Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Girls Just Wanna Have Lunch

One of the perks of being a mom who doesn't go to an office every day is being able to have a party during the week in the middle of the day. Sometimes when the kids are at school and the husband is at work, we just wanna have fun!

I hosted a lunch-time party this week for a new friend and neighbor that recently moved from Connecticut. The theme of the party was Stone Soup. You may remember reading this fable or the classic children's picture book Stone Soup.

I wanted my new friend to get acquainted with a bunch of moms from the school our children attend and from the neighborhood. I sent out an evite to about 25 friends and asked everyone to bring a handful of a vegetable, bean or pasta to go into the soup. The new neighbor was to bring the stone. And just as I thought she would, she brought a stone from Connecticut. That stone made some of the best vegetable soup I've ever tasted. Really! It was a fun, easy, casual party where everyone contributed but still had lots of time to chat and make new friends.

Here's what I did to put together Stone Soup for 20 people.

A bunch of friends who each bring a handful of a fresh vegetable
A stone (scrubbed clean, about the size of an egg)
A very large stock pot
5 boxes of vegetable stock from Trader Joe's
2 onions, 1 shallot, 3 cloves of garlic chopped
1 small can tomato paste
Sea salt or kosher salt
Fresh rosemary, chopped
Crusty sourdough bread and good butter (I used Irish butter)
Bowls and spoons from a party rental place (if you don't have 20 bowls and/or you don't want to wash dishes)
Shredded parmesan, soup crackers, and sour cream for topping the soup
Wine (optional)
Hot mulled cider simmering on the stove
Coffee (rent the cups for hot drinks too)
Assorted cookies from a local bakery

About 20 minutes before the party started, I sautéed the onion, shallot and garlic in a little olive oil. I then added the vegetable broth, the stone, and the tomato paste and let it come to a simmer. As guests arrived, they added their item to the soup. Some things that cook very quickly, like snap peas and green beans, we added a little later. The soup simmered until we were ready to eat, about 45 minutes. I then added the fresh rosemary and salt to taste. Everyone served themselves from the stove, added toppings, and sat down to eat!

It's a little nerve-racking to leave the soup ingredients up to chance, but each person adds something to the pot and the end result is much more than the sum of the parts. Bonus: I served the leftover soup to my family for dinner that night and they all loved it. The boys wanted to know who brought each vegetable.

I must admit I did not come up with this idea all on my own. I am an assistant teacher at a preschool where we make Stone Soup in our class every year. Each child brings a vegetable to add, and the soup always tastes delicious. When we made it this year, I was inspired to see if I could turn it into a party. And just like the children learn in preschool, sometimes its really interesting to see what we can do when we all contribute something small.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that you can even throw this party if you have a child home sick from school. My oldest wasn't feeling well, but he was perfectly content to hang out in his room and nap and play Club Penguin for the afternoon.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


My mom makes a traditional oyster stuffing on Thanksgiving. But we've never seen an oyster this big before.

A highlight for my two older boys was playing football on the beach with their uncles.
The uncles were really into it too.
My oldest got to try out his uncle's saxophone. Big time cool!
One turkey headed for the deep fryer. The other turkey spent the afternoon on the BBQ
Is that a shoe print on the chocolate torte?

The highlight for each of my kids was spending lots of time playing and goofing off with their cousins!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Poem

A year ago, a good friend gave me a recording of Billy Collins reading his poetry. I hesitate to say that when I received this CD, I did not know who he was. Didn't know he was poet laureate either.

My kids and I are Billy Collins fans now. We listen to him in the car when I want a change from bickering or Top Ten. Probably one of my favorite poems on this CD is The Lanyard. It is a poem that anyone who is a mother, or a son, can appreciate.

Try reading it out loud. Really, no one is watching.

The Lanyard

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

- Billy Collins

If you'd like to hear Billy's voice, and it is a wonderful voice to listen to, go to his website at There is a whole album of poems available for free download. These ones are new to me, I'm going to listen to them on my earphones when my kids get on my nerves being out of school for Thanksgiving break. It gives me a reason to look forward to the inevitable fighting.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Comedy Traffic School

I spent my Saturday at traffic school. It was advertised as Comedy Traffic School. The instructor was not the comedienne, the students were.

We went around the room sharing how we got our tickets. As we went, I got more and more nervous because mine was so stupid and boring compared to the others (see my Sept. 6th 2007 entry for how I got this ticket).

There was the straight-haired college student, doing crosswords, reading Harry Potter, drinking a can of guava juice, and telling us how she got a ticket because she was speeding because she was listening to a really bad song and she also wore her seatbelt under her arm.

There was Mr. Proud Prius Driver who got a ticket for speeding even though he thought cops never gave tickets to Prius drivers.

There was the blond 50 year old woman with a big smile who was enjoying life and listening to a good song, in her daughter's car, cruising down Highway 5 doing about 100 mph. When she was pulled over by, in her words, a really HOT cop, she whipped out a picture of her brother in his police uniform and asked if that would help her. I guess it did and she was written up for a slower speed and qualified for traffic school.

There was the local very successful real estate agent, a man whose name I instantly recognized.

There was the 16 year old boy who just got his license and got a ticket for speeding but insisted he didn't deserve the ticket, even though he was speeding.

There was Vladamir, a Russian in dark glasses, dark slacks and dark turtleneck, with an accent so thick, we couldn't understand what his ticket was for. The instructor told us all that he parked and re-parked his shiny black car in the parking lot three times before the class started, so stay away from it. Vladamir's cell phone went off five times during the class, each time blaring Russian ballet music that the instructor told him to get rid of.

There was Chris, who was very drowsy and trying to get some shut-eye. When it came his time to share, he mumbled something about getting a ticket on his motorcycle. He looked hung over in a bad way. Then I thought maybe he's stoned. No, I know he's stoned.

Then, my favorite fellow student Monty Montgomery introduced himself. He's about twenty and just recently got his license. He rode his bike to traffic school though. He is very animated, friendly, and an excellent story-teller, even using sound effects. He makes bikes, crazy bikes, 100% from parts he finds in the landfill. He got his ticket because he was driving extremely recklessly and ran two cars off the road. One of them was a cop. Then it turned out the cop was an acquaintance from high school, so got off with traffic school instead of jail.

Let's see, what did I learn at traffic school?

Don't eat tacos while driving. They are the number one kind of food eaten by people when they get in an accident.

I learned that in the absence of any other tools, you can take an injured deer out of it's misery with a skateboard (this from Monty of course).

I learned that there is actually a law against transporting anyone in your trunk.

But the best thing I got out of traffic school was this video I've included below. Read this before you watch it:
There are two teams, the white and the black shirts. Each team has three people. Watch carefully and count how many passes the WHITE team makes. Do it now. Don't read the directions below until after you have done this.

Read the rest once you have watched it once or twice.

Now watch without counting.
Notice anything unusual? How did you miss that? Because you focused on the task at hand. A classic human factor to disregard information you are not looking for when given a task. This can be very dangerous if everyone on a team is focused on a specific task.

I am not entirely sure how this relates to driving. It might be that if you are focused on eating a taco, you will get in an accident.

Friday, November 16, 2007

New Blog Design!

Ta Da!
To celebrate my blog starting to reach more readers, I thought a redesign was in order.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Clocks Should Be More Circadian

To my loyal and oh-so-pithy (that's you Chigiy) blog readers, you may have noticed that I have been a little quite lately.

I am having a hard time adjusting to the daylight savings/lack of daylight savings (WHATEVER!) time change. Actually, it is not the time change that gets to me. Not that I don't enjoy having the same discussion with my husband – and now my kids – every year about springing ahead or falling back and if we have more sleep or less sleep, more daylight or less, what time is it really? WHATEVER!!! It doesn't make much sense to me. What makes a lot more sense is to wake up when it is light outside, and go to bed and read by candlelight when it gets dark. I'd like to throw my clocks out the window and live by my own circadian rhythms.

Less daylight+less outside time for kids=grumpy Mom. I just don't like this time of year. And the days are still growing shorter. Once the winter solstice happens and the days start getting longer again, I cheer up a little. But until then, I'm somewhat hibernating.

The Short Life

At dinner the other night, my seven year old announced quite seriously that he is only going to live to the age of eleven. He said it in a slightly sad, matter of fact way.

"Why?" I asked.

He gazed levelly at me as if I really should know the answer.

"Global warming."

Hmm . . . this kid is not concerned about terrorism. He is much more worried about the destruction of our environment. I wonder if George Bush would take a phone call from a seven year old.

And Your Point Is . . . ?

My fifth grade son announced as soon as he got in the car after school today,

"Mom, guess what! I am going to be the point guard on the basketball team!"

Football just ended last week. I think I was starting to sort of follow it. And with no break at all I am thrust into another sport that I understand very little of.

It's a little embarrassing to admit that I don't really get basketball. I mean, I know the basic basics. I know you need to be tall and I know that Steve Nash is a point guard. But considering how many college basketball games I have been to in the last 15 years with my husband (who comes from a family of rabid college basketball fans), I really should know more than that.

So is a point guard the guy who guards the other team from getting a basket? Is it going to matter that my son is the most, eh, height-challenged player on the team?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mad Mad Minutes

The Mad Minutes are driving me mad. They are driving my son mad too. And my husband. We are all mad for Mad Minutes.

Mad Minutes have revealed one of those touchy subjects of parenting.

The inevitable comparison.

I try not to do it. I really really try. But it happens.

Comparison is a natural way for parents to gauge how their child is doing. If the child is an Only, we compare him to others the same age or in the same class. If the child has siblings, we compare them to any and all siblings AND others the same age and in the same class. Sometimes the comparison runs amok, and we measure the child by what we ourselves did at the same age, what our spouse or even parents did at the same age. Everyone is fair game.

Comparison, at its heart, is about competition. Is my child better or worse? Ahead or behind? More athletic or more musical? More talented or harder working? More artistic or more of a shit-disturber? Comparison among siblings is a way to gauge strengths and weaknesses. And among siblings, there are certainly different strengths and weaknesses, as living within a family can make so plainly clear.

We try our best to say each child is different, has their own special qualities, different styles of learning, different interests. We just need to honor the person our child is right at this moment.

Most of the time, this works pretty well. But what about when a comparison just slaps you in the face?

Like, how is this kid so different from his brothers?

Mad Minutes are a sheet of math facts to be completed in a fairly short timed period. My second grader is just starting them, so he is working on simple addition. In the years to follow it will progress to multiplication and division. The object of the Mad Minute is to master the math facts on the page so they can be done correctly and quickly.

My two older children sailed through Mad Minutes. They rarely studied for them, maybe a few practice sheets here and there, and they would pass each level and move to the next. Not my second grader. He has been stuck on the same sheet for a month.

His brain doesn't work the same way his brothers' do. He needs a lot more practice, a lot more repetition. It's much harder for him to concentrate and focus on accuracy and speed. I reluctantly got out the flash cards. They were still brand new, my other two never used them. The flash cards frustrated both of us. I tried explaining a few rules and tricks for memorizing the addition facts, and I think that just confused him. We were both frustrated, and he was still stuck on the same page.

My husband came to the rescue. He happens to be very gifted with numbers. He approached the issue with more patience and more concentrated time, and figured out how to help him learn to do the Mad Minutes. He observed what wasn't working and found a method that did. Now he is the official Mad Minutes parent. Apparently, I can't do it.

"Wow," my husband said to me after one long study session, "his brain works a lot more like yours."

By this he means: this could really be a struggle with this kid. Compared to his brothers, my second grader is way behind on his Mad Minutes. Compared to me at the same age, however, he is doing just fine!

So I guess if we are going to compare our kids to others, it matters who we compare them to!
This is me in second grade. Clearly I was much more concerned about dressing like Hollie Hobbie than math.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

If you Listen Carefully

If you listen carefully, you can hear the play-by-play. My two older sons are listening intently. They are supposed to be getting ready for bed. Instead, they are both riveted by the action . . . of a cow eye dissection. I just went in and checked on them and saw the huge eye right there on the computer, streamed in over the DSL line. My 4th grader has a dissection coming up in science and he wanted to see what it would be like. He can't wait.

I am convinced that these are the kind of moments that happen when you have a little extra time . . . time to explore an interest or play. We are a busy family and one of the only ways I can figure out to carve a little more free time is to severely limit television consumption in our house. My kids have rarely watched TV since they were born. It's really not such a foreign concept for me, I rarely watched TV growing up either. We have a little more time for lingering over dinner, reading stories, playing outside if TV is not on anyone's radar. Sometimes the boys even (GASP) get bored! Just as important, my boys are not exposed to the violence or the advertising.

We do watch a few things every once in a while; cooking shows (Rachel Ray is a favorite), sports, and the news if there is a big world event. We watch a movie occasionally, old James Bonds were introduced over this last summer.

Like myself, my children will grow up to be absolutely terrible Trivial Pursuit players. They too will feel the frustration of not being able to contribute to vapid conversations centered around the latest dancing/bachelor/reality shows. But really, it is a small price to pay for all those little moments of playtime. And cow eye dissections.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Why I Hate Halloween

Twenty pounds of candy
(537 pieces, to be exact) collected by one very proud child

Intense scarfing

Sugar-induced mood swings

Ownership and sharing issues

Mom starts to eat more than she cares to admit, since no one will notice

Breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner require candy desserts

ENOUGH!!!!!!!! It must go!!!!!!

Five people, one-and-a-half hour intensive negotiation session over dinner

Final settlement: four-piece allotment on weekend days, two-piece allotment on weekdays, for ten days

Overachieving candy collector gets bonus of ten pieces

Remaining candy to be donated to charity of collector's choice: construction workers who can burn it off without getting fat

Getting all that candy out of the house: priceless!

Having nine year old actually thank me for letting him keep some of the candy: even more priceless!!