Wednesday, December 26, 2007

You Know You're Old When...

you (or your husband, in this case) breaks out the TV Frogger game he got for Christmas and has to repeatedly tell the kids that this is Frogger, for God's sake, and NOT Zacky's Quest.

For those of you who are still here, I apologize for being such a lame Blogger in December. It gets busy, you know? I hope you all had a happy and festive holiday and that you got exactly what you wanted out of the season. To make up for my pitiful neglect, I'm contemplating posting a few of my December posts in January. It may extend the festivity of the season and who really likes January anyway? Besides, it's so true to form for me to be a day late and a dollar short. Why mess with tradition?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hannukah Readings

Happy Hannukah to all of you who celebrate it. So far ours has been good, with gelt, gifts and latkes, of course. More of all of those to come in the next few days, along with yummy donuts too.

Yesterday, I was asked to go to Ethan's preschool class to talk about the holiday to his class. I loved it! I read a book, showed them our Menorah and left them a bag of chocolate coins for snack time. They couldn't have been cuter. The best part is that at dinner, Ethan said he was thankful that his Mommy went to his class. It doesn't get any better than that!

Over the last few years, we've accumulated a nice collection of children's Hannukah books (anything to try to balance out that giant tree!). Reading a holiday book each night in December has become one of our family traditions. As I was thinking about the book I read to the preschoolers, I thought I'd share my favorites here in case any of you still need a few ideas for the kids on your Hannukah gift list. By the way, these would also make a great addition to classroom libraries. Unfortunately, most classes are woefully lacking in Hannukah materials. Be a mensch and help them out!

A Blue's Clues Chanukah:This is the book I read to Ethan's class. Despite it being written for preschoolers, it's quite comprehensive. It doesn't discuss the war and victory which led to the holiday, but it covers all of the rituals and traditions of Hannukah. Blue and his pals are invited to a Hannukah party at Orange Kitten's house. Since none of them have ever been to one, Orange Kitten explains everything that is going on. From Menorahs and latkes to the dreidel game, it's all covered. There are even a couple of simple songs at the end.

The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: This newest addition to our collection is by Lemony Snicket. So already you know it's going to be a little on the strange side. It's about a screaming latke who escapes the pan of hot oil and runs into different symbols of Christmas. Each time he has to explain why he has nothing to do with Christmas. The subtitle of this book: A Christmas Story, might lead you to think that it is about celebrating the two holidays in peace and harmony side by side. That is not the case. It's more about the fact that Hannukah seems to get swallowed up by Christmas and that so few people understand what the holiday is really about. It's a great depiction of what it feels like to be the only person celebrating Hanukah in a world covered with Christmas lights. Plus it's funny!

It's A Miracle: I love this book and have purchased several copies as gifts. Luckily, it's available in paperback this year. It is about six and half year old Owen, who this year has become his family's O.C.L. - Official Candle Lighter. Each night of Hanukah, Owen's grandmother tucks him in and tells him a different story. From Palominos to aliens, her stories are quite diverse. As it turns out, the stories tie Owen more closely to his own family. But the book also includes positive references to celebrating Christmas and acknowledges that in our country, celebrating Hanukah goes hand-in-hand with that other December holiday. What I love is the theme of family that runs throughout the book. Owen celebrates the holiday not just with his parents, but also grandparents, cousins and aunts and uncles. The illustrations in this book are also great. Kids are going to love Owen and his grandma.

Light The Lights: We've had this book for a couple of years and my kids really enjoy it every year. It's about a little girl, Emma, whose family celebrates both Christmas and Hannukah (sound familiar?). It deals with the holidays respectfully and sweetly, and focuses on the commonality of Hannukah candles and Christmas lights. Emma's family honors both traditions and the result is a sweet but not preachy little book with pretty illustrations.

Thank you Aviruthia for the lovely Menorah picture.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Fun and Games with Ethan

Once again, we happen upon the adventures of young Ethan, who, although thankfully (seriously, I thank the Potty Gods daily) is now toilet trained, still needs an adult to wipe him. The other day he was upstairs in need of a hand so he yelled down at the top of his lungs (of course while his brother was napping) for me to go help.

I headed into the bathroom, noticed a Patrick toy and toothbrush from the sink and placed them on the counter (moms really do pick things up everywhere they go) and got down to business. After discussing the shapes of today's particular creations, I was washing my hands when the following conversation ensued:

E: Mom, you need to wash Patrick.

T: Why?

E: Because he fell in the toilet while I was pooping.

T: So you decided to throw him in the sink on top of your toothbrush?
E: What color is the toothbrush?

T: Blue.

E: That's not my toothbrush. That's Julia's.

And yes, he does accessorize his outfits himself.

Monday, November 26, 2007

What I Learned Over Thanksgiving Weekend

Over the last few days, I re-discovered that Thanksgiving weekend is my favorite time of the year. It starts with the planning and the lists. Actually, it starts with the elder members of my family, otherwise known as The Sisterhood, fighting over who gets to host. Then we decide who brings what, when do you start cooking, etc. The gringo husbands have to put in their requests for real Thanksgiving food while lodging their protests against rice in all forms. There are many logistical details to cover.

This year, my happy day was the Wednesday before the big day. My mom came over for a while to help cook, my cousin from the East coast was in town and hung out for a while, and it was just a great day to be home, cooking and looking forward to the next day.

The whole weekend turned out to be pretty great. We spent the day at my cousin Sissy's, something we hadn't done for years. Thanksgiving itself was lovely, and so was the extra long weekend. As much as I love the relaxing and the shopping and the cooking and the eating and just the festive vibe of being together eating and drinking and enjoying loved ones, I managed to pick up some lessons here and there. In the seasonal spirit of giving, I hereby share them with you:

  • It's nice to break tradition and spend the holiday with a different group of family members. The more the merrier, right?
  • The thought of celebrating Thanksgiving with among others, 7 children age 7 and under, is less desirable than a root canal to many people.
  • It's not Thanksgiving without corn with butter, according to 4 year old Ethan. Apparently, it's also not Thanksgiving without 2 kinds of rice, salmon, and guacamole.
  • Turkey breasts have been engineered to be so big that turkeys can no longer reproduce naturally and need to be, ahem, assisted. So, no turkey sex. Strangely, this doesn't bother me as much as it probably should.
  • Peeling sweet potatoes is much easier for 7 year old hands than 6 year old hands.
  • Apple butter doesn't contain butter. Actually, I already knew this. What I didn't know that it is fairly easy to make and makes a nice gift. More to come on this.
  • Caterer turkey that is cooked in the same bag it is stored and transported in ends up kind of stewy and not great. Everyone should learn to make turkey like my mom: breast down, with saffron. The end.
  • There is nothing better than a 4 day weekend.
  • I can survive my daughter being out of school all of Thanksgiving week. Barely.
  • Black Friday is much, much more enjoyable when you spend those early hours asleep in your bed.
  • My good friend from 4th grade, whom I hadn't talked to in 25 or so years, is doing well and living in the Bay area. She's lived all over the world, is writing a novel, and has had some really interesting jobs, including a stint as a dominatrix.
  • My cousin is an, ahem, naturalist. I didn't peg her for this one.
  • My life seems to be quite boring in comparison.
  • You can have pumpkin pie and pumpkin pecan pie and all kinds of other desserts at the Thanksgiving table and still think you'd really like some pumpkin cheesecake.
  • Hannukah is way too early this year.
  • It turns out that I'm more of a "Board Game Night" person than a "let's see how many chemicals we can ingest" partier.
  • I've never been more thankful for my home, family, good health and all the loved ones who enrich my life every day. Bring on the holiday season!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Writers' Strike

I've just realized that all the media coverage of the current TV and movie writers' strike was incomplete without my commentary. How irresponsible of me.

Those of you who regularly listen to me rant may be surprised to know that I'm supporting the writers. As a rule I hate unions and find them only marginally necessary, if that, and only in very few specific cases. This happens to be one of those cases.

Some might find it hard to sympathize with well-paid writers. I happen to know, though, that their jobs, while rewarding, can also be discouraging, frustrating and downright infuriating. They must be creative and brilliant under the confines of crazy deadlines, often having to juggle conflicting demands from their show runner, studio, network and rabid fans. They work crazy long hours with few guarantees of consistent work. And their work makes the studios very, very rich.

Here's the take of someone more eloquent and better-informed than I. Plus, he has graphs!

I'd like to see the strike end and everyone go back to work. It's true that I hate unions, but I hate greed and inequity just as much.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

We Could All Take A Lesson

Because Ethan is so outgoing, easygoing, exuberant, and always just so happy, he seems to belong in a completely different family. Ray and I can both relate to Julia and her hesitance in social situations, her moodiness, all that drama. Ethan, though, is a totally different story. For example, if I try to punish him by taking away a favorite toy, he'll inform me that it's OK because he's not all that interested in playing with that toy. I can never win with this kid.

This weekend, he simultaneously blew me away and cracked me up at Julia's soccer game. We ran into some friends whose daughter also plays and whose son is Ethan's age. As guilty as it makes me feel, I just don't like the son all that much. He's too rowdy, is never told no, and just doesn't act like he's that bright or has that much of a personality. Maybe it's not fair to compare him to Mr. Personality, but maybe he shouldn't come over and mow down Brady or spill pizza and watermelon on my brand new rug.

So Ethan and his friend, Jake, come over to say hi to this kid and without saying Hello or anything else he says:

"Hey Ethan, guess what. I can do math and read."

Ethan, who can read the word "cookies" and knows what 5 plus 5 equals, looks at him and says, "Guess what. I have a new friend and his name is Jake." He and Jake walk off leaving the other boy wondering what the hell just happened and leaving me about to pee in my pants.

I love this kid.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

If The Broomstick Fits...

Ride it!

Happy Halloween everyone!!!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hooray For Halloween!

It's almost Halloween. When our big flood nightmare started, we hoped we'd be done with all the repairs by Halloween. And you know what? We just about are. There a few minor things that still need to be done, but they are cosmetic and not at all urgent. So it's meant a lot to me to be able to get a few decorations put up and actually get excited about the holiday. On Sunday, I took advantage of having my kitchen back by making Halloween pancakes. I used the molds from Williams-Sonoma, but has a variety of shapes.

I am not a pancake pro, and there was a definite learning curve to this process. I learned very quickly not to overfill the molds and that there's no such thing as too much vegetable oil spray. It also helps to have your pan and the molds pretty well heated before starting. After rejecting my first few attempts, I added a little more milk to the batter and achieved much better results. As usual, I ended up with more than I needed, which I love. They went right into the freezer for a little Halloween fun in a couple of weeks.

I'd love to say that my kids were amazed and impressed with my festivity, not to mention my mad culinary skills. At best, they were slightly amused. Except for the little one who wouldn't even taste a bite. My husband said some nice things, but I know he thinks I'm nuts for doing stuff like this. Fortunately, he keeps those comments to least half the time.

As for me, the greatest thrill was not the actual pancakes. I mean, after all, they're pancakes. It was having a kitchen to cook in and to be able to walk around without fear of stepping on nails or worse. Floors and counters will never again be taken for granted by me. And more than that, it was the fact that I'm once again taking interest and pleasure in the silly little things that bring a smile to one's face. This is huge progress for me and again, something that I'm definitely not taking for granted.

P.S. The last guy kind of looks like a burn victim, but I think that just makes
him look more authentic.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Leaving Lost Vegas

You know when you're in Las Vegas or some other adults-only destination, and you see a family loaded down with a bunch of little kids and strollers and diaper bags and all that goes with them? And you think to yourself (or in my case, sneer out loud), "What kind of complete idiot would bring small children to Las Vegas?" Well, as it turns out, I would be just the kind.

And you know how Las Vegas is now supposed to be hip and trendy and cool and high-end and even, dare I say, classy? Well, apparently the Imperial Palace was stuck in 1981 and never received that particular memo.

Combine these two facts and imagine the fun my family and I had in Las Vegas this past weekend. We were there to join my mother-in-law's family as they celebrated her dad's 90th birthday. Most of the gang was there from the East coast, and as we had missed the official celebration in August (being that we have all these kids and live on the West coast and Poppy lives an hour plus away from the nearest po-dunk airport and 3 from JFK or La Guardia), we agreed to drive out and meet everyone there.

We knew that the trip would be challenging and we were alarmed that the family had been led by an imbecilic travel agent - probably the only one in America who's never actually been to Las Vegas - to stay at the Imperial Palace. Still, we were glad that Julia was getting over the sore throat and fever she'd had all week and we were hoping to make the best of the trip. So, armed with snacks, drinks, books, DVDs, crayons and more than a few prayers, we set off on the 6 hour trip. Miraculously, we got on the road early, the kids did great on the drive, and we got to the city in great time.

We got our first taste of things to come when we hit Friday afternoon rush hour traffic just as Ethan announced that he needed a bathroom. We had no choice but to pull over to the side of the off-ramp and let him moon the entire city while cars inched by. Classy.

The kids ooh'ed and ahh'ed as we drove past the giant hotels and beautiful facades. And then we reached our hotel.

The Imperial Palace is neither imperial nor palatial. It is a shithole.

To ramble on and on about just how bad the IP sucks would result in much too long of a post. The decor, the smell, the's just all bad. We shared a swanky 2-bedroom penthouse suite with Ray's mom and his aunt. The mini-fridge smelled so gross that my kids refused to drink the milk I had stored in it, complaining that it tasted like cabbage. They've never even tasted cabbage. The toilet seat was worn away in so many places that I think Frank Sinatra himself probably used it at some point. I shudder to think what a regular room is like.

When Julia was 4 months old, we traveled to Florida to visit Ray's elderly grandfather (the other Poppy). We drove in from Atlanta and had to spend the night in Alachua in the grossest, creepiest motel I've ever been to. There were blood stains on the towels and I refused to step into the nasty shower. It seriously grossed me out to take my perfect sweet baby girl and stay in that filthy room. The Imperial Palace is the Alachua of Las Vegas. Other guests joked that the initials IP really should stand for ImPlode.

Mercifully, we finally got out of there for a while the afternoon after we got in, but not before having two meals at their nasty coffee shop, the Tea House (which came to be known by us as the Pee House). We headed to Circus Circus and the kids had a great time. It was like Chuck E. Cheese on steroids. It actually brought back happy memories of my own trips to Las Vegas as a child, begging to go to Circus Circus and playing the camel race with my cousins. A more recent addition to Circus Circus is the Adventuredome, a smoke-free mini-theme park with rides, junk food, and more games. This was a great way to spend our day.

From there we headed to Paris and tried to survive another meal while Bunch screamed. I have to say, he was fairly cooperative on the trip as a whole. Between his new obsession with Legos ("eggos") and the few words he now uses to communicate, the screaming has decreased. However, going from car seat to stroller to high chair back to the stroller is not his idea of a good time and even he's got his limits. The big kids got new Webkinz from a store there, which helped to allay their disappointment that we couldn't go up the Eiffel Tower due to the high winds. In fact, the fountains and volcano were also turned off because of the weather.

The highlight of the trip for me was jumping out of the car at the Bellagio to show my two older kids the stunning Chihuly installation in the lobby. A while back, they had seen some photos of Dale Chihuly's work on the internet and had showed some interest. I've been a fan of his work since we got exposed to it while living in Seattle. I couldn't resist the opportunity to show them the actual work when it was so readily accessible. I figured they should know that Las Vegas isn't just about worn vinyl and giant belt buckles. Ethan wasn't that impressed but Julia was very interested. We also went to the conservatory which never fails to stun me with its beautiful seasonal decorations. This time it was an autumn theme and was absolutely gorgeous. Even Ethan enjoyed the "waterfall" of apples. The only bad part about our little 15-minute excursion was that it underscored just how crappy our own hotel was when we returned to it.

I could go on and on, but why? Everyone knows that when you travel with a lot of people, decisions made by the group are not always best for certain individuals. This is magnified when one member of your group is a spry 90-year old birthday boy who still needs to get a nap in now and then. Going on this trip was the right thing to do, and it was lovely to see Poppy and his "girlfriend," whom I'd never met. She is a sweetheart and couldn't have been nicer to me and the kids. Everyone else did their best and we even got to leave the kids with Grandma and go play a little blackjack at night. Our itinerary and accommodations did nothing but make me long to go back to "Lost" Vegas, as Ethan calls it, this time in a nicer hotel, with better entertainment, different traveling companions and no kids. Like I said, what kind of idiot would take kids to Las Vegas anyway?

P.S. Thanks to everyone who's been concerned about our safety during the fire season. Although we drove through some fire areas on our way back from Vegas, our town is not affected. Our hearts are with the firefighters and those who are in the fires' path.

Thank you dpdixon for the photo of the Strip and ladnlins for the gorgeous picture of the Bellagio lobby.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

In case you hadn't heard, today is Blog Action Day, a day for blogs all over the net to post about the environment in a way that pertains to their particular readers. So far, over 15,000 blogs with a readership of over 12 million are on board.

Whether you agree or not that are planet is in an environmental crisis, there's no question that we can all do small things in our lives that will add up to a big difference. For example, with curbside recycling in most communities, it takes little effort to separate your trash. Other things, however, do take some effort. And with all of us leading super-busy lives, it's much easier to pick convenience over the environment. I feel guilty about this every night as I pack my kids' school lunches with plastic bags, individually packaged snacks and juice boxes.

So, I'd like to make this post an interactive one in two ways. First, if you have a blog, I encourage you to register and create your own Blog Action Day post. Second, leave a comment about real-world things you do in your own life to reduce your and your family's impact on the environment. Maybe we can all pick up a few tips to improve our efforts in a small way. One of mine is to reuse my scrapbooking scraps in any way possible. What's good for the planet is also good for my wallet!

Our small efforts will add up to a big result. And then we'll hold hands and sing Kumbaya. And isn't that what this is all about?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

4 Good Things

At the risk of sounding like Martha, here are 4 things that have made life a little bit better, easier, and/or happier around these parts lately:

  • Ice peas: what Ethan calls frozen peas, right out of the bag. My two older kids love them and I love a no-cook vegetable they'll actually eat. Tonight Ethan had 3 helpings (i.e. shakes of the bag into his plate). This is my kind of veggie. Here is my top secret recipe:
Remove bag of frozen peas from freezer. Dump on plate.

Gross? Sure (although I can usually stomach a few myself). Nutritious, absolutely!

  • The gum ball jar. I brazenly stole this idea from Julia's brilliant teacher. She has a picture of a gum ball machine taped to the board and when the kids behave well, she sticks some colorful circle stickers on it. When the gum ball machine is "full," they get a pizza party. Well, we're planning on going to Disneyland in the next month or so. We decided to tie the trip to our own gum ball jar. The idea has worked wonders. I've caught Ethan being nicer to his brother, both kids are being more helpful and Julia, in particular, is being more responsible. Woo hoo! This is a no-brainer of an idea.
  • The secret dot. After about the 14 millionth time of having Ethan ask if his shoes were on the right feet, I remembered an idea I read in a magazine once. With a permanent marker, I put a dot on the inside of each shoe and told him the dots need to kiss. Easy peasie lemon squeezie! This is one thing out of 11 million I no longer have to do every day and Ethan feels so smart and empowered.
Power to the Mommies!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Cheerios, Spongebob, and God

Almost a year ago, a Jewish family from Atlanta moved next door to us. Their kids were the same age and gender as our older two, and they loved hanging out in the cul de sac. The mom and I soon became good friends and chatted about everything from husbands to politics to religion and then some. I loved having a new friend right next door and I hoped I helped her feel a little less lonely after making a cross country move she didn't want to make. Sadly, we're no longer neighbors but we do remain friends.

One of the things we have in common is our religion. And although she's much more observant than I am (and feels way too guilty about way too much stuff), it's always nice not to have to explain things like holidays and traditions like to other folks. She just knows. She joined a temple within a week of moving here (9 years after moving, we have yet to do the same) and always invited me to accompany her to services and other events. We'd been to a couple of holiday things but never to services. Maybe it was residual Yom Kippur guilt, or the fact that Ray was going to be home late from work (again), but I decided to drag my kids to the Family Service with her and her kids a couple of Friday nights ago. I will not repeat this mistake again for a long, long time.

We get there and meet up with my friend and our other neighbor and her daughter and after chasing Brady around the grounds a bit, we file into the sanctuary where the boys grab their kippot and the older kids promptly march to the front row. It was interesting watching Ethan, who hasn't been inside a temple for a couple of years (for reasons which became very apparent in a few short moments). He had no idea what was going on but followed his friend, with Julia keeping an eye on him. We moms and Brady finally got seated a couple of rows behind the big kids and then the screaming started. That's right. Brady's current method of communication is to scream as loudly and ear-piercingly as possible. When he's feeling particularly verbal, he'll scream "Neh" to express his displeasure at the current situation. Otherwise, he'll just scream.

I scramble through my bag, grab a half-empty container of Cheerios, and get Bunch settled on my lap. For a few moments of bliss, he munched happily while I linked arms with my friends and sang some of the Friday night prayers. Pretty much at the same time as the Cheerios ran out, a tearful Ethan came back to my seat to inform me that "this place is dumb" and he was ready to go home. Crap.

From my diaper bag I pull out some giant Lego blocks for Bunch, a sheet of epoxy Spongebob stickers for Ethan and peace was temporarily restored again. As Ethan covered my arm with 20 or so different Spongebob faces then moved them one by one to my leg (who needs to go get waxed?), and Brady played with his Legos I once again got to enjoy the feeling of being in a temple on a Friday night for the first time in way too many years. The kids were actually quiet for 13 seconds until Ethan started going through my bag and found his toy hammer. Crap. First, he started banging on the epoxy Spongebob heads. Then he moved on to the chairs themselves. Then he continued with the potted plant next to our row of seats. By this time his friends in the front row had to come check out what all the noise and fun was about. And that's when Brady decided he wanted to play with the big kids too. Mind you, the service is going on this entire time.

The other kids were quickly shooed back to their seats by their mothers while Ethan, under threats on his very life, came back to his own seat where he sat on the floor and hammered the chair cushion. Brady, however, was completely done at this point and voiced his displeasure as loudly as possible, compelling the rabbi to remark on the strength of his lungs. And then my cell phone rang.

Mercifully, the service eventually ended and we headed over to the Sukkah to say the blessings over the wine and bread. My kids actually enjoyed that part, because it involved food. Just before we left to get our traditional Shabbat dinner of Wendy's drive-through, my friends actually had the audacity to ask when I was coming back.

It's interesting, attending services at 2 different temples within a week. You get a great urge to compare and contrast. Let's just say that this small, suburban congregation, with its almost makeshift bubble-like sanctuary and its rabbi and cantor combo who seem like they're auditioning for the next season of Last Comic Standing, falls short in a lot of ways to Valley Beth Shalom with its amazing rabbis, 1000+ member families and lovely facilities. But there was love, and caring, and friendship, and community here. There were smiles for my screaming baby and songs that captivated my daughter. And for me, there was the feeling that I was doing the right thing as a mom, even though it was hard, and stressful, and embarrassing. This feeling is hard to come by. I still don't plan on returning soon but I'm definitely glad I went.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Well, Hello

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the Earth. I don't know what I've done the last couple of weeks but let me assure you, it's been vitally important. Right. For the interest of my blog readers, one of whom I happened to meet the other day (Everyone say "Hi Dave!"), I will try to jump-start my feeble, medicated mind and update you on my oh-so-exciting life:

  • Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur happened. Rosh Hashanah was fun, except for the stress and the staying up late and the hyper kids and the cranky relatives and the heat. But there were beans (black-eyed peas if you're being persnickety) and tongue (how has Tannaz not blogged about this?) and the little cousins were so cute together. Yom Kippur was also nice. Julia attended her first Kol Nidre, in the rain no less. Both of these facts completely traumatized her but she conceded later that it wasn't as bad as she expected. Last year, when I was lucid, I wrote a Yom Kippur post that sums it up well. Go back and read if you care. I've learned that when you attend services once or twice a year, that you tend to get a little more out of them. It's either that or the rabbis at Valley Beth Shalom are truly phenomenal. Or, as my husband says, they have the direct line to God. Any of those are possible.
  • Things are going well at school. Ethan is so "inciting" when he gets to go and Julia loves it. I could not be happier. Well, I could if preschool weren't so expensive, but then it wouldn't be so good. At least, that's what I tell myself.
  • My mind seems to be percolating along in its new chemically enhanced state. Some minor adjustments may be necessary, but there has been a huge improvement. I might even graduate from therapy soon, which only means that either my therapist is not very perceptive or that I put on a pretty good well-adjusted act.
  • Progress is afoot on the home front. We have floors!!! And new counters!!!! And the island is no longer in the back yard, though the toilet is. Baby steps, people. Today I went to the bowels of the San Fernando Valley yet again, this time to shop for tile. Tomorrow I get to do the same thing locally. I can't wait to be done! Plus, how much do I love saying "afoot?"
  • We are in the middle of annoying Southern California fall weather, which I hate. We have cold mornings and hot afternoons, which means that at some point during each day, my kids will look like the person who dressed them is a complete moron. While this may be true, I don't appreciate the daily opportunity to advertise it. Pretty soon I'm going to have to knuckle down and drag Ethan to the mall to buy some sneakers. I will pay $20 to whomever would like to accomplish this for me. I'm tempted to start shopping online. Hmmm....
  • My sweet friend Lissa is closing down The Untamed Scrapper. My heart breaks over this because I know how much of her time, energy, money and soul she has put into it, but I also know that it's the best thing for her family and that is what's important. I know she'll be up to something else in no time and I can't wait to see what it is.
  • My baby sister turned 30 and we had a fun celebration with all her friends. This is turning into an annual event! Her friends are lovely and now I can make fun of her for being old like me. Totally a win-win.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lucky 7

This is my second grader (!!!!) on the first day of school. She's wearing the shirt that she picked out herself, even though I liked the other choice better. She accessorized the outfit herself and I love that along with the big girl clothes is a Princess Jasmine necklace that tells me there's still a little girl wearing them. For the first time since she started elementary school, I am really excited about her teachers and so is she. I'm already seeing a big difference from last year, her class is filled with friends and I'm really optimistic that this will be a great year.

This is my soccer player at her first game. After our Parks and Rec experience last summer, I didn't think she'd want to play "real" soccer this year. Still, I encouraged her and it was her choice and she absolutely loves it. I couldn't be more surprised. As this is her first year playing - she's the only rookie on her team - everything is still new and fun. She works really hard (most of the time) and has a great time. The coaches are so positive and she loves her "highlighter green" uniform. Although her brother said today, "I wish there was no such thing as soccer practice," I think this will be a great experience for her.

The cutest part? She wanted to be #7 and she got it. Why? She says it's because she's 7 years old, of course. I say it's going to be a fantastic year.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Before Pictures

I think I've hesitated to post these pictures before now because they were just too devastating to face. Even though we've been living in this construction zone daily, the photos just make it hit home and bring back the whole ordeal of the night our pipe burst. Now that the repair work has started and we can see some progress, I thought I'd post some "before" photos to put the "after" pictures I'll post later into context.

The first picture is our office, under a layer of water, before the carpet was ripped out. The second is the kitchen, after they cut out a foot of drywall to prevent water from seeping up into the walls and causing mold to grow. I think the ripped up drywall has been the worst part of this, visually. It has felt like our home had giant gashes in it. Interestingly, Julia mentioned that she thought this was the most disgusting part of the mess. I see what she means. Fortunately, it was also the first thing to be repaired and we all felt better once we saw our house healing. We also have our new floors almost completed. I can't tell you how good it feels to see the light at the end of this dark tunnel. Hopefully I'll have more pictures to come soon!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What I Learned While Not Having The Best Summer Ever

Well it definitely was NOT the best summer ever. It wasn't even close. I'm trying to think of a few days, or even parts of days that were really really good and am having a hard time coming up with more than just two or three. If someone had told me a few months ago what the summer held in store, I would have laughed (nervously) at the idea of so many things being piled on all at once. But, as Forrest Gump said, "You never know what you're gonna get," and while I didn't know what I was gonna get, I did manage to pick up a few lessons from the summer vacation that officially ends tonight:

  • Knees are delicate objects and do not enjoy being pulled apart in strange directions. They heal slowly and can manage to screw up all kinds of other body parts while they do.
  • What may seem to be the most well constructed hose under a relatively new sink can burst suddenly with no provocation or warning and create the most unbelievable chaos in its wake.
  • Not all friendly contractors are your friend.
  • Celebrating your birthday at a restaurant with your three children, no matter how much you love them, does not make for a relaxing evening and
  • One table with three children can make significantly more noise than another with four, five, or more. Who the hell can count with that screeching in my ear?
  • My favorite relaxation DVD is immensely more effective if I turn on the DVD player and actually go through the routines.
  • No matter what, it's always a good day at the beach.
  • It doesn't matter how old you get, you still need your mom and dad.
  • Even the most stubborn four year old can be taught to swim.
  • Scrapbooking really is therapy. My therapist told me.
  • Not all home inspectors inspect for asbestos. It is a good idea to verify this before signing closing papers.
  • Going out to eat gets really old, really fast.
  • Certain four year old boys think nothing of dropping their pants and showing off their tushie at the public library, say, or at a nice-ish restaurant because their mother hasn't been humiliated enough yet.
  • Of all the cute things babies do, talking is the cutest.
  • I need to spend more time in my unconscious, whatever that means.
  • Soccer camp is fun! Especially when there are cute coaches with cute British accents! It's fun for the kids too.
  • Depression and anxiety are very real things with emotional and physical symptoms that can leave you reeling. Luckily, there is all sorts of help and relief out there when you start looking for it.
  • I am blessed to be surrounded by a network of friends, family and others who I've learned I can depend on for so much. While learning to accept others' help is difficult, it's a wonderful feeling to know that I have my own, strong, personal parachute that keeps me aloft and prevents me from falling too far.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

It's A Wiggles World

It all started when Julia was a toddler and the Disney channel would play short clips of 4 Australian guys singing cheery songs in between shows. Little did we know that the Wiggles were on the cusp of world domination.

We bought her a Wiggles CD and joyously all sang along and laughed as she mispronounced all the words. Eventually, the CD got stolen out of my car, she outgrew the music and we became a full-fledged Thomas family. That's right, by this time Ethan had joined our family and as much as he liked an occasional Elmo or Blue's Clues, he was, and still remains, a Thomas fan through and through. That is, until a couple of months before his 4th birthday (the one he almost didn't get to have because boys who still wear diapers have to stay 3) when he suddenly fell in love with Greg, Murray, Anthony and Jeff and declared that he wanted a Wiggles birthday party. The stars aligned, I found a bunch of Wiggles party stuff on clearance and the party was a success.

Of course by now Mr. Bunch had also joined our family and little did we know it but his little ears had been listening to all that Wiggles music all along. So much so that when he started saying Giggo Giggo and we all thought it was so cute, my MIL correctly deciphered it as actually his attempt to say Wiggles. All of a sudden our Tivo went into Wiggles overdrive. This kid whose attention span is shorter than a Lindsey Lohan stint in rehab (i.e. don't blink) will actually sit through a 25 minute episode of the Wiggles.

This was a really really good thing until we went from having three working televisions to one. As anyone knows, the youngest member of any family runs the household. So here we sit in our overheated master bedroom, watching episode after episode of Giggo Giggo. Though we have several episodes recorded, it's not uncommon to find us watching the same episode more than once a day. The little guy will not still sit for Sesame Street or, much to his older siblings' dismay, Wow Wow Wubzy or Spongebob Squarepants or anything else. Giggo it must be. And in the car, we get to watch and listen to Wiggles DVDs. This is what I mean by world domination.

Thankfully, I've always liked the Wiggles. Their songs are cheerful and catchy and they don't get on my nerves like they do several of my mommy friends'. I'd much rather listen to an endless loop of Hot Potato than one performance of insipid Barney, for example, singing I Love You, You Love Me. So our little Wiggles obsession could be much worse to tolerate than it is.

The funniest part of all this is that now Julia is a born-again Wiggles fan. She loves the shows, she likes the songs and she jumps out of her seat to dance along. She's even got the choreography down. She probably would prefer that her friends think she spends her days watching Hannah Montana, but the truth is much sweeter.

You might be tempted to post a comment about the perils of too much television for children. Don't bother. I have no floors; basically, no downstairs. If Giggo is going to get my kid to sit still while I feed him and save me from having macaroni and cheese smeared into my bedroom carpet, then bring it on. If three kids will sit down and be quiet and not ask me for one more thing for 25 minutes so I can figure out which fire to put out next, then thank the Lord. And if these Wiggles will distract my babies from the fact that their house is a disaster, their mom has lost her mind and their dad is a little broken, then it's a miracle indeed.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Beach Day

As far as I'm concerned, it's not summer until I've been to the beach. From the time I was little, I remember family beach trips where my dad would bury me in the sand up to my neck. As a teenager, there were many spur-of-the-moment beach trips with my friend Susie. Just one phone call and we'd be on our way to pick up our favorite deli sandwiches (which we had to guard from the seagulls), put the top down on her convertible VW Bug and head down to Zuma. From Hawaii to the Virgin Islands, I've spent a lot of happy moments at the beach and love going back whenever I can.

Now, with a family of 5 and a husband who doesn't share my love affair with sunshine (to put it mildly), we don't go very often but still manage one or two trips every summer. Usually our favorite spot is Paradise Cove which is a little more secluded and has parking right there, a restaurant and a pier to explore. When we showed up yesterday, however, it felt like the rest of L.A. had gotten there first. Not only was the weather hot hot hot but the beach was crowded and the restaurant was a madhouse. As we sat there sweating and waiting endlessly for our lunch I started questioning the wisdom of leaving my quiet, sand-free backyard pool for the heat, sand and chaos of the beach. We must have looked like some pissed-off Orthodox family, sitting there with our clothes on, huddled in the shade of our umbrella.

After we ate, Julia wanted me to help her get some water for her sandcastle and that's when everything turned around. It was a case of "just add water" and all of a sudden the fun started and the day was perfect. The breeze at the edge of the water was cool and refreshing and it was so hot that the normally icy Pacific water felt positively pleasant. My kids, who until yesterday, steered clear of the cold water eventually made their way closer (after a couple of cold and traumatic waves hit them and hysteria had to be abated) and couldn't get enough. Poor Brady was a little confused for a while. There were a lot of new sensations for him to take in. But by the end of the day even he was having fun playing in the sand with his brother and sister.

I was finding it hard to imagine that a day at the beach could actually turn out bad and I was happy that my predictions were unfounded. My happy beach memories remain intact and we added a few new ones. It doesn't look like we'll be making it back this year. It's just too hard to coordinate with the little one and all our junk and needing an extra body there to help keep an eye on everyone. But I look forward to spending much more time at the beach as the kids get older. The ocean is such a wonderful part of living in California and I'm thrilled that my kids have taken to it and love it as much as I always have.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

It's My Mommy's Birthday

I can't count how many times I've posted about being in a tough spot and having my mom totally save me. Today, on her birthday, I'll do it again. It's impossible to imagine getting through the last few months without her. Even before our little water episode, she was here practically every day just to take the kids off my hands so I could sleep, rest, go to the doctor and figure out my messed up brain. She took the kids out, did my grocery shopping, fed everyone (which is her specialty), and was here whenever we asked. She's my go-to babysitter and almost never says no, even if it means dragging my 3 crazy kids along to one of her many social engagements.

So today, on her birthday, what will she be doing? She'll be cooking, of course. And then she'll be helping my sister get ready for her big charity bake sale this weekend. Those are some things that can never be far from my mom. She's an amazing cook, to a fault. Sometimes, it's OK to close the kitchen! And she's been donating and raising money for various charities for as long as I can remember. She gives blood regularly (the thought of which makes me a little squeamish) and is constantly hitting up friend and stranger alike for one of her current causes. That is to be admired.

Of course, I feel guilty that between my delicate emotional state and my disaster at home, I haven't been able to properly prepare for her birthday. Nevertheless, we'll be getting together for a family gathering this weekend and we'll have our celebration then. When the kids wake up this morning, there will be a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" and we'll go from there.

Happy Birthday Goobie. We love you!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Noah's Ark at the Skirball

This week is Ray's long-planned vacation. We didn't think it was wise to spend the money to go out of town somewhere, so we had planned on staying home, eating out a lot, going to local attractions, spending time in the pool and going to the beach. We had not planned on having our floors ripped out and our furniture piled in a corner underneath drop cloths. Nevertheless, the flood gives us additional motivation to get out of the house so yesterday we took the kids to the new Noah's Ark exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

The exhibit is comprised of a practically life-size ark and all the animals you could imagine. What makes it phenomenal for kids, however, is that the entire exhibit is interactive. There are buttons they can push to create the storm and the ensuing flood. They can load the animals on the ark, two by two, of course. There are puzzles, lights, stories and all kinds of things for them to play with and discover. The animals have been created out of everyday objects, like our friend the hedgehog, above. There is a zebra with a piano mane, tire crocodiles, and a polar bear whose body is an overflowing bathtub. And much, much more.

Everything has been designed with kids' exploration in mind and you never have to say "Don't touch!" On the contrary, they are encouraged to touch, and peek, and poke, and play, and climb. That's right, climb! There is a climbing room where kids (and parents....and grandparents) can go up rope ladders to explore the ark and make the elephant move his trunk and trumpet. While it took Ethan 3 tries to finally muster up the courage to go all the way up the ladder (having come back down after climbing halfway up the first two times) there were other kids who were able to get up but then were scared to come down. Luckily, the gallery security guard is a good sport and climbed up to get each of the little ones who would otherwise have been stuck up there indefinitely. When the kids have had their fill of climbing and searching, there is a rainbow room where they can relax and color their own set of animal cards. The down time is great after the excitement of the ark.

Reservations are recommended, but we got in without one after a long wait, which we spent having lunch. If you go, you might consider bringing your own snacks because the snack bar pickings are a little slim (decent salads and sandwiches but nothing other than PB&J for the kids) and the snack bar doesn't take credit cards.

My older kids both expressed their delight at the exhibit and have already asked to go back. Brady was just excited to be out of his stroller with so many new things to explore. I was thrilled to find out that this exhibition is now permanent. We will definitely return with our kids and I look forward to showing out of town guests one of the newest things L.A. has to offer.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Pity Party

Despite my best efforts to find silver linings and bright sides to my current predicament, there are some things that I'm having a hard time overlooking:

  • The sound of chisels, hammers, and even a jackhammer coming from downstairs, pretty much all day for the last two days. And we got an extra early start today.
  • Having spent more money than we ever imagined we could on a nice big home, only to be holed up in one hot hot hot sweaty bedroom...half the time in the dark.
  • The fact that all these fans and equipment running in the house are putting such a strain on our home's overloaded electrical equipment that I can hardly turn on a light, or a fan, or try to make toast for my kids without tripping a circuit. Taking a shower in pitch black is not a fun adventure.
  • Our plumber telling us that in 13-14 years of work, he'd seen a "spontaneous burst" like ours (i.e. total fluke, no reason for it) only 4 times.
  • Hearing my kids tell me that they no longer like their new house.
  • That my poor little toddler has nowhere to toddle.
  • The collective B.O. of 7 workers wafting up my stairwell.
  • Being back at square one with so many aspects of moving, organizing, decorating.
  • Not knowing when this will all be over. And just what the next catastrophe will be.
There, I feel a little better.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

When It Rains, It Floods

Suffice it to say that this summer hasn't quite turned out exactly the way I was expecting.

It started back in June when my poor husband who was content to stay at his desk and work while his cohorts attended a golf tournament was pretty much ordered by his boss to go along. A misstep off the wet grass resulted in a dislocated knee and a long recovery which still isn't over. The knee problems led to very painful back problems which led to a hypersensitive nerve that causes even something like the sensation of his shirt on his skin to be uncomfortable.

This happened as I was congratulating myself for weaning my little guy and therefore, I thought, hastening the end to the months of hormonal flux that was causing me more than a little emotional discomfort of my own. It turns out my relief was short-lived and definitely premature. Last week when the waves of anxiety came back and brought back with them terrible fatigue, nausea, and other emotional and physical symptoms, I realized that this isn't anything I can try to handle on my own anymore and talked to my doctor again. My current theory is that this is post-partum depression that has been there all along, unacknowledged and untreated, waiting for a break in childcare, moving, etc. to show up and demand attention. So it's getting attention and I've been feeling hopeful that these days will pass and I'll be back to my old self again soon and feel better able to handle life and all its ups and downs.

I didn't realize that I'd get the opportunity to test myself so quickly. This morning, when Ray got up to take some medicine around 5, he head the sound of running water. When he went downstairs to investigate, he stepped off the bottom step into two inches of water.

A pipe had burst under our kitchen sink, and you can imagine the rest. Water everywhere. Everywhere. We spent the day in clean-up mode. Mold is a real threat. So our beautiful walls that we had painted before we moved in 4 months ago have had the baseboards ripped off and a foot of drywall cut out to prevent water from seeping up into them. Our gorgeous wood floors are now ripped up and our furniture is all over the place. The kids were out of sorts this morning as they tried to figure out why they couldn't watch TV or play with their toys. Julia has announced that she no longer likes our house. Hopefully she'll feel differently when this is all over. Who knows when that will be?

Of course there's a bright side to every calamity and ours is no different. This could've been much, much worse. Offers of support have come in from friends and family. My parents were here practically as soon as I called, taking care of my boys and me and everything all at once. Never mind that my mom has been nothing short of an angel for the past week, here practically every day, with the singular focus of helping me get better (and feeding me). We don't call her Saint Violet for nothing.

Throughout this crazy day, I only had one moment of sheer despair. That was when I realized that years worth of pictures, probably close to a thousand, meticulously organized and sitting in a giant canvas basket on the floor of my scrap room, had been subject to the water. Along with my awesome dad and husband, we were able to save just about every single photo, although I did lose some lovely memorabilia. I got very, very lucky. My pictures will never again be stored in anything that's not water-proof. Of all the things I ever thought would attack my photos and my home, a flood wasn't ever on the list. Now I know better. But it'll be OK and we'll get through this intact. I can't promise the same for my sanity.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Rock On

You know what's awesome when you feel like something the cat threw up? Being told that you rock. And that is exactly what has happened to me.

It turns out that I am a Rockin' Girl Blogger! I never would have thought! My buddy Meghan, who is quite rockin' in her own right, has tagged me. I'd like to thank all the little people, particularly the three who provide me with so much blog fodder. As stated in the rules, I must now tag 5 others. Of course, I can't narrow it down to just 5 so I'm throwing in a bonus at no extra charge:

  1. Of course, my curly little Tannazie of All Kinds of Yum. Even if you don't appreciate her meandering posts about the most arcane food news and information, you'll love her photos, including the occasional very cute child model or two, and her blog is sure to leave you hungry and itching to visit her cute neighborhood in L.A. Stay tuned for her big blog remodel. It is gonna look great. Now we just have to bring her over to the dark side and get her scrapping.
  2. The lovely Rambling Tara herself of Tara's Ramblings. This girl is a military wife, has 5 adorable kids whom she homeschools!, and still manages to crank out gorgeous detailed scrapbook pages. Amazing!
  3. Tara Whitney, who I'm sure doesn't read my piddly blog but is still rockin' nevertheless. She is a mom of 4, a photographer whose family pictures have been made to make even bitchy me teary, and a really awesome scrapbooker whose emotions for her kids come through in all of her pages and photography.
  4. My darling Just Nicole of Nik's Notations. Truth be told, Just Nicole hasn't posted in a while but she just turned 30, started a new job and is traveling this weekend so we'll cut her some slack. Her blog treats us to a slice of her life in Australia and when we're lucky we get pictures of beautiful scenery, her lovely lovely scrapbooking and awesome Indi, her precocious and foul-mouthed daughter. Hmm...wonder where she gets that from.
  5. Speaking of daughters, mine is certainly rockin' at All About Me. Certainly, she would post more often if she wasn't so busy feeding her Webkinz or devoid of computer privileges for the infraction of the day.
  6. Finally, sweet Lissa of Life's Reflections. She has such a lovely way with words that even when her posts don't include cute pictures of Dalton or her gorgeous scrapbook pages, her blog is a treat to read.

There are several other blogs I read daily who are definitely written by rockin' girls (Kim, Jax, Beth, Teri-Lynn, and others). However, I believe those have already been granted official rockin' status. Hope you enjoy the ones I mentioned here. Tell them I sent you and thanks again Meghan!

Odds & Ends, Mostly Odds

So the summer is half over (sniff, sniff, sob, sob) and it's been a good one so far. The days have been sufficiently busy, with a little bit (not enough) down time here and there. Here are a few things that are going on:

  • We finally got a desk ordered for Julia's room. I don't know which 6 year old begs and begs for a desk but mine did. We promised her she'd get one before second grade and it looks like the promise will not be broken. She'll need a chair, but that can be procured easily I'm hoping. The arrival of the desk will necessitate some rearranging in her room but more importantly, once it's here, I can start the project I've been dying to do for her room. I want to make a homemade version of a combination of Pottery Barn Kids' and Pottery Barn Teen's bulletin board systems. I recently found out that you can buy Dry Erase paint to make any surface a dry-erase board. How cool is that?! This was the last bit I couldn't figure out for this project and now I have. I can NOT wait to get started. It will be a big project (by my scale anyway) and I'll be amazed if I can pull it off and manage not to get divorced in the process. I can't wait to start shopping for fabric!
  • If you like baking or baked goods or ice cream or eating or supporting a good cause, read this post from my sister's blog. She and her friends are organizing a local bake sale and could use contributions of either baked goods to sell or other items for a raffle. Feel free to spread the word to all your L.A. area friends. Or better yet, organize a bake sale in your own neighborhood.
  • On Friday Ray took my big kids to the office with him. One of the people who work there is a nice lady by the name of Erica. Well, never having heard that name before, Ethan assumed it was America. And walked around all day calling her....."Miss America!"
  • A while back I mentioned Julia's birthday cake and how I might post a picture if it turned out OK. Well it turned out OK, but not much better than OK. I was in the grocery store and found a packet of edible flowers in with the fresh herbs. I picked them up hoping to spruce up her birthday cake and here is the result. The assortment of flowers wasn't the greatest and by the time I got around to using them, they weren't so fresh. They would've probably looked much better on white frosting, but we're a chocolate family. I think next year I will strive to do better than a cake mix cake and store-bought frosting. I can do better than this, much better. However, the novelty of the flowers on the cake went a long way. No one was brave enough to actually eat one, however.

Friday, July 27, 2007


A boy just needs his Frappucino!

Monday, July 23, 2007

This is Getting Excessive

You know those articles in scrapbooking magazines where the designer picks say, a shoelace or a goat, and shows all the different ways it inspired her to create fabulous projects? If you're like me, you usually snort as you quickly glance at the article and then flip to the ads to see the cool new stuff you just have to buy. Whatever with finding scrapbooking inspiration in magazine adds and common daily objects.

But on a recent trip to one of my favorite places in the world, I spotted these, and they just scream "Summer" to me. Aside from the fact that I'm hearing voices, wouldn't these just look cool on a fun, summery layout?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

One Just For Me

I recently finished this layout of a sweet nickname my mom made up for Julia. The nice thing about it was that it wasn't for a design team or deadline; it was just for me. It's not the best scan. There's a weird shadow on one side, maybe from the lumpy ribbon.

Product details: Papers: Frances Meyer, Treehouse Designs; Stamps and Ink: Close To My Heart; Rub-Ons: Making Memories, 7 Gypsies (by the way, how annoying is it when alphabet rub-ons and stickers don't also include numbers? This seems like such a basic thing but the manufacturers don't get it.); Flowers: Prima; File tab and rhinestones: Heidi Swapp from the Costco kit that I bought forever ago but just opened. Letter stickers are ancient from The Sharon Ann Collection. That tells you how old they are. The ribbon is a scrap from a gift, I think.

Hard as I try to break out from my style a little, here we are again: pink, green, flowers. I can't help it. It just looks pretty to me. I do have ideas brewing in my head for some other designs but next I'm tackling a project that I've put away for a couple of years. It won't be that fancy, and the products are now a couple years old but that's OK. I'm looking forward to completing it.

In the mean time, thanks for looking.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Birthday Greetings

A lot of notable people are celebrating their birthday today:

One is Orville Redenbacher, which is interesting, since my husband and his dad have this weird love affair with popcorn. The gene has been passed down to my kids and therefore our trips to Target now have a singular focus.

Another is Stewart Copeland, who we have already established is just really cool.

Next is Will Ferrell, who if he wasn't funny enough on Saturday Night Live, did this crazy video with Pearl the drunk landlady from hell.

And then, there's my sweet friend Meghan, whose amazingly cute little boy, Ethan,
was born on my mom's birthday last year. Click on over and wish her a happy one, would ya?

Oh yeah, and me too!

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Food Blog, This Is Not

And I am neither a food photographer nor a food stylist (if only...). But once in a while, I do cook something that didn't come out of a Trader Joe's box in my freezer. I know, take a moment to recover from your shock.

A few days ago, my doorbell rang and I was greeted by a lovely older woman who presented me with a bowl of plums and started talking to me in Hebrew. I don't know what amazed me more: the fact that she somehow decided I would be able to understand her, or the fact that I actually did. It turns out that her daughter and her family have moved in next door, by way of Russia, Israel and the San Fernando Valley, and she takes care of her granddaughters while her daughter and son-in-law are at work every day. The next day when her granddaughter came over to swim at my house, considerably more plums arrived and I found myself in a plum quandary as to what to with them all.

A quick internet search and consultation with the food brains of the family resulted in the conclusion that I would neither be purchasing vallina beans, nor creating fake buttermilk, nor rolling out pie crust for this little endeavor. I wanted to make something easy and good that I could share with my generous new neighbors and so I decided on a simple galette, made with store bought pie crust. I sliced the plums the night before and planned to assemble and bake while Ethan was at preschool this morning. The bonus would be that this is a very kid-friendly recipe, with lots of steps that Julia could help with. Good plan, right?

Well, I soon found out that pie crust is a seasonal item at Trader Joe's. D'oh! And I also found out after I got home that the apricot jam I purchased to glaze the tart with is actually apricot-orange. D'oh. Not to worry. All of this was dealt with and the result was pretty, if quite tart. I'd add more sugar next time. For now, I'll just pile the thing with vallina ice cream or yogurt and continue my amazement at myself that the plan actually worked.

Plum Galette
makes 2 tarts, one for you and one to give away

10-12 sliced pitted plums (or in my case a whole bunch more so Brady could munch while we cooked)
2-4 Tbsp. brown sugar
Vallina extract - as much as you like
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
Zest of one orange, or more if you have them on hand
1 box refrigerated pie crusts (two crusts)
3-4 Tbsp. jam in a flavor you think will go well with the plums (I used apricot orange, by accident)
Turbinado sugar (like Sugar In The Raw)

Combine plums, sugar, vallina extract, cornstarch and orange zest in medium bowl. Let sit. This is called macerating, while the sugar releases the juices from the fruit. Because I have the maturity of a 9 year old, this word makes me giggle.

Preheat over to 425. Unroll each pie crust onto a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Stretch a little to enlarge the crust, but don't go too thin or you'll tear your crust.

Arrange sliced plums in a pinwheel pattern on the crust, starting in the center and leaving about a 1 1/2 inch margin all around. Or arrange them in whatever pattern pleases you. Try to fill all the little holes with more plums.

Fold and pleat the edges of the crust over the edge of the fruit. It doesn't have to look pretty; rustic is good. Generously spoon some of the juices over the fruit.

In a small bowl, microwave the jam for about 30 seconds until it is melted and runny. Brush the jam generously over the crust and fruit, being careful not to mess up any design you may have created. This will become your glaze. Incidentally, I used my favorite new kitchen tool for this step. I've had this brush just a couple of weeks and have already used it twice. I like it because it's easy to wash and I don't end up with bristles all over my food. And it's red. OK, on with the recipe:

Sprinkle some of the turbinado sugar on top of the crust and fruit. Now repeat the entire process with the other crust and remaining plum mixture.

Bake in your preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, switching racks halfway so both pies brown evenly. Cool in baking sheets on rack. Serve with whipped cream or vallina ice cream. Or both.

This is my favorite kind of recipe: simple, made with ingredients that most of us have on hand and fresh, seasonal items. If you actually do attempt this recipe, I'd love to hear about it and also about how you varied it to suit your taste.

Like I told my new neighbor when I took hers over: "B'Teavon!"

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Cutie Cousin

Those of you who hang out at may have already seen this page. These pictures are of Julia and one of my favorite cousins. I don't remember much about the products I used but I do recall that the epoxy tag is Marcella by K and the letter stickers are Me and My Big Ideas. Another layout done and I'm actually reasonably happy with this one, although it doesn't measure up to so much of the stuff I see out there.

On another subject, are you feeling extra lucky on 7-7-07? I hope the Dodgers are, since we're going to see them play in a few hours. I also hope it's extra special for my Auntie Parvin, who's celebrating her birthday with her beautiful daughters and grandchildren today. She's the best.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Birthday Baby

Today is my baby girl's 7th birthday. She's had a great day so far: Starbucks for breakfast and playing The Price is Right with her dad and brother. This girl so belongs in our family. I think Toys R Us, Chuck E Cheese and Shave It are also in our future today, after swimming and before cake (incidentally, I have a vision of her cake in my head that if the reality turns out anything like it, I'll post some pics). In a couple of days we'll be getting together with her friends to celebrate at Build-A-Bear. Her grandma is visiting for her birthday this year, which makes it extra special.

I'm trying to be sappy and sentimental and weepy today but I'm just not feeling it. I'm incredulous that the little newborn we brought home from the hospital is 7 years old (and has two younger brothers!) but mostly I'm just excited for her and hope she has a great year. Hopeful that she has a fun year, with a little bit of growing up and some great friends. Wishing that she'd get out of her own way a little bit, learn to let some things go, and just be her own sweet self. Thankful that she's my girl, especially since it's just her and I among all these boys, that she loves scrapbooking with me and insists that we snuggle when we watch So You Think You Can Dance.

Happy Birthday Juji! Your family loves you more than you can imagine!