Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Day 30: A Childlike Christmas

It's nice that my last day of daily blogging coincides with the first day of Pom Pom's A Childlike Christmas Blog Party. Today and every Wednesday in Advent, a whole lot of folks will be blogging on our notions of what makes for a childlike Christmas and how we ourselves can be a little more childlike about the season.

When proposing this idea for a blog-along, Pom Pom asked, "Do you want a childlike Christmas?" Which leads one to ask, what is a childlike Christmas? We're speaking of "childlike" in the most positive way here, as opposed to the way I sometimes think of it, which is to say muleheaded, unreasonable, boorish and irritating.

What are children good at? Well, they're good at believing, for one thing. I believed in Santa Claus so much that I kept on believing him even after my mother told me he didn't exist. I was a champion believer, as most respectable children are.

Children are good at looking at the stars and wondering who else is looking at them at the very same time. They are good at wishing on stars, and they are good at thinking that stars are winking at them personally.

Children are good at thinking that plain, even ugly things are beautiful. They will love the bejeebers out of a stuffed animal that has lost its eyes, its nose, and half of one ear. They will whisper to it, "Hey, gorgeous" while they feed it pretend dog biscuits.

Children are often astonished by very mundane things on a daily basis. Ants, for instance, and shaving cream. They are astonished by sticks, and leaves that are half red and half brown. They are frequently astonished by interesting gravel.

Now, I'm not sure I'm up to being astonished all the time. I don't have the energy that a child has, and I think astonishment calls for a good deal of energy. But I like the idea of spending the Christmas season astonished at least once a day, preferably by something small and rather quotidian.

So that would be a childlike Christmas for me, a Christmas where I take time to look around in wonder and remember to be delighted.


Thank you, my dears, for putting up with my on a daily basis this past month. I've had fun, but I think I'm ready for a bit of a rest. Just for a few days, to collect my thoughts. Now, off to read all my fellow Childlike Christmas bloggers!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Day 29: Game Day

Will has made up his own card game, complete with cards he drew himself. The game very much resembles Stratego, except that unlike Stratego, I understand it. In fact, I believe it was my inability to comprehend the rules of Stratego that forced Will to create a game I'm actually able to play.

Anyway, he made up the game yesterday afternoon, and we've been playing it nonstop ever since.

I love that Will makes up his own games. I love that 78% of the rules for his game make perfect sense, and the 22% of the rules that don't make sense to me don't make sense to anyone else, either, including Will. I love the fact that Will's a self-starter, an imaginative thinker, a creative human being.

And that is why I keep playing the game. It is tempting to burst into flames instead. It's tempting to melt into a puddle of dust. But I don't. I say, "Yes, sure, I'd love to play again." Because I want him to keep making up games and drawing cards and coming up with rules that make sense 78% of the time.

And, okay, it's the only game I can beat anyone in this house at. There's that, too.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Day 28: Inarticulate Fish of the Heart

I've been listening to Van Morrison in the car lately. If you're in the mood to feel spiritual or vaguely enlightened, Van's your man. Not so much the "Brown-Eyed Girl" Van as the "Astral Weeks" Van. In fact, "Astral Weeks" was one of the cds I brought into the delivery room with me when Jack was born. I liked very much the thought of my newborn child coming into the world on the strains of "Cypress Avenue" or "Sweet Thing."

Today I was listening to a somewhat more recently minted Van, and as we pulled into the driveway, Jack leaned forward and asked, "Is he singing 'inarticulate fish of the heart?' Because if he is, I don't get it."

I explained to Jack that no, Van was singing "inarticulate speech of the heart," not "inarticulate fish of the heart." But you know what? I very much like the idea of an inarticulate fish of the heart. I find it filled with all sorts of metaphorical possibilities, not to mention a boatload of charm.

Is there is an inarticulate fish in your heart? What do you suppose he'd say if he could only articulate it? Would he say something about love, how he always knows when your beloved has walked into the room, the way your heart pounds so loud he can't hear a thing?

I checked YouTube for a video of Van Morrison singing "Inarticulate Speech of the Heart;" unfortunately I couldn't find a good version. But if you wanted to hear Van the Man sing that most beautiful song "Cypress Avenue," you sure could. Oh, my goodness, it will do your soul good. Yeah, my tongue gets tied every time I try to speak, Van sings, and the inarticulate fish of my heart nods his head, because he knows exactly what Van means.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day 27: Advent Begins

We lit the first candle in the Advent wreath tonight, and I read a brief passage from a book about what the Advent wreath symbolizes.

And then the Man, who is a Southern Baptist down to his toes, said, "You boys should know that there are no Advent wreathes in the Bible."

I was very good and refrained from mentioning that there are no Christmas trees or Santa Clauses in the Bible, either, and that Jesus never had to get up on Sunday morning, put on a nice shirt, and go to church.

The boys will figure all that out soon enough.

I brought up my Advent plan in Sunday school this morning. The class I'm taking is on Food and Faith, and something about asceticism came up. I said I was going to try to eat simply in order to enjoy the Christmas feast later, and someone pointed out that once upon time Advent practices more closely mirrored Lenten practices, and people did indeed fast as a way of preparing for Christ.

We'll see if I stick to it. I often have grand Advent schemes. I have lots of Advent books with daily readings, and I'm pretty good about reading them for the first two weeks. And then the Christmas craziness kicks in, and I'm lucky to get my teeth brushed and remember to pick up the children for school.

Jack asked if he could skip youth group tonight, so he could be there to light the Advent candles before dinner. This could have been a scam, and might well have been a scam, except Jack loves Christmas more than any child on earth (he's almost thirteen, and he still counts down the days, starting November 25th--"Only one month until Christmas!"), and he likes traditions and rules and ceremonies. So we let him skip youth group. After all, there is no youth group in the Bible.

Some folks in our neighborhood already have Christmas decorations up. In the past, pre-December Christmas decorations made me grouchy and grumpy and had me writing letters to the editor, at least in my head. But this year I've decided to let it go. I won't resist. If people want to celebrate Christmas year-round, let them. None of my beeswax.

There are bees in the Bible, by the way. You could look it up.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Day 26: Almost Advent

Advent begins tomorrow! Look for the light!

I've just posed this question to Tracy over at Beyond My Picket Fence, but I'll bring it up here as well. I know a number of you who read this blog live outside of the U.S., but you have gamely put up with a multitude of Thanksgiving postings from your U.S. blogger friends these past few days. So now it's your turn: What holiday do you celebrate that's particular to your home country that you think we here in America would love every bit as you do?

I know that when my friend Kathryn, originally of Belfast, Northern Ireland, lived next door, we had a bang-up time celebrating Boxing Day with her family (mostly because the celebration included bangers!). Should Americans adopt a rigorous Boxing Day observance?

So as not to leave my American friends out, if there's a foreign holiday you think we should adopt, speak up now. Or maybe your family has its own particular holiday that we all can observe? My family celebrates Travis the dog's birthday on February 2nd of every year, and though mostly it consists of getting Travis special dog food, it's lots of fun. So you might consider celebrating Travis's birthday, too.

I've been thinking about feasts as we approach the Advent season. One of the things I want to do in the days leading up to Christmas is to eat simply in order to truly enjoy the Christmas feast when the time comes. I won't fast--fasting is more of Lenten project--but I do plan on eating lightly as a kind of discipline. A preparation of sorts. I fear that because of my love of food and my tendency to eat in response to any sort of emotional trigger, every day is a feast day for me. So I want to be intentional about my eating as we move toward Christmas. I don't want to start the party too early, before the guest of honor arrives.

I will keep you posted on my progress. More anon!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Day 25: The Day After

I tried not to do too much today. It was hard, because I have such a long list of things to do. And okay, I did clean one of the upstairs bathrooms--in fact, it's the one we're all using right now, so it was pretty bad. But I also spent time quilting a quilt and walking the dog--oh, and I slept in.

It's hard to take it easy. The fact is, the only time I don't have any chores to do is when we're on vacation--or at least when we're on vacation and staying in a place without a kitchen. If there's a kitchen, then most likely I'm cooking. I don't mind, actually. Fixing dinner is one of the few times during the day when I have time to think.

I didn't go shopping today at all. My friend Danielle and her best pal Susan are Black Friday shoppers, so I get to live vicariously through them. I honor their fortitude and courage. I envy them getting big chunks of Christmas shopping before December 1st. But I can barely make myself shop on the best, least stressful shopping days. The biggest one of the year? I believe I'll stay home and scrape toothpaste out of the sink, thank you very much.

I have five days of daily blogging left. You know, it's sort of been fun, and it will be interesting to see how it affects my blogging when the challenge is over. Mostly I think it's given you some insight to how dull my daily life is. Roast beets! Bathroom cleaning! Whooeee.

Sad to say, my children have been fairly well behaved during the duration, although Jack seems to think that sleeping fully clothed is a fine idea, even when I instruct him in a very direct manner to put on some jams. I don't know if it's laziness, rebellion or that he just forgets. What is it about twelve-year-old boys? Having never been one, I really have no idea.

Okay, time to get Will to bed. He's refusing to go. If he has a really interesting fit, I'll write about it tomorrow. See you then!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Day 24: Thanksgiving, Done

I'm very sleepy as I write this, and I don't think I'll write much. It's almost 10 p.m. The turkey has been roasted and et, the pumpkin pie has been thoroughly devoured. We watched "A Christmas Story" after dinner, an annual family tradition, and then played "Blurt." Will and I won. Now we are listening to music, and Will and the Man are playing the silliest round of slap hands I've ever witnessed. Jack is looking on, amused, as though he can't believe anyone he shares DNA with would be so goofy.

And tomorrow's Friday. It's like a whole free day to do nothing or everything in. I think I'll take a walk and quilt a quilt. Maybe play some more Blurt. And write here, of course, at length, to make up for this short and sweet post. See you then!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Day 23: Still Hanging In There!

Earlier today, I thought I felt the early signs of paralysis coming on--the droopy eyelids, the slurred speech--but it turns out that's just me waking up in the morning. Now I really did feel like the botulism was setting in around lunchtime, but it passed. If I'm still alive by 5 a.m. Thursday morning E.S.T., I think we can safely say I successfully canned a jar of spaghetti sauce without killing myself or my loved ones.

I have my list of Thanksgiving prep on the fridge: Turkey breast (our oven is too small for a whole bird--have I mentioned how much I hate my oven?), stuffing, cornbread dressing (I made the cornbread yesterday, and it's sitting on the counter getting stale, and yes, I will proudly own up to the fact that it's Jiffy cornbread, forty-five cents a box), fruit salad (wonderful concoction, my mother's recipe, made with pineapple, maraschino cherries, tiny marshmallows, and whipped cream), LaSeur baby peas, mashed potatoes, cranberry jelly (from the can, ridges in tact), pumpkin pie and apple pie. Jack is in charge of the apple pie; Will and I will bake pumpkin pie in the morning.

We're staying home for Thanksgiving, did I mention that? I'm sorry to miss out on any extended family fun, but I'm glad not to have to travel. I like being home, and this will be our first Thanksgiving at home since Will was born nine years ago.

So what are you thankful for? I'm thankful for my good husband, my fine children, and my silly dog. I'm thankful to live in such a beautiful place. I'm thankful for my church, my health, and my car that starts every morning. And I'm thankful for you. I look forward to the day when we're all gathered together. Won't that be something?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 22: So Far, We're All Still Alive

Tonight, we had spaghetti with sauce I canned last summer. The sauce has been sitting in my pantry since July, daring me to open it. Whatcha so afraid of, it's been whispering when I walk past. Think I've got botulism spores in here? Yes, I tell it. That's exactly what I think.

Well, it takes botulism symptoms eleven to twenty-four hours to manifest. I'll be waiting for my eyelids to droop and the sides of my face to feel tight. Oh, and to drop on the floor dead. That, too. If you never hear from me again, you know what happened.

The good news is the jar was tightly sealed--I had to use a butter knife to pry the lid off--and the sauce wasn't at all discolored or weird. To be on the safe side, I boiled it for ten minutes (reducing it quite a bit in the process), just to kill any bad stuff that might be in it. Then I tasted it and waited to see if I felt funny. And sure enough, my eyes started twitching and I could feel my muscles go slack and simultaneously get rigid. Have I ever mentioned I'm very suggestible? If you tell me the flu is going around, I immediately feel like I've got the flu. If you mention you've been down with Hepatitus A, my liver starts to hurt. It's just how I am.

So far, so good. And speaking of good, the sauce was mighty tasty! I want to grow twice as many tomatoes next summer, and make twice as much sauce. I've still got a lot of frozen tomatoes in my freezer, and some frozen sauce, but I've only got one jar left. If I survive tonight, who knows? Maybe we'll open it tomorrow. Live dangerously, I always say.

(ETA: For a fun post on food memories, go check out what Tracy recalls from her Australian girlhood on Beyond My Picket Fence.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Day 21: Day 21

It seems I have been blogging now for twenty-one days straight. I'm getting dizzy. As I sit down to write tonight, I don't have any particular subject in mind. As with most days, I'm just hoping something comes to me.

So after posting about sleepovers the other day, and getting so many wonderful responses (to see a nicely expanded response, go over to Betty the Wood Fairy's site and read her post), I thought someone should put together a collection of essays about sleepover memories, the good, the bad and the ugly. That idea reminded me of another idea I had not too long ago for a collection of essays--babysitting memories.

Did you babysit? I started babysitting for our next door neighbors when I was in fifth or sixth grade. What amazes me now is how much responsibility people were willing to give me at a very young age. It wasn't unusual for me in eighth and ninth grade to spend the night or even a weekend babysitting while the parents went out of town. This was when we lived on a small Army post in Germany. I suppose it was a safe place, because I often babysat until midnight, got paid, and then walked home by myself. Yikes!

I wasn't the world's greatest babysitter. Mostly I was in it for the cash and the snacks. I didn't particularly like playing with children, though I was always willing to sit down to draw, color, do puzzles and read aloud (I was the same with my own children, by the way). I snooped around, looked for salacious reading materials, and talked on the phone. Nobody ever got hurt on my watch, but plenty of children got vaguely neglected.

After writing about vegetables yesterday, I came up with another subject for yet another anthology of essays I'd entitle What My Mother Made for Dinner. My mother made creamed chip beef on toast; did yours? In the 1970s she made Hamburger Helper casseroles, which we all loved, especially when they were "pizza" flavored. The funny thing is, she was a good cook. When she cooked for company, watch out! She could make Beef Wellington and cheese puffs to die for. She made a mean French onion soup.

But in general, my mom tended to cook the foods of the day. Lots of casseroles, lots of meatloaf. It wasn't unusual to have hot dogs for dinner. We never had pasta, because no one outside of New York City had pasta, or if they did, it was considered weird.

On Sunday nights we had steak, french fries, and french cut string beans. The french fries were frozen (almost always crinkle cut), but my mom deep-fried them, and they were delicious. Sometimes she deep fried onion rings, too.

Here's the interesting thing: My mother's father was a gourmet cook. This was a man before his time. He lived in Louisville, KY, where he was an architect. He knew about wine, he knew about cheese, and once when he came to visit he made us our first homemade pizza. Before that, the closest thing we got to homemade pizza came out of a little Chef Boyardee box that included a small can of tomato sauce and some sort of dried cheese. My grandfather's pizza was a revelation.

I wonder what meals my boys will look back at and giggle about. I cook mostly from scratch, so there'll be no Hamburger Helper to mock. But I'm sure they'll find something to shake their heads over. "Remember how she made us eat whole wheat pasta?" "Yeah, man, what was she thinking about?"

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Day 20: Roast Beets, Anyone?

My latest culinary deal is roasting vegetables. Until recently, I only roasted potatoes, which I only started doing correctly after my friend Kathryn told me that to get really good roasted potatoes, I needed to boil them first, to soften them up. Now I find the trick is not boiling them too long; otherwise, you get roasted potato crumbs, which are still delicious but trickier to get from your plate to your mouth.

Then a few weeks ago, I stumbled across a recipe for roasted broccoli, and I thought I'd give it a go. Well, my dears, it turns out that roasted broccoli is divine, as is roasted cauliflower and roasted red onion. Roasted vegetables taste so good, I don't see how they can be good for you. In fact, I got so suspicious the other day, I googled "nutritional aspects of roasted vegetables," expecting to learn that roasting vegetables transforms them into the nutritional equivalent of a chocolate sundae. What I found instead is that not only are roasted vegetables as good for you as raw vegetables, sometimes they're even better.

I was at the store the other day and went a little crazy. I bought orange beets and a rutabega and a turnip, all for the roasting. When I got home, I googled "roasted beets recipes" and found one for carmelized beets. Now how good does that sound? I'm going to try it, and I'll let you know how it turns out.

By the way, beets were yet another vegetable we didn't eat growing up (I'm telling you, all we had was frozen peas and carrots, vegetable-wise; they were dark times there in the suburban 1970s). And my first experience with beets was not good. The Man and I attended a dinner party where the guest of honor made a beet salad. The beets were beautiful, but there was some thing about the texture that made me want to spit them out. However, you do not spit out the guest of honor's beets, so I ate as many as I could force down and then tried the old trick of cutting the rest into very small pieces and then hiding the pieces under a roll.

It wasn't until a few years ago, when my friend Amy shared with me a marvelous beet salad she'd made that I realized beets could be my friends. And it wasn't until yesterday, when I saw those pretty orange beets at the grocery store, when it occurred to me that maybe I should take some home with me and roast them.

Have you discovered new ways of cooking old favorites? What veggies did you hate growing up that you love now? Oh, I just remembered! Every once in awhile my mom served canned asparagus, and boy did I hate that. But now? Well, I still don't eat canned asparagus, but baby asparagus in the spring? To die for!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Day 19: Today's Soup

Sweet Potato-Chorizo Sausage. And man, is it good. It's a pretty simple and straight-forward soup, though you can throw in a little spinach to jazz it up, which I did. My only regret? I forgot that we have spinach growing in the backyard and used some from the store. Arrrgghh!


The sleepover ended well, though there was a rough patch around 8:30 this morning, when Ethan thought Will should have let him win at a game they were playing, since it was a game Ethan had never played before. Will disagreed. Ethan insisted. Etc.

Now, personally, I think it would have been nice if Will had let Ethan win a game or two, Will being the host and all. On the other hand, Ethan is almost nine, and that may be a little old to expect other people to let you win the way you might have when you were five.

But it occurred to me that Ethan has a little sister, and it might be the rule in his family that you let the underdog win one game out of three, so he expected that rule to apply here. I don't recall that we ever pushed Jack much to let Will win, though I'm sure we took him aside from time to time and asked him to cut his brother a little slack when things got too uneven.


I'm beginning my Thanksgiving preparations. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. All of the feasting but none of the stress of Christmas! Just don't let me forget to make cornbread on Tuesday; it needs to sit out and get stale for two days before I turn it into stuffing.

Okay, well, I just got back from the gym, and I seem to have made the mistake of sitting down, even though I very much need a shower. Okay. Yup, I'm going to get up. Any minute here. Getting up now. Here I go. Just one more minute ...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Day 18: Sleepover

Will's friend Ethan is spending the night tonight. I picked up both boys after school, and they've been playing nonstop ever since (it's 8 p.m. now), with a brief break for pizza eating.

Having a sleepover guest in the house made me start thinking about how different families have different sleepover styles. We tend to take a hands-off approach when the boys have friends spend the night. Jack and his friends are marathon gamers, so they hole up in Jack's room with their computers and have at it. Will's buddies like to play--board games, sports, rolling around on the floor type frolicking--with an occasional movie or televised sports event thrown in. Either way, the Man and I usually show our faces from time to time, order pizzas, and enforce bedtimes. Otherwise, we leave them alone.

But I remember as a kid attending sleepovers that were really invitations to join someone else's family for awhile. You were asked to help set the table before dinner, you ate whatever the mom was cooking that night, and after dinner you might play a game of Monopoly with the whole clan. You didn't get to spend private time with your friend until bedtime, but somehow that private time was more special than if you'd gone off on your own all evening. You'd earned it.

When I was a young adult in college, I spent several minor breaks and holidays at friends' houses (I went to college in North Carolina, and my parents lived in Texas, much too far away to drive for only a few days), and that's when I was most involved with other people's families. Parents would sit down to have serious conversations with you about your future plans (for some reason, this was much less irritating than when your own parents wanted to have those conversations with you), and after dinner you might go out to a bar or a club with your friends' siblings. For a few short days you felt intimately connected with these families, witnessed their dramas, did their dishes (I had a reputation as a good house guest, in case you were wondering), walked their dogs.

The big deal about sleepovers when I was a kid was how different other people's houses smelled, how foreign other families' habits were. As I got older, the exciting thing about staying at friends' houses was seeing how people who seemed outwardly a lot like me could have very different ways from my own. Other families' habits seemed exotic, thrilling. My father turned on easy listening radio first thing in the morning; what an eye-opener to stay with a family whose father turned on Mozart.

I hope Ethan has a nice time tonight. I hope he doesn't think our house smells too weird. It's nice having him here. That's the flip side, as an adult. You have a kid spend the night, and all the sudden you're looking at your life through his eyes. What does he see? A house where tidiness is not prized, surely, but also, hopefully, a place where people are creative and have hobbies and listen to music and like to laugh. I hope he sees that, too.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Day 17: Really, Is It Day 17 Already?

Jack stayed home from school today. He has a bug. My children never get defined illnesses; no flu or pneumonia for them, no ear infections, no Hepatitus. No, they just feel sick and have mild fevers and stomachaches.

Now, considering the possibilities, I can't complain. I'm glad that when they get sick, they usually only get a little bit sick. However, their vague illnesses do make it hard to decide whether or not they should go to school. It doesn't help that their regular temperatures tend to run low (mine, too), so it's almost impossible to tell when someone around here has a fever unless they're really burning up.

Jack's particularly hard to diagnose, as he is always pale and somewhat lethargic. Yesterday morning he came down saying he felt hot and nauseated, and he did indeed seem on the warm side and looked rather ill, though Jack always looks ill in the morning, like he could twelve or thirteen more hours of sleep.

The Man's rule of thumb for whether or not a child claiming illness should go to school is simple. Are you still alive? You are? Well, then, have a great day! Tell your Algebra teacher I say hi! The Man, it could be said, is a stoic. He's never, ever sick, or if he is sick, he refuses to admit it. He landed in the hospital once because he stoically believed what he had was just a little cold, when it fact it was a major sinus infection that made him an ideal candidate for several days of intravenously administered antibiotics.

I, on the other hand, have a reputation, for dramatically taking to my bed at first sniffle. So the Man doesn't consider me a good judge of a child's fitness for schooling. He thinks I'm wimpy mom, ready to send a child back to bed at the first, tiny sneeze. And okay, I sort of am. But I know a hot forehead when I feel one, and Jack's forehead was hot. Or at least sort of hot. No, it was definitely hot.

Really, I might have sent him to school, except for visions of angry moms dancing in my head. It's a week before Thanksgiving, and the last thing anyone wants is a sick kid in the backseat of the minivan as you head out to Grandmother's house. So yes, I let my vaguely sick child stay home. I did it for the mothers and the grandmothers. I did it for Thanksgiving turkeys and cornbread stuffing. I did it for America.

Mothers of Our Fine School, you can thank me later. Preferably with pie.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Day 16: More Food

The pinwheel quilt, with borders,

A couple of you commented on yesterday's post that you didn't know what collards were, and I realize now I'm not sure how to explain them. They are a green, leafy vegetable related to cabbage and broccoli. When you cook them, they wilt much like spinach, but when raw they're a lot tougher than spinach. They're popular here in the Southern states, in part because they're cheap and you can grow them in the cool months. They have the same effect on children as cooked spinach--lots of "Ewww, gross" and "Who would eat that?"


I was thinking this morning that my favorite times of year to cook are early winter and early summer. In early summer, you have lots of tender, young vegetables that make you happy to be alive (not to mention strawberries), and in early winter you get stew.

I love stew. I made a beef stew tonight that started--as all great recipes do (see yesterday's post for cross-reference)--with frying up some bacon.* Around step four, you pour in 12 ounces of amber beer, and the smell is divine. The great thing about stew is that it fills up the whole house with its wonderful aromas and makes you feel that life is worth living.


I did something totally out of the ordinary for lunch today. No one in my family but me likes Indian food, so I never make it. But the other day I was going through the humongous pile of recipes I've pulled out of magazines but never actually tried and stumbled across a recipe for chicken thighs in a curried yogurt sauce made in a slow cooker. So this morning, I chopped up onions and garlic, mixed them with some tomato paste, cumin and curry powder, threw in some chicken and cooked it on high for four hours. When the chicken was done, it fell of the bone in that wonderful way chicken does. I stirred half a cup of Greek yogurt into the tomato paste mixture, and wah-lah! Lunch. Wonderful, and no one to complain about the curry smell. Even better, there's enough for at least one more lunch, maybe two.

Well, I better go cook some more bacon; it'll be breakfast before you know it.

*I thought Pom Pom made an astute comment yesterday about bacon, how it makes the house smell marvelous in the morning, but as the smell weakens over time it's much less pleasing. This underlines the importance of cooking bacon at every meal, so that the smell always stays fresh and at its bacon-y best.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Day 15: Basketball & Collard Greens

Will's first basketball practice is tonight. You know how excited he is? He came home and immediately got to work on his homework. Practice is at 7:30, and he wants to be focused and not worrying about some stupid spelling test, thank you very much.

As I write, I have collards cooking on the stove. I didn't grow up eating greens, did you? We mostly had medleys of frozen mixed vegetables, the favorite being peas, tiny cubed carrot bits and corn. Oh, wasn't that a treat! My mom also enjoyed serving up a nice tasty dish of French green beans, with almonds when she was feeling fancy. I don't believe fresh broccoli had been invented in the 1970s.

We're growing collards in our garden. They are beautiful, sturdy plants that should last through our mild winter. To cook them, first you fry up some bacon. That's always the sign of a good recipe, when you start with bacon. Then you saute onions in the bacon grease--another good sign--add some chicken stock and peeled garlic, and then your chopped up collards.

Cook 'em for two hours--as I said, they're sturdy little suckers--and what you end up with is a symphony of flavors. Oh, my goodness, I forgot to mention the ham hock; you'll need to throw one of those in, too. This being the South, you can pick up a package at any grocery store, whether it's a bargain basement sort of joint or a high falutin' gourmet place.

Do the boys eat this delicacy? Of course they don't. But you know what that means? More for me and the Man. We don't mind a bit.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Day 14: Communications

Well, our phone lines are down and now Earthlink is down, so no phone calls or email for me. Actually, I do have my cell phone, and I guess now I'll finally be forced to use it. But no matter what, you can't make me text.

More funny Jack news: He went to the dentist today and has no cavities and his plaque score is down. More disappointment! How are we going to get this boy to floss if he's not getting cavities and his plaque score has dropped by two? (Does your dentist score plaque? This is new to us, as we are going to a new dentist these days--at least the boys are--and I don't know how I feel about it. On the one hand, it gives the boys something to strive for--get a 2 or less and you get a prize--on the other hand, it's one more thing for me to potentially feel badly about, as a poor plaque score surely reflects badly on the mother, don't you think?).

In any event, like Jack's report card, this good dental report has left me at a loss. Where are the grounds to nag? Nowhere that I can see.

Oh, really, it's all good news, isn't it? We had a conference with Jack's adviser, Miz E, last week (a regularly scheduled event at Our Fine Middle School), and she was very funny and kind about Jack. As a student at OFMS, you meet with your advisory group first thing in the morning--it's like home room--and you eat lunch together in your adviser's classroom (no cafeterias at OFMS). Well, oftentimes at lunch, Jack sits off by himself and reads, which comes to no surprise to them who know him well. The rest of the kids pull their desks together and have a good old time. And it turns out, they often cajole Jack into joining them. Miz E says she thinks Jack likes being cajoled. She thinks sometimes he sits off by himself just so the rest of the kids will start cajoling. That just tickles me.

She also said that Jack is always paying attention to people's conversations, and he especially listens to the girls, because of course the boys are all doofuses and have nothing interesting to say. This doesn't surprise me, that Jack is listening. For years, whenever I had a friend over during the day, Jack would park himself close by with a book and pretend to read, but I knew he was eavesdropping on the conversation. He's always paying attention.

So it's all good news, which is good news. I'm glad Jack's classmates make him join in, and I'm glad that five pounds of Halloween candy were not enough to ruin Jack's teeth over the last two weeks. The only thing I'm not glad about is that I need to make an appointment to have my teeth cleaned. Can't tell you how glad I am that my dentist doesn't keep score.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day 13: Church

The whole family went to church today. Will wore jeans, Jack wore khakis and his sweat jacket, which has a rip in the arm (he doesn't know how it happened), both of them brought books. I'm embarrassed to tell you that this is the first time in months we've all gone to church together. Lately it's just been me, yelling, "See ya later, ya big bunch of heathens!" on my way out the door.

How did that happen? Summer, I think. The season of slack, lackluster church-going that usually finishes up when school starts, only this year it didn't. Plus, we have an adolescent now, and dragging him out of bed on Sunday morning is such a production that sometimes we just give up (and anyway, he goes to youth group, we tell ourselves, which is gathering of believers who talk and pray together, so that's pretty close to church; may in fact be church).

Will has never been enthusiastic about church (Jack actually was until the Sleep Monster took over his body--okay, "enthusiastic" maybe be painting it on a little thick, but he went without complaining most Sundays). It is a long time for an active kid to sit and look at the back of grown-ups' heads; I get that. Oftentimes on Sundays Will has just a touch of a headache and doesn't think he should go; he doesn't want to spoil it for the rest of us by writhing in the pain through the service. The Man, being a former small boy who wasn't always excited about church himself back in the day, always generously and selflessly offers on these occasions to stay home and keep an eye on Will, just in case the headache turns out to be a developing case of encephalitis or leprosy or some such.

So we got slack, but I've been feeling badly about it, so last week the Man and I decided that this week we were jumping back in, and we did, and I have to say I was very proud of my small brood. Although Will brought a novel with him and a drawing pad, he actually spent most of the service reading his illustrated Bible. And Jack said all the prayers and sang all the songs and actually listened to the sermon (he usually does). The rest of the time he read, of course, but I didn't much care. He participated about seventy percent of the time, and that's not too bad for a sleepy, jaded twelve-year-old.

The Man, of course, looked awfully handsome, and it's always nice to share a pew with a handsome man.

This of course is a wonderful time to get back into the church habit. Advent is around the corner, after all. And I think it's really important for all of us to go as a family, for the boys to see their dad taking all the singing and praying seriously (which he does), good for them to see all these people coming from all over to worship together. As they get older, there may be lapses in their church-going--I say this as someone who skipped church for twenty-some years--but like so many people who went to church as children, they'll be pulled back in.

And fortunately, nothing I've read suggests that Jesus minds it all that much when a twelve-year-old boy shows up to church in a jacket with a ripped sleeve. It's the showing up that matters, as far as I can tell.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Day 12: Unpost

I have two seconds to write this. It is essentially an unpost, a non-post, a post non grata.

It's Saturday, and I've been shopping and cleaning all day. I went to the farmer's market and bought a whole chicken. It cost four dollars more than a whole chicken would have cost at the grocery store (specifically, what an organic whole chicken would cost). I think I can live with this. I would rather eat a happy chicken who had a happy life not too far from where I would live. I think it's worth four dollars to me. I'm going to ponder it some more.

I've been thinking a lot about meat lately. I like meat, and since I'm trying to keep a fairly low-carb diet, and furthermore since I seem to do better with a little extra protein, it would be hard to pull meat from my diet. But there are ethical concerns about how the animals are raised, and I've been thinking a lot about that over the last few years. As I said, I'm going to continue pondering. I'll let you know what I come up with.

I hope you have a good Saturday night. Saturdays in early winter are nice, when the cool weather still feels fresh and novel. Saturday nights in February and March are often sad. Well, maybe not for you. I hope not for you. I hope all your Saturday nights are alright for fightin'. Get a little action in. Etc. Et al. Goodbye.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Day 11

It is possible I'm running out of things to say. How about a random list of fascinating Frances facts?

1. I like eating mayonnaise, but I do not like seeing mayonnaise. Blobs of mayonnaise on the kitchen counter are particularly troubling.

2. I felt vaguely ill as I wrote the above sentence.

3. Once, when I was six or seven, my cat birthed a litter of kittens on my lap. I had no idea what was happening at the time, and I have yet to recover.

4. The first love of my life was Bobby Mudd. I was seven. He didn't know I was alive.

5. If I didn't dye my hair, it would be almost entirely gray.

6. When I see women my age (late 40s) who have entirely gray heads of hair, I think they look really cool.

7. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop dying my hair.

8. I am helpless in front of a bag Doritos.

9. It's only been in the last year or so that I've stopped wondering if the people in the pews around me at church think I'm a good singer.

10. This is only because it finally occurred to me that I'm really not that good of a singer.

Okay, that's it for this Friday night! See you tomorrow with more fascinating tidbits!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Day 10

I spent two hours cleaning Will's room today. It looks beautiful. The only problem with cleaning Will's room is it allows him to find his stuff again--his coin collection, his baseball card collection, his key chain collection. Yes, that's right, his key chain collection. He'd forgotten all about it! But now he remembers it! Because I uncovered it under all that junk.

So he's been a busy little bee all afternoon, exploring all the wonderful things his room holds, now that he can actually see them. He likes to take them off the shelves I've so carefully placed them on and ponder them, mix and match them, draw pictures of them, cut out the pictures and tape them to the wall, leaving little teeny tiny scraps of leftover paper on the floor. And so the cycle begins again.

That's Day 10 in a nutshell: My life on the Sisyphean Merry-Go-Round. Or escalator. What's the correct metaphor here? Whatever it is, I'm dizzy and need a cup of tea. More soon!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Day 9: Soup

That handsome man on the steps is the one and only Colin Firth AKA Mr. Darcy, who is sitting next to his co-star Emily Blunt. They're making a movie in Raleigh and were filming across the street from the Man's office. Since he knows I'm awfully fond of CF, he played the paparazzi for me and got this shot. Fun!

I made broccoli soup today, and it was good. The recipe called for light cream and nutmeg and swiss cheese. The nutmeg was an especially nice touch. I find myself throwing nutmeg and cinnamon into all kinds of things for a little kick. It's especially nice in the fall.

I'm not from a soup family, are you? My mother took a Chinese cooking class in the 70's and a French cooking class as well, so we occasionally had won ton soup or French onion soup, but my guess is my dad discouraged it. He definitely wasn't a soup guy. When my brothers and I were home on snowy days, my mom made Campbell's Tomato Soup, and when we were sick, we were served Campbell's Chicken and Noodle, or my favorite, Campbell's Chicken and Stars. What's the difference? Who knows, but the stars made me happy.

It wasn't until my roommate in grad school made me homemade chicken soup from scratch that I realized soup was something you could get excited about. That it could be a whole meal by itself. That it didn't have to be super salty, which canned soups almost always are.

Recently the fall weather has made me want to eat more soup; also, the glut of junky food that comes with Halloween and Will's birthday. Last week our house filled up with candy and cake and other junk, and although I tried to stay away as much as possible, I'm only human. So this week I felt an overwhelming desire to eat light. Not fat-free or low cal, but light--food that doesn't take up too much space, food that fills you up but doesn't have any aftershocks, the way that heavy and sugary things do.

So soup it is, and soup it will be. Soup is good, and soup is enough. Do you like soup, too? What's your favorite kind? When do you like to eat it? What's the best month for soup? Could it be November, or is February better?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Day 8: Just Posting to Post

Hello! I'm not sure what I have to tell you today. It's a beautiful day outside. Travis and I took a long walk this morning, and then I sat down to write for several hours. After lunch, I went to the bookstore to get the new Christopher Paolini book for Jack and picked up a book of vegetarian soup recipes for myself.

Then I lifted weights, walked some more around my neighborhood, and went to pick up Will. Now I'm home, and in a few minutes I'll leave to get Jack. When I get home, I will probably put the borders on my pinwheel quilt and make dinner.

I'm reading The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Euginedes--so far so good. I loved Middlesex. Reports are that this novel is not as good as Middlesex, but that's okay, because Middlesex was brilliant, and we can't expect novelists to always write brilliant books. It's unfair.

The Marriage Plot
is set in the early 1980s. In an early scene, a young woman and her parents are eating bagels at a cafe when the song "Tainted Love" comes on the radio. I remember that song. It was a very exciting and new kind of song in 1982. I was eighteen and lived for very exciting and new songs.

And that is all I have to tell you. Was it worth tuning in for? Don't answer that! But you could tell me what your favorite song in 1982 was. I'd be interested to know.

Monday, November 7, 2011

This weekend I went to a thrift store and picked up this pot for ten bucks. Then I came home and filled it with sticks. I love sticks. I may end up decorating my whole house with sticks.

It was, overall, a good weekend, though when I was on the treadmill at the gym on Saturday, I started panicking about the fact that our family doesn't do enough together. Lately, Jack lives in his room. Really, I think if we put a port-a-potty and a mini-fridge in there, he'd never come out. And there's no guarantee that family outings will go well, as one child is always miserably low on enthusiasm.

Here's the interesting thing: Whenever I start get worried about family life, or lack thereof, I can almost promise you the Man is also getting worried. We are usually in sync in this area (and many others). And Sunday afternoon, he was on it. He had Jack out in the yard messing around with the radio-operated helicopters, and Will working on a model car. And then Jack made two Key Lime pies to take to school today for his advisory group, which made me happy. Jack is very quiet and reserved, and I'm so glad he's found he can speak through pies. Everyone likes a boy who speaks through pies.

So it's not like we had a great family outing, but the boys were doing things that didn't involve screens, and Jack even spent time outside, which is always a miracle. So I felt better. I wish we were the sort of family that took happy camping trips together, but we don't. I wish my children were best of friends, but they're not. But they make pies and gingerbread (that was Will's baking project yesterday) and fly helicopters and build model cars, and that's good. I can live with that.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Day 6: Will My Attic Defeat Me?

I fear it will. It's like a wrestling match every time I go in there. There's one corner in particular that keeps me in a painful half-nelson, hissing at me in a menacing tone, "Do you give? Do you give?" This corner of my attic is populated by layer upon layer of toys that have broken or never worked in the first place (an expensive race track that lasted for two laps, for example) and boxes of school ephemera dating back to 2002. If only I had the wherewithal to chuck it all. None of it would be missed. No one even knows what's there.

I find it difficult to throw things away, not because I'm a hoarder, but because I'd rather recycle stuff than trash it. The problem is, I don't want to give away broken toys. Believing that one day a magic toymaker will come to my house and make everything good as new, I leave the broken- down things in my attic, where they breed with each other and make more broken-down things.

I need to throw the broken stuff away, don't I? Please make me. And convince me that a few math sheets and one spelling test saved from each year will suffice. I can take pictures of the art projects and then put the real deal in the recycling bin. Right? That's okay, isn't?

I'm taking a break from the attic for the day, but will get back to it tomorrow afternoon. A little bit at a time, one day at a time. No saying "Uncle." No rolling over and playing dead.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Day 5: Pinwheel Edition

Here is a picture of the quilt I'm working on right now. I just bought two beautiful pieces of fabric for the borders, which I hope to sew on this afternoon. Or tomorrow. Or in the next couple of weeks ...

This is one of three quilts I'm making for Christmas presents (it's for my editor). I've finished the blocks for the second one (finished them last summer, actually; they've been lounging about waiting for me to do something with them ever since), and just ordered fabric for the third. Can I do it? Can I actually have three admittedly smallish quilts done by December 15th, in time to mail them?

Yes. If I completely forgo all housekeeping between now and then, I most certain can--and will--finish them. I may have to quit cooking, too. All in the name of Christmas love. My family will understand.

Okay, I'm off to eat lunch and then get to work on the attic. And then go to the gym. And then work on quilts.

Notice how cleaning the bathrooms does not make an appearance on that list? The bathrooms are on their own this weekend. And every weekend, for that matter.

Really, if you ever come over to my house, stay out of the bathrooms. Really. I mean it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Day 4: Report Card Report

I'm almost disappointed to tell you that Jack's report card was good. All A's and one B- (French). I feel this report card doesn't adequately reflect his bad attitude and lack of effort. It doesn't reflect all the time he spends reading online gaming forums instead of real literature. It doesn't reflect how miserable he's been making us all fall. Sigh.

You know what I think Jack's report card reflects? The fact that Jack is a quiet and well-behaved child. This is a rare thing in a seventh grade boy, and Jack is getting rewarded for it. Several teachers' comments referred to the fact that Jack never presents a discipline problem in class. They don't care that he's rushing through his homework so he can play World of Warcraft. All they care about is that he's not popping bra straps while they're calling roll.

Anyway, I'm looking for creative ways to punish Jack in spite of his good grades. Let me know if you have any ideas.


Weekend! What are you doing? I'm going to be working on some quilts and knitting and maybe, yes, working in the attic. Here's my plan: I'm going to go to Home Depot and buy five brand spanking new boxes, and then I'm going to fill them up with attic junk. There is a charity pick-up scheduled for next week; all I have to do is call the organization and tell them I'm leaving five brand spanking new boxes on the front porch, and they'll come get them.

So you see, I haven't given up my dream of a Pristine Attic. The high temperatures of summer just put it on hold. But I'm back, baby, I'm back, so watch out attic! I'm comin' after ya.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Day 3

I'm afraid I'm going to forget to blog on the weekends, when I have a different routine. Remind me, will you?


Okay, so Day 3 of this blogging juggernaut. Thanks to Tracy for her succinct definition of the word "druthers"--it is essentially a very contract contraction of "would rather," as in "what would you rather have, applesauce or chocolate cake?" (Cake, please).

I've received disappointing news from Angela: It is illegal for her to send me sausages from the UK. Apparently, they comprise a terrorist threat. She did ever so kindly send me pictures of what real sausages--"bangers" I believe is the proper term--look like, and that is helpful. Okay, they sort of look like hot dogs, but that can't be right, can it? My friend Kathryn, who is from Belfast, made me real sausages once, and they were nothing like hot dogs. They were like heaven. They were my druthers.


I'm reading a marvelous book called Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating by Norman Wirzba. The chapter I'm now is entitled "Life Through Death: Sacrificial Eating." There's a lot in this chapter about living sacrificially, that is making your life a gift to others. I'm very bad at sacrificial living. I'm self-absorbed and self-centered and like to do what I want to do, not what other people want to do. Motherhood tends to balance these tendencies out somewhat, but nevertheless, most days I come up short.

So I've been looking for ways to live more sacrificially, and yesterday I decided to do this by playing checkers with Will. I didn't want to play checkers. I wanted to work on the quilt I'm making for my editor (pictures soon). But Will was downstairs at loose ends, so I thought I'd give of myself, give of the very inner core of my being, and ask if he was up for a game. Of course he was, as Will is always up for a game of checkers.

I could have told you before I even sat down it would be a terrible game. First of all, that's always the way when I try any sort of abnormal sacrificial giving for my kids. Folding their laundry, cooking their dinners, making their beds--never any problems there. But whenever I think "I'm going to do something nice for my children, something special," it almost always backfires.

And this was true with my checkers game with Will, because Will is coming off a long birthday weekend, in which he went to a big football game and had a sleepover and collected tons of candy on Halloween (which is his official birthday, by the way), and he's cranky and out of sorts. So our game ended in tears (his, not mine) and vows to never play checkers again and stomping off up the stairs (Will, not me).

So much for sacrificial giving via the checkerboard. I will have to find another way to give sacrificially. Maybe make chocolate chip cookies? Because that would be an awfully big sacrifice on my part. Really mammoth sacrifice. One for the ages. Hmmm ...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Day 2

Ta da! Will's quilt!

For those of you keeping score at home, this is Day 2 of my month-long daily blogging experiment. If you haven't read yesterday's entry, please do so now, especially if you're Angela, who may have no idea that she's supposed to send me sausages at the end of the month.

It's a beautiful autumn day here in lovely North Carolina. Sometimes I'm torn between Spring and Fall: which is my favorite? It occurred to me today that we tend to get longer stretches of loveliness in the fall. Our springs are gorgeous, but they heat up quickly.

Did I mention that I organized Will's classroom Halloween party this year? Yep, I did. Will's teacher is new to Our Fine School and has been a little taken aback by our party atmosphere. We will party at the drop of a dime at Our Fine School, and Halloween is the biggest party of them all. When I asked Mr. B what his druthers were, he begged me to keep the sugar to a minimum, which I thought was an excellent idea, and so we did. One of our activities was donut races, it's true, but that was the big sugar event of the party.

Other than that, we had mummy races, where the kids wrapped each other up in toilet paper--a huge hit, by the way--and pumpkin decorating, and Halloween story writing (my idea, and less of a big hit, but pedagogically speaking, quite sound), and a spider making activity. It was all good fun, and the kids seemed to enjoy themselves.

Here's the trick to having a good classroom Halloween party: Get dads on your party committee. First of all, it's good to have a male presence in the classroom; it keeps kids on their toes. Second of all, the dads totally lack that Martha Stewart impulse which makes some folks use the annual Halloween party as a way to exorcise all their decorating demons. So we had tablecloths and balloons, but that was it for decorations, and it was great. Other classrooms were the Taj Mahals of Halloween. They were glorious, sumptuous, absolutely aflutter with Halloween spirit. But, you know, who has the time? Or the money? And if you're decorating on this level for the third grade Halloween party, what's the Sweet Sixteen going to be like? Outrageous. And silly.

So it was a good party. And later that day, at pick-up, Mr. B pulled me aside and said that the other third grade teachers spent the lunch hour moaning and groaning about how wild their kids had been, how out of control. His was the only classroom where the kids had had a rollicking good time, but didn't self-destruct. So the party was a success, all is well, and Halloween is done until next year. Thank goodness.

Okay, tune in tomorrow to read more scintillating tales! I'll be here--will you?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Crazy Idea

Will, taken a couple of weeks ago. He looks like a little boy in this picture with his rosy lips, but yesterday he turned nine. Nine!

I'm thinking about posting every day in November, just to do it. Just to see if I can do it. I've been very sporadic in my blogging this fall, and I haven't meant to be. It's just been that sort of fall so far. But now I'm ready to settle down. I don't have any travels, any school commitments, any anything except a life to live here on the homefront.

I've been going to the gym, so I could write about that. Mostly I work out on the elipticals and lift weights. I find the elipticals more or less boring after fifteen minutes, but I love weight-lifting. I find it very meditative, to breathe through my nose and pretend to be strong. The funny thing is that I have no upper-body strength whatsoever. I sit down at a machine and have to move the weight key to the lowest, lowest weight. Like, one-tenth of a pound or something. It makes me giggle. I'm like the before-picture in the old Charles Atlas ad, except chubby.

Or I could write about how we've decided to stay put in this house for the next ten years, even though we don't love it. We like it a lot, but it's not our dream house. Still, it's close to the boys' schools and we have nice neighbors and the only backyard in a twenty-mile radius that gets at least six hours of full sun a day in the summer. Woodsy around here, is what I'm saying. So I guess we better hunker down and get out the DIY manuals and start saving up for a new oven, as I have the worst oven in the developed world. Tiniest oven ever, and horrible for roasting things in. An Easy-Bake oven would be better.

Jack's report card comes home next week. That should provide fodder for several days' worth of blogging. I think it will be an eye-opener. I predict straight B's at best. But could it be worse? It might be. Stay tuned.

So let's give it a whirl. We'll see if I can do it. If I do, what's my prize? What will you give me if I blog every day for the month of November? Think about this. I think Angela should give me sausages, since her blog has essentially become sausage central. Pom Pom could give me a pixie. Jody could give me a sheep. Really, you all have something to offer. Let's make this blogging thing worthy my while!

Okay, I'm getting silly again. Back tomorrow with pictures of Will's quilt, which I finally finished. Amazing!