Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas is Coming...and the Goose Isn't the Only One

Christmas is practically here. I mean it. It is just around the corner. And while I am the first to grumble when I have to listen to Christmas music while buying Halloween candy, I must say, that this year, the season is just not long enough.

Thanksgiving was late. Yes, I know it is the same day every theory. In reality, all the fourth Thursdays in November are not created equal. This one was late. I awoke from digesting my Thanksgiving meal (3 moderate ounces of turkey and 4 butter laden pounds of carbohydrates) to find I have less than a month until Christmas. Less than three weeks until the big trip north to the in-laws. Less than a twenty days to shop!!!

How can this be? I thought we were all about "economic stimulus" in these parts. I say a presidential mandate moving Thanksgiving up a week might not have been out of the question. I will vote for the next president who campaigns on it. Because I need MORE TIME!!!!

Fall Food

Here are some of the prettier things I have cooked this season.

Stew using the organic vegetables we have delivered from the local farm.

And my addition to the Thanksgiving feast.

The True Meaning of Scalloped Potatoes

Friday, November 27, 2009

Messy French Bun

Apparently, the messy French bun is currently the height of French chic and will soon be trickling it's way over here. It is lovely. And easy to do. But, it must be for the young or lithe. Because I tried it. And, while my hair looked lovely, the over all effect was Mrs. Clause. Back to the "messy housewife bun" it is.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

As Fall Becomes Winter

It will happen soon. Within hours. The Thanksgiving turkey will be eaten, and then...the PDCs (public displays of Christmas - thanks Rebecca) will begin in earnest. The browns, greys and oranges of fall will be replaced by red, green, silver and gold. So here, is my last look at the season I wait all year for, and that somehow, this year only managed to last a week.

I used to hate oak trees. I was young and foolish.

A walk in the woods, worthy of a four thousand calorie turkey dinner.

There is a spider web between these two reeds.
You may need to click to see a bigger picture.

The first rain breaking up over our back fence.

The red on this plant is actually new growth, not very "Fall" at all. But it is a lovely color.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Blame thirtysomething. Or, Men are the New Women? (Redux)

I have been thinking about the modern male quite a bit this week, and I can come to only one conclusion. I love the one I’ve got and I’m going to keep him. Everyone else is on their own.

First, came the home improvements.

Despite the decade and our upbringings, my husband and I have a traditional marriage. He earns all the money and I do all the housework. That is fine with me. I got married at 35. I worked plenty. I know what I’m missing and I don’t miss it.
One of the realities of being single so long is that I learned to do a lot of things for myself. My sister and I used to joke that if we had a pick-up truck we wouldn’t need a man for anything. We'd laugh. Then we’d go back to crying in our Ben and Jerry’s because we did not have a man.

"If we had a pick-up truck we wouldn’t need a man for anything."

That was then. Now, I am the female half of a traditional marriage. The problem is, my husband is not handy. Or maybe he just wasn’t single long enough. Either way, I am the only member of this family who knows how to use a power drill. I’m self taught and, despite all of my tool-man bashing when I was single, I am not very good. I would not mind having a man take over the power tools.

This week I had to get out the old power drill to baby-proof the kitchen cabinets. At first I was a bit puffed up. Look at me. I’m handy. I can use a drill. But, by the time I was flat on my back (on a floor which I sweep and mop) with my head under the sink (which I keep stocked and organized) dropping screws in my eyes trying to attach spring loaded plastic latches (which I researched and purchased) I was a little annoyed.

At that moment, right or wrong, (and I admit it was a bit unfair) I began to see the division of labor a little differently. It was no longer, “He earns all the money; I do all the housework”. It was, “He earns all the money; I do everything else. Except mow the lawn, and that is only because he can afford to pay a guy.”

Then came thirtysomething. In the mail, I mean. The original came twenty years ago.
For those of you who weren’t around in 1987, thritysomething was a bit of pop-culture phenomenon. A TV show about the angst and loves of seven friends in their thirties. What was note worthy about it at the time was all of the emoting (some called it whining) that went on, especially by the men. Honestly, at the time, I didn’t really notice. I was only 18. My life was full of angst and whining and I knew very few actual “men”. It was released on DVD recently and I was feeling nostalgic so I gave it a re-watch. What I found interesting is that the male whining is not note worthy any longer.

"It is unfair, but true, that a man who is sensitive about our feelings is attractive. A man who is too sensitive about his own feelings is just oogy."

Men “in touch with their feelings” are all over the place, at least in popular culture. This was supposed to be a good thing, right? Back in the day when men drank and smoked and didn’t talk much, (think Robert Mitchum) women said they wanted a sensitive man. But did they really? Did they want their man to stop drinking, stop smoking, and start talking? Or did they just want him to start listening and maybe hit the hamper with the dirty socks once in awhile? Saying you want a sensitive man is too vague. Let’s face it. It is unfair, but true, that a man who is sensitive about your feelings is attractive. A man who is too sensitive about his own feelings is just oogy.

Finally, I read Men in the ‘mirdle’, an article from the Chicago Tribune.

I quote: “When it comes to underwear, men are the new women. Guys are experimenting with color and styles. In fact, bucking a dismal retail trend, men's underwear sales are up. And -- get this -- men are starting to discover ‘body shapers’ to smooth their love handles, lift their posteriors and knock off a few pounds without dieting. In short, men are discovering the benefits of the male equivalent of Spanx.”
No, no, no, no. My fore-mothers did not want this. They wanted the vote. They wanted equal pay for equal work. They did not want to use power tools. Well, okay, maybe they did. But they certainly didn’t want to listen to their husband whine because his girdle was too tight.

I have forgiven my husband for not being handy with a drill. He is great with the kids, and he can, on occasion, out of necessity use a broom or bake a pizza. No. Even that is unfair. He’s awesome. He does a lot more than just earn the money. He just doesn’t do it with power tools.

Our arrangement works for us. So, I will keep doing the minor home improvements and the laundry. As long as he doesn’t whine when I shrink his mirdle.

[If some of this sounds familiar, it is because this is the original from which an earlier post was an excerpt. I apologize to all who have slogged through both. But, thank you.]

Busy Mom, Defined

A woman who can reheat the same cup of coffee five times before lunch and never get to drink it.

A woman with banana mashed into her yoga mat.

A woman who can shower, dress, and put on make-up before her kids get up, but won't realize until she sees her reflection in the sliding door at the super-market that she has not combed her hair.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Turkey and Pie, the Children's Book Edition

This what the children and I have been reading to get in the mood for the big day. They are both great fun. The boys just love them!

Run, Turkey, Run! by Diane Mayr


Friday, November 20, 2009


It is now fully Fall.

I know in some parts of the world, it is already snowing. In some parts of the world it is almost summer, for that matter. But here, Fall has finally fallen.

The leaves are vibrant red, yellow, orange. They are at the peak of their crunchiness.

I can see my breath. I need a coat every morning, and even some afternoons.

Hot tea, not iced.

It is dark at dinner time.

Bed time stories are about turkeys and leaves.

There are flannel sheets on the bed at night.

Jonah's Thanksgiving pageant is today. He has been practicing his "turkey dance" and the cutest lyrics I have ever heard to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.

I can smell turkey in the oven. And how warm it gets in the house on Thanksgiving with all of the family gathered there. I hear football in the other room. And the children running around. I'm full, and sleepy, and warm. And, by afternoon there is a November sun lighting up the red and yellow and orange leaves and shining through my window. Perfection.

Monday, November 16, 2009


My grandmother, Bernadine "Bunny" Thielen died four years ago today. The following is a copy of the eulogy I had the privilege of delivering at her funeral. I miss you Grandma.
1924 - 2005

On Tuesday, November 15, my grandmother, Bunny, woke up to tell her daughters and her nurse that she’d had a dream about my grandfather. “We have a date tomorrow night,” she told them. The next day, shortly before noon, surrounded by her children, she left here. She had to go get ready for her date.

I don’t know if it is appropriate to start a eulogy by saying that she kept a clean house. But she did.

She was a good cook.

She was a meticulous seamstress.

She ran a frugal household, but was still a generous hostess.

In this day and age, these may not sound like compliments, but they are. She took great pride in them. Homemaker, wife, mother -- that was her career, though I am sure she never thought of it in those terms. To her, it was just her life, and she lived it.

As a girl in Nebraska, she was a cheerleader who dreamed of becoming a nurse. After high school, she moved, with her parents and brothers and sisters, out here to California. She planned to go to City College, but World War II changed her plans.

Aged 16

Grandma always talked about the war like it was fun. And, I suppose for her it was. The town was crawling with boys in uniform. She liked those boys, mostly because she loved to dance. She didn’t have a favorite or a steady boy. She told me she didn’t see the point in dating just one boy until she was engaged. If she stuck with only one guy, she’d have to sit too many out.

The war also brought her a husband. My grandfather, Ray, was an eighteen year old Army lieutenant from Waukegan. They met on a Saturday morning in December of 1942. She told me she remembers thinking he was obnoxious, and he didn’t dance. But somehow, he had talked her into going to lunch with him that day…and then dinner later that night. By Wednesday night, a mere five days later, he had proposed. She says she still thought he was obnoxious, and he never would be much of a dancer, but three weeks later, on her nineteenth birthday, she married him anyway. It sounds crazy, but they were crazy about each other, and they made it work, for over 57 years. The right partner was more important than the dancing.

Wedding Day, 1943 (They are on the left)

They spent the next twenty years in the Army. I say “they” were in the Army, because that is how they thought about it. They were a team. One day he came home early from work to tell her he had new orders. He had to leave immediately. That meant she had to pack up the house, the four kids, the dog—their whole lives—and move. She had to do this by herself. And she had to do it in three days. Years later when she retold the story, there was no sense of self pity. Bunny never had time for self pity. She was simply proud of her contribution.

The Army also provided this small town girl from Nebraska the chance to travel. She lived on Army posts in Germany, Okinawa, and six different states. Of course there were three separate postings to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, so it wasn’t all glamorous.

While stationed in Germany

After the Army, Bunny went to work so Ray could go to law school. They did that as a team too.

Later, when her kids were older, she golfed, and traveled. She spoiled her grandkids. Then her great-grandkids.

She always loved a party. Holidays, weddings, picnics, family over for a visit and a swim, you name it. She was a fun-loving and gracious hostess.

In 2000, 57 ½ years to the day after their wedding, her husband passed away. She was saddened, but not destroyed. They had a good life together. She had no regrets.

Her own health had started to deteriorate even before my grandfather died, yet she remained as social as ever. Her house was still a hub of activity. And it wasn’t just because she had a pool.

I spent a lot of time with her in the last year. She had good days and bad days. But she handled her illness with grace and courage. She thoroughly enjoyed all her visitors, to the end.

If you had asked Bunny who she was, she would have told you, in her own way, that she was the wife of one man, the mother of five children, the grandmother of nine, the great-grandmother of nine more, the sister to ten siblings, and Aunt Bunny to everybody else. I can add that she was friend to pretty much everyone who ever met her. Don’t be too put off by the fact that her life seems so defined by the lives of others. She wouldn’t be. She was all of those things, but still very much, Bunny.

Bunny and her "immediate" family. I'm not kidding.

I have one more thing to pass on before I close.

Her one regret. She told me that if she could have done anything differently in her life, she would have cleaned less and played more, while her children were young. They were only young once. That is true of all of us.

Every single one of us is younger right this minute than we ever will be again. We’re also probably thinner, better looking, and have more hair. So, go have a good time.

And in the next few days and weeks and years, when you think of her and you miss her, do something Bunny would do.

  • Get your hair done, with the back combing and everything.
  • Squeeze every last bit a toothpaste out of that tube, even if you have to use your rolling pin to do it.
  • Make apricot jam.
  • Dust something that no one can see.
  • Sew something. Then rip it out and sew it again.
  • Make an in-law feel like family.
  • Give to charity.
  • Invite and unexpected visitor to dinner.
  • Be the life of the party.
  • Play with your kids.
  • Dance.

But don’t worry about Bunny. She made it to her date on time. Wearing her dancing shoes. Because, in heaven, even my grandpa can jitterbug.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Weekend in November

We woke up Saturday morning and knew that we were sick. We weren't sick yet, but we were going to be very soon. And, if the winter illnesses which have felled those around us are an indicator, it may be awhile before we heal.

So, we made the most of a fine fall day. It was cool but sunny to start and ended almost warm. We started out at the local amusement park where we treated the boys to their favorite kiddie rides.

Waiting in line for the Log Ride.

Then we headed across the street to the zoo where we watch giraffes and flamingos and the boys drank sugar water out of pink bottles shaped like dinosaurs. We all had a great time.

Sunday was different. We stayed home. Well, the children stayed home. They played in the yard a bit. Watched Sleeping Beauty. I had to go out and stockpile provisions for the impending plague. But the weather could not have been nicer.

Sunday dinner was neither elaborate nor elegantly served (yes those are brussel sprouts on paper plates, but it was hot and on the table at half past five. The whole family gathered around our simple feast. I had to take this picture. They are all there, sitting up, at the table, using utensils. They have grown so fast, and even though they have many years to grow, I wanted to capture this second before it was gone.

May you all have a nice week with the little ones gathered around if you have them.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Men Are the New Women? What Would the Old Women Say?

I read an article in the paper recently. The headline was, "Men in the ‘mirdle': New underwear designs are putting the squeeze on men's midsections"

I shall quote.
“When it comes to underwear, men are the new women. Guys are experimenting with color and styles. In fact, bucking a dismal retail trend, men's underwear sales are up. And -- get this -- men are starting to discover 'body shapers' to smooth their love handles, lift their posteriors and knock off a few pounds without dieting. In short, men are discovering the benefits of the male equivalent of Spanx.”

No, no, no, no. Is this supposed to be some kind of equality? This is wrong. It must stop. Our fore-mothers did not want this. They wanted the vote. They wanted equal pay for equal work. They did not want men in "mantyhose."

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Birthday Party

In honor of the baby's birthday we had a big "to do".

As with most events planned for babies, this one was more for the grown ups who wanted to get together and bask in her cuteness (and/or eat our food, drink our beer, enjoy each other's company) than it was for the baby. There was a bounce house, but even that was for the grown ups, and certainly not for the baby. It gave the bigger kids something to do while we were hanging out with other grown ups.

The baby got a house full of love, a day full of cuddles, and a cupcake. Well, and presents, but it's not even about the presents to a wee one like her.

It was a clear November afternoon with all the family we could squeeze into our small house spilling out into the yard. Even Grandma (my mother-in-law) flew in for the weekend. Though others were missed (one aunt and one soon-to-be-uncle in particular) we were blessed indeed.

I served four different kinds of soup, with four different kinds of bread. A great idea for a Fall feast if one has enough bowls and spoons, which I do not, but Nana, the best mother in the world, was happy to bring all she had. I've done this before, by the way. Offered soup to more people than I had bowl. But I think I have learned my lesson. In the future, I will put BYOB - Bring Your Own Bowl (and spoon, BYOBS?) on the invitations.

Dessert was birthday cupcakes, also provided by Nana. (What would I do with out her?) She and Jonah baked them from scratch -- chocolate and vanilla with chocolate and pink frosting(Yes, I know that pink is not a flavor.) and sprinkles.

All in all, I think it was a great day. I don't really know how everyone else felt about it because I was so busy. I barely sat down. I only got the half of a bowl of soup from last at the bottom of the pot. But, everyone looked like they were enjoying themselves. And I got many compliments on the soup. Thanks to all of you. The most commented upon recipe is found in the previous post.

The guests, the soup, the bread, the cupcakes, even the dirty dishes are gone now, but we remain warm and happy and loved here.

This is Samuel the next morning, having his breakfast cereal among the clean and borrowed remains of the party.

BYOB Chicken Noodle Soup

The biggest hit at our Bring Your Own Bowl Soup Party was this almost embarrassingly easy Chicken Noodle Soup

Olive Oil
Onion, one small, diced
Celery, 2 stalks, diced
Green bell pepper, half, diced
Carrot, 1 medium, sliced
Other vegetables you may need to use up
Chicken Broth, 32 ounces
Poultry Seasoning, 2 tsp
Egg Noodles, 8 ounces
Chicken, cooked, as much or as little as you have around, up to 2 cups.
Cream of Chicken Soup, 1 can
Cream of Celery Soup, 1 can

Coat bottom of soup pan with olive oil. Saute vegetables about 3 minutes over medium heat. Add broth and poultry seasoning. Swanson's Organic Chicken Broth is the best tasting. I have tried them all. And no they are not paying me. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer for about 10 minutes. Return to boil and add noodles. Cook as directed on package, usually 7-10 minutes. Trader Joe's sells an 8 ounce package of specialty egg noodles that is exceptional in this soup. They are not paying me either. Add chicken, and creamed soups, until heated through and creamy. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Precious Littleness

Catherine is my only girl. My youngest, my last. My baby. She turned one this week. Thus ends the shortest year of my life.

This is in contrast to my first year of motherhood. Jonah was a difficult baby. I was an unprepared and overwhelmed mother. That was the longest year of my life.

This last year has been different. Cate is easy and I have more knowledge, experience, and confidence as a mother. It has gone by in a blink of her cute hazel eyes.

I have been aware for some weeks that this anniversary was upon us. Not just in the linear, counting off 365 days sort of way, but mindful of the transient and irreversible. Catherine has changed so much. She is big and walking. Her precious littleness is wearing off. Oh, she is still precious, and still relatively little, but she is growing up and away from me everyday.

I can't help lingering over her, especially at bed time. I feel her warmth through her pajamas. The weight of her in my arms. The smell of her hair. Tonight, it was her hands. So soft. (They have never washed a dish.) Long fingers with dimpled knuckles. Tiny, tiny nails. I let her fall asleep on my chest. She's taken to doing that one or two nights a week. She cuddles in with her head tucked in under my chin. Our breath rising and falling together. Five minutes of heaven. Then she rousts herself, raises her head, and I know it is time to put her down. I know I must.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Health Care in Utopia

I want to live in a town/state/country/world where everyone has access to a free quality education and free quality health care. But, the reality is education and health care aren't free. And the government can't run anything of quality.

Every time the government takes a dollar from Peter to pay Paul, Peter is out a dollar and Paul only gets thirty-seven cents. The transaction costs are astronomical.

I have depressed myself. I'm going now.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Halloween, Another Boy's Life Lesson

My son Samuel just turned three. This is his first Halloween of any consequence.

Samuel does not talk much, so we are never sure what he "gets" and what he doesn't. But, they must have been teaching him about Halloween at pre-school because he came home last Thursday (the 29th and his last day of school that week) with a small paper bag stapled closed. He carried that bag, still stapled, around the house saying "trick of trick ... trick or trick." Finally, he brought me the bag and said, "bag off." Off, on, open, close ... interchangeable to him.

I opened the bag to find two lolly pops and a plastic spider. (The teacher might tell you that she also put a "fun sized" Three Muskateer bar in there, but I will deny to my dying day that I ever ate, er, saw it.) "Lolly pop ... lolly pop." He had learned another new word. So, I unwrapped the lolly pop and gave it to him. He did not eat it of course. He carried it around the house. "Trick or trick ... trick or trick." It was sweet. Then mildly amusing. Then I was easily distracted by some bit of housework.

"Hey, Mommy." Sam had learned a new trick (or trick). The old lolly pop in the ear gag. Silly boy.

He dressed as a cowboy this year. We took him to Trick-or-Trunk at Jonah's school. He was very cute. He had a trick-or-trick and a thank you for every trunk. Then he looked around, saw the costumes, realized the grown-ups had lost their minds, and was ready to go home. We got him out of there just in the nick of time. He was about to lose it.

When the day itself arrived, he was very excited to get back in his cowboy costume. We made a brief stop at a party hosted by Abby, the best babysitter in the world. We got there early. The crowd was not huge. There were cupcakes and treats. Sam glanced around in a daze. It takes him awhile to decide if he is going to like a new situation, but this was a new level of uncertainty. He didn't even eat his treat. Though he may be saving it for later. There is still a nutter-butter covered in white chocolate and decorated to look like a ghost (with one bite missing) somewhere in our garage.

The next day, when he got up, he had a lot to say (very rare for him) and it went like this...

Get up. Get up, get dressed. Get dressed, cowboy. Get dressed, cowboy, Abby. Cowboy, Abby, cupcake. Cupcake. Cupcake. Cowboy, Abby, cupcake.

Poor kid. He's only three. What cold I say to him by way of explanation? Too little, too late. That ship has sailed. Next time, seize the day, live in the moment, get with the program while the program is still on. Three year olds don't speak cliche. There was nothing I could say. So, I gave him a hug and a kiss, and another lolly pop to stick in his ear.

My Brilliant Career

I am going to be a writer. Books? No. Too long. Short stories? Not short enough. Essays? Five paragraphs is five paragraphs too many. I am going to write titles. My current project...

The More I Drink, The More I Love you: An Open Letter to my Children

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween, One Boy's Obsession

My son Jonah is four. If you ask him, he will tell you that he is four and three quarters. Both are true.

His obsession with Halloween began in early September. He could not get enough of it. He talked non-stop about costume ideas. He would gasp with delight at the sight of decorations in a store. He could sit still (not his strong suit by the way) for an hour looking at Halloween pictures on the internet. His favorite was to have me search Google images for "haunted cakes" thereby combining his current obsession (Halloween) with his previous one (fancy cakes).

So, this Halloween, I made him a costume. With my own hands and the sewing machine my Grandma Bunny gave me as a wedding present. He wanted to be a ghost. A sheet, some scissors, and a piece of elastic to hold it into place. Simple, right? Well, nothing is simple with Jonah. He has ideas. Vision. (Not visions.) He knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted to look like a real ghost. A lengthy metaphysical explanation that there are no such thing as "real" ghosts, proved unpersuasive to this four year old. But, finally, the night before his school festival, amid much wiggling, we transformed him into a satisfactory ghost.

Friday was "Trick or Trunk" at school. His Nana and I dressed up as witches, decorated the back of the station wagon, and handed out candy and bouncing rubber eye balls. That was followed by the class pizza party.

Saturday was a long day. A long day of thinking about Halloween. A long day of talking about Halloween. A long day of looking longingly at others' Halloween decorations. A long day of begging Mommy and Daddy for "just one more" piece of candy. And then. Finally. It came. Seven o'clock and the first ring of the door bell. Oh, he was so excited to hand out candy it was tough to get him in his costume.

Our first stop was a party thrown by our babysitter, Abby. She was hosting kids from the high school group at church, and she invited us to stop by. So, we did. Abby is quite the baker and the cupcakes were extraordinary! So, we stopped, the kids had a cupcake, we headed back home.

Once home, Jonah was too distracted by handing our candy to trick-or-treat himself. In fact, when we ran out of candy, he insisted that we start giving out the candy he got at "Trick-or-Trunk" the day before. What a generosity of spirit!!!!

It was just a frenzy of door bell ringing and trick-or-treaters. And then. At 8:30. It all stopped. My husband blew out the jack-o-lantern, closed the blinds, and turned out the porch light. Halloween was over.

In all of the obsessive discussion, anticipation, and planning for this day I had forgotten one thing. To prepare my son for its end. It came quickly and without warning. He was devastated.

At first his face contorted into that grotesque pre-meltdown mask so familiar to parents. Then the slow wail. The first sob. Then the tears. He was inconsolable. It made my heart hurt just to watch him. How could I not have predicted this? I pride myself on thinking things through to avoid heartache and inconvenience whenever possible. I failed.

He did calm down enough to get into bed, but I heard him whimpering in there for quite awhile.

By the next day, all the neighbors had dismantled their decorations. Some of them quite elaborate. It was as if Halloween had been two months ago. But not at our house. We lit the jack-o-lantern again last night. And probably will again tonight. And I think I'll let the spider webs and ghost-on-a-stick stay out front just a little longer. It is the least I can do for the kid. He won't be four and three quarters forever.