Fun Month Review: Fun in Unexpected Places

Fun month hasn’t been a laugh riot or anything, but it has helped me to be ready for fun whenever it might happen.

Sometimes it’s taking a moment to listen to my daughter talking with my husband about college. My daughter (who’s 5 1/2 years old and has been reading a lot of wildlife books) asked the other day, “What do you do at college?”

My husband explained that you study subjects in depth and learn a lot of things in college.

“I like learning new things! Is college where you go to find a mate?” she asked.

“Yes, well, some people find mates in college. That’s where Mommy and I met. But that’s not the primary reason for going to college.”

Then somehow the conversation moved to sororities. My daughter loved the idea of a house where only women live and study together and have parties and do community service.

“Can I join a sorority when I go to college?” she asked.

“When you get to college,” I said, joining the conversation, “you’ll be old enough to decide on your own whether or not you want to join a sorority.” My husband and I explained that the reason I didn’t join a sorority and he didn’t join a fraternity is because it took up a lot of time and cost a lot of money. My daughter’s eyes got very big.

“I’ve got lots of money!” she said. “And I can save up even more! And since I homeschool, I’ll be very well prepared for college!”

Yes, my dear. There’s no denying that you will be very well prepared for college.

So, there was that fun. Then there was the fun my husband and I had today at Fat’s Grill and Pool.

The billiards was fun. We played four games, of which I won three. The only reason I lost the fourth game was that I was laughing so hard because we just saw this commercial:

Looking around the internet for this commercial, I realized that we’re very late to the Shake Weight party. But I know a lot of the people who read my blog are like us and don’t have cable. I decided I had to post the link to the commercial as a public service to them.

See? Fun in unexpected places.

Happy New Year! Tune in tomorrow for Explore Month Kickoff!

No More Emotional Pink Bellies

I’ve been kind of freaking out and overwhelmed the past couple of weeks.

I mean, contemplating moving my family into an RV might, under the right circumstances, be a bold yet totally reasonable and right choice for my family. But I realize that I wasn’t entertaining the idea because I’d reasoned it out and decided it was the best plan for my family. I was entertaining the idea because I was feeling burned out and was looking for an escape from all of my anxieties and pressures. If I don’t have a grip on the anxieties, moving into a few hundred square feet on wheels is not going to improve things any. Unless, I guess, if all of my anxieties were about needing to make a quick getaway but not wanting to leave anything behind. In that case, moving into an RV might be just the thing.

But that’s not my deal. My deal is this: Coming out of a few weeks of holiday and family-crisis-related disarray, I’ve slipped back into a pattern of wanting to fiercely regain control of myself and everything and everyone around me so I can get things back in order.

So, I’ve come up with a few reminders for myself as we close out 2010:

  1. There is no need to attach moral judgment to Self Care tasks. I don’t need to go to bed at a reasonable time because it’s more virtuous to do so. I need to go to bed at a reasonable time so I feel refreshed and rested when my kids wake me up in the morning. It’s not morally wrong to eat the entire bar of Almonds and Sea Salt in Dark Chocolate (which I did AGAIN tonight). It just leaves me feeling a bit queasy, so I might choose not to eat the whole darned thing.
  2. The number of page views my blog gets is not an indicator of my own worth as a person. And checking my blog stats dozens of times a day does not cause them to go up.
  3. The decluttering and house cleaning are works in progress and will never be “done.”
  4. Breathing and meditating are not a waste of time. Constantly refreshing Facebook, on the other hand…
  5. Getting rid of the dining room table will not get rid of the clutter that accumulates on the dining room table.

It’s time to stop beating myself up. Like Bart Simpson says when he stops the bullies from giving Milhouse a pink belly in the episode, “Separate Vocations”: “That belly’s not gettin’ any pinker.” This self-flagellation is about as gratuitous as a pink belly.

I’m hereby re-commiting to being gentle with myself. I posted this way back at the end of Week 2 of the Happiness Project, but I’m going to post it again as a reminder to myself. It’s a chant from my friend David in North Carolina:

I will be gentle with myself.

I will be gentle with myself.

I am a child of the universe

Being born in every moment.

Breakfast for Dinner

We waited all day for the snow to start.

I don’t know why, but something about waiting and waiting for snow made the day just drag on and on. That and the even-more-futile-than-usual task of trying to clean up the house. Entropy just got the better of us. I gave in, quit trying to clean, and helped my daughter cook up some pink play dough.

My daughter kneading pink homemade play dough.

We rallied in the evening, though. It helped that my husband brought home three bars of Chocolove Almonds and Sea Salt in Dark Chocolate (Whole Foods got me hooked on it and then didn’t carry it for weeks). One bar (3 servings my foot) gave me enough energy to do dishes and make breakfast for dinner while my husband and the kids were upstairs watching Curious George. It was the first time I’d made either of the recipes I used (both from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair), and they turned out to be the perfect thing for dinner tonight. Nothing like leafy greens to give a mommy back her energy.

Breakfast for Dinner: Green Eggs (No Ham) and Healthy Home Fries from Feeding the Whole Family

One was Green Eggs (No Ham). I cooked the eggs a little more than the recipe called for (I like well-cooked eggs. When I get eggs that are the least bit runny, I have the same reaction Napoleon Dynamite did when he tried the egg-laden orange juice at the chicken farm). What was nice, though, was that the addition of the little bit of rice milk in the eggs when I whisked them up along with the moisture of the spinach at the end of the cooking process kept the eggs moist and fluffy even though I browned them like I always do. The kids even liked them. My daughter said, “Mmm! Spinach! My favorite!” I’m guessing you could substitute chard leaves if spinach is not your favorite.

The other recipe was Healthy Home Fries. I used russets rather than red potatoes because that’s what I had on hand. It was a simple but very satisfying accompaniment to the eggs. I ate them with ketchup.

I’m still thinking about decluttering and making plans for next month’s resolutions (I’m planning to take some kind of class as part of January’s “Explore” theme, but I can’t decide what to take), but I’m trying to give myself a break from all the decluttering talk.

So, have yourself some yummy breakfast for dinner (or breakfast for breakfast). You’ll need your strength to tackle all of the post-holiday decluttering and re-stashing of decorations. Unless, of course, you celebrate holidays on the Orthodox Christian calendar, in which case you still have another week to go, and you’ll probably need your strength to get through the run-up to all of the celebrations to come, but you won’t be able to eat the eggs because you’re fasting. If this is your situation (or if you’re vegan full-time), Cynthia Lair’s book has a recipe for Tofu Vegetable Breakfast Burritos you might like to try. Have I mentioned this is my favorite cookbook?

Green Eggs (No Ham)

reprinted from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair (Sasquatch Books, 2008)

Prep time: 10 minutes

Makes 2-3 servings

4 eggs

2 T water or milk

1/2 t sea salt

1 T butter (I used olive oil)

1 c baby spinach leaves (I used ~1.5 cups cut-up grown-up spinach leaves)

1/4 grated cheese, optional (my family made these into burritos with cheese, but I didn’t cook it in)

Whisk together the eggs, water, and salt in a bowl. Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the butter; when it melts, add the eggs.

Using a heatproof rubber scraper, gently stir the eggs as they cook, lifting the curds from the bottom of the pan. When the eggs are nearly cooked, add the spinach and the cheese, if desired. Cover briefly (less than 1 minute) to wilt the spinach.

Remove from the pan when the eggs appear light and fluffy, but still shiny and wet (I think I’ve already made it clear that mine looked dry and lightly browned when I removed them from the pan). Serve immediately.

Healthy Home Fries

reprinted from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair (Sasquatch Books, 2008)

Prep time: 25 to 30 minutes

Makes 4 servings

6 red potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

1 T extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion, cut into half-moons

1/2 t sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

Place potatoes in a steamer basket and steam 7 to 10 minutes until tender.

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion and sauté until soft. Add steamed potatoes, salt, and pepper. Flip potatoes occasionally until browned on both sides. Serve warm. (My family added them to their burritos with the green eggs and cheese. I ate them with ketchup.)

Reducing Clutter Without Alienating our Relatives

You may have noticed that I’m thinking a lot about reducing the amount of stuff in my home. I’ve mentioned how the amount of stuff coming in during the holidays has really thrown me for a loop.

Apparently, I’m not alone. (Actually, if I’ve learned anything since I started blogging, I’ve learned that I rarely have an original thought. Here I thought I was all clever, then I start looking on the internet, and I find that it’s all been said before. Oh, well. If it’s worth saying, it’s worth saying again. And maybe I’ll say it in a different way at least.)

Recently, I discovered the blog, “becoming minimalist,” by Joshua Becker, which chronicles his family’s decluttering and “minimalizing” journey. I purchased his e-book, Simplify: 7 Guiding Principles to Help Anyone Declutter Their Home and Life and read it in one sitting (it’s a pretty quick read). I found a section regarding the holidays, children, and decluttering which really hit home. An excerpt:

•We chose not to remove the joy that our relatives receive from giving gifts. Our families love giving gifts, especially on holidays. It is one way they share their love for us. It would be unfair to rob them of their joy and rob our kids of their joy by asking for no more gifts. Therefore, we wisely chose not to go down that road.

We made a point to give them lists. Before every birthday/holiday, we give our relatives a wish-list for each of our kids and ourselves. We include just the things that we truly need. Again, we choose quality items over quantity.

After a time, we purge again. It can be difficult to know, right out of the package, how our kids will respond to a new toy. Some toys they play with for a day and never touch again. Some toys they play with for a week and never touch again. Other toys become some of their favorites and get used often. After the dust has settled, we evaluate their new toys and their old toys and determine which toys to keep and which to remove.

I always find someone’s arguments compelling when they agree with my own thoughts about a subject. If you’ve read the comments my sister and I exchanged on yesterday’s post, you’ll know that I had already recognized that our families use gift-giving as a way of showing their love, and I even used the phrase “quality over quality” as he does in point #2.

However, I’m not, so far, comfortable with giving our families lists. I have in the past made up wish lists for the kids, but those have largely been ignored. This could be because I’ve not really publicized them within our family because it feels gauche to tell people what gifts we want. In addition, I know that, at least for my mom, the creativity involved in selecting gifts is a big part of the enjoyment she derives from buying gifts for us. Wish lists and registries don’t allow for a lot of creativity.

Still, I kind of like the idea and wonder if it could work if I just applied it correctly. I did make up a wish list/registry for myself at my mother-in-law’s request last year, and that worked out swimmingly (my husband also purchased from it). I’m just not sure I could sell the wish list idea if I initiated it myself.

I find this part of decluttering and “minimalizing” to be rather anxiety-provoking. I worry about hurting the feelings of those I love by giving the impression that I’m scrutinizing everything that comes into the house and if it doesn’t pass muster, I’m going to send it right back out the door. Which is basically true, but not very warm and fuzzy.

Like I told my husband, it’s the relationship that’s important to me. I want to declutter but not at the expense of the relationships we have with our families.

So, I’m soliciting feedback from you all about this.

What’s your experience with giving your families wish lists for holidays and birthdays, either for yourselves or for your kids? How have they reacted to the lists? Do you have any tips about how to provide wish lists diplomatically? Which works better, a general “I need slippers” kind of list, or a very specific “I need Acorn moccasins in herringbone gray fleece from this website”?

Review: Horror Story And Other Horror Stories by Robert Boyczuk

Horror Story And Other Horror StoriesHorror Story And Other Horror Stories by Robert Boyczuk
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A friend bought this for me, I think because of the hours we devoted in our misspent youth to discussing horror films. Since having kids, I’m not as enthusiastic about horror as I once was (I seem to be more easily scared than I used to be), but I still enjoy the genre and the tingle of being frightened every once in a while. And I was pleased to find that Boyczuk isn’t going for the easy scare with the stories in this collection. The stories touch on very basic and universal human issues (which is a good part of what makes them so scary), and they have literary merit to boot.

Boyczuk explores issues of love and the intricacies of relationships while giving his readers the willies. His characters find that issues in their subconscious with which they haven’t dealt become manifest in the outside world. Love is portrayed as a kind of addiction, and sex as a way of taking something from another person (most literally in the story “Doing Time,” which the notes at the back say was first published in the book Erotica Vampirica, which should give some sense of what sort of story it is).

I found it enjoyable (if disturbing) to see how Boyczuk makes the inner workings of his characters’ psyches part of their external worlds. I found the last story in the collection, “Horror Story,” to be the scariest. I read it after everyone else was in bed and it took a great deal of bravery on my part to turn out the lights all over the house before I turned in for the evening. I’m glad I didn’t read it while my husband was out of town.

View all my reviews

An Embarrassment of Riches

This is an addendum to my RV post from yesterday.

My husband asked me why we couldn’t just declutter without moving into an RV. A decent question, with a simple answer: because we can’t. I mean, clearly, if we have the space, we find a way to fill it. So it seems to me the answer is to have less space and force ourselves to make do with less.

Maybe the RV is extreme, and putting our house up for sale in the current housing market probably isn’t the best idea. But how else can I get myself to make do with less?

And then the other decent question my husband asked: Why should we make do with less?

“We got rid of a whole bunch of stuff in October,” he observes. “I look around and pretty much everything I see has a use or a potential use. Why would we get rid of something useful?”

“Because it’s more than we need,” I explain. “It’s too much for me to keep track of and care for. It weighs on me.”

There seems to be something almost spiritual about letting go of possessions. Buddhists like the idea. The Happy Janssens were motivated to minimize and hit the road in large part from a desire to emulate Jesus and his disciples back in the day. Nuns, priests, and monks in a variety of religious traditions take vows of poverty and live with the least number of possessions necessary, some even making a living from literally begging for what they need.

Is there value in this practice for the non-priests among us? In Buddhism, there are the monks, who devote their lives to meditation and live physically separated from the rest of the world. And then there are the householders, who practice the non-attachment and other facets of Buddhism while living within the world. Living within the world and especially living the life of a parent makes the practice of minimal living more difficult. I mean, would it really make sense for me to get rid of my son’s play kitchen or my daughter’s board games as part of my own spiritual practice? Would it have any benefit to them?

These aren’t rhetorical questions. I really want to know.

There are plenty of decisions I make as a parent that are unpopular with my children (getting them immunizations, enforcing their bedtimes, washing their faces) but which I do because I can see the big picture and the benefits for them in the long run. Is living with less one of those decisions?

When my daughter was born, I bought a minimum of baby items, with the plan to avoid bringing so much stuff into the house. I figured it would be easier to not have the stuff in the first place than it would be to get rid of it after we had it. I found out very quickly just how difficult it is to stop the influx of stuff.

Is it really bad to have stuff? Is it better to live a more minimalist life? Would having fewer material possessions help us focus on the things that really matter to us, like our relationships with each other?

I don’t know. But what I’ve realized lately is that I’m embarrassed  by the amount of stuff we have. Back when I was buying all of those gifts for the charitable causes, we had a big stack of wrapped presents on the window seat in our dining room. When people would come over, I was quick to explain that those weren’t ours. We were giving those gifts away. I didn’t want them to think that so many gifts were for just our family. Then when the Christmas gifts from friends and family for us started coming in and stacking up under the tree and overflowing onto the floor and the couches on either side, I no longer had the “we’re giving these away” defense. I was embarrassed that we had so much already and were getting so much more stuff.

They're not ours, I swear!

My husband calls it “Liberal guilt.” I don’t think that encompasses what I’m feeling. It’s more that I’m worried that we’re flaunting our wealth by having so many things. Not that we’re “wealthy” per se, except as compared with the vast majority of the rest of the world. I always wanted to live on much less than what we made and give away the rest. I’m embarrassed that we’re not doing that.

In some ways, I preferred it when we made half as much money in a place with a much higher cost of living. It necessitated some difficult choices, but having to make such choices on a daily basis helped keep our values and ideals as a family in mind all of the time.

I just feel like we have too much. I know how to get more, but it’s not clear to me how to get less.

I did find this post on the becoming minimalist blog about minimalism with kids. Maybe I’ll take a look at the book he mentions in the post, too.

That’s It. I’m Buying an RV.

English: A Class A motorhome with the slide-ou...
Image via Wikipedia

OK, not really.

I’ve found myself recently looking wistfully at the blogs of RVing families, like The Happy Janssens and The Ticknor Tribe, imagining what it would be like to sell everything we own and move into an RV. Aside from the fact that neither my husband nor I have any practical skills that could bring us money on the road, and the fact that constant travel, while it would bring us the chance to have friendships with a broader range of people, would potentially hinder the development of deeper relationship connections, RVing is quite appealing to me.

I love road trips. I love mapping out the route and finding fun places to stop along the way. There’s a difference in experiencing a place from the outside in, like you can when you’re driving to that place, than from just jumping into the place from an airport and bypassing everything in between.

And as anyone who’s ever traveled with me can attest, simply bringing my dwelling with me on the trip is the next logical step in the evolution of my road-tripping life.

In addition, I just love all of the nooks and crannies and tiny little spaces that are in RVs. Everything goes somewhere. It has to. There’s nowhere else to put it. It would be like a really advanced decluttering exercise to pare things down enough to fit all of our possessions into the storage space in an RV.

When we were in California, my husband’s grant was running out and his job search was taking longer than we’d anticipated. I looked into all manner of contingency plans to try and make our money stretch further in the event that his income stopped and there was no concrete prospect for future income. One option I explored was selling everything in our apartment but the bare minimum, and moving my husband, our then two-year-old daughter, and our two cats into a small RV. We could, I figured, live at one of the nearby campgrounds. My husband could take the car to work and my daughter and I could go hiking every day. When my husband got a job just weeks before his funding ran out, I was relieved, but also just a tiny bit disappointed that we hadn’t had the chance to do something so bold as to live in a vehicle. We had to settle for moving to Salt Lake City, which at that time seemed pretty darned bold.

When I spoke with my husband about this, he was very calm.

“When I was younger,” he said, “I used to worry when you would talk like this. But I’ve known you for a long time, and I know you’re just trying to work something out.”

“This too shall pass?” I suggested.

“Well, yeah,” he said. “I like that you look at things from so many different perspectives. And I know that you have to go to extremes to get things to make sense. If you’re here,” he put one index finger down on the table, “and you want to make a change, you think about going here,” he put his other index finger about 18 inches from the first, “so you can end up here,” and he moved his second index finger to a spot just inches from the first.

Yep. My husband knows me.

I know that the only reason I’m fantasizing about buying an RV is that I’m trying to work something out in my head, something that I think is related to the rapid influx of material possessions (currently all over my living room floor) that occurred on Christmas morning. And Christmas night, the baby head-butted me in the nose while I slept. You may find this surprising, but being awakened by a loud crack inside your head, searing pain in your nose, and stars before your eyes isn’t the best way to start the day after Christmas feeling relaxed.

In fact, I feel quite squirmy and unsettled.

Facing three days with my husband back at work, I find myself thinking, “What on EARTH am I going to do with these children?” And I have the babysitter for three hours Monday afternoon (and I’m thinking, “What on EARTH am I going to do with three hours on my own?”).

I guess I could always go looking at RVs. Or maybe I could just rearrange furniture.

Cinnamon Rolls and Ugly Eggs: My Morning in Pictures

My husband took the kids to the playground and then out to lunch in advance of the snow storm this afternoon. I dedicated my alone time to preparing and eating food and getting dough on the camera.

First, I made Ugly Eggs. My preferred breakfast is one that I can make with whatever I happen to have in the house. Ugly Eggs fits this definition well because you can put pretty much anything in it. I’ve used peppers (both sweet and hot), mushrooms, asparagus, beans, potatoes, kielbasa, breakfast sausage, pepperoni, chopped turkey lunchmeat (not all at the same time).

If you, too, want to make Ugly Eggs, saute some veggies and meat together in a skillet. For this morning’s Ugly Eggs, I used 1/2 bell pepper, 1/2 small onion, and some chopped up leftover ham. While the veggies and meat are cooking, whisk up three eggs with some salt and pepper. When the stuff in the pan has begun to brown, pour in the eggs. Keep agitating with the spatula until they’re done to your liking (I like my eggs slightly browned, but I seem to be in the minority). Spoon into a bowl and eat with a fork (if you’re me) or a big spoon (if you’re my husband). If you’re neither me nor my husband, I suppose you can make up your own mind about what sort of utensil to use.

Some people put cheese on top. I do not.

Inspired by the decadence of my Ugly Eggs, I decided to make GF/CF cinnamon rolls. You can find the recipe I used here: Living Without – Cinnamon Rolls – Recipes Article. I didn’t have sweet rice flour so I used millet flour. I think next time I make these, I’ll try using the King Arthur multi-purpose GF flour. I ground my rice flour myself, but it wasn’t quite as fine as I would have liked. It didn’t stop me from devouring half of the cinnamon rolls within a couple of minutes of taking them out of the oven, though.

And now, the visual record of my food adventure this morning (as I try out the slideshow function on WordPress):

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Week 21 Review: The Satisfaction of Pop-Culture Exegesis, or The Unexamined Simpsons Episode is Not Worth Watching

Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire
Image via Wikipedia

It’s become a bit of a family tradition for us to watch “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” the first Simpsons Christmas special and the first full-length episode to air (way back in 1989). I practically know the episode by heart, but each year another little tidbit stands out to me.

The portion that’s got me thinking this year happens when Grampa, Aunt Patty, Aunt Selma, Marge, Lisa, and Maggie are all watching the Happy Little Elves Christmas special and waiting for Homer and Bart to come home. At the end of the show, Aunt Patty berates Homer in front of Lisa.

Lisa: What, Aunt Patty?

Aunt Patty: Oh, nothing, dear. I’m just trashing your father.

Lisa: Well, I wish you wouldn’t because aside from the fact that he has the same frailties as all human beings, he’s the only father I have. Therefore, he is my model of manhood, and my estimation of him will govern the prospects of my adult relationships. So I hope you will bear in mind that any knock at him is a knock at me, and I am far too young to defend myself against such onslaughts.

Aunt Patty: [pause] Mm-hmm. Go watch your cartoon show, dear.

This short passage is just so full of good stuff.

On the one hand, I’m reminded how ground-breaking the series was and how incredibly high-quality the original shows were. There was always deeper meaning behind the jokes. While the family was far from perfect, it was always clear that they loved one another and that each person was acting out of love and doing his or her best for the family, even when those efforts fell far short.

Then there’s the way this passage highlights how kids listen to everything those around them say, even when we don’t think they’re listening. And while Lisa’s monologue is a bit precocious, I’ve heard my daughter call out adults in similar ways. (An example: when my mom was visiting, we were all sitting at the table when my son started fussing. My daughter said to her brother things like, “Calm down, honey,” and other phrases meant to soothe him. My mom told my her, “He’s just fussing. He’s still a good boy.” My daughter looked at my mom and said, “I didn’t say he was bad.” Not only was she listening, but she’d caught not only what my mom had actually said but what she’d implied as well. It kind of floored me.) It’s clear to me that the writers of the show knew actual children. They would just about have to, I think, to write this kind of dialogue for Lisa.

I like that Lisa makes the assertion that she’s “far to young to defend [herself] from such onslaughts.” At first, I thought this was ironic since clearly with her vocabulary and interpretation of psychology, she has pretty strong defenses. But of course, having the intellectual capacity to reason through a situation and having emotional defenses mature enough to shield oneself against an emotional attack are two different things. Lisa’s got the intellect part all figured out, and that makes her seem wise beyond her years. But on the emotional side, she’s still quite young. I relate to Lisa.

And then the way that Aunt Patty dismisses Lisa is compelling to me. She pauses, considers what Lisa just said, and then just tells her to watch her cartoon. Does she do this because she feels embarrassed that she’s been called out by her niece? Does she not fully understand what Lisa’s just said? Or perhaps she’s just decided she’d rather not think too deeply about the implications of Lisa’s statements?

Only a child who’s comfortable with who she is and how she sees the world, and, frankly, a child who’s confident in the unconditional love with which her family surrounds her, would be able to make such a statement to her elder. Lisa doesn’t fear punishment or shame from her Aunt Patty. She speaks with her as an equal. I wonder if, as Lisa grows up (of course she won’t grow up since she’s a cartoon character, but work with me here), she’ll lose the courage to speak up like she does at age eight.

So, there. This is how I have fun. I watch a cartoon show and then analyze it. Really, this is incredibly fun for me. When I started this post, I was surly. My husband walked in and asked me what was wrong. I couldn’t really say, I just knew I was in a bad mood. I took myself upstairs to watch the scene again and get the quote right.

After about fifteen minutes, my husband came upstairs to see how I was doing (and to see if he could read one of the books he’d given me for Christmas). After a short exchange he said, “You seem happier now. What happened?”

I shrugged.

“I’m blogging about The Simpsons.”

Some conclusions I’ve reached about fun this week:

Blogging = Fun

The Simpsons = Fun

Analyzing stuff (mostly words, written or spoken) = Fun

Dressing up my blender = Fun

Searching for and preparing recipes for desserts and brandy drinks = Fun

Being awakened by my children in the middle of the night = Not so much fun

For a little taste of the episode if you’ve not seen it or if it’s been a while or if you just can’t get enough of it:

…And a Cup of Good Cheer

My kids pulled in quite the haul this year. My daughter got a real canvas painting kit, a lot of clothes (both wearing and dress-up), a new recorder, a music box, a harmonica, and a keyboard, among other things. My son got a toy tool kit and drill set, a stroller, a tea set and some faux condiments for his play kitchen, lots of clothes, a couple of books, art supplies, and a toddler basketball hoop. My daughter is painting her canvas right now (and has been for the past 2.5 hours). I can hear my husband and son playing basketball. My son yells, “Goal!” and then squeals, and I can hear his little feet running across the carpet.

During the annual Opening of the Presents, we had hot spiced cider for the kiddos and hot spiced brandy wine for my husband and myself.

My friend Jenny passed along her recipe for spiced brandy wine (from Martha Stewart. Apparently Jenny and Martha are pretty tight). It looked good, but I didn’t have any star anise and didn’t feel like going out to the store for any yesterday, so I found a different recipe. I was skeptical because it came from a chef in Fort Lauderdale (Is Florida known for its delicious, warming holiday beverages? I would have felt more confident about a recipe from someone in, say, Finland). But my worries were unfounded because it was very, very yummy, and perfect for sipping as the children tore open their gifts and strew the paper all over the living room.

Maybe next year I’ll work up a gluten-free, dairy-free figgy pudding recipe to go with the brandy wine.

Hot Spiced Brandy Wine

Spiced Brandy Wine (in one of the cool cups I found at the thrift store more than a year ago)

(via Hot Spiced Brandy Wine – –


2 T brown sugar

1 oz lemon juice

1 c orange juice

3 to 4 whole cloves

8 to 10 whole peppercorns

5 whole cinnamon sticks (I only had three so I only used three)

4 cups red wine (preferably a Burgundy or Pinot Noir) (I lucked out and there was a Beaujolais on sale at the wine store the other day. Kind of wish I’d picked up two bottles now that I know how tasty this is.)

4 ozs brandy (Don’t waste the yummy stuff on this recipe. A less expensive, “good for cooking” variety works fine.)


In a four-quart saucepan, combine all ingredients except the wine and brandy. Bring to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes. Reduce by half. Lower heat and add the wine. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Do not boil a second time. Strain through a fine sieve, or just skim from the top and watch out for peppercorns while you’re sipping. Serve hot and garnish with a cinnamon stick.