Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Bit Non-traditional

Christmas this year was very different from Christmases past. I made the mistake of getting super excited for this year to be the best Christmas ever, owing mostly to the fact that the boys are such fun ages right now and I'm neither pregnant nor nursing a baby, so I felt like we could all participate in the holiday fun as a family. Of course, we all know what happens when you make plans. Other stuff happens. Thankfully Jack never did get sick, but he did curl up on the couch around 3:30 in the afternoon Christmas Eve and take a nap. I thought he was probably coming down with the stomach virus Matteas had just recovered from that very morning so I let him sleep. Turns out he just needed a nap, the kind that would let him stay awake until the wee hours of the morning. I'd been so excited about our plan to go to the 4 p.m. children's Mass on Christmas Eve so we'd have plenty of time to have dinner with my family that night and still be able to get the boys to bed at a decent hour. I love the idea of Midnight Mass, but Jack is the sort of kid who is absolutely wrecked the next day if he goes to bed any later than nine; he doesn't know how to sleep in and often will wake even earlier if he's up past his eight o'clock bedtime. Being four years old, he's a little bit of a handful right now anyway and with all the stimulation I knew Christmas morning would bring I really wanted to set him up for a good day. That's why I wasn't too disappointed when Matteas got sick and I knew we'd be canceling our usual plans. I thought we could use the opportunity to focus on our little family, have a cozy dinner together at home. get the boys to bed early, not have to be anywhere on time in real clothes, and have plenty of time to wrap presents after the boys were asleep before getting to bed at a reasonable hour ourselves. None of that happened. Well, we didn't have to be anywhere on time. I made duck and had to keep fiddling with the sauce since it wasn't coming out the way I wanted. It eventually came out fantastic, but not before Matteas decided he was done with Christmas Eve and he was going to bed. At least one of us would be well-rested. I thought. Dinner was beautiful, even though a family member was missing. Tristan stopped by on his way to Midnight Mass(he represented the family) so we still had four at the table. Jack, being a normal four year-old, declined to eat the duck. We'd watched Peter and the Wolf that afternoon, a version where Peter's only friend is a really cute duck. Who gets eaten by the wolf. So Jack had grilled cheese. The rest of us ate duck, just as lustily as the wolf. Perhaps more so, it was that good. I've eaten duck before, but it's always tasted too greasy and a little dirty to me. Not this duck. It was rich and flavorful, with crisp fat that I can only describe as tasting like poultry-flavored bacon. The flesh tasted the way I've always wanted Thanksgiving turkey to taste, like ultra-rick chicken but wilder, but it never does. And oranges and duck were made for each other. The sauce I made was a simmering of duck stock(made from the neck), red wine vinegar, freshly squeezed orange juice, garlic, ginger, orange rind, sugar and rosemary. I brushed it on the duck during the last few minutes of roasting, after I'd simmered the duck on the stove in an orange-garlic-bay-leaf brine. I served it with green beans and arugula salad, and as it turns out, Duck a L'Orange with arugula and fresh oranges is one fantastic combination. We will be eating duck again. Probably for every birthday I ever have after this. Matteas woke up after dinner and had serious trouble falling back asleep, especially after we tried putting Jack to bed(they share a room) and Jack kept singing. Until two o'clock in the morning. Christmas morning featured more citrus, with orange rolls and coffee. Lots of coffee. I also made a really simple egg dish after discovering we only had three eggs left in the house and I didn't want the boys eating just pastry for breakfast. I chopped up half a loaf of crusty french bread, mixed three eggs with one cup milk and one cup half and half, tossed some dijon mustard and paprika in the egg mixture, then layered it in a buttered baking dish with a good amount of cheddar cheese. I soaked it overnight then baked it in the morning, and it was really good. I was extra pleased that I'd fed my whole family with only three eggs. Matteas still declines to eat most of the time, but there were leftovers so three eggs still would have been enough. Aaron and I both got each other arguile socks. Matteas decided he really like Aaron's and demanded to wear a pair. I'd gotten the boys matching Christmas pajamas, but Matteas leaked through his diaper all over his and Jack barfed(not sick barf, just a loose burp) on his shirt so I have no pictures. Another plan that didn't happen. We did actually put clothes on Matteas that morning, but somehow they kept coming off so he spent most of Christmas Day in a diaper and dad's socks. In the background you can see one of the gifts I made for Aaron's parents. I was inspired by Stephanie, who makes silhouettes of her kids every year. This was the first year I've done it, and I have to say I'm really pleased with how they turned out and what a cost-effective gift they were. The greatest investment was my time, which is a more meaningful gift than something I could buy anyway. I love the way the back of Matteas' hair turned out.
And yes, Jack's lips really are that big. I double-checked.
I thought $50 was a bit much to spend on a toy vacuum cleaner, but I have no regrets. Matteas loves it, and had used it every day since Christmas. Also, it's nice and quiet. It's loud enough that it satisfies the child using it, but not loud enough to be annoying. In the yuppie spirit of Pottery Barn, it's modeled after an actual Dyson which I think is actually kind of cool.
In the afternoon we headed over to Aaron's parents to exchange gifts, have Christmas dinner and play some games. Some were rowdier than others.
I gave Aaron this really cheesy "portable ping pong" set. It came with a net which is supposed to suction cup to the top of any table, but we couldn't get them to stick so we stuck them to glass plates. The paddles that came in the set were also dreadfully small, but Aaron's mom had some bigger ones that worked much better. The boys saw us playing and wanted to join in, which was more fun because Aaron is frustratingly good at ping pong. He hits the ball really fast and at an angle so that it goes shooting past you before you can even see it, which really irritates me. He slowed it down for the boys though, and it was hilarious helping them play. Jack had a really hard time waiting until the ball was actually near him to start swinging, so a lot of Aaron's energy was directed at restraining Jack. For such a simple game it was a lot of fun. Today we did some stamp work with one of the gifts I got for the boys. I found this stamp set on Amazon and was nervous about getting it because Amazon didn't have a lot of information about it, but I really wanted to get them things they could do and not just fill them up with things to have, and this set worked out really well. It only comes with three ink pads, but I ordered another set so they'd have more colors. Too keep them from contaminating the colors, I sat there with diaper wipes and cleaned off each stamp as they used it. Neurotic? A bit. Did it work? Totally. After watching me do it for a few minutes they started cleaning the stamps on their own. I like getting stuff for Christmas that you can use because it helps alleviate post-Christmas let-down. After the roller coaster of excitement and disappointment, contingency plan excitement and more disappointment, I don't feel done celebrating Christmas. I had a good talk with my Mom about it and she had some really good advice. She told me that while we have really little kids and only really little kids, Christmas is just going to be like this. I have very fond memories of staying up late for Mass on Christmas Eve after having a big dinner with all my cousins, and coming home really late at night to find new pajamas(which my Mom usually made herself) on our beds. My Mom pointed out that by the time we had Christmases like that, she had lots of older kids to help out with the younger ones. Right now we have "younger ones" and no help. Jack actually picked out fabric for me to make them pajamas, but I bought them some from Old Navy as back-up. Even with nowhere to be in the days right before Christmas I still didn't have time to get to everything I wanted to. I'm also irritated that while from a liturgical perspective we're not even halfway into celebrating Christmas, but my feelings about when Christmas is over are largely dictated by the retail world. I don't want it to be that way, but I can't help feeling like I'm reaching too far to still be playing Christmas carols and keeping the tree up. We're planning a dinner with my side of the family on January 6th to make up for Christmas Eve, and after that I think I'll be okay with taking down the decorations. And then I'll start planning what I can do differently to make next Christmas even better.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Because It's Not Christmas Until Somebody Barfs

Snowflake banner in our dining room.
Tuesday afternoon, Matteas started running a low-grade fever. Tuesday evening, he got very mellow. Towards the end of watching "Home Alone" he started dozing off in my lap, very unusual for him since he'd taken a big nap in the afternoon. My eyes scanned the room, looking for something I could use as a barf receptacle should the need arise. Not five minutes later, Matteas opened his eyes and I heard the trademark wet cough. I lunged for the plastic dish pan full of toy cars I'd spotted earlier and managed to catch all the barf and save myself from having to scrub it out of the carpet. We went upstairs and took a nice long shower, then made a cozy bed downstairs layered with towels to prepare for a long barfy night. Thankfully it wasn't that long. One more big barf of Gatorade and that was the end of the gastric eruptions, though a low-grad fever persists. One thing I'm really grateful for is that someone at church already had the bug and shared that it's a kid-only virus, so I appreciate being able to take care of sick kids with an able body. I was also worried about him having a fever for so long after he quit barfing and was beginning to fear we were at the beginning of something instead of towards the end, but the gal from church said her two year-old did the same thing. Technology is really great sometimes; someone in another city can keep you company while your kid is barfing. I decided to do a "December" sign before switching to "Winter" and hang up all our Christmas cards under it. I haven't kept up well with my picture project, but the last couple of days haven't been all that picturesque.
This little stocking is my favorite part of the banner. I was so tickled when I thought of cutting a candy cane out of the striped paper.
So our recent illness means we won't be participating in my family's Christmas Eve dinner this year. As viruses go it was pretty mild, but the transmission rate seems really fast and we don't want to give any cousins barf for Christmas. Initially I was really bummed about this, but I'm already embracing the opportunity to slow down and de-stress. We have nowhere to be and nothing to finish before we get there; we can take our time, wrap presents, and eat duck. My Mom always makes a beautiful prime rib roast for Christmas Eve dinner, so to make up for missing hers we made a small one of our own tonight. It was amazing. I usually use the slow-roast method because we usually have a larger roast, but tonight it was just the four of us and a little 2.5 pound beauty, so I decided to try the high-heat method from The Joy of Cooking. Before putting it in the oven I rubbed it all over with a paste I made from fresh thyme, oregano, rosemary, garlic and dijon mustard. I think I'm officially a high-heat convert. The texture was sublime, soft and succulent and with a cleaner meat flavor than the slow-roast method I've used before. I made a potato gratin to go with it and steamed green beans. Jack ate in total silence, which is always a sign that he's so focused on enjoying his food that he can't speak. Hopefully he doesn't barf it up later. I'm so curious to try roasting my own duck. Since our usual traditions have gone out the window this year, we decided to make a theme out of non-tradition and our Christmas Eve dinner this year will be Duck a L'Orange. I've eaten duck a few times, but it's one of the few proteins I've never attempted to cook myself. Success or failure, there will be pictures. It's really comforting to me that in the face of not being with my family for Christmas, I've come to the realization that my husband and our two boys really are my family. I still love my parents and everything and I love the tradition of big family get-togethers, but I'm actually looking forward to this Christmas being just the four of us. The boys are such a fun age for Christmas magic, and every snowflake we cut and ornament we hang is a little miracle to them. Christmas was always a huge deal when I was a kid, then as an adult I was always frustrated that it didn't seem to measure up to my memories; kids have changed that, and it's more magical now than ever. Aaron is also full of Christmas cheer, hiding presents for me in the garage and putting mulled cider on the stove. Yes, I think this Christmas will be our best yet.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Toffee Innovation

I found a way to make my toffee better: cut it into squares. I made two batches to give away as party favors for Aaron's first annual company party, which was a huge success despite the fact that I forgot one of the batches of toffee in the freezer. I used a pizza cutter while the toffee was still hot, immediately after I'd pressed the nuts into the warm chocolate. It sliced through the foil as well so I had to peel it off each individual piece, but it was well worth the satisfaction of having neat little squares. Squares are such a satisfying shape. Especially when they're made of toffee. Also, I've gotten some consistent feedback about the heat level; medium-low takes too long. Last night I cranked it up to medium-high the whole time which worked fine, but I would advise turning down the heat slightly to, say, straight-up medium once the toffee starts to turn a nice golden brown or it cooks too fast. I also wanted to add that part of how you'll know it's ready to pour is that the toffee suddenly gets much easier to stir once the sugar liquefies- an indication that you're ready to pour it in about thirty more seconds. So I accidentally shortchanged the goody bags, but there was still enough toffee for everyone to take home a little treat, plus some mighty fine Russian teacakes. It was really fun to meet all these people I've heard so much about who've worked with Aaron through the years- The Electrician, The Tile Guy, The Plumber; their wives were pretty fun too. I have to say, introducing myself to a room full of people as "Aaron's wife" was a long-time fantasy fulfilled. Next year I will plan my wardrobe a little better; I left myself about 15 minutes to get dressed and the dress I pulled out of my closet was- guess- too big. I know, poor me. Poor, poor skinny me. Good thing I have that tray of forgotten toffee to fatten me up.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Getting There

I can't believe Christmas is in six days; I know this happens every year, but I was really hoping to savor Advent a little better than I have. Thankfully it's not too late, and I plan on wringing every last moment of waiting out of the next six days. There are practically endless opportunities for baking, crafting, wrapping, card-writing and cleaning that come with Christmas preparations. So naturally I decided it would be a good time to make new curtains for the kitchen window. Yesterday, Aaron's mom took the boys for the whole afternoon and I cleaned like a maniac. It was so great to be able to work on a project from start to finish and not get interrupted 50 times to make a snack, change a diaper, settle a fight, read a story...I did the deep-down dirty stuff like washing the drapes, scrubbing the entry-way floor, bleaching the toilet, so I now I can relax and do thinks like make paper snowflake garlands with Jack. At the end of my cleaning frenzy I drove over to pick up the boys and ate my mother-in-law's lasagna, which is a feat of meaty, saucy, cheesy glory, and I didn't have to mess up my perfect kitchen to enjoy it. It was the perfect comfort food at the end of a really productive day. I keep a big basket of books in the coffee table in the living room. When we have library books they stay in this basket so they don't get mixed in with books we own, but for now it's filled with Christmas books. The boys never get tired of hearing them, and I never get tired of reading them. And now, back to my snowflake garlands.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Half and Half

The good news: I cleaned the fridge. The bad news: now I have no food. I guess I'm having milk and beer for lunch.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Can I Get a Break?

"Matteas, would you like some more apple?" "No." "Say 'No thank you,' Matteas." *** "Matteas, would you like to pick another book?" "Um, no." "Baby, say 'No thank you.'" *** "Matteas, it's time to put the toys away and go to bed." "No thank you."


Habit: a dominant or regular disposition or tendency; prevailing character or quality. Change: 1. to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone: to change one's name; to change one's opinion; to change the course of history.
2. to transform or convert
I am having trouble. This is nothing new. My whole life, I have been overly concerned with finding a balance between the things I "have" to do and the things I "want" to do. I worry that I haven't done enough of the "have to"s to have earned spending time on the "want to"s, and when I do feel like I've earned some leisure time I often panic about what, exactly, to spend that time doing. Eating? Sleeping? Scrapbooking? Trying out some new art supplies? I'm not a complete mess anymore; I generally have some idea of what I want to do, and it occurred to me a while back how far I've come when I realized what I use babysitter time for. When Matteas was about six months old Aaron started encouraging me to hire a babysitter. Jack wanted my attention all of the time and he was still working out his relationship with his little brother, so it was tricky for me to do things that required me to have my back turned, like the dishes. I don't know why I waited so long, but I finally gave into Aaron's requests and called Madeleine. I was tired of having to be on guard while cleaning, tired of having to rescue the baby with soapy hands, of getting interrupted in the middle of trying to make progress. It worked out really well, and when I saw how much the boys loved playing with Madeleine I wondered why I waited so long. No matter how nice your babysitter is, it's hard to ask someone else to be with your kids but sometimes it's even harder to be with your kids 24/7. Everyone has moved on; Madeleine is in college now and her younger sister Grace has taken over. When she comes, I usually don't clean. I work out or run errands, or both. Those things seemed like total luxury items back in the sleep-deprived days of Matteas' infancy, things I didn't even have the capacity to think about doing. Luckily, babies grow up. I still have a lot of the same struggles, but the hard parts aren't as hard. Matteas still doesn't sleep through the night, but he sleeps a lot better than he did. My house is still messy more often than it's clean, but both of the boys are able to help clean up their toys instead of me having to do everything. Babysitting time is used for "want to"s more than "have to"s. And yet, it's still hard. I don't expect it to ever not be. What scares me is, there isn't much real trouble in my life. No one I love is in the hospital, my husband has a job that pays the mortgage, my kids are strong and healthy; yet some days, my life still feels overwhelming. I feel like I'm constantly adding to the list of things I need to get to, and the list grows longer everyday. The boys, while perfectly capable of playing independently, want me to be with them constantly. I realize this is normal, but I also realize that I would be doing them a major disservice to grant their non-stop requests for my attention. I want them to know how much I love them, but I don't want them to grow up believing the world revolves around them. I want them to have friends and nurture their relationships, but I don't want them to be unable to spend time alone. I remember very clearly a talk I heard given by Alison Bernhoft, years before I had children. She said(and forgive me Alison for paraphrasing) that it was important to her that her children learn to spend constructive time by themselves so that when they chose to be in the company of others, it would be out of a genuine desire to have relationship with a specific person rather than the mere avoidance of being alone. I was years away from becoming a mother, but I filed that bit of wisdom away for later. I'm so glad I did, and I'm finding that it applies to me as much as to my children. I need time alone, and when I get it I'm a better mother. There are seasons in life when alone time is hard to come by, but I've found it helpful to remember during those times that nothing lasts forever. The trick is to know what season you're in at the time so you can respond accordingly. Sometimes you need to call a babysitter just so you can shower and dress by yourself. Other times you can take a week off and go to New York alone. Sometimes your baby will need your constant attention, and someday your baby will grow up and what you both need is for him to learn to play alone. What I'm gradually accepting is that I will probably never be in a fixed place for very long. I'm learning that, more important than being able to figure out precisely where I am is the ability to be flexible about it, to discern what about the moment I am currently in is really important and what can wait until later. Right now, Jack is watching PBS and Matteas is sleeping. The kitchen sink is full of dishes and the living room rug needs vacuuming, but I decided that blogging would be more restorative to my soul than cleaning. My husband and I don't see totally eye-to-eye on this subject, as he feels it would be more restorative to his soul to come home to a semi-clean house after a long day at work. It has occurred to me lately that marriage and kids should come with a built-in nanny and maid; two adults doesn't seem like enough. I spend my whole day taking care of other people. Messy, needy, poopy, whiny people. I think my kids are of an average neediness, but they still have a lot to learn about how to be people and I'm the one who's supposed to teach them. I find it really exhausting to be patient and gentle about this, and get particularly frustrated when I feel like I have to teach them something obvious, like that it's not okay to poke your brother in the eye because he won't be a dog with you. Or that it's not okay to poop on the living room floor and then drive your cars through it. Or that it's not okay to hold onto my skirt in church so that when I stand up and you stay sitting down you give the guy behind me an eyeful(yes, that happened). Or that it's not okay to sneak cleaning solution, shampoo, oatmeal and tampons into the bathroom and fill the sink with "potion." Use your words; respect other people's bodies; that only goes in the toilet; we don't eat chocolate for breakfast; you may not unwrap all of Mom's "special bandaids;" eat your dinner; please use your inside voice; it's not okay to hit when you're mad; that is not an appropriate way to use ______(a hundred different various things); please climb out of the dishwasher; it's rude to sit on your brother's head when you have a poop; I get tired of saying this sort of stuff. When I do get a break from saying it, it's hard to muster the enthusiasm to clean up the messes that have been made in the process of all that stuff especially when I know I'm going to have to fight two eager little "helpers" to do it. I know it's important for kids to help; it's how they learn. But it's not always possible, like when I need to clean up dishes from making dinner and there was raw chicken involved. I don't mind cleaning; what I do mind is having a screaming toddler attached to my leg while cleaning or two boys going head-to-head over the same toy while I'm trying to scrub the toilet. So a lot of the time, I don't. This is where I have not yet learned where the balance is. This is not one of those posts where I have a neat little conclusion at the end. I haven't figured this one out yet, but I'm pretty sure at least part of the answer is going to involve some marriage counseling. And possibly professional cleaners. My suspicion is that both Aaron and I have unrealistic expectations about how much mess is reasonable. On the one hand, our kids are two and four; those are really messy ages. On the other hand, I know I have a particularly strong resistance to change; once I get used to doing something a certain way, it's really hard for me to do it differently even if the circumstances change. So I get very defensive when Aaron says he thinks I could keep the house up a little better. I don't like that he is asking me to do something different. It implies that I am not perfect in my current condition. It implies that I have flaws. It implies that he would like me to change. And change is hard. But recently I have had to ask myself, why not? I could have everything in my life ordered exactly the way I wanted it, make only foods I like, listen only to music that I like, spend time doing things that only I want to do, if. If I wasn't married. If I lived alone. If Aaron and our boys weren't in my life. So I had to ask myself: if I refuse to change, why the hell did I get married? Did I really think that I could merge my life with another and expect everything to stay the same? If I don't change, what does that say to my husband? That he has had so little impact on my life that nothing has changed, that change has not been warranted by his presence? That's not what I want to say. What I want to say is that I love my husband so much that he has affected every part of my being, that my love for him is so great that my life would not be the same without him, that he is so important to me that all other priorities take a back seat. And all those things are true, so long as he doesn't ask me to change. Anything but that. I'm trying. We both are. In small ways, we are learning. I know that he doesn't like feta, so I buy goat cheese. He likes big cups of coffee, but pours mine in a small cup because he knows that's what I like. He likes colored lights on the tree while I prefer white, so we use red and white lights. We do some things differently because of the other person, because we love each other and we want to have a life together instead of just living in the same house. Habits persist, and change will come slowly. But hopefully, if we work at it long enough, we can make a habit of change for the better.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


This happens every year. I look back at previous Decembers and sort out the Good from the Bad, the Things I Should Not Have Done from the Things I Would Absolutely Do Over Again, and try to organize the current December accordingly. From previous years, the Things I Should Not Have Done: -traveled prior to Christmas. It doesn't leave enough time. -stayed up so late Christmas Eve. -taken the kids to ten o'clock Mass on Christmas Eve -stressed about every niece and nephew(21 of them) having something to open Christmas Eve -forgotten to water the tree The Things I Would Absolutely Do Over Again -stayed home all of December to cook, bake, have parties -made toffee and put it into jars for ready-made gifts when someone unexpectedly drops by -made more toffee -taken the kids to the 4 p.m. Mass on Christmas Eve -welcome being snowed in and taking the opportunity to relax -have a special Christmas dinner with a few close friends on a day other than actual Christmas/Christmas Eve This little Christmas house is one of my efforts to focus on my priorities, namely, making Christmas magic for my kids. It was a partial success. I took one of our old moving boxes and made wallpaper with some scrapbooking paper I bought, then cut a big felt tree out of green wool. I meant to glue the silver beads on while Jack was at school, but I was trying to clean house and didn't have time. Decorating the tree was a semi-disaster. Jack was frustrated about having to wait for the glue to dry, also about Matteas getting into the jewels I told Jack not to open until we were ready to use them but he ignored me, so I let Matteas have half the jewels to keep him busy while I did the gluing. Jack wept over the loss of the jewels. In fact, he pretty wept the entire time over one thing or another. We quit, had dinner, and resumed later. Today he decorated. I'm anticipating that our Christmas House will get more use later in the day. I bought myself these mugs for tea. Damn Anthropologie. I go Christmas shopping with the best intentions, and then find things that I can't live without. Gifts are always a toss-up, you might not get anything you actually like, and I know I'll love these mugs. So what if I have to buy them for myself? The way I see it, bringing myself joy takes the pressure off of others. It just made too much sense to bring them home. They were happiness waiting to happen, I couldn't just leave them there. Yesterday was a circus. Jack was at school, so I tried to clean house so we could do some Christmas crafts in an organized space. Matteas was not an asset. While I did the dishes, Matteas threw all the couch cushions on the floor. While I was cleaning out the fish tank(which hasn't had live fish in it for, um, a long time) he threw himself on the floor and wept. While I swept the dining room floor, he re-cluttered the living room floor. While I picked up the re-cluttered living room, he snuck into Jack's room and took apart the elevated track which Jack had carefully built before school. When Jack got home and saw the destruction, he wept. There were a lot of tears around here yesterday. After my fourth failed cleaning attempt, Matteas got his bottle of milk and found me in the kitchen. "Come snuggle me, Mama." Okay. We settled in on the couch. He nestled against me, slipping one little arm around my neck so he could put his fingers in my hair. I held him and we were both quiet, and the house wasn't clean. I looked at his fuzzy blond hair, his big soft brown eyes, his little baby cheek. I nuzzled his hair and took a deep breath, smelling the sweetness of his skin and baby shampoo. He doesn't care of the house his clean, he just wants to be with his mama and feel her hair. "Matteas," I said, "you are what matters." "Mm-hmm," he said with his bottle in his mouth. Funny how often I forget that.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My Mantle

The colored lights on the tree in the mirror are no more; I couldn't handle how dark they made the tree look. I went to Rite Aid at 9:55 in the freezing cold five minutes before they closed and bought some more white lights so I could do red and white like we have every year. I hate colored lights, Aaron hates plain white, so red and white is our compromise. It works out nicely because we both like it and it accidentally gave our tree a theme; most of our ornaments are red and white. I tried wrapping white and colored lights together and I like that better; if the boys are devastated about the colored lights being gone I may just decorate the tree again tomorrow. For the third time. Who knew I was so Type A?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Little Things

My children eat like squirrels. So do some of their friends.
I like my food to look pretty; so do kids.
It is very, very cold now. We even had a tiny dusting of snow on our way home from Albert and Anna's, so we made hot chocolate to celebrate the First Snow of the Season. It's 9 p.m. on December 5th. Me: Aaron, tomorrow is St. Nicholas Day. Jack put his shoes by the fire and the stuff I got to put in there was in the bag we forgot at Whidbey. Aaron: Rite Aid?

Friday, December 4, 2009

You're Welcome

This toffee will be my gift to the world. I plan on giving it to most people I know for Christmas, but if you don't plan on dropping by my house this December you should at least plan on making some. It is devastatingly good, and I don't even like most dessert. It makes a beautiful gift when placed in a glass jar with a ribbon tied around it, and it keeps forever. At least, it would if it didn't disappear so quickly. Merry Christmas, world. Butter Pecan Toffee 3 cups white sugar 2 cups butter(don't panic, it makes a LOT of toffee) 2 1/2 cups chocolate chips or chopped chocolate pieces 1 cup toasted, finely chopped pecans, almonds, or walnuts Toast 1 1/2 cups of pecans(my favorite) on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for ten minutes. Cool and finely chop. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with tin foil so the bottom and ALL the sides have a ridge of tinfoil over them. The baking sheet I used was 12 x 20 and made for the perfect thickness. You may want to scale the recipe down a bit if your baking sheet is much smaller or the toffee will be so thick it will hurt to bite into it(reduce the sugar to 2 cups and the butter to 1 1/2 cups, the chocolate chips to 2 cups). In a large pot(preferably one with two handles, the kind you'd boil pasta in) over medium heat, melt the butter and sugar. When the butter is melted, reduce the heat to medium-low. Stirring constantly(get used to it), caramelize the sugar. This takes quite a while, but don't get discouraged and walk away; the window of perfection is small, so be patient and pay careful attention. The sugar will begin to melt and brown, turning first a kind of pinkish color not unlike your standard sheer nylons. You're not there yet. Keep stirring. The sugar will continue to cook, and as you stir you'll notice that ribbons of color will swirl up from the bottom. You don't have to stir terribly fast, just a nice, steady constant; you don't want the sugar to stay in one place too long or it will burn, so don't rush things but keep it moving. After 15 minutes or so, the sugar will start to melt and you'll notice that it looks a lot less granular. It should start to turn the color of caramel, the kind you cover an apple with. You're still not there yet. Keep stirring. This is where you want to start doing a lot of smelling, because the toffee will smell a certain way when it's on the verge of perfect. It will smell almost like it's burnt, but it shouldn't be yet. It should be a very rich, deep caramel color, much darker than the color of brown sugar and have no visible sugar granules in it. DO NOT stop stirring. The instant that the toffee appears to smoke very slightly(you're there! stop stirring!), pour it into your foil-lined baking tray(this is not a good activity for kids. It's also not a good activity to attempt by yourself if you have kids around. Mine were at the movies.). I've timed it, and you've got roughly 15 seconds where the toffee is scorching hot but not burned. The hotter you get it, the crunchier it will be once it cools. If you don't cook it long enough it will be gummy instead of brittle. Very carefully tilt the baking tray so the toffee reaches all corners. Immediately(do not delay, waste no time) scatter the chocolate chips over the hot toffee.
After about a minute, the chocolate chips will melt.
Using a spatula(a butter knife works, but it's much less satisfying), carefully smear the melted chocolate over the toffee. Don't worry about mixing them together, the toffee will be set enough to keep to itself. Once the chocolate is all spread out, sprinkle the chopped nuts on top and very gently press them into the chocolate with your hand(it won't be hot enough to burn you, but be careful not to press hard). You're not actually pressing the nuts down into the chocolate, just encouraging them to stick together. At this point, you can grab a pizza cutter and slice the whole sheet of toffee into squares before cooling, or: Let cool, either in the fridge or a cool place outside where it will be safe from children and squirrels. Depending on the temperature, it should take 30 minutes-1 hour to cool completely. Carefully lift up the giant brick of toffee glory you've just created and peel off the foil. It should come off cleanly; if not, your toffee is probably still warm. Break it into manageable pieces with your hands, then cut into smaller pieces on a cutting board.
Revel in your success.
Make sure you save the scraps for sprinkling over ice cream.
Notes: You can use any kind of chocolate you want, but I like the ease of chocolate chips. I once used expensive semi-sweet chocolate which I painstakingly chopped myself, and I actually preferred the flavor of chocolate chips so I figure why bother? Do not, under ANY circumstances, touch the toffee while it's hot. It will burn like you wouldn't believe. Hold the pan very close to the baking sheet when pouring, and go nice and slow. It doesn't really splatter because it's so thick, but there's no sense in taking chances. Do not use margarine. You will end up with a big soggy mess and no toffee.
For all my stern warnings about constant stirring and hotness, this recipe is actually quite easy. I only screwed it up the first time I made it, and after that it got better each time. If you get it wrong, it will be pretty obvious why and you most likely won't make the same mistake the second time around.

Cheap Thrills

I'm always on the lookout for good, economic art projects for the boys. Last night I cut up some paper bags from Trader Joe's and we had a solid hour of Christmas magic.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Finally, the Core Fusion Post

This morning I fell prey to a problem common to many after Thanksgiving weekend: none of my pants fit. After all that turkey, gravy, sweet potato ravioli and pumpkin pie, I haven't a thing to wear. Only, not quite the way you might expect. All my pants are too big. It's okay if you need to take a second to hate me a little bit. I'd hate me too, if I didn't know better. My favorite part of the story is the fact that it happened backwards, and being skinny is purely a side-effect of the pursuit of healthy living. I didn't start working out to lose weight. After I had Matteas I had about 15 extra pounds that just wouldn't go away, and while I was really unhappy with my softer, curvier body, I made a decision that changed my life. I decided I was tired of being unhappy with my body. I realized that I could spend my life feeling at odds with my physical self, or I could start appreciating my body for the things it could do instead of what it didn't look like. For starters, I'd grown two human beings from scratch. That was pretty amazing. Next, I made a mental list of all the things I was grateful to my body for being able to do: having healthy labors; being able to wrestle with my boys; having the strength to carry Matteas in a backpack on 3-mile hikes; being able to work in the garden; running through the back woods with Jack; skiing with Aaron. Sure, I'd like to look great in a bathing suit, but being able to do all those things really was more valuable to me than how I looked. Then I started seeing a chiropractor, which further improved the health of my body and relieved all my lower back pain. That was a huge turning point; I hadn't realized how much energy it was taking out of me to be in pain all the time, and once it was gone I felt reborn. Our friend Trevor kept raving about his personal trainer Laura, who happens to live two blocks from my house(if you're in the area and looking for a great trainer, e-mail me for her info). I realized that if I wanted to take better care of my body I was going to have to make space for that to happen, so I called Laura and made an appointment and then called the babysitter. I see Laura once a week, and our appointments motivate me to work out in between so that I can keep improving my performance each week. And then, thanks to my amazing goddess of a cousin Kayleigh, Core Fusion came into my life. Core Fusion was started in Exhale studios in New York, and some of the workouts are now available on DVD. Plans are in the works to open a studio in Seattle, at which point I will stalk them relentlessly. The beauty of Core Fusion is that it doesn't waste your time; every single movement has purpose and is designed with the support of the whole body in mind. My sciatica still bothers me from time to time if I'm not careful, but I'm able to do Core Fusion workouts without irritation because of the integrity of the movements; the exercises strengthen the body without stressing it. Don't misunderstand, it's hard. Ridiculously hard, at first. The first time I did one of the DVD's was so alarmed by the level of difficulty that twice I started giggling uncontrollably; I simply didn't know what else to do. It's a way of moving that is unlike anything else I've ever tried. It's so intense, so complete, so efficient. Your entire body will be absolutely exhausted by the end of the workout. But its intensity is also its greatest appeal; by my third time through the DVD I was able to complete the entire workout with considerably less difficulty. It was still challenging in the extreme, but I could feel that my body was stronger after just three workouts. Thanks to Core Fusion, I was able to eat like a hog the whole time I was in New York and lose weight, and that was only doing three Core Fusion workouts that week. Lest you doubt my criteria for "eating like a hog," I'll give you a few examples; one night I went out for an early dinner by myself and ate a lobster roll. This consisted of an entire lobster tossed with a mayonnaise dressing and served on top of a roll soaked in butter. Three hours later I ate another dinner of salad, fresh cheese and bread, roasted hen with turnip mash, pasta with boar ragu. And wine. Each morning began with a few big cups of coffee with plenty of half-and-half, oatmeal with butter and sugar. Lunch is usually pretty substantial, a big salad with poached eggs, cheese, whatever leftover meat I have in the fridge. I eat like this nearly everyday(minus the lobster, but only because it would get expensive). What all this leads me to believe with utmost conviction is this: the human body was made to move, and move often. Do that, and you can eat pretty much anything you want. During all this Core Fusion and personal training, I have never once restricted my food intake. I eat a lot of fat. I eat a lot, period. At this point, I'm working out three times a week, which seems to be kind of the magic number for my body. An hour of personal training, an hour of Core Fusion, and at least one run of 3-4 miles. If it's a great week I'll add a few Core Fusion workouts, but just doing the above seems to be enough to maintain my progress. It even allowed me to take the entire week of Thanksgiving off to eat and eat and not work out at all, and not gain an ounce. Now that Thanksgiving is over and I'm not spending two days cooking for a single dinner, I'm back to working out three times a week. I cannot recommend Core Fusion enough. I promise it will be one of the toughest workouts you will ever try, but I can also promise it will be the most rewarding. You don't have to spend hours on the treadmill, you just have to work your muscles correctly. I should mention that I have never been the type of person who enjoyed working out; I ran a lot as a teenager, but that was mostly because I wanted the endorphins and not because I'm one of those people who feels driven to exercise. I get bored very quickly with exercise. Core Fusion is different. It will change how you feel about exercise, it will change how you feel about your body, it will change the way it feels to exercise your body. Plus, it does great things for your backside.