Links

  • When “Life-Hacking” is Really White Privilege:“You know that fun game you play at Chinese restaurants, where you add “in bed” to everybody’s fortune? You will achieve great success this year…in bed.

    I have a related suggestion for Altucher’s article. Just add “if you’re white” or “because I’m white” to each generalization or anecdote in the article. For instance:

    ‘I find when you act confused but polite then people want to help if you’re white. There was a line behind me. I wasn’t fighting or angry. So there was no reason for anyone to get angry at me, because I’m white.’

  • Rachel Cusk reviewing Confessions of a Bad Mother by Stephanie Calman:  “[T]he appearance of honesty, the willingness to “own up” to certain unorthodoxies, merely conceals a deeper strain of social competitiveness. The “good” mother, with her fixed smile, her rigidity, her goody-goody outlook, her obsession with unnecessary hygiene, is in fact a fool. It is the “bad” mother, unafraid of a joke and a glass of wine, richly self-expressive, scornful of suburban values, who is in reality good.” (via Blue Milk)

     

    Why is it so difficult to write about parenting? Maybe because it is difficult to write about any relationship — especially relationships with people who are still alive, who you love, and who you hope deeply will outlive you. Because things can’t be boiled down to words and still be accurate, no matter how many words you apply to them. Because writing about relationships changes them, sometimes for the worse. Because people don’t always appreciate being written about. Because the relationship itself is so valuable, so much more valuable than written words would be. So we are left with cliches, platitudes, jokes, glimpses, incomplete pictures and secrets. Some of best words I’ve read about parenting — the words that have made me feel less alone, more sure of myself, clearer on my bearings — have been not in memoirs but in psychology books.

     

  • Time Still by Peggy O’Mara: “Now I am caring for eternity” — This line in particular is what being a mother feels like to me. Like active meditation. Like always returning to the present. Like longing for something to take the edge off of it. Like learning to tolerate it, to relax into it, to meet my child there — the only place I can parent him.

Christmas past and Christmas future: Reviewing this year’s holiday to plan the next one

Christmas is a big deal around here. I’ve been mulling over what I liked about how we celebrated this year, and what I want to change. Here’s the breakdown:

IMG_5543-002

Hygge: I learned about this Danish word — hygge — after Christmas was over and the tree was already down. But for me, I realized, hygge is the true meaning of Christmas. Not the Christian story — we are not Christian, and lighting up the dark around winter solstice, giving presents, and bringing green things inside predate Christianity. Hygge seems to mean coziness, comfort, the absence of anything grating, and quiet connection — whether with loved ones or with yourself — from what what I’ve been able to put together. Candles and fire and golden light show up a lot in hygge pinterest boards along with cable knit socks and winter foods and reading chairs. Here’s the board I made.

Next year I want to focus more on the general sense of coziness, connection, comfort and quiet than on the specific day we open presents. I love presents, but I don’t want Christmas to end as soon as we open them. Next year, I want to the decorations and the Santa mugs out longer and keep celebrating.

Giving: This year, our little one still seemed too young for it, but next year we’ll make things together for him to give to the important people in his life. For me, giving is one of the especially warm-feeling parts of Christmas, and I want him to experience it too — to not just see Christmas as a big intake day. Also, this year we gave to a couple of charities, but it was haphazard. Next year, I want to talk about them and pick them out as a family.

Christmas tree: Last year we ordered a tree online from Green Valley Christmas Trees, and the tree they sent was the freshest, most beautiful tree I’ve ever had. The only problem was that it came in a big cardboard box that was hard to get rid of. This year we went to a local lot. It was okay, but nowhere near as nice, and it didn’t last very long. Next year, it’s back to Green Valley and we’ll just deal with the box.

Decorating the tree: Gavin came up with the idea of making a red and green paper chain this year. We put up only fairly robust ornaments and plastic lights, and the tree was looking a little sparse. The chain filled it out and we figured if it tore we could just tape it back together.  We sang Christmas carols (badly) while we were making it and gave our little boy his own short chain to play with. He not only let us make the chain in peace, he also left the chain on the tree alone, so we never ended up needing to tape it back together.

Christmas lights in a ball: Wrangling the tree lights this year was a snap, because last year we rolled them up in a ball. Unrolling them was easy — much easier than in the past when I had carefully worked all the lights back into their original packaging.

Santa mugs 3

Santa mugs: We got these a few years ago at Pottery Barn (you can find actual vintage ones on Etsy, though, and see a bunch on Pinterest, too). We get them out with our December decorations, and usually we drink a lot of hot chocolate in them. This year we were craving lighter fare, so we drank mint tea in them almost every day. For my little boy, I poured a little tea in the bottom of his cup and then filled the rest up with cool water, so it was barely warm. He loved it.

Christmas cards: I love Paper Source‘s designs, especially the cards that say, “Merry/Happy Everything!” And one of my favorite Christmasy things to do is sit in a coffee shop addressing envelopes and thinking about all the people I like and love who I’m sending them to. This year I started a little late because we were traveling around and after Thanksgiving, so I still have some cards to send out (for New Year’s! Or maybe Valentine’s Day…) Next year, I’m starting earlier.

Santa photo: The Petersen Automotive Museum had an old red convertible you could pose inside with Santa this year. It was the best Santa photo (and Santa photo experience) we’ve had so far. One of us ran around the gift shop or museum with our son while the other stayed in line, and once we actually got in the car, our little boy was in heaven checking out the steering wheel and all the buttons. They took a bunch of pictures, and even though our two year old was focused on the car most of the time, they still managed to get a picture where we were all kind of smiling at the camera. For $25 they gave us a thumb drive of all the shots and a print out of the best one, plus free parking. 

IMG_5221-003
Going out to see lights: We went out twice this year. We got a deal on Living Social for a 90 minute trolley tour of the Christmas lights on and around Naples Island in Long Beach.  They gave us candy canes and Santa hats and hot chocolate, and we rode around in an open trolley in our snow jackets. The tour included also a guided walk around Naples Island, and while we could have done that on our own for free, as part of the trolley tour it just seemed more special. Our two year old loved every part of the whole night from running around touching lights to drinking hot chocolate to getting two candy canes to RIDING IN AN ACTUAL TROLLEY!

Another night, we drove to Candy Cane Lane in El Segundo. El Segundo in general goes all out with Christmas deocrations, but in this cul-de-sac every house is covered in lights.  They shut down traffic and people walk up and down the street. A couple of houses have model trains running out on their lawns, and there’s a Santa you can visit, although my little one has only wanted to see him from a distance so far.

Gingerbread house 1

Gingerbread house: Last year we assembled one of the Trader Joe’s gingerbread houses. It was…tricky. This year, we got a pre-assembled one from Whole Foods, along with a tin of candy and some pre-made icing. Much better. I just wished I had picked up a little extra candy. Next time, I think we’ll go with another preassembled house, but we might also decorate ginger bread men that we can eat right away.

IMG_5805-001

This year after we took the tree down, we all sat around the table and broke up the gingerbread house and ate it. It was disgusting, but fun. And as my little one pointed out, the candy part was good.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners: We ordered a beef tenderloin and a goose from Heritage Foods USA. Gavin made the tenderloin on Christmas Eve, and it was amazing. Delicious and juicy and tender. We’ll definitely get another one next year. It was also easy to make and didn’t need to cook forever, which helps make the night more fun.

The goose, on the other hand, took a lot of time to prepare and to cook. I think the recipe I used–Roast Goose with Caramelized Apples–was a good one, but I may not be that into goose. I loved the caramelized apple part of the recipe, though, and I don’t think they need to be made with goose fat to be good. I might try making them in the place of cranberry sauce, and using butter and oil for the fat next time. I also made potatoes roasted in goose fat, and again, I don’t think the fat needs to be from a goose for these to be good. You want to make sure you like raw garlic if you’re going to try these, though.

The next day, I made Cranberry Sauce with Port and Cinnamon to put on my left-over goose sandwiches. It was good, but not the ultimate cranberry sauce. I’m marking down Cranberry Sauce with Port and Tangerine to try next year.

Harry and David’s pears: Someone gave us these a few years ago, and we’ve ordered them every year since. They’re the best pears I’ve ever had, and they’re a special food I can look forward to around Christmas time that makes me feel good instead of kind of sick. I’m trying to ease up on holiday sugar consumption — it doesn’t make me feel that good in the end, although I do enjoy the occasional homemade Christmas cookie, I’m working on tilting the balance so that sugar is a once or twice a holiday season treat instead of a constant overload.


Christmas books: This year the books we read together over and over were Deck the Halls illustrated by Veronica Vasylenko, You Are My Miracle by Maryann Cusimano Love and illustrated by Satomi Ichikawa, and Richard Scarry’s Best Christmas Book Ever!

Slightly less repeated, but also loved were The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg and Peter Spier’s Christmas.

A couple of my favorites that I think my little one might like better next year are Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry and Christmas Farm by Mary Lyn Ray and illustrated by Barry Root.

Christmas movies: The movies we liked watching together the best this year were The BIG Christmas Tree and Arthur’s Perfect Christmas.

Robot stocking Christmas tree stocking

Advent calendar and stockings: This year we used the advent calendar as a decoration, and we skipped stockings altogether. Filling both (or either) up gets expensive, and if I just stick candy or chocolate in them, it ends up being a lot of sugar. I used to sew new decorations on our stockings every year, and I miss doing that. Maybe at some point in the future, I’ll have a little more free time before Christmas and I’ll figure out what to put in the stockings that won’t break the bank.

Getting away: A couple of different friends in my Facebook feed took trips to the mountains after Christmas and played in the snow. It looked so cozy and like so much fun. I’d like to work that into our Christmas traditions.

Magda Pecsenye’s Christmased workbook: I didn’t buy it this year, but it looked so good and so helpful. I want to work through it next year. In the meantime, I’ve signed up for her emails to help me think a little more about what I want for next year’s Christmas.

Our first Thanksgiving of the season

Thanksgiving mantle
This year for Thanksgiving with the big boys we got a chocolate turkey.

Thanksgiving spread 2013
First we had dinner.

Walnuts
Gavin made rosemary walnuts.

Stuffing
And stuffing.

First turkey of the season 2013
And real turkey.

Everything on the table Thanksgiving 2013
He also made green beans and cranberry sauce.

Chocolate turkey 1
After dinner, came the moment our little one had been waiting for.

Chocolate turkey 2
Carving the chocolate turkey and eating it!

A good day

Roads and snipping
We made roads on the floor with black tape. The little boy picked up my scissors, put his fingers through the handles carefully and snipped the tape. So we got out his scissors and some paper and he snipped quite a lot in between racing his cars around the road as I finished laying it down.

Cake
Later, we went cake tasting with Gavin. I have a birthday party coming up, so went we to Sweet Lady Jane to check out their options. The slices were so big, we ended up with leftovers in our fridge. The green one on top is a princess cake.