Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Christmas on the brain...

...and we've yet to carve the turkey!
Subconsciously, I'm always looking for more excuses to buy toys for my kids, which is why I love Christmas. I sneak purchases year-long, telling the kids to ask Santa for that train or that dolly rather than giving it to them on the spot. I can't wait until Christmas day, when a lot of those toys we caught Rigel and Izzy drooling over in the store will at last be taken out of hiding and emerge from wrapping paper and ribbons into plain view. From where does this materialistic desire to spoil come? I catch myself rationalizing that maybe next year we'll throttle back on the gifts and focus on the intangible values of Christmas... but do I posses that degree of will power? Can we pull off a simple Christmas , in which each child receives only 4 gifts: "something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read," as Jill from (building) a little house by the big woods describes? It sounds like the perfect solution for an over-indulgent parent like me, but (yes, there's a "but") I am going to give us at least a year longer of sneaking purchases into the top shelves of our closets while we get used to the idea. Meanwhile, here are some items I have my eye on:
Izzy is always getting into my purse--I have to be sure to keep it out of her reach, or else I'll blink and she'll have lipstick everywhere but on her lips. She is fascinated with make-up, and is always studying me if I so much as put a moisturizer on my face. "Ont some, Mommy! Izzy, too!" I love watching how carefully she pretends to paint her lips...3 years old and she's already a pro. I never was too girly--didn't really even play with Barbie dolls, and didn't get a mani/pedicure until my early twenties... That's probably why I get a kick out of Izzy's "all girl" personality. This wood lipstick by Erzi would probably travel everywhere with Izzy. (It is available separately or included in a set of wood "beauty supply products.")
Erzi also carries an adorable shaving kit--Rigel worships his daddy, and I can just picture him standing so purposefully next to Dan as he participates in the morning shave routine.

The kids could have a lot of fun with this toaster from Plan Toys--it has a timer knob and a handle that pops out the play toast... a fun accessory for their pretend kitchen.

Kids love hide-outs, and this room tent from Haba looks fun. Both Izzy and Rigel's imaginations would be stimulated in this "green oasis." (And, perhaps our couch cushions would be spared from endless fort building attempts.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

...What would I do without these guys?

ATTENTION: Major "ick-factor" applies to the following post; proceed with caution!

Little did I know the first time I tried this product, it was to permanently partner up with me in one of the nitty gritty details of motherhood: Diaper changing. (There's not a whole lot to explain about this subject which isn't already obvious, except to all non-parents--F.Y.I., dirty diapers often catch parents off guard--especially as you are walking out the door or right after bath time). This spray-on diaper area "wash" is excellent, especially for girls with all their folds and creases (though I would have loved to have used it with Rigel had I known it existed). Its gentle herbal concoction sooths skin easily irritated by dirty diapers, and also sooths nerves with the knowledge that my child has gotten a thorough cleaning that wouldn't have been possible merely using wipees. Now, I realize this is a yucky topic, but I have used this product nearly 3 times a day or more since Izzy was a newborn, and I don't know what I would have done without it. When I am feeling particularly cheap, rather than replace an empty bottle with a new one, I simply mix water and a few drops of calendula oil into an empty spray bottle. It's not quite the same, but it gets the job done.

Which brings me to my next favorite product:

Organic EO Hand Sanitizer (Lavender Scented)... It comes in a pump and in a travel-sized spray bottle... perfect for your hands after those on-the-go diaper changes when no sink is available, as well as in moderation for little dirty germ-y fingers (coming home from the park, etc.).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Another excellent read...

Never mind that it can be a struggle at times to keep up with the daily demands of running a household and parenting two small kids, I still found the time to read this book in less than 3 sittings (feet a-dragging the following morning, laundry piling up...). Sue Monk Kidd is a gifted storyteller, possessing the rare ability to pull her readers into the preexisting world of her novel--in all its depth and clarity. Fictional, yet still powerfully real, I was irresistibly consumed by the lives of her characters, and completed the last half in one night. It was worth staying up until wee hours of morning to experience this story--not sure it would have been quite as enjoyable otherwise.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Kid Quotes #5

I have been keeping a journal of our kids' amusing quotes. Though I wish that I am able to record more of the cute things they say throughout the day, here are a few from this last week.

"Spank that fly, Mamma. Whap him on his itty bitty little bottom!" Rigel's response to my pulling out the fly swatter a couple mornings ago.

"Daddy, you got to make a decision. Either you stay home, or you go on a walk with us. You decide...It's up to you, Daddy." Rigel addressing Daddy regarding...well, staying or going.

"Oh, my goodness! Daddy--cookies! Right there, Daddy. That's right. Good job." Izzy alerting Daddy to the cookies in the grocery store, then commending him on placing them in the cart.

"Izzy, you're a sandwich master!" Rigel commending Izzy on her sandwich making abilities while the two of them helped me make lunch.

"No get me all wet. Understand?" Izzy telling me not to turn the garden hose on her--except the last part sounded more like "uhn-ah-stah?"

"I have a idea! I'll go get a wipee. It'll be half the speed! (Rigel disappears into the bathroom to retrieve wipee, then returns) Here I am with a wipee!" Rigel assisting me on clean up patrol.

"I gotta tell Izzy ! I'm gonna go wake her up." Rigel running to share a moment with Izzy.

"Let's go get it to Washdown!" Rigel takes charge of a messy situation--influenced by Thomas the Train vocabulary.

"I okay!!! Mama, Izzy okay!!! Izzy proudly celebrates the moment with smiles after an intense crying session.

"I love my dump truck. He loves being inside." Rigel's declaration of love for a newly discovered toy that had been forgotten about in the yard.

"Shoe chocolates! Mama, look--shoe chocolates!" Izzy's description of her brown colored ballet-flat shoes. They must have struck her fancy for her to compare them to her favorite food.

"If you say two pleases, then my underwear will go on." Rigel explaining how it's all going to go down as I plead with him to get his clothes on in the morning. And, no, I don't comply.

"No kiss my eyeball. Okay, Mama?" Izzy's solemn request of her overly-affectionate mother... I can't help the endless kisses, she's so adorable!

"Because my brain was thinking about it. Because my brain was telling me to do it when I was thinking about it." Rigel's response to my inquiry as to why he walked around the house dragging a crayon across the walls.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Painting is to Journaling is to Blogging

Journaling: (a.ka. blogging, sketching, painting, writing); to turn blank pages into inspiring expressions of our everyday lives...

I've always loved the idea of journaling as an outlet, and this blog (called Paper and Threads) is a delight to scroll through. I've scribbled and sketched in a few journals, myself--the contents of which I too would display on a blog if I had half as much talent as the elusive Paper and Threads.

This talented blogger is a painter and a traveler. I got lost and very inspired in this artist's water-colored commentary (I would include more specific info, but this blog doesn't include a profile--only an impressively detailed journal of experiences, along with challenges aimed toward artistic skills).

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

All images courtesy of

Friday, November 14, 2008

Thirsty Moms On the Go

Between the weekly dance, swim and karate classes (not to mention playgroup and t-ball), my kids keep me on-the-go quite often. Okay, perhaps I'm the one keeping them busy, right? I am pretty picky about what I feed my kids, and thus tend to pack them the necessary on-the-go snacks and drinks. Nevertheless, it is often tempting to utilize the strategically located Starbucks drive-thrus for myself ("ahem: one Starbuck's sweetened venti Passion Iced Tea, please..."), since my motherly instincts seem not to include the ability to nurture myself. I am trying to leave the house each morning well-prepared and therefore less likely to detour into these convenient drive-thru pit stops that pop up into my periphery during my weak moments of the day ("...and a Turkey Pesto sandwich, please... thank you!"). Here's one of my remedies for thirsty Moms on the go:
Check out these ice cube trays from Ikea--

These floppy rubber molds come in several different shapes, but I like these 6" long "sticks" best...

Imagine freezing some fresh-squeezed juice from some of these:

...with a single julienned piece of this:

...and perhaps a crushed sprig of this:

...Add one of those ice "sticks" to water inside this on your way out the door:

...and viola! You've got water on-the-go (green*ly contained), worthy of serving at a day spa.
(And, more health-conscious than your average bottle of water. Click here for more info).

Photos courtesy of

Excellent Novel

Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan, is an excellent historical novel. Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiasts will love the architectural details, as well as the provided insight into the historical figure's personal life. The story is told from the fictional perspective of his true-to-life mistress, and though this story is filled with period detail and a behind-the-scenes view of F.L. Wright's creative process, it also reveals a small glimpse of what life may be like living with someone who experiences bouts of hypomania (and/or bipolar disorder). Developed from more than 7 years of research and creative insight, this novel left me feeling curiously intrigued about Wright's architectural career.
Excerpted from the book: "You can't have a conversation with Frank about architecture without it turning toward nature. He says nature is the body of God, and it's the closest we're going to get to the Creator in this life...Some of his houses look more like trees than boxes. He cantilevers the roof so it spreads its eaves wide like sheltering branches. He even cantilevers terraces out from the house in the same way, if you can picture it. His walls are bands of windows and doors, the most gorgeous stained-glass designs of abstract prairie flowers. All that glass gives you the sense that you're living free in nature, rather than cut off from it... He likes to hide the doorway so you have to find it. He leads you in, then surprises you. He calls it 'the path of discovery.' "
Click here for more info on F.L.Wright's work, as well as pictures of the structures described in Horan's novel.
Click here to see my previous reading list (personal commentary included).

Fire in Montecito

Sadly, a fire has damaged about 4 square miles (so far) of Santa Barbara's beautiful Montecito, the community where Westmont College is located. According to the news reports, over a 100 homes have been destroyed, and as of this morning there were no reports of containment.

As far as Westmont is concerned, buildings withing the Clark Hall dormitory were destroyed, as well as the Physics Building, the "old Math" building, Bauder Hall and the Quonset Huts. I've also heard that the nearby monastary was destroyed (unrelated to Westmont College). Updated reports can be found on the Westmont College website (click here). For a list of known Westmont-related residences damaged, click here (several professors lost their homes). Also, click here, and here and here for more information.

Even though Westmont is only a piece of my past, it's a nostalgic memory that is held close to my heart. Its campus and surrounding community are treasures to many people. Lets hope the worst has already passed.

A portion of Clark Hall after fire...buildings F, G, M & S were destroyed, as well as Mark the R.D.'s home.
Chapel after

Photos and info courtesy of,, and

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Yummy Tomato Recipe

We had too much fun with this mutant purple calabash!

If you are like me and love heirloom tomatoes, then the following is a must-have recipe. For some reason, summer refuses to fade into fall this year, and local farmer's markets and Trader Joe's still have a great supply of these seasonal favorites. I often end up with a stock pile of heirloom tomatoes and resort to baking them into a strata (the recipe is found in the Aug '06 Cuisine At Home magazine, but I found it online. It is also available in A Real American Breakfast cookbook).

Saturday Summer Strata, By Cheryl Atlers Jamison and Bill Jamison

One 1 to 1-1/4 pound loaf country or sourdough bread, crusts removed if thick
1/2 pound cream cheese, cut into small cubes or bits
1/2 pound fresh or other mozzarella, grated
1/4 cup prepared pest
o6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
1 pound (about 3 medium) ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
5 large eggs
1-1/2 cups half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly milled black pepper to taste
Oil or butter a deep 9- to 10-inch baking dish (round glass dishes are best, to keep an eye on browning and so you can cut strata into wedges)

Slice the bread about 1/2 inch thick. Arrange 2 to 3 equal alternating layers of the bread, cheeses, pesto, prosciutto, and tomatoes in the baking dish. Cut or tear bread slices if needed to make snug layers. (Start with 1/2 of the cream cheese chunks dispersed evenly on the bread, then 1/2 the mozzarella, then dollops of evenly dispersed pesto, then 1/2 the prosciutto and tomatoes--I usually get two layers of each).

Whisk the eggs with the milk, salt, and pepper. Pour the custard over the bread mixture. Cover and refrigerate the strata for at least 2 hours and up to overnight. Remove the strata from the refrigerator 20 to 30 minutes before you plan to bake it.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the strata uncovered for 50 to 55 minutes, until puffed, golden brown, and lightly set in the center (when inserted knife comes out clean from center of strata). Serve hot.

Technique Tip
The wealth of specialty breads available today encourages experimentation with stratas. Just pick a variety compatible with the cheese and any embellishments you are considering, removing the crust if it's thick. Egg-rich challah, brioche, and Italian panettone offer resonant alternatives. Cakey corn breads can turn to mush in a strata, but sturdier southern-style versions work well, particularly when toasted first to improve the texture. Even soft white bread makes a good strata, though we like to layer it with a darker whole grain bread to enhance the taste and appearance.

Autumn Strata
Eliminate the pesto and tomatoes. Sauté 1/2 pound sliced mushrooms, 1 or 2 minced garlic cloves, 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, and 3/4 pound fresh spinach, chard, or escarole in 3 tablespoons olive oil until the mushrooms are tender and any liquid has evaporated. Arrange alternating layers of the bread, cheeses, prosciutto, and mushroom mixture and proceed as directed.

Recipe courtesy of the Global Gormet

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Is Heaven Over There?"

The kids and I had an impromptu date with Grandma today at Fort Rosecrans. (Fort Rosecrans is located in Point Loma and is a national cemetery for veterans and their families. My grandfather served in the reserves as a young man prior to his lifelong career as a journalist for the San Diego Union, and this is where he was laid to rest.) Rigel and Izzy knew we were going to Fort Rosecrans before lunch, but once we arrived, Rigel asked, "Where's Grandpa?"
Then, after Izzy discovered the flowers Grandma left for Grandpa, she asked the same question. This was a first for me, and I wasn't sure how seriously to respond. Grandma jumped in and replied that he was "in heaven." Rigel seemed to ponder this for a second before he pointed across the bay and asked, "is heaven over there?"
I told him it wasn't, that it was a very special place. Later, while we walked to a bakery for lunch in Point Loma, Rigel paused in front of an office and peered inside the window for a few seconds. "Is heaven in there?" he asked. Surprised this issue was still on his mind, I attempted to explain as carefully as possible how heaven was "a special place where people go when they are all done being with us."
How am I to discuss heaven with my son when he doesn't even understand the words "living" and "dying," and when his world doesn't extend beyond the people and places he has visited? Well, I kind of blew it. In the car on the way home, he asked me, "Can we see Grandpa?" And, I too seriously replied, "No. When somebody goes to heaven, you can't see them anymore." Uh-oh. The finality of that answer--why did I go there? Rigel then inquired, "How come you can't see your family in heaven?" Darn. Now what was I supposed to say? I'd already said too much. I ended up keeping it simple and then changing the subject: "When somebody goes to heaven, they see all the other people in the family who are already there. Hey, do you want to listen to the train song?"
I have got to better prepare for these "deep" conversations, because this is only the beginning... in just a few more years, I'll have to be ready to tackle the "birds and the bees." Yikes.
P.S. Happy Veteran's Day
Photo: Rigel and Izzy's Great-Grandfather (Charles).

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Giving Ideas

Soule Mama has developed an awesome new site called Mama to Mama, which "seeks to find ways to connect handcrafters with mothers, children and families in need of a little bit of handmade love." Isn't this brilliant? I know we don't always have a lot of time on our hands, but it seems that somehow this is something for which we can make time.

There are a lot of wonderful free patterns available all over the Internet (Check out Purlbee's project journals). Here is a free mitten pattern (from STC Craft).
Photo courtesy of STC Craft.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Museum Fun

Today we visited the New Children's Museum, and due to multiple factors (such as my camera battery died early on, and my kids move too fast for the camera's auto focus), I didn't get a huge variety of photos. We hit our favorite gallery first: the pillow fight room (a.k.a The Greenhall Family Gallery). Rigel and Izzy could spend the whole day there, pass out and nap there, then wake up and start all over again. It's great for a rainy day when you've got kids bouncing off the walls... this is literally a mattress-padded room filled with tire-shaped pillows (you can stack 'em, crawl under 'em, through 'em, or over 'em). This room is the one place where rough housing is a bonus, as it provides two huge punching bags which are suspended from the ceiling. The mattress "slide" is of course a big hit...backwards, forwards, head-first--there's no rules on this slide.

A Piece of My Past

I never finished college. The second semester of my junior year, I left the campus. I didn't return until a couple years later--on a motorcycle run up the coast highway. I wandered the campus for about an hour with my riding partner (Ron, a family friend), and left feeling incomplete.
I still dream about school, and usually it involves familiar feelings of insecurity combined with nostalgia. The pressure I feel in those dreams always revolves around a deadline I have allowed to lapse, and a yearning for completion. The details of dorm life, the beautiful campus, Sunday evening Vespers, chapel requirements, and even the dining commons all flood my memory banks when I reminisce about Westmont.

I even miss some things: friendships with roommates and fellow resident advisers, endless hours of class in the English department, and exploring Santa Barbara. The world was at my fingertips when I was living on that campus, and I didn't even know it.
I had everything I needed within walking distance: a 3 story library, an after hours "cafe," serene landscape and beautiful architecture, a theater, a pool, 2 chapels, a P.O. box, a shuttle service, lectures and discussion on every type of writing imaginable, fascinating professors, small classrooms, spiritual guidance, weekly guest speakers, and a social life. I often wonder what life would be like today had I seen this through to the end. I know I certainly was a different person way back when, with a lot of maturing to do and a soft outer shell. If I could do it all again as the "me" I am today, would I?

Heck, yes! Just let me take my babies with me on campus, or provide me with a qualified nanny to follow me around from class to class. There's enough grassy areas, foliage, footpaths and the occasional fountain or pond to keep them entertained all day long. We could picnic together at lunch time, and I'd hit the library after their bed time. Definitely do-able.

Why all this talk about college? I discovered a former roommate's blog. She was my first roommate in the Clark Hall dorm my freshman year, and we were worlds apart on the maturity scale. We stayed in touch, and have probably broken some phone tag records--it can go a year or two before we get back to each other. Voice mails have been our primary form of communication, in which we are informed of marriages, babies, etc. As I have just discovered her blog, our level of communication has been instantaneously upgraded. We have not seen each other since college. One of these days, perhaps...? Until then, I am loving her extraordinary writing.

Also, I got a chai latte at Starbucks (first time in a long time). There was a quote on that paper cup by a Noah benShea, author of Jacob the Baker and The Word (both excellent books). I met him during a Jewish Lit course with Professor Cook (one of my favorite professors). I remember hanging out after class with another student in the tiny English department "lobby," discussing with Mr. benShea his journey as a writer. He answered all our questions and signed our copies of his books. That was just one of the unique experiences that college provided.

All Westmont campus photos courtesy of

...Still More Butterflies to Arrive!

You’d think I would have had my fill of butterflies after successfully raising the Gulf Fritillary caterpillars we stole from Grandma Lana’s garden. Nope. I decided we were not done yet. While passing time at the nursery catty corner to Rigel and Izzy’s swim class, we happened upon a supply of milkweed-- and I couldn’t resist. It was a struggle not to squawk in protest when the cashier started to pluck off supposed aphid-infested leaves—did she know that on the leaf she just picked off a baby monarch caterpillar was crawling across? I silently retrieved the discarded leaf and tucked it safely into one of my three containers of milkweed. Hence, I have determined that raising butterflies requires a measure of obsessive-ness. All is worthwhile once the finished product emerges from its cocoon and perches upon your finger (or better yet, your little one’s fingers).

Above left: caterpillars hiding amidst the flowers. Above right: a tiny monarch egg, which turns dark green when it is about to hatch.

How To Raise Monarch Caterpillars
We attempted to raise monarch caterpillars last year, and gave up after many failed attempts. I think the best way to go is not to raise them in vented containers indoors as we did, but to observe them outdoors. Proper ventilation is a must, and so this time around we have our milkweed containers perched outside the kids' window. Milkweed is the only plant monarch butterflies lay their eggs upon, and thus the only plant monarch caterpillars eat. Not all nurseries carry it. Once you find some, be sure no pesticides were administered, or the likelihood of finding caterpillars on your plant is slim to nil. Look on the undersides of the leaves and inside the flower clusters for eggs and teeny caterpillars. If you are interested in raising your caterpillars indoors, visit for in-depth instructions. Otherwise, just place your containers outside in a safe spot (direct sun is fine), and observe as the caterpillars develop from chrysalis to butterfly!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

They Make Me Laugh

I love my babies, and they remind me of that everyday in every way. Today, when I was reminding Rigel to include "please" with his demands, he stubbornly refused. His response was clever enough to make me smile and relent (just this once):

Rigel: Mom, you do it. I don't want to.

Me: How about asking a bit more politely?

Rigel: (sigh)...please.

Me: Nope. That doesn't count. Start your request over, and then say please.

Rigel: (Begrudging sigh)...That was my last one. I don't have any more left.

Me: You don't have any more pleases left?

Rigel: Nope. Maybe later, if you ask me again, I might get some more. Then, I can prob'ly say please. But not now.

Also, as an attempt to describe a complicated task, I caught Rigel swearing: "What a pain and a heck!" That's his version of Mama and Daddy's "grown-up words."

As for Izzy, we haven't quite gotten into conversations, yet, but communication is definitely not a problem. She surprises us continually with just how much she picks up on. Tonight, for instance, I made chocolate truffle cookies (from Trader Joe's Brownie mix), and she noticed from across the room. She ran to the bathroom, grabbed the step stool, and stood peering over the counter at the cookie sheet as it filled up with rows of chocolate globs. "What doin, Mama?" she asked. When I told her I was making cookies, she replied, "No! Not koookies! It brawn-ies!" Now, how she knows what brownies are is a mystery to me, since I've never made them for the kids before. They've never been alone with anyone else long enough to bake brownies elsewhere, so I'm stumped. And, for the rest of the night, Izzy followed me around the house saying, "Ont brawn-ies!" and, "just ooooonnnne more. Okay, Mommy?"

A couple days ago, while Rigel was in pre-school, Izzy entertained me. She dumped out a bag of blocks and refilled it with her chips, then perched on the side of our pillow basket to watch the Halloween ghosts flying around on our front porch whilst munching. It's those silly little actions of hers that amuse me, so confident and yet so innocent. Like the next day, when we visited the museums at Balboa Park: while taking a restroom break, she discovered a hand-drying machine. This was more fascinating to her than any of the exhibits thus far. She stood beneath the hot air blower as if taking a shower, running her fingers through her hair with her eyes squeezed shut. Coaxing her out of there was a challenge, as she kept insisting, "not yet. Ooonne more."

And yes, I took a picture (in a public restroom, no less!)