Wednesday, December 31, 2008
The Year in Review
When I first started this post, I began by saying how much 2008 sucked. And boy, did it! But as I started to choose these photos, I realized that there were still many more bright moments and that they far outnumbered the dull dark ones.

Polar themed birthday party
January 2008

Another birthday celebration
January 2008

Easter egg hunt
March 2008

Harry modeling Mara's Uggs
March 2008

Junior Bridesmaid
May 2008

Kamping King
May, 2008

Dingman's Falls
Memorial Weekend 2008

Surfer dude. Riis Park,
June 2008

Deno's, Coney Island
June 2008

July 2008

Final resting place of Thomas Jefferson,
inventor of the nickel
author of the Declaration of Independence
July 2008

Ice cream by the pool
July 2008

If only it was like this everyday
August 2008

Someone got in trouble trying to climb into the goat pen
Central Park Zoo, September 2008

Goodbye. Miss you already.
September 2008

Still miss you, Astroland.
September 2008

Back to school is also back to Scouts. Sophie on her way to her first Brownie meeting. September, 2008

Hello. My name is Pumpkin.
October 2008

And I'm Pikachu.
October 2008

Bumble Bee and Sharpay with the Swedish Chef.
Bork Bork Bork!
October 2008

Christmas Tree. See the popcorn garland? Yeah, that was great way to kill an afternoon AND make a mess.
December 2008

In a few short hours, hundreds of thousands of people
will gather here to ring in the new year.
Times Square, 2008

Thanks for reading!

Happy New Year! May your 2009 be filled with all the bright moments, love and prosperity you can stand. And while you're at it, leave me a message and let me know what you hope your new year holds.

See you next year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Lentil Soup

Yesterday I decided to do some cooking to break up the monotony of relaxation. I made a vat of spaghetti sauce and a bucket of lentil soup. Good, yummy things to have on hand for the cold weeks ahead.

Except all the food I made won't fit in the freezer now and I ran out of containers to freeze smaller portions in. I am contemplating pilfering some containers when I go over to my dad and stepmom's later this morning. They think I'm going over there to help them with some computer stuff but actually I'm only going there to play with their new Wii.

Anyway, here's the recipe I use for lentil soup. I love recipes that are versatile like this one. Switch out a few ingredients or omit them altogether to tailor to your liking. (Or if you're like me, you probably don't have one (or more) of the ingredients on hand so versatility is helpful in our kitchen.) It makes a lot but can easily be halved.

2 large carrots, chopped fine
3 stalks celery, chopped fine
1 large onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1lb green lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 15 oz can tomato paste
14 cups water
Bay leaves
Salt and freshly cracked pepper
Olive oil*

  1. Pop Wall-E into the DVD player for the kids.

  2. Saute the the carrots, celery and onion in some olive oil. Add the garlic last so it doesn't burn. Once the vegetables are soft and the onions are translucent, add the water, lentils and tomato paste. Stir well to combine.

  3. Distribute snacks to the kids. sweep up cookie crumbs in living room.

  4. Add the bay leaves, salt and pepper and thyme (you could use any herb combination you like; Italian seasonings work well, too).

  5. Make drinks for kids, take one to the potty and wipe runny noses. Wash hands well with hot soapy water.

  6. Simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes to an hour, or until lentils are soft and soup is thickened.

  7. Explain to the kids that they don't have to eat the soup if they don't want to for the fifth time.

  8. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

  9. Sweep up the snack crumbs in the living room and wipe up any juice that may have spilled.
You can serve with a loaf of good, crusty bread and a shaving of parmesan cheese or a drizzle of olive oil. Maybe a small dollop of goat cheese if you like it. Possibilities are endless.

Depending on your household, you may be able to skip steps 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 and take pictures of the entire process for good blogging.

*Almost any kind of grease will do. Yesterday I fried my veggies up in some bacon fat leftover from Saturday morning's breakfast, which gave it a nice depth of flavor.

Saturday, December 27, 2008
The Shredder
I mentioned last week that I'd be getting some organizing done over the holiday break (in between lying on the sofa and watching movies, of course). On Friday we went and bought a shredder for the house so I could finally get rid of some of paperwork that's been piling up.

As a victim of identity theft (which you can read about here, here, here and here), I don't throw anything away that has personal information on it. At the ex-job, I used to bring piles of papers in and keep them in a locked desk drawer until I had enough to make it worth a trip to their industrial strength shredders. The freelance gig where I'm working now doesn't have shredders like that and if they did they'd be out in the open so everyone could see you shredding your financial records. So new home shredder it is.

In the desk drawer where I keep my statements I found useless and unnecessary paperwork dating back to 1993: the adoption receipt for our cat and her health report for a brief yet expensive kitty hospital stay (during which they found nothing wrong!), statements from insurance companies I haven't had coverage with in over 10 years, pay stubs, 15 years worth of canceled checks, tax returns for 1994 through 1997 and credit card statements. Stapled to those credit card statements were receipts for all the stuff I'd bought that month, an organization skill refined during my child-free years and is now just a faint memory.

And the stuff I bought? Most of it I don't remember, probably didn't need, and none of it worth the hole of debt I dug for myself. Earlier this year I finally climbed out of that hole and made the last payments to credit card companies. It took seven+ years to build it up, four and a half years to pay it off and two days of shredding to reclaim drawer space previously occupied by financial records:

Two thirteen gallon recycling bags from just one drawer.

And I still have a few more boxes and drawers to go through. How anyone ever stole my identity if I've kept every last scrap of paper pertaining to my finances is beyond me.

Xmas Recap
Christmas has come and gone, bringing with it leaky radiators and overfilled boilers, toys that are nearly impossible to get out of the packaging (I'm looking at you, Hasbro) and colds for 75% of this household.

But it was great. Bittersweet to not have seen our moms this Christmas but great nonetheless.

On Christmas Eve, we tracked Santa's route on (Thanks to my friend Andie for the tip!) As we watched Santa weave his way across Scandinavia, Europe and the north coast of Africa, the kids became very jittery that he'd bypass us if we were not home in bed when he came to Brooklyn. Finally, we packed it in, dressed them in their Christmas pajamas, forced them to take a photo in front of the tree at nana and grandpa's house and left.

Can you see the worry?

Then, because we like to keep it interesting, we went right back for something of John's we'd forgotten. The kids became even more nervous, and kept peering up at the sky to see if we'd be too late.

Eventually they fell asleep and as we carried them into the house we tried waking them up. "We still have to leave cookies out for Santa," I whispered.

Harry responded with a snore. Sophie mumbled something about leaving anything out. So I leaned over her in bed and said again "come put a few cookies on a plate."

"Mom, we have to go to bed or he won't come!"

"Just a few cookies. C'mon," I urged.




At 5:56 the next morning, I heard footsteps in the living room, then heard them run back to the kids' room. "Harry!" I heard Sophie say through the monitor, "He came! Santa was here!" Then I heard two sets of footsteps walking through the living room. They were giggling together, marveling at the packages Santa left. "Look, that one's for you!" Sophie told her brother. "For ME?" he replied.

Then they went through their stockings, oohing and ahhing over all the gifts.

I could have listened to them all day through that monitor but once they'd gone through their stockings they bounded into our room. "Mom! Dad! He was here! C'mon, get up! Come see what he left!"

I hope yours was merry, too!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008
More Baking (Our Oven is Begging for Mercy)
Hello, lover.
Cake is not this yellow...that's our crappy kitchen lighting.
Oh, and I'm still figuring out this new camera.

This recipe came from a coworker at the ex-job who adapted it from a published recipe (magazine unknown). I am responsible for bringing this cheesecake at all the family gatherings that are held at my dad and stepmom's.
Rather than a traditional graham cracker crust, this recipe uses vanilla wafer cookies as a foundation for a really nice cheesecake. It is dense yet light, and has a great almond scent. If you need one reason to start a diet on January 1st, this is it.
Amaretto Cheesecake
a.k.a. "Worth-Every-Calorie Cheesecake"

1-3/4 cup vanilla wafer cookie crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk*
1/4 cup Amaretto liquor
Dash salt
4 large eggs
1 (16-ounce) carton sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Garnish: Toasted slivered almonds (optional)
  1. Combine crust ingredients; press in bottom and up sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Chill. (I bake mine in the oven for 10 minutes but only because I like my crust crunchy.)
  2. Beat cream cheese, sugar and condensed milk at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy.
  3. Add amaretto and salt; beat until blended.
  4. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan.Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes; cool 10 minutes.
  6. Combine sour cream, 1/4 cup sugar and almond extract. Spread over cheesecake. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and immediately chill for 8 hours.
  7. Sprinkle with toasted almonds right before serving.
Yield: 12 - 14 servings.
*As for what to do with the last 1/2 of the can of sweetened condensed milk, I suppose you could stir it into your coffee or spread it on toast but I prefer to dip the leftover vanilla wafer cookies into it and eat them while watching classic holiday movies.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Chocolate Crinkle Cookies and more!
Blogger Donalyn over at dlynz posted a recipe for chocolate crinkle cookies this past weekend. I made some last night:

Oh. My. These are really good and chocolaty and are sitting in an airtight container waiting to be boxed up and brought to neighbors and friends later today.

They're delicious and you might consider making some if you have a gathering to attend this week. (Or making them and keeping them for yourself.)

Here's a tin with some of the Russian Tea Cakes I baked. With really crappy lighting.

I glazed some almonds with brown sugar, cumin, coriander and cayenne pepper.

After roasting in the over, I coated them in cocoa and powdered sugar for a twist on sweet and spicy nuts. I found the recipe at Su Good Sweets...they're really good and are also bound for friends and neighbors.

Up tomorrow is a the best recipe for cheesecake ever.

Thursday, December 18, 2008
Holiday Schedule
My freelance gig won't need me the last two weeks of the year but they've asked me to come back after the first of the year. The last time I had this much time off I had to have a baby to get it.

As I look at the last two weeks of the year stretching out before me, I see gobs of time to be spent taking care of things around the house. Like the pesky light switch in our kitchen that is older than me and my husband combined. And the bulbs which were supposed to be planted by Thanksgiving if they are going to come up in time for spring need to be put in the ground. There's a washer in our tub faucet that needs changing. One day we will drive up to see the chalet homestead cottage camper and check to make sure that it is surviving the winter. Also, we will check to make sure one of the doors is locked because someone told their wife it was and then a week later admitted he isn't sure he locked it. Hrmph.

So my schedule looks like this:

Fix light switch Lie on sofa
Finish wrapping
Eat cookies
Replace washer in tub faucet Watch The Bishop's Wife
Make popcorn
Watch Holiday Affair
Organize/shred piles of papers Lie on sofa
Drive 2 hours to lock a door

Eat cookies

Monday, December 15, 2008
I think giving baked goods for the holidays is a fabulous idea. Last year we gave banana nut bread and pumpkin quick bread to some friends and they were a hit. You can really get your Martha on by wrapping the loaves in pretty Christmas colored tea towels. If you tie it with a coordinating ribbon they'll know you're an overachiever.

This year instead of bread, we're sending cookies across the miles to our unsuspecting relatives. So if any of you are reading this, act surprised when you open your boxes. Here's one of the cookies you're getting!

This recipe for Russian Tea Cakes has been in the Betty Crocker cookbook for years and is the type of recipe that every family has a spin on. They're cookies, not cakes, and they also go by the name of Mexican Wedding Cookies, Butterballs, Italian Butter Nuts, Viennese Sugar Balls and Snowballs.

All this talk of nuts and balls is making me uncomfortable. On to the recipe already.

Russian Tea Cakes
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup finely chopped nuts
1/4 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar

1. Heat oven to 400ºF.
2. Mix butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and the vanilla in large bowl. Stir in flour, nuts and salt until dough holds together.
3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
4. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set but not brown. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool slightly on wire rack.
5. Roll warm cookies in powdered sugar; cool on wire rack. Roll in powdered sugar again.
6. Individually wrap each cookie in food-safe gauzy fabric and tie with a coordinating silken ribbon Throw a trayful into a cookie tin and ship it off.

Pictures to follow as soon as I actually get around to making them!

Saturday, December 13, 2008
Christmas Specials
Our kids love themselves some Christmas specials. So do I, even though my parents scarred me for life by plopping me in front of the television to watch the saddest, sorriest Christmas story ever created for children. That show is called Nestor the Long Eared Christmas Donkey.

If you've seen it, you know how sad it is. A donkey with impossibly long ears gets thrown out of his warm stable in the desert one snowy December night. His mother chases after him, covers him with her body to keep him warm and then FREEZES TO DEATH IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. Said donkey then goes on to deliver Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.

Yes, this is the holiday fare my parents thought would warm my five year old heart. I'm sure they didn't think I'd come to them crying my eyes out.

Today we have handy guides for choosing appropriate Christmas specials: V-chips and rating systems and on-screen menus and to avoid exposing your child to television that might damage them. This has done nothing, however, from stopping people from making new Christmas specials. If you've seen any of the newer holiday specials you know they are awful.

First of all, unless you are Charles Schultz, Frank Capra, Arthur Rankin or Jules Bass, you have no business making a holiday special. There is no new spin on Santa, Rudolph, Frosty or the birth of Jesus. It's all been done before. Leave it alone. For proof of this, I give you exhibit A: The Flight Before Christmas.

This was on last night after Frosty. The kids watched it because they don't know any better.

Exhibit B: Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer

Why is this even funny??

Are there any Christmas specials you love? Or hate?

Friday, December 12, 2008
Dress Up Box
Just when I thought it was safe that the dress up box go away, the kids rediscovered it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008
Here's How To Tell You Are All Sorts of Holiday Crazy
You have a pile of gifts that need wrapping in the corner. The gifts call to you to be wrapped and you say things like "I'll wrap 2 gifts a night. That won't be so bad." Except there's homework to be done and dishes to be washed and bathrooms to clean and so at 10 pm you decide to put the wrapping off another day.

Then you think about it and you realize that if you wrap the gifts, they cease being a bunch of things you bought in bags and will become presents, which will invite all sorts of investigation from the children who live with you and so you think I'll wrap everyone else's gifts and leave theirs for last. Except one of the children has the ability to read and once she reads the tags she will hound you when she realizes that the gifts are not for her and will invariably ask "why aren't there any gifts for me?" And you'll have to come up with excuses.

So then you get a brilliant idea: wrap everything, but put a little code on the bottom of the gift. The key to this code can be stored on your palm pilot so only you know that the box with "*#&" really means "Lincoln Logs/Harry." and "&!@" means "Hickory Farms gift pack/family friends" You mull it over and realize that you are considering inventing a micro language for deciphering which holiday gifts you have wrapped and surely that is a sign that if you haven't lost it you are about to.

Monday, December 8, 2008
Work in Progress
Christmas can be great fun for kids. They make a wish and voila, it comes true Christmas morning.

When I was a kid, I remember waking up and discovering that Santa actually came. He dropped off gifts, even though I fought with my sister and didn't listen to my mother all year long. He knew I tried to be good and therefore took the time to place gifts under our tree. The fact that he'd been in our house leaving us presents was almost better than the presents themselves. (Almost.) And the presents, wrapped nicely and topped with a bow held enormous potential. Anything could be under that patterned paper. It could be what I asked for or it could be something Santa knew I would like much better. Something I hadn't even thought to ask for, something that hadn't even been invented yet. Cuz Santa's that kind of guy.

The past few Sundays have been torture because the kids know to look for the toy sales circulars when the paper comes. They examine these circulars as if it holds a clue to a lost civilization or unlocks the secrets of the universe. We can't actually read the paper because we have to look at this toy or that toy and listen to a chorus of "I Want THAT!" Then the art caddy is lugged off its shelf, the safety scissors are located and the kids make clippings of pictures of the toys they want. The clippings are placed in an envelope and sealed for mailing to Santa. Stray scraps of paper litter the floor which drives me crazy but the season will be over in a few weeks so I try to ignore it.

I cringe a little whenever I hear the kids cry out "I want that!" As their mother, I want them to have everything they desire but as their mother it is also my job to make them realize they can't always get what they want. Easier said than done.

We've been trying to talk to the kids about this. There's only so much they can understand when vague tales are told to them about kids who might not have a house to live in, or their parents don't have money for necessities, let alone gifts. No one they know is in any of these situations although some have a more difficult time than others making ends meet. But that's not fodder on the playground and so its difficult for them to imagine, much less understand.

As it has done in the past, our church is sponsoring a toy drive this Christmas. I took Sophie with me to pick out a few toys to donate. She handled herself well, and understood that we were there for others. In the end, we chose two Disney playsets, one for a boy and one for a girl. I think she was proud of herself and now wants to make sure we donate to the food drive at school. That girl gets an A in Empathy I tell you what.

Harry's three, and as such, is still a work in progress. Yesterday at church, John offered to stash away in the office some presents another family had brought. As he was gathering the toys to bring upstairs, Harry spied a Cars playset, which he immediately decided should be his.

We tried explaining that the playset was for the less fortunate children, ones who aren't as lucky as ours. "But, I waaaannnnnnt it," he pleaded.

We tried explaining the toys were for the needy, those who may not have warm clothes or enough to eat. Still, he whined on about how he wanted this toy.

Finally, a little exasperated, John said "But it's for the poor kids!"

Undeterred, Harry ran after John and the playset. "I want to be a poor kid! Please? Please can I be a poor kid?"

Saturday, December 6, 2008
Holiday Humor
We've been busy this week with holiday chores prep so I've got nothing interesting to post except these two links:

Christmas record covers and creepy santas, both at flabbergastedly.

If you send it to you co-workers it is very possible to get the entire office guffawing at the same time.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Right Around the Corner
Harry: "Dad, can we go around the corner to the Christmas?"

John: ?

Harry: "Around the corner. You said that's where Christmas is."

John: "I'm not sure what you mean."


Sophie: "Ugh. Harry, it's a just a figure of speech!"