30 June 2009

At Papa's Office

Recently the girls went on a trip to papa's office.

They wrote a bunch of important stuff on the wipe-board walls.

Then they hung out in the break room.

After that, it was time to go out for Japanese.

It was a rough day.

29 June 2009

Improvisational Cooking With Kids

Our last library trip yielded, among other things, a cooking-with-kids recipe book. The recipes in it are simple, very well illustrated, and generally campy so as to appeal to children. Today we settled on the least campy one.

The kiddos and I set about making the recipe. Star cracked eggs. Dandelion switched the mixer on and off. It was fun. But not nearly as much fun as it was when I decided to change the recipe.

One brick of cream cheese and some cinnamon/sugar were the only add-ins we needed. The cheese chunks that they are so merrily sugar-coating are twelfths of a regular brick of cream cheese (because the recipe make 12 cupcakes). Here are the girls, obviously delighted to coat chunks of cream cheese in cinnamon 'n sugar. They were excellent kitchen helpers.

I took the coated lumps of cream cheese and plopped them on top of the batter, already in each (well greased because who knew we were out of cupcake papers?) cupcake well. Then I took all the left over cinnamon and sugar and parceled it out over each mess of sugar-coated cheese 'n batter. This is how they looked like when they went into the oven.

And this is how they looked about 20 minutes later.

The girls were very pleased . . . with themselves and the cupcakes.

28 June 2009

Once is Never Enough

On the actual day of my Mom's birthday we met at a restaurant for dinner and UP, which was really great. But that didn't include cake or ice cream so we had to get together again. And really, who would turn down another opportunity to celebrate?

Little did we know that the party would include a Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake, thanks to Joe, who I think will likely be asked to bring cake again. Soon.

In the picture with Dandelion, Grandma was laughing because of something Dandelion had done--can't remember what it was, but from the look on her face. . . .

In the other picture showing my parents together, you'll notice the red egg they're admiring. My sister-in-law makes those by hand, using a technique not too different from that employed by the ancient Greeks to decorate urns. The patterns she paints onto the egg are intricate, and that she manages it freehand on such limited surface area knocks my socks right off.

27 June 2009

Back Yard Flower, Front Yard Weed

Lovely Queen Anne's Lace, in our back yard.

The patch in the back yard grows majestic along the fence line. It's taller than Star is, and we know that she's a full 52 inches because of the roller coaster height-requirements in Florida. This year there are several lovely blossoms. Last summer I remember a far scragglier, scrubbier plant than what's growing out there this year. I like it. It looks like it belongs over by our fence.

Of course, weedy wild flowers grow wherever they can, and this summer they screamed a triumphant "Can!" from every crack and seam in the front walk way. Queen Anne's Lace growing dignified and proud along a backyard fence is one thing. Queen Anne's lace erupting all over the low-growing Hosta and Stella D'oro, elbowing it's way between bricks, and shooting up, up, up from around the driveway . . . there's no other word for it than ugly.

There are no pictures of the Queen Anne's Lace from the front walk for one very good reason: I've been ripping all of it out. I've gotten to almost all of it, but you won't find photographic evidence that any of it remains.

26 June 2009

Even Cockroaches Love Their Babies

No, this post isn't about more creepy-crawlies.

The title of this post is what a friend told me, years ago. At the time, I had a beautiful newborn, and my friend probably said this to me in response to my totally-typical-of-new-parents comments about how beautiful my baby was.

And she was beautiful, awe-inspiringly so. Complete strangers stopped us in the street to tell us. That this happened while we lived in Germany where you do not talk to strangers and children are (or ought to be) invisible proves the point all the more.

Looking back on it, I don't know how my friend managed to deliver that line about cockroaches without getting a knuckle sandwich in return. He said it with such detachment, so completely lacking in malice or dismissive intent. He said it like the truism that it is. Still, that was probably my one chance to punch him in the gut and get away with it. I regret that I didn't do it.

Of course, parents see beauty in their children and if they don't they'd better not let on. For me it goes one step further. I'm totally in love with the pictures my children draw.

These are some of Star's drawings. That one in the top right is a family picture, one of dozens she has made that capture us better than a photo ever could. I have always loved how much expressive detail she manages to pack into even the simplest figures.

I'll post some of Dandelion's work soon.

25 June 2009

My Friends are Awesome

My friend Ellabella Ellabella recently submitted a photograph to National Geographic's Daily Dozen. They selected it this week, and that means, among other things, that you can see her picture in National Geographic's online memory game.

Congratulations, Ellabella!

And, so far, this is the best score I've been able to get.

If you try the game, let us all know how you did.

24 June 2009

It's That Time of Year Again

Last night, in honor of my mom's birthday, we all met for dinner before settling in for a second in-theater viewing of UP in 3D ('cause we're sentimental ninnies who can't help ourselves). It was late as we made our way home, and as we completed the final turns through our neighborhood we noticed big billowing clouds of whatever fumigant they spray to deplete mosquito populations at this time of year.

Matthew instinctively turned off the car's outside-air-venting apparatus as we entered the fog. Great plumes of whatever-that-stuff-is are unsettling, but not nearly as unsettling as their target audience.

Blood_Sucking_Monsters. Not long ago, this one landed on me in my own house so I smacked it Obama style. It fell to the floor, but after lying there for about half a minute it righted itself. It got up.

I paused long enough to take the picture and then I finished the job. Russel (the kid in UP) wouldn't allow me to be a Wilderness Explorer after that display of animal cruelty, but Mr. Frederickson (the old man) would have understood.

22 June 2009

Poppies are Blooming

One of the first post-vacation tasks I set for myself was to check on the plants. While we were gone, the cilantro bolted, the sunflowers verily doubled in height, and the very first of the poppies bloomed.

I was excited to see our poppies since I had never grown them before and I didn't really know what to expect. Here's one little poppy blossom. If the crazy-heat doesn't kill all the rest of them this week, there will be more.

While I was out taking pictures of the blossoms, I noticed this tiny bug clinging to an as-yet-unpopped-poppy:

In a snap, the bug jumped off the poppy bud, and with my socks charmed right off, I kept on clicking.

21 June 2009

Water Fun

Father's day coincided with the first day of summer this year. We celebrated both with the help of the garden hose in the back yard.

Vacationing in Florida was really nice, but so is being back. Home sweet home.

19 June 2009

Ok, So I Did Watch TV

Last night the girls and I watched Iron Chef in our resort on vacation. It didn't really keep their interest or mine until I realized that Isaac Mizrahi was one of their judges that night. As a kid I guess I got swept away by Isaac Mizrahi when I saw Unzipped, the documentary of the creation of his fall 1994 collection. Ever since I've been delighted every time I come across more news of him. He's become a sort of happy angel that flits in and out of my world. And so there he was on TV, a judge on Iron Chef.

I'd heard him interviewed on Splendid Table a while ago, so I wasn't really suprised to see him in the food genre. Mizrahi does everything. He has written comic books about would-be fashion model, done a little acting, hosts a talk show, etc. But now, just NOW I read that he is also going to be designing Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music at Opera Theater of St. Louis. In his spare time he's coaching the singers and planning spring galas. Gosh. Isaac Mizrahi is the best.

18 June 2009

Vacations Aren't Supposed to Be Like This

It's Wednesday, and that means we are midway through our Florida vacation. Star woke up vommitting at 3:45 this morning. By 8:30 when it was time to leave for the day's adventure, she had thrown up six times. She was too sick to go. Right now, she and I are at the resort. Everyone else is gone. It's now afternoon and she is sleeping.

And I am bored. At home I'd have a million things to do or avoid doing (a bigger job thay you might think). But here, I just don't have many resources to ammuse myself. Tools at my disposal for this task are:
1. a web connection
2. origami paper
3. TV

TV is really shockingly boring, so let's just skip that and go right to the origami paper and the web connection. I decided I would use Star's recovery nap to figure out how to fold a "magic box" that unfurls into a rose. You can see the transformation from box to rose in this youtube video.

And you can see the videos (part 1 and part 2) that I watched to see how to do it. And look! I did it.

Also in the picture are 2 examples of another decorative box I tried recently. They're nice of course, but the rose . . . it wins.

12 June 2009

At Least a Week

Last summer when the Hydrangea bloomed, the billowy, fat blossoms were so heavy that I had to pull the branches up with string. I had completely forgotten about that, about having to add supports, and consequently got to it way too late this year. Some of the branches snapped as I tried to hoist them up, so I ended up with lots of cuttings.

But I would have taken cuttings anyway just for the pure pleasure of it.

Shortly after I took that picture of my handiwork, I noticed a stow away.

For those of you who don't know, Hydrangeas don't smell like anything, really. Since people can be very sensitive to smells, I say it's scentlessness is an advantage. Another advantage? Hydrangea cuttings last gorgeously for at least a week.

This post might have to last that long too. In the morning we're off for a vacation and who knows how frequently I'll be able to post while we're away. But when we get back, the Hydrangeas (and the whole rest of our lives) will be right where we left them. Have a great week everyone!

11 June 2009

Frugalein has a Frenemy

Some of you may have missed my introduction of Frugalein into this blog. Since then I've mentioned her off and on. She's the frugal part of me, the part that lives to save money; to use it up, wear it out, make do AND do without, preferably all at the same time.

Well, wouldn't you know, Frugalein isn't the only voice in my head. She's got company and company's name is Grünelein. Grünelein loves to save the earth the way Frugalein loves to save money. Sometimes they get along, singing to me in two part harmony when I hang my clothes up to dry, bake my own (damn!) cookies, switch off the AC, or think up clever ways to use less plastic. They pat me on the head as I shop second-hand, ride my bike instead of driving the car, and wash my clothes in cold rather than hot water.

But Grünelein and Frugalein don't always get along. Frugalein knows it saves not one dime to compost my kitchen and yard waste. She knows that I'm not doing her any favors at all when I sort the trash, ensuring that every recyclable thing in our lives ends up in the right trash can. Last month when I bought an antique watering can, Frugalein shook her head in disgust. I could have bought 3 new ones for what I paid for the beat-up old one.

Meanwhile, Grünelein suffers under an extreme lack of funding. She wishes we had rain barrels, but Frugalein won't pay for them. She wishes we had better insulation so that we would use less power to heat and cool, but again, Frugalein isn't convinced that the investment would pay for itself in enough time for us to break even on it. Grünelein wants tankless water heaters, but Frugalein said the (ancient, inefficient, wasteful) one we have has to break first.

You see how delicate a situation this is, I am sure.

Earlier today Grünelein got very excited when she saw this article about a "zero net energy and zero wastewater building" out in Eureka (about 40 minutes west of St. Louis on HW 44). It will house Washington University's Tyson Living Learning Center, where students conduct environmental research. One of the architects described the structure itself as a teaching tool--it was built to meet the requirements to be designated a "living" building. Think local materials, sustainability, rainwater, solar power, etc. It is off the grid (needs no municipal electric), runs entirely on recycled rainwater, and has no sewer. Waste (of all kinds) is composted. This building has it all. The builders reported that the Tyson Living Learning Center is the first "living" building in the US.

Although Grünelein was practially glowing with happy-pride for this greeny-progressive building, Frugalein's lips were pursed, arms folded, foot tapping impatiently. She was waiting for it, and yes. There it was. In there with all the descriptions of the trouble they endured to ensure that they met these standards was this small detail: it probably costs three to four times as much to build this way. Ah, yes. Frugalein knows all too well how much green-dreams cost and she doesn't hold with any of that.

Frugalein mocks Grünelein's starry-eyed wonderment of all things eco-chic however impractical and money-pit-ish, while Grünelein derides Frugalein's maddening thrift-first mentality.

I think I had better go bake cookies and hang wet laundry. I so much prefer to keep their voices in harmony.

10 June 2009

Swim Lessons

My kids' swim lessons will conclude tomorrow. I tried to take pictures of the lessons in progress, but Dandelion wasn't really in the mood for pictures.

Here she is, poolside, waiting for the next activity.

Here's Star's group. She's the one with the teal pool-noodle.

The funny thing about these lessons is that there are far more girls enrolled than boys in all of the age/skill levels that I have observed. I wonder why this would be. It seems strange. Surely, boys need swimming skills as much as girls do, and it isn't as though boys don't like to swim . . . odd. Maybe it just came down to a scheduling conflict. Who knows.

09 June 2009

Twelve Dumpling Dinners

On a somewhat routine basis, Matthew drops in at our neighborhood international market on the way home from work to pick up a few bags of the world's best frozen pot-stickers (or as my kids call them, dumplings). One bag feeds the whole family and costs about $4. Star LOVES dumpling dinners, but that's not all she loves.

Not too long ago, Star drew me this picture:

Here, she said. This place. I want to go to this place.

The bus on the roof was a dead giveaway. Star had captured the essential features of the City Museum.

We've been twice, but those visits were more than a year ago. Star's memory bowls me over, though the City Museum is not the kind of thing that she would easily forget. It's an engaging place to be no matter how old you are. Kids enjoy the tactile aspect, climbing, sliding, swooping, exploring their way through the interior and exterior. Adults can do all that too, but they'll likely also notice that whimsy and artistry pervade the entire structure. It's just cool. And they had a circus. No wonder Star wanted to go back.

Of course, she wanted to go now right now! Can we please? But it was late in the day. Maybe around 4 pm. So, really, with entry tickets at $12 a piece, no. No, we won't go to the City Museum that late in the day. Star, I said, for all of us to go, we would have to spend as much as 12 dumpling dinners, and we wouldn't get to play very long because it is so late.

Once I converted the currency from Dollars to Dumplings, I was talking Star's language. For most kids, money doesn't make any sense at all so I think I'm on to something with this.

08 June 2009

It Goes With The Territory

Here's another picture of me with the kids, part of the 'me as a mom' series that I mentioned a while ago.

It was taken October 2006 in the Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve. We had just returned to Lebanon after Israel pummeled it that summer.

Today, I put most of the clothes that the girls are wearing in this picture on the front step for one charity or another to pick up. I left two enormous bags filled with toddler clothes out there for them, but that wasn't the half of it. Down in the basement there are at least four more big plastic tubs, all full of baby clothes, blankets, toys, etc. I don't think of myself as a sentimental person, but I simply didn't have it in me to say goodbye to all of it at once.

I couldnt' even say goodbye to all their clothes. I kept the little jeans that Dandelion's wearing in the picture, and I kept the red shoe--I have only one of them. The other got lost somewhere between here and Beirut two years ago.

07 June 2009

They've Outdone Themselves This Time

and without any help from me. I knew they'd someday appreciate our huge dress-up collection.

06 June 2009

Cheesy Hands and Feet

Although the results have always been mixed, I am forever trying to cook with my children. I'm quite sure they are as ambivalent about these bouts of quality time as I am. They'd rather be in front of the television, I'm sure. Never the less, I keep a watchful eye for recipes that the kids might actually want to make, so when Nigella Lawson, author of How to Be a Domestic Goddess, promised (on NPR, of course) that kids (generally) would love making Cheesy Feet, I decided it was time to drag my kids (specifically) into the kitchen once more.

The kids were great kitchen helpers, and thanks to a crazy-easy recipe the Cheesy feet (and hands!) came out much as anticipated. The result is something like a slightly cake-like goldfish cracker.

Look! Disgusting? Cute?

Here's how you can make your own (modified from the original at NPR):

4 oz. Cheddar cheese, grated
1.5 T butter
1/3 c flour
1/4 t baking powder

Put all of the ingredients into a food processor and blitz until the dough comes together (it eventually will become quite like play dough). When it does, form into a fat disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes. When the dough has chilled long enough, preheat the oven to 400˚ F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. While oven heats, roll out the dough between sheets of wax paper to roughly 1/8-inch in thickness, and cut out hands and feet with cookie cutters. Re-roll the dough to continue cutting out hands and feet until it is all used up. Put cut-outs onto lined baking sheet and cook in the oven for 10 minutes. Give them a few minutes to cool, then serve.

05 June 2009

Eat it Up

Much to our mutual consternation, Matthew has been the kids' favorite parent for as long as we have been parents. That's never been easy for either of us. Matthew is under the constant weight of their demands, whereas I becoming invisible the minute he walks through the door. Just about everyone we know has promised us that someday it will be my turn, but no. Star's six. If there was going to be a nobody-but-mommy phase it would have come by now.

For at least the past two years, Matthew has done occasional daddy-daughter dates with the girls. They love the one-on-one time with him. Invariably the date will include a restaurant and they love that too. They love it at least as much and maybe even more than the one-on-one time. . . .

Clearly, dates with daddy fall beyond Frugalein's jurisdiction. Generally her reign over our wallets goes largely uncontested and that results in infrequent restaurant outings for our kids. What a waste of money, she tells me. If I hear, "Mom, can we go to a restaurant?", Frugalein will spit out the word "No," delivered in the most knee-jerk and automatic fashion you can imagine before I've even registered the question.

Ok, so mommy doesn't know how to say yes to questions like that, but what would happen if the question was different? What if she were asked for a mommy-daughter date? Shrewd little Dandelion came up to me not long ago and asked in her nicest voice for this very thing. Because I really love you, she said.

Hmmmmm. What will I do? Do I want to be wanted so badly that I'll pretend I don't know that my kid is really just after the ice cream? Do I want happy-fun-time with my daughter (getting a treat just the two of us) so much that I'll silence Frugalein (the old killjoy) to get it?

Is anyone honestly wondering?

The picture was taken on our date to an old soda fountain shop, Dr. Jazz, where the sundaes were made to order, exactly the way we like them.

04 June 2009

Just Because It's June

Here's what's blooming now.

03 June 2009


Today was cold and wet. It started that way, and now it is ending that way. It was cold and wet in the middle too.

A cold wet summer day isn't the same as a cold wet winter day for two big reasons. The first, I would imagine is somewhat universal. Summer plans usually require summer weather, like the girls' swimming lessons. (They're doing great by the way, absolutely love it and their classes are at their level and I'm so glad that they're learning to swim!) Cold wet summer days submarine hot dry summer plans. Fooey. We were really looking forward to their classes and they got canceled today.

Such a downer, but let's not forget the second distinction held by a cold wet summer day. It's such a big deal for me. During the summer last year I all but quit baking. It was just too hot for that. I didn't see it coming at all last year. This year I made a feeble attempt to put up baked goods for the summer. A few weeks ago I made a double batch of my lemon cardamom cookies and put them in the freezer. They're still there (what's left of them, anyway) waiting in the wings for those desperately hot months when I can bear neither the thought nor the reality of an oven set to 350˚ F. The cold wet days of summer are the perfect reprieve from the culinary restrictions we experience when the calender and climate demand a baking moratorium.

Our cold wet day menu? The kiddos helped me to make a chocolate chip bar cookie during the time they would have spent in their swimming lessons. Not adventuresome, I know, but certainly satisfactory. Later, we were back in the kitchen baking cheese pizza for dinner. We relished in the fact of a comfortably cool kitchen even while the pizza baked. Now that the baking itch has been scratched, I think I'll begin planning a menu (an interesting one, this time) for the next cold wet summer day.

01 June 2009

Mr. Ugly

A little while ago, Matthew and I made a date of a late evening stroll through the old-timey main street of a neighborhood not too far from our own. Everything was closed, so we were actually, literally window shopping. It reminded me of Germany and Lebanon at the same time, because we did that in both places. Not much reminds me of both places at once. Yeah, it's pretty much just babies and window shopping.

Anyway, we stopped to look in the window at Plowsharing Crafts. Like other shops nearby, their window display was attractive. I noticed, tucked in at the corners, clay pots. They were nice and big, pretty colors too, and perfect for being indoors or out. And since Frugalein must be satisfied about this kind of thing, I also noticed the price tags. Reasonable prices. Not a dime more (actually, several dozen dimes less because you don't have to pay tax at Plowsharing) than what I'd have to pay for the same product somewhere else. I made a mental note, because Mr. Ugly needed to be repotted and taken out for the summer.

Who is Mr. Ugly, you ask? Well, actually, his real name is Herr Häβlich, but Häβlich isn't the easiest thing for my kids to pronounce plus they sadly have no idea what all those sounds mean, so we anglicized it. This is a picture of my Mr. Ugly that I took back in February. He was overwintering in the dining room and has grown quite a lot since then.

Late last summer, my neighbor invited us to come see her Night Blooming Cereus open up on a still and cool summer evening. A few weeks passed, and then she brought over a mason jar with cuttings from the plant. They rooted well and I planted them in the only unused pot I had and kept it in the dining room. Not more than a week later I had my parents over for dinner. When my mom walked in and saw the plant she instantly (and delightedly) declared that I had a Mr. Ugly plant.

Apparently, years ago, she had a plant like this. One of us named it Herr Häβlich (we all had German in High School, so it's anyone's guess where that name came from) and the name stuck. Mom had no idea that it was a night bloomer, though. Her Mr. Ugly stayed in the house year-round, so he never got the chance.

Earlier today I went back to Plowsharing shortly after they opened, selected a large pot, and brought it home. While I was there I found out that the store is run entirely by volunteers, they're a non-profit, that they have been in St. Louis for nearly three decades. To me, that's almost as impressive as the help they have provided to people who need it. Fair trade allows artisans throughout the world to benefit from the sale of their products in wealthy markets like the one down the street from me. From now on, when I need a gift for someone in town, Plowsharing will be my first stop.

This evening (I had to wait for sundown. I just can't take the brightness or the heat or the skin-burning.) I repotted Mr. Ugly into the Plowsharing pot and found a place for it outside where he will get just the right amount of sun.