Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Daily Heart Attack and Other Bits and Pieces

1. I don't actually have a heart attack every day. Only on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. On those days, Willem rides the bus home. It drops him off across the street from our house anywhere between 12:05 and 12:10.

Now, our neighbor who lives in the house that is Willem's bus stop comes home for lunch almost every day anywhere between 11:55 and 12:05. And he drives a big truck THAT SOUNDS EXACTLY LIKE A SCHOOL BUS. I cannot discern the difference between the two, though I can hear either of them coming from almost a block away.

Every day my heartbeat accelerates when I hear that truck pull up. And not only that one; the neighbor's significant other often comes home for lunch around the same time. And she drives a loud pickup too, albeit one with a slightly more subtle rumble.

So every day I hear them and think I'm late for the bus. One day I really was. I was rinsing a dish at 12:03 and I saw the school bus pull up across the street from my kitchen window. I sprinted out to meet it, not even noticing that I was barefoot until I had retrieved Willem and I had to mince my way back across the wet, gravelly street. It's nice to know that in a pinch that adrenaline really will kick in.

2. Shaun and I were substitute Sunday School teachers, and the lesson we were doing suggested illustrating a point with a game of Mancala. I still own the board I had when I was a kid, so I dug it out of the garage. Inside I found an old to-do list on a tiny yellow Post-It note. Have you ever found a list from your old life? It was a very strange feeling. I knew the list was from California and at least 10 year old. It said:

-Sat. car smogged
-practice song
-Fri. night/card for Deb

The song could only be "Love Makes the World Go Round." I sang it at a fundraising dinner for the La Habra Depot Theater as a favor to the director of a play I'd been in there. I protested, but too faintly, and somehow found myself in a musty community center singing to a bunch of inebriated community theater enthusiasts. I'd say eighty percent of them were talking through my song and the other 20 percent were shushing the talkers. But the director surprised me with a check for $50, which is the only time I've ever been paid to perform. So it was almost worth it.

3. We don't have TV anymore. We've been wanting to get rid of the cable, but in order to actually save any money, we had to get rid of our telephone land line as well. So we did. We still do Netflix streaming and a bit of Hulu. But I now fold the laundry in the quiet instead of watching The Soup or some other guilty pleasure. And it's a good thing. Often a little line for something I'm writing will bubble up, or maybe a Bible verse.

4. Take care when naming your blog. I am TERRIBLE at naming things and I just wanted to get started, so I came up with a name that I have never even explained here because the rationale is so lame. Anyhow, it never occurred to me that I had picked something that could be a person's proper name. Let alone the proper name of a defendant in a rather high-profile trial in the UK. I can always tell when there's a new development because my traffic from across the pond goes from non-existent to barely existent. So...welcome, visitors (not that you've read this far), and I'm sorry I don't have the information you're looking for.

5. Today Nels was in a play at school about Martin Luther King, Jr. He would have liked a bigger part, but he did a bang-up job with the lines he had. During the play, the kids just sat and read their lines, so in these pictures he's purely mugging for me before it starts.

He played a student, so his costume wasn't as exciting as some of the others.

I made sure to take some pictures because I have a feeling it's going to be a day near and dear to his heart in the future. I still remember being a cow in my first school play (it was a Nativity). And I didn't even have any lines, much to my despair.

6. A few weeks ago, Willem came home with this self-portrait from the first week of school. He has a mohawk. And...teeth. And he can hang.

Then after Christmas, he brought home this Santa.

Nice Santa.

I'm just waiting for the school to send home a note.

7. We're going to California for a long weekend tomorrow. And Legoland! We can't wait!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Snow Day

The boys played out in the snow this morning until they were soaked through, and then came in for hot chocolate with marshmallows.

Nels is already all better today. How can I tell? He is wandering around the house, muttering to himself about the light projector he's building.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What's Up

How many days into January are we? I fear the year is not off to the most auspicious start.

On New Year's Eve I smashed my little toe into a stool while I was vacuuming to get ready for our festivities. It was the sort of thing where everything goes black for a moment and then you hop around and wish you cursed so you had something satisfying to say and then you were very very afraid to look.

I didn't break it, but I also didn't dare to wear any shoes for a few days.

I waited ten whole days before I injured myself again. This time I grabbed the handle of a stainless steel skillet that had just come out of a 450-degree oven. With my bare hand. Poor Shaun--I made a really horrible noise. Anyhow, it hurt and I cried, but the damage wasn't serious enough to require a doctor visit, so, once again, it could have been a lot worse. Plus I didn't have to do the dishes or cut up anyone's dinner since I couldn't use my right hand.

For the MLK holiday weekend, we planned to take the boys out to Shaun's folks' house. Willem came down with a brand new cold that very morning, but we all figured he'd have more fun being sick there than here, so off he went. And indeed, he did have fun! The boys got lots of snow to play in --the first of the year-- and they were downright overjoyed about it. Nels has been wishing aloud for snow for several months now.

Shaun and I had a crazy movie marathon while the boys were gone. On Sunday we ditched church and went to brunch (lemon ricotta pancakes with passion fruit syrup and Grand Marnier berry compote, anyone?), then came home, built a fire and settled in. We watched The September Issue (thumbs up, if only for its portrait of the fascinating Grace Coddington), The Guard (I wish Brendan Gleeson had won the Golden Globe for his performance), and Babies, which of course made me cry.

When we got the boys back, Willem looked and sounded pretty rough, but probably no worse than he would have if he'd stayed home. I figured some down time was in order, since they'd played out a lot.

I should have suspected something was up when Nels decided to lay down with a blanket while he watched his shows. I'd let the boys watch longer than usual, and as Willem turned off the TV, Nels sat up and started to cry.

"We watched a lot of TV at grandma and grandpa's this morning," he wailed, holding his hands to either side of his head. "We watched a lot of TV already and I SHOULD HAVE TOLD YOU." His face was red and tears streamed down his face. "My head hurts..."

I tried not to laugh. The boy was convinced that he had brought the headache on himself by watching too much TV. I told him he was probably sick and took his temperature. He was sick. Fever, headache, aches and pains.

Willem went to school today still looking like death warmed over, but in good spirits because it was library day. Nels had to stay home and will not be able to go again tomorrow, since he still had a fever tonight.

Hopefully Shaun will be the one holdout who stays healthy for this entire first month of the year. Or if he doesn't, he needs to get it over with before our trip to California at the end of the month.

Incidentally, the dish I was making when I burned myself was the roast chicken with dijon sauce at Smitten Kitchen. You should totally make it. Just maybe keep a potholder handy.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Year

I was very grateful to feel almost back to normal by New Year's Eve. And even more grateful when Shaun and Hillary took the boys on another flashlight hike, leaving me time to restore order to the house.

Shaun and I bought each other drapes for Christmas. We love our big windows during the day, but at night it was not very cheerful to gaze out into the black abyss that surrounded us. You can see one set of the drapes in this picture. Shaun spent hours installing the rods and all the little hooks and making sure everything hung just so. His boss seemed alarmed at the company Christmas gathering to hear that Shaun was not planning to buy me a more personal gift in addition to the drapes, but he was wrong. I couldn't be happier. It was just what I wanted.

Here's the living room all festive for the holidays. The giant drapes for this window didn't go up until later.

New Year's Eve was my chance to try this recipe for Chilled Fennel-Grapefruit Veloute with Lemon Olive Oil. I figured no one would be expecting dinner and they might be open to a little bit of something adventurous. Plus it sounded like it would be good with the crab salad Hillary was making. Hillary and I felt right proud of ourselves for having shelled four Dungeness crabs (her treat) the night before. We had a giant delectable pile (1.7 lbs, if you must know) of crab meat at the end.

Whenever I prepare food for friends, I always forget at least one ingredient. Always. So when Hillary forgot to add the olive oil on top of the crab salad, I felt a little better. A little better, that is, until I woke up the next morning and realized I had completely forgotten to even serve my cold soup. The entire batch-and-a-half was sitting untouched in the refrigerator. Honestly, it wasn't that much of a loss because it didn't taste that great, but still. Forgetting an entire dish really takes the cake.

A few days later I dug through the crisper drawer and discovered the radishes and green onions that had also been intended for the crab salad, but it was small consolation.

Even with the absentmindedness there were no complaints about the food, and we had a jolly good time. We seem to have meandered our way into a tradition of having the Morgan family over for New Year's Eve, which is always fun. Their children are just as game for staying up until midnight as ours. And Shaun's winning streak of good vacation ideas did not end; he brought out sparklers that he'd saved from the 4th of July for the kids to wave on the deck as we watched the fireworks at midnight.

I don't presume to predict what the new year will hold, or even have the courage to resolve anything new for it.

Right now I am just thankful for the year that was, and the years that have been, and for the people I have been blessed to share them with.


I woke up the morning after Christmas with a terrible cold and essentially missed the rest of my mom's stay with us. I slept a lot, though, and got well enough to venture out towards the end of the week.

It was great to have Shaun home for so long. We never get to have him around for so many days in a row, and we all appreciated it. He took the boys on a few "flashlight hikes."

Here are the boys reading their favorite section of their newest magazine. They love to laugh at those stupid criminals together.

Hillary brought us some homemade nocino, an Italian liqueur made from green walnuts. It looked like swamp water (pretty swamp water, if that's possible) but tasted much better, I imagine.

Shaun was on a roll with fun activity ideas; he suggested ice skating at the Lloyd Center, so ice skating (the first time for the kids) we went. I was cursing my wool sweater. Ice skating in a mall is hot. Also I was still pretty under the weather.

Willem here was crazy strong, and able to keep himself up by using his arms. Nels, on the other hand, was just too gangly. I wish we had gotten video of him on the ice. It appeared as though his body was held together by rubber bands. It was like what I imagine Dick Van Dyke would do in a comedic dance performance commanded by the Queen of England to atone for his Cockney accent in Mary Poppins upon pain of death if it weren't funny or crazy enough. It was spectacular.

Afterwards we decamped to Clyde Common for reasonably-priced happy hour food and drink. Willem plopped down in his chair, took a deep breath, and said, "I love this place. It smells delicious." Illness, skating, hunger, and a cocktail had me a little loopy. I have no idea what I thought was so hilarious on my phone in the picture below, or what I'm doing with my right hand. Our hamburgers were cooked to perfection and Hillary declared the Old-Fashioned (her signature drink) to be mighty good.

On Friday we ventured out to Shaun's folks' house and stopped in at Olympic Provisions for lunch on the way. I was very happy to finally eat there, even though my cold impeded my ability to taste things.

My parsnip-apple soup was to die for.

As was Hillary's polenta with Italian sausage.

I don't think I cooked a thing between Christmas and New Year's Eve. I honestly don't remember. Between eating out we enjoyed leftovers and an abundance of cardamom rolls, Christmas cookies, fruit-nut bread and brown rice bread courtesy of the moms in my life. It wasn't a low-carb vacation, but it sure was a delicious one.

Monday, January 9, 2012

And So That Was Christmas

At church on Christmas morning, the boys didn't even bug us about hurrying home to open presents. I was amazed.

After the mad rush of opening, the boys settled into peacefully playing with their new toys.

Nels is always happy to get a new Lego set, no matter how many thousands of Lego pieces he may already have.

We bought Willem a white board because we could no longer afford to keep him in paper.

New Calvin and Hobbes! Willem spends most of his waking hours either drawing or reading, and Christmas was no exception.

The runaway hit this year was the remote-control helicopter. Nels had asked for it for his birthday, and Auntie Kim and Uncle Cory bought it for him then, but he ended up getting so many things on his list that Shaun and I tucked it away for Christmas. I think it was Nels's and Shaun's favorite present. And Shaun's dad liked it so much that he's getting one for himself.

Watching Nels so absorbed with his helicopter and seeing Willem all cozy in his new skull-and-crossbones pajama pants snuggled up with a book on the couch gave me a nice warm feeling in my heart. I am surprised at how much joy I find in buying or suggesting gifts for them that I know they will use and like. True, one can get carried away with the presents. But I think enjoying giving good gifts to our children is one of the ways in which we reflect being made in the image of God.

Hillary picked out this book for Nels, but it ended up resonating most with Willem. This was a good Christmas for that; the boys were not jealous or territorial about their gifts. After reading through it once, Willem read it aloud to us. I got a little teary-eyed with pride when he read the words "Good gracious, Ignacious!" with verve and without stumbling a bit.

Somehow we are without pictures of the Christmas food. Of course I thought long and hard about the menu. I was really in the mood for lamb, but I didn't think that would be a very popular choice. Then I thought duck, but it would have been too hard to prepare multiples. Goose would have been fun, but one goose would have been a bit on the small side and they were charging an arm and a leg for them at our local market. Then I found rib roast for $4.99/lb and a well-reviewed recipe at epicurious, and we were in business. I very rarely cook a large hunk of beef (not because I don't like it, but because it intimidates me), so it seemed celebratory enough.

I had been hoarding this recipe for Chestnut Soup with Grappa Cream since last year, and I decided that Christmas was the perfect occasion to make it. The smell of butter, pancetta, shallots and celery root sauteing together was one of the best things I have ever smelled in my life. Then I added the mushrooms, Cognac, fresh bay, thyme, and sage, and that smelled pretty good too. The recipe warns (correctly) that the soup is very rich, so it made a perfect starter divided up among all of us. Best of all, not only did Nels and Willem clean their bowls, but Nels had seconds. It was a Christmas miracle.

Along with our roast we had some lumpy mashed potatoes (I am lazy and I don't mind the texture and I am the cook) and a salad with orange and fennel and pistachios in an attempt to brighten up all the heavy food. But my favorite dish of the night, and maybe my new favorite vegetable dish of all time, was the Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Capers, Walnuts, and Anchovies. Growing up, I only knew about anchovies as the bad punchline of pizza jokes on sitcoms. But at one point in my adult life Hillary made me a pasta with anchovies, which I loved, and I learned enough about cooking to understand how they could be a magical secret ingredient. Now I'm not sure how I've lived without the magic of anchovies melted into olive oil with minced garlic. If you do like brussels sprouts even the tiniest bit, don't be afraid. Try this recipe.

In a departure for me, I didn't even think about making a dessert. Shaun's mom brought a panoply of Christmas cookies and my mom brought my very favorite fudge (at my request) and we still had some of the amazing soft peanut brittle that I'd made earlier, so we were set for sugar.

I had lots of help cooking and cleaning and entertaining the boys. Still, by the time we turned in, I was not unlike my new Santa friend here:

somewhat bedraggled, but still of good cheer.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Holly Jolly

The boys were off school the week before Christmas and they were grumpy and out of sorts, so I was glad to send them to their grandma and grandpa's for a few nights. I took advantage of the alone time to do the kind of cleaning I never seem to get too, like sweeping the cobwebs from the ceiling and dusting the bookshelves. The craggy wood-paneled walls downstairs clung stubbornly to their webs, so I had to vacuum them with a brush. We make our overnight guests sleep down there, so I wanted it to be more "cozy family room" and less "haunted mansion."

I also wrapped all the gifts. This never happens. I would have felt virtuous but for the way I went about it. I stayed up late watching TV and "wrapping," and because I like to watch Masterpiece Mystery I couldn't really understand what the actors were saying while I was wrapping, so the whole thing took at least five times as long as it would have otherwise. So I went into the holidays with the wrapping done but sleep deprived, which turned around and bit me later. I deserved it.

We got the boys back all strung out from their time at the tree farm, but it was worth it. My mom came from Bend on Friday and provided much-welcome company, and then Shaun came home from work for an entire glorious week. My sister Hillary flew in from LA on the morning of Christmas Eve, and she spent the whole week with us too!

Shaun cut some branches from the holly tree in our back yard and decked the halls (by which I mean our tables) with it. It looked ridiculously fake, it was so perfect. And it looked fresh as the day it was cut for almost two weeks. Fa la la la la la la la la!

Look how peaceful, everyone paired up and relaxing after our Christmas Eve soup. They are waiting patiently for...

Spanish Cream, the traditional Christmas Eve dessert of Shaun's family, which I made this year for the first time. It was a small concession to the fact that I was not willing to open presents on Christmas Eve, another of Shaun's family traditions.

I don't remember ever believing in Santa as a kid, but that didn't make it any less thrilling to wake up on Christmas morning to bulging stockings and a giant pile of presents under the tree. Hillary and I realized this year that the enormity of that childhood pile had much to do with the number of kids in our family.

On Christmas morning we let the boys open their stockings and then we all went to church. I was a little surprised that our pastor spent a moment on some passionate (for him) anti-Santa remarks. I guess it's bad if your kids believe in Santa instead of Jesus, but I am one of those people for whom stories and myths point the way to Truth rather than obscure or replace it.

But we're all different. I didn't insist upon Santa for Nels because by the time he had heard of Santa Claus, he was already a very deep thinker and actively engaged in formulating his world view. If I had said Santa was real he would have extrapolated the existence of other magical beings from there and I would have had a dickens of a time explaining why he needn't worry about mischievous leprechauns (he was concerned enough about them enough as it was.)

Willem, on the other hand, would have done just fine with Santa, but I didn't have the mental energy to instill the belief after we'd declined to do so for Nels. Therefore he spent the week before winter break scowling and grousing about all his classmates who do believe. It was the Grinchiest thing I've ever seen. I think deep down he was a little sad about not being among the Santa-believers.

Our Christmas morning church service featured a little pageant, with the kids reenacting the story as a narrator read it from the Bible. Here's a photo I took at rehearsal that ended up being the cover of the bulletin.

And here's the real deal on Sunday morning. These shepherds really took to heart the adage that "there are no small parts, only small actors."

Willem was a shepherd and Nels a wise man. I think the whole thing was designed to make everyone feel a warm Christmas glow, but it just didn't do it for me. We go to a non-denominational church and one could never find a truer-hearted bunch, but it is a constant struggle for me to appreciate the lack of any tradition or formality in the worship service. Some people grow up in liturgical churches and rebel against what they perceive as empty rituals. I, on the other hand, pine for the sense of reverence that the liturgy and music of the Presbyterian church I grew up in imbued each service with, especially at the holidays.

I think the moment that best embodied Christmas for me this year came at the "pageant" rehearsal. The mother of the main characters had forgotten about the rehearsal, so her kids showed up late and unnoticed by Willem. We ran through the whole thing for a second time, and when Willem got to the manger, he looked at Mary and saw her holding her own infant brother. His jaw dropped, just like a cartoon, and he pointed.

"That's crazy! That's a real baby!"

And I thought what better thing to do at Christmas, or any time, than to marvel and gape and point to the baby Jesus?

Well , now I've gone on. More Christmas in the next post.

Guess Who Was REALLY Glad to Go Back to School Today?