Sunday, October 31, 2010

Logic from a three year old

Our son recently turned three and we are so very proud of him.  He's a quick learner and loves to study his surroundings.  It's fun to see how his mind works.  Today we got a taste of his great logic.

He and I have been listening to the Toy Story 2 soundtrack lately.  One of his friends was "Jesse" (the yodeling cowgirl) for Halloween and I couldn't get the "Woody's Roundup" song out of my head after seeing her.  So, it only seemed right to play the entire soundtrack so I wouldn't just have that one song in my head.

This morning, I saw my son sitting on the coffee table in front of the CD player, hands folded in his lap, listening intently as Sarah McLachlan sang "When she loved me."  He seemed to be soaking up every word of the lyrics.  Minutes later, he ran out of the room and I could hear him say, somewhat solemnly, to my husband, "When somebody loved me, everything was beautiful."  To which my husband said, "I love you!"

And my three year old replied, with a joy and lightness in his voice like he really believed that suddenly it was true: "Everything is beautiful now!"

Friday, October 29, 2010

Playing Games

I didn't realize it growing up, but I love to play games.  In my childhood home, we almost never had all the pieces to any game.  Those that we did have all the pieces for, we seldom played.  And, when we did play, it was more for the time together than for the thrill of the game.  I remember that we used to spend hours playing monopoly--just trying to get as much money as we could.  The first round was always the round to just get money.  No one would even think of buying a property.  Not because we were trying to quell the urge, but because we truly had no desire to do such a thing.

Then I played Monopoly for the first time with my husband.  On his first turn, he bought a property.  I was aghast.  I was so shocked that I couldn't help but let out an audible gasp.  He looked up at me, perplexed.

In the last four years of my marriage, I have learned to play games for the thrill and competition of playing them.  It has awakened in me a passion for the activity, but it has equally awakened in me an anger of losing.  It's not that I hate to lose.  Once.  Or maybe twice.  But when I start losing often, I get pretty angry.  I get so angry, that I struggle to have normal conversations.  My face even begins to contort into an evil grimace.... If you saw me, you might think I was just messing around.  But really, inside, I feel like a steaming kettle about to burst.

But, you know that phrase, "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen"?  Basically it speaks to the idea of keeping yourself from situations that you can't really handle.  I've taken that phrase to heart when it comes to playing games.  I try very hard to keep myself from getting really angry.  And how do I do that?  Simple.  Make sure I don't lose too often.  Ahhhh.... But how do I do THAT?

I pick carefully the games that I am willing to play with my husband.  With other people, I am not necessarily so picky.  But when you are married to an uber-smart person, you must take certain steps to assure yourself of not feeling like a dummy all the time.  This particularly applies when playing games.  So,  these are some things that I consider when choosing games I will play with my husband:

1) The game MUST have some element of chance.  It cannot be entirely strategy-based.
2) Along the lines of number 1, but more specific: It cannot be chess.  I will never play chess with my husband.
3) It cannot be something I know he is already good at, or has already practiced.  I will first play with someone else.
4) I will not play it if I have recently had consecutive losses when playing the game with him.
5) The more luck-based the game, the happier I am when I'm playing it.

There you have it.  My best means for staying away from the temptation of an evil rage.  It doesn't always work, but I think it keeps me generally sane.  I did go to bed angry the other night because he killed me in a game, but, it was really my own fault.  I didn't abide by my own rules; in this case, rule  #3.  But don't worry.  While he's working this weekend, I'll make sure to practice up on my own so next time the playing field is more equal....

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pack Rat vs. Hopeful

I feel like I am trying to organize our house every single day.  In every room I look, there are things that are out of place, or don't really have a place at all.  It makes me want to do a major reorganization.  But then as soon as I start, I realize that it's too big a job for the little amount of time I have.  (Or, too ridiculous an idea, with children who would make a disaster of the attempt.)

And as I look at all these things I would like to organize and find a place for, I sometimes think to myself, "if only you weren't such a pack rat, you wouldn't have so much to reorganize."  I have so many books, scraps of materials, random materials for potential crafts.....  Is it that I am a pack rat with these items, or could it instead be said that I am a hopeful person?  A person who is hopeful that I could one day find time to reread the books I thought worthy enough to keep after college.  A person who is hopeful that some day I could make something beautiful or useful out of the many boxes of scrap material I have.  A person who is hopeful that I will some day have time to craft something interesting out of the various materials I've collected over the years.

Though, I suppose it doesn't really matter to the casual house guest what the reasoning is behind my clutter.  Sadly enough.  If only I could welcome people to my home saying, "Hello!  So glad you're here!  Please note that my house is extremely cluttered because of all the things I'd like to eventually do with the various items scattered within."  Or, I could put a sign in front of the door, "Please excuse the mess.  Wishful thinker lives here."

There are times when I think that a house fire is the only real solution to the whole problem.  Granted, I don't actually want my house to catch on fire--for a plethora of reasons.  It merely seemed like an easy solution to these problems.  It would, however, bring other problems--much larger--and so this is not a solution I would recommend to anyone, myself included.  The reality is, there is no easy fix to this situation.  Unless..... Yes, the only easy fix is that one of those home TV shows comes and does all the organizing for me.  That's about the only good solution I can think of.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Probationary Friends

Tomorrow is an important anniversary for my husband and me.  It is not our wedding anniversary, or the day we met.  Nor is it the day we got engaged.  It's not any of those semi-normal days of remembering in a relationship.  It is, instead, the day of remembering on October 23rd, year 2004*, that we were no longer "probationary friends."  The restrictions were lifted and we were allowed to take that next step.... dating.

Now, truth be told, we had already dated.  That was part of the problem.  I had already "gone out with him" (albeit, when I was half -the-world away in New Zealand).  Then I promptly discarded him after the two-month trial was over.  (To that date, I had consistently broken up with my boyfriends after two months.)  There had been so many ups and downs in the two years since we had met that he didn't even feel we were able to start back at friends--we had to be "probationary friends."

It is probably the curse of the genius that they need to give a term to every idea in their universe.  My poor on-again-off-again boyfriend/friend/enemy had to make a term for what was going on.  Obviously I had already broken his heart once before, but just so everyone was clear that he wasn't just opening himself up to let it happen again, he defined what was taking place: probation.  Examination.  Evaluation.  Should I pass the test and be considered a friend, only then was it possible to move on to more-than friends.

I understood his need to do that.  I really did.  I had been a fickle and flirty freshman when he met me, and there were things I said and did that weren't so nice.  I was happy for a chance to redeem myself.  I had realized, after some time, that he actually was a pretty amazing guy and I didn't really want to let him go.  This revelation came as a great surprise to me, since I had previously written a long list defining the reasons why I could never be in a relationship with such a man.  In fact, I sent him this list; just so that he knew why he was doomed to failure.  Yes.  I did.  And so you see why we needed to be probationary friends.

But, praise God, I passed the test!  I was let off probation, and today I am the wife of a very forgiving man.  Tomorrow I celebrate, because we are no longer probationary friends.

*I had previously written 2005, but that was definitely wrong..... :-P

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pumpkin Rolls

As I've mentioned before, I love pumpkin.  And pumpkin knot rolls don't last long in our house.  I always double the batch and put half in the freezer.  Pull one out any time you'd like, zap it in the microwave for 10 seconds (or more, depending on your microwave), and tada!  Tastes like it just came out of the oven.
I used to buy Challah bread at our local Whole Foods in Cambridge, and these rolls remind me a lot of that Challah bread.  Perfect outside, perfect can eat it by itself, or with just butter, or with anything you like.  The perfect comfort food.  I paired it last night with a bowl of  Panera Bread broccoli cheddar soup.  It was FANTASTIC!  I'd recommend it. :)  Here's the recipe for the rolls, and I've also included a step-by-step how-to if you want to make them but haven't made any kind of bread before.  They're not hard, really.  And if you look at my pictures, it will make it even easier. Don't be afraid!  These rolls just melt in your mouth.

Pumpkin Knot Rolls

2 pkgs. active dry yeast
1c. warm milk (110-115 degrees)
1/3c. butter, softened
1/2c. sugar
1c. canned pumpkin
3 eggs (2 + 1)
1 1/2tsp. salt
5 1/2-6c. flour
1 T cold water

In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm milk.  Add the butter, sugar, pumpkin, 2 eggs, salt and 3 cups flour.  Beat until smooth.  Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.  Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes.  Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.  Punch dough down.  Turn onto a lightly flour surface; divide in half.  Shape each portion into 12 balls.  Roll each ball into a 10 inch rope; tie into a knot and tuck ends under.  Place 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets.  Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.  In a small bowl, beat water and remaining egg.  Brush over rolls.   Bake at 350 degrees for 13-17 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from pans to wire rack.  Yield: 2 dozen.

(In the pictures below, I doubled the recipe.  Because I doubled the recipe, I added the extra flour by hand in the beginning of the kneading process.  If your mixer can handle doing that by itself, start with number 3.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fall pancakes

Hello, Fall!  How I love thee.  Let me count the ways....

No, not really.  I'm not going to list the reasons I love Fall.  There are too many to remember at any given time.  But, I definitely love the seasonal produce, not least of which being pumpkins and apples.  I don't buy fresh pumpkins to use in recipes, but I do love the fact that canned pumpkin is readily available.

Last night I made breakfast for dinner and tried out a recipe for pumpkin pancakes.  I changed the recipe to suite my taste and they were absolutely delicious!  I hope you'll make some of your own. :)

First make the yummy sauce:
In a heavy saucepan, cook 1/2c. butter, cubed, on medium heat until golden brown.  Stir occasionally.  Add 1/4c. maple syrup, 1/2tsp. ground cinnamon and 1/4tsp. nutmeg (and 1/2c. toasted pecans if desired).

Remove from heat and set aside while you make the pancakes. :)

Pumpkin Apple pancakes

In a large bowl, combine:
3c. flour
1/4c. packed brown sugar
4 TBS. baking powder
2 tsp. salt

In a medium bowl, whisk together:
4 eggs
2 2/3c. 2% milk
1 can pumpkin
1c. ricotta cheese
1 medium apple, chopped into small pieces

Combine flour mixture and pumpkin mixture, just until mixed.  Add 1/4c. to 1/2c. of water if mixture seems too thick--I needed to do this. (it will rise quite a bit on the skillet, so be warned!)

Drop the batter onto a hot skillet until bubbles form on the top and some begin to pop.  Turn pancakes over, and cook until second side is golden brown.  Serve with maple butter.

They are scrumptious!  And very moist too.  Well worth the extra effort. :D

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Steelers Country

I was a woman on a mission today in Pittsburgh.  I was just traveling through between Pennsylvania and Indiana.  It was the return trip on a wonderful and long vacation.  My son, though, was weary from the traveling we'd already accomplished in the past weeks and so his patience for staying in his confined space was stretching thin.  Someone had lent us a car DVD player, but he'd already watched the movies of interest three or more times, and the 5+ movies he hadn't watched, he refused to let me even put in the DVD player.  He was sure he wouldn't like them based on their covers--he did NOT want an animal movie.  (The majority of children's movies are animal movies I've recently realized, much to my disappointment.)  A brilliant friend suggested finding a movie at a Red Box in Pittsburgh while we were there, and bringing it on the road with us to help pass the hours go come.

And so, I was on a mission. The first Red Box, on my way to the Turnpike, didn't seem to be working properly and was absolutely useless to a person actually wanting to rent a DVD.  But, I was determined to make the ride more pleasant for everyone by getting my son a new movie.  So, I trudged inside and waited in line, just to ask the cashier where I could find another Red Box nearby.  Of course, this one was miles down the road.  Was it worth going out of my way, and possibly getting lost?  With a whimpering son in the car, yes, I decided it was worth it.

So, after a couple of wrong turns, I found the other Red Box....that had seemingly fewer choices (though, with the benefit of being able to actually rent the one I picked).  At last!  We were ready to complete our journey.  First I just had to figure out how to get to the Turnpike.

And suddenly, my eyes were opened.  I know my Pittsburgh-ian friend had noted earlier in the morning that there was a Steelers game today, but it was an unimportant, passing, comment as far as I was concerned.   Yet now, as I looked around me in the Giant Eagle parking lot, I realized something I hadn't before: I was in Steelers Country.  I'd heard the phrase before, but it made me chuckle.  This time, it felt like a real place.  It wasn't an idea; it was an actual place.

The somewhat "elderly" couple who I asked for directions were fully outfitted in coordinating Steelers coats.  And, when the woman came closer to my car, I realized that she had completed her ensemble with pumpkin earrings that had the Steelers logo in the center.

Everywhere I looked were shirts, hats, coats, flags, signs, painted cars....

I had this urge to hop out of the car and start following people around with a notepad.  My anthropology side came out like a lion and I wanted to do an ethnography of Steelers Country.  Too bad that couldn't really happen for oh so many reasons.

But I did leave Pittsburgh with the sense that there was something big going on there that couldn't be explained by just a football game.  A way of living that was somewhat foreign to me...but intriguing all the same.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"Good Looking"

Elijah asked me tonight to help him find a track from a bulldozer that had fallen off for probably the tenth time.  It was just before bed, pajamas on, sleepy, but awake enough to know he deeply wanted the toy in bed with him--with all its parts attached.

Elijah: Will you help me find the track, mommy?
Me: Well....
Elijah: You are....(struggles here due to sleepiness) good looking....
(Me--can't help but smile at his mistake and wishes he really said what it sounded like he said!)
Elijah (stealing my delight almost as quickly as it came): I mean, you are a good finder, mommy.  A very good finder.  You can find it.

For a moment there I felt a tingling joy--my toddler thinks I'm good looking!  Oh well.  I guess being a good finder will do for now. :)  You can't be good at everything!

***Okay, so when I went to re-write this conversation to post, I couldn't remember exactly what Elijah had said to me, but I knew it made me think "you're good looking".  Today, he did the same thing to my brother, so I now remember exactly what he said.  This is actually how it came out:

Elijah: You are a good looking girl.
<<Emphasis on "looking" of course.  But, that's why he rephrased his comment and said instead that I was a good finder.  He is really so funny!>>

Today he said the same thing to my brother: "You are a good looking guy."  If only he realized what it sounded like he was saying!! :-D  (He's too young to really know what that phrase means, though.)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Happy Jack-o-lanterns

My Taste of Home catalog last month  had an idea for fun "jack-o-lanterns" that were made of tissue paper and glass jars.  I thought it was a brilliant idea, but I wanted to wait until I was with my adorable and crafty nieces to try such a project.  (It's always more fun crafting with company!!)

So, today was the day.  It went even better than I anticipated.  I'm encouraging all of you to make some of your own!  The process is fun, and the finished product is fantastic too!

All you need is Mod Podge (or another glue and selant), tissue paper, glass jars and some enthusiasm for the arts! :)  First cover your jar with a good layer of Mod Podge, then put your tissue paper over it, then put another layer of Mod Podge to finish it off.  You can get as detailed and fancy as you like, or keep it simple!  You can add a ribbon on the top for extra embelishment too if you'd like. :)  We added faces to many of ours, which was super fun.  Just put them on top of that outer layer of Mod Podge, and add another layer on top once you've got them in the right places.

Then, after they dry, put a tea candle in them.  Delightful!!  They are beautiful to look at sitting in the windowsill on a quiet evening.

And do realize that this is a project for any age.  I can testify that today there was an almost-60 year old (don't tell her I said that.....!!), a 26 year old, a 6 year old, and two 3 year olds..... all having an absolute blast.  You can do it too!!  For small children, just  put a layer of Mod Podge on the jar, and give them strips of various colors--they decorated them however they want.  It's terrific.  

I will definitely do this again some time.  Too bad we don't need an infinite supply of silly face lanterns!

So, go ahead, make some of your own!!

Thursday, October 7, 2010


I was five years old when Danny was born; he is my youngest brother.  He has Down Syndrome.  I spent a lot of time taking care of him when I was younger and loved almost every moment of it.  There were definitely times of frustration when he'd get stubborn and refuse to do what he was supposed to, or when I couldn't do things I wanted to on account of having to take care of him.  Beyond frustration, there were also times of anxiety.  Danny has this problem with disappearing.  No, not like a magician, more like a leaf tossed into a river bed, drifting downstream and getting lost in the glitter of the moving water.

There are more stories than I can remember of him disappearing--sometimes in the evening at a carnival, sometimes in the afternoon when he's supposed to be doing chores, sometimes at three in the morning when our mother would be arriving home from work.  Some of the stories are really funny.  Some of them are tragic.  All of them are scary, to varying degrees.  It's always scary to think that you've lost someone you love--not knowing when or if you'll find them.  Or what state they will be in when you do.

Today I had promised to take Danny to get a haircut.  Well, to be honest, I had promised him on Sunday to take him to get a haircut "tomorrow."  Don't you hate how "tomorrow" keeps getting pushed day after another...?  I finally kept my promise and took him today.  He loved getting his haircut.  He's so mature.  He's twenty-one now and wants everyone to know how independent he is.  He did a great job of filling out the client sheet when he first arrived.  He was chatty with the hairdresser.  Things were going really well.

After his haircut, we headed out of the mall, but we had parked outside a department store.  On the way to the car, we passed some great sales on kids clothes.  I am rarely out in a store that sells kids clothes, let alone able to get a moment to look at them.  Another brother had taken my toddler, so I was free as a bird with just a wiggly infant.  Wahoo!!  Danny told me he had to use the restroom and assured me many times that he knew just where it was.  I told him he could find me right in that same area when he was done.

While he assured me that he knew where the restroom was, I had failed to ask him if he knew just where we were at that very moment....  So, half an hour later, baby was crying, ready to eat, and I was freaking out.  Where in the world was he!?!?!?

Probably more than an hour later, thanks to helpful mall customers and the mall police, I was at last reunited with my brother--both of us extremely worn out from the stress of the entire situation.  We had a great conversation on the way home about how "people make mistakes" (he reminded me of this again and again).

What's really amazing to me is that after at least 15 years of these kinds of situations, the anxiety is never less.  I am never less nervous when I loose him--regardless of the fact that it's happened probably fifty times or more.  I am always just as scared, just as panicky.  Terrible thoughts still go through my head of what might happen to him or who might take advantage of him.  You'd think I'd get more used to it, but I don't.

The reality is, when the people you love go missing, it's terrifying.  And that's all there is to it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Looking Pretty

Sometimes as parents, we do things with or for our kids so other people will think we're good parents.  I know, it's terrible.  Even sinful.  Yet, true.  So very true.  There are even times when, after failing to do something impressive, we spend time regretting it--thinking about all the recognition we could have gotten if we had only done that thing.

Okay, maybe I'm the only one who does this.  Or, maybe I'm the only one who would admit to doing this....

In contrast, there are times when it seems like I'm trying to impress, and really I'm just trying to keep my sanity.  People who aren't parents don't truly understand the lengths to which we must go in order to stay sane--or at least, to have an appearance of sanity.

People are often commenting about how beautiful my six month old is.  And they are super impressed with the fact that I always have her hair in a cute ponytail on the top of her head.  I imagine they think I'm going to great lengths to make her look that much more beautiful.  But in truth, I'm just trying to keep my sanity.

My son was born with a very visible cowlick on the top left of his head--near the start of his hairline above the forehead.  My daughter, born 2 1/2 years later, has the exact same cowlick.  I've struggled with how to deal with my son's, but it's gotten even more difficult to deal with my daugther's.  She's only six months old, but hair is at least five inches long on the top of her head.  This presents an interesting pattern on the top of her head.  Like a tumultuous storm tossing waves in the ocean.

This is why I always have her hair in a ponytail when we leave the house.  Not because I am an amazing mother who wants to make sure her daughter always looks her best, no, because I will go crazy if I have to look at that storm all day long.