Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Intentions

I don't want to sound like I'm perfectly perfected in every way with no need of reformation or improvement. On the other hand, I'm pretty satisfied with my life at the moment. I don't have any huge vices to give up. I've been lax about exercise during the holidays but, duh. The Neighbor and I are rarin' to go starting next week. I feel excellent about my increased discipline about writing. I go to church every Sunday, I'm politically involved, I don't eat too much fast food. Just not much need for earth-shaking changes.

Besides, I gave up making resolutions a long time ago. I prefer to make "intentions". I'll try and do something and I'll be sincere in the attempt but seriously, I am not going to get all medieval on my own arse because I don't live up to some "resolution" that is somehow more sacrosanct because it was made arbitrarily on New Year's. But acknowledging that I am not perfect, here are some of the things I intend for the New Year:

1. Be more blithe and even less correct.

2. Renew my commitment to my inner French girl.

3. Watch every fresh episode of "Gilmore girls".

4. Read at least 3 books that I've never read before.

5. Practice "Minuet in G Major" by Bach almost every day until I get it nailed.

6. Figure out a way to be more in touch with the current music scene because I don't think Hillary Duff counts and when my friend D next asks me what I'm listening to these days I want to be able to sound like Laine on "Gilmore girls".

7. I suppose I could stand to eat more vegetables and less bread.

8. Do a much better job of gardening. Like actually plant stuff.

9. Spend 15 minutes a day doing absolutely nothing.

Most of us are only to happy to see the backside of '05, for any number of reasons. It was a bumpy one. But I'm thankful for all the good in it: starting my blog, going to Dallas, spending good time with friends, loving my family. I hope y'all have a happy and healthy new year, that bipartisanship will continue to flourish (which doesn't mean I wouldn't like to see the Dems regain control of Congress), that our troops will come home and that no matter what comes our way in '06 we can greet it with hope, courage and humor. Or at least with the knowledge that we're not in it alone. Happy freakin' New Year!

Plans for the 6th Day

The Spouse cleaned up from last night's party. The Child is entertaining herself. The Spouse is making dinner, no one is coming in. We'll have pate and champagne late in the evening and watch the Space Needle light up at midnight. We'll toast and sing "Auld Lang Syne" because that's what we do.

I have but two things to do today...write and dig out noisemakers. Both doable. Nicholas Sparks said, "Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing. It's one of the most enjoyable moments in life, period." Hopefully, I'll know what that feels like before the clock strikes 12.

Friday, December 30, 2005

OOOOO, and They're Gold

We must be on vacation because Ms. Up at the Crack of Dawn here has been slagging in bed until 9 a.m. every single morning since last Thursday. And I'm fine with that! I had planned on getting up earlier today...we are having our annual Sing For Your Supper party tonight, I need to get groceries, an old college buddy is coming over around 4:30 for a pre-func and I still have 6 chapters to finish on the book before the end of the year.

6 chapters. At least 3 of those are essentially written. It is actually looking like all that big talk about finishing this bloody thing before '06 is going to happen. I'm thrilled and a little freaked. I've been working away at this thing for 10 years...what happens when I'm done? What's next? Having finally figured out that I really can be a writer, what am I going to write about? It will unfold and no doubt one of these days some idea is going to whomp me on the head as I'm casually minding my own business ('cause that's kinda how it happens for me) but it is still very weird to be on the cusp of completing the biggest project I've ever committed to outside of child-rearing. Very weird odd mix of elation and desolation working at the same time.

And having this giant, end-of-the-year focus I've given scant thought to the annual question of resolutions, reviews, biggest news stories of the year and other top 10 lists. There's something a little silly about it all and yet it is a compelling exercise. The silly resides in the idea that December 31 is somehow substantially different from January 1 when really it's just a question of turning another calendar page, clearing up champagne glasses and remembering to write a new year on the tail end of a check. And yet. "Another year over and a new one just begun". Fresh pages of a journal (or your life) as inviting as nice, clean sheets on your bed. There is something to it, something exceedingly healthy in looking back on what was and making a determination or two about how to do it better. It is a project that I'm sure will engage me within the next 48 hours but really and truly I have other matters to attend to first.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

What is a Calling Bird Anyway?

I could spend some time researching it but I'm not really the academic type. If I can't get an answer right away from "Ask Jeeves" I pretty much move on with my life.

I started a list today of books to read in the new year, based on the NY Times Top Ten books of the year. Wanna bet I read 2 of 'em? Maybe?

I got a lot done on the book yesterday. But it is a funny thing...some months ago I felt I was really close to the end of writing the first draft and that analysis seemed completely valid until yesterday when I seemed to be surrounded by half-finished chapters and gapping holes in typed bits that said things like "RESEARCH MORE" in all caps. Did I mention that I'm really not about the research?

I have a brilliant uncle who writes books and catalogs libraries and generally knows a whole lot about a whole lot of stuff. He obviously does a lot of research. My brother got his PhD about two years ago. Talk about research. I just didn't get that gene and it's unfortunate because sometimes you just have to look stuff up in reliable sources.

Anyway, I'm going back to work now because despite the research slow-downs it feels good to see progress. I have 10 completed chapters. And it has also been a really interesting exercise to work while the whole Family is scampering around singing their little songs and scampering their little scampers. I credit my Jane Austen action figure. She smiles at me sweetly saying, "If I could do it then you can, too. And at least you have a laptop. Do you know how hard it was to keep ink off my skirts?" She's just the best.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Brief Thoughts on the Third Day of Christmas

I love cassoulet. I also love Christmas cookies, especially The Neighbor's date pinwheels for which I must soon get the recipe.

I love "White Christmas". Danny Kaye was really handsome.

I cried during the Nutcracker yesterday. I always do. It's not so much the beautiful staging of the PNB version or the story itself. There is always a moment, somewhere toward the end, when I look around McCaw Hall (no slouch of an arts venue, by the way) and become intensely moved by the fact that here we are in the jaded, war-ridden 21st century and people will still flock to see a Tchaikovsky ballet. This is the enduring and yes, healing power of art. Good art continues to speak to generations far removed from it's original context. And of course, every generation has been jaded and war-ridden...I'm not one of those who thinks things are so much worse now then they were "when I was a child". We have more technology and there's no such thing as penny candy anymore but the fundamental human struggle continues "same as it ever was". Still, little kids en pointe and women in tulle dancing through swirling snowflakes invoke the same joy and awe in this generation as they did way back in the day. And I think that's pretty terrific.

And that is all I have today because I really am determined to finalize the first draft of my book before the end of the year and that, if you haven't noticed, is only a few days away.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Second Day of Christmas

Today The Child and I are going to see "The Nutcracker". The Pacific Northwest Ballet company version has sets and costumes by Maurice Sendak and it never ceases to delight, especially when the Chrismtas tree grows to gigantic proportions. We are hoping to hook up with some friends afterward for cocoa. Yum.

Tonight we will have Boxing Day cassoulet for dinner and watch another Christmas movie (we only got through 6 yesterday). I invented Boxing Day cassoulet after the first Christmas that we served goose. It is a less involved version of the classic but it does require some work. Which is why we no longer eat it on Boxing Day. I realized that I was in the kitchen cooking when everyone else was still lounging and doing the non sans jammie thing and after getting unreasonably put out because I "do and do and do for these people" I realized that rather than being a martyr I could just stop cooking and sit around on my arse, too! Hence, cold cuts on Boxing Day and cassoulet the day after.

There is a slight film of holiday cheer over the whole house, crumbs of candy cane and wine cork in The Dog's bed, bits of wrapping paper, pine needles and candle wax scattered about. I think I'll be able to better enjoy the lights on the tree if the floor doesn't go 'crunch'.

Boxing Day Cassoulet

1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Italian sausages, sliced
4 c. water or meat stock
1 can diced tomatoes
2 whole bay leaves
1 c. cannelini beans, soaked or one can cooked beans
1 c. (or more) left over Christmas meat
½ pound ham, cubed

2 T. flour
2 T. butter
2 cans tomato sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Crumb topping:
1 c. breadcrumbs
¼ c. chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
Combine these three ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In large saucepan sauté onion and garlic in a little olive oil. Add the sliced sausage and cook until browned. Add the stock, tomatoes, bay leaves and beans and simmer for 2-3 hours. (If using canned beans then it only need cook for 20 minutes or so).

Strew bottom of casserole with Christmas meat and ham.

Make a roux with the butter and flour, then add tomato sauce, basil and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until sauce thickens and bubbles. Add sauce to bean and sausage mixture and stir. Cook five minutes to thicken and pour the lot over the meat in casserole. Scatter top with breadcrumbs and bake for 30 minutes.

Serve with salad and lots of crusty bread.


Monday, December 26, 2005

The First Day of Christmas

Today is Non Sans Jammie, very bad and probably inaccurate French for "never out of your jammies". This holiday, born far back in the mists of our family history, had something to do with waking to a morning, not unlike this morning, having no will to do anything but laze. So we have, over the years, formalized the laziness. The Spouse begins the day with "I now proclaim it to be Non Sans Jammie!" Then we put together a couple platters of cold cuts & crudite, gather up the cookies and peppermint bark that made their way into the house last night as hostess gifts and set ourselves up in front of the Big Ass TV. We have an impressive collection of Christmas movies and we start cycling through them. We eat when we're peckish, we doze, we sing along with "White Christmas" and we are never, never out of our jammies. Yesterday, after the morning flurry of presents The Child said, "I can't wait for tomorrow!" It really is one of the best parts of the Twelve Days.

So the Feast last night was super fantastic. I was cooking all afternoon and loving every minute of it. The food was, though I say it myself, terrific. I used all Emeril Lagasse recipes and they did not disappoint. Of course, I'm convinced that having a table full of convivial, wonderful guests didn't hurt a thing. The fried okra was a freaking Ree put it, "Somewhere in the South a woman is saying, 'Some Yankee just stole my okra recipe!" The Union, the gift that keeps on giving. Around 3pm I was second-guessing the okra decision. It's not a deeply loved veggie up North, probably because it's only ever been a slimy part of an otherwise ok gumbo. But people were asking for seconds, always a good thing.

The Spouse is dutifully scrubbing down the Viking - which once again proved its worth - and there's probably enough counterspace to start putting together platters. Let the lazing begin! (I forgot to mention that the cranberry glazed turkey was terrific. It had been brined for a day and no one had ever tasted a more moist bird. I tell you this because it was The Spouse's key contribution to the day and I wouldn't want you to think it was all about the other five courses. Or the okra).

Fried Okra with Tomato Marmelade
Emeril Lagasse gets all the credit. Bam!

Fried Okra
1/2 cup buttermilk
4 tablespoons hot sauce
2 eggs
32 okra pods, washed and cut in 1/2 lengthwise (I used frozen okra as it is not a winter vegetable...I thawed the okra first and it was just fine)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
Essence, recipe follows
Vegetable oil, for frying

Tomato Marmalade, recipe follows

In a mixing bowl, combine the buttermilk, hot sauce and eggs. Mix well. Add the okra and season with the salt and turn to coat evenly, and let sit for 30 minutes. (I had mine in the bath for a good hour, maybe two)

In another mixing bowl, combine the flour and corn meal. Mix well and season with the Essence.

Heat the oil in a large skillet to 360 degrees F.

Dredge each piece of okra in the seasoned flour coating completely. Fry the okra in batches for about 2 to 3 minutes, turning once to evenly brown. Remove the cooked okra, and drain on a paper-lined sheet pan. Sprinkle some Essence over the cooked okra. Continue to cook the okra in batches until all the okra is cooked. Serve while hot with the Tomato Marmalade.

Emeril's ESSENCE Creole Seasoning
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
Combine all ingredients thoroughly.
Yield: 2/3 cup
(We had a double batch and used it in just about everything but the bread pudding. Definately something one should have on hand at all times).

Tomato Marmalade
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup julienned yellow onion
6 large Italian Roma tomatoes, quartered
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/2 to 1 cup fresh orange juice, from 1 to 2 oranges
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 bay leaf
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

In a saute pan, heat the olive over medium high heat oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and onions and saute until the onions are translucent and the garlic is fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste to the pan and cook for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until most of the moisture has been cooked out of the tomatoes. Add the remaining ingredients and cook until the liquid is reduced by 2/3, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and serve the marmalade in a heat-proof container either warm or room temperature.

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Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

And suddenly there was a multitude of heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace goodwill to all".
Luke 2: 13
And so this is Christmas
and what have we done
another year over and a new one just begun
and so Merry Christmas
and a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one,
without any fear.
war is over if you want it
John Lennon
Merry Christmas. God bless us, everyone!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

How I'll be Spending Christmas Eve

This is the interior of our church. After 15 years I am still amazed sometimes that I found this place for a spiritual home. It is as grand a cathedral as one could want but it is also a warm and vibrant community. I will be spending the better part of the late afternoon here, drinking hot cider and hanging with Stina while we save places for our families for the Vigil Mass.

The Child woke this morning, as expected, vibrating with joy. She decided that she wants to be my elf today. "Do you want to be a cleaning elf or a cooking elf?" "I want to be an everything elf!" she declared. I'll grab onto that while I can.

We will be doing a lot of cooking. She has already put a post it note on the chicken cookie jar noting that the 3 cookies within are to be saved for Santa. She has wrapped presents for the pets. All the decorations have come down from the attic and after I get a few things simmering we'll set up the tree. Finally, I'll be spending a ton of time burning CDs for the dinner guest gifts.

All this has to be accomplished by 3, when I'll head to the Cathedral to meet Stina. Seats used to be reserved for the families of choristers but they don't anymore so we have to be pro-active. The Vigil mass gets as crazy as the Midnight Mass. It's every parishioner for themselves. We figured out that if we get there early we do a much better job of preserving our Christmas Spirit.

This waiting time, chatting with one of my dearest friends, is as much a part of my Christmas tradition as any of the rest of it. It's a quiet time, sitting in the darkened Cathedral, sacristans bustling around putting finishing touches on the altar platform or walking through their liturgical paces. It's a two hour calm before the whirlwind of fun and joy that is Christmas.

These next few days will have a familiar character...our own family liturgy. The form for tonight is familiar in the way we decorate, the soup and bread for dinner after Mass, the search for "the enchanting creche in the woods" (a tradition The Child has developed) and reading "Twas the Night before Christmas". The Child will leave treats for Santa and the reindeer and then to bed. The Spouse and I will bring in the presents, drink some nog and listen to the radio. Finally, I'll crawl into bed and start reading "A Christmas Carol". Every year has it's own twists and adjustments. It's not that we have to do everything just so but the underlying pattern is always there and it is what makes today, and especially tonight, feel like Christmas Eve.

My Favorite Christmas Carol

When I'm not listening to The Waitresses, this is the carol that I love the best. It isn't sung nearly enough but it should be.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Henry Longfellow

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas Wrapping

I love this song so much that I'll risk the copyright infringement crap.

Christmas Wrapping
The Waitresses

Bah, humbug!" No, that's too strong
'Cause it is my favorite holiday
But all this year's been a busy blur
Don't think I have the energy
To add to my already mad rush
Just 'cause it's 'tis the season.
The perfect gift for me would be
Completions and connections left from

Last year, ski shop,
Encounter, most interesting.
Had his number but never the time
Most of '81 passed along those lines.
So deck those halls, trim those trees
Raise up cups of Christmas cheer,
I just need to catch my breath,
Christmas by myself this year.

Calendar picture, frozen landscape,
Chilled this room for twenty-four days,
Evergreens, sparkling snow
Get this winter over with!
Flashback to springtime, saw him again,
Would've been good to go for lunch,
Couldn't agree when we were both free,
We tried, we said we'd keep in touch.
Didn't, of course, 'til summertime,
Out to the beach to his boat could I join him?
No, this time it was me, Sunburn in the third degree.

Now the calendar's just one page
And, of course, I am excited
Tonight's the night, but I've set my mind
Not to do too much about it.

Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!
But I think I'll miss this one this year.
Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!
But I think I'll miss this one this year.
Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!
But I think I'll miss this one this year.
Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!
But I think I'll miss this one this year.

Hardly dashing through the snow
Cause I bundled up too tight
Last minute have-to-do's
A few cards a few calls
'Cause it's r-s-v-p
No thanks, no party lights
It's Christmas Eve, gonna relax
Turned down all of my invites.
Last fall I had a night to myself,
Same guy called, halloween party,
Waited all night for him to show,
This time his car wouldn't go,
Forget it, it's cold, it's getting late,
Trudge on home to celebrate
In a quiet way, unwind
Doing Christmas right this time.
A&P has its pride in me
With the world's smallest turkey
Already in the oven, nice and hot
Oh damn! Guess what I forgot?
So on with the boots, back out in the snow
To the only all-night grocery,
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
In the line is that guy I've been chasing all year!
"I'm spending this one alone," he said. "Need a break; this year's been crazy."
I said, "Me too, but why are you? You mean you forgot cranberries too?"
Then suddenly we laughed and laughed
Caught on to what was happening
That Christmas magic's brought this tale
To a very happy ending! "
Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Couldn't miss this one this year!
Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Couldn't miss this one this year!

Christmas Miracles

So, while I'm out and about today feeling very Christmasy, I realize that I have to try and find a dollhouse for The Child. Having accepted that we really weren't kidding about Santa not dealing in XBoxes, she whittled down her essentials. Everything she really wanted I had already purchased, being the stellar mom that I am. But the dollhouse request threw me. She seems a little old for that sort of thing, although there are plenty of "grown-ups" out there who are all about the minatures. And maybe she's getting a bug to be an architect or something else that will keep me in the style to which I hope to be accustomed in my dotage. And it's Christmas, for crying out loud.

I start off for U Village, knowing that it's going to be a zoo when I remember JJ telling me about a cool toy store closer in. I call her for directions, find the shop and parking in no time and there is a terrific wooden Victorian dollhouse. It took me over my budget for her but it wasn't the cost of a mortgage payment either, so I bought it. Christmas miracle #1. Then I had to make a few more grocery stops, plus pick up a pair of dress shoes for The Child since The Dog had already chewed the ones we bought for the dance a few weeks ago.

My Payless didn't have the shoes but they called and the one down the road did have and could hold them for me and they were on sale. Christmas miracle #2.

I just had to jet across the street for crabmeat at Mutual Fish (which was dreadfully crowded. They were calling for #89 when I arrived. My number was 8) and then hit the shoe store, get some bourbon and I could call it a day. I was still in a good mood but starting to flag a little when I got back in the car. And then, just as I start up the engine, Christmas miracle #3...the radio station starts to play "Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses, my favorite pop Christmas song.

I'm going to The Neighbor's now to see if she'll make me a yummy cocktail. I think I've earned it.



The Spouse insisted that we had served goose twice in our history. I have a record of all the menues so I checked. (Except, oddly, there's no record for 1999. If anyone reading this was present that year and remembers what we ate I'd be most grateful for the information). We have in fact, served goose twice, once in 1992 for our New England feast and 10 years later, in 2002, for what turned out to be a nod in the general direction of the northern countries (so I was wrong about that too. Mmmm...the lingonberry & Champagne cocktail was to die for). We have also done an English meal twice so I guess I don't really have to worry about repeating anymore.

Anyway, he was right, I was wrong and I'm woman enough to admit it.

My Favorite Christmas Shopping of All

Today is truly one of my favorite days of the year and as I think I've established myself as something of a geek in this regard, it won't surprise you to learn that my excitement rests in going grocery shopping. But much as I enjoy my weekly excursions, this one is special because today's the day I collect the goods for the Christmas Feast.

I can enjoy the bustle that will be on the streets today because my engagement in it is transitory. I've got my shopping done. Most of it is even wrapped. Except for bleaching and ironing the white dinner napkins, the house is pretty much ready. The halls and mantle will be decked tomorrow, when the tree goes up, but that is an all-family project anyway. No, I'm pretty much ready for Christmas, so all I have to do is quest for okra.

There is a scene in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" that describes the shoppers out on Christmas Eve and the scene in the grocers shops. I'm a sucker for any book that describes food in detail and this is no exception. The description invokes a mood of bustle and eagerness, of night falling and Christmas coming and that is how I feel today. Or will once I get out there in the shops myself.

It has been our tradition each Christmas to feature the cuisine of a different country or region. We've done French (Parisian and Provencal), Italian, German, Czarist Russian, English, Spanish, and Mexican. We've done New England and the South. That's 11 and this is going to be our 15th Christmas together so I obviously can't even remember everything. We've thought about doing something Scandahoovian but balk in the end because really, how excited can one get about salted cod? Although to be fair we're probably going to have to eventually. Not to mention that we're pretty much running out of "Christian" nations.

This year we were really stymied. We didn't want to go the salted fish route, we didn't really want to start repeating. I had suggested Scottish because I'd found some very groovy recipes in Saveur magazine but The Spouse wasn't so sure. People kept asking, "What are you doing this year?" and I had nothing. Then suddenly, one night while watching the Food Network, it came to me with all the clarity of a big, resounding "duh". This year we're doing New Orleans.

No, we will not be making people sit on our roof drinking dirty water.

I will share the menu even though at least BBB will be seeing this before the party. She can skip this part if she wants to be surprised:

New Orleans Nectar Cocktail
Deconstructed Gumbo
(don't ask me what that is, exactly...I'm still working on it)
Crabmeat Salad
Creole Tomato Soup with Goat Cheese Dumplings
Cranberry Glazed Turkey
Wild Rice & Cornbread Dressing
Sweet Potato Biscuits
Fried Okra with Tomato Marmelade
Nutty Green Beans
Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce
That sounds pretty, good, doesn't it? And we'll gather around the candle-lit table, listen to zydeco, drink red wine and be thankful and loving and funny. (Assuming The Spouse and I don't get in each other's way in the kitchen...that's what the mistletoe is for).
But first I have to find some okra.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

On the First Day of Christmas Break

BBB just called to chastise me for not blogging today. I thought maybe that having posted a couple of things yesterday I'd bought a free pass but apparently some people just aren't satisfied. Or have too much time on their hands at work. Or are just focused on their mom's plane arriving. For my part, I was busy sleeping in and finishing up some Christmas shopping. I was also sweeping out The Child's bedroom which was a very, very scary experience.

I was not exactly an example of cleanliness as a child. Growing up on a farm there was always a film of dirt on my play clothes because we did messy things like climb trees, dig in the dirt and build forts in the dusty rafters of the barn. And my room wasn't exactly something straight out of House and Garden. It was a sty, most of the time. Although I would be taken by ocassional fits of organizational fervor and would clean and toss and sort within an inch of my little, tiny life. The goodwill would last for a few days and then it was back to throwing clothes on the chair, leaving toys all over and not making my bed.

Which is all to say that I can't really get too sanctimonious when it comes to The Child's housekeeping abilities or lack thereof. Actually, she's a lot like I was...she will have these freaks where she wants to make her room "look like a hotel" and the end result is 4 stars. And like me, she doesn't keep it up. She drops everything on the floor, whether towels or teddy bears, hair brushes or precious jewels. She blows through earrings and pony tail holders like a drunken sailor on leave because she never, never, not ever puts anything back where she found it. It is apparently just too much trouble to open a freaking drawer and insert a clean pair of socks when throwing them on top of the dresser will suffice.

All my sage and patient advice about having a place for everything and everything in it's place? Just more of that wacky parental comedy. What do I know about anything? Oh sure, I can always find a clean tee shirt to wear because I actually put my laundry away rather than dumping it all in one drawer or shoving it to the back of the closet. But that doesn't make me an expert or anything.

Anyway, after she supposedly cleaned her room today I went in to sweep only to discover that a) in a highly unoriginal and derivitive effort she hadn't cleaned so much shoved everything under the bed and b) she has apparently started a home-based business as a potpourri manufacturer because I swept up something like 34 pounds of dried satsuma peel (and no, she's not supposed to be eating in her room). But wouldn't you know that when I confronted her with both facts I was the unreasonable one? Don't I know she's on vacation? Is she supposed to spend all her free time making her room perfect? Don't I realize that maybe she just wants to play? Man, she's good.

Anyway, she had to put away all her stuff, which made her very harumphy and then I took the Hazmet crew in to sanitize her floor. And now, an episode of "Full House" and a toffee cookie later, she seems to have regained her general sense of well-being. Good thing, too. Tomorrow we organize her closet. (Insert maniacal laugh here).

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Maria Cantwell Rocks!

I am so proud of my homegirl. She led the fight to block the ANWR provision on the defense appropriations bill and I just found out that it succeeded! She had some help, of course, Senators Kerry, Feingold and others. But she was out in front on this one and she scored a major victory. I am so proud to be working for her re-election.

This is what it looks like when the Dems remember what it's like to lead.


Visiting Santa

The Child gets out of school at noon and then it's off to downtown for our annual sushi/Santa/carousel excursion.

I wasn't going to say anything about visiting Santa this year. The Child has figured things out, although she still likes to play along. How else do you position yourself to get an XBox when The Parents have been saying "No" repeatedly and resoundingly? But I'm not one of the parents who needs an annual photo of Santa representing every year from birth to college so I could take it or leave it. But she asked about it last week so we're off.

She wrote a lovely letter. It was charmingly decorated and carefully written, including proper salutations, queries into the state of his health and wishes for a Merry Christmas. Between all the pleasantries is a very extensive list. I felt compelled to ask, upon reading it, "You aren't actually expecting all of this, are you?" "Oh, no," she blithely replied. But apparently it never hurts to ask.

I feel a tremendous amount of freedom this year. In years past there was some pressure to fulfill the list because I didn't want to unseat the myth too soon. Much as I do sometimes wish she'd be a little more mature, I don't want her to grow up too fast. The most intense Christmas was the year when her dearest wish was for the North Pole. What? "The North Pole, Mommy. You know, snow and elves and all that stuff". "Like in 'The Santa Clause?'" "Exactly! I want to be able to play with the elves and stuff".

"Jesus, Joseph and Mary!" I appropriately thought to myself. "How am I going to pull this off?"

My neice Hannah had come for a visit and she was willing to help me make a Christmas miracle so we went shopping. At the Bon we did find a mess of houses and buildings, one of those 'create your own scene' collections but it would have cost me a) hundreds of dollars to assemble a reasonable assortment and 2) it was far too cartoonish for my taste. But at least we had a plan B. Then we were off to University Village and wandered into a temporary storefront that was selling nothing but Christmas. We found some lovely ornaments and as I was paying I heard Hannah gasp. "Auntie!" she said, "look at this!" It was the North Pole. It stood about 8 inches high and a foot or so across. It was a factory with moving parts, busy elves, tuneful little musical selections and a chimney that puffed smoke. It was perfect. I was sure it was outrageously priced and asked with trepidation. It was about $35 dollars. Hannah and I both started to cry. I had to explain to the concerned clerks about the little 6 year old I wasn't ready to disappoint and they started crying.

This has all the sappy earmarks of a Hallmark commercial but there you have it. I'm a sap. Christmas was saved and a little child's faith in Santa preserved for one more year. At a drug store we found small toys, some cotton batting and glitter for snow and other oddments so The Child could embellish to her heart's content. And just to yank up the sappiness quotient a little higher, when she opened that gift on Christmas morning she looked at it in awe and then wept with joy. So there.

This morning I went to the co-op for mistletoe and cash. I was chatting with the clerk about visiting Santa and the XBox thing and how we've told The Child that Santa doesn't do small electronics. The woman behind me said, "Our Santa doesn't bring those, either". "Books! Underwear!" I declared. "Now that's my kind of Santa!"

It's not that bad. While there is nothing this year that has the 'wow' factor of a puppy or an X Box, I'm sure she'll be happy. She isn't going to do without. Plus, she knows that Christmas isn't about the stuff. But let's face it, everybody enjoys a little stuff at Christmas. I know I'm counting on that Jane Austen action figure. Maybe I'd better mention that when we see the Big Guy today.

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My html is Broken and It Can't Get Up

After my first post this morning my profile and links all disappeared. Actually, they are living way at the bottom of my blog. I figured that it was the picture that I inserted in my post that messed things up but even after deleting the picture and eventually the whole post, after publishing and republishing, it's still messed up. Whatever. I liked the picture so I put it back in. I'll deal with it later.

Christmas Cheer

Bad Alice threatened to give The Dog pinecones if I didn’t hand over the eggnog cake recipe. I take these sorts of threats very seriously.

The woman who gave me this recipe did so on the condition that I never reveal my source. (It was neither Martha Stewart nor Scooter Libby). Personally, I find nothing at all shameful in using cake mix. In fact, as someone who has made her share of genoise and sponge cake from scratch, I don’t know why one would bother when a mix will do quite ably. (Health concerns, which are legit, can be addressed by purchasing one of the many natural/organic products on the market. Trader Joe’s has some excellent ones and no, they aren’t paying me to say that). I digress.

Here’s the recipe, sans the name of the woman who gave it to me and I hope you enjoy it. Bad Alice, step away from the pinecones.

1 package yellow cake mix
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups commercial eggnog
2 tbs. rum (or brandy or sherry, pretty much anything but tequila or gin)
1/4 cup butter, melted
Combine cake mix, nutmeg, eggs, eggnog, melted butter and rum in large mixing bowl. Beat with electric mixer about 4 minutes or 450 strokes with a whisk. Pour batter into greased 10 " bundt or tube pan.

Bake in 350 oven 45-55 min. or until a long wooden skewer inserted in the thickest portion comes out clean.

Cool in pan 10 minutes: invert cake onto a rack and cool thoroughly. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Making a List, Checking it Twice

This is the last full day of time alone at home before Christmas break begins. (The Child goes to Catholic school so I get to call it Christmas break. Because we're breaking for Christmas). While I revel in the silence I also have to shake off the vestiges of sloth that still cling and bust a move on my to do list:

1 -Clear my extremely small desk of the pile of ephemera that is occupying half the space. It won't actually take too long to clear it up as most of it is stuff that lives somewhere else but I need to deal with it before it falls on me and hurts me.

2- Pungle some bills and check the Christmas budget. (We learned the word "pungle" on "Sez You" this weekend. It means to "make a payment or contribution of money". I much prefer to pungle a bill than to pay it).

3-Bake 12 individual eggnog bundt cakes for all the teachers and staff at school. (This is actually way less impressive than it sounds as the recipe is predicated on a cake mix and the bundt pan, which makes six cakes at a time, does all the work. Still, at least this year I remembered to do something for everyone who is not paid enough to educate my child. And yes, a check would be nicer but I don't have that kind of dough. Please tell me it's the thought that counts).

4-Work on my book. It's so close to being done and I really don't want to drag it with me into '06. I really don't.

5-Thaw hamburger.


7-Call my senators to thank them for their votes on Friday against making permanent provisions of the Patriot Act. Must also cheer on Senator Cantwell who is threatening a filibuster on the Defense appropriations bill because of Senator Ted "Am I Screaming Loud Enough for You" Stevens' 11th hour ANWR drilling add-on. What is up with that? If you can't get something passed, tack it onto must-have legislation? I realize both parties do it but shouldn't there be a law to stop that sort of behavior? Like the bucket of oil in ANWR is going to fix anything. Sheesh.

8-Keep The Dog from eating pinecones.

9-Make a booboo face because there isn't a "fresh" episode of "Gilmore girls" until '06.

I was so happy when I woke up this morning and knew I didn't have to drive on a field trip. I am so happy to have my house to myself for one last day. (I will be happy to have The Child and The Spouse home as well but it's a different kind of happy). I'm so happy that I'm going to have some ribbon candy and a cuppa joe while I preheat the Viking (my oven, not The Spouse).


Monday, December 19, 2005

A Joke I Found on a Seminarian's Blog

Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, and Reinhold Niebuhr find themselves all at the same time at Caesarea Philippi. Along comes Jesus, and he asks these three famous theologians, “Who do you say that I am?”
Karl Barth stands up and says: “You are the 'wholly other,' the vestigious trinitatum who speaks to us in the modality of Christomonism.”

Following this, Paul Tillich states: “You are he who heals our ambiguities and overcomes the split of angst and existential estrangement; you are he who speaks of the theonomous viewpoint of the analogia entis, the analogy of our being and the ground of all possibilities.”

Reinhold Niebuhr gives a cough for effect and says, in one breath: “You are the impossible possibility who brings to us, your children of light and children of darkness, the overwhelming oughtness in the midst of our fraught condition of estrangement and brokenness in the contiguity and existential anxieties of our ontological relationships.”

And Jesus looks at them and says, “What?”

Field Trip

On my list of Top Ten Things I Most Hate About Being a Mom, field trips is right up there with having my kid puke on me. I've mentioned before that I'm really not all that enamoured of other people's kids and the ones I do like are never the ones assigned to me. I am marked for the satanic combination of drama queens and bullies every time. Or I'll get the kid who says things like, "Mrs. T, why does your car smell funny?" (Probably because I bothered to clean it out for you, you little s*&t). I also really enjoy it when the kids start up a conversation about something like sex or drugs or rock and roll and then ask me to weigh in which assures I'll be put in Dutch with another parent however deftly I answer. ("Mrs. T said WHAT?")

The whole field trip thing makes me sick to my stomach. I hate getting stuck with jerky kids, I hate being worried that I'm going to have an accident with someone else's jerky kid in my car, I hate having to make sure I have my jerky kids with me at all times, therefore impeding my ability to appreciate the art or play or whatever we are out to see in the first place. I also hate being in the position of having The Child around. If I'm not on a field trip I know she will be well behaved, stay with her chaperone and generally be a model citizen. If I'm in charge then I have all her "let's see how far I can push mom" nonesense on top of the other jerky kids. And even if The Child isn't in a testing mode, I'm operating with some sort of hyper-momness that makes me jump at any hint of imperfection because, well, I'm there and I can never quite shake the feeling that I'm being judged. ('Ah,' I imagine The Teacher thinking, 'that explains it...). I'm not a model parent and I'm fine with that most of the time; but it gets fraught with Teacher and other parents watching.

I don't sign up for this gig very often, since I firmly believe that 'no' is a holy word. Actually, I never sign up but I am sometimes persuaded. Sometimes there aren't enough chaperones which would result in the little darlings being denied their off-campus educational excursion unless I agree to go along. Such a scenario has it's gratifications as it usually involves teachers prostrating themselves at my feet and begging. Which somehow mitigates whatever judgements they may hold. ("Yes, she's a sucky parent but she did drive on the field trip to the power station").

The Child recently asked why we don't have a van. I told her that we don't need a big car because we don't have a big family and that my compact is more fuel efficient. The real reason? So I never have to have more than 2 children not my own in my car at anytime.

Anyway, they're going to see "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" today, which would actually be fairly fun (except for the whole in-charge-of-other-people's-kids thing) but I've decided that I have too many Christmas related things I want to do today plus I'm feeling guilty about all the time The Dog spent alone this weekend. So I'm just going to drop off and pick up the little darlings. Which should ease some of the stress. Unless my car smells funny....

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Aprenti: Should You Care

After thinking all morning about how to express my disappointment over last night's finale of "The Apprentice", The Neighbor sent me this link. It expresses, accurately and amusingly, my thoughts on the subject and so, unlike Randal, I will happily acknowledge the talents of another writer and leave it at that.,6115,1141575_3_0_,00.html

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Le Tour Eiffel

Today is the birthday of Gustave Eiffel who designed one of my favorite buildings in the world.

I fell in love with France after spending a short but wonderful week there in 1998. It wasn't a tourist trip...we had gone to celebrate the wedding of an American friend to a Frenchman. We lived with French people, ate with them, drank with them, smoked with them (it was self-defense) and had a fabulous time.

I would love to see more of the country someday and spending real time in Paris is high on my list of things to do. The first time we were only there to change trains. We did get a petite taste of Paris, nonetheless. We rode the Metro accompanied by an accordian player and we got to see the Eiffel Tower. We were on the last leg of our return trip to Paris and as we approached the station The Spouse grabbed my shoulder and said, "Look!" I turned and saw the Eiffel Tower off in the distance and then in a flash we were in the train station. It could not have been more fleeting and yet I saw it and that was enough. So much so that even when I finally get to Paris I don't know that I'll need to actually go to the Eiffel Tower. It would be enough just to be able to see it from my hotel window. It's enough for me now just knowing it's there. I can't imagine that touring it would make me love it more, although I suppose it would be worth the crowds to see the view of Paris from atop it.

Happy birthday, Gustave and thanks for the groovy landmark. And thank you Spouse for making sure I got to see it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

First Dance

Friday The Child went to her first dance, The Snowball. She was sooooo excited. The Snowball is a very prescribed affair. Children are escorted by a parent. Dress is semi-formal. The girls are pinned with half a playing card (The Child was the Queen of omen?) and the boys draw a card for each dance and find the corresponding girl. The 7th grade teacher, who calls them "ladies and gentleman" all night, teaches them the foxtrot, waltz and swing and with one 'get funky' exception, they dance quite properly all evening.

The Child had bought a lovely dress for the occasion and was wearing her first heels and stockings. I'd taken her to Rudy's in the afternoon for a hair cut and they straightened her hair. She looked amazing. She also applied some makeup, without asking, but did so in a very lighthanded way so I let it stand. I snapped some photos of her and her date and then they went off while I stayed home, had an omlette and a glass of wine and watched "What Not to Wear".

When they got home, The Child pulled off her heels, declared, in the time honored fashion, "My feet are killing me" and couldn't stop smiling as she told me all about it.

My little girl is growing up. The firsts of babyhood - first tooth, first word, first step, first artichoke - are all so noteworthy and thrilling for parents. The firsts of Tweendom tend to be more fraught. She also came home from the dance with her first date.

Ok, we aren't calling it that. This was an invitation from a friend, A, to accompany him and his uncle to the Seattle Art Museum on Sunday. All on the up and up. She wasn't all a twitter about's not like the boy is Daniel Radcliffe for crying out loud. I was fine with the idea but The Spouse, not so much. He has another plan: there's another boy, M, who he thinks is the perfect "childhood sweetheart" candidate, primarily because The Spouse thinks the kid is gay. His plan is that if they get together then she will always have a date but he won't have to worry about any of the stuff daddies worry about because the kid plays for the other team. He reckons that if they date through high school then M can come out of the closet and by then he (The Spouse) will be able to better handle the implications of his little girl being an adult. (I doubt it...this is the man who looked at his just-birthed baby girl and declared, "She doesn't date until she's 30!")

I talked him down off the ledge. I told him that it wasn't a date and as long as we didn't make a big deal about it, neither would she. I can't think of anything healthier than her having good guy friends in middle school and high school (I did) and that there is plenty of room in her calendar for both A & M. She went, it was great and that was that. Although A is now calling the house. But I asked point-blank how she felt about him and she said he was a 'friend'. (Oh, here we go!) Then she told me that she had a crush on M and furthermore that he told her he'd had a crush on her since she started at St. G's. Which I guess means that The Spouse's plan has a fair shot after all.

This is a "training wheels" time of life. The Child needs to learn to negotiate the convoluted paths of the heart and it looks like she's already starting. Of course, she still won't be allowed to actually date as in by-herself-with-a-boy-in-a-car until she's at least 16. I was 15 and I can tell you I was too young. We will be ramping up the conversations and dropped hints about virtue and self-respect (laid on a foundation we've been building since she could talk) and we will undoubtedly spend many a Friday evening sitting up and waiting to hear that car door slam. It just ocurred to me that I'm not ready for this, either.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

My Big Promotion

My volunteer duties at the Cantwell campaign are pretty ordinary, usually stuffing envelopes or making copies, although once I got to shred some fundraising notebooks. I absolutely don't mind this sorts of duties... anything not to make phone calls. But when I arrived today there was a note written especially to moi from one of the staffers with an assignment to create two spreadsheets for names of people who want to be removed from the mailing list or who have removed themselves by virtue of dying. (These are names from rented lists who don't appear in our main database. Little detail).

So I'm typing away and remembering how much I like using a number pad and how annoying it is that my laptop doesn't have one when another staffer comes to give me more background on why I'm doing what I'm doing and then mentions that they want me to be the "point person" on this project. I assume that means that whenever there are names to add, I'll be the one typing them. But I mentioned that I would need a tiara and apparently there is one floating around the office so, yeah me. I am a fan of the tiara.

And here's a little scoop...there's some big vote in the Senate on Friday. Senator Clinton was coming here for a benefit lunch with Maria but now they have to be in DC. Assumption around the office was that it has to do with the Patriot Act but apparently the Republican leadership are being all hush-hushy about whatever is afoot. Ooh, drama. This does not, however, mean that I'll be glued to CSPAN on Friday. I'll be out on an annual Christmas shopping/lunch expedition with friends. I was going to miss it because of the luncheon but thanks to Bill Frist I get to go after all. Me saying something nice about Dr. Frist? Must be Christmastime.

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Son of Rant

I am a Christian and I celebrate Christmas. I love Christmas. At the moment it is Advent, which we keep simply, but there are Christmas preparations afoot: cards being written & stamped with a Madonna and Child stamp (purchased from the United States Postal Service), purchasing and making gifts, baking a dozen egg nog mini-bundt cakes for assorted teachers and staff. The Child has an Advent concert at school on Friday and Lessons and Carols at church on Sunday. We are all looking forward to Christmas break.

When I go out shopping this week I will see garlands, lights and trees in all the stores. These decorations will speak Christmas to me because it is Christmastime. Everybody knows it. It's almost Hannukah, too, but I've learned from my Orthodox neighbors that it is a lesser feast in their tradition. While Easter and Passover are equivilent in importance and meaning, Christmas and Hannukah aren't. Except for the candles. But aside from the occassional menorah or monster-sized driedle, the stores are all decorated specifically for Christmas and, as I said, everyone knows it.

In no time at all, it will be Christmas Eve. We'll put up the tree and The Child will place the handkerchief angel on the top like she does every year. There will be the glory of the Vigil Mass, the robed children replicating the angel chorus, the garlands stretching between arches, paroles and ribbons hanging down from the oculus, the thick cloud of incense, all heralding the birth of the Babe born in a manger. The beautiful, song-filled, pine scented twelve days will begin. (The Church figures that if you are going to celebrate something like the incarnation of God you might want to take more than one day to do it).

It's Christmastime in the city, even for those who don't actually believe the Christmas story. Regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof, this is a time to reflect on the timeless and resonant message of peace on earth, goodwill to all. Every time I make a purchase the clerk will wish me happy holidays. I will wish the same back. Although I might, depending on the circumstance, respond with "Merry Christmas", as that is the feast I celebrate. If I've judged aright, the clerk will smile and return "Merry Christmas".

Let me tell you a story about political correctness. We used to live next door to a very godly, very devout Jewish gentleman, Reb B. He came here as a child, a refugee, having lost nearly all his family in the Holocaust. One year, when Passover and Easter fell in the same week, The Child and I paid a call. His two grandsons, with their wives and children, were in for the holiday, as was the daughter who cared for him in his dotage. We took with us a teething toy as one of the babies was having a particularly rough time of it. We all chatted amiably for maybe 20 minutes. As we took our leave I said, "Have a happy Passover." Reb B smiled up at me from the heart of his family and said, "Happy Easter". He didn't believe that Jesus was the Messiah but he knew I did. In that simple exchange we offered one another grace, not because we had to be PC but out of respect.

The not-so-reverand Jerry Falwell says Christmas is under attack because, among other things, department store windows are bereft of the word "Christmas". Tha't insane. Using the generic "holidays" rather than intolerantly assuming everyone is Christian is not a bad thing. It is polite and respectful. (Sure, it can get a little silly. The big tree in front of the White House, the one all lit up with a star on the top? That's a Christmas tree). But "happy holidays" doesn't diminish Christmas. Being so involved with your stupid "culture war" that you fail to extend the love of Christ to others? That's a problem.


I have watched a fair number of soap operas in my time, beginning with the discovery of “All My Children” back when Erica Kane was in high school. So I know a thing or two about how story lines work. There are some basic rules relative to children/parenting in soap operas.

Pregnancy makes a great story line. There are myriad possibilities: complications, paternity questions, twins being separated at birth, premature delivery in some god-forsaken cabin while your Prada-wearing arch enemy delivers the baby, etc.

Babies are boring. The only possibilities for storytelling here are a christening where an evil diva announces in front of God and everybody that you’re not the real father or there’s a mob shooting or hostage taking or some such. But fundamentally, you aren’t left with much so after a custody battle and near overdose by a distraught parent (which may or may not result in a reconciliation) or a plane crash that kills mom just after said reconciliation, the baby pretty much disappears. (Unless the single parent hires a bipolar nanny who pulls a "Hand that Rocks the Cradle" sort of thing. That's always fun).

Accelerated Maturity. This is the process by which, after 6-9 months off the radar, the baby is reintroduced as a precocious 4 year old. Over the next few years the child will magically grow at the rate of about 1 year every two months until he/she is in high school getting “goofed up” on mary jane and wondering if he/she should go all the way after the prom. (Unless the actor can sing, in which case he/she will likely be offered a record contract after singing once at the local bar/shake shack/disco). Either way, the child again leaves the scene, with only casual mention by the oh-so-loving-and-involved parent, unless he/she is called upon to donate a kidney to the half-sibling he/she never knew he/she had.

Soap opera childhood skips over all the boring kid stuff like play dates, homework, flu (which is not the same thing as genetic malfunctions that can only be cured by mom ‘fessing up after all these years that Uncle Frank, not dad, is the real father), zits and paper routes and focuses on exciting stuff, like rebellion, eating disorders and sex.

Brad Pitt used to be on "Another World". Maybe it was the influence of soap opera parenting that informs his decision to adopt Angelina Jolie’s kids without bothering to marry her. I assume he sees being a daddy as a lot of fun, jet-setting, motor-biking-around-the-English-countryside stuff. (Plus, after dumping America’s sweetheart for Vampira…I mean, Angelina, he probably could use the hero points that go with adopting a 3rd world baby). To be fair, maybe he really loves the kids and maybe he’s a good dad. (Certainly less scary than, say, Billy Bob Thorton.) And with 3 failed marriages between them, caution is probably in order.

Married or single, parenting requires extraordinary commitment. Children aren’t props. They grow out of the “snuggly, adorable” stage pretty quickly. But as a parent you are committed to loving and putting up with them even when they are anything but endearing. It ain’t all cookie parties and pony rides is all I’m saying and I just worry that Brad doesn’t get that because it will be Zahara and Maddox that suffer.

I know the divorce rate continues to hover around 50%. Marriage is hard work; trust me, I know. People should, by all means, take their time with such a weighty commitment. And yes, the children would be impacted by a divorce as much as if Daddy Pitt gets bored and moves on. They stand to lose either way. But while there are people out there who would love to make legal, lifetime civil commitments and aren't allowed because it will somehow be a blow to the sanctity of marriage, I have a hard time with Brad and Angelina touted as models of stability and family values.

I also don't think TomKat are heroes. But that's mostly because he annoys the crap out of me.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I Want to Hold Your Hand

Fair warning, there are a couple things that are really bugging me right now and I have every intention of ranting about them. I was going to rant about them today but now they're going to wait because this morning I was reminded that 25 years ago today John Lennon was killed.

I remember it like yesterday (which is saying something because, while I remember yesterday fairly well Tuesday is already a blur). I was at home watching TV (not Monday Night Football), embroidering a Christmas gift for someone (I don't remember who and I also don't embroider anymore) when the forgettable program I had on was interrupted with the announcement that "someone reported to be John Lennon was taken to the hospital after having been shot in front of his New York apartment". The information was vague and I thought surely it wasn't true. We don't shoot rock stars in America. But only minutes later another bulletin came on, confirming that Lennon had not only been shot but was DOA at the hospital.

I was depressed for weeks. I never finished the embroidery project. I still have the Rolling Stone magazine that came out days later, full of Annie Leibowitz photos of John and Yoko, taken in the last days of his life. The issue was supposed to be about the second musical coming of John, how after 5 years as a househusband he and Yoko were about to release "Double Fantasy". It turned out instead to be a memorial issue. I cried and cried and cried.

So in honor of John I'm going to keep my rants to myself for one more day and instead share with you my favorite of his poems:

I Sat Belonely

I sat belonely down a tree,
humbled fat and small.
A little lady sing to me
I couldn't see at all.

I'm looking up and at the sky,
to find such wondrous voice.
Puzzly puzzle, wonder why,
I hear but have no choice.

'Speak up, come forth, you ravel me',
I potty menthol shout.
'I know you hiddy by this tree'.
But still she won't come out.

Such softly singing lulled me sleep,
an hour or two or so
I wakeny slow and took a peep
and still no lady show.

Then suddy on a little twig
I thought I see a sight,
A tiny little tiny pig,
that sing with all it's might.

'I thought you were a lady'.
I giggle, - well I may,
To my surprise the lady
got up - and flew away.

- John Lennon

Give peace a chance.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Simple Life

The volunteer intern at the Cantwell office is a guy named Phillip. He just got back from a trip to Sri Lanka, working as an observer for their recent elections. (Just so you know, when I was his age I was figuring out how much money I needed to party on the weekend and still have enough for the Nordstrom half-yearly sale). We had a good catch-up chat yesterday and he was talking about the more profound lessons he reaped from his how much stuff he has, how much more simply he wants to live now, how even staying plugged in all the time via cellphone and Internet has lost some of its allure. I can't personally see taking it that far but I admire those sorts of life altering revelations. We experienced something similar when we got back from France...we were watching less TV, having apertif every evening and eating smaller portions more slowly, that sort of thing. The trick, always, is to stay mindful of those commitments and not get sucked back into the madness of American culture. Which is more or less what happened to us. Although we still eat later than most Americans and we still say "D'accord", when we think of it.

Anyway, that sort of "how the other half lives" eye-opening is what is great about travel, if you want it to be.

We got a mild little wake-up last evening. We were sitting in front of the Food Network eating pizza (a treat for a mid-week evening) and all of a sudden the power went out. There wasn't a storm or terrorist attack. But the whole 'hood was plunged into darkness. It was a little freaky at first, as those things are, but it wasn't that big a deal. We had candles and flashlights. Most of our clocks are battery operated. I tried to do the Abe Lincoln thing and read by candlelight but after a few squinty minutes decided that whole thing was over-rated and just went to bed early.

The power went back on around 10:30 or 11. There were no major inconveniences. "Gilmore girls" was a rerun anyway. And let's face it, one of the perks of living in the Big City is that the grid is pretty solid. Power was restored in no time so there was fresh coffee and the NY Times on line in the a.m. just like every day. Still, it was good to be reminded of the conveniences of life, to realize how easy we really have it and how truly great it is that we don't actually have to study by candlelight (although God knows we looked mighty attractive in the soft glow).

I am also experiencing the minor inconvenience of being carless as Fergie is in the shop having that stupid emissions issue addressed. But I got a shuttle home and The Neighbor is picking up The Child from school. I'm not crazy about this or about the cost of the repairs (which are still unknown but with my car luck will be far more than I want them to be). But there's room on the credit card to deal with it, which is a blessing. The Neighbor is a generous person, which is a blessing. The dealership has a shuttle, which is a blessing. I'm home in front of my electrified computer, which is also a blessing. I'm not starving, chronically ill, cold, naked or homeless. Just a good thing to reflect on such things every once in a while.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

St. Nicholas

When I was growing up we never had Christmas stockings but instead put out our shoes "like the Dutch children do". (We did eventually live in a house with a fireplace but by then we were wedded to the shoe concept). You might think that this arrangement would be something of a rip-off, given that the average stocking can hold far more than the average shoe. But Santa, taking pity on the poor little chimney deprived children in our house, always filled the shoes with small treats and then stacked big treats like coloring books and jars of pickles around the shoes.

Ah, the Christmas pickles...the coolest, the most coveted of shoe gifts. Growing up on a farm we had Mom's excellent homemade pickles. But being children we failed to fully appreciate the facts. For us the only pickle with cache was made by Nalley's and came from a store. We received pickles, sweet or dill according to our preference (Santa knew I loved sweet pickles) and many was the Christmas morning when the first thing I would enjoy were a few gherkins. And we were territorial about our pickles. We'd write our names on the labels before putting the remainder in the fridge. We monitored our inventory. We knew how many pickles we still had and how they were arranged in the jar. Woe to you if you hadn't the willpower to ration out your pickles and tried to snitch from a sibling. Castigation, assault and tattleling were your fate.

Back to the point, we loved putting out our shoes. I didn't have a stocking until I was an adult and a boyfriend gave me one. Of course, in the years when I wasn't seeing anyone at Christmas time I had neither shoe nor stocking. That's what happens when you live alone. With the advent of the Spouse the use of Christmas stockings returned and it is still my favorite part of the Christmas morning melee.

The Child, on the other hand, has the best of both worlds. She gets a stocking at Christmas but on the 5th of December she also puts out her shoes in anticipation of St. Nicholas stopping by on the eve of his feast day. Millions of kids get a visit from Santa, even kids who have no knowledge of or belief in the Baby Jesus. But, outside of Holland, how many kids do you know that get a visit from St. Nicholas? Lucky, lucky Child.

Most Americans, if they know anything at all of St. Nicholas, know some vague and weird stories about pickled boys restored to health, resurrected sailors and other freaky legends. But here's what we do know about Nicholas, the real Santa Claus. He lived from 270-310 and was a bishop in what's now known as Turkey. He was known for his good, charitable works, wisdom and compassion. He is the patron saint of little children. The Dutch for St. Nicholas, Sinter Klaas, is the derivation of the name Santa Claus.

I've been challenged from time to time by those sanctimonious types who think it is wrong to promote visits from fictional characters like Santa and the Easter Bunny, either because they are post-modern rationalists who see it as lying or they're fundies who have no sense of humor because most fundies have no sense of humor. A pox on both their houses. Story and legend have power to convey deep, important truths. Whimsey and magic encourage imagination and creativity. Plus, as a parent I rather enjoy being the agent of magical beings, assisting in the work of bringing a little surprise or 10 to a (fairly) deserving child. So there.

Anyway, time to stop blogging and go make cookie dough. The M Street Gang are coming over after school to decorate St. Nicholas cookies, a long-standing Advent tradition around here.

St. Nicholas Cookies

Whisk together thoroughly:

3 c. all-purpose flour
1 ½ t. baking powder
¾ t. baking soda
¼ t. salt
1 T. ground ginger
2 t. ground cinnamon
½ t. ground cloves

Beat on medium speed until well blended:
6 T (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened
¾ c. packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg

Add and beat until well combined:
½ c. molasses
2 t. vanilla
1 t. finely grated orange zest

Gradually stir the dry ingredients until well blended and smooth. Divide the dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic and let stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours or up to 8 hours, to develop the flavors. (The dough can also be stored for up to 4 days, refrigerated. Return to room temperature before baking).

To bake, position a rack in the upper third of your oven. Preheat oven to 375. Line cookies sheets with parchment (or lightly grease pans). Place half of the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Very lightly sprinkle flour over dough and dust the rolling pin. Roll out to a scant ¼ inch thick. Lift the dough frequently and ad a bit of flour to work surface and rolling pin as necessary. Cut out cookies and transfer with a spatula to cookie sheet, spacing cookies about 1-½ inches apart. Roll dough scraps and continue cutting out cookies until all the dough is used.

Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until the edges of the cookies are just barely dark, 7 to 10 minutes. Rotate baking sheet halfway through cooking time to ensure even browning. Remove sheet from oven when done and let cookies stand on rack until they firm up slightly. Then remove them to a rack to cool.

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Just Sitting Here

I sit in the early morning quiet of my kitchen and can't think of a thing to say. I also can't think of a thing to do which is odd because I have things:

the ironing and mending have stacked up (and this would be the perfect opportunity to start watching the Bruce Springsteen DVDs that I just received from a friend)...

I need to make cookie dough (tomorrow is the feast of St. Nicholas and we always have a cookie decorating party)...

Monday means standard homekeeping tasks as well as book-keeping (but it's all looking pretty tidy just now...not like the other day when inexplicably The Dog got a hold of my favorite hat - a straw boater - and tore it into a bazillion minute bits of hay which were then joyfully strewn through the house)...

There are some thorny questions to ponder (such as what to get The Child for Christmas since we've already done the bike thing and the dog thing and a pony is not an option and also why, if Angelina "Homewrecker" Jolie had nothing to do with the breakup of his marriage, Brad Pitt is adopting her kids?)

I'm signed up for an on-line forum thing with (just have to figure out what hour of the day today I want to wax philosophic...clearly not just at the moment...)

I blame the Cat Weekend. We did indeed lie around the whole time. (We decided we were going to go to that cocktail party but it started frosting over pretty early down here and I knew they already had snow up there and it just didn't seem like the sort of adventure we needed. Plus by then I was so sogged out on laziness that the idea of changing my clothes was a little overwhelming. Sorry, Ed). There is something about not functioning at a high, or even regular level that just oozes all the will out of a person. I know it's not just me because the checker at the Safeway this a.m. was saying the same thing: when she has a busy weekend she's energized on Monday morning but she was lazy this weekend too and just couldn't quite get it together. And we agreed that there was something really wrong with that. Shouldn't good old fashioned rest and laziness reinvigorate you? Shouldn't I just be full of verve and pizazz because nothing was required of me all weekend? Apparently there is a difference between a sabbath rest and turning into a three-toed sloth. Duly noted.

Whatever. I'm going to have another cup of coffee and see if, once again caffiene lights the way to answering life's more complicated questions. Doing so will at least get me out of my chair.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Speaking of Shoes

Today The Child got her first pair of heels. You'll note that "heel" is a subjective word. The heel on these pumps is so teeny as to be nonexistent. But a heel it is. She is going to her first dance next weekend and dress shoes were warranted.

More to the point, her foot now measures a size 7 in women's. She is under orders to proceed to an 8 and stop. If she and I can share a shoe wardrobe, oh, the bliss.

Had I great wealth I would most certainly contribute generously toward the eradication of AIDS, poverty, and social injustice in the world. Educational and artistic institutions would have in me a faithful patron. And all of that would be on top of my tithe. But I freely admit to this shallow personal truth: I would also own a lot of shoes.


For the Holidays

Presenting my new velvet pumps for Christmas.

The photo does not do justice to their yumminess.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Cat Weekend

We're supposed to go to a cocktail party tomorrow night but it is way the hoo ha up north and suddenly I'm thinking, not so much.

Rather, with the concurrence of The Family, I am hoping to declare a Cat Weekend. A Cat Weekend is one where we don't go anywhere (except church), we don't have anyone over (except maybe The Neighbor, especially if there is a new "Iron Chef America" Sunday night) and we just lie around like cats.

The need for a Cat Weekend occurs when there have been too many weekends in a row with too many obligations. We rarely have an obligation that isn't fun or meaningful but no matter how good the cause or entertaining the event, one can only take so much. Cat Weekend is a time for comfort food (sloppy joes tonight, The Child's chicken nuggets tomorrow). It is about reading, gaming, napping, sleeping in, watching movies and just generally not doing anything that isn't lazy, leisurely or lacksidaisical.

I do not think I will have any trouble selling this concept to the group.

Isn't it Ironic?

Maria Callas, the legendary soprano and arguably America's first diva, was born on this day in 1923.

Pop tart Britney Spears was born on this day in 1981.

It's like rain on your wedding day.

Have You No Shame, Sir?

On this day in 1954 the United States Senate voted to condemn Sen. Joseph McCarthy for "conduct that tends to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute." One wonders why they let him run amok so long, but one of the great things about democracy is that, eventually, the bad guys get theirs. This is a happy, happy thought.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The First Snowfall is Upon Us

Or should I say, the first light dusting of partially frozen water molecules. If you look straight ahead it is snowing, a lot. If you look down the ground is wet. This is not the Big Snow Storm of '05 and I expect it will turn to rain any moment. But that didn't keep The Child from pressing her face against the car window on the drive home and uttering, with Shakespearean passion, "Stick you foul snow!"

I Studied All Night for My Emissions Test...

and I still failed.

The light came on during our trip home from Thanksgiving dinner. And wouldn't you know it, I have to renew my tabs like, now. Oh, had I only taken care of this last week I coulda passed my test, laid down my chunk of change for tabs and been good for another year. But nooooooo.

Here's the thing: I hate doing stuff for the first time. I get all nervous and freaked out because I don't know where to go or what to do once I get there. It's ridiculous behavior in a grown woman but the key source of any procrastination in my life is this fear of virgin territory. (Which goes to a conversation I had with Dallas Payson yesterday about whether or not we were ever going to feel like grownups. Since we're both asking that question in our 40's, it's looking doubtful).

Yesterday I went to the trusty Internet and looked up everything pertinent about emissions tests. I learn that I need to run the car for 15 minutes. I read that The Dog can't be in the car. It costs $15 so I made sure I had the checkbook. I looked up the address on Yahoo Maps and felt very swell and accomplished. I haven't done this before but dang it, I'm prepared.

After my Parent Club meeting this morning I head out onto the freeway to get Fergie warmed up. Of course, it's stop and go northbound I-5 so I get off onto I-90, drive into Bellevue, turn around and head over to the testing station. I am golden. There is NO LINE. The woman running my lane was SUPER nice. I told her I'd never done this before and she might have to walk me through it and she was kind and funny as could be. (Clearly not an employee of the Department of Transportation). She checks the gas cap then sends me forward to the young lad who was going to check my computer. And then out comes the result that there is a small leak in the "Evaporative Emission Control System".

Right. Pay a visit to our mechanic who tells me that the whole thing could be as simple as really tightening up my gas cap, driving around and seeing if the light goes off. Or it's a majorly expensive diagnostic that he can't do for at least a week. Of course. Because my tabs expire in 3.5 days. If I had done all this when I first got my tab renewal notice none of this would have happened. Or, of course, if it had, there would have been weeks and weeks and weeks to deal with it before I got to the situation where I have to watch my rear view mirror for any trace of cops while I drive around with expired tabs.

Procrastination is a bad, bad thing. Being afraid of looking stupid or making a mistake just because I'm new to something is a bad, bad thing. On the plus side, I now know exactly what to do when the car needs an emissions test and I know what my New Year's Resolution is going to be.

I now invoke all the automotive deities: Please let my light go off, please let my light go off.....