Sunday, January 25, 2009


I am a parent snob. We just came back from the first non-family birthday party that we've allowed Duncan to go to. We were reluctant to go. In part, introverts don't DO birthday parties where they'll be forced to interact with strangers who happen to be the parents of their child's friends. (Somewhere, I'm sure the possessives went awry in that sentence). However, it's grossly unfair to withhold experiences from my child just because I won't enjoy them. Does he like the grocery store? I think not. Also, A and R (in case someone knows someone who knows someone who reads my blog) are not exactly the kind of kids I would choose my son to hang around with. They get in a lot of trouble among the toddler set, and R and Duncan are often in time-outs together. They are not good listeners when they are together. They were involved in vicious biting scandal of 2008. A and R take Hostess cupcakes for snack. I'm not exactly crunchy-granola-earth-friendly-organic mom, but I draw the line somewhere. Also, their Mom is about 20. That's a slight exaggeration; I'll say 24. A and R appear by all accounts as if their Mom did not hold back on the prenatal alcohol. And there seems to be no father present.

As it turns out, A and R's mom really is that young, and there was no noticeable father, but who cares? She put together a birthday party with healthy food and lots of fun for kids and adults. She brought coffee. She baked the birthday cakes. Oh yeah, and she's young and possibly single with twins... I can't even begin to imagine what that's like. So she doesn't say no a lot; she'll grow up. I met D and N's parents for the first time, and although I probably won't hang out and have coffee and play groups with them, it's nice to be able to put a face to the parents of Duncan's friends. It was weird how many adults, whom I have never met, know my child well enough to hug him at a birthday party. In the end, we were all glad we went.

In prepping for psychology this week, I read a lot about how first impressions really count, and how stereotypes develop, and how they are helpful and hurtful. All stereotypes aside, some people (me) can just get of her high horse and stop being such a parent snob.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Post from the Car

It's 4:30 p.m., and I get a pretty nice wireless signal in the driveway, where I sit with the car idling and Duncan napping in the back seat.

Duncan is trying to give up his nap. We have not ferreted out whether he's unable to sleep or is choosing not to sleep. We have asked him, and he says he just doesn't want to. Babies nap, not big boys. It started the day after we returned from Albany after Christmas and lasted through the rest of our vacation and into the following weeks. Forgive me for not knowing the details; it feels like a very long time. He's still required to spend an hour of rest time in his room, which he spends looking at books and whining. Oh, yeah, and rattling the gate every ten minutes calling "I'm done with my rest now." We've tried logic, pleading, bribery, and trickery. He will not nap for us, nor will he nap for the nice ladies at Housatonic Child Care Center. He rests on his cot but politely refuses to sleep. Last week, he napped at daycare on Friday and then, miracle of miracles, napped both Saturday and Sunday afternoons; I was afraid to be optimistic, and rightly so, because it was a fluke. Wednesday, he was so tired that Kristina had to lay him down for a little nap before lunch. Yesterday, he fell asleep in the car on the way home. I'd be fine with his daytime lack of sleep if he were, but he's simply not. Without his nap, he has meltdowns between 3:30 and bedtime. Each day that goes by, he gets a little more tired, a little more whiny, a little more rude, and a little more volatile. Yesterday, he collapsed in tears at breakfast because he wanted milk instead of juice, even though he had not asked for milk.

So he fell asleep ten minutes from home, we took a little drive around Amenia, and here we sit, idling in the driveway, surfing the internet, and praising the wireless connection while the big boy snores in the car seat.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Do you believe in magic?

Over the holidays, some of my online friends and I griped about how much work the holidays have become.  "Where did the magic go?," we asked, one after another.  In the midst of  holiday baking and shopping and wrapping and decorating, I shared that I had rediscovered the magic and hoped they would too some day.  You see, selling Christmas to a 2 year old is like stealing candy from an elf.  Duncan totally bought the entire myth, from Santa to the reindeer, to the Santa key the jolly old elf used to let himself into our house.  He still says the elves made his Matchbook cars and talks about Santa coming "right down that chimney."  But I wasn't happy with that answer.  It was too easy, and it can't be possible the only people who have Christmas magic live with children between the ages of 2 and 5.  I refused to accept that a pre-schooler is the only way.

Then, Martina got stuck in Portland for Christmas.  Besieged by storm after storm after storm, ice, snow, and more ice, she was unable to drive to her brother's house for the holidays.  She had already been struggling with the decision not to go to her parents in North Carolina.  Now, she was alone in an empty apartment, already having entered the holidays depressed, and she said "I don't even have a tree."  I couldn't whisk her out of Portland or invite her for dinner, but a tree I could make happen.  Pro-Flowers assured me they could get her a two foot tree by Christmas.  They didn' was just as hard to get INTO the Pacific Northwest as out of it...but Martina was thrilled when it arrived.  It wasn't her best Christmas ever, but she had a tree (two trees it turned out), a nativity, and some cookies, and a neighbor took her in for dinner.  And she realized that was thankful for everything she did have.  Magic.

I'm not writing this to make myself sound good.  It can't be a random act of kindness if you talk about it, so my telling the story detracts from my illusionist powers.  But my snap decision to do it helped me remember that we all have the power to make magic, every day if we want to. The magic, she thought, doesn't come from a store; the magic, she thought, means a little bit more.  Some of it is found in doing kind things for others.  Some of it is in making the unexpected happen.  The biggest part of it for me, however, was in helping others believe that anything is possible.

So the magic is in a tree delivered by the Fed Ex man on December 26.  It's in having Nana and Poppy show up at Grandma and Grandpa's house with Spike the Dinosaur, who was delivered after Christmas with an apologetic letter from Santa.  It's in dropping a $20 bill into the Salvation Army bucket - because guess what - it may be cold, but you and I have coats.  Pay the toll booth collector for the car behind you.  Give your hair dresser a really big tip, just because you can.  Send a box of snacks to a college student, who, it turns out, actually needed them because the store was closed.  Let that guy cut in front of you in line because, for whatever reason, he needs to get out of the store faster than you.  Give a huge smile to the checker at the grocery store because your job is a little more rewarding than hers.  This blog entry may be too late to capture the spirit of Christmas, but it's not too late to encourage you to try out your own magic.  You can create a whole world of magic between now and December. 

You could maybe even send some random acts of Valentines...'tis the season.  

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Buche de Noel

We were the geekiest geeks in all of Christendom, but we had achieved our own degree of 80's infamy.  We were the coolest geeks there were.  It took me two years to find my niche in high school, but I passed the last two years in the company of a close-knit band of misanthropes; we were the veritable island of misfit toys in the sea of Plattsburgh High School.  We achieved academically at embarrassing proportions, we participated in a host of activities, the likes of which I'd never dream of joining now (French National Honor Society?  What's that?), and "hung out" together.  Sure we were geeks, and everyone knew who and what we were, but we were at the top of our game.  We had each other, and our clique was secure within the social ladder.  We were respected by the popular crowd for our assiduousness and native intelligence. We were happy, successful, and about half of the top 20 students in our graduating class.  As if that weren't enough, I was in seventh heaven because my male geek friends all seemed to want to date me; I was heady with the power of "cool geek girl."

And then came Susan Belknap.  She came from nowhere and started PHS in 1982.  She moved effortlessly between the popular crowd and the brainiacs.  She wasn't pretty at the time, but she was attractive.  She was smart, self-assured, friendly, and she had...something.  She could hold her own.  In my eyes, she COULD HAVE anything she wanted.  She could rule the social scene. She was a threat to my entire existence, and I had turf to protect.

Susan and I were two members of the French Club.  It was an annual tradition that the French club prepared a French Christmas dinner to celebrate the holidays.  Susan and I each volunteered to prepare the buche de noel.  In case you are unfamiliar, the buche de noel is the classic Yule Log, a chocolate sponge cake, filled with whipped cream, rolled and chilled, and frosted with chocolate icing.  And it was essential to my academic and social well being that my buche de noel be better than Susan Belknap's.  I'm not sure how many times I baked that cake in December of 1982; my family may remember because I was in some sort of hysterical baking frenzy.  There was weeping.  There was wailing.  There was gnashing of teeth.  And in the end, my buche de noel WAS better than Susan's.  

Every year since, I have baked that buche de noel.  It takes about two days to process from beginning to end - sometimes three days.  Because of the whipped cream filling, it has to be baked as close to Christmas as possible.  It is always the last thing I do before Christmas.  I am always tired and fed up and want to quit.  There is often weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Sometimes, it is a beautiful cake, and I get lucky with the kitchen gods.  Sometimes, I forget a key ingredient or forget to turn on the timer.  It has flopped completely, and I have pitched the cake into the garbage, only to begin a new one.  Some years, it cracks when I roll it. Once, I baked one for New Year's party, and the host's dog ate it.  Last year and this year, I have an oven that is not level; a sponge cake is a thin cake (to facilitate the rolling), and when the batter all falls to one end, half the cake burns to a crisp. I am learning to adapt to the needs of this kitchen, but it is a formidable challeng.  I've tried a few variations on the cake, the filling, and the frosting.  Most were not popular with my sister, the biggest fan of buche de noel.  I've settled on the same cake and filling I baked in 1983 but use a ganache frosting instead of buttercream.  They don't always look French in a confectionery sort of way...but they always taste outstanding, if I do say so myself, despite the kitchen histrionics.

"It's a tradition," I say when Jamie asks me why I'm making myself crazy each December 24, and each year he says "Traditions are made to be broken."  Why have I baked 25 years worth of buche de noel?  (I don't remember enough French to make that plural)  It's not just about the tradition.  The demands of that tradition help bring me back to my roots.  I am one with hubris; I remember that I don't really have to be the best.  I struggle.  I experiment.  In the heat of the moment, I invent creative solutions to culinary problems.  I think about Susan Belknap and French club and how much we enjoyed that dinner.  I wonder if she is still baking buche de noel.  I rediscover my humanity and my geekdom.  I remember what it feels like to fail...and then try again until I get it right, or until I have to settle, which for me is an even more valuable lesson.  That's a heady little geeky French cake, ripe with meaning and tradition.  Made to be broken?  

What happened to Susan Belknap?  I can't tell you for sure, but what I do know is that by graduation she was dating my friend Brady, who had asked me to marry him every single day of senior year.  He chased me, kidnaped me, serenaded me, and I said no, no, no.  And he kept coming back...until he played the lead in the senior play opposite Susan, who fell to his charms. He was ecstatic at the cast party.  I cried a lot.  I can still bake a great cake, but I don't have to. 

Food for thought.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Rockefeller Center

LT and a BT

Little Trains and a BIG Tree

With one exception, Jamie and I have gone to New York City each holiday season since we started dating.  The year we skipped, 2006, Duncan was only nine months old, and we were not comfortable leaving him for long enough for a trip to the city, but we really missed our foray into the hustle and bustle and the lights and drama of the city at Christmas.  Over the years, we've seen shows ranging from Blue Man Group to Rent to Cirque du Soleil's Wintuk.  This year, we decided it was time to extend our tradition to include Duncan.

I admit I was nervous about taking Duncan into New York.  It's a long day, and anything can happen.  With my anxiety out in full force, I envisioned him being nabbed in Rockefeller Center, falling onto the train rails, or simply walking away and being lost.  I'm determined not to let that anxiety affect Duncan, so we did what all good parents do.  We took deep breaths, held his hand tightly when he wasn't strapped into the stroller, and enjoyed ourselves.  The "wow factor" was worth all my concerns.  We had a fabulous day in the city and forged lifelong memories and a new tradition.

We started by taking the train to the train to the trains:  we took to train from Southeast station to White Plains and transferred to the New York Botanical Garden stop, where we went to the Holiday Train Show at the conservatory.  It was an amazing display of miniature, historic and contemporary New York State buildings crafted from natural materials.  Each vignette of buildings had its own miniature train.  Neither my words nor my pictures can do it justice.  If any of you ever have the opportunity, I recommend it.  Our favorites were the original Yankee Stadium, the conservatory at the NYBG, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and the New York Public Library.  After lunch at the cafe, we headed in to Grand Central Station and walked over the Rockefeller Center.

It was colder than cold, but somehow it is always warmer in Rockefeller Center.  We saw the biggest tree EVER, and the angels, and the skaters.  We watched until we couldn't take the cold any longer.  For days, we let Duncan watch the Today Show and the news so he could say "Look at the big tree!  I was there!"  It was all he could talk about for days.  

So, a new tradition is born, and we will look forward next December to taking a breather from our own Christmas hustle and bustle to enjoy what New York has to offer.