Friday, January 23, 2015

Debate



So here I am closing in on the end of January. But before I move forward I do want to show you one look back -- as I face the eternal dilemma. It's important, y'all.

Here is the question that everyone should be lucky enough to face. When contemplating peanut brittle, do you stand up for the pulled brittle (a la Nano) or are you a poured brittle fan (Susan, we revere your name)?

Now, some of you may wonder, because brittle is good. Who cares beyond this? And I am going to say that my own political stance is always toward compromise and peace and ways we all agree. So yes. Plus -- I have never encountered bad peanut brittle.

But I do feel the need to address the eternal debate.

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There is a vocal Nano faction that tells me:

1. Nano (some may remember her as Sadie Forsythe, but you can call her Nano.)

2. Sadie's pulled brittle is light and airy, and one doesn't ever have to worry about breaking a tooth.

3. Coleen has mastered her grandmother's top-secret recipe and technique, so that the brittle she produces is Sadie-esque in every good way.

3. The left-over delicious sugary bits are so awesome on ice cream or stirred into coffee, . . .

4. Nano.

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But my poured brittle friends are also quite vocal, and they make an excellent point or two.

1. Poured brittle means everyone keeps their fingerprints -- not an insignificant consideration. Have you pulled peanut brittle, people? It will hurt you. Permanently.

2. My girl Susan has mastered the poured brittle that will not break your teeth. I do believe that most of us who think about poured brittle are thinking about a brittle that lacks the airy gorgeousness of Susan's brittle.

3. Susan's brittle = [ angelic choirs? orgasmic sugar rush? you will just have to take my word for it. ]

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So for me it comes down to:

SHOCKINGLY DELICIOUS v. TOTALLY DELICIOUS

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Not even a vote.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Christmas, dear friends!

"The Nativity" (circa 1500), based on a lost painting by the Flemish painter Hugo van der Goes.
"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
                                                                                  The Gospel according to Saint Luke
                                                                                         Chapter 2, verses 8-14

Happy Christmas, dear friends!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Looking ahead to Christmas: now we can finally celebrate!



So Advent is almost over, but as most of you know the Christmas season really begins on December 25, as we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity. In the pre-commercialized past, traditional celebrations of Christmas really kicked in as everyone celebrated the twelve days of Christmas from Christmas Day to Epiphany on January 6. That's what the song refers to, obviously. That's also what Shakespeare is talking about in his play, Twelfth Night; in his time Twelfth Night, or Epiphany, was a time of revelry, when everything was topsy-turvy -- like the capers and shenanigans of the play.



In my crowd, we try pretty hard to stick to these old ways. The husband and I host a swingin' party on December 26 every year -- traditionally called Boxing Day in England (for reasons that are explained various ways by various sources).  A couple of days later we will all gather at Mr. and Mrs. K.'s home to sing carols and eat fabulous cookies and drink fabulous wine. We will also play The Name Game, which I have also played in its guise as The Colander Game. Either way, I will do well in this game if I am seated next to The Mother. Not that I am competitive, or planning my strategy already . . . .



On New Year's Eve we go to The Mother and her husband (so is he The Father? I don't think so, but I'm not sure why . . . ) for a black tie swanky soiree. Yes -- I said "black tie," and get this: it's so swanky, the invitation says "white tie optional." Boom.



And finally, on January 3, my whole extended clan of beloveds will meet at my sister's house for our family Christmas celebration, along with a rollicking game of "Dirty Santa." The primo gift last year was an ear wax remover, but I've got a few surprises up my sleeve this year; I think I can top that. This will be our last loving look at the Soldier, who will deploy to Korea on January 7. A brand new graduate of West Point and the field artillery school, he will take all, all the prayers with him when he goes -- please add yours to the pile!

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Again with the looking ahead, the Advent book for today is actually a great story to read on December 26 -- the Feast of Saint Stephen. If you know the carol you know that the good king and his servant boy went out into the cold winter night on the Feast of St. Stephen, "when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even." This little book tells the story of the carol. It's a sweet one!

Monday, December 22, 2014

"The Elfin Wars" OR "Once More Into the Breach"



I read this article in The Huffington Post, and it really got my knickers in a knot.  The key quote: "If you feel like a bad mother for not buying into the Elf on the Shelf, that's on you." Well. Can I just say that I feel like a bad mother multiple, multiple times in any given day, but never once has it had to do with an Elf -- shelved or free-range.

Here is the comment I left at the end of the article:
"The problem with "that's on you" is that YOUR kids are coming to school telling all the other kids that they got tickets to "The Nutcracker" from their elf. YOU are hosting parties for your elf, and staying up all night getting your elf up to cute capers and shenanigans, and nodding knowingly and disdainfully to other Elf-Lovers at the class Christmas party when a frazzled fellow mom expresses her angst about how much she still has to do before the grandparents arrive, and how the dog chewed the family elf, and how she wishes she could just once get her shit together. Most anti-elf mommies are not actually Grinchy about Christmas -- or even about the Elf. We do object to the Elf on the Shelf as a competitive sport. 
If you want to tear apart your house in the middle of the night every single night in the lead up to Christmas, that's on you. If you want to wrap a gift for every child in your house to be delivered every single day between Thanksgiving and Christmas, that's on you. But when you post it on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, the Huffington Post, you are dumping it on me. When your kids make other kids cry because their families got "lame" elves, that's dumping it on them -- and by extension on me.  
By all means -- let's all parent our own kids. And let's support each other in our frailties, insecurities, and mistakes. But mommies competing with each other in the Elfin Wars (like the Hunger Games but with more powdered sugar) is one more reason why I will continue to speak up. 
[Interestingly the whole notion of Advent as a time of spiritual preparation for the birth of Jesus never seems to come up when mommies are flinging Elf anger back and forth at each other this time of year.]"
Harrumph, is what I really meant to say.  But the good news is that according to the article's title, I am [finally] a "cool mom." So that's something.

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Advent book!



An Amish Christmas is a great book that introduces the Amish customs of the Christmas season. Even without Santa or twinkling lights on the Christmas tree, these children see the wonder of Christmas -- and have lots of wintery Christmas fun, too!


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Neurotic



This is a picture of the newest addition to our family, a reclusive elderly lady cat named Gigi. She used to live with my sweet mother-in-law, but now she lives with us -- and I'm not sure she's very happy about it. But to tell the truth it's difficult to know. She was a recluse even when she and Grandma Donna lived together, rarely coming out of the closet she had chosen as her cozy spot. Her core of sweetness shone, though, when, as Donna became less able to come and go, Gigi began to creep out at night to sleep on her feet -- a great comfort, as you can imagine.

These days, she has two cozy spots. Her preference is to camp under the tall boy's bed, at the exact center of the space -- where she is completely unreachable. He's fine with this, except for the part about how she would really prefer to have her food bowl shoved under the bed, too -- so that she doesn't have to make eye contact with anyone. I did say "reclusive."

So she makes do with an alternate cozy spot in our storage room. From her strategic location she can fend off the potential threat of . . . well, pretty much anything that seems scary. The family, the other two cats, the dogs, the phone, the light coming on . . . The world is pretty menacing according to Gigi.


Boxed up on the way to the vet, Gigi punched herself in the nose in an effort to fight the evil cat carrier. Then she realized that a crate is a perfectly perfect cozy spot.


But rarely, rarely, she creeps out in the middle of the night, like Grizabella the Glamour Cat, and timidly makes her way to the bottom of the stairs. Twice now, in seven months, she has made it all the way up to the kitchen, to peek around the corner and see if the coast was clear. Then she made a break for the powder room (cozy) and curled up on the throw rug for a nap. Global Anxiety Disorder is exhausting.


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Advent books!

December 20:



OK, so here's a book that was pointed out to me by MomVee, over on Facebook.  She loved it to the point of tears, she said. So like an idiot, I went to the library to look for it, and sat there and cried, right there in Mother Goose's Storybook Time Chair. Embarrassing. Patricia Polacco tells a loving and nostalgic story about a Christmas tradition from her childhood, and pays sweet tribute to her youngest brother at the same time.

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December 21:



The phenomenally wonderful Ezra Jack Keats (you already love him because of The Snowy Day) illustrates this book, with beautiful pictures to accompany the well-known carol.  The warmth and detail of the drawings are lovely. You can get this as a board book, which makes sense -- the repetitive "pa-rum-pa-pum-pum" of the song is a mesmerizing magnet for babies and toddlers, so a sturdy board book for them to "read" while they sing is a fabulous thing.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Advent Calendar: Day 19


Today's Advent selection offers you a couple of options. There are many lovely illustrated versions of The Nutcracker, which most of us know as a ballet.  Here are two versions of the story in written form -- both are lovely.


The original story, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, was written in German by E.T.A. Hoffman in 1815, and is much longer and more involved than many folks realize. If you are interested in the full [translated!] text, this edition, illustrated by the great Maurice Sendak of "Where the Wild Things Are" fame, is a great choice. The pictures are full of detail and weird whimsy, great to pore over and explore.



If you have younger readers/listeners, an abridged version of the story may be just the thing. This edition, re-told and illustrated by Susan Jeffers is a good one. I have recommended this telling of the story before -- I think it's very pretty.

And I would also encourage you to go see a performance of the ballet and luxuriate in the gorgeous Tchaikovsky music. In multiple dressing rooms across America, someone is strapping on her pointe shoes right now. Go see it!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"There's a double meaning there . . . ."


So what do you think is the deeper meaning behind this particular arrangement of books on the shelves of my local Target??

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And hey!  Advent books!

December 15:


Here is a lovely written version of the Gian Carlo Menotti children's opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors. This story is written like a novella, but those familiar with the score can sing the words of Amahl, his mother, and the three strange and wonderful kings who visit them on their way to Bethlehem.  Really, it's hard not to sing these beautiful tunes: "Don't cry, mother dear -- don't worry for me! If we must go begging, a good beggar I'll be . . . " Come on -- go ahead and sing!

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December 16:


On the first night of Chanukah, here is a great story, All the Lights in the Night , by Arthur A. Levine. Two Jewish boys, Benjamin and Moses, are fleeing Russia and making their way to Palestine. They comfort each other by telling stories of Chanukah. With only a battered lamp to light their way, they realize their own miracle of lights as they journey to the Holy Land.

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December 17:


Here's a silly little story for the mommies and daddies: "Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit," by P.G. Wodehouse. Lovers of Jeeves and Wooster may already be familiar with this story, which was first published in magazines in December 1927, and later anthologized in Very Good, Jeeves (1930).  As the story begins, Bertie tells his disapproving manservant, Jeeves, that rather than go to Monte Carlo for the Christmas season, they will go to a friend's country house. Because " . . . does one get the Yule-tide spirit at a spot like Monte Carlo?" To which Jeeves asks, "Does one desire the Yule-tide spirit, sir?"

You'll snort with laughter!

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December 18:


Snow, by Cynthia Rylant, is a pretty little book that describes all the things one can do on a snowy day. As with most storybooks, the illustrations are what make this a book to read before bedtime, as you dream of a snowy day.