Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On the Shadow Side of Morning

“For a while they stood there, like men on the edge of a sleep where nightmare lurks, holding it off, though they know that they can only come to morning through the shadows.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
When my husband walked into the kitchen and told me there was a shooting in a Connecticut school, my knees literally buckled. I remember being horrified and grief-stricken by the slaying of the Amish children, by Columbine, by the tragic movie theater incident this past year. However, this one is somehow different to me, maybe because it's closer.

As you may know, we recently moved to Connecticut, and Newtown was one of the towns we had considered. In the end, we decided it was too far for my husband to commute, and rush-hour traffic was moving the wrong way. Still... I can't help but wonder, if we'd made a different choice would I be burying a baby this week?

By Sunday evening, I had just started pulling myself together, but then we got word that one of my husband's colleagues lost a daughter in the shooting. The news has left me completely undone.

Ever since, I've been thinking about something one of my friends posted on Facebook. "On days like this, I wish I believed in God so that I could believe in hell." I can empathize with his outrage and the desire for justice and retribution, but I can't find a response. I do believe in God and hell, and it doesn't help me. I'm still filled with this dark, howling sense of grief.

I see and hear people -- kind people with good intentions -- trying to lessen the pain that our whole country feels right now. They say things like, "Now these little angels are in a better place" or "They're in the arms of Jesus."  I can believe it, but speaking as a mom, it feels like hollow comfort. The thing is, before I ever fell in love with my children's spirit or personalities, I loved their bodies -- every miniature part from their tiny fingers and toes to their soft bellies and mewling little cries.

Maybe that's why even parents of less-than-lovable children show such devotion. A true parent doesn't love a child because of what they do but because they exist. It's simply their existence that gives birth to love. I can say that my kids sometimes (ok, everyday) do things that really irk me and I wish they'd stop, but I never tire of their physical beings. I love the warmth of their breath, the pressure of their arms around my neck, their hands as they grab mine, the giggles when I tickle a belly button, silly grinning faces, the sound of their steps coming home from school... I could name a thousand things about them that fill me with joy. To have all these things snuffed out in a moment, I don't know... I guess I'm a heretic, but I can't think of anything that would fill that vacuum, not even hope.

I don't blame or accuse God, but I'm struggling to find some kind of peace in this. I just can't shake or process the senselessness, the total pointlessness of this nightmare. I don't know how to write a card, how to comfort a bereft parent without sounding lame or false or meaningless. And there are other feelings rolling under the surface that I don't even know how to put into words.

Anyway, I will wrap this up because my own little ones need to sleep, and though it's trite to say, I will hold them closer and longer.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mugged by Sound

It's not easy being the parent of a special needs child. I know because at the end of kindergarten, my oldest child was diagnosed with Asperger's, which is on the autism spectrum.

Asperger's is tough in its own special way. My son's biggest challenge is interacting socially because he has difficulty interpreting facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice and even understand what other people are thinking. He's actually a very kind child, but he can seem insensitive (or even snotty) because he doesn't always respond to social situations correctly. Sensory input is another huge challenge for him. Not only is he a synesthete, but a sensory processing disorder was part of his diagnosis. So for him, the world is one loud, bright, mixed-up source of chaos. He spent two-thirds of kindergarten  in a ball under his desk because he was constantly overloaded by sounds. Five years later, he's made a lot of progress, but he still has a rough time in school.

As a mom, my heart hurts when I see him struggling, but I haven't been without my share of issues, too. For me, one of the toughest things to do was learning how to ignore what other adults think of me. They see my kid in total meltdown under a table or saying something that seems mean, and then they glance at me. In their eyes, I see the quick assessment of my total lack of parenting skills and the swift ensuing judgement. Truthfully, it can be more than a little embarrassing at times.

It would be easier in some ways -- people would be more sympathetic anyway-- if my child was obviously different, if he had Down's Syndrome or a physical handicap. But he doesn't. In fact, most people never guess that's he's on the spectrum because he's bright and funny and frequently shows some profound insights into situations. He's a little uncoordinated, but not so much so that one would notice.

In fact, to the casual observer, my boy appears perfectly normal. But I can tell that he's wired differently. For instance, a few months ago, a kid came running up to my son, waving his arms and yelling his name. A "normal" child would be able to tell that this kid was excited and friendly. My boy responded by freezing and reprimanding him. "You don't have to be so loud," he stated. It's instances like this in which, even though my son doesn't register the reaction, I see the startled, shut-out look on his friend's face. I see the other parents' faces as they wonder why my kid is such a snot. I know he doesn't even realize that he's misinterpreted the situation or responded incorrectly. I know I have to draw him aside (yet again) and explain what just happened. And my heart hurts for him. And it steels itself against the reproof I see in other people's eyes. But in the end, I've learned that I really don't care about them or what they think of him or me. I only have to love my child.

So recently, NPR posted this video called Mugged by Sound, Rescued by a Waitress. It's part of a project called Interacting with Autism. I wanted to share it because it touched me deeply. Watching this, I saw my boy. I don't know who made this animation, but he captured my child down to the last mannerism.

Sensory Overload (Interacting with Autism Project) from Miguel Jiron on Vimeo.

My favorite part of this video is the waitress who comes alongside this boy and doesn't say a word. She doesn't touch him, doesn't try to "help." She doesn't add to the noise but just lets him be. I wish I had a penny for every time I've told people to just leave my kid alone and he'll come around. So it moved me to see that some other person gets it.

In any case, I wanted to share this because I think it provides a terrific insight for people that have a relationship with a child (or adult) on the spectrum.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bah! Humbug!

I don't know when it happened exactly, but at some point in my early life, I soured on Christmas. Given the deeply cynical streak that runs through me, it probably had to happen eventually, but I can't remember the last time I truly thought of Christmas as "magical."

I know this is supposed to be the best time of year -- peace on earth, goodwill to men, etc., etc., but it doesn't feel like that to me. Mostly, I view the thirty-odd days between Thanksgiving and Christmas as a period of rampant noise, busy-ness, materialism, stress, and unending, grinding work (as if I really need twelve dozen cookies lying around my house). Maybe if I could just focus on a beautiful baby in a manger, I might feel better. But I can't because, in the words of the immortal Homer J. Simpson, "Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of Santa."

To tell the truth, Santa is another problem for me. I'm not talking about the historical St. Nick, who from all accounts was a really good man that saved destitute children from slavery, but the modern Claus. I'm sorry if I offend, but to me, he's just creepy. To demonstrate what I mean, here is a chart comparing Santa (who dominates the contemporary holiday) and Jesus, (who, I've been told, is the reason for season).

Santa Jesus
Even if Santa is supposed to be bringing gifts, I can't get over the felon-like quality of his breaking and entering. Let's say that I was sleeping in the middle of the night and awoke to the noises of someone in disguise with a great big bag prowling about my house, my first instinct would be to shoot first and ask questions later. Jesus is a gentleman. He doesn't push or barge his way in. He doesn't look for sneaky ways in when one is least suspecting. Instead, He knocks on the door of one's heart and waits for an answer. In my opinion, this shows superior breeding and good manners.
There is something Orwellian about the way Santa's always watching and making lists. And now he has little elves-on-shelves spying on and reporting everybody. It feels a lot like Big Brother to me.Actually, Jesus watches and makes lists, too, but somehow I don't feel as threatened. Maybe because He's looking for fallen sparrows and broken hearts. 
Speaking of Big Brother, if you're on Santa's good side, you reap rewards. Otherwise, look out. It's lumps of coal for you.

The problem, though, is that one never knows how good is good enough? I actually have a friend whose children play this online game where Santa tells them whether they've been good enough to get presents. There is a little arrow that swings back and forth between "Naughty" and "Nice," and her kids sit in sheer anticipatory terror praying it lands on "Nice." If you ask me, this game was designed by a shrink looking to drum up business.
Unlike Santa, God doesn't play those kinds of head games. Naughty or nice, it doesn't matter. You get the gift of a baby, of a savior. Actually, this gift is especially for the naughty.

So maybe, if Christmas were about the birth of Jesus, it would be more meaningful to me because I like Jesus, but Satan Santa leaves me nonplussed. I have other issues with Santa, too, like his perpetually red face (which makes me think he's imbibing more than just milk with his cookies), but I'll quit now before I really step over the line.

So anyway, I'm a Grinch, and this year, I'm feeling more Grinchy than usual. To make it worse, my middle child has requested an Elf-on-a-Shelf (ugh) and has professed a deep-seated belief in Santa Claus. This actually shocked me since I've always been very upfront on the topic -- There is NO Santa! (Interestingly enough, he also asked why we don't celebrate Chanukah. So that was another long conversation -- to summarize, I told him it was a lovely holiday for which I am eternally grateful because without it, there would be no Jesus and no Christmas. However, although I would like to help him celebrate that, I have enough dealing with just one day. I don't want to add 8 more on top of it. I know -- I've reached a new humbugging low.)

So I guess, here is the point of today's ramblings... I don't know if it's hormones (yes, I'm going to play that card) or because I've been unwell lately or the new house or unseasonably warm weather or what, but I'm having a harder time than usual getting into Christmas. In fact, I have three naked gingerbread houses that have been sitting for a week -- no frosting, no candy canes, not even a gumdrop in sight. At the moment, even ordinary tasks like laundry and dinner are taxing me. Forget decorating, baking, and shopping. Mostly, I just want to lie in bed with a book and not get up until January. It's quite possible that I'm the worst mom in the world, but this is the honest truth right now. Still, I have little ones, and it's not fair to Scrooge all over their excitement. For their sakes, I'm trying to put on a good face.

So mom to mom -- what do you do? Are you the kind of person that starts the Christmas countdown on Dec. 26th or do you flounder and flail through the holidays like me? How do you keep Christmas meaningful and exciting and fresh?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Machoism vs. Interdependence

My husband left for a business trip to San Diego the day we were expecting Hurricane Sandy to hit, leaving me with three kids, two dogs, and a generator. Having lived in places like Guam and Florida, I don't scare easily at wind and rain. However, I still gave my kids a big long speech about what to do in the event of an emergency.

I have to say that my neighbors (the ones who knew my husband would be out of town) were all very kind about offering assistance should I need it. There was one offer of help, though, that has got me thinking.

We have one neighbor who, on the outside, seems like such an imposing figure. He's quite tall and stocky. He's obviously very, very smart, and he has the sort of profession that requires a lot of quick-thinking and the ability to speak extemporaneously with a great degree of fluidity. However, he came over Monday afternoon to let me know that I could come over anytime if we needed help. But the way he did it was so faltering and stumbling and so apologetic, that it seemed out of character and tickled me a bit on the inside.
"If you need anything, let us know, and I, uh, I'll be glad to help. I'm sorry... that sounds a little bit like machoism, but with John out of town and all...and you've probably got it covered, but... just so you know, we'd be glad to help..."
It was a genuinely nice offer, and I genuinely appreciated it (particularly since I'd already given my kids instructions to call 911 and go to his family's house in case I got knocked out or something). But then I had to wonder what I did -- me with my little self -- to scare such a big man into fearing he might offend me by offering assistance, to worry that being a decent human being might be misconstrued as "machoism." (Seriously, I think a lot of people in NYC and NJ would love a bit of "machoism" right now.)

Of course, I don't really think it was me. Even though I'm far from being mousy, quiet, or dependent, I'm not (or at least I hope I'm not) the brash, strident, me-against-the-world type, either. My husband suggested that he might be used to women, though, who are fiercely independent to the point that just the offer of help implies to them that they're failing. Hmmm... I don't know. Either way, I wish that things were different between the sexes.

I know some women who complain chivalry is dead and singlehandedly are trying to revive it. They insist on men opening doors for them, giving up seats, standing up when they leave a table, taking their hats off in buildings, and so on. Then I know women who complain that these old-fashioned manners are degrading and sexist and are trying to kill them off. To both of these groups, I just want to say, "Chill. Be cool."

I've had men hold doors open and give up their seats for me -- and I think it's lovely! On the other hand, when I see men with their hands full or elderly/disabled men, I gladly do the same for them. My point is that basic human decency and consideration for one another shouldn't be gender-dependent. I think it would be nice to live in a world where women (or men) didn't feel like they had to carry burdens all on their own. I'd like to see a world where men (and women) could simply be nice and helpful to each other without being misunderstood. I'm talking about interdependency -- serving others wherever we can, and graciously accepting help when we need it. To me, that would be the definition of real "liberation," for women and men.

Ok, ok, I'm getting preachy. Getting down from my soapbox now.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Scrolling through Netflix at 4AM this morning (not that I wanted to be up, just couldn't sleep), I noticed a film called Happy.  Its description read:

Happy takes viewers on a journey from the swamps of Louisiana to the slums of Kolkata in search of what really makes people happy. Combining real-life stories and scientific interviews, the film explores the secrets behind our most valued emotion.

It sounded fascinating. Then I skipped it so I could catch up on Doc Martin. But the idea of the movie has stayed with me all day. What makes my family happy?

Knowing how hungry my boys are when they get home from school, I made some pretzels this afternoon. As soon as they found out, my little one started a happy dance. Even the older, "cooler" one threw his image aside, jumped into my arms, and plastered me with kisses. He exclaimed, "My day was horrible until I came home!"

So this was the answer to the question I'd been pondering all day. In our house, happiness is a little bit of flour, yeast, and water.

Assistant baker hard at work

To share our happiness with you, here is the recipe I used.

Soft Pretzels (makes 18 pretzels)

  •  1 Tbsp yeast 
  •  1 1/2 c Warm water 
  •  2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  •  1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour 
  •  3 Tbsp canola oil 
  •  1 1/2 Tbsp Honey 
  •  6 Tbsp baking soda; in 6 cups water 
  •  pretzel salt; optional 

In a stand mixer, combine yeast, warm water, flours, oil, and honey. Using a dough hook, mix for about 5 minutes until you have a soft, smooth dough.

Place dough in a greased bowl; turn over to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double (about 1 hour).

When the dough is almost done rising, line two baking trays with parchment paper. Lightly oil/grease the paper. Set trays aside.

When the dough has doubled, punch down dough, turn out onto a floured board,and divide into 18 pieces. Then roll each piece into a smooth rope about 12-18 inches long (depending on how thick you like them), and twist into a pretzel shape. Place pretzels slightly apart on baking sheets. Let rise, uncovered,until puffy (about 25 minutes).

Meanwhile, in a 3-quart stainless steel or enameled pan (not aluminum), bring soda water to a boil; adjust water to keep water boiling gently. With a slotted spatula, lower 1 pretzel at a time into pan. Let simmer for 10 seconds on each side, then lift from water, drain briefly on spatula, and return to baking sheet. Let dry briefly, then sprinkle with coarse salt if desired. Let stand uncovered until all have simmered.

Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to racks; serve warm with butter or mustard.

We always seem to run out of pretzels immediately, but if you can't eat all of yours right away, you can cool them completely, wrap airtight, and freeze. To reheat, place frozen pretzel on ungreased baking sheets and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until hot.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Why I Like Being the Mother of Boys

A few days ago, my younger son announced, "When I grow up, I'm going to have 3 kids. I'm going to have 2 girls and a boy. If I have 2 boys and a girl, I'm screwed."

I don't particularly approve of his word choice, but I had to laugh.

My son has perceived a truth, though. There is something different about boys. I don't mean that boys and girls can't enjoy the same activities. My boys love decorating cookies, and my girl is showing every sign of becoming a daredevil. However, there is something just fundamentally different about the manner in which the boys approach life. This became very clear to me last winter during a ski club meeting. My friend's two daughters were sitting quietly on a bench, efficiently donning their ski equipment, chit chatting about their favorite stuff. Meanwhile, my boys were yelling, "Hey, I have my helmet on -- Hit me in the head!" "Ok, now you hit me in the head!" "Ha, ha! Your turn! Hit me in the head!" "Harder!" The girls just stared at them like they were from Mars.

Even though boys act physically wilder and rougher than girls, there is something that is also sweeter and more tender about them, too. Boys aren't emotionally manipulative. They might be more than happy to fight something out, but they're direct and honest. None of the cattiness or Machiavellian antics that I've watched girls -- even nice girls -- pull.

I think my favorite part of having boys is seeing the way they take care of me. When my older son was about 7, we were playing frisbee, and it kept going into the woods where there were lots of raspberry canes. After seeing me get tangled up in the thorns, my son said, "Oh, no, mom, I'll get it. I don't want you to get scratched!" It was such a sweet gesture from a small boy, but they're protective like that. They're always trying to save me from dangers like brambles and bugs and heights. In their efforts to shield me, I see the budding of men who will watch over their wives and children. It makes me happy and proud.
It's not that I don't love and enjoy my daughter. She's special for different reasons. However, for the record, I just wanted to say that having 2 boys and a girl is not the end of the world. Far from feeling "screwed," I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, September 28, 2012

DIY Jewelry Rack

My necklaces have been getting tangled up in my jewelry box, which quite frankly bugs me. For some time now, I've been searching Pinterest for ideas to hang and organize them. While I've found some very pretty ideas, none of them seem to be able to accommodate the volume of jewelry I have. Then a couple of weeks ago, my mother-in-law suggested a brilliant idea.

For less than $10, I purchased a cheap thread rack at Walmart, which I spray-painted ivory. Being somewhat lazy, I didn't bother using screws and anchors to hang it. I just used those Command Velcro strips for hanging pictures. Easy peasy.

Spray painted thread rack.
Too bad I didn't notice the missing dowel before I painted it.
No biggie. I can fix that with dowels I already have,
though I doubt anyone will notice once the necklaces are on it.

Voila! Finished jewelry organizer!

I still have a number of necklaces left to hang, but I think
this will easily accommodate them all!

Kitchen Product Review: Plastic Sushi Mat

I love sushi. I do not love bamboo sushi mats.

Yes, there is something lovely about the color and feel of a bamboo mat, and they work so beautifully at making nice tight rolls. However, they just don't clean up very well. Of course, part of the problem is that my kids like to use seasoned laver (instead of sushi laver), which has oil on it. Naturally, some of that oil gets transferred to the mat. But I can't throw the mats in the dishwasher, and if I wash them by hand, they absorb dish soap until sushi eventually starts tasting like Palmolive.If I just give it a rinse and wipe, it starts to build up a nasty sticky residue, but I'm too lazy to put a piece of plastic wrap on them every time I pull out at mat.

Once, I was so disgusted with a sushi mat that I drowned it in boiling water to see if that would get it really clean. What a disaster! I think it must have had some kind of waxy coating because a filmy mess started floating to the top of my pot and... well, it was gross. So now that you have some history, you'll understand why I feel my latest find is so noteworthy.

This white one is available on Amazon.
I've also seen similar products in
other colors if you're looking for
something more fashion forward. :-)
A few weeks ago, I was shopping in a Vietnamese grocery store and found this plastic sushi mat (shown to the right). Reasonably priced at under $2, I figured it was worth trying out.

Pretty much what you see in the photo here is what you get. The entire sushi mat is made of plastic, which is both good and bad. The downside is that it's a little hard to roll up because the plastic is kind of stiff. Also, instead of being composed of round horizontal skewers like a bamboo mat, these horizontal pieces are flat. So from a tactile perspective, it's just not as nice for some reason.The completely awesome upside of it, though, is that I can toss it into the top rack of the dishwasher when I'm done. No mess. No fuss.

My final verdict? I'm not completely in love with this product. However, it is so easy to clean up that I think it's worth spending a little time squeezing and rolling the mat to see if I can make it more pliable. If you have an Asian grocery store near you (or if you feel like spending 5 bucks on Amazon), maybe you could try it and let me know what you think.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Let It Shine

Last week, my husband and I were driving through a rough neighborhood in Hartford. Looking at boarded up windows and run-down buildings, I couldn't help but think to myself that I'd be depressed living in an area like that.

Then I spotted a young woman standing on a street corner trying to coax cars into a car wash. I don't know how to describe her, but she was radiant. It wasn't just her bright yellow t-shirt. There was something about her whole personality that bounced and bubbled over. She exuded sunshine and joy. Watching her, I couldn't help but be happy, too.

She was a lesson to me. Even when it's dark and bleary, one can still be the light, be the source of joy that changes others.

This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine.
This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine.This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine.Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Homeward Bound

"Life's a voyage that's homeward bound." Herman Melville 

Welcoming gift from a neighbor
Well, we've finally done it. We're Nutmeggers now. Our closing was last Monday, and the movers loaded all our stuff into the house last Tuesday.

As we made the trip from the hotel to the new house, my kids asked, "Are we going home?"

"Yes, we are!" I tried to respond brightly, but I was slightly disconcerted to realize that I had no idea where "home" was.

We've been here a week, though, and I'm getting pretty good at navigating to the grocery store and a few other places. However, amid the clutter of boxes, packing papers, and suitcases, I'm still not really sure where home is. Our neighbors have been really lovely, though, and we're starting to meet some people, so I'm hopeful we'll find it soon.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Saying Goodbye

No matter how the appellation "Jersey Girl" makes me cringe, over the past 7 1/2 years, I guess that's sort of what I've become -- right down to the ubiquitous tracksuit uniform one sees up here.

7 1/2 years -- that's almost 1/6 of my life to date. 7 1/2 years -- that blows away the old record of 4 years in one spot. Nearly 17% of my time, my energies, my experiences have been applied or have occurred right here in this small, rural area in northwestern Jersey.

* * *

* * *

I remember when we moved here. My husband and I drove up late at night in separate cars, dividing the dogs and toddler between us. We traveled in pitch blackness. Not a streetlight, not a house light anywhere. It's probably a good thing we were driving separately, or we might have seriously considered turning around and going back to Philly. As it was, we both just sat in the car and wondered, "What the heck have we gotten ourselves into???" 

But the morning came, as it always does, and when I stepped outside of the hotel, the mountains and valleys and the crisp winter air took my breath away. 

* * *

* * *

Now as I drive along these lovely backroads that circle my home, I feel a slight pang in knowing that I'll soon miss the sight of them -- the mountains and fields, grazing cows, posturing wild turkeys, the stars and fireflies. These familiar, comforting sights and sounds.

* * *

* * *

Although I know that we're going to start something new and exciting in the new place, there is a part of me that wonders, "How will I leave this? What the heck am I thinking?"

* * *

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Celebrate Good Times

We're in the middle of moving to our new house, and my oldest child is turning 10. It seems like I was cradling him in my arms as a baby just yesterday. Where has the time gone?

Of course, I can't help but think of when I turned 10 myself. We had just moved from North Dakota to Guam (Wow! There's a stretch!) a couple of weeks before my birthday. We didn't really know anybody. We didn't even have a house yet, and were still living in a hotel. However, after church, my mom spontaneously invited everybody at the service to come over to the hotel (which had an outdoor pavilion) for a birthday party.

My mom and sister rushed off to get a cake before the guests arrived. My dad and I took off for McDonald's for the party grub. I will never forget the conversation that took place as we pulled up to the drive-through.
Attendant: May I take your order?
Dad: Yes, I'd like 50 hamburgers.
Attendant : 50 hamburgers? 
Dad: Hmmm, yeah, that might not be enough. Better make that 100 hamburgers.
Attendant (possibly looking for a hidden camera): You want 100 hamburgers?
Dad: Yes, please.
Attendant: 100 hamburgers?
Dad: That's right. I need 100 hamburgers.
Attendant: 100. Uh, yeah, that's going to take a while.
Dad: That's ok. (pause) Oh, and I need ketchup and mustard, too.
Decades later, this memory still makes me laugh outright. In fact, it's one of my kids' favorite stories, too.

I suppose if there is a lesson to be learned here, it's that it is always a good time to celebrate life, and other people -- even strangers -- are all too happy to cheer with you.

What's your favorite birthday memory? I'd love to hear it!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Stopping Only For Shoes

When my husband and I got hitched nearly 12 years ago, we were living in sunny Florida. Since then, we've moved several times -- on average, once every 3 years. I don't mind moving, but I have noticed a perverse logic at work in the choice of our destinations. While most people move to cheaper, sunnier locales, we consistently buck this trend and continue to choose places with increasingly more snow and higher costs of living.

So anyway, it appears that it is indeed time to pick up stakes once again. Two weeks ago, I announced to the boys that we were headed for Connecticut. They both cheered, and then the six-year-old scurried frantically to the door yelling, "Wait a minute! I have to put my shoes on!"

Laughing, I explained that it would still be another 6 weeks or so before we moved, but I was delighted by his instant willingness to get in the car and go.

I wish I were more like that when God tells me to do something. Instead I make lots of excuses as to why I can't get a move on just yet. Next time, when I hear His voice, I hope I'm the one yelling, "Wait! I gotta get my shoes!"

Monday, April 16, 2012

On Finding Fault

Everything was going fine at church yesterday until I switched seats to be nearer a friend. Then we sat down for the sermon, and the most foul stench assaulted my nose.

Surreptitiously, I looked around. No... I knew all these people. None of them could produce that odor. Then I looked around for a baby. After all, I was in the unofficial "baby section," so maybe there was a poopie diaper somewhere. But no. Not a one.

The smell, though -- it seemed so close. Eventually, I had a thought. Could it possibly be me?

Yep, it turned out that it was. A giant doggie-doo was mashed into the bottom of my shoe. Eeeeeeeewwww! Nasty!

Given the grossness and the humiliation of the situation, I didn't want to let this event go to waste. So after some reflection, I've come up with some life lessons:
  1. Prior to church, always take the sidewalk. Never walk across the grass.
  2. Before I decide other people are the problem and start slinging accusations, I should probably take a good look at myself.
Given the subject matter of today's post, I figured that we could probably forego an illustrative photo. However, for your listening pleasure, here is Eric Clapton, career legend, with today's theme song. Only imagine you could be singing this to me, instead of the other way around.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Rice Noodles in Coconut Milk

Thought I'd share a new recipe that I tried out. It sounds like it would be a lot of work, but it really isn't. If you organize the various parts of this recipe, it takes under half an hour to make. Plus, it's sooooo worth the effort.

nom! nom! nom!

  • 8 oz rice vermicelli 
  • 1 16-oz block of firm or extra-firm tofu
  • 1 small onion, finely minced or grated
  • 16 black peppercorns
  • cayenne pepper or red chili peppers (to taste)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup coconut cream or milk (Not the kind you get in the soymilk area. Go to the Asian food aisle in your grocery store and get coconut milk or cream. Make sure it doesn't have added sugar.)
  • 2 tsp palm sugar (if you don't have that, regular white sugar works just fine)
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 4 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 1/2 cups bean sprouts
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced
  • Optional garnish: cilantro or chopped basil

Put the rice vermicelli in a bowl and cover with hot or boiling water. Let soak for 20 minutes.

Drain the tofu and cut it into 8 slices. Pat the slices dry with a clean towel. Cook the tofu using one of the following methods:
  • Lightly spray a baking sheet with oil. Place the slices on the sheet and lightly spray the slices. Broil until golden brown. Flip the slices over and continue broiling until the other side is golden brown.
  • Pan fry them, flipping to make sure both sides are golden brown.
  • Deep fry them. (I have a Southeast Asian friend who does this. This is by far and away the tastiest method of cooking, but I can't help cringing a little when I see the tofu going into a deep fryer.)
After cooking the tofu, let it cool enough to handle. Then cut each slice in half lengthwise, and then cut all the slices into thin, little squares.

In a mortar, combine the onion, peppercorns, cayenne, and salt. Pound it to a paste and set it aside.

Heat a large saute pan. When it's hot, add the coconut cream, water, sugar, chili powder, and soy sauce. let it heat up. Next add the paste from the mortar and stir to blend. Strain the noodles and add them to the sauce. Cook until they are al dente. (You'll see them starting to turn a little translucent.) Add the tofu, beansprouts, and scallion. Stir and let it cook until the beansprouts are crisp but tender.Turn onto a serving dish. Garnish with cilantro or basil if desired.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Black Rice Noodles

Unfortunately, this photo doesn't do justice
to just how lovely they look.
I found these black rice noodles at the Korean store, and I couldn't resist buying them. As the name indicates, they're made from black rice, and they have that same beautiful rich, deep, dark color. They were just begging me to take them home.

I've never made or even eaten black rice noodles before, so I just made up my own recipe. Basically, I just boiled the noodles, drained them, rinsed them with cold water, and set them aside.

Next, I steam-fried various veggies I had on hand in white wine until they were tender-crisp. Then I added a sauce to the veggies. If you have a stir-fry sauce you like, you could use that. Or you can make your own. For the sauce, I mixed:

  • Water (You could substitute broth)
  • Soy sauce
  • Mirin (Rice cooking wine, optional)
  • Minced garlic & ginger
  • Raw evaporated cane juice (Any sweetener you like is fine)
  • Sesame oil (just a teeny-weenie-tiny bit for flavor since I'm trying cook oil-free. However, the Asian side of me is having a hard time giving up sesame oil)
  • Cornstarch (This thickens the sauce)
  • Gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste. I added less than teaspoon -- just for a little zip. You could use a little cayenne or just leave it out entirely)

Once the sauce came to a boil and cleared, I added the noodles and mixed it all together. You could garnish with chopped scallion or basil or cilantro.

As you can see, once the noodles cook up, their color lightens considerably, but they are still rather exotic looking. Unlike the flat Southeast Asian rice noodles that become super soft when heated, these noodles were a bit chewy, which I like. They also have a sort of nutty flavor -- they kind of reminded of me of wild rice, even though that's not really a rice.

Overall, I really liked these noodles. I have a couple bundles left, so noodle soup may be on the menu tonight. Then it will be back to the store for some more!

Have you ever made/eaten black rice noodles? What's your favorite way to cook them?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Stars by Night

Several years ago, I found an amazing site called It's full of "riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world." I'm so pleased that TED now has an iPhone/iPod app and that some of the talks are even available on Netflix!

Today, I watched a TED talk called John Lloyd Inventories the Invisible. John Lloyd is a British comedy writer, TV director and producer. (BTW, he is responsible for producing all four seasons of Blackadder, one of my all-time favorite shows.) I highly recommend checking out his talk; however, here are two quotes that really intrigued me.
"Galaxies? Hundred billion of them estimated in the universe. A hundred billion! How many of them can we see? Five. Five out of the hundred billion we can see with the naked eye. And one of them's quite difficult to see unless you've got very good eyesight."
"The stars by day. I always think that's fascinating. The universe disappears. The more light there is, the less you can see."
I think I was drawn to these words because they express a lot of what I've been feeling the lately.

Two months ago, I would've said that my life was pretty clear. We were following a nice, comfortable routine. I knew what I'd be doing every day of the week. Our schedule was kind of dull, but it was familiar, predictable, manageable. However, in the last few weeks, everything has been turned topsy-turvy. I've gone from seeing clearly to being in the dark.

Last month my husband interviewed for a job in another state. Should he take it, we would have to move. The company has already indicated that an offer is coming, but because they are onboarding close to a hundred people, they're backlogged. As a result, we will probably have to wait a couple more weeks to see what it is.

We don't even know whether we'll take the offer when it finally does come. In the meantime, though, everything has become hazy and uncertain. This lack of clarity has affected everything from the way I approach the house, the children's schooling, the activities I commit to, even (unfortunately) at times my temper toward my husband.

While the uncertainty has a discombobulating effect, I feel it's also given me a glimpse into a bigger universe. Who knows? We may decline the offer in the end, but right now, we're enjoying daydreaming about something new and different. It's kind of exciting to live not in the now, but in the potential. Once we decide one way or another, all that -- the options, the opportunities -- will dim out one by one. But for the moment, here in the dark, there are still choices and possibilities. There are still stars to wish on.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There's Signs

Several years ago, on a sunny April day, I was digging in the flowerbeds, and I unearthed a number of dormant, burrowing-type bees. Honestly, they kind of freaked me out, so I just threw dirt back over them and went inside for a shower and lemonade.

My tree isn't blooming yet this year, 

but here is a photo of it from 
a couple
springs ago. Maybe this guy is
looking for honey?
A few weeks later, our cherry tree burst into flower, and (it seemed to me) the bees sprang out of their winter garden beds on the same day and started buzzing about the tree. I was amazed and impressed at how nature worked it out so that the events would coincide so beautifully. Every year since that, I've looked forward to watching the phenomenon occur on a regular cycle.

Last week, I was delighted to discover that there is actually a branch of science called phenology that looks for just these sorts of phenomena. It comes from the Greek root "phaino," meaning "to show" or "to appear." Literally, it is the study of things that appear, the study of signs. It's focused on recurring plant and animal life stages (like budding, leafing, flowering, fruiting, the emergence of insects, and migration) and the timing of these stages with relationship to weather and climate.

Applied practically, phenology can help you know when to start weeding, planting, pruning, fighting insects, look for migrating birds or fish. One terrific example of a phenological observation/tip comes from Felder Rushing, a former horticulturist from Jackson, Mississippi. He puts it this way: "When fishermen are sitting on the riverbank instead of sitting on their bait buckets, the soil is warm enough to plant."

The table below provides some more advice from the University of Wisconsin Extension:

Do this... When...
Plant peasForsythia blooms
Plant potatoesThe first dandelion blooms
Plant beets, carrots, cole crops, lettuce and spinach Lilac is in first leaf
Plant bean, cucumber, and squash seeds Lilac is in full bloom
Plant tomatoes Lily-of-the-valley plants are in full bloom
Transplant eggplant, melons, and peppers Irises bloom

Additionally, indicator plants like saucer magnolia, lilac, chicory, and Canada thistle can tell gardeners when certain garden pests will be active. Gardeners who know how to read the signs can take steps to protect their plants and fruit.

There is even a national network comprised of various agencies, educational and scientific organizations, as well as backyard observers, dedicated to collecting phenological data.

In the past, I've always just looked at the color-coded charts on the back of seed packages to determine when something should be planted. However, spring seems to have arrived at a different time every year for at least the past 5 or 6 years. The thought of learning to read nature's signs is very appealing to me. I like the idea of becoming more in-tune with my environment; I like the idea of learning to not just look, but to see.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

I'm Ba-a-a-a-a-a-ck!

My husband has been after me for months to write a post, but the truth is that I haven't felt up to it until now.

When I started this blog, I envisioned it as my "happy place" -- no kvetching or whining or dumping on the unsuspecting reader allowed. Most of this winter, though, I've had the yucks -- not to be confused with yuks.

When I wasn't throwing myself the bitterest of self-pity parties, I was too exhausted from staying up all night rocking babies and cleaning up lots of puke, diarrhea, and snot for months on end.

But spring has sprung, and I can't help but feel better. Healthwise, the kids all seem to be turning a corner, too, (knock on wood).

Life is never perfect, of course, but at least my happy place is happy again.

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