Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bagel Baking

Cooking and I have a love/hate relationship. While I certainly love to eat, I get tired of the relentless nature of meal planning and preparation: shop and chop, shop and chop, shop and chop. I confess that I often measure family dinners by the amount of mess created; as soon as you have one meal cleaned up, it's time to get going on the next. And let's face it--no matter how pretty it looks going in, it all looks the same coming out.

Yesterday, however, I decided to approach cooking differently. Instead of viewing it as a chore, I wanted to explore its infinite creative possibilities. (This is where I start quoting Ratatouille.) After all, when you cook or bake, you actually make something, and that's really cool. And hey, since it all gets digested eventually, you don't have to worry about indefinitely storing it--a plus for a family of five living in a two-bedroom townhouse.

The end result--BAGELS! I never would have imagined that I could actually make my own bagels (and still be sane at the end of the day.) While they do take a bit of time, they're not nearly as complex as I imagined. The end result was seriously tantalizing, if I do say so myself. The house smelled AMAZING as they baked. My daughter's friend came down the stairs four times in twenty minutes to ask if they were done yet. And tearing into one while it was still piping hot? A moment to be dreamed of.

The ultimate compliment came hours later when Jason didn't believe that I'd actually made them. Fortunately, the pictures double as proof.




Happy Baking!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Like Daughter, Like Mother

So, Brooklyn has started a trend...

I asked them to take off ten inches, but when I measured my pony tail, it was closer to twelve. Ah well, I suppose it will grow.

I've been kind of discouraged about the crow's feet around my eyes lately until I found this picture of Talia. They're not wrinkles--they're smile lines, and I hope to get more of them.

Keep smiling!

When Pictures Say it All




BTW, yes, that is what I like to call an extreme diaper blow-out.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Follow, Follow Me

Look what I brought home this morning!

A sleepy-eyed Brooklyn traipsed down the stairs at 7am, and spoke with wonder, "You bought us a dog?!"

Of course, her reaction wasn't nearly as powerful as the look of shock/horror on Jason's face when I returned from my morning jog with a box terrier.

So here's the scoop. My good friend Brittney and I braved the cold this morning to run outside. About a mile into our run, we see these two little dogs running right through the middle of a busy intersection, nearly getting flattened by oncoming traffic. One has the sense to turn around and go back, but the other comes right for us. We tried to get it (actually, "it" was a "she") to follow her canine companion, but with no luck. Not knowing where to return the dog, we simply kept running.

And the dog followed. And followed. And followed... Trotting along with us for over two miles.

At this point in the story I must digress. When it comes to pets, there seem to be two diametric mentalities. There's the "farm animal" mentality, where a dog is kept outside, occasionally gets a scratch behind the ears, disappears for weeks at a time, and comes back when he'd like some scraps of food. While these dogs are enjoyed, they are basically expected to fend for themselves. If something happens to them, it's certainly sad, but accepted as the harsh reality of life. On the other extreme, there are many dog lovers for whom their pet isn't simply like family. Their dog is family. My children only have one cousin: a beloved pug Zoe whose wardrobe is quite possibly larger than my own.

As this cute little terrier devotedly chased our heels, I knew that she was not just a pet: she was a family member. I thought about Zoe and knew that I could no sooner leave her out in the street to fend for herself than I could leave my preschooler alone in the parking lot. Unfortunately, we still had a long way to run before we would be home, and I was worried the terrier's little legs wouldn't make it. And so, we called Bruce for rescue.

Our phone call must have seemed so absurd to Bruce, who was raised on a dairy farm and is probably more closely aligned with the farm animal mentality. Why should he leave his comfortable, warm surroundings to pick up a dumb dog who strayed too far from home? Still, he humored us and came, playing the hero as he picked up "Chloe" and I. (The name is in honor of cousin Zoe.)

I confess that Chloe was a charmer. Friendly, gentle, cuddly--just not good with traffic. We had a fun time playing together for forty minutes until Animal Services came to return her to her owner.

And Jason? Well, despite his tough words about never wanting a dog, Chloe won him over too. I think he'd be more than happy to keep her again--at least for the day. :)

Piñata Making 101

Now that 2010 has arrived, our Thanksgiving and Birthday Piñatas are old news and distant memories. Still, we had so much fun making them that we thought we'd share some tips from our crash course in piñata making.

Tip #1: Making a piñata involves many steps and is a significant investment of time, so start your creation long before you plan to crack it open. I recommend giving yourself at least a week.

The base forms for our piñatas came from balloons covered in paper mache. To make the paper mache, we tore newspaper into strips and covered them in paste made from two parts water to one part flour.

Tip #2: If you cook the paste, it sets up faster and you don't have to wait as long between layers for the paper mache to dry. However, this also makes the paste thicker, so I recommend increasing the water in the 2:1 ratio.

Tip #3: With each new layer, alternate using black and white newspaper strips with colored newspaper ads. This lets you see what areas have already been covered and where you need more.

Tip #4: After you have paper-mached three layers, allow your project to dry. Then tie a rope or ribbon around the girth of your creation, adding an extra loop at the top. This will be the string that you use to hang your piñata when it is all done. Tape the ribbon in place so it doesn't slide--then paper mache another three or four layers over the top. Since the string is actually integrated into the piñata itself, it will be strong enough to hold the weight of the candy and stand the abuse of being knocked without pulling through.

Tip #5: I don't recommend filling with hard candies because they shatter during the merry-making. Trust me. :)

Tip #6: If you want an absolutely gorgeous finish, covering your piñata in crepe paper squares creates a dazzling effect. (To do this, twist each individual square around the eraser end of pencil and dab in glue.) However, it takes an outrageous amount of time, so make sure you really want to invest that much time in a bunch of paper that's just going to get smashed to bits.

I confess that Jason and I had differing opinions (aka marital strife) about whether or not our "bee" was worth the twenty hours we invested in it. I grew more and more frustrated with each rotten square that I glued until I finally remembered it was our Thanksgiving piñata, and I needed to "Bee Grateful." The unpleasant experience of decorating transformed into a happy one as I envisioned each little piece of paper as a blessing. I realized that even the thousands of paper squares couldn't match the ways in which I'd been blessed. A good dose of thankfulness took the sting out of the bee project, leaving behind the sweetness of a "gratitude attitude."

Tip #7: Don't do it (squander half your week gluing crepe paper squares, that is). Even though I finally came to peace with this extremely tedious method, I much preferred the time-investment of our second piñata. We covered this one in torn pieces of construction paper that had been painted with glue. This method was a resounding success with the girls. They really couldn't mess it up, and between the tearing, glue-painting, and applying, it actually held their interest for most of the time. (Or am I the only parent who often finds herself finishing up the kids' projects all on her own, since the kids have long since wandered somewhere else in search of something else to mess up...)

Tip #8: When the piñata breaks, quick grab some chocolate to help you feel better when you realize your masterpiece is no more.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Elusive Employment

Jason graduates in May with a Masters degree in Architecture. For the past five years, whenever anybody asked what we wanted to do after graduation, the answer was simple: "Get a job." Given the state of our economy, however, this straight-forward plan has become much more complex.

I've been putting off blogging about the employment challenges currently plaguing architects--probably due to denial. Well, procrastination has worked in my favor because I now no longer have to document the architect's plight: The New York Times did it for me. Here's a link to Wednesday's article on Out-of-Work Architects. The article is so apropos, however, that I'm including part of the text below.

Architect, or Whatever

Photo by Michael Hanson for The New York Times

BARGAIN BASEMENT John Morefield is one of thousands of unemployed designers who are reinventing themselves. Last year, he put up a booth at a farmers' market in Seattle, advertising his skills for a nickel, and ended up earning more than $50,000 in commissions.

By KRISTINA SHEVORY
Published: January 20, 2010


AT the Ballard Farmers’ Market in Seattle on a recent weekend, passers-by could be forgiven for thinking John Morefield was running for political office. Smiling, waving and calling out hellos to everyone who walked by his stand, he was the picture of friendliness. All he needed was campaign buttons and fliers.

In fact, Mr. Morefield, 29, is no politician, but an architectural designer looking for work. He was seated at a homemade wooden stand under a sign reading “Architecture 5¢,” with a tin can nearby awaiting spare change. For a nickel, he would answer any architectural question.

In 2008, Mr. Morefield lost his job — twice — and thought he could ride out the recession doing design work for friends and family, but when those jobs dried up, he set up his stand. As someone in his 20s without many contacts or an extensive portfolio, he thought he might have an easier time finding clients on his own.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Mr. Morefield said. “I had no other option. The recession was a real kick in the shorts, and I had to make this work.”

A troubled economy and the implosion of the real estate market have thrown thousands of architects and designers out of work in the last year or so, forcing them to find or create jobs. According to the latest data available from the Department of Labor, employment at American architecture firms, which peaked last July at 224,500, had dropped to 184,600 by November.

“It’s hard to find a place to hide when the economy goes down,” said Kermit Baker, the chief economist at the American Institute of Architects. “There aren’t any strong sectors now.”

And it’s not clear when the industry will recover. Architecture firms are still laying off employees, and Mr. Baker doesn’t expect them to rehire until billings recover, which he thinks won’t be until the second half of this year at the earliest.

In the meantime, many of those who have been laid off are discovering new talents often unrelated to architecture.

When Natasha Case, 26, lost her job as a designer at Walt Disney Imagineering about a year ago, she and her friend Freya Estreller, 27, a real estate developer, started a business selling Ms. Case’s homemade ice cream sandwiches in Los Angeles. Named for architects like Frank Gehry (the strawberry ice cream and sugar cookie Frank Behry) and Mies van der Rohe (the vanilla bean ice cream and chocolate chip cookie Mies Vanilla Rohe), they were an immediate hit.

“I feel this is a good time to try new things,” said Ms. Case, who did a project on the intersection of food and architecture while studying for her master’s in architecture at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2008. “You do things you always wanted to do, something you’ve always been passionate about.”

Click here for the rest of the article.

So.

I admit that from an outside perspective, the article is upbeat, entertaining, and amusing. Unless, that is, you happen to be a recent graduate in architecture who needs to find a job in a market that is saturated with tens of thousands of unemployed architects who are also looking for jobs--all of whom have more work experience than you do. Oh, and let's not forget all of last year's architecture graduates who didn't find jobs and have now spent an entire year perfecting their resumes and portfolios.

Yikes. Let's face it. I'm petrified. Out of the University of Illinois's 88 architecture graduates last year, only eight found jobs in architecture. Many of Jason's peers plan on moving back in with their parents after graduation until they can find work. That may be fine for a single 20-something, but we're a family of five. We're extremely blessed to have very supportive families, but for everyone's sanity, we really need a place of our own. And let's face it--to pay the rent, you need...

A job.

And so, this post is the first to shamelessly start networking. If you hear of anyone hiring in architecture, we'd love to know about it. But wait, it gets better. At this point, we're not terribly picky. Jason's undergraduate degree is in construction management, so if you have any good leads in that area, we're available. I'm also beginning to look into possiblities in ESL teaching, so if you have any good recommendations for places to look, we're all ears.

A final note: I know I'm rather partial, but I just have to say that after six and a half years of being married to the guy, I feel like I know Jason pretty well. He is a committed, dedicated, and hard worker. Even more importantly, he is a man of great character and integrity. Plus he can solve a Rubik's cube. I can guarantee you that whoever hires the charming hunk will be grateful to have him on board.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

4 Months

Eli had his four month check-up yesterday. He charmed the doctor and nurses alike with his giggles and smiles. He's doing great, although he's still a little fella--25th percentile for height, 8th percentile for weight.

When the doctor asked if he was rolling over, I said not yet. Wouldn't you know, he's flipped four times since. Go figure!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sweetness

8:10 pm.

I just finished a round of special good-night kisses for my three sleeping babes--one intently sucking a thumb, another nursing a binky, the last one with limbs dangling off the bed.

Life is wonderfully sweet.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Chansons

As further recrimination for Brooklyn's confession that she loves her Dad more, I decided not to edit this video of her singing a French song, "Vent Frais, Vent du Matin." It's actually the song that never ends, but we thought we'd only burden you with one cycle.
video
And here's the more familiar, "Frère Jacques." In all of these songs she gets the words a bit mixed up, but I find it rather endearing.
video
Last but not least, here are Brooklyn and Talia singing the classic "Sur la Pont d'Avignon." Sorry it's so long, but I figure it's those who are missing them who will really be interested in all of these family home videos anyway.
video
Happy singing!

Daddy's Get all the Love

Yesterday I overheard Brooklyn telling her cute little playmate the following:

"We can play house. I’ll be the Daddy and you can be the Mommy. Or if you want, you can be the Dadda and I’ll be the Mommy. Daddy’s get more love in our family."

She then went on to explain how she and Talia fight over who gets to sit by Dad at dinnertime, but nobody wants to sit by Mom.

And so, as revenge, I'm posting something else I overheard Brooklyn tell Eli yesterday.
"I’ve been having dreams about you, Eli. And I just had the best dream ever, that we got married!"

A sweet dream now, but when she's thirteen she'll think it's a nightmare. :)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Loving Licks

This Christmas we received many wonderful gifts, including an absolutely fantastic digital camcorder that lets us chronicle the lives of our little-ones. (Just in case the thousands of pictures are not enough...) While we're still learning how to use it, we thought we'd share a couple videos featuring Eli and his cousin Zoe.

In real life: video

The memory: video

Thanks, NomiAnn and Papa Kay for the fabulous gift, and thanks Callie and Adam for the fabulous pup!

Just a Mother

I wrote this entry in my personal journal about a week ago and decided to post it, just in case there are any other mothers out there who occasionally feel picked upon.

Today I've felt rather picked upon. Not by any one particular person, but rather picked on by my overall lot in life. I took a huge cruise down memory lane by sorting through old albums of my junior high papers, Girl Scout Wider Ops, HOBY leadership conferences, etc. As I leafed through this memorabilia, I couldn't help but feel special. I saw such great potential in the young girl looking back at me--honor student, first-chair musician, Girl Scout gold award--the warm fuzzies tickled me.

My happy voyage down memory lane was cut short, however, by the sound of my daughters quarreling in the room next door. I went in and discovered they'd gotten marker all over the bedspread and the floor. A comedy of errors ensued, involving poop smears in the bathroom, bead necklaces flushed down the toilet, newspaper clippings strewn all over the carpet, etc. A moment later Eli woke up from his nap screaming, and I wondered, is this really what I signed up for? Talk about wasted talent...

Woe is me. Can you hear the violin scratching out its pitiful tune? Rather pathetic, huh.

Well, tonight I experienced a much needed reality check as I scanned in some pages of family history after the kids had gone to sleep. I read about my great-grandmother Lovenia who helped settle Ucon, Idaho along with her husband Robert. I complain about washing the dishes; Lovenia had to chip ice, haul it on a sleigh, and melt it before she could wash hers. I'm overwhelmed with three children; Lovenia had eleven. I whine when Jason's gone for the evening. Lovenia's husband left for a mission after she had seven children and an eighth on the way.

If I think my lot in life is hard, perhaps I need to think again. In some ways, my life is so removed from those of my ancestors that it's hard to relate. I doubt they could have even imagined my life of comfort and convenience. Yet at the same time, I feel a deep connection with these women--such as an intense love of music that brought an organ across the plains. I've never dragged a piano over the mountains, but I did bring my french horn to Africa. :) Did they ever have moments when they wondered if their potential was "wasted?" Did they ever wonder if the thousands of little things they did really made a difference? Their work must have seemed so trivial and mundane to them, but to me it is inspiring.

Out of Robert and Lovenia's nine surviving children, every single one of them married in the temple. Their great-great-grandchildren are now raising families of their own with similar faith and commitment.

Lovenia may have been "just" a mother, but a mother can make all the difference.

Commanded

One of my goals for this new year is to better involve the kids in keeping up the house. Apparently they've noticed this emphasis.

Brooklyn: Mom, I'm doing what you commanded. I'm cleaning my room.

Not exactly the words I would have chosen, but I won't complain as long as the job gets done. :)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Oh So Snow

Snow, snow, and more snow! When we arrived in Omaha three weeks ago, we thought there was a lot of snow on the ground. And there was. Now, however, the drifts are so high that we literally have to uncover part of our mailbox. It's been nearly twenty years since my family moved to Nebraska, and during this whole time, we've never seen anything like it.

Truth to be told, the snow is too deep to be much fun at the moment. Long legs can scarcely sludge their way through it, and kid legs don't stand a chance. Even if you could walk through it, who would want to in this freezing cold? Tomorrow the high is supposed to be -3 degrees fahrenheit (that's -19 celsius.) Brrr! I personally plan to spend all day holed up inside drinking hot chocolate around a blazing fire.

When I'm tempting to complain, I need to remember how much we wanted a white Christmas. God certainly answered our prayers--in abundance. :) Here are some fun pictures of the good times Papa Kay and Brooklyn had playing in the snow several weeks ago.






The "Snurfer"

Talia preferred the workshop in the garage. I love the way she sticks her tongue in her cheek, just like her Grandpa.

It was a little too chilly for Eli outside, so he stayed cozy next to Santa.

No matter how cold the weather, a glimpse of that smile will make you melt.

Many warm wishes to you all!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

I Miss It

The theme of this blogpost has been warbling around my brain for months, masquerading as a dull ache that occasionally breaks free and manifests itself as a sigh. Try as I might, I can't seem to find the words to express my ache, except to say, I miss it.

I miss France. I miss Lyon. I miss our life as a family there. This Christmas break, I've had the chance to start labeling photo albums. Each picture evokes such poignant memories that I can't help but regret the passing of this special time. Pathetic as it sounds, one glimpse at Google Maps sends me into fits of nostalgia. For most people, phrases like Le Parc Tête d’Or, Les Halles Paul Bocuse, La Passerelle du College, La Croix-Rousse, L’île Barbe, La Porte des Alpes, and La Place Bellecour are empty. For me, however, these names are saturated with vibrant memories.

Say "Massena" and I can feel the rough paving stones bumping beneath the wheels of our double-stroller on our way to the metro. I can smell the fresh-baked pastries wafting from La Banette, and hear myself scolding the girls for dragging their feet. I see the market we pass on the way, brilliant with bustling people and fresh produce on Wednesday morning, stale with empty crates and leftover garbage by Wednesday afternoon. I picture our pear and fig pizza as we pass Picard, feel the rough recycled toilet paper from Schlecker, and taste the army of pains au chocolat that stripped my pockets of loose change. I chuckle at the sight of the bright yellow corner stand advertising both "crêpes and huîtres"(oysters). I hear organ music filling a frigid stone church on Christmas and recollect a kind butcher selling Kosher bread on Easter. I smile at our two blond-headed girls sliding down the granite stairs outside each apartment that we pass. All of these memories from a single word...

Needless to say, I could fill volumes with these recollections. (I suppose this blog proves that I already have...) As this decade unfolds, it's hard to balance remembering the old with welcoming the new. Few things are more obnoxious than those who insist on reliving past glory years, incessantly (and usually inaccurately) recollecting how wonderful things were at another time in another place. At the same time, however, I don't want to forget our experience in Lyon. While challenging, our sojourn really was wonderful. If we forget, it's almost as if it never happened. I long to remember. I relish the ache. Like a pinch after a dream, the smart of missing reminds me that the experience was real.

Lyon happened. We are changed. And I miss it.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Kids Say the Darndest Things!

Kids say the darndest things! Sadly, I've learned that if you don't write them down, you forget them as quickly as they were blurted out. And so, I thought I'd start off the new year by capturing a few of the gems I've jotted down recently.

NomiAnn: Are you ready for dinner?
Brooklyn: No, I'm ready for dessert.
******
Mom: (Gasps at the sight of Talia handling something very fragile.)
Talia: I'm carefulling. I'm holding with both hands.
*****
Papa Kay: Do you know what a joke is?
Brooklyn: A house is a bunny! (Followed by raucous laughter.)
******
Jason: Would like water, milk, or juice with lunch?
Talia (Motioning towards NomiAnn's soda): I wanna have NomiAnn's juice.

May your New Year be filled with as many giggles as ours!