Wednesday, December 24, 2008

the great white north

We made it; we pulled in at 2 am on Sunday, car and sanity intact! No major problems, either.(There was a period of time where we were FREEZING in the car and couldn't figure out why. Turns out you really need to use that little "recirc" button when you have the heater on and it's 10 degrees outside. Houston has made us cold weather novices all over again.) No one threw up, no one had a meltdown, no one even got irritable and snippy in the last 2 hours.
Super Q was very anxious to see snow. We had mentioned Illinois and Indiana as possible places to see it. When those states didn't deliver, Q was furious! ("But you SAID!") Anyway, by the time we got to Michigan, there was plenty of the stuff. And it's been snowing every day since we arrived. The boys are in heaven. They bundle up and go out there and swim around in it. And then come in a cry a little because their faces are frozen.
So it' Christmas Eve and we're so glad to have made it safely. We're having the best time with uncles aunts and cousins. Loving the beautiful snow. Trying to finish a little lap quilt and embroider names on stockings. Sneaking lots of sugar cookies. Looking into our boys' eyes and envying their excitement. Soaking up the Christmas feeling.

Friday, December 19, 2008

that's right!

Still waiting on the status of the car... hum dee dum... guess I'll pass on a link to this very funny article in the NYT about the link between Happy Mommies and Diet Coke. The author has a baby, I do not, yet I am fully ready to attribute the (mostly) calm march from breakfast table to teeth brushing to bus each morning to caffeine. I know! It's a vice! And one day I will get serious about switching to "Pep-up" and getting off the saccharine hooch.

hurry up! and wait!






Just a little update on our trek to the snowy North...
After shopping and cleaning and doing laundry and making hotel reservations and checking off lists and saying our goodbyes we are officially marooned, at least temporarily.

Last night we changed the fuse for the cigarette lighter outlet that powers the all-important DVD player; we went to move the car and it won't come out of park. We researched it and tried everything short of calling a witch doctor, then finally called a tow truck. The person who answered at VW Roadside Assistance was very cordial but didn't seem to be actually listening to much of what I said ("OK, ma'am, is there anything else I can help you with? ...Wait, what kind of car did you say you had?" "A Passat Wagon." "Oh, heh-heh, guess I should've written that down before, huh?" "Yeah.") Anyway, the tow truck comes and because the car can't shift into neutral to drag it up the ramp, we can't get it towed. It requires a special truck or something. So I'm waiting again for a different tow truck right now. (Hopefully the driver will be wearing a belt buckle like the one pictured above.)

But it gets better. dh goes out to start his car to run an errand and it won't start. AND broken car #1 is parked all crazy in the driveway, blocking any access to broken car #2 so we can't jumpstart it. I'm beginning to think that we're not meant to travel today, unless it's by Razor scooter.

Monday, December 15, 2008

the Christmas trek

So we're gearing up for our usual drawn-out Christmas festivities. Drawn-out because we're heading up north (WAY up north) for Christmas which means we'll open most of our presents here, before we go. We don't drive an Expedition so we can't possibly fit all of the gifts in the car AND bring home other stuff. And we usually have another round of gifts to open when we get back (mailed to us while we were gone). dh always wants a live tree also so we'll have to do something about that as well.I guess it's our unofficial advent celebration. A little here, a little there, not really in a logical sequence. Makes it hard to have solid traditions. No, I take that back. The last 2 hours of the road trip nearly always consist of 2 tired and possibly whiny boys, one stressed-out dh with a 2-liter of Pepsi between his knees, sipping at it with 3 straws connected together, and me, doling out goldfish, switching out the DVDs, and dreaming of a visit from the plane-ticket fairy for the trip home. That's our tradition!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

sticky bun recipe for the dough dunce







Just saw this recipe on Good Morning America. I like to watch it and try to figure out Diane Sawyer's eyelashes (are they fake? what's going on there? they look cool).

This is from the Barefoot Contessa, and it's for sticky buns made without a yeast dough. Instead you use puff pastry. It's such a great idea, especially for me because I am not very good with dough.


http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Recipes/story?id=6425883

Monday, December 08, 2008

today I...

* made a tiny pair of PJ pants for my nephew with an inseam of 12 inches. I kept on giggling as I sewed. 12 inches! The tiniest PJ pants.

* watched movies with Flash as I sewed. He has "fever barfolitis," as it has come to be known. It features horrible chills and fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. dh got it first and threw up for the first time in 20 years. And he can't stop talking about it. I'm jaded from a lifetime of throwing up (weak stomach) so it's pretty funny to hear a relative noobie talk about it. Anyway, the movies we watched were National Treasure (3 stars) and some hilarious movie about teenaged computer genius spies called Spy High (.5 stars). It's not that old, only 8 years or so but it was so dated. Any movie about computers should be taken out of circulation after about 2 years.

* baked Mexican Wedding Cakes, aka Russian Teacakes, aka Snowball Cookies. My Nana used to make them every year. I looooooove them. Way too much. I add crushed candy canes to the powdered sugar for the last step.

* 2 cups flour
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 3/4 cup shortening
* 1/4 cup butter
* 1/2 cup icing sugar
* 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
* 1 teaspoon almond extract
* 1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 325°F.
Mix together flour and salt in bowl. Cream shortening, butter, and icing sugar in separate bowl.
Blend in vanilla, almond extract, and nuts with the creamed mixture. Gradually stir creamed mixture into dry ingredients to form smooth dough. Shape into balls with 1 Tbsp dough.
Place on ungreased cookie sheet and flatten slightly on the bottoms. (shaped like a flat-bottomed snowball).
Bake 20-25 minutes.
Roll cookies in icing sugar and cool on rack.

* finished a super top-secret gift for Linz. More later on that one if I remember.

* basically tried to keep my mind busy as we waited for news about layoffs at dh's company. We dodged a bullet this time, but it was a sobering experience nonetheless. Not much warning, either.

I'm not worthy!

My friend Meredith made me a QUILT for Christmas. A gorgeous quilt.









Some of the fabric reminds me of origami paper (which I love). Super Q has been putting it to good use as a sort of wooden-block-bocce-ball course.


And as a tortilla with himself as the filling.
Did I mention this quilt is amazingly beautiful? I wish I could find the cord to my camera so I could post a decent picture of it. (Although I did manage to get the cell phone camera out of yellowing 70s photo mode (aka "cloudy" mode)).

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

black Friday... on the rocks

It felt so good to not be at a store on this day. The tranquil little pond helped, too.

dare to compare


















On the left, a gingerbread house from marthastewart.com. And up top, the fruits of our labors from Family Night (last night). Good thing dh is a structural engineer, or the house in the forefront would be rubble now.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

the real painter of light


I just watched a fascinating documentary-- called "Stolen"--about the theft of 13 paintings and sculptures from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. (The whole film appears to be available on YouTube.) It details the search for these works of art but also offers some very nice commentary on some of the paintings, including several by Vermeer. I had forgotten how much I loved Vermeer in college. He was a huge favorite of mine until I went to Hong Kong and turned into a Chinese and Japanese art fanatic for a while. One of the paintings taken by the thieves in 1990 was "The Concert", which appears above. I am always drawn in by the way his paintings glow, even after 350 years. Contrast this with Thomas Kinkade, the purported "painter of light," known for his renderings of magical cottages backed by purply sunsets, etc. He is also known for sexual harrassment, public urination, and questionable business practices. Oh, and his newest line of NASCAR-themed paintings!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

hooray for the D+!

I was reading about this Civic Literacy Quiz and the miserable scores of most Americans who took it, not to mention ELECTED OFFICIALS who also scored very poorly. I have to say I was feeling pretty confident. As you might guess, it's been a long time since I took a history or government class, but I read the newspaper and plenty of political blogs and books, etc, so I was ready to score high... and I got a 67%. Sheesh! I really need to read up on The New Deal and international trade, I guess.

It's only 33 questions long so it doesn't take long. If you take it, post your score so I can gauge just how ignorant I really am.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

cooking with paperclips

Got 6 hours to kill? Want to spend it marinating pork? Interested in incorporating paper clips somehow? GREAT, here's the recipe for Chinese BBQ Pork (aka Char Siu).

2 lbs pork loin or butt
metal paperclips

marinade
1/2 tsp salt
2 T hoisin sauce
4 T soy sauce
1 T apple juice or grape juice

Cut pork into 1" x 2" x 6" strips, or use ribs if you like. Place in marinade in a Ziploc bag or sealed container and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight, turning occasionally.

Now move your oven racks, placing one on the very bottom rung and one on the very top. Place a cookie sheet (with a rim) or 13 x 9 x 2 pan on the bottom rack and pour 1 cup of water into it. . Now unbend the paper clips to make them into hooks. Stick one end of a paperclip through the top of each pork strip and hook it to the top rack. Here's a photo of what this looks like.

Bake at 400 for 45 minutes or until cooked through. Don't overcook. Slice across each pork strip. Eat over rice with this sauce (called "gerng" in Cantonese):

* 1 bunch green onions (or scallions)
* 1 pinky finger-sized piece of ginger, peeled
* 1 Tbs (15 ml) sea salt (yes, that much)
* 125 ml (1/2 cup) light vegetable oil (not olive oil)

Method

Green onions are usually bought in a whole bunch, but you won't need that much for this recipe, just 6 stalks, so keep the rest for another dish. Cut the roots off the onions and discard, trim away any loose of floppy tips. Slice the onions quite thinly (about the width of a house key) and place into a mixing bowl.

Grate the ginger on the finest holes of your grater and add to the green onions. Add the salt and vegetable oil, and using the back of a fork, lightly crush the onions, mixing well.

Place the sauce aside for at least half an hour, of if you want to keep it (for up to 3 days), cover and place in the refrigerator. Before serving, Bring to room temperature, crush again with a fork and stir well.

(The sauce recipe is from everything2.com)

My kids tore into this meal like wild dogs. There was actual teeth-gnashing going on.

rockin' the pipe cleaners

One day I will sit down and figure out the features on my cell phone camera and turn the "weird '70s polaroid" option OFF. Anyway, just wanted to pass on this little game we made in Cub Scouts today. It's basically Barrel of Monkeys but with pipe cleaner candy canes. The boys twisted the pipe cleaners together and made them into an S-shape. Threw some instructions in there, and they were ready to get back to being spazzy 8 year olds. The take-out box is from Hobby Lobby. It cost too much.

Friday, November 14, 2008

happy birthday!

It's Flash's birthday this weekend. We're heading out on a road trip in honor of it. It will involve some horseback riding, confetti cake, and a special mix CD that I just spent 2 hours making (it's hard to know what 9 year-old boys like). Here he is with his friends visiting our friend Hannah's grave on her birthday in September. He didn't know that I caught this moment. He was comforting Hannah's older brother. What an amazing kid.

brush!

OK, this is pretty funny as it is, but take a look at that friendly tooth in the background reminding you to brush.

I think I need a freezer paper shirt with this guy on it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

ruined... almost

I just realized that youtube has many, many period piece movies up. I sat down to watch "Rebecca," based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier, a book I have read about 15 times. I first picked it up because of the title and looooved it. I've since grown out of it a bit, but I was still interested in watching a recentish film version of it. I got to part 3 and had to abandon it because it was ruining the sets and characters I've conceived over the years. I didn't want to replace those mental pictures with someone else's interpretation. Do you know what I mean?

Totally unrelated, you have to check out the website for this documentary called "Awake My Soul." You can watch a trailer to see what it's about. I'm not sure where to find it; I'd love to watch the whole thing, but for now I just visit the website from time to time to listen to the very cool, old-timey and sort of spooky hymns that stream on it.

check. this. out.















I went to Chinatown today and bought some amazing fruit. It ended up costing much more than I thought (I'm sure it came from far, far away). The pink and green fruit is called dragonfruit and it tastes kind of like jicama, but with soft flesh and tons of black seeds. The other one is some kind of tropical melon. It has a beautiful rind flecked with green. Tastes like honeydew, but so much cuter!

The rice there in the background is jasmine rice, which is so fragrant and wonderful. Can't wait to have it with spicy tofu tonight.

Friday, November 07, 2008

jealous?


I know what you're thinking... you just wish your kitchen looked like this right now. Word to the wise: don't paint your kitchen avocado green unless you are 100% certain that you will always love avocado green. Or just break down and buy the freaking Martha Stewart brand so you can be sure about the color... and not have to prime and repaint 2 years later.

arghhhhhhh!

I have a long, sad, history of stupid sewing mistakes. This little diaper case took about an hour longer than it should have to make. I won't bore you with the details of its construction ; suffice it to say that I ripped out 3 different seams and completely destroyed the only piece of bias tape in the house that matched the fabric. In this case, though, insanity is the mother of invention and I substituted a wider piece of brown fabric for the bias tape, thus making the case slightly bigger and able to hold more diapers. So I guess it ended well. My plan to make 2 of these tonight, however, has been scrapped in favor of a little Jane Austen and a heating pad for my achin' back.

Wow, that picture is really orange, like an old Polaroid picture from the 70s or something. I guess it's the camera phone + sewing machine light combo. Weird.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

all-American election night meal

I'm on pins and needles tonight. I just love election night, even though I rarely stay up late enough to find out who won. I'm holding out my last hope for McCain (mostly because of my views on abortion) but I'll just be glad to see Bush vacate the White House.* Please forgive me if you are still happy with Bush. No offense intended.

And what could be more American than Chicken Tikka Masala? The recipe is from my gourmet sister, Camilla. I make it at least once a month. It's time-intensive, what with the marinating and the separate sauce and the mincing of garlic and jalapeno. But, MAN. It's incredibly delicious, so delicious that if you cannot find garam masala where you live and would like to try this recipe, I will buy some for you in Chinatown and mail it to you. Just let me know if you want some. (Was that weird? Hope not; just trying to spread the gospel of tasty Indian food far and wide.)

Chicken Tikka Masala
*note:
I usually add some frozen cauliflower and peas to the sauce with the half and half, and I also grill or broil the chicken before cutting it up rather than after.

Marinade
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground red pepper
2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 piece gingerroot, minced (1/2-inch long)
1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch cubes
Sauce
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno chile, minced
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup whipping cream OR fat-free half and half OR fat-free evaporated milk
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
For marinade, combine yogurt, lemon juice, cumin, red pepper, black pepper, cinnamon, salt and ginger in a medium bowl or food-safe plastic bag; stir in chicken, marinate in refrigerator 1 hour.
Meanwhile, soak six 6-inch bamboo skewers in water to cover 30 minutes and set aside.
For sauce, melt butter in a large, deep skillet over medium heat, add garlic and jalapeno; cook 1 minute.
Stir in coriander, cumin, paprika, garam masala and salt.
Stir in tomato sauce, simmer 15 minutes, stir in cream; simmer until sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat grill to medium-high (or heat broiler).
Remove chicken from refrigerator.
Thread chicken onto skewers; discard marinade.
Grill or broil chicken, turning occasionally, until cooked through, about 8 minutes.
Remove chicken from skewers; add to sauce.
Simmer 5 minutes.
Serve with basmati rice, naan or pita bread.

*Funny bumper sticker I saw: "2008: End of an Error"



Wednesday, October 29, 2008

mini pundits




Our elementary school is having mock elections this week, which led to a very earnest political conversation in the back of the station wagon on the way to cub scouts. Here are some snippets:

" A. says John McCain is an old ugly guy."

"Yeah, well Obama is a big fat liar."

"McCain's vice president told everyone to murder Obama. They said so on the news" (I had to set that one straight right away).

"That other lady, not McCain's vice president. She was a big fat liar. But she's out of the race, so who cares?"

"I am totally voting for McCain because he's the nicest."

"Obama is going to make us go to school on Saturday!"

"McCain wants us all to be smarter so he's going to make us go to school for like one extra hour a day."

"In Newsweek magazine they had a picture of Obama and he was red and McCain and he was blue and it said 'Mr. Hot and Mr. Cool.'"

(and from the 6 year old) "Yeah, McCain is going to make us stay at school for like lots of extra minutes and then we will be there all day and never even go home."

So watch out, America. Sounds like either candidate has a nefarious plan in place to keep kids in school for like, waaaay more time than they spend there now. That's why I'm voting for Bob Barr.

Monday, October 27, 2008

lazy sugar cookies

I'm a huge fan of sugar cookies but I absolutely hate the mess of cutting them out with cookie cutters. (My kitchen is a mess as it is because of an ongoing priming and painting project.)
Anyway, hooray for holidays that involve oblong or circular shaped items (Easter eggs, pumpkins, ornaments, etc.) because I'm all about slice and bake these days. Don't substitute for the orange juice; it adds an amazing taste.


Slice and Bake Sugar Cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp baking powder
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour

Mix first six ingredients with electric mixer until fluffy. Gradually stir flour in by hand until well mixed. Put about 1 cup of dough onto a largeish piece of plastic wrap; form a log and wrap plastic wrap around it. Flatten slightly so when you cut slices later, the slices will be oval. Chill 2-3 hours until firm.

When you are ready to bake, preheat oven to 400, slice 1/4 - 1/2" slices of dough and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Pinch off bits of dough from your log to make the stems at the top of the pumpkins. Bake 6-10 minutes or until the edges of the cookies begin to brown. Cool on wire racks.

Glaze
2 cups powdered sugar
4 tsp light corn syrup
4 tsp milk
food coloring (opt)

Mix thoroughly and spread over cookies as a base for decorating. It will dry shiny and firm.

Buttercream Icing
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup butter
1-2 tablespoons milk
1 tsp vanilla
food coloring

Combine completely.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

we're RICH!

We switched banks recently, having fully given in to the emotional panic that we are supposed to not give in to. In retrospect, we could have stayed on and not switched banks and thus avoided lots of hassle, but we did it anyway. I had just ordered 2 boxes of checks from the old place, though, so we sat down and played bank. I showed the boys how to fill out a check and gave them some credit card offers to fill out and pretend like they were paying bills or something. So here's the adorable part: the boys started writing checks for enormous sums to each other and to me. Billions of dollars. Then Super Q wrote me a check with two hearts in the "amount" box. That's why I'm happy to be a mom.


(And yes, dh, if you are reading this, everything was shredded in the end.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

eking every last cent out of that monthly DSL bill

The following links are purely FYI. When it comes to mp3s, we've adopted a "don't ask, don't tell" policy around here. (End of disclaimer).

But if you're interested...

Free Sound Recorder lets you record anything that is coming through your computer speakers (streaming media, for example) and save it as a sound file type of your choosing. The free download has 75% of the functionality of the one that costs money. You can find it here:

http://www.download.com/Free-Sound-Recorder/3000-2168_4-10698910.html


Replay Media Catcher does the same thing but for video. You can also separate out the audio and save it as an mp3. You can find it here:

http://www.applian.com/download-videos/

So if there's a YouTube video of someone singing, say, "Come Thou Fount of Ev'ry Blessing" and you know you can't buy it anywhere, why, you can make a backup copy.

Somewhat related...
Our local library systems have a digital catalog where you can find audio books and music files (and even some kind of weird videos). Yours probably does, too, and it should be remotely accessible. Go crazy!

Friday, October 17, 2008

open letter

I got this idea from mom to the screaming masses. I thought it was clever.

Dear ambiguity about fertility,
Can you please leave me alone for a couple of days? I would really appreciate a break from the cyclic catherine wheel argument of should I work full-time->wait, what if I get pregnant and want to quit?->but it's so boring staying home all day->but sometimes I like it->but I'm getting old and kind of worried about getting pregnant past 35... Thanks. Much appreciated.

Dear Flash and Super Q,
You are the best, most handsome and most intelligent children in the world. I would jump off tall buildings for you. I love being your mom. Please stop leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor. Thank you , my dears!

Dear Triscuits,
It's me, again. Thank you for being full of fibery goodness and so tasty with sharp cheddar and suitable for breakfast if I feel like it. And thanks for not having any sugar. You're the best!

Dear McCain and Obama,
Can we just get this thing over with?

Dear The Shins,
You are geniuses. I love that your lyrics require some analysis (and even the use of those dusty literary criticism skills) to comprehend and don't involve any swear words so I can listen to you with my kids.

Dear Coke Zero,
You're probably a little freaked out by how into you I am. I'm trying to put a little distance between us. I know you need your space.

Dear Sam's Club jeans,
Thanks for making me look skinny. Ignore all those people wondering if I just wore you yesterday. They are petty and small-minded, and they don't understand the power of the perfect jeans.

Dear Oliver Sacks,
Can you please write an amazing article every day and email it to me? I've read everything you've published about a dozen times and I think a daily infusion of incredible musings about obscure neurological problems would really start the day off right! Hope it's not too much to ask.

Dear BYU and UNT,
Just because I have donated in the past does not mean I intend to fund each and every new building, capital campaign, and definitely not any business school scholarships. Never met a business school student that came across as genuinely nice (sorry, I know, that isn't fair, but still). So lay off, already.

Dear Hong Kong,
I miss you, too. Like I'm dreaming about you 3 times a week. I'm going to come back, I promise. Keep the dim sum warm for me.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Friday I'm sassy


Ok, sometimes I think it's weird that people blog about their purchases. Yet I read a lot of blogs that document purchases at length, so I guess it's interesting even though it's weird. Anyway, I'm writing about these awesome transfers for embroidery, fabric paint, whatever. I can't believe Joann had them. They are so much like these dish towels my mom had when I was growing up. Or like those days of the week underwear we all had in the 70s. I can't wait to tweak them and make something weird out of them. Although "Friday I'm Sassy" is funny enough as it is. I also got some super old-timey transfers that I am saving for somebody's wedding present. Can't say who.

I also got sucked in to buying those cinnamon-scented pinecones they have every year. And every year I think, "geez, what chemicals do they use on those things?" And every year I buy them because they look so cool in this steel bowl I have and, man, they smell like fake cinnamon heaven. I am such a sucker for cozy fall-type stuff.

Monday, October 13, 2008

healthy+cheap


As part of artistree's contest, I'm posting this recipe. I love it (and so does dh) and I especially love thinking about all of those lovely antioxidants and vitamins and fiber that even one serving imparts. It's also very cheap, especially if you use just a little bit of chicken. I usually buy chicken breasts on the bone with the skin still attached rather than boneless, skinless. I debone the breasts and save the bones (with a little bit of meat still attached) and freeze them. When I make tortilla soup or chicken noodle, I just throw in those meaty bones and pick off the meat at the very end, adding it back to the pot. I know, it's a lot of work to save money. But I was raised by Carolyn, who does things like buy a whole chicken, boil it, and pick off every last bit of meat to be used in various casseroles and soups. So it's genetic.

(Oh, yeah, and this soup doesn't photograph well. I tried to take a picture of it before dinner today but couldn't deal with the sheen on the top from the small amount of oil in it. Hence the old timey cookbook title instead. It is taken from a book on this site, Feeding America, which houses digital copies (full text!) of awesome old cookbooks. )

Tortilla Soup

Large recipe:

30 corn tortillas or tortilla chips
2 large cans stewed tomatoes
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 can chopped green chiles or 1 jalapeno, minced
3 cloves garlic
4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
8 cups chicken broth
4 sprigs cilantro
grated Monterey Jack and/or Cheddar cheese
2 avocados, cubed

To cook the tortilla chips:
Stack tortillas about 6 high and cut in ½” strips. Cook a handful at a time in hot oil until crisp. Drain on paper towels; set aside. Or just use tortilla chips.

For soup: Blend tomatoes and garlic in blender. Heat a little oil in your soup pot and cook onion until wilted. Add tomato mixture, the rest of the vegetables and chicken stock; heat until boiling. Add sliced chicken and cook on low about 45 minutes or until chicken is tender.

To serve: Crush a small handful of chips in the bottom of a soup bowl. Add a bit of grated cheese and a few cubes of avocado. Ladle soup in the bowl. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

Medium-sized recipe quantities:

2 small (14 oz.) cans tomatoes
½ onion, chopped
1 green or red pepper, chopped
½ can green chiles or 1/2 jalapeno, minced
2 cloves garlic
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
4 cups chicken broth
2 sprigs cilantro
grated Monterey Jack and/or Cheddar cheese
1 avocado, cubed

Saturday, October 11, 2008

SPD


This post is meant to honor Patty, a dear friend and dedicated mother of Danny, a sweet ball of energy who has been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. This disorder is something I knew nothing about until learning about it from Patty. I think that everyone who interacts with kids should be aware of it. It is very easy to become frustrated with "hyper" or "spazzy" kids; it is more challenging and productive to find the root of their behavior and address it. I will quote from the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation's website:

SPD can affect people in only one sense–for example, just touch or just sight or just movement–or in multiple senses. One person with SPD may over-respond to sensation and find clothing, physical contact, light, sound, food, or other sensory input to be unbearable. Another might under-respond and show little or no reaction to stimulation, even pain or extreme hot and cold. In children whose sensory processing of messages from the muscles and joints is impaired, posture and motor skills can be affected. These are the "floppy babies" who worry new parents and the kids who get called "klutz" and "spaz" on the playground. Still other children exhibit an appetite for sensation that is in perpetual overdrive. These kids often are misdiagnosed - and inappropriately medicated - for ADHD.

SPD is most commonly diagnosed in children, but people who reach adulthood without treatment also experience symptoms and continue to be affected by their inability to accurately and appropriately interpret sensory messages.

These "sensational adults" may have difficulty performing routines and activities involved in work, close relationships, and recreation. Because adults with SPD have struggled for most of their lives, they may also experience depression, underachievement, social isolation, and/or other secondary effects.

Sadly, misdiagnosis is common because many health care professionals are not trained to recognize sensory issues. The SPD Foundation is dedicated to researching these issues, educating the public and professionals about their symptoms and treatment, and advocating for those who live with Sensory Processing Disorder and sensory challenges associated with other conditions.


If you know someone who has been diagnosed with ADHD, consider passing this information on to them. It's worth investigating.

Love you Patty!

Friday, October 10, 2008

whoooo-hooooooooo!

I just have to post this super happy news! My sister Linz is engaged to the love of her life! I'm so excited for her. We are so happy for her and her fantastic fiance, Tony. (He's the artist who draws the F-minus comic strip that I link to over there-------------------------->
And, Linz, it goes without saying that you will be receiving the first of many Precious Moments figurines on The Big Day! Here's hoping you won't look as forlorn as the two whiny babies pictured here.

happy candyfest!


Tomorrow is our annual non-threatening innocuously-titled "Fall Festival" at church. Guess who's in charge of 80% of it? The Queen of Halloween Ambivalence: me.

I must admit I loved Halloween when I was little. But that was when the foci of my life included rollerskating in the driveway, sewing makeshifty crop-pants with my mom, and CANDY. Even then I was partial to quality chocolate products (although the criteria there has changed somewhat) and not a fan of black licorice.

I do love autumn (all 3 days of it here in Houston). I'm all about Dinner-in-a-pumpkin. I love sweaters and wooly tights and apple cider. And don't get me started on leaves. The main colors in my house are dark red, orange, gold, and green.

I'm just not really on board with Halloween. We do the obligatory 10 houses of trick or treating and then come home for our sort-of default Halloween tradition: watching Nova videos. Right, I know. Nerdtacular. Side note, here: Flash told me his teacher asked everyone what the smallest unit of matter in the universe was. The class says, "Atoms!" Flash says, "The strings in string theory!" Watch out, Brian Greene. Anyway, so we come home and eat junky stuff and watch PBS. That's how we mark this holiday. I also have some decorations that were given to me a few years ago. The kids have fun putting them up. So back to the point...I'm in charge of making sure about 100 kids have a great time celebrating Fall tomorrow without reference to monsters, evil, etc. There will be nachos, leaf-rubbing, and lots and lots of candy. I think that meets all requirements.

Monday, October 06, 2008

the slow drain

Like you, I've been following this economic meltdown. I'll admit sometimes I only vaguely understand the meaning of what I'm reading and hearing. For me, two podcasts have sort of crystallized what this situation means. The first is here, it's called The Giant Pool of Money, and it explains, in plain language, how The Sub-prime Mortgage Crisis (it requires capital letters now) came to be. The second explains the slow drain in this giant pool, the resulting credit freeze, and the resulting $700 billion bailout package. It's called Another Frightening Show About the Economy and you can find it here. I have to say that--although very enjoyable and informative--neither of these shows have made me feel better about the trajectory of our economy, nor have they actually awakened me from surreal slumber, the feeling that none of this will affect me anyway. I hope it doesn't. Now that I've written that, I'm thinking of ways it has affected me. Mostly my spending habits. Let's just say the trips to Sonic for the 32-oz Diet Cokes with chocolate have tapered off. What about you?

Friday, October 03, 2008

creepy fake baby: the sequel

Oh, man. Remember these creepy life-like dolls? Well, they are still haunting me, this time in documentary form. Who is being documented? Women who buy these dolls (they start at $1,000) and play with them as if they were real. You can watch a clip here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

super Q tableau


Super Q is (in his words) "all the way 6 now!" He was so tired of that 5 1/2 gig. As I was washing dishes, I realized a little Super Q tableau had formed on the windowsill including a pot decorated for mother's day at preschool, a jarful of those spongy monsters that come in little capsules and grow in warm water, and a mad scientist test tube with a dried up worm in it. Isn' t that one of the best things about kids? They leave the most random items around. A bag half-full of Cheetos has taken up residence next to the toothbrush holder in my bathroom. I keep forgetting to throw it away. I think Q was eating them in the bath and then forgot about them.

And here is his cake. You can just barely see his tiny smile up top there. While I'm at it, I'll share my no-fail birthday cake recipe that feeds 25 people or so. The yogurt makes it more dense than the typical box cake so it's easier to frost and tastes moist and delicious.



2 boxes Betty Crocker® SuperMoist® cake mix
1 1/2 cups water
2/3 cup vegetable oil
6 egg whites
2 containers (6 oz each) yogurt, any flavor


1. Heat oven to 350°F (325°F for dark or nonstick pans). Generously grease and lightly flour bottoms and sides of two 13 x 9 x 2" pans, or spray with baking spray with flour. Or better yet, line with parchment paper or waxed paper and spray with pam.

2. In large bowl, beat cake mix, water, oil, egg whites and yogurt with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds; beat on medium speed 2 minutes (batter will be lumpy). Pour into two 13 x 9 x 2" pans.

3. Bake both pans at the same time for 30-35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Run knife around sides of pans to loosen cakes; remove from pans to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 1 hour.

4. If you have time, put the cakes in the freezer for 1-2 hours before icing them.

5. Assemble the cake as you would a regular layer cake, one cake on top of the other with about 1 cup of icing in between. You will need about 8 cups of icing total to ice the cake and add colorful decorations or words.

High Altitude (3500-6500 ft): Increase water to 2 cup and decrease oil to 4 tablespoons when making batter.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

an answer

So while reading this post by the blogger mentioned below, Stephanie Nielson*, I came upon a wonderful quote from Julie Beck:

Mothers who know do less. They permit less of what will not bear good fruit eternally. They allow less media in their homes, less distraction, less activity that draws their children away from their home. Mothers who know are willing to live on less and consume less of the world’s goods in order to spend more time with their children—more time eating together, more time working together, more time reading together, more time talking, laughing, singing, and exemplifying. These mothers choose carefully and do not try to choose it all. Their goal is to prepare a rising generation of children who will take the gospel of Jesus Christ into the entire world. Their goal is to prepare future fathers and mothers who will be builders of the Lord’s kingdom for the next 50 years. That is influence; that is power.

After making 3 trips to Target in as many days (not out of greed but disorganization), I am ready to do less shopping. Super Q's birthday is today and I'm ready for less drama and fewer meltdowns (please let 6 be the magic age for evening-out emotions). I'm ready for less stress, now that everyone's recovering from the hurricane, and I'm ready for less time inside and more time outside as fall makes its feeble-at-first entry into Houston.

*BTW, Stephanie Nielson is a blogger/mom who was severely injured in a plane crash last month. You can follow her story at: http://blog.cjanerun.com/.
There is also an etsy shop hosting a benefit sale for the Nielsons' recovery here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

enjoy the journey, live in the moment, carpe diem, etc.


Our friend Hannah's birthday is tomorrow; she would be turning 6. Thursday marks 1 year that she's been gone. The boys painted some rocks with very bright and sparkly paint; we plan to take them to Hannah's gravesite tomorrow. She was a big fan of colorful, sparkly makeup and "click-clack shoes" with gems and feathers on them. I think she'll like these rocks.

Hannah's been on my mind lately, along with Stephanie Nielson a person I have not met but who is included in my prayers. The delicate, inevitable mutability of life weighs heavy on my mind. I've been thinking about how to connect with my kids more meaningfully and more often. It sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes it's difficult to choose between finishing the dishes and sitting down to play Legos. Not that I love doing dishes (quite the opposite), it's just that I know that playing Legos will only mean more dirty dishes later and a more tired Mommy to do them. So many religious and philosophical traditions emphasize living in the moment, soaking up everything happening right now. How do you do it and still keep your house clean? How do you do it when your kids are literally punching the wind out of each other instead of helping you make a homemade apple pie? How do you appreciate the magic of the 5-year-old mind when that same 5-year-old routinely melts down in the angriest, most irritatingly dramatic way possible? These are not rhetorical questions.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

youtube epiphany

I'm not a huge YouTube person (lots of garbage to be found there) but it has its uses, such as my favorite hymn of all time sung by Sufjan Stevens. I need to just go ahead and buy or download every religious song this man sings because I could use more beautiful epiphanies in my life. I'm nervous about embedding the video (I'm pretty sure it will end up in my profile or somewhere) so here is the link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqKwSffyr2k

Oh, and the hymn is "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." The words are lovely and wonderful so I will share them here.

1. Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it,
mount of thy redeeming love.

2. Here I raise mine *Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I'm come;
and I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood.

3. O to grace how great a debtor
daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here's my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

* For an eloquent explanation of what Ebenezer means, click here. My church's hymnal omits
verse 2, which is a shame because
the phrase about Jesus's blood rescuing us from danger
(of all sorts) is striking and true.

Friday, September 19, 2008

emptiest Target ever


This is what a hurricane can do to your neighborhood Target. Empty the refrigerator shelves of everything but the VELVEETA (shown on the bottom shelf of the middle cabinet). You'd better pray such a fate never befalls you.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

hurricane vacation

Today Super Q was asking if summer is over, a question that is always tricky to answer in Houston, because although summer vacation is over, the weather stays summery until after Halloween. And now we have a whole week off of school and unseasonably cool weather. I told him, "Well, summer vacation is over but it's still kind of hot. So we had school for awhile, and now we have hurricane vacation." That seemed to satisfy him. The weather has been amazing; truly a blessing for those still without power. 60 degrees at night! Unheard of in September, but literally a lifesaver for many people here.

We've been spending lots of time at the park and riding bikes "out front." I know we'll have to make up this time in the summer, but it has been so nice to be outside, burning some energy and chatting with friends. I'm also enjoying some at-home time to clean out closets and do some deep cleaning. (I don't want to drive anywhere and use gas. dh has a 20 mile commute and neither of us want to wait in line for 2 hours to fill up the tank.) I wish I could drive in and help in a meaningful way at a shelter or a distribution station, but I've got 2 kids (and 3 of the neighbor's) to take care of, so that will have to be my contribution for now.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

we made it through

Hi, I'm writing this from my sister's house north of Austin. We did stay in Houston for the storm and lost power at about 3 am as the hurricane force winds hit us. By some amazing stroke of luck, we did get some sleep that night. The wind was howling but I didn't hear or see any large pieces of debris flying around. We got up, deboarded the house, and after hearing that power would be restored between 3 days and 4 weeks, we packed up and went to my sister's house. At that point the freeways were pretty clear, although we drove for more than 2 hours before getting to an area where everyone had power. 30 minutes from my sister's house I got a text message that our power was back on. dh's office doesn't have power, however, and the boys don't have school until Thursday, so we're staying another night here. It sounds like there are gas stations and grocery stores open near our house so we should be ok. I have to say that many people are going through terrible trauma right now. Please remember them in your thoughts and/or prayers. I feel like it was a near-miss for us and I hope to head back and help in whatever way I can. Thanks for your supportive comments and emails. This whole thing is surreal to me. Places I know and love are not there anymore. I don't know the status of the library where I work. It is just unreal to think that such a large city is practically at a standstill. My heart aches for those who chose not to follow the mandatory evacuation order. We've had so many storms almost hit us that they must have assumed this one would change course or not inflict very much damage. This is a sad time for a city I have grown to love.

Friday, September 12, 2008

outside in

Instead of plywood, we've opted for a tarp and 2 x 4 system. Not sure if it's going to do any good, but it gives our house a special under-the-sea kind of feeling.


Part of our hurricane preparation has been to move everything that was once in the backyard inside. It's like a garden party all the time! If we lose power, it will be like a backyard BBQ all the time, even to cook oatmeal.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

to-do lists

Previous to-do list for today:

exercise
clean out closets
prime kitchen for painting

New to-do list:

buy ice, more canned food, paper plates, batteries
move all furniture and toys out of back yard
put plywood up on some windows
double check 72-hour kit
prepare mentally so I don't freak out and scare the kids

We've decided to stay here and "hunker down." This storm looks pretty scary, but I feel ok about staying. If we lose power for a long time, maybe we'll head west to my sister's house near Austin. For now, there is no evacuation order in place.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

what we did after school


Today I decided I would try to be more fun, a Fun Mommy. So after school we had cookies and milk for our snack before sitting down to do homework and then chores. Super Q was supposed to trace some words, so I got him all set up using the window as a light box and taped his homework up there (isn't that creative and fun?). He had to sit on the top of a chair to reach. He promptly had about 14 fits about being tired/bored/"frust-a-rated". Flash was up and down from the table, overflowing with energy after a long bus ride. Fun Mommy was promising bike riding and roasting hotdogs over the grill if homework and chores could just GET DONE! While Fun Mommy was looking in the garage for hotdog skewers, Fun Mommy heard a sickening sound which sounded like a large glass bowl breaking. Unfortunately, it wasn't a glass bowl but a window. Super Q had finished his homework but the chair he was sitting on was still in front of the window. It is physically impossible for Flash to walk past a chair without doing some sort of snowboarding trick on it. This particular trick caused the chair to tip back and smash the window. Luckily nobody got cut. We talked calmly about how we were each 50% responsible for the window, me for moving the chair there, Flash for getting up from his homework and doing the snowboarding trick. At this point, though, scouts started in 40 minutes, dinner wasn't made, and Fun Mommy had tons of glass to clean up and a window to cover with plastic. Needless to say, Fun Mommy departed and made no further appearances tonight. Now Incredibly Annoyed Daddy is trying to fix the window in the other room.

Monday, September 08, 2008

what do you do to remember?


Thinking about Ike took up so much of my brain space that I forgot why I was sitting down at the computer in the first place. I wanted to ask what everyone does to remember September 11. This year I'm putting up a flag out front with yellow ribbons, I think. I usually talk to the boys in general terms about what happened that day. I'm sure I'll spend some time wondering about the military actions prompted by that day. I'll give thanks that we haven't had a day like that since then.

There are numerous memorial sites to visit online. I like this one -- http://www.legacy.com/Sept11/Home.aspx -- because it shows profiles and photos of the victims. For me, that was the most difficult thing about September 2001: hearing the individual stories. Yet those stories are the impetus for my annual remembering. That day was horribly sad for our nation. The families of those who perished have had many horribly sad days since then. That's why I take the time to remember.

we don't like ike

If you look way, way down near the bottom of the page, there is a little Hurricane Ike tracking widget. If Ike stays on his current track, he will hit Houston. The track Ike takes will be directly related to how many posts I will write in the next week.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

pure illusion

Did you see this movie? (Marie Antoinette, with Kirsten Dunst). It was kind of fun to watch, albeit with about 8 more musical montages than I wanted. Beautiful costumes and sets, though. A book I'm reading, The Dirt on Clean, shines a harsh light on history and reveals Marie and her contemporaries (not to mention generations of people before her) as stinky, dirty piglets. Under the opulence there was apparently a thick layer of grime everywhere. I always chalked it up to ignorance about germs and everything, but according to the book, after the Plague everyone wanted their pores nice and clogged to keep out disease. Clear water was a health hazard. In fact, women would add powder to their bath water to keep it from cleaning their pores too well. Wearing linen undergarments took the place of bathing. The author writes of one person who wore an undergarment so long without changing that when he finally went to remove it, some of his skin came off with it. If you are putting off housework like I am right now, consider this:
"Shortly before Louis XIV died in 1716, a new ordinance decreed that feces left in the corridors of Versailles would be removed once a week." The Hot Wheels all over the house suddenly seem totally acceptable.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I'm ... free?


It's our traditional back-to-school picture, taken in the morning before school. Except this time there are two little boys getting ready in the morning. And so this time we were running for the bus and therefore missed the opportunity for a photo in front of the front door, hair still damp and brushed, smiling faces, backpacks on. So we had to take a photo after school, amid loud protests and, somehow, in all of that complaining nobody remembered to put their shoes on. Dang it! Oh well, in 20 years no one will know that we faked the picture.

Anyway, now I'm a free-wheelin' Mom with time on my hands, sort of. I've actually been helping in Super Q's classroom every day because, well, I feel really bad for his teacher, who has about 10 certified banshees in her class. In the past 2 days I have retrieved a safety pin (open) from a child's mouth, caught a child perched on the top of a chair grabbing at something hanging from the ceiling, and walked the entire class to P.E. with only the faintest idea of where P.E. is held. So the sting of being alone all day hasn't really set in. I'm enjoying it so far, because after 4 hours of kindergarten madness, I'm about ready for my book and my Coke Zero.

Friday, August 22, 2008

back to school projects


This is a reusable plastic pouch about the size of a Ziploc sandwich bag. The material is fused shopping bags (tutorial here). It's kind of hard to see the stitching, but I just zigzagged around it. Once I make it to the store to buy sew-on Velcro, it'll be good to go! I'm going to make 3 more and use them for baby carrots, grapes, goldfish, etc. for lunches. I'm enough of a cheapskate and a sometime environmentalist that it just kills me to think of the money I'm spending each month on silly plastic bags. I fully expect to turn into my Nana one day, washing waxed paper and foil and saving it in little piles under the sink.


These are for my newest nephew. I found the animal silhouettes here.



And last are the fruits of our annual back-to-school freezer paper T-shirt party. This year we used the church cultural hall instead of my living room to reduce the chances of fabric paint on the carpet and/or a stressed-out me. We accomplished one of those goals.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I was tagged by pancakes gone awry, and it's a good thing because I wanted to post but could not think of anything interesting to say. We've been cooped up in the house because of the rain and, no, I did not use that opportunity to make anything crafty or redecorate anything. Quite the opposite... we've been watching movies and playing xbox like nobody's business. I also made about 10 billion meatballs using a recipe from Fix, Freeze, Feast. Anyway, on to the tag:

Here are the Rules:
1. Link the person who tagged you.

2. Mention the rules on your blog.

3. Tell about 6 unspectacular quirks you possess.

4. Tag 6 following bloggers by linking them.

5. Leave a comment on each of the tagged blogger’s blogs letting them know they’ve been tagged.


I love that you can talk about "unspectacular" quirks, because that's the only kind I've got.

The first one is a system that I follow in my head with regard to food. I think of it as "calorie credits", sort of like carbon credits only involving peanut m & ms and Havarti cheese instead of energy use and emissions. It's not an earth-shattering concept, but basically if I know there is, say, a freshly baked delicious butter cake on the counter then I will eat celery, string cheese, and Triscuits for dinner instead of whatever I made for the kids in order to offset the large piece of cake that I will surely be enjoying later. It's probably a pathology almost worthy of inclusion in the DSM IV, but whatever.

On to the next bit of weirdness! I hate the unabashed celebrity worship that goes on in our country but I have a morbid and embarrassing habit of watching TMZ with dh. There is a sick symbiosis between obnoxious celebrities and paparazzi (both of whom rely heavily on the other for job security) that I can't take my eyes off. I don't even know who about half the famous people are, but the bread and circus aspect is fascinating, to say nothing of the bizarre outfits and overlarge sunglasses.

I drink herb tea every night, sometimes with a piece of delicious cake as mentioned above, or just alone. Yes, even in the summer.

I don't drive on high freeway overpasses. This one for sure is in the DSM IV, under "acrophobia."

I hate it when people tell me about their dreams. The kids don't know this about me. Suffice to say that many a breakfast has occurred with long, detailed dream accounts with me nodding and gritting my teeth.

I also hate it when there is loud birthday singing in restaurants. Especially when that singing is directed at me and an old sombrero likely crawling with vermin is placed atop my head.

That's six! I hereby tag

round tuit
artistree
the scoop
lost and found
crying over spilt milk
dille family

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

indulging myself here

I've been thinking a lot about my Nana P. lately, who is 92 and pretty frail just now. Everyone who knows her is convinced she is a bona fide saint, even though we don't really have saints in our faith. Anyway, this little story makes me think of her and I just wanted to post it, mainly for my own future reference.

Mother’s Christmas Mouse

By Betty LeBaron Mostert

Betty LeBaron Mostert, “Mother’s Christmas Mouse,” Ensign, Dec. 2007, 62

When I was a child in the 1950s and 1960s, our Christmas traditions were not elaborate—except for the stockings. Because we children enjoyed our Christmas stockings so much, we continued the tradition when we married and had children of our own. Buying surprises and assembling dozens of Christmas stockings, however, soon became too much for my aging parents, especially my mother, who had a serious case of rheumatoid arthritis that limited her mobility and energy.

Eventually, I volunteered to take over the project. Our annual extended family home evening, in which we acted out the Christmas story and opened our stockings, found me exhausted from the demands of being the mother of several small children and juggling the events of an active life. As I watched everyone dump treasures out of the gingham Christmas stockings I had carefully prepared, I was feeling a little sorry for myself.

As expected, my stocking was empty except for the standard candy cane and Japanese orange that I had placed there earlier. But as I shook them out, I noticed a little bedraggled mouse made of a walnut and hazelnuts. One ear was much bigger than the other, and the whiskers were crooked. The tail had been cut too short, and the loop to hang it on the tree was off center. I was confused. Had someone’s kindergarten project ended up in my stocking?

I looked up and saw my mother watching me from her wheelchair across the room. With a gnarled, bent finger, she beckoned to me.

“I wanted to do something for the Christmas stockings,” she said. “They made these little mice in Relief Society, and they were so cute.”

Her tears were close to the surface, and her gentle voice shook as she continued.

“I couldn’t get my fingers to work, so I made only one. It didn’t turn out, but I knew you wouldn’t mind.”

I looked again at the little mouse in my hand. She was right. I didn’t mind. In fact, her little bedraggled mouse became the most precious treasure of all that Christmas.

For more than 20 years, I have tenderly removed the tissue paper from the misshapen mouse crafted by misshapen fingers and carefully placed it on a branch. My angel mother has been free of her crippled body for several years, but her Christmas mouse reminds me of two profound truths.

The first is that my mother honored me by believing that I could look past the mouse’s crooked ears and feel the love and sacrifice that went into its creation. The second is that if I, as an imperfect mortal, am capable of finding beauty in a humble little mouse, how much more is our Father in Heaven capable of seeing past our imperfect efforts and understanding our pure intentions.

I know that when we do our best to give to others and to Him, our gift is not just good enough—it is of incalculable worth.

black bean salsa

This is what I've been eating constantly since I made a big batch of it 2 days ago. It turned out so tasty and colorful that I had to pass it on (and take a blurry picture of it!) Big thanks to my friend Meredith who gave me the recipe.

Southwestern Salsa with Black Beans & Corn

1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds
2 cans black beans, rinsed & drained ((15 oz. each)
1 can whole kernel corn, drained (15 ¼ oz.)
1 red pepper, minced
1 small purple onion, minced (1 cup)
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
½ cup lime juice
¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
½ teaspoon black pepper

Toast cumin seeds in a skillet over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, or until brown and fragrant, stirring often.

Combine cumin seeds, black beans, and remaining ingredients; toss well.

Cover and store in refrigerator up to 1 week.

Yields: 6 cups (lots!)

Monday, August 04, 2008

stay away, Edouard!

So here's what all eyes in Houston are glued to: the track of Edouard, which is not yet a hurricane but apparently could become one. I spent the day doing all of the things that have to be done and require electricity (mainly washing clothes), gassing up the car, finding all the flashlights, etc. We just moved all the lawn furniture to the side of the house. There are gray clouds moving in a just a weird feeling in the air. We're prepared, though, so no worries. Just another "hurricane memory," as the kids like to call them. The last one was on Super Q's birthday, and we actually went to the park and almost blew away.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

summer lovin'

The title of this post might suggest some kind of torrid romantic tryst in a tropical location, but... (surprise!) it involves books, food, and other stuff that I'm currently lovin'.





1. Any and all orange-type teas from Celestial Seasonings. I know, tea in summer in Texas? My rationale behind it is two-fold. First, dh must turn on all fans, ceiling and otherwise, every night, in addition to using the a/c. Brrrrrr. Also, I just finished reading the Ladies #1 Detective Agency series, the events in which seem to occur in between the brewing and drinking of something called "bush tea." Food in books always produces acute cravings for me (reading Chang Rae Lee was difficult, as I'm not much of a korean cook).

2. Now on to books. I borrowed Ladies #1 Detective Agency from my mom, thinking from the title that it would be some vaguely Miss Marpleish detective novel involving country tweeds, aging nobility, and possibly cats. I was pleasantly surprised that it takes place in Africa, is quite funny, not at all gory, and has 6 sequels!


Not to imply that I don't enjoy books set in England; I most fervently do. I just finished The Ladies of Grace Adieu. I had to include the cover photo because it is so pretty. I love morning glories. The book is full of beautiful art nouveau illustrations and design. I tried to read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell but it was almost too rich, like a chocolate cake with very heavy, sugary frosting. Just too much. The Ladies of Grace Adieu lets the reader sample the wonderful imagination and style of Susanna Clarke without the sugar rush.

3. Speaking of a chocolate cake sugar rush, chocolate cupcakes have been all the rage here. And no, not homemade, strictly from a box because a friend recently gave me two very large boxes of industrial cake mix (not a joke--each box makes 8 rounds). The cake is sort of sub-par, but the mix is not the normal kind -- you only use water, no eggs or oil--so I'm not sure how to doctor it. Any suggestions for a filling or some kind of alteration to make this cake mix magically delicious?


4. Shins, shins, and more shins. Probably brought on by this lil' hedgehog, now appearing on a t-shirt of mine, thanks to Linz. Just can't get enough of the odd and wonderful lyrics and Beach Boy harmony! Also the Decemberists. I have to mention here that many fantastic bands are yours to discover at Screamer Radio, a little application that lets you stream (and record) some really nice internet radio. It's organized by genre, and I recommend Radio Paradise and Soma FM.

Monday, July 21, 2008

it's a dumpling bee!

So in China, women get together around big holidays and make dumplings by the hundreds. It's like a quilting bee, with lots of whispering and stories about troublesome children and laughing. Here's my favorite recipe. It looks more time consuming than it really is, and best of all, you can freeze them (before cooking) and cook them from frozen for a quick dinner.

Jiao zi (Chinese dumplings)


* Filling:

1 cup shredded Napa cabbage
1 tsp salt
----------------------
1 lb ground pork, or combination of ground pork and beef
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/4 tsp pepper
2 T soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp Chinese 5 spice powder (opt)

* 1-2 pkg chinese dumpling wrappers (you can also buy wonton wrappers and use a large round cookie cutter to cut circles)

*Dip:
equal parts soy sauce and vinegar
sesame oil



Sprinkle 1 tsp salt over shredded cabbage. Let it sit for at least 5 minutes. Take it in handfuls and squeeze out the excess water. Mix the squeezed cabbage with remaining ingredients by hand or in a food processor. Be sure to mix it well so the meat absorbs the other flavors.

To assemble: Place one tablespoon of filling in the middle of a wrapper. Moisten the perimeter of 1/2 of the wrapper with your finger (dipped in a small bowl of water). Fold and pinch at the mid-point. Make 2 pleats on both sides of this mid-point. Pinch. Repeat with the other half. There are some photos of how to do this here: http://chowtimes.com/2006/08/12/jiaozi-chinese-dumpling/

To cook:

Boiling method: Boil water or broth in a saucepan or stockpot. Add 8-10 dumplings. When they float up to the top, boil them for 1 more minute, then remove.

Potsticker method (frying/steaming): Heat 2 T oil in a skillet until hot. Turn heat to medium. Arrange dumplings into rows in the skillet, with sides touching. Fry until bottom turns crusty. Pour in 1/2 cup water. cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed, about 6 minutes. Put a large plate on top of the skillet and turn the skillet upside down onto the plate to serve.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

sleeping is for sissies

Bertram Russell once said,"Men who are unhappy, like men who sleep badly, are always proud of the fact." Unfortunately, I think this is true, at least among insomniacs. A room full of insomniacs is just as bad as moms at a baby shower: "You think that's bad? I was in labor for 18 hours! And then they used forceps!" It is in that spirit that I share the following: The night before last I slept for 1 hour and 30 minutes. And, no, I do not have a newborn. No, I wasn't about to take the LSAT. I was on an antibiotic, of all things, for a sinus infection. It was terribly potent and caused all sorts of gastronomic distress, numbness in the extremities, dizziness, and what can only be called sleep resistance. Every time I was near sleep I had that little body quake, the mechanism meant to keep you awake during something important like night driving or watching a neighbor's wedding video. I tried everything our bathroom pharmacopoeia had to offer, I read a boring text book, I counted backward from 100, I got on the internet (and, incidentally, found this amazing site about an old mental hospital in New York), I drank tea, and then I just stayed in bed for hours, simultaneously envying and getting irritated with dh, snoring blissfully by my side. Around 5 am it became a reverse psychology game with me. I was going to make myself stay awake until dh's alarm went off at 5:45, and would thus fake myself into falling asleep. My brain saw through this clever plan of its own design and I finally fell asleep at 6:00. At 7:30 the kids were up and dh was off on a business trip. But here's the thing: I survived! My kids knew I was really tired but I was still a relatively happy mommy. It's a major accomplishment for me because I have had frequent bouts of insomnia since I was 9 and I think it contributes to frequent bouts of pessimism. No small part of the credit here goes to Coke Zero and some tasty chocolate.