Friday, September 26, 2008

Making makes me feel better

It's been a long week. The death of our friend overshadowed it all and brought with it not only grief, but also the kinds of things you think about when someone born the same year as you passes away. That old anxiety of mortality. Cora has been a fabulous distraction from these thoughts, but also a potent reminder of joy. As I've been dragging myself through this week, she's kept me from sinking, both because I just can't, and also because she can make me laugh in unexpected ways.

Like today, when we were leaving DQ, after an ice cream cone treat, and she was telling me a very long and involved story about herself and me and my mommy and when she's a mommy and grandmas. When she finished, I said, "Wow, that sounds pretty complex, Cora." She answered, "No, that's not complex, Mommy, you silly lady!" I had to pull back into my parking space, I was laughing so hard. Which made her laugh, of course.

Another thing that makes me feel better is making things. So, last weekend it was mozzarella cheese, which was then used in this eggplant parm:

And then I worked like crazy to finish this little poncho for Cora. Now I can't decide if I should save it for Christmas (my original plan) or give it to her this fall (because I can't wait to see it on her). I just used yarn I had on hand and adapted a pattern I found - estimated size stuff, added another point, made up a ruffle, etc. I really like the way it turned out!

It also makes me happy to get packages from my own Momma! This week brought photos, a fancy candy bar, a bottle of orange-chili sauce, collected comic strips from the weekly paper, assorted other things to read, and a doll blanket and pillow for Cora. I cut down a diaper box for a bed.

Tidoo went to bed and stayed there for the next three days! Cora would pick up the whole bed to rock her. Tonight she took her out of the bed to hold her and rock her and sing her songs. She sang this awesome medley of "Amazing Grace," "Row, row, row your boat," and the alphabet song. Sweet.

Lately Cora has really increased her verbal expressions, which I wouldn't have thought was possible. If she was a chatterbox before, I don't know what you call her now. She is so into pretending and acting out WonderPets episodes with her finger puppets, and she sings all these songs that she learns at school. My favorite is the "great white shark" song - hand motions! - where the shark eats the fishies and the octopus and who knows what else. And then there is one about Mr Alligator eating the monkeys in the trees. (A lot of eating in Cora's favorite songs and books these days.). But here is something I think is a real milestone. Last weekend at a bookstore we bought Cora this little dog:

She named it Chuchiya. It's the first thing she's named all on her own. I love that.

Monday, September 22, 2008

In memory of a friend

For a few days now I've been struggling with what to say about how on Friday evening we lost a dear friend to her long drawn-out argument with cancer. We didn't find out until Saturday, and when we heard we changed our evening plans to be family time and we went out to dinner and toasted our friend's life.

Like my husband, Denise was a composer; they were in the same graduate program. Denise later moved out to NYC for her doctorate degree, got a teaching job, continued to compose, and came home to MN a couple times a year. We'd see her those times, and kept in touch by phone and email in between times.

She was last here in August - just three or four weeks ago - and we had dinner together. She and Chris talked about their latest projects. We discussed class plans and dealing with students and the general challenges of a creative life in the midst of a working life. It was a good visit. Cora loved Denise, and practiced saying her name, and showed her some of her favorite books and toys. Denise seemed frailer than she had other visits - she always maintained an upbeat attitude, she taught through all her surgeries, chemo, radiation, and diagnoses - even though this was the first time I felt like I really saw the physical toll cancer had taken on her, I never expected she would pass away so soon. And it sounds, from friends who talked to her last week, that she really didn't expect it either.

I find a lot of the conventional language about cancer unsatisfactory. Really what I want to say is that a strong, beautiful, talented woman, someone I cared about, died last week. I miss her. I wish it could have been differently for her - I wish her path had been easier.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Summer makes a brief reappearance

I'm really more of a fall person. When I lived in California, I was more of a winter person, but living somewhere that really has *winter* cured me of that. The last two years I've made more of a peace with summer than in previous year, but still...I like a chill in the air. I like piling on the quilts. I like being comfortable wearing jeans and long sleeves.

We had about two weeks of really beautiful fall weather. Now it is warm again, but that kind of awkward warm weather, where the mornings are really still pretty cool, but you know it is going to get up to 80 in the afternoon, so what are you supposed to wear? And what on earth does the baby wear ("No I not baby! I little girl!")? At least there is one easy decision:

Another still life photo; I call it "Paneer: In the beginning" :

Because, really, when you are teaching three classes and going to campus every day and trying to make it to your gym three times a week and going through job searches and worrying about the health of family members and also hoping that maybe you can one day get enough freaking want to start a curry and cheese making odyssey, right? Oh, and, by the way, why don't you knit a poncho while you're at it.

But really you're here for the girl, aren't you? The one who actually can't decide if she is a big girl, a little girl, or a baby, and often cycles through all three in a manner of hours. She is gaining language at an amazing pace these days, and I especially love to hear her picking up colloquialisms. The latest is, "I got an idea!" As in this exchange:

Me: No more stories, Cora, time for songs.
Cora: Wait! I got an idea!
Me: What's your idea?
Cora: We read more stories!

Hey - I got an idea - let's make the pots and pans cupboard (you know, the one Grandma Jan told her was her cupboard...thanks, Grandma Jan!) her room so that she will stay so small and so cute and so full of enthusiasm for a very long time.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Medical News for Mommies Everywhere

"Kisses no make it better. Band-Aids make it better. My finger need BAND-AID!! No kiss it!!"

(Three hours later: "My finger better. I frow-way Band-Aid now.")

Monday, September 8, 2008

Did I really just say that?

Today in class I made the mistake that all English teachers dread. The class had been in groups, each group discussing a different short story. We'd heard from two already. Then it happened.

"Now let's hear from the group that discussed 'A Hard Man is Good to Find'."

And in the stunned silence that followed I heard Flannery O'Connor spin in her grave.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Fall forecast: Growth spurt

For most of August, Cora has lived on a diet of, say, three blueberries and a bite of oatmeal for breakfast. A cheese stick or two for lunch. And more of the same for dinner. I hold to what her doctor said - that we should look more for meals to be balanced across the span of a month rather than a day - but still, I do think she should be eating MORE.

For a while in August I put her back on whole milk - around the time she would clutch her torso with delight and shout, "My ribs! I feel my ribs!" Thanks, baby.

But, something is up. Hint number one: She fell asleep in the car on the way home from daycare on Tuesday (unheard of!) and has been sleeping more in general. Hint number two would be what she ate today:

7 multigrain & apple pancakes
a fruit-filled cereal bar
graham crackers
half a banana
five dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets
two cookies
half a quesadilla with guacamole
and lots and lots of milk, some oj and some apple juice

But, I think the real indicator of something big afoot is that last night before dinner, I made a little appetizer out of some of our farmers market booty. She ate almost all the "snacks" - Chris and I only got a couple bites. What was this marvelous pre-dinner snack? (I hope you are reading this sitting down. That means you, Momma.)


I don't know which is less likely: that I would buy it, or that she would love it. Clearly, the thin and crispy layer of cornmeal has fooled her into thinking it could not possibly be a vegetable. Still, clearly green food. And, yes, we're making it again soon.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

(No, I have nothing better to do tonight)

OK - I'm going to try out the "Following" feature on Blogger and see what happens. If it is still a zero in a week, I will remove the gadget, drink mucho vodka, and cry myself to sleep.

It's in your hands, people.

Do the Monster Pants Dance! (a tutorial by Cora)

Delicious, easy, crazy...and a big freaking list

Yesterday, the day before classes started, my last full day home by myself, I decided to do something fun. I had just got from the library a fabulous cookbook, 660 Curries, and when we were in Madison, we were given a beautiful, huge cabbage. What are the chances? I thought. But, I looked, and I found a curry that used cabbage. But the recipe also would require the making of a toasted & ground spice blend and also...cheese.

Did you say cheese? Homemade cheese? Count me in!

So, I made paneer, which was easy and fun and so wild that I was wishing Chris and Cora were there to see what happens when you stir a little vinegar into a giant pot of boiling milk. INSTANT CURDS AND WHEY! And then, the transformation to actual cheese. When I brought Cora home from daycare I had her try the cheese. She loved it. She tried it several times. Then she brought her Elmo in to try the cheese.

The spice blend was also easy (super easy - by chance it was the easiest one with the least ingredients in the whole book). And the curry itself came together in about 20 minutes and was undoubtedly the best way to eat cabbage ever. We also had basmati rice and some beef kabobs from the store (our back-up in case the curry was not amazing and delicious). All in all a tremendously satisfying day. And the rest of the cookbook looks great too - there are lots of things we would like to try to make.

Then I found, on a food & cooking blog, The Omnivore's Hundred. Here is what it is:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.

2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.

3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating. (I can't cross out, so I'll just label those NO)

4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison

2. Nettle tea

3. Huevos rancheros

4. Steak tartare

5. Crocodile

6. Black pudding NO!

7. Cheese fondue

8. Carp

9. Borscht

10. Baba ghanoush

11. Calamari

12. Pho

13. PB&J sandwich

14. Aloo gobi

15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses

17. Black truffle

18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes

19. Steamed pork buns

20. Pistachio ice cream

21. Heirloom tomatoes

22. Fresh wild berries

23. Foie gras - at this point, NO

24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn, or head cheese - EXTREMELY DOUBTFUL

26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper - NO...OUCH!

27. Dulce de leche

28. Oysters - NO

29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda

31. Wasabi peas

32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

33. Salted lassi

34. Sauerkraut

35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar - NO TO THE CIGAR

37. Clotted cream tea

38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O

39. Gumbo

40. Oxtail

41. Curried goat

42. Whole insects

43. Phaal

44. Goat’s milk

45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more

46. Fugu - NO

47. Chicken tikka masala

48. Eel

49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut

50. Sea urchin

51. Prickly pear

52. Umeboshi

53. Abalone

54. Paneer

55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal

56. Spaetzle

57. Dirty gin martini

58. Beer above 8% ABV

59. Poutine

60. Carob chips

61. S’mores

62. Sweetbreads - NO NO NO

63. Kaolin

64. Currywurst

65. Durian

66. Frogs’ legs

67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake

68. Haggis - DOUBTFUL

69. Fried plantain

70. Chitterlings, or andouillette - DOUBTFUL

71. Gazpacho

72. Caviar and blini

73. Louche absinthe

74. Gjetost, or brunost

75. Roadkill

76. Baijiu

77. Hostess Fruit Pie

78. Snail

79. Lapsang souchong

80. Bellini

81. Tom yum

82. Eggs Benedict

83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.

85. Kobe beef


87. Goulash

88. Flowers


90. Criollo chocolate

91. Spam

92. Soft shell crab

93. Rose harissa

94. Catfish

95. Mole poblano

96. Bagel and lox

97. Lobster Thermidor

98. Polenta

99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee

100. Snake