Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Haunting the 100 Acre Wood

Yesterday at the craft store to pick up some floss and linen for my "Do Unto Others" cross stitch (yes, readers, it came!), Katie found the Halloween aisle and was enamored of a dancing mummy. She really wanted to take this mummy home with us---and even braved passing a scary life-size witch twice to see it---but with an on-sale price of $79.00 the dancing mummy had to stay at the store.

So today we decided to make our own mummy: a Piglet mummy!

With a roll of toilet paper and one of our Piglets in hand, Katie is ready to begin the mummification of Piglet...

Mummy Piglet is ready for action! He has a good month or so as a decoration ahead of him!

Later the kids napped (again simultaneously---that's twice in the past week!) while I worked on my cross stitch. I love my new project. I am using a 28 count linen, stitched over two...so my eyes are adjusting, but I actually made quite a bit of progress today on the apple tree in the middle.

Then we started our dinner preparations: we are having pork shnitzel topped with sage-walnut pesto, creamy mashed sweet potatoes with caramelized apples, and corn from our garden.

Katie picked the corn...
...but it was very difficult!
We got it in the end, though!

This morning the kiddos cuddled in Eric's room:

I love these little people so much! Eric is getting bigger each day---time is going too fast! Slow down, Time!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sugar in Our Hair

"Cream colored ponies
And crisp apple strudel
Doorbells and sleigh bells
And schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things..."

(from "My Favorite Things," The Sound of Music)

I could not have asked for a better day than this beautiful September Saturday. This morning I spent singing with our children, then reading, playing, and cooking. We watched both UCLA (Bill's alma mater) and Stanford (my alma mater) enjoy victories on the football field. And finally this evening, we all cuddled together during our cozy movie night (Babe).

After breakfast, Katie and I played outside while Bill settled Eric into a nap in his boppy pillow. Katie has been interested in "making potions" lately. Although I attempt to confine these concoctions to the bathtub or sink, I am more and more frequently finding water poured here and there around the family room from unsuspecting glasses that have overstayed their welcome and are too tempting for little curious hands. I can tolerate supreme messes in the name of learning, but I must admit that potion-making in the house is starting to get to me.

So I decided to entice my daughter with an outside potion-making activity on a much grander scale. I am hoping that she will think it is much more fun to make them outside because I allowed her to use a number of ingredients I don't normally provide. I filled up all twelve spaces in a muffin tin with a variety of materials: chives, tapioca balls, crackers, cornmeal, pasta, etc. A little water later, and we had several potions stewing and brewing. She totally had fun!

Another feature of our potion-making: we made our potions all in character. For two days straight Katie has had us in the role of Arwen (the elf-princess) and Aragorn (the rightful king of Gondor). I have been obsessed with The Lord of the Rings lately, and she now knows enough of the story for it to have captivated her imagination. She was Arwen, making her antidotes for the poison on the swords of Orcs. We have the backyard divided up into different regions of Middle-Earth, and this morning while Eric napped, we ran around fighting imaginary Orcs and looking for clues of the Gollum/Smeagol. She loves the fantasy of it, and she made Bill into Gandolf. Eric is playing the role of Rohan's King Theoden.

When Eric awoke, we began making our apple strudel, dessert for tonight's McGaugh Family Movie Night. With all those delicious Julian apples, we wanted to make something sweet. A few days ago I was imagining an apple crumb pie, but then I remembered the lyrics from Katie's and my special song. As many of my readers know, "My Favorite Things" was the first song I ever sang to Katie after her birth and her first birthday party took its theme from those lyrics. She has never eaten or made an apple strudel, so I thought now would be a good time to make part of the song even more real to her. My hope is that she will one day look back on these days of her childhood and find magic here, goodness and happiness to sustain her. I want her to remember the warm kitchen and sitting on the counter and making apple strudel...and to think of our song...and all the times we've sang it together...and to remember how much I will always love her.

Eric and Katie both hold apples...

Both children will help cook today!

Katie holds a piece of apple near Eric's nose so that he can smell the sweet scent.

We discovered many things during our making of apple strudel: 1) Katie loves currants; 2) the addition of orange zest (which wasn't called for) was indeed a yummy idea; 3) phyllo dough is not as difficult to work with as I've always imagined; 4) strudels are most certainly a new "favorite thing"---ours was crisp and delicious, and I think I am about to enter a period of vast strudel experimentation in my kitchen. Let the recipe hunt begin!

At one point during our baking, Katie observed that there was some sugar in Eric's hair where she had caressed him. She asked me about it, a little worried perhaps that maybe it could hurt him or shouldn't be there (she is so careful and gentle with her brother). I responded that sugar in our hair is definitely no problem...and told her truly that any day you have sugar in your hair is bound to be a good one. For how else can it get there except through sweet fun?

So this was a "sugar in our hair" kind of day. The best kind.

Cuddling up with pizzas and Babe (a very cute film, which I liked when I first saw it and now love), we all enjoyed our family time together. Bill and I took turns with Eric while I helped Katie with her dinner. We served vanilla ice cream with our strudel, and the whole house was scented with Autumn.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Signs of Autumn

Autumn comes with all its coziness, my favorite time of year. I always mark the beginning of the heart of Autumn with my mom's birthday on September 20th. I consider her birthday the first of many holidays/birthdays/made-up holidays (Autumn Day).

The past few days have brought us many signs of fall:


We celebrated yesterday with a family dinner at our house. Katie and I had fun decorating and preparing beforehand. Some of our pictures tell the story...

Amie with her Eric, one of our newest family members! My Uncle Eric also had a September birthday, and I love to honor his brotherhood to my mom as well as the closeness of their birthdays by using a couple pieces of his china. My mom ate off of one of his plates, and I ate off of the other. (It works out okay to set the formal table with two of his plates, because when I registered for my china, I registered for a couple of settings from several different collections....all of them go together, but are unique).

Katie places the candles in the "Crazy Cake" (really its original name and a family favorite).

Dinner with family.
Katie picks sage from our garden to use in our meal. We made a ham and mushroom rigatoni bake with a nutmeg-spiced white sauce; a butternut squash gratin layered with sage-walnut pesto and romano cheese; spinach salad with Julian apples, raisins, pepitas (small pumpkin seeds), and Point Reyes bleu cheese (Point Reyes is a special place for my mom and for me); and Crazy Cake.

Katie finishes some of the decoration and prep work by placing her collection of party hats on the table.

I love to celebrate my mom because she deserves it. I could never find a better mom for me anywhere.

Happy Birthday, Mom!


On Sunday we all (Bill, Katie, Eric, me, Amie, and Boppa) went up to Julian, CA for apple picking season. I had a tip from a friend that Raven Hill Orchards was quite abundant this year, despite a springtime frost hurting many of the other orchards. Excited, we packed up early in the morning and took the long and winding road to the mountain town. I love the drive to Julian, the barren landscapes---which are beautiful to me. How many colors of green and nuances of brown are there in this amazing world? We saw horses and cows and birds soaring on this clear and autumnal day. One of my favorite memories was all of us (except Eric, who was asleep) singing "Build Me Up, Buttercup" together. Katie, Bill, and I all singing together with our voices mingling...the windows rolled down...the scent of the brush...the crispness of the sky. A perfect moment.

We picked for awhile at Raven Hill, and then went into town for lunch, browsing, and pie!

Picking apples with Eric.

Katie picks apples for her bag.

Apple picking day! Did I mention that I love, love, love fall???

III. Apple Treats

With so many apples, it is time to start becoming creative with them in our kitchen. Katie and I spent much of today experimenting and planning how best to use them all.

We decided our first two projects would be baked apple chips (thin slices baked low for an hour) and a savory apple tartlet recipe I made up a few years ago.

Holding our tartlet pans and an apple and ready to cook.

After making the pate brisee, Katie helped to roll in out and press it into the tins.

Adding the balsamic vinegar to the onions. We carmelize apples and onions in balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. (A sprig of fresh thyme is nice here, but we can also use dried). This forms the base of the tartlet, which is then topped with roasted chicken pieces and, today, bleu cheese. I have used gruyere in the past and enjoyed it, but I had bleu on hand today.

Rolling the pie dough.

The great thing is, we only used half of our pate brisee for the tartlets, so we already have another half of chilled pie dough ready to go. I am thinking we will make an apple dessert out of it...either an apple crumb pie or something else.

APPLES!!!! YES!!!! And Autumn!!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Cracks in the Windshield

On Wednesday morning this past week, I packed the kids up in the car, turned on our favorite songs for singing with Katie, and was almost halfway to ballet when I noticed it: my windshield had a crack. A beautiful arching crack about the length of a dollar bill. Katie said it looked like a rainbow.

By noon we were heading to the bookstore, and I still was choosing not to deal with the crack. My husband will figure it out, I decided, when he gets home.

In the meantime, to see if it was spreading, I marked the end of the crack line with a crayon from Katie's backpack, and in we went to the bookstore.

Only when I came out and looked at the length the crack had spread beyond the crayon line (about 2 inches in an hour) did I realize that I could no longer put off the problem. If the windshield was to be replaced with any expedience, I would need to start making the proper phone calls as soon as we got home. The phone and I don't really go well together, even though I do force myself to take care of my responsibilities via phone if I must. I have no explanation for this, other than the phone and I have never gone well together: I'd rather speak with someone in person or use my writing to express myself. Sigh. I'd never called insurance about a cracked windshield before. What if I say something stupid? What if they think I cracked it? What if they tell me that they can't come out for several days to repair it? All silly questions. But my mind plays what-if a little too easily. For just a few seconds, I felt overwhelmed...and then remembered the secret to every business call: be myself and don't try to be perfect, be human. Above all, treat the person on the other end as a human being who wants to help you. A friendly and collaborative tone goes a long way...

Lately we've been dealing with the word "hate" in our house. For such a sweet little girl, Katie sure does "hate" a lot of things right now. Ice cubes in her water (though she normally asks for them). A bite of dinner that is too big. A cartoon character named Franny. The noise of a toy cow when you press it. Etc. I would claim that I do not know how she learned this word, which she is now applying indiscriminately, but I do know. I know, for example, that in the past few weeks I have said rather passionately that, "I hate ants." I am sure I have used it other times before.

Like a crack in the windshield, though, this constant "hating" of life around us, however mundane, feels like it is spreading. Even though she may or may not fully know the power behind that word, the negativity of it seems to spread of its own accord. I hear the word "hate" and I find myself "hating" that very word. Can a single word wield such power as to influence the tone around us? Some say words have only the power we give them, but are some words so powerful in themselves as concepts that they defy our attempts to intellectualize them?

I think so. Despite how often I have heard in scholarship that the "swear words" really take their power from irrationally giving them power, you will never hear Bill and I swearing in our house. Yes, they are just words---intellectually we know that. But to us they are only negative and breed only the negative.

I find myself getting so grumpy when I hear Katie using "hate" several times in an hour. The crack fragments, and spreads.

It is almost an overwhelming problem, and the anxiety it has caused lately is beyond description: what if Katie continues this mindset and grows up to be an unhappy person? what if I fail in showing her the beauty in this world? what if the tendency to hate is more powerful than the tendency to love?

All silly questions. She's a toddler, learning the power of words.

Still, I am working to change her vocabulary. We actually have put "hate" on a list of words we don't want to hear, as of yesterday. I give her the correct phrase each time: "You mean that you don't prefer to sit in that chair..." or "I strongly dislike having to go inside now."

Will I be able to repair this shield? (For words are the shields we use both to define ourselves and to keep ourselves safe, are they not)? How long will it take? How do I ensure that her little mind and heart stay focused on the good and pure and true?

Do Unto Others

"So in everything, do unto others as you would have them do unto you." (Matthew 7:12)

Examined through either a spiritual or a sociobiological lens (game theory and Prisoner's Dilemma), this verse is one of the oldest and most sage pieces of instruction. I would go even further to say that the "do unto others" rule is axiomatic, fundamental to the shape, order, and harmony of the Universe.

The time I spend cross stitching is a time of meditation and reflection for me. I love to work on projects that reflect my values, and I savor the physicality of using my hands to manifest those values. So a few months ago, I started looking for a "do unto others" cross stitch pattern---which is not easily found, my friends. There were a couple of candidates, though, and I finally decided a few weeks ago which one to order from a small company online.

On August 30th, I called North Carolina and spoke to a nice woman operating from her home. To make a very long and humorous story extremely short, the pattern never came...first she thought she hadn't sent it, and then she thought she did, then she thought she'd charged my card but then it turned out she didn't. And the latest installment: she had sent it but misspelled so much of my information that it came back to her. She wrote last night promising again that it is on its way but needing my card information again---I think I am going to wait until it arrives, however, and then pay by check.

There was a time when I would have: a) been much more stressed by all of this; b) been more judgmental; c) been more primed to anger at the inefficiency. For sure, I am presently baffled, and I went through a couple moments of worry about having given her my credit card information in the first place. I've also learned lessons about perhaps not using online sellers who are unaffiliated with major companies. I really do think, though, that this lady is above-board and just a little confused; I don't think she is trying to cheat me. I've certainly been wrong about people's motives MANY times in my life, often ascribing them better motives than they have turned out to have. However, I am not as capable of being cynical about humanity as maybe I sometimes should be.

Surprisingly though, I see more of a cosmic sense of humor in all of this. We have had many e-mail exchanges now, and I am able to write back to her from a really friendly place inside of myself. Here I thought that I would reflect and learn my greatest truths about "doing unto others" while I stitched my project, but it has turned out that I have been required to put the idea of "doing unto others" into practice right now. I have had to be patient and to try to stand in her shoes, and I have had to remember how I would want to be treated if I were her...each time I have sat down to write an e-mail. Funny how life works, yes?

As one of my favorite characters in literature says, " You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." When Harper Lee created Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, she gave us all a beacon of truth.

Whether I actually receive the pattern/chart now, I have already had to do the work of realigning my heart attitude to embrace fully the idea of "doing unto others." This is probably a lesson I will need to keep learning, though. I often find myself working (and sometimes failing) to avoid gossip and the little dramas that crop up between people---or that people intentionally try to create. I wish that avoiding speaking ill of anyone came more naturally to me and that I could have good (or in some cases, neutral) and non-judgmental thoughts about everyone all the time. If we could meet all people with a heart opening to listening to them or just simply taking them as they come, the world would be a better place. That doesn't mean we have to accept all people as part of the daily fabric of our lives---because, let's face it, some people would seek to poison others out of their own unhappiness, and we have to know which relationships are healthy and which ones are not. We have to know when to make our own boundaries for those who would seek to hurt us. Yet this does not mean that we cannot have civility and compassion in our hearts for those same individuals, right? This is one of the traits in myself I work on...and continue to need to work on.

I should know the fate of my cross stitch pattern by---what do we think, Readers: Monday or Tuesday? If she sent it yesterday, then by early next week it will be here...or not. We will see. I can only laugh either way.

In the meantime, I started sorting floss for an "herbs and spices" cross stitch for the kitchen. I have yet to take my first stitch on it though. I might decide to work the "do unto others" cross stitch first.

If it comes. ;-)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fall Lessons

For the past several days, Katie has been fascinated with the plight of the trapped Chilean miners. Each morning, we search for updates in the news and she has watched the YouTube video in which they give a tour of their space. Her interest began when I was offhandedly telling her the news one morning... and now she has me much more involved in the story on a daily basis than I probably would otherwise be. We have spent part of yesterday and today role playing "trapped miners" and when asked how she would pass the time stuck in the cave, she replies, "Try to climb out. Kick the rocks."

Yesterday she used some of my cross stitch floss to make a rope ladder to climb out. After hearing my report on the doctors who will be on hand to make sure the miners' eyes aren't hurt by sunlight, she makes sure we have our sunglasses when we play.

She received a flashlight from Boppa a couple of days ago, which she loves. She is proud of her flashlight, and she uses it to play "trapped miner."

Although this role play is certainly different, it has afforded us opportunities to talk about the calendar/months, geography, problem-solving, compassion, etc.

My cousin, Jed, sent along a great activity for us:

(from: What is being provided to the trapped Chilean miners. - 22 Words)

This morning, I printed it out and cut out the circle, and we spent time figuring out what we could fit through the hole. Katie's cozy blanket? A book? The flashlight? We tried various objects through the hole. Then she saw that if we changed the shape of some items, we might be able to fit them after all. I asked if we could fit our new toilet paper roll? She at first said no, and then she examined it and on her own she exclaimed, "But we could tear off pieces!"

Because the miners work in a copper/gold mine, I think tomorrow we might collect as many pennies as we can find in the house and talk about it from that point of view...

Some pictures from yesterday:

We resurrected Katie's backyard fort and tunnels. She stood in front of the "mine" with her flashlight.

In the "mine" she tried to make a flag so "that people will know we are here."

This morning I was extremely tired (both children were awake in the middle of the night last night at different times) and looking for ways to play that would be educational and fun but mellow. After talking more about the miners, playing Follow the Leader, and feeding the children, I settled Eric for a nap and Katie and I went on a leaf hunt outside. We collected several leaves for a fall collage.

Katie holds her collage after bath time tonight. She did most of the gluing all by herself.

Katie was proud to show her collage to Daddy.

Thankfully my mom came over today mid-day and I was able to catch a bit of a nap!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Will Vs. Willingness

Just now, as I sit here with two sleeping kiddos and just a bit of time on my hands before one of them wakes up for his first of many nightly feedings, I was pondering how best to spend my time. Sleep? Not yet: I will be awakened too soon for that to be a good idea at the moment. Read a magazine? I usually save those as treats for a bathtime soak. Work on my scrapbook? I started a new one for both kiddos for this school year (September to August), but I am up to date on the cover page and don't want to print out September pictures yet. Finish sorting floss for my new cross stitch? Maybe...but I could sneak that in during the day possibly. Also, I am just tired enough to make diddling with floss seem a bit like a production.

Blog? Well, I must admit, I have spent the past week contemplating giving up on my blog. I rarely seem to have the time, and lately I have been feeling like I need to redefine my blog's purpose. What is it that I really want to accomplish each time I sit down to write?

It hasn't helped that I have felt overwhelmed this past weekend. Why were women designed with only two arms? We need at least six arms and for two of those to be elastic and able to bend around corners. I usually like to be a blogger who puts optimism and joy and a can-do spirit into the blogosphere---I'd like to think the purpose of this blog is to inspire people to find whatever is best and joyful in themselves and to encourage my readers to create their own magic. Yet I am no sort of advice giver when I myself feel overwhelmed. Right?

On the other hand, I was just reading about the perils of keeping one's flaws secreted from the world. It is a form of self-sabotage, I read. I guess so. I tend to think we should not dwell on our flaws or weaknesses but to try to rise above them. As I have struggled the past few days, however, with my own perfectionism and pride, I had the thought that perhaps we are given children in order to humble us and to make us know our limitations: we simply cannot do everything, as much as we'd like to.

I have had to remember, in this time of exhaustion and bodily weariness, that I must maintain a heart full of gratitude, a mind full of perspective, and a spirit full of willingness.

Earlier today, I almost had phrased this as a "spirit full of will." I realized then that there is a difference between "will" and "willingness." The idea of "will" seems to suggest that I still believe I am in total control, whereas "willingness" seemed to me to suggest more of an open-mindedness to follow life as it comes. My very problem this weekend has been one of "will" versus "willingness." To be willing is to be open to learning and to be spontaneous with my family. To be full of will is to want to impose my order, timing, and ambition on things. When we are willing, we are willing to laugh at ourselves, to marvel, to take joy in how life unfolds before us. When we are willing, we can meet challenges with elegance and grace.

When we are full of will, however, we frustrate ourselves when life will not be controlled. We grumble at challenges. We are not open to the magic and miracle of things.

It is the story of my bread.

I baked some bread yesterday. In a rush. Half-hearted. I wanted it to work on my timing without putting the care into it. Will. I overheated the yeast, rushed the kneading process, and overcooked it because I failed to pay attention to its aroma. It was a disaster, the most disastrous bread I have baked in a long time. A brick. I wanted it to work without be willing to be present in the process, rushing everything, forcing it to fit into my day. I let it sit overnight as I pondered its fate: eat it begrudgingly, or admit to myself that I had failed and start anew?

My spirit this morning wasn't sure it was willing... And then I realized that I needed to readjust myself. It was time to remake my bread, and to do it right...in the moment, without rushing, however long it took in between feeding both children and tending to their needs. Sure enough, it took much longer than one would think, even to finish making the dough. Yet when I baked it off several hours later, the loaf was truly one of my finest: delicate, moist, delicious. I found myself willing: willing to try, willing to restart, willing to embrace the natural timing and rhythms of my life with two children.

Will versus willingness. Which one is dominant in you at this moment? Is there a difference between the two? How do we embrace willingness in order to increase our joy?

Willingness. Let it bring joy into your life.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day

I am always renewed by a day with the Matics-Lambert-Horne (MLH) clan. My aunts, uncles, and cousins (cuzzies) are all truly one of the best parts of my journey through this life. At every age, I have been thankful for this gift of my extended family...yet as I age, I come to them with more and more gratitude and nuanced understanding about that gift. I realize now that we are as bonded as we are because of the good choices my aunts and uncles and parents made years ago, because of the priorities they set. I realize now how these priorities took courage and belief in something greater than themselves as individuals. My aunts and uncles and parents stayed married to their spouses, they placed family above the obligations (ultimately) of work and material conquest, and they made sure all eight of us cousins had the time and space to be together often and to grow together. My dad and his siblings made a choice to IMPROVE upon the definition of family that they knew. That takes courage and foresight.

Now that I am thirty years old and have two children, the gift of this legacy is even more pronounced and poignant. To have a loving blanket of extended family to wrap around my children is a gift beyond compare.

I am thankful.

Meeting Uncle George
Cousin Meredith
Cousin Johanna
With Daddy
Cousin Brandon
With Aunt Donna
With Aunt Diane
With Aunt Cheryl

Saturday, September 4, 2010

This Week in Pictures

A beautiful and busy week for us! (Pictures may be out of order, oh well).

Katie had her first day of ballet class on Wednesday. We moved to the next level of class, where mommies sit on the side and the girls attempt to follow instructions without intervention. Katie did well with this new structure, though she ran over a couple of times for a hug and to make sure I was still there. She is such a sweetie pie...

Proud to be wearing her ballet shoes...

On tip toes...
We also went to the Harveston duck park this week. The weather was perfect, and we fed the ducks and had a picnic lunch as the breeze blew over the blue and golden water. The day felt almost like fall... This was Eric's first official visit to the duck park.

Brother and sister, together for always. I love this picture, which is now framed in our home. Katie is the kind of big sister I hoped she would be: protective, loving, tender. Eric is a lucky little brother...

Joy with Amie and her grandchildren.

Um, more ballet class pics... Katie is ready to sashay across the floor...

Sitting with the other girls, stretching...

Oh, we also went to the library this week. I have such fun there with my kiddos.

Playing early in the morning---cock-a-doodly-doo!

Enjoying the first pumpkin scone and (for me) pumpkin spice latte of the season. This was shortly before we played the "I love you more" game...so sweet.

Eric worked on his tummy time this week...and moved his head from one side to the other!

My best friend Rosa came to see us yesterday and to meet Eric for the first time.

There are so many more pictures....but this will have to suffice for now!