2009 Meme

on 31 December 2009

Here are my answers to Linda's traditional New Year meme. Enjoy, y'all.

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?
Leave the Boy and go to New York with Chris just the two of us.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
For the most part, and yes, I have made more for 2010.


3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
YES!  My friends Emily, Heather and Allyson.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Nope.


5. What countries did you visit?
My own.  Chris and I went to New York--he'd never been there before so it was fun to see the city through his eyes.

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
A house.


7. What dates from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

July 13th--the first day of Chris' residency, and subsequently July 13th 2010 will be the last day of Chris' residency.  But who's counting?

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Being a better wife than I thought I could be.



9. What was your biggest failure?

Not stepping up to support Chris from the beginning.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Just ordinary stuff, colds, viruses, bugs...nothing serious.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
My car.  Hands down, Arabella rocks.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Chris's!  He had capstone, fellowship applications, job applications, interviews, more rejection than any one person should have to face all at once, then a big move and a stressful job and for the most part he's been wonderful.  Tense and quiet at times, but that's much better than yelling or snapping, and given what he's currently doing, he's awesome.

The Boy's.  We've moved and traveled and he's teethed and had growth spurts and he's handled all of it like a champ.

And my Dad's!  Whenever anyone calls, he's the first to volunteer to help.  My sister was in a pretty serious car accident out in Nebraska (coming back from taking her oldest off to college) and my Dad drove out to bring her and her 3 younger kids home.  My brother was stranded in Florida, he drove up to North Carolina in a rental car and my Dad drove him the rest of the way back to his home in Maryland.  My Dad supervised the loading and organizing of our truck when we moved south and he helped us unload when we got down here.  He's awesome!

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

All of those over-paid CEOs who needed the government to bail out their corporations but then took big bonuses.  That was charming.

14. Where did most of your money go?
A move and a new car.


15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Chris graduating, New York, New York.

16. What song will always remind you of 2008?

Regina Spektor's On the Radio

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:


a) happier or sadder? Both...in different ways and for different reasons...probably more on the sad side.
b) thinner or fatter? Thinner but not by much.
c) richer or poorer?  Both...in different ways.


18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Laughing.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Worrying.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

With Chris and the Boy.  It was cozy and quiet and then we had dinner with some friends.  Very low-key.

21. Did you fall in love in 2009?

Yep.  With Chris...stronger and deeper than ever.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

Well, I really only watch 2--Community and V.  I'll go with Community.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

Nope.

24. What was the best book you read?

I did way too much re-reading this past year, but the best book I read for the first time was the biography of Elizabeth Gaskell A Habit of Stories by Jenny Uglow.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Muse

26. What did you want and get?

A Car.

27. What did you want and not get?

The Boston Fellowship.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

HAHAHAHAH!  Like I watch films in the theater!  That's hilarious!  My friend Mona gave us Harry Potter 6 on DVD, it was pretty good but they messed up the ending.  Little Dorrit was very good.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

Surprise, surprise, I'm not telling you how old I was.  Chris was in Boston interviewing for a fellowship that he didn't get.  I spent my birthday at my sister's house--she made me tortellini and my mom made me a cake.  And I'm sure Chris and I got take-out once he came home.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

A job in North Carolina.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?

Casual and functional.  Jeans, lots of cotton, sandals.

32. What kept you sane?
Honestly?  Music.  I don't turn the television on during the day and when the Boy is squirrelly, or otherwise grouchy, music calms him down and brings back my happy boy.


33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Matthew MacFaddyen

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

Health care.  In this household, could there be another answer?

35. Who did you miss?

Debbi VanD!  She's my fitness buddy, friend, mentor, neighbor, and all around Awesome Girl.  I miss having someone to work out with, I miss having her to bounce ideas off of (she's so sensible!), I miss having her to vent to, I miss getting to laugh with her, I miss our twice or thrice weekly adventures.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

Celeste and Brett.  They're my two friends down here and they're amazing women.  I'm so lucky that I get to find those kind of women where ever I seem to go.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.

The past is the past.  You can't change it, you can't help it, all you can do is let it go and try to do better with today.

But also:

Ultimately, it doesn't matter where you live.  What matters is what you do with your time.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

This is how it works
You're young until you're not
You love until you don't
You try until you can't
You laugh until you cry
You cry until you laugh
And everyone must breathe
Until their dying breath.

--Regina Spektor

Happy New Year!

'Round these parts...

on 30 December 2009

Be Warned...


If you come to Burnstopia when we chance to be BORED, this is likely to happen to YOU.


(Hallmark stickers + boredom) x Boy's Curiosity =

 

 

And yes, I am exploiting cute pictures of my child because I have not much to say today.  We're packing for a brief New Year's adventure today, we'll be Back on Sunday.  I'm excited, Chris is excited, the Boy has no clue what's going on as usual.

It's been a lovely, quiet week so far.  The Boy has a play date coming this morning, cinnamon rolls are warming in the oven, and I'm off to pack.  See you on the flip side, yo.

First things FIRST

on 29 December 2009

Happy Birthday, DAD and SUSIE!


My sister was born on my Dad's birthday, did you know that?  No?  I think it's pretty cool, but then I share a birthday (um, I'm a twin, peeps--in case you didn't know that), so I think it's cool when family members share birthdays.

I've already told a funny story about my Dad (any story that includes the directive "Don't tell your Mother!" has to be a good one).  So I'll tell you a different story.

My Father has a map on the inside of his head.  Seriously, I can call him right now and tell him that I'm on GA-17, heading North and could he please tell me where it would intersect with I-95 and he could tell me.  The man is NEVER lost, occasionally he's just driving to see where something ends up, but he's never LOST.  (I get my sense of direction from him.  Also my love of maps.  Chris seriously considered buying me a GPS for Christmas but in the end he didn't because he knows how much I love a map, guess what he bought me instead?  Yep, a new road atlas for my car!)

Anyway, I drove from Seattle to Athens, GA by myself in 2003.  Well, I took my cat and all of my worldly possessions.  Anyway, I did fine.  My Dad kept calling me and asking where I was and warning me to be cautious in certain areas, to keep in touch etc.  I remember calling him at one point, and I'm fairly sure he'll recall this particular phone call from the edge of panic when he reads this.  I had been driving for 3 days straight.  My cat had ceased howling somewhere in Wyoming and was no longer speaking to me, in fact, she was snubbing me from her crate.  Anyway, I was somewhere in Indiana and the freeway merged with a state highway for some miles.  It literally became a winding 2 lane road that passed through miles and miles and MILES of cornfields.

I was feeling a bit lost.

And also a bit concerned that I had missed the sign saying, "HEY YOU, MORON, THE FREEWAY IS OVER HERE."  So I did what any member of my family would do, I called my Dad. 

I told him where I was, that I was a bit freaked out and he chuckled and said, "Yeah, you're in INDIANA.  All they have there are CORN FIELDS.  Stay on the road and in 10 more miles you'll see a sign for the interstate.  Follow the signs and you'll be fine."

You want to hear something moderately disturbing?  He was RIGHT.  Perfectly so.  In 10 more miles I saw signs for the interstate, I merged and sure as my father had said so, I arrived in Kentucky.  I love my Dad and not only for the maps on the inside of his head.


As for my Sister!  Come with me back to the winter of 1986 or 1987 somewhere in those parts.  We were living in Washington, my sister was a popular junior or senior in high school.  She had LOADS of friends, many from church, and they were just so COOL.  I would have been all of 10 or 11 so I really knew what cool was (I was wearing NEON for pete's sake), and I KNEW that my Sister was one of the COOL kids.

Anyway, this particular winter it had SNOWED.  None of you should be surprised to hear yet again how I love snow.  I loooooove snow!  Snow is magical!  Snow is like catnip!  Snow is the most fun weather you can ever EVER have!  Anyway, it had snowed.  And my Mom had made up cinnamon rolls, or homemade doughnuts, I'm not sure which because I was 10 or 11 and didn't have the most discriminating palate out there.  Did it have sugar?  YES.  Ok, that's what I'll have.

Anyway, it had snowed and school was canceled and my sister being popular and COOL, her friends gravitated to our house.  How do I know?  Because I followed them around all.day.long.

My poor sister.  I'm absolutely certain, in retrospect, that I drove her to the brink of insanity.  In fact, I probably drove both of my sisters to the brink of insanity.  In fact, I am probably the reason they were so keen to go to college FAR FAR AWAY.  I was annoying.  I'm fairly certain of that fact, much as it pains me to admit it...I was NOT a cool kid.  (I'm not a cool adult so I don't know why it pains me so to admit it, you'd think I'd have come to terms by now with my total lack of cool.)

Anyway, she and her friends built snow women (my sister has an inner feminist, that's where I learned it), had snow ball fights and at some point made a human pyramid (I think there may be photographic evidence out there somewhere but I don't know where).  And in the whole day, I can clearly remember the sunshine, the snow, and her and her friends--all of them vibrant and young and so very cool, she was never mean to me.  She never told me to get lost or go away, never called me names or mashed me in the face with snow, never did anything you'd expect a cool older sibling to do to a young and very uncool younger sibling.  She let me be the very top of the human pyramid.  I can remember.  It may have been that I was just so much smaller than the other kids, but for that one day and that one moment with the bright sun and the snow on the ground I felt like I was one of the cool kids.

That's the power that older sisters wield.  

Obligatory Christmas Recap

on 28 December 2009

You know, every year I think "This is the best Christmas EVER!  It can't get any better than this!"  And every year it does. 

This year was particularly discouraging because Chris has been so out of sorts of late.  It cast a long shadow across the festivities and I worried it would completely overshadow the day itself, but lo, in the very Spirit of Christmas a dim light flickered and then started to grow and by the time the Day arrived it was bright and luminous.  How I love my little family.


I got up with the Boy in the hopes of letting Chris sleep in (it was all he had said he wanted for Christmas).  I started to make cinnamon rolls, I fed the Boy a bit of breakfast and he and I opened his stocking.  Santa had heard the pleas of one Exhausted by the Same Books Every Day Mama and filled the Boy's stocking chock full of new Eric Carle board books.  We read through Polar Bear, Polar Bear and Brown Bear, Brown Bear and My Very First Book of Colors and then Chris strolled out.

He and I sorted through our stockings, mine full of my favorite chocolates and Very Expensive Bars of Uber Moisturizing Soap for my winter skin (I really didn't think he'd remember to get them, as he has in years past).  His was full of mini-twixes, peanut M&Ms and Altoids.

And then came PRESENTS.  We let the Boy go first...and we only took pictures of him since he's so much cuter than Chris and I.

Santa (and by Santa I mean ME) had brought him lovely wooden toys this year, and cozy soft cotton pajamas.  And while some might say it was a lean Christmas, it wasn't.  It was just enough.



(his 3-fold stacking toy)




shapes puzzle from Grandma




jammies from Mama and Daddy




an I-Spy bag from his Auntie Susie




What he thought of the whole thing.  (dude, look at those TEETH!)

All in all it was a great day!  Chris gave me the COMPLETE WEST WING!  I was SHOCKED to say the least and yes, since you asked, I have been wallowing in West Wing goodness ever since.  My awesome  sister Susie gave me this gorgeous painting that I'm itching to hang (and totally made me CRY)--you guys should see it, it's AMAZING.  I gave Chris ties, which he'll return (it's very complicated buying ties for that man, sometimes it's a home run and sometimes it's a strike out--the past couple of years have been home runs so I was sort of due for a strike out) and a Wii game just for him.  It's Modern Warfare for those of you who are interested.  I believe in selfless Christmas gifts so giving him something that doesn't interest me in the least is (in my mind) the best gift I could possibly give him.

We went to some friends' house for dinner, our kids played together while we ate and chatted and then carted our overly-tired, overly-sugared, overly-stimulated Boy home and put him to bed. 

After a trip to Savannah to see some Family,  we came home and I took down our tree.  The Christmas fatigue set in some time before I went to Athens so I was pretty relieved to be able to take it all down and get back to normal life.

The Boy, Chris and I will now return to our regularly scheduled life.  We'll pause for a trip North to see my other awesome sister Sherry and her family, my Brother and his lovely family of ladies (he has 4 beautiful little girls, the poor man is hopelessly outnumbered) and my folks.  We're looking forward to being back in NC, even if only for a few days, to catching up with family, Chris is going to help chip some wood and he's promised me a trip to Barnes and Nobles.  I'm one lucky girl.

The Christmas Spirit

on 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas, y'all!

The Christmas Spirit

A Christmas Carol: the End of it.

on 24 December 2009

"Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms.  His own heart laughed; and that was quite enough for him."

Charles Dickens

Obligatory Christmas Cheer

on 23 December 2009

As you all know by now, we don't let the Boy have much sugar.  But 'tis the season!  And since, I do all of the baking around here, I know what's in the stuff I make, so it's ok.

ONE. 

One cookie...once a day...it's ok. 

If he eats good food first.

So I baked up some gingerbread boys.  I love these, but I only make them once a year.  Probably because up until this point I have been the only one in Burnstopia who loves these.

...until this point...



The first bite.


Dude.


Delicious.

A Christmas Carol: the Last of Three Spirits

on 22 December 2009

"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,"  said Scrooge.  'But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.  Say it is thus with what you show me!"

The Spirit was immovable as ever.

...

"Spirit!" he cried, tight clutching at its robe, 'hear me!  I am not the man I was.  I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse.  Why show me this if I am past all hope!"

For the first time the hand appeared to shake.

'Good Spirit,' he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it.  'Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me.  Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!'

The kind hand trembled.

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.  I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.  The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.  I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.  Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!"

Memory's Fool

on 21 December 2009

You know the "good ol' days"?  You know why they're good, right?  It's because they're OLD.


I think a prerequisite to happy memories is the passage of time.  Something happens in our brains as time passes, the pain, the frustration, the exhaustion, the disillusionment, they all fade out of focus until they drop out of the picture all together and all that remains is the happy. 

Two years ago I went out to Seattle to see Whimsy with Child.  I hadn't been back since 2003.  We drove around, we shopped, we chatted.  And it was so happy.  I was happy.  Enough time had passed that the pain, the grief, the disappointment, the struggle had faded out of focus and everything that was left was polished by the patina of time.


I think not enough time has passed for that to happen with Athens yet.


I had a wonderful time with my women.  They are all of them amazing, and they have nurtured me in ways they can't even imagine.  But it wasn't all happy.   I drove around town with a keen sense of how hard it had been.  I could remember the tears, the frustration, the disgust, the struggle and the many, many sleepless nights.  All of the self-doubt, the insecurity and paranoia came flooding back. 

We stayed up late Thursday night talking and laughing and telling stories.  I had already put the Boy to bed, Sarah and Ginny's older kids were playing in the other room.  For a time it was like being back there in school.

And that night, I went to bed and I lay awake.  My head flooded with fear, what was I going to do?  What was I supposed to write?  I had wasted time!  I hadn't read any good books lately?  My mind was growing stagnant!  I was forgetting my languages!  I was out of touch, out of the loop, and in danger of becoming irrelevant!  I berated myself with shouldas and couldas and felt exactly like I had 6 years ago.


And as I drove south, I sighed.  Great big, heaping breaths of relief.

That's not my life anymore.  It was a good experience.  I love that I have a good education, but it's not my life anymore.  I have made my choice.  And as I climbed into Bed Sweet Bed with my Chris and my cats, I felt nothing but Peace that it is a good choice.

Feelin' the LOVE

on 18 December 2009

6 years ago last August, my car laden with a trailer, my cat and all of my worldly possessions and I trudged the long, slow, weary trudge down I-85 to 316 and the long stop and go pathway into Athens, Georgia.  I had never been there before, I was armed only with a map and keen sense of the foolishness of my plans.  I stopped for gas outside of Atlanta and finally, after pacing around my car, I made the phone call.  I was calling Some Guy named Layne from my church.  Word was, he would be able to rustle up some help unloading my meager possessions.

(I exaggerate slightly when I say meager.  While I had very little in the way of furniture, I had approximately 15 boxes of books weighing approximately 300 pounds each.  It was August in Georgia and their assistance should not be undervalued.)

I told Some Guy named Layne that I would be arriving in about an hour, maybe an hour and half and if he could bring a bit of help, I would be really grateful.  He said he'd see what he could do and would meet me at my, as yet unseen apartment.

2 hours later, keys in hand, I trudged up the stairs in a stairwell smelling alarmingly of kim-chee.  I entered a plain, non-descript apartment.  It was steamy and hot as the electiricity had not been turned on and since it was now after 5, it couldn't be turned on until Monday morning.  Outside I met two Angels dressed in mortals clothing.  They introduced themselves as Sarah and Layne

They proceeded to schlep my whole life into that apartment.  And when the trailer and the car were empty, I calmly burst into tears. 

Sarah immediately put her arms around me and said, "You're not staying here tonight, you're coming home with me!"  And that's just what she did.  We packed up my cat and some clothes and my laundry and we went to her house.  I called Whimsy, I was having a bit of a panic attack, I did some laundry, Sarah made me dinner and Layne gave me a blessing.  I cried a lot.

They gave me rest and filled me up with enough courage to face my apartment the next day.  I set to putting things in order.  Sarah drove me around town to get my bearings, she walked me around campus and showed me the buildings she knew I would need.  We played with her cat, Jinx.  She took me to church and introduced me to people.  At some point that weekend she met up with Chris to tell him she had met his future wife.

Over the course of the next weeks, I would meet the people who would get me through graduate school.  Ginny and Thad, Nathan, Becca and Daniel, Swan and Jeremy, Krista and Evan, our institute director Brother Bradley, the senior missionaries the Barlows, and Chris, always Chris.  We would meet, start dating, fall in love and well...you know the rest.  It took only a few weeks to realize that my academic program wouldn't do much for me intellectually or professionally, but these people, oh these people, I cannot tell you what they have done for me personally and privately.

We were gathered around the Christmas tree in the Bradley's living room, me, Ginny and Thad (married 6 years now with 2 kids), Sarah Ricker (who would come into our circle later, also married to the lovely Clint), Sarah and Layne (they got engaged that first Fall and married the next Valentine's day) and our ever lovely institute director President Bradley.  He who knew us all when we were young, selfish, single and for the most part, care free.  He had counseled us through the perils of dating, engagement and newly-wedded, not so bliss.  Always with a smile, a sense of humor and much needed wisdom.  And now I find he has a wonderfully short-termed memory--for he can only remember us when we were funny or smart, when asked if he remembers how obnoxious we were he shakes his head and says, "Nooooo, you were GREAT!"

I was looking around that room last night, so many faces of people that I love (the first among them was painfully absent), and I marveled again at the roles that people play in our lives, the voids they fill, the care they take of our souls.  I read this morning that "Love is what you've been through with somebody."**  I have been forcibly reminded of that during the past few days.  These faces, they were the faces that were there when our little family first started with me and Chris and awkward conversation.  They were the faces there when we were engaged, when we were stressed by classes, professors and finals.  These were the women who showed me that being a mother isn't something to be feared, it's scary, but also possible. 

I love these people.  I never really loved Athens.  When we left, I was never homesick for it.  But oh how I pined for these people.  They never failed to make me laugh, cry, think or try to live better.  They took care of me when I could not take care of myself.  They brought the most momentous man into my world.  Which in turn brought the second most momentous man into my life.  There aren't appropriate words in any language that I know, that can say how I love these people. 






**James Thurber

A Christmas Carol: the Second of Three Spirits

on 17 December 2009

'Spirit,' said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before, 'tell me if Tiny Tim will live.'

'I see a vacant seat,' replied the Ghost, 'in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved.  If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.'

'No, no,' said Scrooge.  'Oh, no, kind Spirit!  say he will be spared.'

'If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race,' returned the Ghost, 'will find him here.  What then?  If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.'

Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.

'Man.' said the Ghost, 'if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surpluse population is, and Where it is.  Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die?  It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child.  Oh God!  to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!'

Charles Dickens

What was it I was forgetting?

on 16 December 2009

It became clear to me, one early morning last week, that I had forgotten to wash the Boy's laundry.

How?  You may ask.

Well, I got him up, changed his diaper and removed his odorous pajamas (between the sweat and the soggy diaper, they smell fresh in the morning).  I was getting him dressed and this was as far as I got:



Poor kid!  We were plum fresh out of clean pants and socks!  We postponed our outing in favor of doing a little laundry and just hanging out.

Fortunately, he's a bit of an exhibitionist.

 
 
Look at that.  Not a care in the world for pants.  He's got his snack cup and free run of the apartment.  That's one satisfied little man.

We're off to Athens today, I'll have some Dickens for you tomorrow and I'll try to get some long-distance blogging done for Friday but I can't make any promises.  I haven't seen these women in YEARS!  I haven't met their children!  I haven't seen their houses!  I am totally excited to catch up with them.  And hopefully, I'll have some lovely stories and pictures for you next week.

Wonder Bread

on 15 December 2009

A few weeks ago, the Luminous Eleanor Q, asked for a bread tutorial.  And since she is my Jewish Twin, I am happy to oblige her!

I grew up with a lovely mother who made all of our bread.  Partly for economics (it's cheaper to make your own anything) and partly for nutrition (my mother DESPISES store bought bread which she describes with a tone of disdain, "It's nothing but AIR!"), we ate homemade bread all my life.  On very rare occasions (when my mom was traveling and there wasn't any bread in the freezer) my dad would purchase us the forbidden and illicit store bought white bread of our childish dreams.  But as surely as my mother lives and breathes, once she came  home, she made more bread and that much maligned "loaf" would find its way to the trash.

As an adult, I realized that I really needed to learn to make bread because I CRAVED it constantly when under stress and being an adult is really stressful.  I found that nothing would satisfy like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on homemade bread and nothing would comfort my anxieties like a piece of homemade bread toast with cinnamon and sugar.  And so, in graduate school I set out to learn to make bread.

I am a book learner.  When I don't know how to do something whether it's a foreign language, dealing with a newborn, or making bread, I turn to a book.  I can read, think and understand it in a matter of hours.  (I don't know how, my brain just works like that.)  So, when I was a 2nd year Masters student, I requested Rose Levy Beranbaum's series of cookbooks (the Bread Bible, the Cake Bible and the Pie and Pastry Bible).

Now, I love Rose (as you can see, we're on a first name basis).  And for understanding the science behind bread (or cakes or pies) there is no better book out there.  She can explain to you why you need the ratio of water--flour--fat--salt--yeast and how kneading will develop the gluten and which flours and yeasts are best.  But there really are some things you just can't learn from a book.

It took many many months of me trying and failing in varying degrees to learn to make bread.  And any regular reader of this blog knows that I still fail spectacularly some time.  (Bread Bricks for dinner anyone?  Pumpkin Flop-overs for dessert!)  But I am here, to share with you what I've learned about our friend, the staff of life.  Know in advance, that you don't have to have a ton of space in your kitchen to make bread, I learned in a kitchen with (I kid you not) 2 square feet of counter space.  As long as you're organized and line up your ingredients and tools, you should be fine. 

First things First:

I think most sane people are afraid of Yeast on some level.  It is a living thing, after all.  You feed it and nurture it, only to turn around and EAT it.  It seems a little strange.  So the first rule to Bread making is that you must Stop Fearing the Yeast.  Respect it, but don't be afraid of it.  If you remember a few things, you'll be just fine.

Among other first things.  You'll need about 6-8 hours to make bread.  Not continuous hours, but a good chunk of your day when you'll need to be home and reasonably un-distracted.  Also, and this is a totally whimsical thing, but you should try to maybe be in a good mood.  I find that when I'm happier, when I'm thinking about my family and how much I love them, my bread turns out better.  I don't know why, it just does.

Final first things.  You'll need some good stuff.  Bread flour (I use Gold Medal Better for Bread), you want UNbleached, the bleaching stuff will kill you.  Now, you could go fancy and get King Arthur, it's wonderful flour, but it's expensive and it's probably going to take you a while to figure out what the dough should feel like before it turns out well...so may as well hold off on the good stuff until you really know what you're doing.  Yeast (I use Fleischmann's in the jar, I just like it better that way.), you want to buy it fresh and then keep it in the fridge so it's cool.  You don't want to use old yeast or old flour as they can affect the outcome of your bread.  Which is ok, you can eat the spoils of failed attempts...it's good, it helps you figure out what you like and don't like in a loaf of bread.

On to the breadmaking!

(You should all know, this is my MOM's recipe.  I told her that I wanted to do this and she chuckled and was humble and sweet about it.  I told her that if you all had questions, I was going to send them to HER and she would answer them, at which point she started to PROTEST.  But if you send me questions, I shall still forward them to her at which point she'll probably just CALL me and ask me to clarify on the blog.)

Assemble your necessary ingredients:

FAT:  You'll need 1/4 cup of a fat that is solid at room temperature.  My mom uses shortening, I like butter, you can choose what you like.
Liquid:  The recipe calls for 1 cup of powdered milk to 1 quart of warm-hot water, which is what I do.  But if you want to use regular milk and warm it up, you can do that, if you want to do soy or rice milk (as long as it's unflavored) I'm sure that's also fine, though you may get different results because of the varying protein structures.  Mostly you want to make sure that it's on the warm side of hot.

First, you want to dissolve your YEAST in 1 cup of warm water (not too hot because that will kill your yeast, and you'll want to add a pinch of sugar to feed the yeast).

Next, you want to melt your Fat of Choice in your Liquid of Choice.  At this point you also want to add 5 tablespoons of sugar (if you choose to use honey you'll want to use LESS liquid) and 1.5 tablespoons of salt.  I usually add 1-2 cups of bread flour at this point as well.  And I stir with a whisk because my flour can be a bit lumpy at first.  It should still be really runny (runnier than cake batter).

Now you'll stir in your dissolved yeast--it should have puffed up quite a bit while sitting there.


Now you begin to mix in the flour.  My mom's recipe calls for 6-8 cups of bread flour, I ALWAYS need more.  It's more like 9-10 cups of bread flour, but once I count up to 9 cups, I start adding it by halves because if you get too MUCH flour you'll get Bread Bricks.  (And you'll want to switch from a whisk to something sturdy like a wooden or plastic spoon, don't use a spatula you can't get enough force behind it and you REALLY don't want to continue to use a whisk because cleaning really thick bread dough out of a whisk is NOT fun.  Go on, ask me how I know that.)


Once the dough gets thick you want to start mixing and kneading with your hands.  I am a HUGE advocate for using your hands when making bread, you need to FEEL the texture of the dough to know when it's good and ready.  You want to knead it for 10 minutes.  Now, whether that's 10 minutes consecutively or 10 minutes total with a short break in the middle that's up to you.  I've had success both ways.  But make sure that you streatch it and knead it for 10 minutes.



As you're kneading you can add incriments of flour to get the dough to the right consistency.  Just be ware the Bread Bricks.  I usually add by half cups and then quarters and then just pinches until it feels the way it should feel in my hand.



 

Once it's slightly sticky, but not too sticky, it should feel sort of smooth and stick to itself more than your fingers.  THEN, you set it to rise.  Somewhere warmish (just not really cold), and cover it with a lid or a thin towel, you just don't want it to dry out.

2 hours later it should have risen and puffed:


Then you'll punch it down, and leave it to rise again.


2 hours later it should have risen and puffed again:

(it's stuck to the lid of the bowl.  Lovely!)

Now comes the fun part.  You want to flour your work surface, like this:


Dump out your dough. And divide it in half with a pastry scraper thing.  (I don't normally endorse bazillions of different kitchen tools, but I LOVE this scraper!  I use it all the time!)


Once you've divided it in half, divide those halves into halves again.  This will give you 4 mostly equal sized loaves.


Grease your pans and shape your loaves.  Place the loaves in the pan and lay them out to rise again. (You'll want to cover them with a thin towel of some sort to keep them from drying out again.)


2 hours (or so) later, you should be ready to preheat your oven.  Warm it up to 350 degrees and when your loaves are as big and puffy as you desire, slide them on in.  Be GENTLE, you don't want the dough to collapse on itself.


(these loaves were so big, only 3 would fit in my oven, so I baked 3 first and left the smallest to rise while the others baked.)

Bake for 45 minutes or until the desired brown.

Dump the loaves out onto a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely (if you CAN) before cutting.



Allow them to cool completely before freezing them.  This recipe will make 4 big beautiful VOLUPTUOUS loaves of bread.  We nearly always eat an entire HALF after it comes out of the oven with honey butter, or butter and jam, or cinnamon and sugar, or honey, or just butter, or just plain.  It's perfect for cold nights with a big bowl of soup (I can heartily recommend tomato), or as a grilled cheese sandwich with said soup.

Whoa.

on 14 December 2009

When you live in a small town, a night out is a big deal.

When you work for a hospital and in all liklihood wear scrubs every day to work, a night out (in which you dress UP) is a big deal.

Alcohol makes people do some really dumb things. 

Aaaaaaaand, that about sums up Chris' work holiday party.  It was the last big work obligation we had for the holiday season, I was NOT looking forward to it, having just rid myself of a cold (but carrying the remnants in my chest) and not being a dancer, a drinker or a great lover of a crowd myself, but I AM an excellent wife and so I went.

People, when I say this was a BIG deal, it was a BIG deal.  There were over 2000 (two THOUSAND) people there.  The door was better gaurded than the White House, since we had NO party crashers and the White House DID.  The invitation said semi-formal attire.  I take that to mean nice-ish dresses.  Suits for the men-folk.  And for the most part, the men folk didn't disappoint. 

Can I just say one word to the Women?

Ladies, a DRESS should COVER your body.  A halter top, a LACE halter top, spaghetti straps, or a swimsuit, DO NOT count as a DRESS.  If it's transparent, it does NOT count as a DRESS. 

Ok, I think I covered it.  HA!  Covered!

Anyway.  There were two rooms set up with tables and food and live music.  One was supposed to be a more subdued jazz band type room (intended for the senior citizens) and the other was the Uproarious Room.  What it turned out to be was one room (intended for the senior citizens) with a live band that played Mustang Sally all night and the Uproarious Room with a band specializing in club covers.

Chris and I started out in the Senior Citizen room.  I don't get out much and as such I'm out of the habit of social behavior.  We both agreed it would be best to break me in gently.  So we made the rounds, shook some hands, made chit-chat (which is the most appropriate term for the mindless small-indeed- talk that it involves).  We headed over to the Uproarious Room and made more rounds, shook more hands, even more chit-chat.  I may have suggested that one of Chris' co-workers should consider marketing an Action Figure of herself because Chris' praise of her was that grand.  I may also have said at one point that I just don't have the talent for being a trophy wife.

I may have been trying to insure that Chris never makes me go to these sorts of functions again.

I may also have failed.

Because in the midst of all of it, I also managed to have an intelligent conversation about hand-guns with a doctor who is also part-owner of a shooting gallery, and a reasonably comical conversation with a board member about Georgia Football.  And I was left to ask myself, What has HAPPENED to you, M?  Oh how the MIGHTY have FALLEN!  How is it possible that you can have a reasonable conversation about GUNS and then turn around and have another intelligible conversation about FOOTBALL?! 

I made the mistake of asking Chris about it and he said, "Yeah, you live in the South now."  I suppose I've adapted after all.

Anyway, I was told all manner of CRAZY (so crazy as to qualify for 3 syllables and be KA-RAY-ZY) stories of Parties of Years Past.  Of drunken revelry, of exposed breasts, of dancing on the tables, of public maulings, of public humiliations necessitating transport by ambulance.  Alas, we didn't really see any of that this year.  For I have been sick and did not really want to be there, so we arrived at 7:30 and left by 10pm.

But we did see some CRAZY stuff by my standards.  OLD people DANCING.  OLD people groping other OLD people.  Which, ok, yes, that's lovely that you still have that kind of FIRE in your life, but DUDE.  Keep it at HOME.  We don't want to see that.  Then there were the young people dancing...if it can be called dancing.  Public exhibition is how I would have described it.  I was mortified by the behavior of a few, apparently, classless women.

I was really only miffed at one point in the evening when the singer called for all the LADIES to come up on the stage and "SHAKE WHAT YOUR MAMA GAVE YOU!"  I'm sorry.  I didn't realize this was THAT kind of party.  And dude, Why just the WOMEN?  If you're going to have public exhibitions of your body, then why not exploit men and women alike?  I was annoyed.  MORE annoyed at the SCORES of women who WENT.  Many of them old enough to be my MOTHER! 

I strongly suspected that we no longer live in a civilized culture, the evening merely confirmed my suspicion.

By far, the funnest parts of the evening were when Chris and I could sneak off together and just talk.  I cracked a few jokes and he laughed and oh, how I love to make him laugh.  He's my toughest crowd, so when I can make him laugh I know I've struck gold.

And I know it might be gross, but I love to see what people EAT when there are buffets on the offereing.  This one guy had nothing but MEAT (ham, turkey and shrimp) on his plate.  And it was PILED 4 inches DEEP!  I am NOT exaggerating.  Chris wanted to look but the guy was a BIG guy and Chris also wanted to make it out alive.

Otherwise we were part of a handful of people NOT drinking, which was fine...except that I still don't get it.  I don't get why such activity is FUN.  I don't get the point of it.  Imbibing a chemical to relax you enough to act like an idiot.  It makes no sense to me at all.  But then, I'm a rational teetotaler. 

All in all, I'm gald it's over and done with.  Now we can get on to the really fun stuff!  On to Athens this week!  Cookie plates and secret-santa-ing!  Caroling and trying to learn a new crafty craft!  On with Dickens!  On to the New Year.

My Melancholy Christmas

on 11 December 2009

So, every year that we lived in Durham we would go to my sister's house and help her bake for her annual cookie plates.  See, she does these festive plates of buttery-sugary-spicey-chocolatey deliciousness for the people Jeff (her awesome husband) works with and for some of her friends at church.  It's an extensive project,  for everybody loves my sister, it's sort of impossible not to love her.  Anyway, it was just one of those silly fun things that we did every year.  Chris and I would trek up to her house and visit and bake and chat and stir and usually leave the actual assembly to her, but still!  It really was fun!



And this year I am MISSING IT!

And that makes M sad.  Very sad.

(Can I just ask you, How YOUNG do Chris and I look in this picture?!  We took these on our wedding day, it was MADNESS, but it was also hilarious!  My sister Susie (she's the lovely brunette there on the right), she and her family had flown through the night because of airline or flight craziness, I can't really remember, so her kids were exhausted and kept spontaneously falling asleep.  And Chris and I were FRIED from finals and well, it was just 36 kinds of chaos.  And we're in Sherry's dining room (she's the gorgeous red-head, and yes, I'm aware that we look a lot alike), I can't get over how YOUNG her kids are!  Surely it hasn't been that long ago?)

The Sad isn't helped by the fact that I'm continuing to morph into a younger more rambunctious version of my sister.  This year, I'm assembling cookie plates for people Chris works with and some friends from church and what am I putting on them?  Oh, the same stuff my sister does except for one (a Snicker bar type cookie that is delicious but SO not worth the effort of making them).  And so, I, in my chilly apartment (it's finally cooled off here and we're not turning on our heat, we're warming ourselves with LOVE), am mixing cookie doughs all alone.  Well, not all alone as the Boy is here but you know, he doesn't really get that making cookies is supposed to be fun.  And charming though he may be, he's not the most scintillating conversationalist.

I miss my sister.  I miss my family.  I guess I hadn't realized that in the course of 3 years they became my best friends again.

Burnstopia Cookie Plates:
  • homemade English Butter Toffee
  • Cherry Blossoms
  • Gingerbread Snowflakes
  • Lemon Sugar Cookies
  • a fat slice of Tupelo honey cake
(Does anyone want to guess how many sticks of butter I had to use to make all of this?  It's a SHOCKING and also AWESOME statistic.)

ANNOUNCEMENT:

In the event that you live in the general vicinity of Athens, GA--I'm going to be in town next week!  Visiting!  For FUN!  I'm meeting up with Sarah B., Sarah R., Ginny T. and Krista M.  and if you would like to get your own heaping dolop of M and the Boy love, please email or call or comment or whatever and I'll let you know where and when I'll BE and we'll try to get together (Swan and Rachel W. I am talking to YOU.)

Not for Children...apparently.

on 10 December 2009

I may, occasionally, over-estimate the capacity of my child.


As you know, we don't watch TV in this house.  Chris watches his few shows on hulu.com, the only things I'm currently watching is V and it's on break until January.  We're toying with the idea of getting cable just long enough for the winter olympics, but that's neither here nor there.

See, I am sick.  I have a cold.  I'm just grateful it's not the flu or a sinus invection, but I feel miserable just the same.  And as I'm sick, the rules are sort of slack around here.  As in, the Boy and I spent a good part of the day watching Christmas movies and making Christmas cookies and reading books and cuddling in general and not much else.

We watched a Charlie Brown Christmas, which he loved even last year and this year he positively dances to Schroder's little piano music.  Then I put on the 1986 version of a Christmas Carol.  He likes it well enough, but mostly he throws balls around and chases them down.  And since he didn't balk at the 1986 version, I put on the 1999 version with Patrick Stewart while I baked some cookies.

The Boy was all bathed and ready for bed, we were hanging out until Chris got home so that he could have some loves before going back out for work stuff. 

I was pulling cherry blossoms out of the oven and capping them with chocolate kisses and a Christmas Carol was just background music for me.  I have parts of it memorized, much like Pride and Prejudice, so I was vaguely aware that Jacob Marley had entered upon the scene, when suddenly...


I heard this WAIL.


I turn.  I look at the TV, and sure enough Jacob Marley is SCREAMING and trying to convince Scrooge of his reality.  My own Boy was SCREAMING in TERROR.

I quickly snatched him up and muted the movie.  We sat and rocked and I explained to him about the unrealities of the movies and how some times people need to see scary things to change their lives.


Shortly, we went to bed, he and I.  We rocked and cuddled and said prayers and Chris came home.  He loved and cuddled the Boy and tucked him in to bed.

I spend so much time with him, I look into his eyes and he seems so wise to me and he IS so clever, that I forget.  I forget that he's still new here.  There is much that he hasn't seen and doesn't understand.  And that is just as it should be.  He has plenty of time to learn the rest.

A Christmas Carol: the First of Three Spirits

"The school is not quite deserted," said the Ghost.  "A solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there still."

Scrooge said he knew it.  And he sobbed.

They left the high-road, by a well-remembered lane, and soon approached a mansion of dull red brick, with a little weathercock-surmounted cupola, on the roof, and a bell hanging in it.  It was a large house, but one of broken fortunes; for the spacious offices were little used, their walls were damp and mossy, their windows broken, and their gates decayed.  Fowls clucked and strutted in the stables; and the coach-houses and sheds were over-run with grass.  Nor was it more retentive of its ancient state, within; for entering the dreary hall, and glancing through the open door of many rooms, they found them poorly furnished, cold and vast.  There was an earthy savour in the air, a chilly bareness in the place, which associated itself somehow with too much getting up by candle-light, and not too much to eat.

They went, the Ghost and Scrooge, across the hall, to a door at the back of the house.  It opened before them, and disclosed a long, bare, melancholy room, made barer still by lines of plain deal forms and desks.  At one of these a lonely boy was reading near a feeble fire; and Scrooge sat down upon a form, and wept to see his poor forgotten self as he used to be."

Charles Dickens

Jolly Old St. Chris...

on 09 December 2009

In case you didn't get enough Christmas Spirit with Monday's post...




I am married to the cutest Christmas elf EVER.

I'd like to welcome you all to Chris' Festival of Humiliations!  He knew it was coming, he knew when he signed on for this residency that he'd have to dress up as an Elf for Christmas and the Easter Bunny for Easter (and yes, yes, I will be documenting that as well), so don't feel too sorry for him.  If anything, feel sorry that he spent the WHOLE of last weekend at work.  Doing stuff like this.  He was not a happy elf.  In fact, I may even go so far as to say he was an *angry* elf (name that movie!).

But the Boy and I got to join him for this one!  We headed over to the hospital for Cookies with Santa and lo, it was INSANE!

First off, I just sort of assumed that, this being a small town, the whole Cookies with Santa thing would be small as well.  Um.  NO.  I got there about a half hour late and it was a MADHOUSE!  Hundreds of people!  Every chair filled!  Children hopped up on sugar and kool-aid and candy canes!  You couldn't even SEE Santa Clause!  It was MADNESS, I tell you, MADNESS!

We finally made it into Santa's Inner Sanctum, but I used the time in line to send Chris a text message:  "Well, this is just 8 circles of SUCK, isn't it?"

 

Not terrible.  The Boy was a little freaked out.  I can't say I blame him.  I find the Santa aspect of Christmas a little strange, this old guy who gets his jollies by going around and delivering toys surrepitiously to "good" children while leaving lumps of coal for "bad" children?  I find it fishy.  But that could just be me.

Anyway, I ate the better part of two nasty store-bought sugar cookies because the Boy had grabbed them and I didn't want HIM to eat that much sugar, thankfully I managed to steer us clear of the Red Punch of DEATH.  All in all, it was a successful afternoon...though, not one I'd like to repeat any time soon.  Too many people, too much sugar, far too many sequins for my taste.



I love this kid's Daddy.  I love this kid.  I shall not tell you how much for it would take too long and I have not the words to express it adequately.  Happy, Wednesday, y'all.


Just another Tuesday

on 08 December 2009

I woke up this morning after having really weird dreams last night.

I woke up with a cold in my head.

I woke up with a rumbly in my tumbly.

The Boy woke up Foul Foul Foul because he woke up too early and had gone to bed too late last night.

I was really indecisive about breakfast so we didn't eat until later and the Boy was screaming mad and also HUNGRY.

My kitchen is a wreck.

The Boy has gone back to pooping in his diapers and not telling me about it so his room is quite malodorous this morning.

I haven't vacuumed since Wednesday and there's kitty litter strewn from one end of the apartment o another.

Chris is exhausted and Foul with work right now.

Chris is also really discouraged.

I haven't made Christmas cookies for the cookie plates.

I haven't finished my Christmas shopping.

I have been sitting at my desk, sipping on a diet coke left behind by my parents (thank you PARENTS!) and feeling a tiny bit sorry for myself while the Boy strip mines my kitchen cupboards.

And yet.


For all that, I'm still grateful that I'm NOT Tiger Woods this morning. 

I'm grateful that I'm NOT Tiger Wood's wife.  For all their millions, their gated mansion, their playing golf for a living, their housekeepers and nannies, I'm grateful NOT to be them this morning. 

I'm grateful that I don't live in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, or Pakistan today. 

I'm grateful that we have a job. 

I'm grateful that I'm not addicted to heroin, cocaine, vicodan, alcohol, or anything more damaging than diet coke. 

I'm grateful for lovely classical music and the ability to listen to it any time I feel the least bit stressed.

I'm grateful for the tupperware in my kitchen cupboards and that it amuses my grumpy child.

I'm grateful for my grumpy child because even when he's grumpy life is better, sweeter, fuller, richer than when we had no child at all.



Now, if you will all excuse me, I'm going to go vacuum my apartment and put the tupperware back in the cupboards. 

Sweet, sweet honey

Chris works.

Chris works hard.

Chris works with a wide variety of people.

Sometimes this wide variety of people bring him stuff.

Chris brings that stuff home.

Some of the stuff is GOOD stuff.

Case in point, last week Chris brought home this gorgeous bottle of honey.  My initial reaction was to mock such fancy pants stuff.  But then we UNCORKED it, sliced thick slices of my voluptuous homemade bread, spread on some butter and drizzled this honey all over it.

Oh.My.Dear.Sweet.Nectar of NATURE it is GOOD.

I have eaten nothing for the past 4 days but bread with butter and honey and I am NOT sorry.

You know how most honey, the honey you buy in the store tastes slightly sharp and edgey?  This is all smoothe edges, soft, melty sweetness.  Lights will literally fire off in your brain as you eat it.  You will speak in softer tones.  You will love the world.

So, that's my suggestion.  If you have those people in your life that you want to give something to them but they have everything they need, give them a bottle of this honey.  Remind them how sweet life can be.

Can you stand it?

on 07 December 2009

This is the kind of holiday spirit I live with:



I myself wonder how I can stand such an excess of cheer.

Blanket Love

on 04 December 2009

When I was a very small, very red-headed child, my lovely mother made some yarny needle-pointed crafty thing for my bedroom wall.  It was Linus from the Peanuts.

See, I was very much a Linus Child.  I had a beloved and confidence endowing blanket of magical powers.  So magical, in fact, that I carried that blanket with me everywhere until Kindergarten when my lovely mother refused to let me carry the ragged thing in to school with me.  I slept with it until I was in Junior High (and I am not ASHAMED!  Junior High is HARD!  and MISERABLE!  And anything you cand do to aleviate that pain, you do it!).  I still have it packed away as part of my Unimaginable Misery Contingency Plan.

Once the Boy came along, I started carrying a blanket again.  This time it was his, not mine.  When he was small and new, we tried out different blankets, different fabrics, textures, prints, sizes, and colors.  We figured out pretty quickly how much he loved  his Aunty Lisa Blanket, it was the one thing that would calm him when almost nothing else would do. 

Then we had a few months there where, if we were out and about and he had ME, well then, he didn't need nor particularly want his blanket.  But now?

Now, I'm starting to realize that my child may look like his father, but he has his mother's eccentric personality.  I'm in my 30s and back to carrying a blanket everywhere we go.  And I do mean EVERYWHERE.  Running to the bank to go through the DRIVE THROUGH?  Blanket!  Walmart or Target?  Blanket!  Church?  Blanket!  And it goes without saying that if he is going to be sleeping anywhere at anytime the blanket is the MUST HAVE accessory.  Bad day?  Blanket on the head!  Good day?  Blanket in hand and laughing!  Blanket at breakfast!  Blanket at noon!  Blanket after bath while naked as a jay-bird!  It's all about that 36 inch piece of soft white synthetic fabric.

But you know?  I can do this.  This?  This inexplicable need for this one soft thing?  This urgent LOVE for an inanimate object?  This inarticulatable WOE if the blanket is GONE (read: in the washer because it STINKS).  I understand this.  I know this.  I can handle this.  And if I were being really honest, I love this.

I told Chris the other day, when the Boy outgrows his blanket, that's the one thing from his childhood that I want.  I want to pack it away in cedar so that when he is grown and gone and no longer needs me, I can pull out his blanket and smell what he smelled like when he was small and his face just fit in the crook of my neck.  It will be the one talisman that I hold on to, in order to remember this time when it was him and me and me and him and time was fleeting but life was Grand.

A Christmas Carol

on 03 December 2009

As you all know by now, I read A Christmas Carol every year at Christmas time.  This year marks my 10th year reading it, and as such, I would like to dedicate every Thursday in December to A Christmas Carol.  I'll feature some of my most favorite passages and hope that they sow seeds of light and compassion in your hearts this Christmas Season.

(For the lovely Eleanor Q (and any other of my Jewish brothers and sisters who might be reading)--Happy Hanukkah!  L'chaim!  Just...you know...pretend it's Hanukkah instead of Christmas.)



"The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went.  Every one of them wore chains like Marley's Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free.  Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives.  He had been quite familar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step.  The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power forever."

Behold the Power of Pie

on 02 December 2009

We had such a great weekend, y'all.

My folks came down on Wednesday to play with the Boy and to help me bake.  We made the 4 pie crusts for 3 pies and my mom started the buttery crescent rolls.  I also made up a batch of ginger cookies for my sister-in-law.

Thursday dawned bright and early with the Boy wide awake and ready for GRANDMA.  We got up and cleaned up and began putting together the last pie--Butterscotch Cream.  Now, I don't abide giving children a lot of sugar.  I think it's unreasonable to expect children to obey well when they're hopped up on kiddie cocaine, so we seriously limit the refined sugar the Boy gets.  But it's Thanksgiving and there were lots of extra hands, so I figured if he wanted to help is Mama lick out the residual butterscotch cream from the pot, well then, let's have at it.

Little did I know.

I gave him the spoon I stirred with, and I took the spatula.  As soon as he saw me with the spatula he wanted that TOO.  For the CREAM!  It was so sweet and caramelly and delicious!  GimmeGimmeGimme!



(Please excuse my hair, I hadn't blow dried it for the day...also, I'm growing it out a bit...it's a HOLIDAY!  I'm allowed to have funky hair!)

I finally surrendered the spoon and the spatula to my heavenly child and he proceeded to lick and slurp on both until the spoon and the spatula were clean and he was COVERED in butterscotch.  At which point I made the mistake of trying to take both spoon and spatula away from him.

This was his reaction:



Um.  My child is OFF the FLOOR.  And SCREAMING.  He wanted those utensils and he was NOT relinquishing them without a fight.  He was MAD.  And when I finally wrenched them away from him, he proceeded to have an inconsolable melt down.

Poor kid.  He had to settle for ACTUAL pie after dinner.

Linkage to better write-age

on 01 December 2009

I am shamelessly linking this post from Sweet Juniper!

For he is awesome.  And also a better writer than I am today.  Click and enjoy!

Also.  My sister, who is a parenting veteran, kept a stock of empty plastic shopping bags in her car for those unpredictable pukers.  It's an idea...

How I know it's the holiday season

I spent most of last week baking or cooking.

We just finished the leftovers, in the form of Chris' turkey pot pie, last night.

I had to grocery shop yesterday because our fridge was literally empty. And yet.  I   am spending some part of every day cooking or baking.  Last night was turkey pot pie for Chris.  He's ailing, but I think it's more in his heart and mind than in his body.  He's stressed and I think he's lonely.  He works 12 hours a day every day, his coworkers aren't bosom friends, no one seems to understand that 5 12-hour days is just not the lifestyle he wants.  And in Burnstopia, when one suffers, the other makes pot pie as comfort food.

That said, it's also the holidays.  Today we're making bread and cranberry bread.  I bought up supplies for Cherry Blossoms, Gingerbread snowflakes, lemon sugar cookies and English butter toffee.  I'll assemble cookie plates for Chris' coworkers and for some friends of ours from church.  He has a work event at the Senior Care center, we'll make up big batches of cookies for the care-givers there.

I think the hardest thing for me about marriage is that I'm a woman of action.  I want to be DOING.  I want my hands busy in making a quantifiable difference.  But that doesn't seem to be my role right now.  He needs me to listen, to empathize, to comfort him by being still.  It is a hard thing for me.  If it were my choice, I would go to the hospital and work on things in his office, take his To Do list and working on it systematically, organize the piles and hunt people down for their part on the projects.  But that's not what he needs from me right now...so I find myself exercising the left-handed and thus, weaker side of my nature.

And I can do it.  It's hard, but fortunately it's the holidays and there is plenty of other things for me to be doing.




(in other news, I'm assembling and sewing up a Super Secret Weapon (read: TOY) for the Boy for our flight out west in January.  Stay tuned for details.)

Our Monday Night Tradition

on 30 November 2009

Per Whimsy's request, and owing to my own over-active sense of guilt, here is our new favorite Monday night activity.

Pizza!

Now, if we're e'er in Savannah, we love to go to Vinnies.  Hands down the best pizza in the South!  And maybe anywhere, we had pizza in New York that was good, but not as good as Vinnies.  But Vinnies, alas, it is an hour away and pizza is a great way for me to get veggies into my child without too much mess, so I make this once a week.

The thing about pizza is that you're really only limited by your imagination when it comes to toppings.  When we go to Vinnies, Chris likes to get italian sausage and pesto and I generally go for mushroom and feta cheese.  But when we lived in Durham and had no Vinnies, we went to Amantes and Amantes had some awesome topping combinations.  So the two that I make regularly are derived from both of these sources.

I've tweaked a recipe from Mark Bittman's book How to Cook Everything which I bought for Chris one year for Christmas and which he's never used but I've had great luck with it.  Everything I've made out of here has turned out, and the recipe's stand up to some personalization which is perfect for me.

(I had brilliant intentions of including pictures, and I did start to take some, but DUDE--it was slowing me down and I was tired and hungry and also trying to feed, bathe and put a small toddler to bed, so...not so much with the pictures, sorry!)

First, take 3 cups of bread flour.  (You can use all purpose flour, but I like the texture of bread flour best.)  (You can also substitute up to half of the flour with wheat flour, oat flour, barley flour, whatever flour floats your boat.)  Next you add 2 teaspoons of yeast, 2 teaspoons of coarse salt and I add 1 tablespoon of dried italian herbs.

Mix all of that together and then mix up your wet ingredients.  Take 1 cup of warm water, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and I crush 3ish cloves of fresh garlic into this.

Add your wet ingredients to your dry and add more water if necessary.  (I almost always add more water.)

Then, turn your dough out onto a floured surface and add more flour if necessary and then knead it until it's soft and no longer sticky.

You should end up with a lovely ball of dough.  Set it in a relatively warm place to rise for an hour.

(It's never to early to think about toppings.  If I haven't done it already I take out a box of frozen spinach to thaw...I also start chopping some pepper...)

Once your dough is puffy (it takes about an hour in a warmish room, longer if you're like us and keep your house cold), I divide it in half.  You can make one big, thick crust pizza or 2 smaller thin crust pizzas, it's up to you.

Flour your work surface and roll out the crust.

Grease your pans!

Shift the crust onto the pans and preheat your oven (500 degrees).

Now you get to play!  I like to use pesto for one sauce and just whatever red sauce you happen to have on hand for the other (we buy classico and doctor it up, I like the chunks of tomato on pizza), so sauce them up!

(Just a word about pesto on pizza--dude, DO it.  It's SO good.  Full of flavor, and the olive oil makes the crust crispy and delightful.  I can't advocate this enough.  It's awesome with tomato and mozzerella, with feta cheese, with some kind of meat, with other green veggies, it's good with almost anything!)

Now, for my pesto pizza, I use soy breakfast sausage.  The herbiness in the faux sausage compliments the pesto in all kinds of awesome ways.  You can use regular pork sausage, italian sausage, chorizo or whatever.  And then top with mozerella.  This one was a really wet moz, so i didn't grate it, I just pulled it apart with my fingers.

For my veggie pizza.  I have borrowed heavy inspiration from Amante's Greek pizza for this one.  I use a red sauce, and then the spinach.

You want to press all of the water out of frozen spinach (you can use fresh but you should cook it first) and then I just pinch it and pull it apart and layer it onto my pizza.

After spinach I layer on the peppers.  You can use whatever color floats your boat.  I chop them small so that the Boy will eat them.

After that I add mushrooms and olives (I used canned for convenience's sake).

And finally the feta cheese.  I can eat feta cheese any time, any where.  I love it.  On salads, on pizza, on sandwiches, I care not.  It's always good.  But if you're not a fan, you can leave it off.

Finally top with your mozerella.  (For veggie pizzas, they need some help in the spice department.  The chopped pepper helps a bit, but I also sprinkle liberally with this pepper blend called Hot Shot! You can get it in your spice aisle, I think McCormick's makes it.)

Bake for 15 minutes at 500 degrees or until the desired color of brown-ness.  I think there's nothing quite so good as burned cheese so I tend to cook mine a while.

Cut and serve!  Enjoy!

Fun Friday: the Grandparents!

on 27 November 2009

Suffice it to say, we did absolutely nothing this weekend.

We cooked.  We ate.  We talked and chatted and laughed and read.

We did NOT shop.  We did NOT go out and do anything on the town.

Chris and I DID have a proper date night!  My folks watched the Boy and let him stay up too late, but loved watching him play.

We DID put up the Christmas tree and lo, the Boy LOVES it.  I've put the non-breakable ornaments down low and he can rearrange them at will.  Mostly he just wants to pull them off and follow me around with them shouting with GLEE.

It was a lovely weekend.  Peaceful and relaxed and gloriously imperfect.  I told Chris that I want that to be our family tradition, on all holidays--no perfection.  Just FUN.

I'll write a proper, detailed update for next week, for now, I've got some cuddling to do.


smooches for everyone....

Thankful

on 26 November 2009

Tradition holds that we after we all stuff ourselves full, we sit around the table and gab.  It usually starts with us sharing what we're thankful for this year.

This year I'm thankful for...

  • The Gospel (please see that link on the side about what we believe)
  • gainful employment
  • healthy bodies
  • the Boy
  • the Boy's laugh which is more contagious than the swine flu
  • Chris Chris Chris
  • good books
  • my parents who listen to me whine and then remind me that I can do hard things, who trek down here to spend time with me and the Boy, who bring lovely breezes of North Carolina and cheeky humor with them, who kept my boy and cared for him like no other so that Chris and I could run off to New York like a couple of irresponsible teen-agers.
  • my sisters for their amazing examples
  • Chris' family, especially Dad and Mike--I still haven't forgotten them driving down here to unload our truck, and that after having worked a long hard day.  They are amazing men and I'm grateful for them.
  • the scriptures
  • So many amazing friends I can't even count.  I don't deserve them all.  I suppose I could see this as a side benefit to moving around a lot, but I miss them horribly where ever I end up...
  • cameras--I know this seems random and weird, but seriously, I take pictures of the Boy or the cats and just looking at them can make me crack up laughing regardless of how disasterous the day may be going.
  • my car, Arabella rocks y'all.
  • opportunities to grow
  • my laptop, it's so great to have a space to write and to be creative...
  • my sewing machine...I used to have massive anxiety about sewing, but I've taken a sort of zen approach to it and now it's just really nice to be able to sit down and create something, put some pieces together when it seems like the whole world is coming apart.
  • having Chris home ALL DAY today and tomorrow.  I'll be honest, I gave him the option to go into the office to catch up, and I would not have been resentful if he had chosen to do so, for I know how very stressed he is.  But I'm SO happy to have him HOME!
This is a partial list, so feel free to add yours to the comments.  Now go eat!

Our Old Steal

on 25 November 2009

Chris doesn't really see us during the week.  He works 12-14 hour days every day, I'm nearly always in bed when he leaves in the morning and when he comes home at night.  I try to be awake and reading, but I'm still in bed.  The Boy, on the other hand is almost always asleep when Chris is coming and going. 

So, I've given over the weekends to Chris.  He can plan whatever he wants to do and that's what we do.  I try to get all the errands, shopping and chores done during the week so that Saturdays and Sundays are free to spend together.  We've had some disasters of miscommunication and poor planning, but I have a feeling that last Saturday turned the tide for us.

Chris had originally wanted to go to Savannah, but by the time we got up and dressed and ready to go it was basically the Boy's nap time so he started hunting for something more local and he came up with something promising. 

St. Simon's Island does a Golden Elephant flea market to benefit the local youth symphony and it just happened to be going on last Saturday.  So once the Boy was awake we trekked out to the island to see if there was anything we can't live with out.  Dude, rich people buy some CRAZY things.  And you never know...

It had been going on for 2 weeks so there wasn't much left when we got there, but when we walked in the first thing we saw was this...



That, my friends, is a solid oak, antique child's bed.  How do we know it's solid oak?  Because the original price tag was fixed inside one of the drawers...

 
 
Yeah, that original price of $525?  We didn't even pay 10% of that!  It was $45!  For solid oak!  The thing weighs 500 pounds!  It's handmade!  It has two drawers, and look at these handles!
 


How awesome is this bed?  And the funny thing is, Chris and I have no plans to move the Boy into it any time soon.  We had no plans to buy a child/toddler bed at all!  We were just going to move him into a twin bed when the time came, but this bed had such personality, such flair, such charm that we knew when we saw it that it needed to come home to Burnstopia and live with us.

I know what you're thinking?  Why, M, what are you going to do with it if the Boy isn't going to be sleeping in it any time soon?

I'm so glad you asked...



World, I'd like to welcome you all to our new reading nook.  We've moved the Boy's favorite books into one of the drawers and layered on some cushy blankets until we can order a mattress for it.  We spent most of Sunday afternoon all piled up there together, watching the rain and reading books and eating pears and cuddling and lo, it was good.