Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Inspiration to do, be and see differently

First, read this:

Next Time by Mary Oliver

Next time what I'd do is look at
the earth before saying anything. I'd stop
just before going into a house
and be an emperor for a minute
and listen better to the wind
or to the air being still.

When anyone talked to me, whether
blame or praise or just passing time,
I'd watch the face, how the mouth
has to work, and see any strain, any
sign of what lifted the voice.

And for all, I'd know more -- the earth
bracing itself and soaring, the air
finding every leaf and feather over
forest and water, and for every person
the body glowing inside the clothes
like a light.

Then, read SouleMama's post today, and then read Remodeling This Life's post regarding living slowly. Really: today, click the links, give yourself a few minutes to read, and allow your heart to be quiet, just for a minute.

In three small items to read, you have the distillation of a concept that is slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y forming itself in my brain. It starts with the somewhat cliched idea, so oft repeated, that we must "live in the now", "live every moment", etc etc ad nauseum. Yet I think that these 3 women have found a way to articulate exactly why we must take that moment to be still, to see a moment in our child's lives for what it really is, to be ever-mindful of the passing of hours/minutes/days: in our parenting, in our cooking, in our loving, in our connecting.

Yes we can laugh, commiserate and wryly dissect all that goes on in our mad lives. We can have a Terrible Horrible No-Good Very Bad Day! But in choosing to see the beauty in the small treasures hidden in pockets [instead of Laundry Hazards], in choosing to listen to the small voices in the dark after you've said goodnight [instead of hurrying down the stairs], in stopping amidst the swirling noise to say For This I am Thankful, we are choosing to uplift ourselves in the most holy of ways, in the most celebratory of ways.

Today, celebrate your own life, and all the small things (and people) in it. You will be a richer person for it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Just a cup

I shared a cup of tea with a good friend this week. It's been a long time since I brewed a nice cuppa - American life doesn't often lend itself to sitting down in the middle of the day and chatting over Earl Grey. But I could think of no better response to bad news at the dentist and troublesome four year olds. So we sat. We commiserated. We drank. With milk, a bit of sugar, warming our hands around the mugs. These mugs:

My mom bought me these, as a birthday gift the spring before my wedding. They're a set, 4 mugs and 4 plates. I was delighted by them - crisp blue and white with 'shabby chic' French labels - so evocative to me of the cozy newlywed breakfasts I would have, of the casual brunches to which I'd invite friends in our newlywed home. I first used the plates and mugs to serve my mom Mother's Day breakfast that year - coffee, bagels and cream cheese with fresh cut lily-of-the-valley on the table.

The plates and mugs have followed me through the days of my marriage - from the tiny flat with too many wedding presents crammed in, to our lovely ground floor flat on Erleigh Road where we sometimes ate breakfast out on the tiny terrace, to our cottage on Pound Lane, to the storage container in Baltimore where they waited patiently, wrapped in paper & packing tape for me for 2 years, to our spanking-new kitchen at the Yellow House, where I unwrapped them with the same cries of delight I'd uttered back in that April of '96.

These mugs for me are all of the cups of coffee drunk over The Sunday Times, the bracing cups of tea brewed strong to keep me awake in the final days of my dissertation, the decaf we drank in the evenings as 'entertainment' with no tv, the brunches with friends that did indeed take place frequently. I drank tea from these mugs when I couldn't stomach coffee during my first pregnancy - Torbjorn brought me a cup every morning as I jockeyed my belly around the tiny, awkward bathroom. I drank mug after mugful of tea in those crazy hazy days of early motherhood, when it seemed that mug was all that stood between me and total collapse. I remember brewing a strong cup of tea when a friend discovered an unwanted pregnancy, another when someone else revealed her marriage was ending. I remember sitting at the table in our little garden courtyard with my sister in law, days before we moved out of the cottage in Sonning to a new life in America, cupping my hands around my mug as my heart quietly broke.

The tea drinkers among us will be acquainted with the faint beige tint that begins to stain your white mugs after many years of service. Mine are more than 'tinted'. The handle on one has a serious chip out of it, making it a high probability you'll burn your knuckles if the coffee's too hot. The rim of another has a mysterious crack in it, not quite a chip, but could make a drinker wary. The bottoms have the repetitive grey swirls signalling the many years of spoons stirring - honey, sugar, milk, perhaps a bit of whisky on those nasty-cold-in-the-head days.

So when I set the cups out this week to make tea for Jen, I noticed that they were more shabby than chic. This particular Thursday night as I unloaded these mugs from the dishwasher, I had that moment of clarity where I knew I'd have to say goodbye. I don't want to keep them until a 'helper' accidently breaks one, or keep shoving them to the back of the cupboard. I'll let them go now, and be a brave girl about it. Funnily enough, if I wait for a week or so it will be my birthday again and will mark the mugs' 13th year with me. This time, 13 was lucky.

May the next set of mugs follow me through as much joy, as much growth, as much love, as much living as did these.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Common Nonsense

I have what must be one of the most tedious commutes in this world, but a small consolation is the great pleasure of a Friday commute mostly accompanied by Science Friday on NPR.

I am so NOT a science guy in the formal sense of the word, and that is A-OK with me, but Science Friday continues to tickle my curiosity (and I AM a curious guy, in every sense of the word), so I get to learn all sorts of fascinating facts about pretty much anything under the sun, like how to possibly eradicate malaria and how to entertain the kids on a camping trip and the importance of sleep and the science of wiretapping and how high fleas really can jump.

But I digress. Last week was about Nobel prize winning Chemist Harry Kroto and Buckyballs

huh, you say - and so...?

Well, listen to the live interview on pure carbon, I believe you will find it most enlightening. And even if you you are not all that curious, or simply just don't have the time, at least take what I found to be a most interesting train of thought to heart:

We are all born curious, but the challenge for today's kids is that the world is too easy to get along with. The biggest problem is that the language of science (mathematics and symbolism) is very difficult to grasp as compared to the ease of "living".

When Dr Kroto (and me too...) grew up you could by and large see how things worked, and if something broke you could fix it. Today, "nobody" knows how a mobile phone works, and if it breaks we throw it away, there is nothing fixable any longer. If it stops working, that's it!

My favorite quote of the entire discussion: "Instead of common sense, what we have now is a lot of common nonsense"

But there is hope - the "gooyouwiki world" provides a lot of opportunities for new learning, and I will continue to listen to Science Friday on my penultimate commute of the week and share my newly acquired knowledge with the kiddos on the weekend.

...and the good news is that there is a podcast even you eurolouges can pick up...

Cecilieism's, she's not too old (yet)

Cecilie was all geared up about getting outside to play on Sunday, so she ran upstairs after church to change in to play clothes - she didn't come down as soon as I expected so I went upstairs to check and when I got into her room she was crying...

Dad: What is going on Cecilie?
C: I can't find any short sleeved shirts ANYWHERE daddy!
D: It's OK my girl, you can just put on this one (waving a a 3/4 length shirt in the air in front of her) and run out...
C: (Wailing) BUT IT IS NOT A T-SHIRT!!!!!!!!
D: Oh, I know, if we BOTH cry really hard one might find us.
C: Daddy, I really don't appreciate it when you are sarcasmic!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Chocolate Guinness Cake

We're all lost for words around here. This cake was *that* good. And as such, I give you the unadulterated recipe, directly from Nigella's pen, nary a word altered. This is worth the bottle of Guinness. In fact, those Lenten non-drinkers out there may just have found their solution to the St Patrick's holiday. Seriously folks, run off and make this cake NOW.

Chocolate Guinness Cake

Chocolate Guinness Cake This cake is magnificent in its damp blackness. I can't say that you can absolutely taste the stout in it, but there is certainly a resonant, ferrous tang which I happen to love. The best way of describing it is to say that it's like gingerbread without the spices. There is enough sugar – a certain understatement here – to counter any potential bitterness of the Guinness, and although I've eaten versions of this made up like a chocolate layer cake, stuffed and slathered in a rich chocolate frosting, I think that can take away from its dark majesty. Besides, I wanted to make a cream cheese frosting to echo the pale head that sits on top of a glass of stout. It's unconventional to add cream but it makes it frothier and lighter which I regard as aesthetically and gastronomically desirable. But it is perfectly acceptable to leave the cake un-iced: in fact, it tastes gorgeous plain.
1 cup Guinness
¾ cup sour cream
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups superfine sugar
2 ½ teaspoons baking soda
8oz Philadelphia cream cheese
½ cup heavy cream
1 ¼ cups confectioners' sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F, and butter and line a 9 inch springform pan. Pour the Guinness into a large wide saucepan, add the butter – in spoons or slices – and heat until the butter's melted, at which time you should whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and then pour into the brown, buttery, beery pan and finally whisk in the flour and baking soda.
Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined pan and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Leave to cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack, as it is quite a damp cake. When the cake's cold, sit it on a flat platter or cake stand and get on with the frosting. Lightly whip the cream cheese until smooth, sift over the confectioners' sugar and then beat them both together. Or do this in a processor, putting the unsifted confectioners' sugar in first and blitz to remove lumps before adding the cheese.
Add the cream and beat again until it makes a spreadable consistency. Ice the top of the black cake so that it resembles the frothy top of the famous pint.

Excerpted from Feast: Food to Celebrate Life by Nigella Lawson. Copyright © 2004 by Nigella Lawson. Photographs by James Merrell. Reprinted with permission of Hyperion. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Phonetics, Lars Style

We had Adventure Lunch at The Yellow House today. Second snow day in a row, and I was out of ideas. Grilled cheese, quesedillas, soup, mac & cheese and sandwiches were all vetoed for lunch. On the verge of losing it with them in a big and ugly way (ok I did it a small and ugly way, but do I get points for keeping it small?), I sent the kids out of the kitchen while I prepared "A Super Surprise Lunch".

Saw this on good and happy day - lunch in a muffin tin. Throw in a few pieces of chopped salami, a few kidney beans, some crackers, apple slices into each little hole, and VOILA: Adventure Lunch.

With great ceremony I ushered them into the kitchen for my 'big reveal'. Plopped the muffin tin down between them, and you would have thought I made them roast beef & Yorkshire puddings. Sample of responses: "OH WOW!" "Just like Lunchables but better!"[like that would take much] "This is such a cool lunch!" These are the same naysayers who felt that nothing in our cupboard would make a suitable dejeuner.

But this was my trump card: I left two holes empty. Told them if they managed to empty all of the cups of their 'healthy' lunch they would find out what would fill the Surprise Cups. This kept us guessing all through lunch. What does it start with? 'F' What would it feel like in my fingers? Hard. What ELSE does it start with? 'L'.

They couldn't guess. I bet my readers out there could. What is my go-to treat after a long day with the kiddos? What is the comfort food of all comfort foods for the Mom of the Yellow House? You got it: FROOT LOOPS.

So they finish lunch. They get their Surprise Cups filled. They spend a few happy moments munching and commenting "ooh, orange tastes just like oranges!" "oooh, and blue tastes just like blueberries!" mmmhmmm, yeah kids.

Then Lars looks up: "Hey! You said it started with F! There's no 'ffffffffffff' in Froot Loops!" Yes there is bud, there's an 'ffffffff' sound in 'Froot' "No! There's not!" Yes there is. F is for Fruit. Or Froot, as the case may be. "Well there's not that sound in MY mouth."

Consider me told.
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