Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why I want to be a cat

We have SNOW!  And even though I hate trudging around on streets (why do so few people shovel their sidewalks?), it makes even Quincy look beautiful.  This was our back yard on Monday morning:

During our snowy time, Anya has also discovered the importance of accessories when making food.  That's my girl!

Being housebound for a day or two has also reminded me of some of the reasons that I might enjoy being a cat. 
1.      I could snooze on top of radiators.
2.      If I were a cat, I would  have ears that I could twist around to let people know “I hear you, but I deem you unworthy of my full attention."
3.      Rubber balls, rubber bands, and yarn would be endlessly fascinating.  I would never be bored.
4.      I’d naturally go after anything interesting with gusto.
5.      I wouldn’t have to please anyone.
6.      I could purr.  And hiss.  That would be fun.
7.      I could sleep.  A lot.
8.      I would have an air of mystery about me. 

A few obvious reasons I am glad not to be a cat, despite the many benefits listed above:
1.      Cat food.  (ergh)
2.      Lack of opposable thumbs.
3.      Cat litter boxes.  (ergh again)
4.      Even little children would be big enough to terrorize you. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Real Food

On Friday (after working all morning on the conference paper still hanging over my head), I decided to cook.  My brother Kevin was coming over on Saturday to hang out and have dinner, and I’d been craving a real meal.  One in which I know every ingredient we’re eating.  I landed on golden splitpea soup (from one of the Moosewood cookbooks), bread machine whole wheat, and spinach salad with home made peanut dressing.  My meal looked like this:

Now, I am of course a “betwixt and between gal” with regard to slow versus prepared food, as I am with just about everything else.  Almost every meal we eat includes home made food, often things that we have done completely from scratch.  I make my own soups, we buy fresh (non-antibiotic) meats and fresh or frozen vegetables.  (How I managed to be a vegetable lover after suffering canned vegetables as a child, I do not know.)  But, we also use prepared breadcrumbs in our meatloaf and meatballs, canned tomato soup in our American chop suey—you get the idea.  So the “complete slow food meal” doesn’t happen all the time, just sometimes.  Saturday was one of those times. 

Making foods from scratch was also the perfect way to spend my Friday afternoon, which is after all a period of segue between work week and weekend.  And the sights and smells of cooking or baking are so lovely.  One of my favorite things to do is to listen to music (or the radio) and cook at a leisurely pace.  One of my least favorite things to do is to rush in order to get dinner on the table. 

Of course, it helped that I was wearing cat ears while cooking.

Attitude is everything, after all.

I even made dessert which, since it was for Kevin, had to be sponge cake.  I didn’t take a photo of it—and really, sponge cake looks pretty bland even though it’s tasty.  So, in lieu an image, I’ll share the recipe.  It’s very easy, and very good.

June Sullivan’s Sponge Cake**

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease and flour an 8x8 inch square baking pan. 

With an electric mixer, beat together (for about 3-4 min):
1 cup sugar
2 eggs

Sift together:
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch salt
1 tsp. vanilla

Heat together:
½ cup milk
1 Tbsp butter

Add wet and dry mixtures alternately into egg-sugar mixture, beating for about a minute in-between each addition. 

Bake for approximately 35 to 40 minutes, until the top springs back upon touch and a knife or toothpick comes out of the center clean

You can put on powdered sugar, or glaze, if you want.  But really, this simple cake is good just the way it is.  This cake is also easy to double, in which case you should use a 13x9 inch pan.

**The Sullivan family in Rockport was almost as big as ours—7 kids.  Not only did we get this sponge cake recipe from their matriarch, but I was named after one of their daughters.  (After seven other kids, my parents were running out of names.  I was almost stuck with the name Donna, which in MA would have made me "Donnah O'Connah" my entire life.  Eesh.)

What is your favorite home made food?  Where/when in your life does it come from? 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

This Season.

Chanukah has come and gone.  I’m glad that it was early this year, because we avoided the mad rush at the stores.  Now, early winter is setting in, and the cold outside is juxtaposed with the coziness of home.  A few of my favorite times from Chanukah and early winter so far are:
Samuel made me a lovely picture mat (a kind of “stained glass effect, with some animals hiding in the design).  It frames a picture of a (Boston?)  vine that Samuel, at age 2, declared to be a dragon.  I’ve been meaning to blow up and frame that photo for almost eight years now…

Another homemade favorite: the apron that Anya decorated for me.  Here she is modeling it (kind of.  She’s in a bad mood tonight).

Another favorite from Chanukah: my new flannel bathrobe (supposed to be a night shirt, but...).  It's purple, has tree branches, stars, and owls.  How can you go wrong with that???

The kids were also quite cute in their new pajamas.  You might recognize Anya's...

And, once Chanukah was over, we spent a wonderful evening with my sister Kaethi.  There was a fire going.  Kaethi and I knit.  Anya and Sam drew many pictures.  Howard…well, let’s just say after a while there was audible snoring.  In other words, we were all content. 

Other seasonal favorites:
1)      Walking on cold-ish winter mornings (27 degrees is nice.  It will, alas, get colder…)
2)   Tea.  Gotta have tea.

3)      Making cards and hats and food for people I love.
4)      Making calendars!!!!  I’m positively obsessed.
5)      Getting a REAL LETTER in a season’s greetings card from one of my dearest “old friends.”  (I’ll write back soon, Nancy, I promise.)
6)      Playing the Charades game that Anya got from Samuel. 
7)      Soup.  (see #4 regarding obsession.)
8)      Candle light.

What brings you joy in December?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thanks, Dad.

A year ago today, we had heavy, wet snow in the morning.  I took this picture. 

It was the day that my Dad died, and my heart was broken. 

I thought a lot about whether to post today.  In the end, I decided that I need to write about Dad, but not necessarily about his death.

Instead, I want to write about things I will always remember about my Dad.
1.      Dad taught me to recognize cardinals, blue jays, and chickadees when I was a kid.  I still think of him whenever I see any of those birds—which is often, since we have blue jays and cardinals living in the pine trees next to our house.
2.      Dad had a rough exterior, but he was a “softie” in many ways.  Every Valentine’s Day, Mum would get a big heart box of candy, and each of us “girls” would get a little one.  Later, when I was in my sophomore year at college, he sent flowers to my dorm.
3.      My father loved my mother from the moment he first laid eyes on her.  Here they are as newlyweds:

4.      There is no way to think of my father without recalling his numerous WWII stories.  He never (or rarely) discussed the horrors that he saw—and there must have been many—but he told foolish stories over and over and over again…
5.      Dad was really smart.  I think that he was intimidated by my education--he certainly was defensive about it.  But I don't think he realized fully that my analytical abilities came from him. 
6.      Dad was incredibly responsible.  Whenever he went out to dinner, he would order one Southern Comfort Manhattan.  If he wanted a second one, he would first ask Mum if she was willing to drive home in his stead. 
7.      Dad was a party line democrat and union man.  Ever since I turned 18 and was eligible to vote, we talked (either to celebrate or mourn) after every major election. 
8.      For years after he retired, Dad made seafood chowder every Christmas Eve.  Everyone in the family would come by at some point to have chowder and chat for a while. 
9.      My son, Samuel, looks just like my Dad—including the way he furrows his brow when he concentrates.  My daughter looks nothing at all like him, but she adored him from the time she was an infant.  These are two of my favorite pictures of Anya and Grandpa together when she was a babe.

10.  Star Trek fans would recognize my Dad as “Scottie.”  Dad was a machinist at Gorton’s of Gloucester for decades.  He used to say that if a machine is broken, you should always tell your boss it will take twice as long to fix as you think it will—that way, when you’re done early, you’ll be a hero.
11.  Dad loved strawberry shortcake.  I plan to eat it on his birthday every year. 
12.  Dad would argue with you even if you agreed with him.

There are plenty of other stories, unpleasant as well as pleasant, that I could tell about my Dad.  But right now, I just want to remember this ordinary, quirky, salt-of-the-earth man who shaped my world in profound ways.  I miss him still.

What do you cherish about your Dad, or your memory of him?  What would you like your children or other loved ones to remember about you?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Slip Sliding Away

I love the world of ideas (and, really, it’s about the only place on earth where I feel “at home” besides my house).  However, I absolutely hate—got that?  hate—trying to get momentum going with new projects. 

And that is where I am right now.  I have to present a paper in a little over a month, but because I don’t yet have what Howard so aptly calls “traction,” I am lost and fumbling.  Sliding around hopelessly and finding mostly ways to distract myself from working. 

This is made even worse by the fact that I have to read most of my documents on the computer, rather than in hard copy, since I just took images of all of them.  Given that I plan to continue to copy documents via camera—it’s better for my back, my pocketbook, and the environment—I’m going to have to get used to it. 

So, my strategies for getting this paper going this week have included:

1.      Make small goals and praise myself for anything that gets accomplished.  Every step is, as they say, a step forward.
2.      Accept that much of my time this week needs to be focused on family—Chanukah is starting, and I have had the kids on my own while Howard is away on business.  Just focus on moving ahead.
3.      Invite coffee and tea in to my writing and note-taking process, no guilt allowed.
4.      Bribe myself with treats for doing focused work (today: this blog post).
5.      Try to keep my office and desk—well, manageably clean.  Let’s face it: I’m not inclined toward complete organization and tidiness.  But, I also do not function well in total disarray.  I am using this blessed sabbatical time to work on establishing that ever elusive middle ground.  I’m kind of getting there.  Really, it’s more organized than it looks.
6.      Stop at a place where I know how to pick back up again, preferably with something that excites me.
7.      Focus on the process and the journey, rather than my achievements on any given day.  I’m getting a little better at that.

I like the number seven.  Let’s stop there.
I’m hoping that I am not the only one with this eternal organizational and disciplinary struggle!  I think it’s just terribly hard to start new projects and structure one’s own time.  If anything, having kids has made me more efficient, because I know that at a certain hour I have to transform from Dr. O’Connor back into Mum.  And, mostly, I do.    
Do you have strategies to overcome work blockages???