Friday, December 21, 2012

I Don't Want to Throw Your Kid's Face Away

Having a kid means getting your act together in a lot of little ways. You drink a little less, do laundry a little more, keep the heat a little higher, and the volume of your music a little lower. And you send out cards with pictures of your kid on them.

When Patrick and I first married, I really wanted to start sending out cards that first year, like real live grown-ups, but I didn't. I wish I had-- it would be so nice to have a neat little archive of those years-- but I didn't. Now we're in on the exchange and I'm pleased to see new cards in our mailbox everyday but I'm also puzzled-- what should I do with all these pictures of family and friends once the holiday is over? It feels wrong to just throw them in the trash.

So I put the question to you: what do you do with the photos and cards people send you each year?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Homemade Gifts: Spiced Cocktail Nuts

There is still more than enough time to make some really fantastic holiday gifts.  These spicy spiced cocktail nuts cook up in no time, are a cinch to make, and require very few ingredients.

Spiced Cocktail Nuts
slightly modified recipe taken from the fabulous Tartine Bakery Cookbook

5 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
7-8 cups or 40oz mixed nuts (I used mainly almonds, but also included peanuts, pepitas, and cashews)

Preheat the oven to 350 and line a jelly roll pan with parchment or a silpat.

Pick the leaves from the thyme and rosemary, then coarsely chop.  Mix together the herbs, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper, and the corn syrup in a large bowl.  Mix in the nuts with your hands.  The mixture will distribute more evenly once it's heated.

Put the mixture on the jelly roll pan and into the oven.  Make sure to mix your nuts and turn your pan several times during cooking.  They should be roasted and toasty brown in about 15-20 minutes.  Cool the nuts completely.  Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

I plan to package them up simliary to this, though I'd do them in small ziplocks inside the brown back to help with freshness.

Adorable bag tutorial found at The Party Studio

Monday, December 17, 2012

Notes from My Classroom

Last Friday, I woke up early, nursed the baby, and rushed to get ready for my final day in the classroom. That morning, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something bad was going to happen that day, and when I think of “something bad” and my job, my mind goes quickly to classroom shootings. But it was the final exam, so I kissed the baby and my husband extra, extra and went on my way. As I proctored my exam, I kept an eye on my door and alternated between feeling uneasy and feeling silly. Class ended and I packed up my finals and drove away from campus. By then, I was positively chastising myself for being a fool. Then I turned on the radio and heard what happened in Connecticut.

I’m an educator who has had to deal with mentally ill students in the past, and now I’m a parent. I’m thankful Georgia is too little to be aware of any of this. I'm thankful I'm not struggling either to keep this information hidden from her or trying to help her make sense of senseless things (but here's some good guidance if that's what you're working with: Talking to Young Children about Terrible Things.) I'm thankful I have her to hold in my arms. I can't stop thinking of those parents who had their children taken from them. 

There are so many angles to this. Will we struggle with this complex problem in a complex way? No bumper sticker slogan is going to fix this. I laughed bitterly when I heard a call for every teacher to be armed-- weren't teachers too incompetent, too highly paid and too lazy just a few weeks ago? Regardless, as we look for answers, we can cross "more guns" off the list. Anyone packing heat in a school environment needs to be highly trained and have an almost innate sense of when and how to use their weapon in a building full of innocents. In the Tucson shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, a man legally carrying a concealed Glock nearly shot the wrong person in all of the chaos. Even police officers and soldiers make mistakes when using their guns. It's disrespectful and naive to suggest this as a sincere solution to this problem.

(Full disclosure-- I grew up around guns and believe that we need better, not more, gun control and then we need to enforce it. We need sensible gun control reform, led by people who know, use and above all respect firearms. Who these people are, I wish I knew, but it sure as shit isn't the NRA.)

I'm sure many of you have read one mom's struggles to find meaningful help for her violent, mentally-ill son. While my struggle is in no way on the same level as a parent, as a teacher who has had to deal with mentally-ill students, I've been struck by the same lack of real help.

A few years ago, I was teaching a night course in writing that met once a week for several hours. I used to love night courses. They were a nice mix of traditional students and professional adults. My professional students were determined as hell, working during the day and taking a course or two at night. This mix was ideal and I like to think we all learned a lot by having a nice time. I like for my courses to have a playful yet focused feeling, and we laughed a lot as we worked our tails off. I especially enjoyed the work and presence of John*, a young ex-soldier who sat in the front row of class. He was always early to class, had a quick smile, and wrote lively, creative essays.

Around the midterm, I noticed a decline in John's work. The mechanics of his writing were fine but it seemed like he stopped reading the instructions for each assignment. Instead, he was writing long stories about his dog and his father. I tried to talk to him about it and he said he was tired, he was sick, he would get it right the next time. Then he stopped turning in work. He still attended class, still wearing a big smile, paying close attention to the lecture and laughing frequently. A few class meetings went by and I noticed John muttering to himself often when there were lags in class activity and he left the room during group assignments.

On night, he arrived much earlier to class than usual. He sat with a big smile on his face and nothing on his desk. As I began the lecture, John began to talk to himself. As I spoke, he spoke louder. When I stopped, he stopped. The class was shifting in their seats, uncertain about what was happening. I skipped to the group portion of our class and stepped outside to call the only department that was available on campus at that time of night-- security.

"Oh, John is in your class? An officer was supposed to come by your class and let you know John isn't taking his medication and to ask if he's being disruptive. I'll send an officer out now."

John had left the classroom and my students were happily working together grading a sample essay. The officer arrived just as John returned and without any discussion with me, he asked John to gather his things and come talk to him in the hallway. A few minutes later, the officer returned to tell me the young man had been ordered off campus and would return the next day for a meeting with some deans and a counselor.

Once he was gone, a sick feeling I'd been pushing away washed over me. I couldn't stop trembling. The students were done with their group activity and it was time for me to lead things again and I couldn't. I sent everyone home instead.

I felt afraid but mostly guilty. Here was someone who was obviously sick and the only "help" I had given him was kicking him out of my classroom. From reading his essays that semester, I knew he didn't have much and he'd told me on several occasions how much he enjoyed our class and how he looked forward to it every week.

The next day, the campus contacted me to let me know John wouldn't be allowed back until he addressed his issues and was taking his medication again. They were doubtful this would happen. He was barely coherent in the meeting and his family denied his schizophrenia altogether.

The next week, I entered my class and there was John in his usual seat.

(One of the number of things that sticks in my memory is that he was eating the most delicious looking and smelling burrito.)

I turned around and walked out. I walked away from the building to call security again. They told me they'd be right there. I walked back to my classroom to wait for them by the door but John was outside. 

He knew he wasn't supposed to be on campus but he wanted to come to class, he wanted to learn, he liked our class, he was sorry he scared me because he really liked me and it was so confusing, so confusing. He felt like God was telling him things and he was so confused because he could see my rings and he didn't know why but he felt like God was telling him we were supposed to be together.

Security arrived at that moment and that was the last time I saw John.

Of course, I didn't know that then. In the coming weeks, my classroom was moved and I had a security officer outside of my door. I had cell phone numbers for all kinds of deans and presidents programmed in my phone. I didn't have a restraining order-- filing one would have meant revealing my address, so the police recommended against it. John was banned from campus, though how that ban could be practically applied, I had no idea. I'd always been sort of bad at sleeping but I became a full-on insomniac at that point, getting out of bed several times a night to make sure all the doors were locked and all the blinds were drawn. When I drove away from campus, I wondered if I was being followed. I gave up teaching night classes. I started to question every grade my students earned, wondering if the F, D or even C I recorded for them would push buttons I didn't know existed.

I've wondered for a long time whatever happened to John. I suspect he's homeless now. What else could have happened to him? I feel better imagining him on the street instead of in jail.

As the years have passed, I've had more and more interactions with students who need help. All I've been able to do is tell someone higher up and hope they'll get help. Usually, the response to this kind of behavior is punitive and a student who acts up is eventually "asked" to leave. Honestly, what can schools like mine do when we don't have the funds to even keep the library open adequately?

But here I am. I'm a part of something, is it a something that could help? I'm too small to make that possible but if others gather with me, perhaps we could change and start addressing mental illness in a serious way. 

*I've changed his name for privacy's sake.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Homemade Gifts: Cranberry Liqueur

I have many a cocktail lover in my life.  Relatives, friends, neighbors... we can be a boozy bunch.  This homemade cranberry liqueur is a perfect gift.  Make it look pretty and it can be a cost effective solution for the gift for the bulk of your Christmas List, as well as nice to have on hand for unexpected holiday drop-ins.

Cranberry Liquer
based on a recipe from The NY Times

2-12oz bags cranberries
4 c. sugar
2 c. water
1 handle (1.75L) vodka*

*kitchen notes:  I use 2 half full handles of vodka so I can simply add the cranberry syrup on top to let it sit for a week before gifts go out.  Regarding the type of vodka, I like to use Smirnoff because it's pretty cost effective with minimal flavor.  This time, I used the cheap Costco brand and like the results so far.

Boil the frozen cranberries in a saucepan with sugar and water until the berries POP.  Puree the mixture in a food processor.   Wait for the mixture to cool, then funnel the cranberry syrup equally into each half full handle of vodka.  Adding the zest of a couple of oranges would be great, or you could also add some cinnamon sticks, if that's your thing.

Let the concoction sit in a cool, dark place - fridge space is a hot commodity during the holidays and cool and dark is sufficient - for at least a week or two.  When you are ready to decant into pretty gift bottles, pour through a strainer lined with cheesecloth to get rid of the cloudiness.  Since I did not have forethought to make this ahead of time this year to take pictures, go directly to Pinterest for bottling ideas (or hopefully Natty will show us her stuff next week!).

This liqueur is an awesome addition to a liquor cabinet, but I personally love it over ice with fizzy water and a squeeze of lime.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Homemade Gifts: A Quick Poem for a Favorite Mamma

It's so "English teacher" of me to recommend giving a poem as a gift, but this poem is one I come back to again and again, especially when nursing Georgia in the middle of the night (or when there are so many dishes in the sink, I can't see the spout.)

     Song for a Fifth Child
     Mother, oh Mother, come shake out your cloth,
     Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
     Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
     Sew on a button and make up a bed.

     Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
     She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.

     Oh, I’ve grown shiftless as Little Boy Blue
     (Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).
     Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
     (Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
     The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
     And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
     But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
     Look! Aren’t her eyes the most wonderful hue?
     (Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).

     The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
     For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
     So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
     I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.

                                                   - Ruth Hulburt Hamilton

I've shared this with a lot of moms over the years.  All you need to make this a gift is a printer, some paper and a pretty frame. I just wouldn't give it to anyone who might take this as a statement about her housekeeping. The one above is the one I keep in Georgia's nursery. I'm sure you'll be much fancier with matting and stuff than me!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Top Five Holiday Traditions We'll Be Inflicting on Our Kids

The kiddos met Santa!
Everett knew the name of the game.
Georgia seemed to have a bit of enniu.

1. Great Grandma's Christmas Tree

It's such a little thing, but when I was a child, this little tree was an important part of my Christmas. My Grandma Ruby lived in a tiny house in San Diego and this was her Christmas tree. When she passed away, I was given her tree. Even though Georgia will never know her, it makes me happy to know that she'll know her a little though her little tree.

2. Books.

Growing up, my mother had a stash of books that only came out at Christmas and I spent the weeks leading up to the big day, absorbed in their worlds. I liked The Best Christmas Pageant Ever for its raucous storyline but loved the tender ending more. Books with toys and dolls that came to life, like The Story of Holly and Ivy, occupied me for hours, all the while making me give the side-eye to the playthings in my bedroom. I read these books every year, even though some of them were "baby" books and I'm building a collection of my own now.

3. Gramercy Tavern’s Gingerbread

I started making this 5 years ago and it wouldn't feel like Christmas without it. I can't wait until Georgia can make this with me. The boiling of beer and molasses makes this cake seem even more special and rare.

4. Obnoxious, Constant Singing.

Georgia is under the impression that I am a grand, grand singer, so I've really been belting it out this year. Patrick tolerates KOST 103.5 when were driving around town and the Sirius holiday channels play almost non-stop when we're home. I sing along if I know 30% or more of the words. We'll see if Georgia grows up to chime in or crumble and cringe.

5. Not Getting Dressed on Christmas Day.

To me, this is the height of celebration. Sure, you can get dressed if you want, but if you want to spend the entire day, cozy in your new jammies, eating gingerbread and playing with toys... wait, why would anyone want to get dressed?


1.  Tree Cookies
This, our first year as a fam of 3, will be the first year we do this.  I got this fun idea from an Internet friend who takes a 1 inch or so "slice" (or cookie) off the bottom of the christmas tree every year.  If I remember correctly, her family names the tree, writes that and the year on the cookie, and files it away as a reminder of Christmas Past.  I haven't decided how we'll utilize the cookie, but likely in a similar way.

2.  Christmas Eve PJ's
As a kid, we were allowed to open one gift every year on Christmas eve, and that gift was always pajamas.  There is something about wearing new PJ's to bed on Christmas eve that makes it even just a touch more special.

3.  Jingle Cats
Music to our ears!  Every year whilst trimming the tree, we must listen to the album at least once.  Can you handle it?

4.  Poppyseed Danish
My big grandma made it, my mom makes it, and we shall eat it. 

5.  Dad's Christmas Tree Cutouts
I wish I had a picture of this, but we haven't put up the outdoor decor as of yet.  My dad hand made sparkly, white, lighted plywood christmas trees for each of my siblings that sit near each of our front doors.  No matter where we are, we are all connected and think of my dad and each other whenever we see them.  I love it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Are We Dweebs? We Just Got a Nest.

We spend a lot, too much, way too much, on electricity, especially in the summer. With a baby and an asthmatic in the house, not running the air conditioner just isn't an option, but it makes you feel crazy to get hit with an electricity bill for over $500. It also just makes me feel gross, like a somewhere out there, Woodsy Owl is actively disappointed with me.

Woodsy Owl is coming for you... in your sleep...

In the mild months of spring when we don't use the a/c or heat, our electricity bill is only about a hundred dollars (which may still sound a lot to people in other parts of the country-- electricity in Southern California is idiotically expensive) so it's clear to us the bulk of our electricity bill comes from keeping the house a comfortable temperature. So we're throwing some money at the problem, hoping the investment now will pay off in the future.

We're replacing the insulation in the attic, redoing the weather stripping, slowly replacing our windows, and have installed a Nest Learning Thermostat. Well, we didn't install it, Patrick installed it. Big ups, honey.

Don't call it the iPod of thermostats-- we're Android people. But, oooh, it is pretty. Before, we had a Honeywell thermostat that glowed ugly and blue-green all  day and night (and was impossible to program in any meaningful way.) It's stupid, but I love how the display only lights up when you're standing right in front of it.

The thermostat can also be adjusted from my laptop of cell phone. I was entirely too excited when I was nursing Georgia in her room and felt a little chilly. In a month, we'll get an automated energy report.

It's not even close to a flying car but so far, I like that little bit of future hanging on the wall. I'll let you know if it saves us money!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

So I'm Not Going to Win Mother of the Year

By now, you probably have seen this youtube phenomenon:

I don't take all my parenting cues from youtube, but wow, this works.  Hot Buttered Mythbusters has proven it:

Need I say more?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Er Mer Gerd, We Actually Did Something From Pinterest!

We saw the following on Pinterest...

...and then actually tried it ourselves. In real life. I know, I'm as shocked as you are! Now we have adorable photos for our holiday cards.

Many,  many, many thanks to Lizvette Wreath Photography for the idea!