels, someone else got a wheelchair, and I was headed to the OB ward to have a baby. Never mind that I wasn't in labor; this was a big fancy teaching hospital and they didn't let people break their water on their premises and then just leave. (The doctor was a resident who saw me in the family clinic in the basement of the hospital--and yes, it was just as nice as that implies. Still, for grad student health care, it was pretty plush.) I was whisked through the emergency room and up to wait. We made a few phone calls, noted that OB was a nicer place when you weren't there for an emergency appendectomy, and waited some more.

And about 15 hours, plenty of drugs, and one blown-up surgical glove later (Mark drew a face on it to amuse me), Mariah arrived. And tomorrow she'll register to vote.

Happy (Almost) Birthday, Mariah! Welcome to adulthood!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


This was before: the tree, the presents, the coffee cake on the table. Pajamas until noon, a slow start and lots of oohs and aahs as we moved through the packages, one by one by one.After, it's quiet. There are boxes strewn on the floor, still, but the presents are in neat stacks or have already been carried up to bedrooms, the study, the dining room. Nick has finished one book; I've got songs loaded onto my shiny new iPod nano. Mark made it out for a Christmas day paddle, enjoying the peace out on the river. Dinner was quiet, just the four of us, and it was Thanksgiving redux since we weren't here for Thanksgiving and missed out on the leftovers. Then in the evening we participated in a local tradition : a showing of It's a Wonderful Life on the big screen, preceded by a Christmas carol singalong accompanied by the mighty Wurlitzer organ. Hipsters and grandparents, middle-aged couples and teenagers, sat side by side and sang along to "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph," and then sat quietly, rapt, through Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed on the big screen. (OK, I did hear a baby or two being carried out screaming, but most of us were quiet.)

Today has been rainy and gray but it brought a lunch with friends, a babysitting gig, a tae kwon do class--easing back into normal life bit by bit, but still relishing the break. It's good to pause.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2007


I mentioned these cookies last year and made them again on Wednesday; they are quick, easy, and tasty, and they have the added advantage of using up the three egg whites left over from making the basic butter cookie dough that is the basis of both mocha butter balls and jelly bowl cookies. (I've also tried the raspberry hazelnut triangles, which are a lot of work but very tasty.) I've altered this recipe somewhat from Donna Hay's original (in Modern Classics 2), mostly because of the size of the bag of almonds I had--it seems pretty flexible, really.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine in the food processor:
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 10 oz. bag of blanched almonds (about two cups)

Process these two until the almonds are roughly chopped, then add:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 egg whites
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Process until the mixture starts to clump up on the blade. Roll the mixture into small balls (about walnut-sized) and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Flatten the balls slightly. Bake for 13 minutes or until the cookies are starting to firm up and brown on the bottom.

The recipe should make about 3 dozen cookies, maybe a few more. They are chewy and quite sweet, and I'm thinking about cutting the sugar by about 1/4 cup next time, though they are great as is dipped in coffee.

Friday, December 21, 2007

more baking

A couple of days ago someone sent me an e-mail holiday recipe exchange. I love getting recipes, and I almost always play along when someone tags me for these. This one was easy--I sent along the spice cookies recipe that I always bake this time of year. In searching for it, I came across my holiday baking list from last year, which reminded me of several other things I wanted to bake. I haven't yet reached last year's heights, but so far I've baked (and given away) both brownies and espresso cookies, and then gone on to bake spice cookies (of course!), jelly bowls, amaretti, bourbon balls (my recipe came from the Joy of Cooking, but this is exactly the same), and parmesan shortbread (ooh, a ringer! and a savory one at that!). I also have the beginnings of speculatius and mocha butter balls ready--one needs to chill, the other to come back up to room temperature, before I can do anything else. I'm also planning a few more--probably pumpkin rocks again, and biscotti, and maybe some good old chocolate chip cookie bars. And then I think I'll be done; I'll let you know the count when it's all over.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Time to bake

I made brownies and espresso cookies yesterday to give to Nick's teachers. (Yes, the brownies were still warm when I put them on the plates, but they were done!) I put crushed-up candy canes in the brownies and they are delightfully fudgy and pepperminty--why have I never done this before?

Then before breakfast (!) I had a batch of spice cookies in the oven. I've got lots to do around the house and it's easier to clean when the house smells like cookies. Or that's the theory. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Shifting Focus

So it really wasn't that bad a day yesterday. The computer, modem, and router are actually not broken, for example, even though it took six hours, eight phone calls (two to India), and much hair-pulling to determine that. Here was the dialogue at one point:

[Me]: But everything worked yesterday with the set-up I had. Why are you telling me to change it today?
[Him]: Well, sometimes things just don't work any more.
[Me]: OK, but then why would changing the settings help?
[Him]: The settings you had shouldn't have worked. These are the right settings.
[Me]: Even though the old settings worked yesterday.
[Him]: Yes.
[Me, tearing my hair out, ready to slam the phone down]: Well, thanks, then, I guess.

Actually the old settings were the right ones. The new ones caused all kinds of problems. But they are, um [knock wood], fixed now.

Moving along. It is also a good thing that the new couch for the study/guest room was delivered, so I will ignore the fact that we have not yet moved the futon out of the room and that therefore the study (where I spend most of my time these days) is both crowded and somewhat dingy-looking. I will assume that the new couch will look fabulous in here once things are cleaned up.

It's also a good thing that I didn't have to drive to Petersburg yesterday to deliver a choir dress to Mariah. She called soon after arriving at school to say she needed it for an unexpected performance, so I went and found it in the laundry basket (no comment), along with appropriate shoes, and readied myself for the drive, but then she called to say they decided to perform in street clothes instead. Thus I was able to spend that time talking on the phone to people in India. Let's not discuss which was more satisfying.

It's a very good thing that we had choir rehearsal last night, always a high point in my week, and even more that we went just before rehearsal, a small group of us, to sing at the convalescent center where one of our members (along with his wife) is recovering from a devastating car accident. They--and others who gathered when they heard the music--were so appreciative, it made the singing really matter.

As I said, really not a bad day at all. It's just a matter of perspective.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Photo Meme

Sam tagged me for this, and I was going to do it, and then I had computer problems, and they lasted all morning long. And into some of the afternoon. And in the end when everything was undone that had been done all morning long, everything worked again (I am just keeping quiet and crossing my fingers about that) and none of the chores I meant to do are done but I do have time for this. So here it is.

The idea is to post the first thing (or one of the first things) that comes up in a google image search when you search for the listed item.

1. My age at my next birthday2. Where I'd like to travel

3. My favorite place (one of them, anyway)
4. My favorite objects (yes, I got books and yarn into one picture)

5. My favorite food(s)
6. My favorite color
7. My nickname

8. Where I was born
If this seems like fun, consider yourself tagged!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Another column

Although last week's snow is long gone, and it's warm and sunny out today (disconcertingly so!), I have still been thinking about Christmas and books...

Christmases in my family have always involved books. The packages telegraph their contents by their solid heft and neat rectangles--even the sloppiest wrapper can make a book look good under the Christmas tree. But just as Christmas often involves books, many books--both Christmas-themed and otherwise--also involve Christmas. My own list of "Christmas books" is idiosyncratic, no doubt; I recall not only the charming tales of happy families but also the clear-eyed evocations of loss and ambivalence. Together they make up my own personal Christmas reading list.

read the rest here...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Was it something I wrote?

Yesterday I was all about fall. Today, not so much.

Looking down from the balcony off my study:

Looking up from the backyard:

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

global weirding*

They may have canceled fall in New York**, but here in Virginia it's still going strong. In fact in many ways this was the most fall-like fall I remember spending here. It didn't start until November, which was a bit odd (October, as I remember it, we bounced around between summer temperatures and winter ones), but once it hit, it stayed. The last of the dull red burnished leaves blew off our dogwood yesterday; down the block there is a stand of gingkos still gloriously golden (pardon the alliteration), and vibrant red ornamental maples flame out all over town. The weather is crisp and clear--it gets cold overnight, and we've had a little rain and a lot of wind. All in all, it feels like mid- to late October in New England.

The fact that it's December is, however, deeply weird.

*I read somewhere recently that this was a better description of climate change than "global warming." I can't find the source now, though.

**I would swear I read a short, funny piece in the New York Times (or maybe The New Yorker?) about how fall is now being canceled after a very long run. But I can't find that, either.

Friday, November 30, 2007


As if it weren't enough to feel guilty pretty much every time I shop--something I buy is likely to be trucked across the country, grown in an unsustainable manner, or bad for me--now I have to worry that even the "good" things are also bad. Still, I appreciated the tips here on figuring out what's really "eco-friendly" and what isn't. And I'm trying to remind myself that doing one thing better is better than none, so I'm trying to let go of the guilt and just be grateful that I have choices.

Today I bought some of this organic chocolate (yes, because I had read about it). I don't know if it was a good choice or a bad one, but it will be tasty, I'm sure. And I bought it from a small locally-owned store.

(I know I saw the "Six Sins of Greenwashing" on someone else's blog, but I can no longer remember whose...)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

quick update

My laptop is back and all is well. No data lost, no (visible) problems.

(And now, another resolution to be better about backing up. I've been so lucky--knock wood!--with my laptops over the years that I have become rather cavalier about it.)

Sunday, November 25, 2007


I am without laptop, which might fall under the category of things to be thankful for, or otherwise. At the moment it's feeling rather otherwise (I'm using an old slow one that doesn't have all my stuff on it, and I'm a little worried about that stuff), but I have to say, going most of the week without laptop was actually good for my back and shoulders. A fact worth remembering when the laptop returns. (I am still saying "when" and not "if.")

We are all just back from a great visit with my family--all the siblings, spouses, and kids under one roof. I think my parents survived the onslaught. They have (barely) enough room for us all--we are thirteen, plus two dogs, when we all get together--and the stove, oven, microwave, and dishwasher all held up.

I made the garlicky cranberry relish, crusts for two pies (Mom filled them: one apple, one hickory), sweet potato casserole (with hickory nuts rather than pecans), and this pear-upside-down cake (that was for Friday). And then I contributed to various other dishes; my sister and I are particularly good now at tag-teaming on whatever needs doing in the kitchen. I don't think it's bragging to say the food was great--it always is when we all get together.

And then there was some knitting, too. I finished this sweater, which has been my obsession all month--so now, I can work on Christmas knitting. I think I'll scale back a little from last year, when about half my recipients got knitted items, but I'll still work up a few things before the end of the month.

So we're home now and the laundry is already done and there was enough in the pantry to make these muffins (if you make them, cut the sugar in half, double the apples, and leave out the raisins and walnuts if your family doesn't like them), and it looks like I can manage dinner out of the pantry as well. So all in all I'm pretty thankful.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


I was away last week for a long weekend at a conference. As usual, I made a couple of calls home while I was away, checking in with everyone, but I didn't really get a chance to talk to Nick after the first night. So when I was delayed on Sunday, hanging around in the Minneapolis airport for more hours than I'd planned, I took the chance to chat with him again, knowing he'd already be sleeping when I returned home. He'd taken a tae kwon do test and finished up a science project over the weekend, so I expected to hear lots about all that. Instead I heard this--

"Mommy! Saturday morning, I made cranberry muffins from the Joy of Cooking! All by myself! They were really good and really easy."

Words to warm a mother's heart.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


(cross-posted at Lessons from the Tortoise)

Today is the birthday of Astrid Lindgren, creator of one of the most daring girls in children' s literature, Pippi Longstocking. So it seems a fitting day to be talking about the new Daring Book for Girls, by Andi Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz. (Full disclosure: I worked with Andi on Literary Mama, and, after reviewing Miriam's book for LM, have corresponded with her as well.)

My copy of The Daring Book arrived a couple of weeks ago and I put it on top of a stack of things to take care of later, as I (far too often) do. Nick (10) saw it first. "The Darling Book for Girls?" he asked. Then he corrected himself, but I thought the misreading was telling. Does he think girls are darling rather than daring? (Um, in a word--no. Not yet, anyway.)

He started flipping through it, immediately seeing the similarities to The Dangerous Book for Boys, which he received as a birthday present this year. "Hey! We didn't get instructions for how to make a volcano! Why didn't we get that?" He continued to turn pages, noting how many things "they" got to do that "we" didn't. "And why does it say 'no boys allowed' on the back? Mine doesn't say 'no girls allowed'!" He's not really one to be put off by prohibitions like that, but I was intrigued by his response. He found stuff he liked, and he didn't like being told it wasn't for him.

But then it got buried in the stack for a while and by the time I pulled it out again he was engrossed in a science project and didn't have time to check it out for a full review. So I handed it to Mariah (17) instead. She started by getting annoyed with the book. Too many games and jump-rope rhymes. "A lot of this is stuff that people think kids don't know but they do. Like, 'how to have a sleepout"?" So, it's a bit on the--perhaps unnecessarily--nostalgic side. But once she got past the games, she found a lot more to like: interesting stories about real princesses, crafts (she wants to go back and do some of those), Spanish and French vocabulary, Greek and Latin root words, more stories about interesting women..."Did you know Julia Child was a spy?" This is the kind of stuff she loves. She was a bit annoyed by the science sections--not because she doesn't like science, but because she does: "this seems like they thought, 'oh, girls don't like science, so we should put it in,' but they didn't even make it interesting! I think the periodic table of the elements is incredibly cool, but they made it boring!" So, on balance, she found things she likes and would go back to, but found the whole package a bit condescending. Well, she's 17--everything seems condescending to her. (Including, no doubt, that sentence. Sigh.)

So now both kids have had a crack at it, but I haven't even turned a page! Now, I'm a sucker for narrative, so what I go for are the stories: queens of the ancient world, unlikely spies, explorers (alas, I'm still waiting for the fascinating Isabella Bird to turn up in a book for kids...). These are all nicely done: short, readable, and intriguing.

Like Mariah, I am less fascinated by the handclap games and the jump-rope rhymes; those things really are still passed down on the playgrounds in my neighborhood, and one of the great pleasures of them is learning them from other kids, not from adults. But they take up a small enough section of the book. The page (!) on boys is blessedly sensible, and seems to take on the comparable section in the "Boys" book quite directly: while the "Boys" book starts with the premise that girls are different (because, apparently, they "do not get quite as excited by the use of urine as a secret ink as boys do"), the "Girls" book reminds girls that the generalizations they know about girls tend not to hold up, so the ones about boys are likely equally suspect. Nice work on that one, women.

Of course therein lies the essential paradox of this book: it exists only to demonstrate that it doesn't need to, trying to send the message that there's no reason girls and boys couldn't be equally daring and dangerous. I'm happy to read the message, and to shelve both books next to each other for both my kids to consult. And maybe, just maybe, we can look forward to a second, combined edition that dispenses with the particularity altogether.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Roasted Vegetable Soup

I haven't posted a recipe in a while. It's been busy, and it's also hard cooking these days with one almost-vegan in the house when everyone else is an unrepentant carnivore and certainly unwilling to give up dairy products. Sigh. Still, my most recent vegan recipe is easy, delicious, and very very healthy. (No, Nick won't eat it, but he pretty much doesn't eat soup so I don't even stress about it.)

This is so easy it's hardly a recipe. Indeed, it's hardly soup. When Mariah and I were eating it the other night we decided that it's really glorified baby food. Though no baby food I ever tasted was so delicious.

OK, here's what you do:

Preheat your oven. Somewhere around 450 is probably pretty good. You could do it lower, but then it would take longer and I am an impatient cook.

Now peel and cut into roughly 3/4 inch cubes:

2 sweet potatoes
2 white potatoes
2 large carrots
1/2 large butternut squash

(Note: I usually don't peel potatoes or sweet potatoes when I roast them, and you could certainly leave the peels on in your soup, but your puree will be considerably lumpier. You decide.)

If you don't have one of these just sub in more of another.

Spread the cubes out on two rimmed baking sheets (like a jelly-roll pan) and pour a glug of olive oil over it. (That would be 1-2 tablespoons.) Peel some garlic cloves and throw them in, too. I used about six.

Now roast your veggies until they are soft inside and brown outside. I generally set a timer for ten minutes and try to turn everything over every ten minutes; they will take 20-30 minutes in all. You don't really need to cook them all the way through, but you do want everything soft enough to puree.

If you're not sure how your eaters will respond to garlic, remove one or two of the cloves before proceeding.

In batches, puree the roasted vegetables with veggie stock. There are several very tasty organic ones on the market; I used Swanson most recently, but I also really like Kitchen Basics. If you are more ambitious than I, you will have your own home-made veggie stock for this part.

Put the pureed vegetables and stock in a large stockpot and heat gently, adding enough stock (I used five cups in all, but six or even seven would be good, too) to make it all soupy. Ladle into bowls and enjoy! You can serve six easily from this recipe, or serve three one night and then refrigerate. Add more stock when reheating and you'll get six more lunches out of it, seriously.

You can also add other vegetables at the roasting stage--onions, other kinds of squash, and mushrooms would all be tasty. I'm sure cream or butter at the final stage would be nice if you weren't serving vegans, but you really won't miss it. This is a thick, hearty soup full of all kinds of delicious nutrients.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

My ghoul

Last year Nick was this very scary headless wonder; this year he went the purchased costume route but he was still plenty scary. Unrecognizably so, in fact. He went out with a bunch of kids from the neighborhood and they were gone almost two hours before they came back, dragging their stash with them. One or two complained that they didn't think they got that much candy, but I didn't hear any complaints out of Nick. Here's what it looked like this morning, after he ate as much as he wanted* last night and put another piece in his lunchbox this morning.

*Nick is a hoarder. He ate maybe three pieces last night, maybe four; the rest he will dole out parsimonously for a few weeks, then he will forget about the rest--or hide it, and then forget about it. Around Christmastime I will throw away any I haven't eaten--unless he hides it, in which case it may take until Easter. Don't laugh--we just found this past year's untouched Easter candy!

[edited to add: handing out candy was less of a chore this year than I'd feared; there were far fewer uncostumed ones--kids or adults--and there were plenty of cute little ones in a variety of super-hero and princess costumes. I particularly liked one rainbow-wigged clown, and I was dismayed by the number of SpiderMen (boys? some were girls, too!)]

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Here we are again

Apparently every two years I blog about Hallowe'en; I'm not sure what happens in the intervening years. But I do know my feelings haven't changed much. It's not really my holiday, and I think my attitude is rubbing off on the kids. We still don't have pumpkins (they're on my list for today--think I can get them at half-price?), and Nick was so casual about his costume that it wasn't until a night or two ago that I realized he actually was expecting to go as something, not just pull a "costume" (ninja warrior, anyone? We've got the uniform!) together at the last minute. Which is why I found myself browsing the racks in Walgreen's Monday night, where I found a black grim reaper/ghoul robe for him and some face paint. So that's done. I also did actually remember to buy candy, though increasingly I don't like handing it out--after the first onslaught of cute babies in pumpkin buntings and toddlers dressed as princesses and bunnies, it devolves into teenagers without costumes and, saddest of all, uncostumed young moms pushing uncostumed babies in strollers who silently hold open a bag as if to say "this is my dinner." I always hope it isn't.

I'm also feeling slightly out of sorts because the weather has changed but the time hasn't. Does it really make a difference to energy usage for us to push the shift back to Standard Time so much later than usual? It will still be dark when the kids come in from trick-or-treating--it may already be when they go out, in fact--and it's dark in the morning when Mariah and I get up. All I know is I'm looking forward to that "extra" hour of sleep this weekend.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Reading Meme

Caroline tagged me with this a while ago and it's taken me until now to get to it. I'm too busy procrastinating drafting working on a paper to be delivered in mid-November. But I have been working through a few novels lately, so I thought I'd give you a taste of the variety of my reading lately.

First, here are the rules:
"Open the book you’re currently reading to page 161, and post the fifth sentence on the page, then think of 5 bloggers to tag."

OK. I read Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go over the weekend, but I'm including it here to prove I do, on occasion, read books for adults. Though I must say, the premise of this novel is scarily like Nancy Farmer's The House of the Scorpion, published two years earlier as a children's novel. And, for what it's worth, I bought the Ishiguro novel used at Plato's Closet, a YA hangout if there ever was one.

Here's the fifth sentence on page 161:
"Well, she never got to make that decision because of what happened next."

Also in progress, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. This one's because I have a student working on an interesting honors thesis on female orphans in children's lit. Rebecca isn't technically an orphan--her mother's living--but she fits the template my student is working with so I'm re-reading the novel.

Page 161 only has four sentences, though, so here's the fourth:
"I wish you could take things easier, child; I am fearful for you sometimes."

(Side note on Rebecca: I'm reading an old paperback I picked up used, but it is one of several books available in the Charming Classics series, packaged along with a necklace. My student and I are amused at how many of the books she's writing about are available in this series: A Little Princess, The Secret Garden (the pendant is a key), Heidi, and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, at least--there are many more in the series, though.)

I'm also slowly working my way through Little, Big again. I first read this in college, when I had a chance to interview the author by phone (one of my first bylines). It's a lovely book, and I'm not quite sure why I'm going so slowly through it this time, but doing so makes much clearer to me all the intertextual references (to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, especially) that I missed the first time through.

Page 161, sentence 5: "I mean," Doctor Drinkwater said, reappearing beside him, "that every Christmas seems to follow immediately after the last one; all the months that came between don't figure in."

Nick and I are also working our way through Daniel Pinkwater's Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars (in his Five Novels). We took a little break for the World Series, but we'll be getting back to it soon.

Page 161, sentence 5: "In Alan's case, they would be so grateful he wasn't there, they weren't likely to look into the matter."

Finally, also on my bedside (along with an ever-growing stack of New Yorker magazines) is Jane Yolen's Take Joy: A Writer's Guide to Loving the Craft. I haven't gotten very far with it yet, but I am enjoying dipping into it occasionally. Here's the fifth sentence on page 161:

"I responded: "Every time an editor wants to talk about plots and depth, they bring in the old onion." Now doesn't that make you want to read more?

As for tagging five more--Life in Scribbletown already did it, even before I did; if you're reading it here, feel free!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Finished Object

The baseball playoffs have been really good for my knitting. I finished up a baby sweater the other day that is on its way to New York for my friend Abby's new little one. This is a famous pattern, apparently--Elizabeth Zimmerman's Baby Surprise Jacket. The surprise is that it actually makes a jacket--when you're finished knitting, you have a thing that looks like, well, nothing much.

Then you do a not-terribly-complicated origami fold, sew up two seams (hint: they are across the shoulders), put on some buttons, and voila! A jacket! It really does feel a little bit like magic.

I knit this one out of sock yarn (Patons Kroy Stripes, if anyone cares) with little needles, and it's still way bigger than the pattern says it will be. Somehow I have to learn to tighten up my gauge; I knit everything bigger than the pattern. When I'm felting--or knitting for a baby, who will grow into almost any size--that's fine, but sometimes it matters. Then again, I could just keep knitting scarves, shawls, baby things, and felted stuff, and then I'll be ok.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

conscious consumer

I'm feeling very much the conscious consumer these days, especially after our car-buying episode last week. When we left off, I was about to go buy a car, in the hopes that it would be like buying an appliance. Well, it sort of was and it sort of wasn't. Here's the short version: we went to CarMax, drove three cars, and bought the last. It was a fine little car, a bit over our budget but still affordable. And then we returned it.

Here's the conscious consumer part: we chose a used car on the theory that building a new car eats up a lot of resources, so if we could find an efficient (enough) used car we'd be doing the environment a favor. Makes sense, right? Besides, the whole point of selling the last car was to reduce expenses. But because we'd spent more money than we meant to, we began to experience almost immediate buyer's remorse. And... we have a neighbor with three cars. For years Mark has been asking if he wanted to sell us one--he is a meticulous maintenance guy, so we know it would be a good car. So when the buyer's remorse hit (and it hit pretty hard, though the car did look cute parked right out in front of the house) Mark went over to ask--again--if maybe he had a car to sell. And for once, he did. Not right now, but in about a month. And for much, much less than CarMax wanted for their (to be fair) much newer car.

It felt like a sign. Or at least a big relief.

So, after two days, we took advantage of the CarMax 5-day no questions asked return policy, and returned the car. And it took about 15 minutes (plus the drive, alas!).

All in all, an interesting experiment in conscious consumerism.

Now here are the rules for the meme (you've already seen this here and here and here...I'm late to the party!):
Pick a recent shopping trip -- for clothes, shoes, groceries, doesn't matter. The only guideline is that it will be easier to play if you purchased at least a few things.

Now tell us, about your purchases:

1. What are you proud of?
2. What are you embarrassed by?
3. What do think you couldn't live without?
4. What did you most enjoy purchasing?
5. What were you most tempted by? (This last one may or may not be an actual purchase!)

This is a grocery store trip from last week. Unlike Caroline, I go to the grocery store pretty often. Sometimes almost daily. I often go early in the morning, at about 7:30, right after I drop Mariah at her bus--it's less crowded, and the day-old bakery items are worth a look. I had a grocery list with me, but as usual I bought a lot of stuff I hadn't put on the list. Here's what I brought home:

  • one box Annie's mac-n-cheese (we were gong out to dinner that night and it's a good bet for Nick when we're not home)
  • one can Bustelo decaf espresso
  • two cans full circle (local organic brand) organic black beans
  • one box full circle golden flax cereal
  • one large facial sponge
  • one reusable shopping bag
  • one box frozen crispy mini tacos
  • one package boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 3 large lemons
  • 2 packages chocolate chip bagels (thrift items)
  • 2 packages pita bread (thrift items)

So: I'm proud of the cereal. Mariah discovered recently that she likes it, and since she's experimenting with being vegan, I'm all about making sure she gets the nutrients she needs. Flax seeds provide omega-3 oils, more commonly found in fish. Yay.

I'm a little embarrassed by the reusable shopping bag, since I already have two (and two reusable bins, supplied by this very store) that I had forgotten to bring. But for a buck, I figured we could use a third one. And I am now trying to remember to store them in the car.

I couldn't live without the decaf. I love the taste of coffee but not the effects of caffeine, and this brand is relatively inexpensive and delightfully strong. Yum.

I'm not sure I enjoyed purchasing any one thing on this list more than any other. Mostly, I like going to the store in the morning. Most of the cashiers know me--by sight if not by name--and we chat a little over the thrift purchases and such and it feels a bit like home. That particular morning there was a not-too-muzaky remake of REM's "Rockville" playing, and it made me feel nostalgic.

I was tempted (this is so boring!) by various fancy face washes, and I had run out, but I didn't buy any because I wanted to check out what Mariah had. She used to inherit my castoffs (clothes, makeup, random cosmetic items) and now I inherit some of hers. Payback time!

So that's it for my conscious consumption. I'll tag anyone else who wants to play--and stay tuned, since Caroline just tagged me with a new meme!

Thursday, October 18, 2007


There's so much going on these days that I don't have time to tell anyone about it! I guess that's a good place to be, really. In case you haven't noticed, I'm blogging for a cure over on my other blog today--you can read an interview with D.B. Johnson and see a really lovely snowflake he made over there.

I've also got a new column up at Literary Mama; I'll have more to say about that over on the other blog in a couple of days.

And Caroline tagged me with the "conscious consumer" meme, and I do want to get to it, but not today. Today I think we have to go buy a car. (Yes, we sold our cute impractical car and we are about to try to buy a car as if it were just an appliance--does it work? Can we afford it? Does it clash with our stuff? Done!)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

another finished object

I've been knitting during the baseball playoffs, which I find is a very satisfying way to pass the time. I don't really have a team in it this year (sigh: biggest end-of-season collapse in history) so I don't feel compelled to watch every second, which makes for good knitting time. Mostly I'm working on a (to me) somewhat complicated lace pattern that involves actually paying attention to the knitting, but I also did a very quick knit to felt (or, technically, full), and I finished it a couple of days ago. Now it's all felted and dry and it is my new fall purse. This is the "bag of many pockets" from the book Felt Frenzy. I knitted it from Patons Soy Wool Stripes, a blend of wool and soy that I really really enjoyed--I'm delighted to discover that I have a skein leftover to play with. (The non-stripey section is Cascade 220 Heathers, a worsted-weight wool, for anyone who cares.) This only took me a couple of evenings to knit, and then twenty minutes in the washing machine to shrink it down to size. It has pockets for my cell phone, keys, and pens, and is altogether a wonderful thing.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

worrying about weight

I don't really know any women who don't on occasion worry about their weight. They weigh too much, or too little, or it's in the wrong get the picture. Add to those "normal" worries the hype about obesity and the importance of exercise, and you get a recipe for, well, anxiety at the least, and some really dangerous behavior at the other end of the spectrum.

Which is why I was so happy to see this post, and the pictures. Don't do the flickr slideshow; that won't give you the captions. Look at each picture and try to guess: is this person underweight? Overweight? Obese? "Normal"?

It's hard. Because the BMI (Body Mass Index) numbers that we have all been taught are--well, at best--misleading. Others have harsher words for them.

(I got this from Jennifer Niesslein, who has all kinds of other fun stuff on her blog today, too.)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Not that call (yet)

Mariah drove herself to school today, as she now does every now and then when she has to stay late. We prefer her to take the bus, for both environmental and economic reasons. But since school is 20 miles away, we're also glad that she can now drive herself on occasion and save us the trip when she has to stay after school for an event.

This morning, though, was her first morning back after two sick days. And she called only forty-five minutes into the school day to say she really wasn't feeling well and she'd be heading home again. After assurances that she was well enough to drive, I agreed that she could and we both hung up.

About twenty minutes later she called again, in tears. She was in a gas station not five miles away from school. The car takes diesel and this station doesn't have it, so she'd pulled in to a parking space to ask the attendant where she could get it. Only--and this took some piecing together--she'd apparently run right up onto the concrete barrier marking the end of the parking space, and in pulling back off it had pulled off some of the lower part of the bumper as well. As I say, this took some piecing together through the tears, brought on as much by her illness as the damage to the car.

After we figured out that she could probably still drive the car, and that she didn't need me to come down and rescue her, we hung up. When she got home she showed me the damage--minimal--and explained how she'd pulled the plastic housing back into place. It will need repair, true, but she'd managed to get the car back in driving shape, find and buy diesel, and drive home.

In the end it turns out to be a story of how she doesn't really need me, how she could manage on her own. I was glad to be at the other end of the phone when she called, but all I did was reassure her. I'm at the far end of the process Caroline has been documenting this fall--again and again I realize it's Mariah's turn now, that she has to take responsibility for herself, and that she can.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

wonderful world

I saw this on Neil Gaiman's blog and just had to share it. Isn't it amazing?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

blast from my past

This week's New Yorker has an amazing piece by Jerome Groopman about colic (alas, not on line). Those of you who knew us when, know we went through a rather trying time in Mariah's first months on earth. She had colic, so we all did. She cried most of the time she was awake--but particularly in the evenings--for the first nine months of her life. She slept well at night from a fairly early age (our saving grace) but the colic, oh, it was relentless. We tried rocking, swaddling, "the colic hold," dietary changes (mine), schedule changes (hers), singing, dancing, changes in environment (for a brief period we tried taking her outside when she cried--sometimes the cold air seemed to change things), and everything else we could think of. Nothing worked, or at least nothing worked reliably. If swaddling worked one night, we tried it the next to no avail. Mostly I think we did what we did for us, to make us feel as if we were helping. She cried for no reason, and when she was done she was done, but we awaited the next bout in exhausted trepidation.

Our doctor, however, informed us that "colic is when the bell curve of parent irritability intersects the bell curve of baby irritability." I invited him to our apartment any evening to witness the ridiculousness of that statement, but he didn't take me up on it. It was something of a relief, then, to find that medical researchers now study colic--some of them must actually believe in it, even if our doctor didn't. It seems from the article that as many as 25% of babies may suffer from colic, which has, according to one expert cited in the article, "no known cause and no known treatment." Babies eventually outgrow it, of course, but to me the heartbreaking part of the article comes in the speculations about the long-term effects: sleep disorders, for example, seem more frequent in kids who have been colicky babies (check!). As for the effects on family life, well, let's just say Mariah's colic wasn't as bad as some documented in the article, but I have no problem believing that "the parents of colicky babies were found to be more dissatisfied with family life . . . than parents of children who had not had colic."

Colic is well in our past these days. We have two fabulous children who delight and astonish us daily. But reading this article put me right back in that place of helpless new parenting, when I first learned that I couldn't make everything right for my daughter no matter how much I wanted to, no matter how hard I tried. That's not a bad lesson to learn, of course--but reading this article reminded me of how hard it was to learn it so early, in quite that way.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Queen of the Allen Wrench

Just in case two desks weren't enough I built a chair that came in a box today.

I think I'm done for a while.

Finished Objects

I built two desks yesterday. They came in large flat boxes from Target and they had instructions like this: "Attach the two support posts (D) to top side of the top board (E), making sure the small sheets with holes which on top of the post should be facing toward the back side as shown."


Mark said, 'This must be hard for you--you're so text based. I just look at the drawings and figure it out."

But the drawings showed the "small sheets" (if that's what they were) pointing, um, right. Or maybe left. I get a little confused "reading" pictures.

Nonetheless the desks are built--I triumphed! And once I get the remnants of the boxes off the floor I may even be able to arrange the room.

In other news, I finished a knitting project the other day. It has instructions like "*ssk, yo, repeat from * to last stitch," which make perfect sense to me.

Book Giveaway

I'm giving away a book over on the other blog. Take a look!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Twenty Years

Twenty years ago today I was in Montreal, on the first leg of our fabulous honeymoon. So, yes, yesterday was our twentieth anniversary.

On our first anniversary, we were preparing for the new year of school. We'd both finally passed our master's exams.

On our second anniversary, I was five months pregnant and preparing for my orals.

On our fifth anniversary, I was preparing to file my dissertation and start my first full-time job.

On our tenth anniversary, I was brain-dead and sleep-deprived with month-old baby Nick.

On our fifteenth anniversary, we were just back from a California vacation and starting in on a busy semester.

And yesterday, the convertible top (just out of warranty)* refused to go up without breaking a part, but we still managed to go out to dinner and celebrate another good year. Whew!

*the guy at the dealer says since it's just four days over warranty and we've got low miles he'll put it in as warranty service. Happy Anniversary!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

MotherTalk Blog Tour: The Little Black Book of Style

When MotherTalk offered me the opportunity to read and talk about The Little Black Book of Style (Nina Garcia, 2007), I jumped at the chance. After all, I could use an infusion of style. One might charitably term my own style "early absent-minded professor" or "mom who knits" or "at least she tries." I shop at thrift stores and Target, hitting the major department stores for sales and Banana Republic when they send me a coupon. While I think usually I don't embarrass myself, it's not like I don't have fantasies of Clinton and Stacy coming in to clean up my look. So I hoped Nina Garcia--fashion director for Elle magazine and a judge on Project Runway--would be able to help me.

I felt all stylish just carrying the book around, I have to confess. While much of the advice in it is fairly run-of-the-mill--invest in classics, be comfortable in your own skin, don't be afraid to mix it up--there are some entertaining extras as well. I particularly enjoyed the interviews with fashion icons (many of whom are unfamiliar to me) in the back. While I'm not going to take Michael Kors's advice about what to wear on a plane (a black cashmere turtleneck and white jeans? Not this mom!), I'm amused by his certainty. Did you know that the one item all women should own is brown crocodile stiletto pumps? There it is, on page 110.

In other words, this book offers me a fantasy escape into another world. I'm not actually going to build my wardrobe around crisp white men's shirts, no matter how great they look on Uma Thurman or Audrey Hepburn--I'm too messy, I won't iron, and I'm comfortable in my more rumpled skin. But I like imagining the life I might lead in these clothes, the little black dresses (ok, I do have one or two of those), the ballet flats and four-inch heels (in size ten? and with these knees?), the great bags.

Is this a book mothers can embrace? Sure, if you don't take it too seriously. And here I think Garcia helps you out, because she keeps reminding her readers that this isn't about fashion, about fitting in, about making all the right choices--it's about having fun and being comfortable. Style is more accessible, perhaps more democratic, these days than it's ever been: with Mizrahi designing for Target and Vera Wang for Kohl's, runway looks make it down-market pretty quickly. Garcia tries to help you sort all that out. She doesn't substitute for Stacy and Clinton: the book is very short on specific advice for specific issues (what to wear if you're pregnant, or larger-than-average, or really petite, for example), preferring to focus on general guidelines. But it's a quick, fun read, more helpful and less time-bound than a fashion magazine. The movie and music connections are entertaining, and the decade-by-decade walk through twentieth-century fashion helped me recognize that a couple of good things besides my lovely daughter came out of the 80s. I'm not sure the book will change my style, but it was fun to imagine how it could.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Back to School

So it's the Tuesday after Labor Day, back to school day here where we live. Of course Mark went back to school over a week ago, and if I weren't on sabbatical I would have gone back last Monday; fall starts slowly around here. But I put Mariah on her bus at 7 and took Nick into his classroom at 9 this morning, so it really is back-to-school day. Both kids are in their last year at their respective schools. As I was walking Nick in this morning, a woman I know who lives in the neighborhood (whose son is Mariah's age) called out to me, "Aren't you ever leaving this school?" Her kids are in middle and high school, but here I am still walking into the elementary school. Indeed, I've been a parent at this school for 12 years now, ever since Mariah was in kindergarten. Nick started pre-K there the year she started middle school, so they never went to the same school but we haven't had a break, either.

Not that we wanted one. It's been a great elementary school for both kids. If not every teacher was fabulous, still the kids have done fine and over all we've been satisfied. The only teacher both kids had was their fourth grade teacher, and she was wonderful. So were both second grade teachers, one third, one first . . . and so on. In fifth grade, the kids have a "homeroom" but they move around a bit, in preparation for middle school. (They've been switching for math and, last year, science, since third grade anyway.)

Nick's class seemed smaller today when I dropped him off. I know there are fewer fifth grade classes than there were fourth grades--parents start fleeing the elementary schools a year early in the hopes of heading off middle-school woes. So several of Nick's friends won't be around this year, and we're sad about that. Still, he was eager to get started and seemed happy to see old friends when he got in this morning.

Mariah's last year of high school will, of course, involve the college search. We spent so much time thinking about college this summer that right now high school feels like a little bit of a let-down to her. I'm hoping that changes as her classes get started and she settles back into her various activities.

In the meantime I need to put these hours to good use. I have 11-1/2 months of my sabbatical left, and so far it's been slow going. Time to get into gear now.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


After a week away at a wonderful conference in Kyoto, I'm having a little trouble getting back on track. I got back late Thursday night, after just about 24 hours of travel, slept 12 hours, and spent yesterday doing laundry and baking a pie to celebrate Mark's 50th birthday. I managed to get three loads of laundry done, and a creditable birthday dinner on the table (yes! there were even presents!) but now I'm wiped. And it's gorgeous out today--clear blue sky, 80 degrees with low humidity. So I'm sitting on the back porch enjoying the weather and reading last Sunday's paper.

One of the things I most enjoyed about Kyoto was the food. The things they can do with vegetables make me want to study Japanese cooking--I think it would take years to learn all the things they do. Here's a bento box that was served to me as "Buddhist Lenten fare"--an all-vegetarian lunch at a temple at Mt. Hiei. I can't identify several of the items in the lunch, but I ate it all anyway. Hardly pentitential!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Blog Book Tour: Maximum Ride

(Cross-posted at Lessons from the Tortoise)

So I was talking about YA fiction the other day, and how I didn't have it to read when I was (ahem) a young adult. So I'm making up for it now, and my latest foray was James Patterson's Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports. As my earlier reading choices indicate, I was and am a sucker for plot: move it fast and I'm yours for the ride. A little mystery and a little romance are good, too. Maximum Ride has all of the above. It reads, indeed, like you're watching a movie: every scene can be visualized, every encounter moves the plot forward. It's exciting and fun, and it's absolutely meant for kids from about 12 to 16. (Nick, who just turned ten, started it, but I found his bookmark on page 54, right where the first kiss takes place He swears that's not why he stopped reading, but he also hasn't asked for it back.)

Saving the World is book three of Patterson's Maximum Ride series, but I found it easy enough to start here with a narrator who helpfully brings readers up to speed this way:

Those of you who picked up this book cold, even though it's clearly part three of a series, well, get with the program, people! I can't take two days to get you all caught up on everything! Here's the abbreviated version (which is pretty good, I might add)…

Max, the titular character (yes, Maximum Ride is a name), narrates about half the chapters, with the others going to an omniscient narrator who's able to fill us in on the action that takes place out of Max's sight. And there's plenty: winged kids, werewolves, a talking dog, telepathy, cloning, and blogging (yes! Blogging as a plot point!) keep the story moving forward. There's an appealing cast of characters, though I did have trouble keeping a few of them straight at first (with names like Fang, Iggy, Angel, Gasman and Nudge, they did all run together at times--particularly Nudge, whom I'd completely forgotten until I picked up the book to refresh my memory). And while the "evil scientist wants to rule the world" storyline has been done before, and while the evil scientist lapses into explanatory mode much in the manner of a James Bond villain, and to similar effect (allowing our heroes enough time to reflect and perhaps save themselves) a little too often, still the overall effect is exciting and fun. The short chapters (2-3 pages) contribute to the sense of urgency and speed. I might quibble with the snarky knowingness of the narrative, which too often addresses the reader in a somewhat postmodern "this is all a fiction, right?" way, but I have to admit I also find it fun--and, more to the point, I think a lot of teen readers will.

This book is pure escapism. It'll make a great movie (and I can't wait to see the special effects.) Sure, there's a message--"kids can make a difference"--but the pleasure of the book is in the action and the characters--and that's a considerable pleasure.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I made this

I finished this shawl a while ago but I kept forgetting to take it into the Yarn Lounge to show it off, and I always like their FO shots better than mine. So now you can see it. I've got several projects going now and I'm hoping I'll finish one or two on my upcoming trip to Kyoto (!)--but I'll also make sure to take this along. It's perfect for air-conditioning.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Harry Potter Factor

(Cross-posted at Lessons from the Tortoise)

My new column is up, and it comes with a spoiler warning. So if you haven't finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but you think one day you might want to--and you don't want to know ANYTHING about it--well, then, don't click on this link. (I don't give it all away, by any means, but I just couldn't keep it all to myself.)

Here's a spoiler-free taste:

17 years. That's how long I've been a mother. It's also how long J.K. Rowling has been living with Harry Potter. She started the series while pregnant with her first daughter, Jessica, in 1990; my daughter, Mariah, must be a little older than Jessica, then, as she's rapidly approaching her 18th birthday at the end of this year.

10 years. That's how long I've been the mother of two: Nick's tenth birthday was this month. It's also how long Harry Potter novels have been out in the world available to read. My mothering life, then, has tracked the Harry Potter series in more ways than one.

Mariah and I began reading the books some time in 1998 or 1999, I think, before the biggest hype but after the first book was available in my public library. At first I didn't know I'd be buying them all (in multiple copies, no less!). I just thought I was sharing another fun book with my daughter.

We read the first few books together, sprawled on a couch, each wedged into a corner with our feet meeting in the middle. As we continued reading, she grew taller -- and her reading got faster -- so we read them sequentially, talking about them over meals...

Read the rest here...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

the news of the day... that I just sent back my contract for my contribution to Mama, Ph.D.: Women Write About Motherhood and Academic Life. Go check out the list of fabulous contributors, the table of contents, and the editors' blog about the book. I'm really excited to be in this essay collection--not least because one of the editors is my sister Caroline. So cool!

Monday, August 13, 2007

new stuff

There's always good stuff to read over at Literary Mama, as I hope you know by now. This month I particularly like this piece by children's lit author Gail Gauthier about being a mom who does tae kwon do.

(cross-posted at the other blog...)

Friday, August 10, 2007


Nick's back from camp, with a sunburn, several new beaded creations and one leather wristband, a garbage bag full of dirty clothing, and a request for "food like we normally eat. Not hot dogs."

Must be doing something right...

Thursday, August 09, 2007

free books

Just in case you read this blog but not my other one, I'm directing you over there today to find out about the Pay It Forward Book Exchange. Go, now!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

I'm the UN!

Found this over at Wormwood's Doxy and I love it! (She's South Africa, which is actually really cool...)


You're the United Nations!

Most people think you're ineffective, but you are trying to
completely save the world from itself, so there's always going to be a long
way to go. You're always the one trying to get friends to talk to each
other, enemies to talk to each other, anyone who can to just talk instead of
beating each other about the head and torso. Sometimes it works and sometimes
it doesn't, and you get very schizophrenic as a result. But your heart
is in the right place, and sometimes also in New York.

Take the Country Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid

Sunday, August 05, 2007


Mark and I will have been married twenty years in early September. A month or so ago we realized there was no way to get a vacation in together then, as he'll be just starting the new semester in a new job. And the kids will be back in school. So we decided to take a long weekend together alone, and that was last weekend. We went to Asheville, NC (and we'll go back--it was great!), we went whitewater rafting, we ate fabulous food, and we generally had a great time. We hadn't been away alone together in fifteen years (not counting a conference or two, since those aren't vacations). We've decided not to wait another fifteen years.

Mariah is away for a week at her annual songfest with PII (People International, Inc.). She will live in a hotel with a group of kids and adults who come together annually to sing, dance, talk, laugh, eat, and put on a show for charity. So far the text messages suggest that all is well.

Nick's birthday party was yesterday. He did, as promised, bake his own cake--a crazy cake with buttercream frosting (I made the frosting). He frosted the cake and sketched in the designs, which I then (rather inexpertly) applied. As far as we could tell, everyone liked it.

And now Nick is off to camp for five days, leaving tomorrow morning. The house will feel very empty. But Mark starts work this week as well so it's a good time for a little peace and quiet.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Ten for Ten

1. Nick turns ten today.

2. Ten years ago I missed two weddings because I was pregnant with (or giving birth to!) him. This summer, he's been to two weddings.

3. In the last year he's earned a black belt in tae kwon do, a spot on a dance team, and a pretty good chunk of change at his lemonade stand. (Currently on hiatus.)

4. He's going to his first sleep-away camp next week, after recently making it through his first "weekend with a friend so your parents can leave town."

5. His birthday party will be Saturday, and he insists on baking his own cake for it.

6. When he was only a year old he came in second in a "most photogenic baby" contest. (Yes, that's the picture.) I'm not sure he knows this.

7. He's got a great smile, a bit of a temper, a terrific hug, and an insistent eye for mistakes, misspellings, typos, contradictions…

8. He's read all seven Harry Potter books. Today he said he didn't think he'd read them again, but I'm betting he will. He's a big reader and re-reader. At one point he was known to sleep with Bullfinch's Mythology under his pillow.

9. He hates mushy stuff in movies and walked out on Ratatouille for what he called "a weird romance." But Friends was his favorite TV show for years.

10. He's a youngest child with certain first-born characteristics, no doubt because his older sister has until recently seemed more like one of the grownups than an ally. Right now they're off on a kids-only lunchdate.

Happy Birthday, Nick!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

working hard...

...on a paper. Back in a while. I've got a few recipes I want to post, and things to say about summer and kids with jobs, but not now, not now!

Friday, July 13, 2007

one great cake

Here's the cake I baked for Caroline's birthday. It's a very rich, very delicious chocolate layer cake with ganache instead of frosting (and then candied flowers, just because). I got it from a cookbook I picked up at the library: Dave's Dinners, by Dave Lieberman. (I live under a rock, so I haven't seen his show on the Food Network, but the book had pretty pictures so I checked it out.)

Here's how you make the cake:

3 eggs
1 cup whole-milk yogurt (I used 3/4 cup non-fat and 1/4 cup full fat Greek yogurt)
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
1 cup hot water

Preheat oven to 350.

Beat the eggs, yogurt, and melted butter together in a large bowl. Add the vanilla, then gradually beat in the sugar.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl, then mix them into the wet in two steps, alternating with the hot water.

Divide the batter between two greased and floured (or just sprayed with cooking spray) 8 or 9-inch round pans. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, or until set. (This took about 27 minutes in my oven.) Allow to cool fully.

For the ganache:
Bring one cup heavy cream to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from stove and whisk in 12 oz chopped bittersweet chocolate (Dave used semi-sweet; I had lovely bittersweet callebaut). Whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is thick and creamy. Allow it to cool.

Put one layer on a large plate and pour ganache over it, spreading with a spatula and smoothing to cover sides. Set the other layer on top and repeat. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Happy Birthday, Caroline!

My little sister is 40 today! Go wish her a happy birthday!

(Photo coming later; my internet is down and I'm using a borrowed computer on a poached wireless connection...)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Eight Things

Jennifer tagged me with this one--which seems potentially fun, though also potentially embarrassing. We'll see.

First, the rules:

1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.

2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.

3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.

4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

So now here goes with the eight:

1. The last two letters of my last name are also my first two initials. This was true with my birth name and is still true of my married name. I tend to scramble names and words and find others in them, so I guess it's not surprising that I discovered this weird dorky fact.

2. When Mark and I bought our house the mortgage broker asked us to add up all the years of schooling we had, starting with kindergarten. When I came up with 24 (Mark's was 26!) the broker said, "Wow, y'all been in school longer than I been alive!" which tended to increase our confidence in him. Right.

3. I didn't eat a bagel until I was 14, or a burrito until I was 24. However, I had eaten both sushi and liver before I was ten. (And I'm not trying liver again, just so you know.)

4. I went to boarding school when I was thirteen. I sometimes suspect my pleasure in the Harry Potter books comes from a sort of boarding-school nostalgia, though we were sadly lacking both ghosts and potions.

5. I can't imagine sending my children to boarding school. But ask me again when Nick's thirteen.

6. I didn't get my license until I was almost twenty, and I didn't really drive until I graduated from college. When I got my first job, I bought a car with a stick shift after about two lessons, and had to figure out how to get it home. Now I can't imagine driving anything else.

7. I used to speak Japanese relatively fluently (for a 12-year-old). I have also studied Spanish, French, and ancient Greek, but I am nonetheless embarrassingly monolingual. When Mark and I went to Quebec on our honeymoon we were slightly ashamed to be American, and tried to speak our lame French, but everyone answered us in English.

8. When Nick was about three he lost a button and went automatically to his father to sew it on. He had no idea I knew how to use a needle and thread, and I am rather sorry he learned. (His father is still superior to me as a button-sewer-on, though I can do it in a pinch.)

OK, those are my facts. And I'm belated in doing this, so most of the folks I meant to tag have already done it. But looks like a couple of you are left:

Caroline (but you don't have to do it on your birthday!)
and anyone else who can come up with eight fun facts!

Friday, July 06, 2007

random bullets of catching up

  • I think I may again be competitive for bad mother award--who else takes her kid to the library and won't let him check out books? Twice? (I saw the librarian looking at me as I was telling Nick that no, we'd agreed we were just there to return books, not to check out, and I really felt bad...)
  • In my defense, it was the second (and third) time we'd been to the library (three different ones) this week and he still had plenty left to read. And I'm tired of hanging around the graphic novel section finding all the "how to draw anime villains" books.
  • We are all (knock wood) recovered from our malaise, but only Mariah is really making use of her good health. She's been working non-stop, baby-sitting and bagging groceries. I expect to be hitting her up for a loan soon.
  • When she wasn't working Mariah took Nick to the movies, as I mentioned before. They went to see Ratatouille. Unfortunately Nick decided it was no good so they left before it was over. I'm still not quite sure what he didn't like about it--this is a kid who has sat through Valiant (recently!) with pleasure, after all.
  • Mariah "treated" Nick to the movies but then had to borrow cash from him. She had deposited all her paychecks in a new bank account and didn't have an ATM card yet. (I know, a likely story!) Maybe I need to be working Nick for a loan rather than Mariah.
  • Nick is a saver, Mariah a spender. When Nick was about three I brought two large cookies home from some kind of campus event. When I picked the kids up from school/daycare I distributed them. Mariah's was gone before we got home; Nick's was in his lap, still uneaten. Both Mariah and I found this behavior somewhat disturbing. But then again this is a kid whose Hallowe'en candy often lasts until Easter (at which point it has to be thrown away).
  • We had a wonderful trip to the beach yesterday. Mariah was working, but the rest of us drove out to visit an old friend who was staying there with his family. It was a lovely, low-key visit: mostly sitting on the beach or jumping in the waves and talking. His daughter is a year older than Nick and gets along with him beautifully--it was really nice to see them taking turns on the boogie board, digging in the sand, building a sand-castle.
  • I am now half-way through my re-reading of Half-Blood Prince and am confident of being ready for the new one when it arrives. Nick is working his way through Order of the Phoenix and I think he's going to make it, too. I get it first; Nick next if he's finished with #6, otherwise Mariah. If he does get it before her, she's allowed to take it at night after he's gone to bed if she promises not to mess with his bookmarks.
  • What does it say about us that we have absolutely no routine for the summer, and it is impossible to set up a workable chore schedule, but our reading schedule for Deathly Hallows is already set in stone?
  • I have been blogging for four years as of today.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

the indignities of (middle) age

I went to a new(ish) little farmer's market today and it was lovely. But getting there, well, that's another story.

I had given my last $10 to Mariah so she could take Nick to the movies (more on that in a later post) and figured I'd just hit up a cash machine before I got to the market. Stopped at the first one on the way and--no dice. "Your transaction has been denied. Contact your financial institution."

This happened on our trip two weeks ago and I figured it was because I forgot my PIN. That is, I forgot the order of the numbers in my PIN. I know it, sort of, but sometimes it takes me a couple of tries to get the numbers in the right order. Fine.

After three tries I figured maybe the ATM was locking me out, so I went in search of another one. (Hope springs eternal...) I got to the next one I remembered, a little closer to the market--and the ATM was out of order. Fine, again.

This time I headed away from the market, towards a reliable ATM, one that I use all the time, one that always has money for me. But when I got to the parking lot I thought maybe I should, well, you know, contact my financial institution. Since that's what the machine told me to do and all.

So I called the number on my ATM card and started moving through the voice menu. Luckily many of the choices include "I forgot..." "I forgot my account number," "I forgot my member number," etc. The automated voice was remarkably forgiving.

"That's OK," she would say, "I"ll just need to get another piece of information from you."

Luckily I could remember my zip code, my husband's birthday, and my social security number. But at this point the voice system broke down anyway, because "change my PIN" didn't work for me. (I think you're actually supposed to know your old PIN. But if you did, why would you want to change it?)

It might be worth noting at this point that I have long had a terrible memory. Because of my terrible memory, I have many passwords and PINs logged into my palm pilot. Alas, I stopped carrying my palm pilot recently because it's very hard for me to read the entries in it without reading glasses. (Encroaching age, weakening vision. Let's not talk about memory.)

So, to recap: I'm still in the parking lot, talking to the machine that won't let me change my PIN. At this point I have a breakthrough, and say to the machine "talk to an agent," although it has not yet offered me this option. I am almost immediately connected to a human being who verifies that, yes, I am locked out of the ATM system because of multiple log-in efforts. "Did you forget your PIN?" he says. He is not amused by my total failure to recall even setting a "voice password," let alone remember the password, though he does ask for different information that I am in fact able to provide. He fails to agree with me that remembering the numbers out of order is not the same as forgetting the PIN, but he does help me reset the PIN to something I (think I) can remember. Half an hour after my trip to the market began, I was on my way again with money in my wallet and only a little bit of humiliation to temper my pleasure at the lovely vegetables.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Zucchini all the time...

I don't have a vegetable garden overproducing zucchini, but I've been on the receiving end in the past. I've never really minded; I like zucchini, and there's a lot you can do with it. Bread, muffins, pancakes, stir-frys, pastas...the list goes on. Lately, though, all we do with it is grill it. Three of us like it best that way and Nick will eat it if pressed.

Still, I'm always interested in a new zucchini recipe. Recently my mother sent me this one from the NYTimes for zucchini carpaccio--thinly-sliced zucchini marinated in olive oil and lemon and layered with pistachios and avocado. It looked delicious. Alas, though, we have no pistachios or avocados in the house. So I did a little research on epicurious and found these variations, one with mint and another with arugula. Alas, I didn't have those in the house, either, and in our current lethargic state grocery shopping is not high on my list of things to do.

So here's what I came up with instead--it's not quite a salad, because I've recently decided that salads make great pasta toppings (ok, maybe not coleslaw), but you could certainly leave out the pasta and make it as a salad as well.

Zucchini Pasta

3 small zucchini, very thinly sliced (I used a vegetable peeler)
2 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
about 8 basil leaves, more if you have it, thinly sliced
about 1/4 cup shaved parmesan or other hard grating cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1/8 cup pine nuts
1 lb. pasta (I used gemelli)

Whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice. Spread the very thinly sliced zucchini on a plate (it can overlap) and sprinkle the basil over it. Pour the olive oil/lemon juice mixture over that and sprinkle with s&p to taste. Let sit while the pasta boils.

Once the pasta is done to your liking, toss it in a large bowl with a little olive oil. At this point either toss the zucchini with the pasta or divide the pasta into individual bowls and top with zucchini. Top with shaved parmesan and pine nuts (toasted or not, as you choose--I left them untoasted and they were lovely).

This is generous for four and could really probably serve six if you also had a green salad. It's a nice light dinner for a hot night. Even Nick didn't complain.