free hit counter Snacks, please!: December 2007

Monday, December 31, 2007

Up on the rooftop!

Click, click, click!
Down thru the chimney with good Saint Nick!

Who wouldn't believe in Santa Claus if you met him in a log cabin atop a snowy hill in Connecticut? Fire blazing beside him, teenage elves busy with paintbrushes, and a grim Mrs. Claus serving warmish cocoa. Lucy told him she really wanted a puppy, but she got something else that pees on the floor.

The babies got a horse!

Let's see... Not that we approve of marine mammals in captivity, but we did enjoy the beluga whales at Mystic Aquarium. (Look! They're smiling! They're saying... Oh! They're saying they'd rather entertain children in an appropriately sized pool that meets all accreditation standards than roam the lonely Arctic Ocean!) And the flock of penguins reminded us of preschoolers with full diapers. Waddle, waddle. Hop, hop, as they poked their beaks into a trainer's fish bucket. "I wanna a fish! I wanna fish! Feeesh! Oh! Hiieeee! I wanna fish!"

A baby cow sucked on Lulu's shoe.

My cousin got out of Pakistan before the assassination.

No murderers showed up at the house (although I did see that the troubled family two doors down is displaying a highly lit nativity on their front yard. Perhaps they have found Christ?)

Sounds idyllic, no? Well, it wasn't bad -- until my Bermuda brother violated all the accepted rules of parenting and brought an actively vomiting toddler into the house on the morning of Christmas Eve. What a gift! And yes, he knew it was a virus, not a bad reaction to airplane food. And yes, he also knows (or should) that eenie-weenie Josephinie does not need to lose her dinner -- and then her appetite for a week, turning up her little nose (mine, I think, gratefully) at everything but pink-sugared Christmas cookies.

We were at my cousin's much-anticipated annual fete. (Hooray! My film-making cousin got a job at the BBC in Wales! Look out, Ciaran! Here we come! In a five-berth canal boat, I'm hoping.) David was showing off Josephine, over by the fire and my aunt's elderly mother, when my little peanut puked all over him and my cousin's brocade couch. ("You know this means we have to go home," he hissed. Reluctantly I put down my Miller Lite. "Maybe you could borrow a shirt?" I asked hopefully.)

Then she threw up in the car. In the kitchen sink. And on the white towel that I spread across our bed. Around midnight, sometime after she'd vomited for the sixth time, Margaret started to cry. "Oh hush, Margaret," I said, lifting her from her crib. "Josephine is sick!" Margaret opened her mouth, "Aaa..." and puked all over my pajama pants. Meanwhile, I hear Lucy crying in the other room, "Josephine made me throw up!"

Here is my handy diagram on the disease's progression:

In all, 13 people were exposed. Nine caught the bug. (Oops! I forgot to put my sister Sharon onto the graph.) But I did not! Which just goes to show you that a diet of fried veal and Italian lemon cookies is much better for you than such things as "Vitamin C" and exercise.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Well, we're off to the great white north! Soon we'll be eating the most fabulous Christmas cookies on the planet (my mother's) and making chit-chat with long-lost cousins. (, do they have Christmas in Pakistan?) We'll be visiting the baby cows at UConn. Checking out the lights on Constitution Plaza. Oh! Oh! Oh! And going to see Santa Claus!!

See you here in 2008!

X Minus 6

"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

"It's so dreadful to be poor!" sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

"I don't think it's fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all," added little Amy, with an injured sniff.*

"We've got Father and Mother and each other," said Beth contentedly, from her corner.

And that's pretty much all I've got too, since Amazon lost my niece's Clairol Hair Gems! (Not that they were actually going to tell me, I had to find their customer service number on some guy's blog to pin them down.) Of course, now they're sold out. As is Target, as is JC Penney. I'm forced to buy it from Home Shopping Network for twice the price!

Sigh of disgust.

I should have shopped local.

Don't tell Kingsolver.

Anyway, let's discuss what *I* would get for Christmas, if my honey had lots of money, and if I cared about such material things...

1) A week in a Parisian apartment. We would take the girls, of course, because I think the Parisians love children. (Snort.) Plus, I don't believe even Santa Claus could find us a babysitter... Ha! Seriously. I think they'd enjoy the parks. The puppets. The French fries. The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles! Oh, the millions of Margarets! Plus, Lucy is under the impression -- because her father told her so -- that we might actually find her friend Madeline there.

2) An extra-long LL Bean toboggan! We could actually afford this, but $200 seems like a lot to spend for 15 minutes of winter fun. (That's all my little Lu will tolerate.) Interestingly, my mother broke her leg on a toboggan, back when I was about Lucy's age. She was attempting to keep me from falling off the board -- but, when she stuck out her leg to catch me, it got run over.

3) This table.
It delights me.

*Frankly, Little Women, which I just reread for a book club, wasn't nearly as good as I remember. (Can you say that about an American classic? Hee.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More on poop

Lucy and David were sitting in the bathroom yesterday, while Lucy...Anyway, she likes a little company. So, she says to David, "Where do animals poop?" And he says, "Right on the ground!"

And she says, "In their cages??!"

Monday, December 17, 2007

All around the Christmas tree, part 2

A few years ago, I won some Christmas ornaments in a friend's divorce. She was moving to a Third World country to be a big-time foreign correspondent, her former husband also was living abroad, and neither of them had room in their shoulder bags for a few dozen gold filigree oak leaves, beribboned clam shells, and crocheted snowflakes.

Some people think it's creepy that I have divorce ornaments on the tree. But I don't know. I think it'd be bad luck to get rid of them. Besides. Besides! I adore the white snowflakes. They remind me of my grandmother.

Nan used to crochet snowflakes in the winter -- lovely, delicate things, like winter spiderwebs. She used clean white cotton, as thin as angel hair, and a tiny metal hook that looked like it might snap in her fists.

I wouldn't say Nan had big hands, because she was a tiny Italian grandmother-sized woman and, when I grew up, I could balance my chin on her starched forehead curl. But she did have factory hands. (Midnight shift, so she could spend more time with us during the day.) Her fingers were perpetually swollen from piecework, her nails were short, and her skin was worn and rough.

I used to bite my nails (still do, sometimes, at red lights, when I'm running late) and she'd gently swat my hand from my mouth and say, "You don't want hands like mine!" And I would say honestly, "Yes, I do!"

If you asked me today, I'd say I loved her hands because they were loving hands, effortlessly generous and capable. If you asked me then, I'd just say I loved them because they were hers.

She's been gone almost 10 years now and I'd give almost anything if she could pat Lucylu's cheek with one of those hands, if she could roll a meatball for big, funny Margaret, if she could rock my little Josephinie to sleep.

My Little Angel!

Lucy did a fabulous job as an angel in the Christmas pageant on Friday. (Photo courtesy of Auntie Pamela.) Her teacher purposefully put her on the end -- 1) Because she's the shortest kid in the class, and 2) Because she's the very best singer!

But she didn't actually steal the show. That honor belonged to a cutie little blond guy a few heads down named Kyle. As in, "Kyle! Stop shooting me!!" He stood on his toes, face reddened, and shouted every word to the balcony. (Not necessarily the right words.) A woman in back of me said, "That boy is going to be President someday."

I say he already is!

Friday, December 14, 2007

All around the Christmas tree, part 1

I love Christmas! And I love, love Christmas trees. But, most of all, I love, love, love MY Christmas tree! A visitor to our house once said, "Oh! You have a memento tree!" I had never heard it described as such, but I guess that's right. I like an ornament that tells a story.

Here's one:

After David and I had been dating for a few months, waaay back at the turn of the century, he invited himself to my family's house in Connecticut for Christmas. I thought not. "I don't want the children getting too attached to you," I said. (Nice, huh?) But he persisted, as is his way, saying he could combine the family gig with a semi-Jewish ski trip to Vermont. And, I thought, ohhhhkay.

We expected him to arrive on Christmas afternoon and, of course, there was a little frisson in the air. Mary Ellen's new boyfriend is coming!! That kind of thing. Ack! Then snow started to fall and we wondered if he'd ever make it... Finally, a knock at the door. Rush, rush! My sister beat me to the punch, as is her way, but, BUT, BUT!! It was not David!

It was the girl from two houses down. And her baby. And her boyfriend.

Oh, where to begin??

The family from two houses down moved into the neighborhood when I was around 11 or 12, I think. Before they actually moved in, we had heard that they were Italian and they had lots of kids. And I remember thinking, "Oh, great! I bet they'll be really jolly. Oh, I hope there's a girl my age! We'll be best friends, like Trixie Belden and Honey!

As if! They were nuts! The screaming, oh my Lord. The screaming. The summer was the worst because we didn't have air-conditioning and it was like that crazy mother was shrieking inside our kitchen. (The father was a school custodian, and it occurs to me now that he could be my union brother!)

There was no girl my age. The oldest was a boy and he was at least a few years younger than me -- and, since he eventually was arrested for sexual assault of a minor, it was probably a good thing that we never hit it off. The youngest must have been 5, "Christopherrrr!!," and he clearly was his mother's favorite. She never wanted to hear much about the fires that he set in the neighborhood, like the one on the front seat of my grandmother's car. (Not the smartest of kids, he used his signed homework paper as kindling...)

They were not nice people. We knew it. The people between us CERTAINLY knew it. And then the whole world knew it when the mother was arrested for stealing dozens of toys from a Toys for Tots drop-off point.

Anyway, back to Christmas, the girl from two houses down must have been in her early 20s when she showed up in the snow. She rushed into the house, boyfriend and baby in tow, and says, "Mrs. F., can I use your phone? My mother and I are fighting and I can't stay in the house with her. I swear, I'm going to lose my temper -- and then I know I'm going to lose my baby again!"

At this point, my father disappears into the cellar, as is his way, and my mother and sister provide some wide-eyed sympathy. A few half-hearted phone calls later, it is clear that nobody is available to pick them up and drive them home through the snow. It's Christmas! Sooo, it is decided (probably by my sister) that my brother-in-law will do the job. Of course. They even have a car seat for the baby! Amongst much well-wishing, they all go back into the snow.

And that's when my mother leans against the kitchen counter and says, with a funny little look in her eyes, "So, she's out of jail." And we say, "Whaaaa?! What was she in jail for?" My father re-emerges. "Well, I think it was attempted murder, isn't that right, John?"

"Maaaa! You sent Seth off with a murderess?!"

Sadly, I can't remember all of the details -- but I think she was trying to kill the mother of the father of her baby, or maybe one of his other girlfriends? And then maybe it was complicated by murderous letters that she sent from jail? (Again, they weren't the smartest of kids...)

Another knock at the door. Oh no! Is it the crazy mother??

Wary, we open it. It's David!!

Aaaand, he's wearing what appears to be a hand-dyed batik silk scarf! And, even more...uh, interesting...a red beret??!

I still tease him, "Remember when you came to my parents' house wearing a red beret?" And then I add, "That was the Christmas when we sent Seth off with a murderess."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How to lose your Southern readers...

Yes, it is what you think it is. With a little something extra, no?

Don't worry. Margaret is fine. She provided this extra-special party poop a couple of weeks ago, and appears to be no worse for the wear. Unlike marine mammals, a helium balloon seems to do no harm to the digestive system of irrepressible infants.

Monday, December 10, 2007

My little mice

"Aaaah!" the Opie cried. "What is thees??" she said, waving a box of Cheerios. (Oh, you would not believe the quantity of Cheerios consumed in this house!) She paused. Dread. "It animal?"

"Yes," David said.

"An animal named Josephine."

"Oh!" she laughed. "In my country, we see this and think..."


But Josephinie! My little queenie! Why are you eating boxes??? Why can't you eat, oh, I don't know...FOOD!! You're making me CRAZY!!! At our last doctor's visit, you weighed 16 pounds, 4 oz. (That's the 15th percentile, which makes me shake my head very sadly.) While Margaret had gained 10 ounces, you gained four.

Oh, Josephinie. My little queenie. I make you baby meatballs and chicken soup. I slip you Arrowroot biscuits and pizzelles. I sing eating songs! "Oh my darling, oh my darling! Oh my darling, Josephine! Won't you please eat your pears and oatmeal, oh my darrrrling, Josephine." You giggle. Through clenched lips. I even do the famous Cheerios dance, which I choreographed myself. You laugh wildly. And sweetly refuse a single bite.

I do not understand this.

I'm happy when the cows are happy.

Well. It was AMAZING!

I should have taken pictures of every course. But I will do my best to resurrect every little cipollini.

The amuse-bouche:
A little deviled quail egg, a mushroom fritter on housemade mustard, and a slice of venison terrine on a crunchy thing. The quail egg was yum, yummy. So small. It looked a little like something you might find in the backyard and ooh and aah over. Who knew it would be even more delightful on a plate?

The first:
I had the freshwater elver buns with bourbon soy glaze. These are baby eels, raised in brackish water, transported alive to Old Town and then dispatched in the courtyard smoker with a bourbon glaze. Presented on a little brioche bun, with tails peeking out over the edges. Delish! (David went for the foie gras and warm figgy pudding, which they said was a traditional Irish dish. Hmm... Not so sure about that. Anyway, I thought it was like a big lump of fat, but I am not so much for the foie gras. And it's not because of how they make it. I don't care for birds personally.)

The second:
Oh! The sweet butter-poached Maine lobster with heirloom carrots, ginger and micro-cilantro! The heirloom carrot is an entirely different veggie than its poor supermarket cousin. It's a pale orange, sometimes golden root, and it's much more delicate. I like it. (And David had the Nantucket bay scallops with leeks and osetra caviar. Also really good. Why don't we eat caviar more often? Is it because we're part of the disappearing middle-class? Because if we can afford a pee-pee baby doll at Christmas for you-know-who, then we can also get caviar for her mother.)

The third:
(Are you getting bored? Because I am not!) Shaffer Farm loin of venison with foie gras d'oie and parsnip puree. I'd never had venison before. Wait! That's not true! My friend Wendy from fourth grade -- her father hunted deer and her mother made vension stew! Let me tell you, this was a hell of a lot better. Again, I'm not so much for the goose liver, but the parsnip puree! I do love parsnips. I love the way they smell. (David ordered better in this particular course. He got the 'bacon, egg and cheese,' which was like a super-fancy Egg McMuffin -- pork belly, poached egg (from a very happy chicken) and a cheddar potato pancake.)

The fourth:
The cheese course! I had a Gruyere-like cheese from a Wisconsin dairy farm where the cows (I do not lie) eat nothing but wildflowers. It's called Pleasant Ridge Reserve. And it had a lovely apple compote and dried apple "paper" slice. (David had a Brie with dried apricot jam and MORE pate. And he wonders why he still feels sick. He's going to end up with the gout, like that kid from King of the Hill. And I will sit back and say things like, "I wonder why they call it THE gout... hmm?")

A parfait of creme-fraiche with strawberry preserves, set up this past summer with local berries.

And finally!
The chocolate opera torte for moi! With a lovely little candle. And a coconut cashew baclava for David -- with banana sorbet.

We have never spent so much money on dinner before. Oh! The drinks!! I almost forgot! I got the fancy Lemony Roast thing with the roasted lemons, Galliano and citrus vodka. It was very complicated. And wonderful. I think the ice was actually hand-cracked into appropriate pebbles. Amazing! And David, as he is wont to do, got some fizzy pink thing with a flourish on top. When the mixologist delivered them, he attempted to give me the girlie drink. Ha. And we had some wine, which the sommelier selected (since we know nothing about nothing about wine). David's was from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, but the sommelier assured us that it was not like, you know, a lousy American vintage.

They gave me a copy of the menu, but -- as it turns out -- I have a very strange mental condition that allows me to capture the details of meals past. Still, it's nice to have the assistance.

Ohhhhh! When can we go back???

Friday, December 7, 2007

Happy birthday to me!

We're off to Restaurant Eve tonight! Oh, how exciting! I made the reservations (yes, I did) nearly two months ago... Hopefully we'll actually make it. The last time we considered Chef Cathal Armstrong's menu, Josephine ended up in the hospital and I ended up eating lime jello instead.

To consider: Monkfish liver with braised baby leeks and Iranian osetra.

Just kidding!

More likely: Sweet butter poached Maine lobster with heirloom carrots, ginger and micro-cilantro. (No matter what the pita people say, I am convinced that the dying gasps of a lobster should be butter.)

A definite: Cheese course!

The "mixologist" here is very well known. How about this? A Lemony Laurel: Roasted lemons, bay leaves, Galliano and Smirnoff citrus vodka. Yum, yummy. But I'm also sorely tempted by Eamonn's Cocktail: Yuzu, Irish red lemonade and Powers Irish whiskey.

This is the whiskey time of year.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

X minus 20

The tree is up!

Since Sunday, when we officially decorated, Lucy has been making over the tree like a little Tim Gunn. She picks off a gold leaf, tilts her head and says, "Um. I," and hangs it carefully on a branch at least six inches above her head. Margaret and Josephine sit spellbound. For you, she says generously, handing them Hindu horses and Santa pants to toss around.

Call me green and wrinkly, but I don't think the babies need ANY Christmas presents. We have plenty of toys from China for them to gnaw. But Lucy! Of course she needs more stuff. So far, we have just one toy stashed in the closet. The ever-fun Elefun. See?

No educational value!

But I am tempted by this:

Seriously, I think she would love to take our orders and give us French fries. I know, I know...I read Fast Food Nation and I am also horrified by the scent labs of New Jersey. But she already has a doctor kit. And I think, because, you know, we're all SMART here, that it's, well, almost IRONIC. (If we were really poor and we actually ate at McDonald's every week, then it would be a little horrifying.)

Truth is, I'm not so much about the Leapfrog.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Life with Lucy

Yesterday, Lucy picked up my KitchenAid bread hook attachment and waved it wildly in the air. "I'm a dentist!" she announced. "Come here, Mommy!" she demanded.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Why America Rules The Earth

So, the au pair deal...we get childcare, she gets a place to live in America, and we both profit from "cultural exchange," says the Boston agency that charged us $7,000 for air fare and health insurance.

Let's review how the cultural aspect is going:

Example #1: The Opie offers to make an El Salvadoran soup. I am delighted! I am sick of cooking dinner every night (for unappreciative cretins who demand canned corn and Stouffer's Salisbury Steak.) She makes out her shopping list: Four fried chickens and a Coke.

Ha! No, seriously, she wants a whole chicken, yucca, green beans and a spiny, bile-colored vegetable called a guayaquil. Sadly, our Safeway does not stock it. Oh, also, $6 worth of lemons, which she uses to disinfect the chicken, and then throws away.

Anyhoo, it smells delicious and she graciously ladles a few bowls. I glance in each and decide that she should have the one with the chicken neck peeking over the rim.

Oh no! "That is the best part," she exclaims. "I save it for you."

And so, I sit there, sucking meat from vertebrae, pondering the guiltless life of a vegetarian. "It is delicious," I say honestly. (Also delicious: The tamales that she sometimes brings home from Columbia Pike.)

The next night, I make spaghetti squash with Parmesan and butter. "What is this?" she sniffs. Pokes. "It's a kind of squash...with cheese," I say. She laughs. "Very strange. I don't want it."

Grade: 6.5 -- Soup was very good. Squash was great!

Example #2: When I get home from work yesterday, the Opie follows me in the kitchen and stands there, shifting, while I wash my hands of office germs. "Um. I have a question for you," she says.

Oh dear.

" for the cat, no?" she asks, pointing to a very clever bowl with tiny blue fish swimming across the rim.


"But...I found it in the dishwasher!"

"I think about this all day!" she continues. "I do not like it!"

"Well," I pause. "It's disinfected in there."

"Cat saliva on the dishes!" she continues. "I do not like it!"

"Yeah, well...," I say.

(Think: Do I want to promise to handwash the catbowl every day?)

With an air of finality, I hope, I conclude, "It doesn't bother me."

Grade: 2.5 -- I am not a crazy American cat lady!!

From the Opie's point of view:

The worst of America:
Overdraft protection. Thirty-five dollars a pop!
This obsessive walking, walking, walking everywhere.
The disgusting cats.
The expense! Everything is expensive.

The best of America:
Instant chocolate milk, microwave popcorn and brownie mix.
Free movies at the library!
Starbucks. And the dollar store.
Washing machines, clothes dryers, and vacuums.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Hooking up

LinkedIn is like Facebook for thirtysomethings. It pretends to be professional and nobody posts photographs of themselves in St. Paulie Girl costumes. I think it's sort of new -- or I'm sorta out of it.

Anyway, about a month ago, an old colleague sent me an invitation to join. Mostly, I was dismissive because I'm not so much of a professional networker. I keep in touch with the people I keep in touch with because I like them, not because I hope they'll get me a job someday in the Cape Cod regional office of the Boston Globe. (Or the Dublin office, maybe????) But I accepted her invite, of course, because it's like a cyber-RSVP and I would not want to be discourteous.

But then! Then I had ONE connection! Oh, good God. Like one friend? In the whole wide world? Hm. Thankfully, another two invites were quickly delivered. And so then I had three. Like THREE friends in the whole wide world? Hm. Pathetic. So, I had to send some invitations myself. "Oh, if I could just have double-digit friends," I thought. "That would be respectable."

Now, quite frankly, I am obsessed. The network handily provides long lists of fellow alumni and current and former colleagues. I see old friends with nearly 100 connections, NOT including me!

What the hell? We're not friends anymore?

Who to invite, who to invite... Some old friends are here, but many are too cool for school. (Auntie Pamela says, "I just don't get it.") I would just circle up everybody I know, but I wonder, maybe not everybody wants to be my linkedup friend. (Could that be true?!) So I must be judicious in my invitations. What if somebody turns me down? I would be transported right back to third grade, when Michelle Skowronek, who I thought was my best friend, told me that the set of birthday party invites that her mother bought at the Bradlee's mall had just eight, not NINE, and so I could not go to her pizza-making party at Papa Gino's. Sigh.

Oh, I have a new invite! Oh my God. He has 223 friends!

I find old high school pals that I haven't talked to in years. I'd love to catch up with them but this seems like a cheap offer. (Oh, what the hell...) I see an old college classmate, somebody I didn't really know, except to say, "Sarah is not home," when he came knocking for my runway model roommate. Once an attorney, now he breeds half-a-million dollar thoroughbred horses!

My doctor pals are not participating. Oh, another old classmate! She's a magazine food editor now!! (If only we didn't eat squirt cheese. Then I could be a member of the food elite.)

This is why the teenagers are so crazy, isn't it? These sites are unnerving! And, since I'm not selling horses, I do wonder what the point is. Getting a new job? Hm. Don't need one. I do have my eye on a fabulous $350 gold gnome table, yes, I said GNOME table, so perhaps freelance work would be welcome...

Oh, wow! I'm connected to Barack Obama! (But I'm still voting for John Edwards.) Four people in my circle are linked to people in Barack's circle (which is not particularly exclusive at 500-plus members.) That is interesting. Mike Huckabee has just one connection. That is not very good. Hillary is not even participating, which just goes to show you...something.

Obsessed. I am obsessed.