Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Driver's License

It wasn't until I was safely out of my self-involved twenties that I recognized just how terrifying it was for my mother that year I spent in Africa. I knew then that she was often frustrated that I was far away and unreachable by phone or any other means much of the time. I know now that despite their uneasiness, my parents admired my independence and choice of "the road less traveled by."

And now here I am, just a little terrified of the idea of Big Sis riding her bike somewhere, someday soon, by herself. Somewhere that would necessitate her crossing streets with actual cars on them.

But Big Sis can sail her own boat now, on a bay with actual deep water. Watching her sit confidently on that rail, pull in her sails, and duck under the boom gives me shivers of fear and pride. And glimpses of what it might feel like later, when she boards a plane by herself, buckles herself into the driver's seat of the family car, and moves out and checks in at the freshman dorm.

This is what it's all about, right? Providing our children the training and tools to launch themselves and steer around obstacles in the wide world. Even go places we wouldn't, and with more confidence.

I try not to fixate on the potential crashing and capsizing.

It sure is exhilarating (wince) to watch them fly.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pumpkin Pizza

We invited some friends for dinner last night, and I wanted to make something seasonal.  I love cooking with pumpkin, but my go-to dish, Ravioli with Pumpkin Sauce, wasn't inspiring me.  I had pizza dough, though, and thought, what with pumpkin sauce instead of tomato? 

It was yummy (phew).   

Here's Pumpkin Pizza with Sweet Italian Sausage, Shaved Parmesan, and Arugula:

I used pre-made dough, which I bake a little before heaping with toppings to avoid soggy pizza in the middle.

For the sauce, I reduced a cup of port wine (try sherry or marsala) with a teaspoon olive oil, minced garlic, and pinches of sage and garam masala.  I added a can of pumpkin, a tablespoon of rice vinegar (optional), and simmered the sauce for ten minutes.  (You can make the sauce sweeter,  if you like, with the addition of some apple juice or maple syrup). 

I spread the sauce on the already crusty dough, layered the shaved parmesan, and then added dried thyme leaves, cooked sweet Italian sausage, and arugula.  I baked the pizza for about 15 minutes at 425 degrees. 

We munched on pumpkin pizza and slurped asparagus soup.  A nice autumn meal!

Monday, October 17, 2011


People, it's barely halfway through the month, and I am proud to report that we have halfway decorated our home and have two complete Halloween costumes waiting to be worn.  They're being worn every day, as a matter of fact.  We have a witch and an Alice in Wonderland, and there will be No Changing of Minds.  Instead of changing their minds, our spooky duet is simply planning costumes for 2012 and '13. 

Mama was saved this year from the financial black hole which is Homemade Costumes.  I mean, I was proud of the mermaid costume I sewed in '09, but it wound up costing the equivalent of a prom dress (and I have enough leftover fabric to make one) and my relationship with the sewing machine.  Little Sis already owns a blue dress the perfect hue and style for Alice; however, when I researched "ruffled white apron" online, I found that the whole Alice costume shebang, which includes a plastic noggin-hurting headband, was cheaper than the apron.  And Big Sis can wear her black shirt, black skirt, and black boots post-Halloween.  Or tomorrow, which she is dying to do. 

Meanwhile, "krackle" nail polish is all the rage at high school.  I learn about the latest in accessories and hair styles at long work meetings when my observational skills sometimes shift to the characters in attendance.  A colleague was sporting this spooky lacquer combo, and I had to get me some.  You can layer any color underneath, and the "krackle" polish splinters upon application.  Check it out!

Not cracking under the pressure of Halloween planning

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Insides, Out

There's a children's book I loved called The Man Who Took the Indoors Out.  "The Man" of the title, or "Bellwood Bouse," feels sorry for his belongings, who aren't free to frolic in the sun as he is.  So he beckons them outdoors.  I'm not sure what drew me to this book as a child, but I believe it was a combination of fascination with his parade of furniture and knickknacks and recognition that an opportunity to survey someone's entire catalog of material possessions is both rare and provides a voyeuristic thrill.

I recall walking by an apartment building in Washington D.C. when I lived and worked there in my twenties as a woman threw what I assumed were her ex-partner's belongings out of the window and onto the grassy front lawn below.  That was a rather cringe-worthy instance of perusing another's belongings, one flung boxer short and CD at a time.  Not to mention that there were tangible as well as emotional "insides" being turned out on this occasion.

Blogging, perhaps, is its own form of "open house"--the spilling outward of interior contents, with the aim that a reader may recognize she, too, owns those drapes, or that she may disagree altogether with the matching of sofa and chair but respect the writer's choice nonetheless. 

We had occasion last month to tear out the carpet in our hallway and bedrooms, the very carpet that has tormented me for the ten years we've owned this house, what with its exacerbation of Big Sis's allergies and its designation as the favored site of Dog's and Cat's gastrointestinal adventures.  We felt real fear of what lay beneath, imagining either unfinished hardwood floors or no hardwood floors at all, both requiring financial outlay which never felt like a priority, despite the fact I've whined here about our carpet not once, but twice

What we never did was pull up a corner of the carpet to, you know, just peek.  Not once in ten years until The Bathroom Flood.  The Bathroom Flood necessitated hiring a Restorations expert, who charged us a billion dollars to tear out a section of hallway carpet and leave us with mind-numbing dehydrating fans for four days.  But our prize?  The revelation of gleaming hardwood floors (with no refinishing required!) from beneath that area of stinky carpet.  Worth a billion dollars:  we had only to move all our furniture and tear out the rest. 

So we summoned out our two bedrooms' innards, and stacked and piled and heaped the contents in the living room, dining room, and kitchen.  I admired the bare floors, the clean empty rooms, and promised them more order.  Like Bellwood Bouse, I took stock of all we have, and vowed to use this boon--the rug pulled out from under us--to sift and sort.  To appraise and consider and prioritize and purge. 

Sometime amid this process--the slow return of things that matter to their place, the packing away of items in limbo--I discovered I was pregnant.  An earnest yearning of three years or more unexpectedly satisfied at the eleventh hour, the last month we were to try. 

Suddenly sorting and sifting had new objects.  Information:  sobering risks and statistics associated with pregnancy at 40.  Habits:  out with alcohol and caffeine, in with the low-carbohydrate diet.  I congratulated myself for having squired away the crib, car seat, highchair.  I resumed tidying with the aim of establishing order in the face of potential new chaos. 

But perfect timing, best efforts, and cautious optimism are no match for What Will Be.  And this would not.  Before hope could implant more than its gentlest of tenterhooks in me, Nature commenced her own sifting and sorting.  Engorged breasts turned numb.  Queasy fullness subsided to an empty ache.   My body knew first; my mind adapts. 

As my womb cleanses itself I shed layers of my own expectations, ways of thinking, imaginings.  Hope forgets the truth at times.  My body is turning its insides out, symptoms I can't ignore, but I examine more closely my reactions. 

I recall a favorite scene from the film A Fish Called Wanda, when Kevin Kline's character, expecting to unlock a safe full of diamonds, finds it empty.  "DISAPPOINTED!" he yells, in a moment of comedic anticlimax. 

Empty.  Disappointed.  A bit inappropriately angry, in a car-kicking kind-of way. 

I stake no claim to tragedy, lining up among the ranks of those who've had hopes dashed.  My happy, healthy, blissfully unaware daughters kiss me, hug me, pause to hold my hand. 

I write.  I resume the act of rearranging, resist the urge to throw it all out.  I take stock of all I have. 

My womb has bare floors, but my life is full of promise.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Lanyard Love

Big Sis went to summer camp and came home full of camp cliches--three-legged races, corny and nonsensical (still trying to solve the mystery of Princess Pat and her "ricka bamboo") songs, and lanyards.  Oh, the lanyards!  We invested in some plastic lanyard cord and metal clips for endless braiding and looping and weaving.  We have lanyards as "flair" on backpacks, in the hair-tie basket, and under the couch.  Alas, Little Sis's fine-motor skill development to date prevented her from much success with sophisticated lanyard-weaving. 

Enter the Creative Weavers' Guild.  We encountered them at a weekend art walk, where they were weaving as well as giving away kits for making cool yarn lanyard-y thingies.  The handy little craft was ingeniously simple and somewhat addicting:  my daughters and their friend spent the rest of the day weaving away.  To fashion the kits, a guild member cut a hole in the center of a foam square, and knotted seven strings of yarn and fed them up through the middle with the knot underneath.  Two slits were cut in each side of the foam square, and one string of yarn pulled through each notch, leaving one empty.  To weave the lanyard, one simply counts to the third string to the right (or left--it's only important to remain consistent with direction) of the empty slit, pull that third string out, and pop it back into the empty notch, leaving a new slit vacant.  And over and over again (it's important to run one's fingers through the strings on occasion to keep them from tangling).  A neato braid appears below the square.  We finished the yarn weavings and then made a few out of plastic cord, too.  I imagine these braids could be made from more than seven strands, too, by just cutting more slits in the square.  It's a perfect activity for long car or plane rides...a birthday party or holiday craft...add beads or bells...

Keeping Them Busy, One Braid at a Time
And what do you know?  I even stumbled upon a lovely poem, "The Lanyard," by one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins.  Enjoy.