Sometimes I really think I want one more child. And then my daughter wraps her little arm around my neck, fondles my ear with her fingers, and tells me, "Mama, you're the best!" before planting a kiss on my lips at night. And I wonder why I would ever start over with diapers again.
Walking around New York about three days into our trip, Son asked me, "Mama, does anyone live in New York City?" I looked at him a little astonished and told him that millions of people lived here, that probably most of the people he saw walking down the sidewalk at that very moment lived here. Clearly he could hear the question in my voice, and he replied, confused, "But...I haven't seen any houses."
If you have mosquitoes the size of small birds in your state, as we do in Michigan, and if your children are allergic to those dastardly bites, as mine are, you basically have two options. You can either, as Son explained to me, "wish that the only mosquitoes at our house were boys because only the girl mosquitoes bite." Or you can break out the chidlren's liquid benadryl. It worked wonders on Daughter's ENORMOUSLY swollen lip this week, as well as on the giant welts all over her arms. It also has the added benefit of making bedtime pretty quick. (To be clear: the stuff is ingested, not rubbed on the bites.) The doctors will tell you not to use it for more than three days in a row, but we find that two or three doses (one every twelve hours) is all it takes to make those huge, itchy welts nearly disappear. Easy peasy.
Can anyone explain to me why the manufacturers of those stylish fine-cotton shirts -- you know, the ones sort of like t-shirts, but with curved seams or ruched necks or other nice design features that make them look like real grown-up shirts, presentable enough to wear out to a casual lunch while still comfortable enough for the playground, basically, the perfect shirts design-wise -- Can anyone explain why THOSE shirts are invariably made of some kind of magical cotton that shrinks vertically when washed according to the tag directions? It never fails that the bottom edge of those shirts hits the perfect spot just around my hip bones when I try them on in the store, and then I wear them once and feel all stylish in them, and then I wash them, and suddenly, they are naval-gazing shirts. I just don't get it. How can cotton shrink only in one direction? And why is that direction always UP? If I were a clothing designer, I'd do a long-waisted sister a favor and make a comfy-but-stylish casual shirt that wouldn't make her look like she was trying to pretend she was seventeen again, all flat-bellied and sexy with that sliver of skin hanging out. I mean, I'm no prude, but there are just some parts of a 30-something-mother-of-two body that don't need to be hanging provocatively out of one's clothes, and the threat of butt cleavage is one of those places.
Fishing with children is dangerous. Not because someone might get hooked in the eye (which someone might when it's Amateur Hour casting into Ye Olde Neighborhood Ponde). Not because someone might fall into the pond (which someone might when it's All Fun and Antics on the slippery muddy banks). But because someone might actually catch a fish. And then YOU, the mother, will have to undertake the hair-raising, empathy-inducing, visceral sound and feeling evoking, deeply unpleasant process of removing the poor fish from the hook. All the while feeling as if you a) have no earthly idea what you are doing or how to do it quickly and effeciently; and therefore b) are certainly torturing the poor fish; and depressingly c) have created a deeply flawed plan for the afternoon because if a kid can catch one fish with just five minutes of effort, imagine how much fun he can have fishing for an hour -- and of course, the other kid will want a turn with the pole too.
My advice? "Lose" the rest of the bait by accidentally dropping that piece of bread into the water or letting the little sister feed it to the waiting giant carp (you honestly didn't think putting a poor innocent worm on a hook was going to be part of the equation did you?), and then just let them practice casting into the pond over and over. That's pretty fun.
Until someone gets hooked in the eye.
Have a happy rest of the weekend!
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Sometimes I really think I want one more child. And then my daughter wraps her little arm around my neck, fondles my ear with her fingers, and tells me, "Mama, you're the best!" before planting a kiss on my lips at night. And I wonder why I would ever start over with diapers again.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
You know that nervous feeling in your stomach -- a little fluttery with anticipation, excited, and also dreading that you'll say the wrong thing -- that you get (or got) just before a first date? That mental checklist: Is my lipstick all right? Do I have three good conversation-starters? Is my outfit hip enough without looking like I'm trying too hard?
And then, the doozy of them all: what if I don't recognize him/her? or what if we have nothing to talk about because we've never actually met fact to face? (Don't tell me you never went on a blind date out of pity for a friend who was dying to go out with Bicycle Shop Guy but wasn't sure she should go to a dance club with him alone since she'd only ever talked to him in the bright light of day in the perfectly safe bike shop where he was repairing her tire. We all went on those -- invariably awful -- Good Friend Dates, didn't we?)
Anyway, try to recall those feelings if you can because I dredged up all of them one day last week. Yes, all that excited nervousness afflicted my gut, and those paranoid questions ran through my little head. Not because I was cheating on my husband, but because I was going for real, grown-up, no-children-involved-for-this-one-short-night-of-my-family-vacation, drinks with Marinka.
Although I'm sure she would laugh at me to know this, I actually fretted about the fact that I was not wearing make-up. Oh, I had make-up with me. But it was one of those running arund in Central Park with the kids kind of days, so I'd cleverly thought I would wait until after the family dinner to apply a little wake-up potion (aka eyeliner) to my face, so that it wouldn't simply smudge and wear off. Of course, I had lipstick with me. But then, family dinner ran late, and kids had to have 346 hugs goodbye before I could leave for the subway, and then I felt like I would look like a total idiot (not to mention potentially put out my eye with the mascara wand) if I tried to apply makeup while riding the subway. And then I got to my station and had to figure out which direction to walk the six blocks to the bar. And by then I was worried enough that I wouldn't recognize her (since I was pretty sure she wasn't going to be sitting with her back to the door wearing a wedding veil) that I forgot to put on any lipstick.
Which is how I ended up walking into the bar with a completely nude face (which is my normal MO, you understand, but I was going to dress up for Marinka), smiling brightly at the pretty about-the-right-age blond sitting alone at a table by the door, and saying in a cheerful, hopeful voice, "Marinka?" -- whereupon said blond shook her head at me a little grimly (I'm sure she thought I was hitting on her) and then smiled too brightly at her jacket-wearing date who swept through the door about 30 seconds after me.
Thankfully, there was a table in the corner that I could slink into, and then Marinka herself arrived for real, and she was completely normal and nice and funny and also seemed to feel a little like she was on a blind date for the first few minutes, which, perversely, set me at ease and made me forget completely about the fact that five minutes before I'd been pretty sure that all women in New York knew better than to go anywhere without lipstick on and therefore she would hardly be able to hear what I was saying through the distraction of my up-lipsticked lips.
There were moments when she could hardly hear what I was saying.
But that was only because the bar was loud and the schmancy cosmopolitans we were drinking were so very cosmopolitan.
We talked kids and vacations and jobs and even Thomas trains -- the mere mention of which made Marinka roll her eyes back into her head and swear she needed another drink -- score ZERO for the blind date conversation starter! -- and yet she still continued to sit and talk to me.
Here's what I've learned: blind dates are way scarier than meeting someone you "know" online for cocktails. Of course, that presupposes that the someone you know online is actually who she says she is and not really a beefy ex-con who lives on a hill with 37 cats and enjoys cross-dressing. But, in all honesty, it was hilarious and fun and sometimes serious, and I wish that there were someway to convince the New York transit authority to extend the 4/5 line into southeast Michigan because it sure would be convenient to be able to jump on the subway any time I want a good drink and some great conversation.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
We just got back from a nearly two-week trip to New York. (Hence the sparse posting of late.) I have lots of great stories to tell and funny photos to share, but I also have a looming deadline at the end of the week. So for today, which happens to be a day that the kids are in daycare, I'm offering up this list of ten lessons from our city trip, with the promise of more stories to come.
1. Keeping control of two energetic children who are often too busy to pay attention to boring directions like "hold my hand" is particularly nerve-wracking while on narrow, crowded subway platforms facing oncoming speeding trains.
2. New Yorkers do not deserve their reputation for being snooty or brusque. Every single time I got on a crowded subway with my two children, someone got up and gave me a seat so that I didn't have to try to keep both kids from flying through the car when the train took off. For the twelve days we were in the City, people held doors, directed me to restrooms in Central Park, and brought extra plates so the little one could share my food.
3. When you grow up in a place where "walking" means meandering through suburban residential neighborhoods without sidewalks or traffic, you are not quite street savvy enough to be an NYC pedestrian without some training. For the first two or three days, my kids had no real concept that if they chased that pigeon right off the sidewalk and into 5th Avenue at rush hour, there might be bad consequences.
4. Pigeons are insanely fun to chase.
5. A three-year-old is not only NOT too old for a stroller; she still desperately needs one if the family plans on walking miles and miles every day.
6. A five-year-old can be an incredibly good walker. But when he's tired, he can be an even better whiner and fighter-over-the-stroller-er.
7. You really can eat absolutely anything you want, and as much as you want, in the Food Heaven that is NYC without gaining any weight at all. As long as you are walking miles and miles each day and spending some portion of that time carrying a 34 pound toddler on your shoulders or giving a piggy-back ride to an exhausted 50-pounder.
8. New foods are more appealing if the process of eating them becomes a contest. We had a competition to see who could eat the most new foods on this trip (eat = taste it, chew it, swallow it, and ask for at least one more bite). Son won with 17. Daughter had 9. Their lists are pretty impressive and include things like sweet and sour fish at a Chinese banquet and Cuban empanadas. I also let them count the giant pretzel from the street vendor and the rocket pop from the ice-cream truck in Battery Park. It only seemed fair. Those were new too.
9. You can manipulate children's bedtimes like nobody's business if you just take them out to dinner at 7pm or feed them ginormous bowls of hot fudge sundae at 5:00. It won't always be easy in restaurants, but you can turn them into night owls if you want.
10. Turning them back ain't so easy.
We are all still a little tired and half the laundry is still grungy. But we had a great trip, got to see lots and lots of family, and did so many fabulous city things (including meeting Marinka for a drink -- oh, yes I did! and more on that later...) that we'll be telling and retelling each other stories for weeks. Now, if only I had a few days to rest up from my vacation!
Friday, May 22, 2009
My fantastic sister sent me an "extra" birthday present which made me burst out laughing and then
cackle chuckle with delight.
That's right, it's none other than the New York Times best-selling novel that every 19th century literature professor worth her salt will be reading this summer: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I haven't cracked it opened yet because I'm saving it for our trip to New York. I figure that even though I'll be traveling with two children and therefore completely unable to read anything on the plane, I will have at least a few loooong hotel evenings where the lights are out at 8:15 and Husband and I are trying to amuse ourselves without awakening the little darlings. A nice meaty (oops! sorry) zombie novel seems like just the thing.
Since I haven't read it, I can't tell you anything more about it than I did back when I first marveled over its impending release.
However, I can share a fascinating project of translating a bit of Austen's famous novel into another language. The effort was made by a college student working to translate the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice into Ojibwe for a class assignment. A colleague of mine sent me the link. Here's the original opening sentence:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
The author of the project writes:
"An interpretive translation would be:
It is true living knowledge that when a man alone has something of value, women may want to walk with him."
What I find most interesting, though, is the cultural note that gets appended:
* Cultural Note: The concept of wanting a wife as a possession (noun) is not readily translatable into Anishinaabemowin. Instead, the Anishinaabe way of viewing relationships is through action. For this reason, the common metaphor for marriage is two people who want to walk with one another. Of course, this does render the subtle humor of the British English unreadable. The joke in Austen's words is that a single man with money is viewed by others as more marketable and therefore needs a wife, perhaps to help spend his treasure. If a very fluent translator were to wish to write a similarly humorous line in Anishinaabemowin the humor would have to be found in the walk, perhaps along a road. Caring nothing for fortune, one might write, "When a man walks alone, it is universally understood that he is looking, and most likely he is looking for a woman willing to walk with him."
Isn't it amazing to think about how difficult it is to translate something like irony from one language to another? It impresses me on so many levels. First, that Austen's work has such brilliant subtlety to it that literal translations make no sense. Second, that translators who do a good job really are tremendous. Having read Pablo Neruda's poetry only in translation, and felt so moved by its beauty, I can only imagine what a job it must have been to preserve its essence in another language. And, on a larger level, it puts me in further awe of people who speak more than one language and can move between them seamlessly.
You can check out the whole Ojibwe translation project here.
Monday, May 18, 2009
I give you the Worst Peanut Butter Cookies Ever Baked In The History of the Entire World.
Yes, I know it's a long name. That's probably why the cookbook abbreviated it to "Classic Peanut Butter Cookies."
But trust me on this one. Unless the desert Bedouins have been making peanut butter cookies in precisely this way for thousands of years or something, this recipe is neither classic nor a cookie. They taste, as the description says, but as I didn't think one was supposed to take quite so literally: sandy. And I'm not talking the good kind of sandy, as if they were made with ground nuts and thus are pleasantly crumbly. I'm talking the kind of sandy that you get when your slightly health-nut mother, in 1977, runs out of the rice flour she is using for the Carob Cookies she is making and therefore chooses to make her own rice flour by submitting actual rice to the rigors of the food processor. Which? Doesn't really produce flour but rather something more along the lines of edible buckshot. And then you politely eat one of the cookies, which is both a sorry excuse for chocolate and a sorry excuse for a cookie, tasting as it does as if it were baked on a beach in the midst of a hurricane.
Fortunately, your mother has a good sense of humor in 1977, and the Carob "Cookies" don't have to be eaten but rather are allowed to become a long-running family joke.
Sadly, these Peanut Butter "Cookies" aren't even ripe for joking. They are dry without being delicate, crumbly without being toothsome. The recipe actually calls for adding OIL in addition to the butter and peanut butter, and yet they do not hold together. They are highly caloric without being satisfying. Even the chocolate chips, added back when the whole gleeful affair was one happy family romp in Baking Heaven, didn't melt properly.
But don't they look nice all stacked up there on the plate?
Don't be fooled. When a cookbook that, for the sake of discretion, we'll just call The Oyjay of Ookingcay tells you a recipe is a "classic," apparently that's code for "column filler alternate recipe that any dufus who can read would know better than to try because OIL? in Cookies? HA! Suckers."
At least we had some wholesome family fun fighting over who got to pour in the chocolate chips and who got to do the stirring first.
(Husband just looked over my shoulder as I was writing this post and said, "Are those your delicious cookies there? They look much better in the picture than they taste." I rest my case.)
Friday, May 15, 2009
This may be the shortest post I've ever written, but I'm pretty sure the line of Tennyson's and the photo together say it all. I had no idea a tulip could look so cruel. Did you?
And for the record, I haven't done anything at all to this image. This is exactly how it came out of the camera.
(For the full effect, I recommend you click on the photo to enlarge.)
Also, many thanks for all your kind comments and concern about my lovely Dog. She is not all better, but she seems so far not to be worse. We are hoping she continues to hold steady.
Monday, May 11, 2009
My sweet, sweet dog, whom I've had since she was this big (at ten weeks old)
and whose favorite thing to do is lounge around like a big goof in the sun (followed by her other favorite thing, which is lounge around like a big goof tucked under some covers, which she can totally do for herself)
the first and only dog I've ever had, and the one who saw me through a move, a wedding (well, she ditched on the wedding, but she came back a week later), put up with my pregnant laziness (and her consequent lack of walks), the one who mutely licks my face when I'm sad, curls up on my feet when I'm cold, and has more than once in the last nine years let me use her for a pillow when I needed comforting,
that sweet dog is not well. Her back legs are failing her, and the steriods aren't helping enough, and the next step in treatment is unthinkably expensive.
I don't know what to do except cry.
I am tempted to write something here about breadboxes and elephants, but I don't exactly know what that something would be. So, here are three totally unrelated snippets that aren't exactly micro but are too small to stand alone.
Nature is humbling
There is a family of cardinals outside our kitchen window. One little fledgling sits in a bush just a few feet from my table as I am writing. It is a full-time job for both parents keeping that tiny demanding beak fed. The puff-ball is nearly invisible amongst the leaves and twitters non-stop, "I am here, feed me, here I am, did you forget? I am here, right here, hungry, feed me, here I am, did you get me a bug yet? here I am, I'm hungry, please come back, hungry, hungry, hungry, hungry...." Then one parent lands nearby, scopes out the scene to be sure that no enemies are nigh, jumps into the foliage, and feeds the tiny gaping maw. The silence of chewing (or whatever birds to) and enjoying ensues and the parent flies off. Then it's rinse, lather, repeat, with the other parent. ALL. DAY. LONG. Whenever I feel exhausted by the demands of preschoolers, all I have to do is look out the window. Mothering two preschoolers is so much easier than feeding a baby cardinal. I feel positively relaxed.
Also? Whoever coined the phrase, "you eat like a bird," to indicate a picky, sparse appetite obviously never actually saw a bird eat.
I need advice
We're going to New York City with the whole family soon. I have a short list of the obvious things to do (Central Park, the Natural History Museum, ferry ride, a lot of delicious eating, Shrek on Broadway), but I'm hoping your wisdom about the city will generously trump the obvious. Do you have any "best kept secrets" or "can't miss" suggestions for where you would take a 5 year old and 3 year old? I would so appreciate any ideas you have to offer. We're staying near Gramercy Park, if that matters.
Preschool teaches you lots of unexpected things
At bedtime, Daddy is reading The Little Mermaid for the umpteenth time this month to the children. Daughter, despite the fact that she insisted on this story and is making Son sit through his least favorite fairy tale again (he likes Rapunzel), is chattering away.
Son reprimands her, in his best stern teacher-ish voice: "If you can't listen, then we're going to have to have questions after the story is over."
The threat does nothing to quiet her. But it nearly convulses me.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
If there's one thing people still do when there's a recession on, it's get their hair cut. Sure, they may wait an extra month between cuts, or they may opt for highlights instead of all-over color jobs, or they may even *gasp* buy bottles of color from Sally Beauty Supply and do their own dye work. They may get their wives to do the honors on the preschoolers' dos. But, at some point, most grown-ups, no matter what the economy, will walk into a salon or barber shop, sit down smiling, getting up smiling even more, and walk out with a springier step.
My stylist tells me that she and her cuttery friends have noticed that most women, when they walk out of a salon, get three or four steps before the pleasantly unfamiliar bounce and swing of the new cut registers, and then they ALL unknowingly touch their own hair with a little pat or flip of glee. I know that feeling. That "my head is just so happy" feeling never fails to put an extra spring in my step as I walk to my car. And I know I am totally guilty of the extraneous head toss or two while I'm about it.
I'm feeling all grateful and lyrical about haircuts tonight because I just had one. And, seriously, I think I might have the best hair-cuttery woman in the universe. But in a stunning example of lack of forethought, I have no plans to go anywhere tonight, and so even though it's only 8:30, I'm already in my (absurd) striped jammies and sitting on the couch totally wasting the glory that is my freshly-cut hair. So I figured I'd do my best to wax poetic about women who wield magical scissors, so that I can pretend I'm not sitting here drinking alone. (What, you wouldn't celebrate Haircut Happiness with a glass of shiraz while your husband goes on his video game date with his
dorky 30-something online gaming friends? I thought so.)
It's probably not fair to say that my stylist has magic scissors, since that might seem to imply that it's not that SHE knows what she's doing, but rather that her scissors have all the power--sort of like the Red Shoes in the fairy story that enable the child to know how to dance magnificently as soon as the shoes are put on. It is certainly not the case that her scissors know better than Kisten does. She is, hands down, the most magical stylist I've ever had.
I have curly hair that is temperamental. It's not super-curly, like the enviable ringlets sported by that stunning English red-head who was finishing her PhD the year I was starting. Nor does it frizz into a poofy poodle in the humidity (thankfully). It seems innocuous enough with its long loose curls. And yet, it Does Not Like To Be Messed With. If I fuss, or apply too much goo, or generally try to manhandle it into shape, I end up with a limp mess. Limp mess also happens when I have really important functions to go to or when I am trying to look particular polished at work. Or when I accidentally look at my hair cross-eyed or the moon is out of alignment. Basically, my hair is simply perverse.
But Kisten? She can manage all of that. She has cut it super-short, coaxed it back out long, put me into a bob and very long brick-cut layers and everything in between. In short, girlfriend can do curl.* Every cut she's ever given me is great.
How did I find this magic hair-cuttery goddess? When I first moved to Michigan and was desperate for a grown-up haircut, I went up to a woman sporting fantastic hair in a bar and asked her who cut hers. Her hair was nothing like I'd ever want mine to be. But one look her, and I knew that someone who seriously knew how to wield scissors had been working on her head. I wanted what she was getting.
It was the best random accosting of a stranger I've ever done.
Today, I told Kisten I wanted something a little sassy in preparation for our upcoming trip to New York. And she obliged with something that moves and shines and feels splentabulous. And when I tell you I was overdue for a cut, you should think about know how long you sometimes stretch the wait between cuts so that you can look good for a particular event, and then add at least two months. Yes, THAT overdue. She had her work cut out for her with my mop.
Of course, I will never again be able to make it gleam and sit as smoothly as it does today because I hold whatever title is the opposite of Master of the Magnificent Hair Blow Out. But here's the thing: my hair will somehow look nice even though I apparently have two left hands and fewer than zero skills with a round brush. I give all the credit for that to the Goddess of the Scissors. Kisten manages to give me these cuts that look awesome when she blows them straight (which she has to do because the whole process of getting combed and cut puts my curls into a funk, so that they will not behave and recurl until they've been rewashed and properly coddled -- and who has the patience to indulge snitty curls? not me.) and also far better than passable when I dry them curly (which is to say, that my daily hair could look better if I did anything to style it beyond walking around in the air and letting my styling products languish in my closet, but that's not Kisten's fault; she can't help it if her clients are Hair Incompetents).
I have been trying for half an hour to take a picture of this new hair, so that we could all have a little toast to the great stylists who brighten our days and make us feel so much better about ourselves. But, of course, I am also the opposite of Master of Self Portraiture, and everything I've taken is either out of focus or a photo of my shoulder or otherwise ludicrous.
So you'll just have to settle for this, with my deepest apologies to my hair (which thinks it should have its own name -- like Genevieve or something equally glamorous -- on hair-cut days) and to Kisten (who deserves a better photographer for a client).
Isn't it glossy and sassy with that fun little flip at the bottom and those nice little pieces angled in towards my jaw? And if I had the patience to wait till Monday to post this, I could wash my hair and give you the curly "after" view too. But I don't. Sorry.
Anyway, the point of this post is really that today I've been reminded of something I knew but forgot. Namely: if you're feeling blue about your appearance, or your life is a bit too complicated, or you need a pick-me-up of any kind -- just go get a haircut. Seriously. There's magic in them thar' scissors.
(And if you live anywhere within driving distance of Ann Arbor, MI, go get a haircut with Kisten. she'll do you right.**)
Now, a toast: to all the Magic Scissors in our lives. Cheers!
* Amazingly, she can also do straight, as evidenced by her masterful work on my sister's head of I Won't Curl Even If You Beg hair.
** Seriously, if you want to go to her, email me. You get a discount if you get referred by a current client. I'll hook you up with a stylist you'll never ever break up with. And no, there is no kick-back or deal for me in this post. I'm just feeling all happy (and wine-y) and thought I ought to spread the love, as it were.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
If you've been reading here a while, you may remember last year's invective against the bane the suburban lawn-owner's existence: the humble dandelion.
For two months in the spring, they flower like crazy, spread like weeds, dot the lawn with neon-yellow testaments to the inadequacy of one's grass-maintenance skills. They flourish under curses and laugh in the face of weed killer. Where one dies back, another ten emerge, victorious, to dance at its funeral and mock the holder of the now-empty bottle of Weed-B-Gone.
They take root in the smallest of cracks in the sidewalk, along the edges of the driveway, nestled at the base of trees. They stomp brazenly into flower beds and launch tall defiant stalks into the air, proudly asserting themselves amongst the more modest bedding plants that are only just awakening to the springtime.
They will be noticed. They insist upon it.
No amount of tugging and trimming, monitoring and mowing, swearing and spraying can eradicate them completely.
There are days when I want to hand pluck every last plant out of the grass just to ensure they never come back. Other days when I simply sigh tiredly and cannot be bothered. Still others on which I cringe as I drive up to the house and realize that the dandelions in our side yard are surely poised to execute a coup over the well-behaved grass next door.
And then, today, on the way back from the park with the lovely dirt trails where I'd been walking Dog, I drove past an enormous several acre field -- so vibrantly alive with the little yellow buggers. I thought immediately of the fabulous rolling hills of Southern France, and the train whisking past field after field of glorious mustard flowers, like miniature suns on tall green stalks. And the field of dandelions looked beautiful this morning, sunny bright on an overcast day.
It doesn't make me want to get rid of the ones in my lawn any less.
But it does make me wonder: what made us decide this was a weed? Why do we shun it? What if we all just let the dandelions have their way with us? Could we pretend we lived amongst the mustard fields of France? Could we be happy with grass dotted cheerfully yellow? And if not, why not?
I'm not sure why this year I'm suddenly more philosophical about the dreadful beasts. But there you have it. Apparently it's possible to mature, even on a subject as volatile as weeds.
Photo credit: mgpenguin86 via flickr
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
This morning, I was undergoing the painstaking process that is helping Son find coloring pages online when something happened to enliven what is normally simply a chore. It's not that there is a dearth of coloring pages online. It's that there are so very many, and they are all so very cool ("except for the bad guys, I don't like to color bad guys") that it just becomes so very hard to choose which coloring pages are the right coloring pages for this particular morning. I know it doesn't make me Evil, just human, to find this process tiresome, and yet I do feel a little guilt over my impatience.
This morning, though, not quite so much guilt as just thinly-masked impatience because I haven't had my coffee yet. And, more importantly, Daughter is simultaneously downstairs painting. Unsupervised. Which means almost anything could be green by the time I get back from the eons long process that is choosing the exact right Ben 10 alien to color. (Note to self: perhaps throw down a drop cloth and set her up with latex instead of finger paints next time, and let her go to town on the kitchen cupboards.)
Anyway, at some point in the twelve minutes it took us to peruse nearly every possible Ben 10 coloring page online and choose the very best one (who turns out to be a guy who is, Son tells me, "all brown," which means it will take about 37 seconds to color the picture that it took us nearly a quarter of an hour to choose), we came across this guy.
He did not make the cut as color-worthy, in part I suspect because Son didn't know his name and therefore can't be sure whether he's a good guy or a bad guy. My response to him, though, was almost visceral -- a little surge of excitement. "He looks like a Sleestack!" I exclaimed.
"What's a Sleeve-stack?" Son asked.
Instantly, I felt all nostalgic for the alien bad guys of my own youth--reliving my delighted shivers of horror every time the Land of the Lost family encountered these fearsome foes, recollecting one particular episode in which the Sleestacks were sort of like Sleestack-zombies, and came marching out of a cave, bedecked with whispy bits of twine-like spider webs signaling how long they had been asleep and how, therefore, increasingly ominous was their waking.
So I did what any good mother in the digital age would do, and I zipped us over to Google images to find a picture of the terrifying and dangerous villains of my memory.
This is what I found.
Seriously? THESE were the monsters I loved to fear? These are obviously people. Wearing green latex heads apparently molded on old fashioned diving helmets. They look pretty much like a child's drawing of a Martian. Am I wrong, or does the line drawing of the Ben 10 alien above look approximately 100,000 times scarier than these dudes?
Son took one look at them and said, in a voice filled with contempt, "I don't like Sleeve-stacks." He was not rejecting them for being bad guys. He was rejecting them for being bad guys who just look silly.
It makes me realize how high the bar is now. No yo-yo with an old wetsuit, a can of paint, and an 8mm camera can film a pilot for a hit TV show anymore. No sir. It takes Industrial Light and Magic to impress the little ones these days.
In my secret heart of hearts, I kept hoping that Sleestacks really were as scary as I remembered them, and so long after Son had gone off to find his crayons, I perused pictures. But, sadly, no. All the stills look the same. And just like that, a tiny thrill of my youth has been shattered. I don't even have the heart to correct his pronunciation. They might as well be "Sleeve-stacks."
Remind me not to look up stills of Goldar, Silvar, and Gam. I'm sure they were fabulous and powerful robots. And their ability to transform into rockets -- even the kid robot could do it! -- was astonishing.*
Oh, heck, I couldn't resist.
No wonder kids these days are so enamored of Transformers.
(Seriously, watch that video. You will fall over laughing.)
*Actually, even as kids, my sisters and I found the kid robot as annoying as we found his parents amazing. We were fascinated by Space Giants, but we referred to the robots as Goldar, Silvar, and Twerpar because the kid robot was such a whiner.
Monday, May 4, 2009
It's not strictly true that I had cake for breakfast this morning. I actually had a lovely omelette filled with fresh tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese.
The cake was for dessert.
The entire meal was like summer on a plate, the omelette representing my grown-up fondness for Ensalada Caprese, the cake standing for all things summery childhood. The cake, you see, was something my mother had grown up eating because her mother had grown up eating it. She generally called it by the name of its ingredients: Famous Chocolate Wafer Cake, though occasionally she also called it an Icebox Cake.
This is a stunningly simple cake to make, requiring no baking whatsoever, and only about twenty minutes to prepare -- with one caveat: you have to find the ingredients first. And that can be tricky.
The ingredients list is short: 3 cups heavy whipping cream, plus a dab of vanilla and sugar that you have in your kitchen anyway, and 2 boxes Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers. The last has long been an elusive creature. Those narrow yellow boxes, filled with almost impossibly thin, near-black, very crunchy chocolate cookies, don't reside in plain sight in the cookie/cracker aisle of most grocery stores. Generally, if the store carries them at all, they are in one of three places: on the very top shelf in the cookie aisle, near the ginger snaps (such a short box on the top of such a high shelf = nearly invisible); near the end of the aisle with the fancy thin foreign wafer cookies (a laughably easy location which makes a mockery of the true challenge that lies in making this dessert); or on that tiny portable shelf in the ice cream aisle that holds all the hot fudge sauce and sprinkles and is never in the same location twice (a spot so ludicrous that if you find them there, as I did mine yesterday, you will rejoice in the feeling that the Universe has decreed that you are Deserving Person who Shall Have Icebox Cake, Huzzah!).
While the wafers have been very difficult to find, the cream has never historically been a problem; however, recently I notice that cream isn't what it used to be. I think it's thinner. I am sure THEY are reducing the fat content in it. Yesterday, the only cream in the store was "light whipping cream" (which won't actually whip up to peaks at all), and "whipping cream" (which will whip up to soft peaks if you work at it for such a long time that you think you've somehow missed the peaks stage and must be going downhill towards butter and watery whey. You aren't. You're just using crummy cream.) HEAVY whipping cream can be difficult to find, but it's the real deal.
Fair warning on the cream: Do not accept substitutes if you want this cake to shine. It is a cake from the good old days, back when cooks were not afraid of heavy cream. It will not succeed if you fear the ingredients.
So you put the three cups of heavy cream in a bowl with about 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and 3 tablespoons of sugar, and whip it up until it forms nice stiff peaks.
Then, you open the package of cookies and start making a stack. Simply slather a dollop of cream onto the top of a cookie, then another, then another, stacking as you go.
When your stack is about ten cookies high, you can gently turn it on its side on the plate, and continue the process. Your goal is to make a long cookie roll. With two boxes of Famous Chocolate Wafers, you will need a large cake plate, and you will make three logs of cookies with cream in the middle. (Though it would be lovely to think that this cake is what inspired the Oreo, this cake didn't exist until the 1920s and Oreos were introduced in 1912, probably as a rip-off of the Hydrox cookies that Sunshine has debuted in 1908.) Now, here's the important part: don't be too skimpy with the cream in your assembly. You need a heavy dollop between each cookie because the cookies will soak up much of the cream and soften into a lovely cake-like consistency, and you don't want all the cream to disappear. What you see below represents me erring on the conservative side with the cream between the cookies. It wasn't perfect. So much of the cream absorbed that there were mere ribbons left when we cut into it.
Once you've got all three logs constructed and lying side-by-side, cover over the entire cake with the remaining cream. Again, don't be shy. What else are you going to use this whipped cream for, anyway? You need to use up all the cream. If you don't, the cookies will remain a bit stiff, and the cake will be a disappointment. Also, don't believe anyone who tells you that you can just let the cake rest for a few hours. You need to pop that baby into the fridge and leave it there overnight for the consistency to be right. (I know whereof I speak. I let it sit in the fridge for eight hours yesterday, and it wasn't enough.)
You should serve it straight from the fridge, and you cut it on the diagonal.* This produces lovely striped slices that will make you want to talk about zebras over dessert.
This is a cake from the pre-refrigerator days, back when people kept things chilled in tin-lined oak cabinets that had a bottom drawer to hold a huge hunk of ice. The cookies for this cake were introduced in the mid-1920s, and the recipe was so popular that it was printed on the packaging by 1929. Although many popular refrigerator desserts emerged in from the 1930s-1950s (thanks, in part to the first commercially-viable fridges being introduced in 1927), this cake has the honor of a simple name that speaks to its being the first of its kind: Icebox Cake. Just as it did back in the 20s, it tastes delicious with fresh berries and a cup of good coffee while sitting on the back deck and listening to the chorus of summer frogs.
For more history on the cake, including some fascinating tidbits on its relationship to those fabulously fussy, chilled 19th-century desserts called Charlottes, check out this Washington Post article.
*Note on the diagonal cutting: cut slices about 1/4" thick. The first few slices will be just the right size. Then, as you get well into the cake, you will find that one diagonal slice produces two pieces of cake -- unless you have friends who like to eat slabs of cake.