Monday, December 31, 2007

Groaning with Christmas/Seasonal/Holiday Joy: La Parte Tres

Greetings and welcome to the final report on our Christmas International Food Frenzy. Now, Claire's father may not appreciate foreign cuisine, but his daughter surely does. I love real Mexican, and it loves me back (and me thighs, and me upper arms). The chiles! The cheese! The tortillas! All good and so good for you.

Christmas was our last night together as an extended family for a while, and while we probably did not need another meal after the previous evening's Indian feast, we started cooking again anyway. It was great fun.

On the Menu:
Chile Quilles (supplied by friend D.)
Three Sisters Burritos
with roasted squash, pinto beans and corn


Take a peek at their menu. Creative, healthy food that makes me swoon. Not unlike Mrs. G. swoons over Hugh Jackman.

This is a good dish for company. It presents nicely. You are going to dirty a few pots and pans, but oh, is it worth it. I serve this often to serious carnivores and they act like they really like it. Raves! I get raves!

The Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds butternut squash
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, divided

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ancho chile powder

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided

  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

  • Juice of 1/2 lime

  • 1 1/2 cups corn, fresh or frozen

  • 1 14 oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed*

  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, stemmed and chopped

  • 2 teaspoons chipotle puree (follows)

  • 3 1/2 cups grated white cheddar cheese

  • 6 whole wheat tortillas*

  • Mesa red sauce (recipe follows) or other favorite red sauce
    • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel and seed the squash, and chop into 3/4" cubes. Toss with 1 tablespoon oil, ancho powder, 1 teaspoon salt, maple syrup and lime juice and spread out in a glass baking dish. Roast until tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer the roasted squash to a large bowl, and spread the corn in the same baking dish. Toss with 1 teaspoon oil and a pinch of salt and roast 10 minutes. Combine the squash and corn and cool. Toss in the beans, cilantro and chipotle puree and season to taste.

      To roll the burritos, lay a tortilla out in front of you and spread about 1 cup of filling across the middle. Top with 1/3 cup of cheese and roll the tortilla around the filling to form a cylinder. Place seam-side down on a lightly oiled baking dish and repeat with remaining filling. Spoon sauce over the tortillas and sprinkle with remaining cheddar. Cover the pan with foil and bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees until heated through. Remove foil for a final 5 minutes to melt the cheese on top.

      *Notes: I have often omitted the maple syrup when I was out of it.
      I sometimes use chili beans and don't rinse them all the way.
      Trader Joe's homemade whole wheat tortillas are very good.

      Chipotle Puree
      a little can of chipotles in adobo sauce. I buy this:

      Whirl it all up in the blender or food processor and put it in a jar. That's it. This stuff is so good--it's smokey and hot and flavorful. ONLY USE A LITTLE BIT. You can add more, but you won't want to. Use it in and on everything. Really really good mixed with butter for corn on the cob. Equally yummy in chili. Add some to sour cream and dollop on Mexican food. Put a little in mac and cheese. Adds zing to guacamole. Makes barbeque sauce lip-smackable. The rebar gals are on my secret girlfriend list (now there's a posting idea) for introducing me to this heavenly flavor sensation.

      Mesa Red Sauce
      Put DOWN that canned enchilada sauce and make this instead:
      The Ingredients:

    • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
    • 6 garlic cloves, minced
    • 4 tablespoons masa harina
    • 4 tablespoons ancho chile power
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper
    • 1 tablespoon minced oregano
    • 4 cups vegetable stock or water, heated
    • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
    • 1 teaspoon brown sugar

      Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until translucent. Add garlic and cook 3 minutes. Sprinkle in the masa harina and stir constantly as it cooks and turns golden.

      Add the spices and oregano and stir for another 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the warm vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and whisk in the tomato paste and sugar.

      Simmer partially covered for 30 minutes, stirring regularly. Season to taste.

    • This Christmas will be remembered as one of my favorites. I was surrounded by friends and family that I love, and we simply enjoyed our time together without artificial deadlines and unnecessary expectations. I hope 2008 will be a year of happy memories, good health, and peace in all of your homes and hearts. Happy New Year!

      Saturday, December 29, 2007

      Groaning with Christmas/Seasonal/Holiday Joy: Part (how do you say “two” in punjabi?)

      Our to-die-for Indian feast took place on Christmas Eve, that holiest of nights when families observe sacred traditions, passed on through the generations. The Midnight Mass tradition. The “just one” gift opening tradition. The visits to loved ones tradition.

      Or in our case, the visit to the brewpub tradition. Each year since we moved here in 2002, we have stopped by “our” brewpub on Christmas Eve. Devoid of crowds (I mean, who goes out drinking beer on Christmas eve, geesh! Scoundrels!), dark and quiet, it is as sacred to us as any cathedral. The gigantic tree sweeping the thirty-foot ceiling made us feel all festive inside—or was that the sublime IPA or seasonal winter brew we quaffed? No matter, we were sure happy to be there.

      And this year was no exception, but for the MASSIVE CROWD OF SCOUNDRELS that preceded us. Where normally about a half-dozen worshippers shared the sanctity of the place with the proprietors (all the staff was off duty), this year the word got out and we could barely get ourselves a table. Behind the bar, where once the owner pulled our Christmas pints (and give them to us for free), were two bartenders scrambling to keep up. In place of the manager, stopping by our table to visit with a plate of homemade macaroons, was our favorite friendly, but frenzied, waitress, who was trying to get home to be with her kids. Our manager friend was swamped in the kitchen, and we had to go back and stick our heads in the door to get a Merry Christmas! in. Worst of all—there were so many people drinking WINE* in the place that I thought we had entered the wrong building by mistake. Oh, it was sad, alright. We could not believe our eyes. The owner even apologized to us! I’m sorry, guys, he said, I don’t know what happened this year.

      And so another Christmas tradition has become commercialized and ugly. I don’t blame all those folks for wanting in on something good. Oh—wait—of course I do. They should have kept their wine-drinking asses at home where they belong! Sniff, sniff. This was OUR tradition, dammit. *I love wine, oh I do, but not in a brewpub on Christmas Eve when the beer lovers can't get a table.

      Afterward in years past, we would head over to our Unitarian Universalist fellowship for the Christmas Eve service, buoyed by the happiness in our bellies hearts.

      This year, we had another service in mind: make some gooooood Indian food and serve it up as soon as possible. So we went home and got busy.

      With no casualties or cut fingers this time, and no bugs in the food to deal with, we measured, chopped and stirred, and presto! presented the following for our friends’ and family’s enjoyment (and kids, DO try this at home):

      Christmas Eve Indian Feast Menu

      Dal with Basmati Rice (simply the best ever)
      Lentil, Pea & Potato Curry, courtesy of Mediterrasian, a lovely website by a New Zealander and an Australian
      Basmati Rice with Dried Fruit, Almonds, and Coconut (I'm eating some now. Yum! Friend D. brought it, let me know if you'd like the recipe and I'll post it)
      Some chicken dish that our friend D. brought over for the carnivores in the house
      Naan from Trader Joe's (so easy! and so good! why make it yourself?)

      The Lentil, Pea, and Potato Curry was one of the best I've ever made or eaten anywhere. Note the recipe is for two servings, so double or triple at will. It is soooo good.

      We make the Dal often. It is a combination of two recipes: Dal with Coconut Cream and Red Lentil Dal with Aromatics from Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone, by Deborah Madison, food goddess:


    • 1 cup red lentils
    • 3 cups water
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • 1 garlic clove
    • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro stems
    • 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
    • 3 tablespoon ghee or clarified butter*, divided
    • 1 small onion, finely chopped
    • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
    • 1 jalapeño chile, seeded and chopped
    • ½ teaspoon turmeric
    • 1 15 oz can unsweetened coconut milk
    • salt
    • 2 shallots, sliced
    • 1 dried red chile, broken into pieces
    • 3 bay leaves
    • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds

    • Wash the lentils thoroughly and drain well. Combine with 3 cups water and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until they have disintegrated and turned mushy, about 20 minutes. If needed, add more water.

      Meanwhile, pound or puree the garlic clove, cilantro stems, and ginger together. Add them to the cooked lentils.

      Heat 2 tablespoons ghee over medium-high heat, then sauté the onion, garlic, and jalapeño chile for 1 minute. Add turmeric and sauté everything until the onions are soft. Add to the pot of lentils. Pour in the coconut milk. Taste for seasoning and add salt if desired.

      Heat remaining 1 tablespoon ghee over high heat. Add the shallots, dried red chile, bay leaves, and mustard seeds, and sauté about 1 minute, until mustard seeds turn grey. Stir into lentils and serve with cooked basmati or jasmine rice.

      *Note: I always use regular butter, because I am far too lazy to clarify it or to make ghee. However, I recently read that ghee is the only acceptable fat to use in Indian cooking, and that it makes all the difference. I plan on making some soon, and will likely regret every dish I ever made without it.

      Perfect Basmati (or Jasmine) Rice
      from Rebar Modern Food Cookbook

      Rebar is our most favorite restaurant in Victoria, BC. Amazing food! You will see more in Part Tres of our Holiday International Food Frenzy

      Prepare yourself for rice ecstasy!
      Combine in a heavy saucepan:
    • 3 ½ cups water
    • 2 cups uncooked rice
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 tablespoon butter

      Heat to a boil. As soon as it starts boiling, put a tight-fitting lid on the pan and lower the heat to the lowest possible setting and set the timer for 18 minutes.

      When the timer goes off, turn off the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes.

      Fluff with a fork, and amaze your friends.

    • And it came to pass that a new Christmas Eve tradition was born, on a star-filled night in the Pacific Northwest.

      And peace abounded in the hearts of all who shared it.

      Thursday, December 27, 2007

      Dad's Food Comment

      In the midst of our Christmas food frenzy, my phone was passed from my my sticky, onion-and-garlic-covered hand to my brother's clean one (he appreciated that) so he could send good wishes to the thirty New York relatives on the other end.

      Brother: "Hey, Dad, we're having a great time and eating some great food! Sunday we had Italian, last night was Indian, and tonight is Mexican!"

      Dad's deadpan comment: "What's wrong with American?"

      Sorry, we were fresh out of hot dogs.

      Wednesday, December 26, 2007

      Groaning With Christmas/Seasonal/Holiday Joy: Part I

      Our goal was to have family and friends over and spend QHT while eating good food and drinking better beer and wine.

      We certainly succeeded.

      After a late Friday night at a club, listening to a favorite band (as if still in our twenties), we slept in on Saturday and then tried to clean the house for awhile. Having no fun, we ditched that plan and watched Christmas (“the little lights are not twinkling”) Vacation instead.

      On Sunday we got ready for company and cleaned for a few hours, then headed to the grocery store where we spent a whopping and ridiculous three hundred bucks, seventeen of which went for a single bottle of olive oil I had picked up in error. In my righteousness, I accused the grocery store of overcharging (in my humble defense I offer that they do indeed overcharge us on a regular basis, which I thought was nearly impossible with the ubiquitous bar-coding of our society, but they do).

      Way behind schedule, I was just putting away the last of the groceries when company all arrived. Together we started preparing the first of our Amazing Meals: welcome to Italian Night! I had stuffed shells on my mind, and dug out my favorite cookbook cooking website and thanks to that skinny Italian chick, had a fab recipe just waiting for me. I substituted this

      for the pancetta. (If you’re just joining us, D. and I are vegetarians. Well, I am, and D. tries. Real hard. His heart’s not completely in it, but it’s 98% there.)

      While my sister-in-law and I were chopping, chopping, chopping (and I was cutting my left index finger and my right thumb), D. ran back to the grocery store to apprise them of their grievous error and collect our cash. Turns out I had really chosen a $17 bottle of olive oil. Sheah, right?? I like my family, but. . . no. D. returned the bottle and purchased a more reasonably-priced model. Mass-produced and probably environmentally unfriendly (oops) to boot, but affordable.

      Meanwhile, I dumped a box of jumbo shells into boiling water and up to the surface floated not only a few of the shells, but a handful of tiny brown things. Upon closer inspection, the little brown things revealed they were each sporting a pair of wings and a few dozen legs. WHAAAAT??? I inspected the box, searching for some sort of explanation, while my cousin offered, “Oh, they’re just a little added protein.” Chuckle, chuckle, upchuck. The glue holding the box ends together was littered with bug bodies and there were a few survivors still crawling around.

      ICK. When D. returned from the store, I showed him the pot of doom and the box o’bugs. He grabbed both boxes for evidence and headed back to the store for another refund (this time truly not my bad). He called me from the store to report that every effin' box was crawling with creepy little insects (just going about the business of survival, but still). The clerk who assisted him with his return and subsequent empty handedness said, “Yeah, we’ve been having problems with bugs in these boxes.”

      “Great—thanks, I’ll head to Trader Joe’s,” said D., barfing a little as he left.

      Without our shells, the rest of us were stymied: we couldn’t do anything beyond making the sauce, mixing the filling, and shredding a pile of mozzarella. So we drank beer. And chatted and chatted. And looked up favorite You Tube videos to share. Nothing better than Brenda Dickson's Welcome to My Home to make you laugh so hard your beer comes out of your nose. . . but that wasn't me.

      D. called from the road. “TJ’s is out of ‘em . . . I’m heading to the other store.”

      He called again. “They’re out, too. . . I’m heading to Fred’s.” Who knew that stuffed shells were such a holiday tradition in the Pacific Northwest? In New York where I come from, Italians are everywhere and each family makes at least ten pounds of pasta per person for the holidays. I don’t think I’ve met the first Italian-type person here. But I’m sure they exist, because they bought all of my shells.

      Finally D. arrived back at the hacienda with pest-free shells. We proceeded with our dish, the girls stuffing and spooning sauce and the boys watching and drinking beer. (At least they stayed in the kitchen with us.) I messed up the recipe, though (could it be the beer?) and dumped the mozzarella into the ricotta instead of putting it on top. Pity—it made the filling a little heavier than I preferred, but nobody complained.

      We sat down to dinner at about 10 p.m. How very European of us. How very Italian of us. At that rate, we should have followed dinner with Midnight Mass, but. . . no. We followed dinner with Trivial Pursuit. My cousin, who is beyond brilliant, and would have won had he stayed, left for home at about 1:30. The rest of us could not, would not stop playing until the game was over.

      I actually won. It was 3:20 a.m. Our friend D. went home and the rest of us went to bed.

      That was food, drink, and game night #1. It was grand.

      The next morning I got out of bed at 10:52 a.m. Wow. I needed the sleep to prepare for our next gastronomical adventure: Indian Night! Details to come. . . .

      Saturday, December 22, 2007

      10 Things

      Oh, the temptation to analyze what's passing for “news” these days. . . such as the current scandal involving that troubled young singer’s even younger sister’s troubles. Or the nerve of that other troubled young celebrity showing up at her boyfriend’s football game and making his team lose! She must be stopped, apparently, and this is a BIG DEAL that people are actually discussing on the internets. And let’s do talk about the presidential candidates' holiday ads, which I thankfully have not witnessed—but! Luckily for me, NPR provided a fascinating analysis of all dozen or so of these special holiday greetings, interviewing two experts in their fields who told me what I should think of Sen. Clinton’s generosity or Rudy G’s sincerity. Whew! My personal holiday season is so much the richer for that. Thanks, NPR!

      Oops—those sarcastic remarks snuck out after I implied there would be no news analysis. Here I go, adding to the noise. Well, what else is there to do on a delightfully rainy Pacific Northwest Saturday-morning-before-Christmas when smug little me has no shopping or any other sort of seasonal prepping to do? I’m eatin’ my oatmeal and drinkin’ my coffee and readin’ the newspaper. Life is good.

      So good, in fact, that on this particularly good day I feel compelled to write a “10 Things” list. I’ve seen various lists on other blogs, usually initiated by a meme, which I have not been on the receiving end of (forgive the dangling preposition, Mrs. G.!). But instead of writing about myself, this one will be a pay it forward kind of thing. In the spirit of the season, I'm thinking about someone other than me!me!me! I invite you to do the same. Today's list is about my sweet husband, who, despite being as challenging to live with at times as, oh, I dunno, perhaps I am, is still the best person I’ve ever known.

      This is for you, D.

      10 Things I Love About My Husband

      10. You like almost everything the same as me.
      9. You like to lay around the house in jammies for entire weekends.
      8. You do all the research about every new gadget, piece of electronic equipment, or appliance that enters our house so I don’t have to.
      7. You don’t have foot odor. Amazing.
      6. You are a snappy dresser.
      5. You enjoy shopping at Target.
      4. You have never answered the question, “Do I look fat?” in the affirmative.
      3. You say I look exactly the same as when we met eleven years ago.
      2. You set up the coffee every single night so it grinds and brews before I wake up.
      1. You love my family.

      And here are 10 more:
      1. You are the best doggy and kitty daddy in the whole world.
      2. You cut the grass.
      3. You pump the gas.
      4. You hate raisins. This is cute.
      5. You are a good son and brother.
      6. You are an incredibly talented musician and know more about music than anyone I’ve ever known.
      7. You write poetry for children—and we don’t even own any.
      8. We have never had a single disagreement over how much money to spend on our animals.
      9. You ask directions without hesitation.
      10. You let me be who I am like no one else ever has.

      And you love good movies and hate bad acting and you're not a sports guy and you're totally in touch with your feminine side, which makes you a good shopping partner, and you like to cook with me and drink good wine and you agreed to start this amazing adventure called marriage even when I tried to talk you out of it.

      What, dear reader, do you love about your S.O., sister, brother, parents, friends?

      Friday, December 14, 2007

      A More Meaningful Holiday

      Everyone I know, it seems, is rethinking the holiday this year. We're either: a) sick to death of the nonstop holiday tunes and tv specials; b) a little scared to shop after viewing ads imploring us to "Stop at Nothing!" (does this include violence?) to make sure we get the I Can Play Guitar thing before someone snatches it out from under us; or c) we're more aware of the bad stuff that's going on in the world. War, starvation, injustice, the effect of global warming on penguins, power outages and natural disasters will dampen even the hardiest holiday spirit.

      Have we Al Gore to thank for this Blue Christmas? Maybe. We're completely cutting out purchasing unnecessary stuff for people who don't really need it. We're examining the pedigree of each item: where were you made? How much oil did it take to produce/transport/package you? Will I be taking advantage of some poor soul's socio-economic status by purchasing you? If you don't fit the guidelines, you can just stay on the shelf!

      We're aghast at the piles of wrapping paper we wasted each year. We always knew it was bad, so naturally, we recycled as much as possible . . . but show me a half-price sale the week after Christmas and I was a wrapping paper stocking up fool, trees be damned! And now? Never again will I buy a roll of wrap when there is plenty of shipping box stuffing paper and yesterday's newspaper lying around! I should be getting carbon credits for this.

      We've done all the shopping we're going to do. I bought a few books for some friends and family, and a painting for our godson. Gift bags (reusable, natch) for each of our employees. Practical items like grocery store gift certificates have replaced tchotchkes and silly stocking stuffers.

      No Stuff on My Cat calendars. No bendable Oscar Wilde figurines. No Clickit magnets.

      There is no tree in our living room, no lights on our porch railing. Yet. I may still be compelled to decorate a bit. But, as one of our favorite servers at our brewpub said, "You don't have to cut a tree down to feel good about yourself."

      On Christmas, we'll invite our friends and nearby family (now that we have some) over to relax and enjoy some good food and even better beer and wine. We'll play games. We'll talk about ways to celebrate our friendships and the ties that bind us throughout the entire year, and we'll each define the season in our own way.

      We'll look with hope to the new year, and we'll all feel good about the complete lack of wrapping paper in the recycle bin. If only it could save the penguins.

      Wednesday, December 12, 2007

      Wednesday Evening Poetry: Channel Firing

      Here is another favorite poem. I used to know it word-for-word, but have forgotten bits over the years. It fits my generally cynical view of politics and the hopelessness of war. I find it incredibly contemporary, too. I'm amazed and saddened that Hardy and I, though separated by nearly one hundred years, are both questioning why we (the universal “we”) have been fighting each other for centuries, with no imaginable end--and that we cannot seem to learn another way. But mostly I love this poem for the sound of it in my ears and the feel of it on my tongue. Draw out the o's, rev up the r's and see if you agree! Picture the cow stopping to listen, and the church mice shuddering with every blast. Listen to the last line as the tempo slows to end softly on starlit Stonehenge.

      Channel Firing
      by Thomas Hardy

      That night your great guns, unawares,
      Shook all our coffins as we lay,
      And broke the chancel window-squares,
      We thought it was the Judgement-day

      And sat upright. While drearisome
      Arose the howl of wakened hounds:
      The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
      The worms drew back into their mounds,

      The glebe-cow drooled. Till God called, “No;
      It's gunnery practice out at sea
      Just as before you went below;
      The world is as it used to be:

      “All nations striving strong to make
      Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
      They do no more for Christés sake
      Than you who are helpless in such matters.

      “That this is not the judgement-hour
      For some of them's a blessed thing,
      For if it were they'd have to scour
      Hell's floor for so much threatening...

      “Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
      I blow the trumpet (if indeed
      I ever do; for you are men,
      And rest eternal sorely need).”

      So down we lay again. “I wonder,
      Will the world ever saner be,”
      Said one, “than when He sent us under
      In our indifferent century!”

      And many a skeleton shook his head.
      “Instead of preaching forty year,”
      My neighbour Parson Thirdly said,
      “I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer.”

      Again the guns disturbed the hour,
      Roaring their readiness to avenge,
      As far inland as Stourton Tower,
      And Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.

      Friday, December 7, 2007

      Eighty-two Today

      She was born on December 7, 1925. American women had won the right to vote only a few years prior.

      When she was seven, in the middle of the Great Depression, her father died on Thanksgiving Day. She was the second of five children left to be raised by her widowed mother. The youngest was ten months old. Times were very hard and they were poor. She remembers picking up coal scraps at the side of the railroad tracks to help heat their house.

      They moved a lot when she was a young girl, but her close family, Catholic faith and school were constants in her life; she received an excellent education and graduated from high school with what would now equate to a university-level education.

      On her sixteenth birthday, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. In the war years that followed she saw many of her friends leave home for faraway battlefields.

      When she was eighteen, she met a boy at a dance. He said he was eighteen, too, although he was only sixteen. She dated him anyway, and when he went off to China with the US Marines, he asked her to wait for him. Rumor has it she refused, but when he came home, they were married. She was almost twenty-two; he was twenty. They celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on November 15th.

      While running the family business, she and her husband raised eleven children together. The first was born in 1949 and the babies came pretty regularly for the next twenty-one years; the last one was born on Valentine's Day, 1970.

      Their children are examples of the incredible love, strength, courage, faith in each other and in their religion, and good humor that the two of them share. They are all good people, productive members of society, wonderful mothers and fathers themselves. None are suffering from bad health or addictions; none have been in jail or in rehab. They are good friends and love each other as they love their parents; they know how lucky they are and appreciate each other and each day.

      She and her husband are respected, loved and admired by hundreds of friends, their childrens' friends, their community. They are called "inspirational" by many.

      Her husband would say she is the glue that held the family together for the forty years he was working day and night to provide for them. Her husband says she is his best friend. Her children love her beyond measure.

      I am her eighth child. There are no words to describe how I feel about my mother.

      She taught me how to be the person I am.

      She taught me how to be fair to everyone: "Do not judge a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes."

      She taught me how to appreciate what I have: "There, but for the grace of God, go you."

      She taught me how to weather tough times: "This, too, shall pass."

      She taught me to stand up for myself: "Remember, marriage is 50-50. He has to do his part, too." (Previous marriage, not D.!)

      She taught me to be nice: "No gossiping! Don't be catty."

      I've never heard my mother say anything remotely resembling racism, sexism, homophobia, or plain meanness.

      The woman is a saint. And I have been blessed every day of my life to be her daughter.

      Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you so.

      Thursday, December 6, 2007

      Holding Hands with Dad

      Yesterday I was returning to work from getting a new haircut (it's way cute) and enjoyed a rare opportunity to take a look around town and listen to some good tunes as I drove. (Stevie Wonder's Songs In The Key Of Life, only one of the finest albums ever recorded in our lifetime, IMHO, but I digress. . .)

      I was stopped behind a school bus with flashing red lights. Out hopped a little girl, maybe seven or eight; her father, hands in pockets, waited on the corner for her. He was patient, as was I, as she performed the very important task of waving goodbye to the bus driver and her school mates. The door closed, the lights stopped flashing, and father and daughter grasped hands and turned to walk home. Rather, dad walked. The little girl skipped with such momentum that she bounced down the sidewalk like a blue-jeaned ball.

      I wondered how their conversation went, how she answered the standard, "How was school today?" and what super major events occurred with her friends on the playground at recess.

      I smiled, immediately taken back to my childhood--holding hands with my Dad, walking the block-and-a-half to church on Sunday mornings with my brothers and my Mom.

      In winter, my legs would freeze, even though Mom would have put them in thick cable-knit tights. The short walk would seem miles long.

      I skipped, slid on snow, or walked doubletime to keep pace with Dad's brisk pace. He would let me lag behind and then pull me so I'd have to run. It made me giggle every time. It was our ritual.

      I don't know how many Sundays were spent walking to church holding my Dad's hand. I don't know if we knew the last time we did it would be the last time.

      But I have always remembered, even though I was so small I had to reach straight up with my arm to put my small hand in his big, safe one.

      Sunday, December 2, 2007


      I was so excited to be part of National Novel Writing Month! I came up with a story idea on November 1st. I started writing every day. 1700 words a day. I slacked off when it came close to the 8th, when we were getting ready to go to New York.

      Working ten hours a day and trying to keep the rest of my life running (clean clothes are a must) was the most I could do on some days. Writing is for people who don't have to work for a living.

      I made great progress on the plane coming home from NY. And that's the last bit I wrote. My total? 11,496 words. The goal was 50,000 words. I scored about twenty percent of the goal.

      I'm not sure how I feel about this: while I didn't "win," I certainly don't feel like a loser; I feel a bit of real achievement. The program worked by just getting me writing; it was invigorating to be part of a worldwide effort by writers from all backgrounds and abilities, all working toward the same very personal goal. In that respect, it worked brilliantly--it got me writing a new story and I was writing every day just to get that story out, not for it to be perfect.

      But writing every day in November? For me, there could hardly be a worse month. I really had no time to even read a newspaper, much less two hours a day to create a novel from nothing--no plot, no outline, no character development--nothing but a blank page. Writing is for people with the luxury of time.

      I'm not disappointed in myself. It would be nice to have been able to write 50,000 words in November, but I just couldn't. It would have been possible only if I took that time away from my family and work obligations. How haughty and self-centered that would have been. Can't imagine it: "Sorry, Mom, I'd love to visit with you but I must write. See you in a couple of hours." Maybe that's how some writers do it, but that's not me.

      So now what? I'm going to make January my own Novel Writing Month. There is so much less going on in my life in January (I think). Maybe I'll try on that haughty writer's persona, shut the door, and practice the following: No, I'm sorry, I can't. I have to write today.

      Saturday, December 1, 2007

      No Yoga

      There we were, putting on our little yoga outfits.

      There I was, removing the last of summer's chipped polish from my toenails.

      There we were, sliding through the snow to the yoga studio.

      There we were, fifteen minutes early for the 10:30 a.m. class so the newbie (me) could fill out the paperwork.

      There we were, standing outside the studio, watching the class that began at 10:00 a.m.

      Oops. Duh. No yoga for me today!