Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Meet mama bee

My mom is really really wonderful. An alarming amount of advice she has gently offered is turning out to be right. She is the magicest grandma ever. I asked her to write up some stories she has told me over the years so I could put them on my blog, and she graciously agreed. Because without even seeing it she believed me that I must be asking for a good reason and that is enough for her to help out. She's just like that. (I have since shared my blog with her. I know.)

Here's one. By her. All through my childhood, her recipe box was half handwritten recipes on 4x6 cards and half cake recipe magazines from the 1950s. I spent many, many hours poring through them--even in the 1980s in Pennsylvania they seemed like they were from another time. So I asked her to tell us about women and cakes in the 1950s.
It was, like, a THING.


Indianapolis, where I was born, was a big city, not in the Chicago sense, but pretty big, because it had street cars and kindergartens and a milk man who came three times a week.

Then by about 1947, when I was in second grade, we moved to a small Ohio town, a hundred miles or so down the road. I felt, however, as if I had been dropped in a foreign land . Remember, this was before the internet or free long distance or affordable air fare. I was suddenly in a quiet little town full of people who knew where everybody lived and what everybody's parents and grandparents had ever done or not done. A place where people just followed their customs and did not pay much attention at all to the rest of the world.

One of these customs was the bake sale. Which really was a cake sale. And such a glorious array of cakes I had never seen--tall and elegant and fluffed up with seven minute frosting. And every one of them made from scratch. Although cake mixes had just become available, there was only one kind and it was expensive and it produced a vastly inferior kind of cake, the ladies believed. But even if you could have passed a cake mix cake for the real thing, you never would have dared. The chance of being discovered would have been too shameful to imagine.

Since every group in town had its bake sale to raise money, every few weeks or so it seemed my mother was called upon to make a cake for a bake sale. She dreaded this duty, because the competition was fierce.

Everybody knew, without ever saying, of course, that Mrs. Kitchen's yellow cake or Mrs. McIntire's jam cake or Mrs. Seifert's devil's food cake or Mrs. Ballinger's angel food would be ordered and paid for long before the sale ever began. These most prized cakes, marked "sold," were then displayed among all the lesser cakes right there on the long table. Bake sale customers would gasp at the beauty of the sold cakes before they settled for one of the ordinary ones, like my mother's. Sometimes she made a German chocolate one, a wonderful recipe from my grandmother, which took most of a day to make, but my mother had not lived nearly long enough in that town to earn the reputation of the others.

My mother, a city girl, who did not even like to cook, worked very hard to succeed at this bake sale performance that was expected of her. She knew that each layer of her cake must be high and even and level, so as not to make the finished cake look tilted in any way. She knew that the experts used seven minute frosting sparingly, not merely to disguise imperfections. She knew that when the cake was served, each slice must look symmetrical with no holes--only very fine little air bubbles as if the batter had been perfectly stirred--by hand, of course.

Well, my mother should have been an engineer, but that career path was not available. She sometimes made two or three tries before she produced a cake she thought was worthy for the bake sale. She got up early in the morning, filled the kitchen with equipment and ingredients. She measured everything precisely. She anguished over whether or not to cheat and use her new mixer. She despaired when the oven rack was slightly crooked and made the layers a little off or someone banged a door and made the layers fall in the middle. She hated the icing part, for often it did not set right. Finally she would pack the cake in her cake basket and deliver it to the sale.

The judgment came when one of the ladies in charge lifted her cake out of the basket, held it up to her practiced eye, and put a price on it. My mother knew she would never be in Mrs. Kitchen's league, where cakes went for a dollar or more, but her greatest fear was that her cake would be put in the back row beside Mrs. Beady's, whose sloping cakes they never refused, but wished they could.

I did not, back then, really understand my mother's relief when her cake was finally sold. She always dreaded the day she might have to bring her cake home--a bake sale dropout. What could be so bad about that, I wondered? We would be happy to eat it.

I was not old enough yet to understand the injustice of measuring a woman's worth by her cakes.

Monday, January 28, 2008

What did you do today?

Because I had a meeting. I swept some snow off the front steps. I had coffee. I worked on a paper.

But Bubba? He learned to walk.

And I missed it. I went to pick him up at daycare and there he was, toddling around the room like a pro.

I'm so happy for him I could burst. I'm so sad for me that I could cry. I missed it!

He fell asleep in my arms tonight and I saw that I've been fooling myself that this will not be my privilege every night forever and ever amen. I want a big *pause* button.

I missed it. Wah.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Brand loyalty

Do you still use the same toothpaste your family used when you were young? I do. But the brand loyalty breaks down in our family, because SO DOES JEFF. And it's not the same brand. It's like when two people with hyphenated names marry each other. What then?

And it is strong stuff, people. Jeff has pretty much relinquished all household-related brand choices to me. I shop, I cook, I feed bubba. He uses the soap and shampoo that I pick. Laundry detergent? Dish soap? No problem. But will he use my toothpaste (Crest)? No way. Somehow, he finds time for his own little secret toothpaste shopping trips (Colgate, that too-creamy too-minty second rate product, whatever). I know him, and I keep thinking that one day he will succumb to convenience and start using my Crest. But he won't. And likewise, I have adopted several of his brand loyalties. Salad dressing. Pan scrubbers. Flexible, that's my middle name. But will I switch to Colgate? No way, man.

Poor bubba. So far we (and by we, I mean I) have chosen a third option for him.

But I'm afraid one day he might want to try the grownup toothpaste. It will be a fork in the road for him, for sure. And what is life growing up with a house full of different toothpastes? It is bleak indeed.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

There she goes with the spoon again






Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.
--Kahlil Gibran

[For back story, see here and here]

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fantasy jobs

The heat is on at school/work, and thus my alternate career fantasies are becoming more active. Here's what I COULD be doing, that would be SO much better, where there would be no problems or stress EVER.

Bus driver. Be outside. Say hello to people. Take them where they want to go. Awesome.

Barista. Free coffee. Artists working on their journals in your store. Just being generally cool and maybe the teensiest bit misunderstood. Oh, and more free coffee.

Sanitation worker. Make a bubba's day by waving to him as you tool around in that way cool truck. I would be a hero. No joke. Our guy is totally bubba's, and therefore mine.

Scone baker. This is a scary proposition, because you've seen how I bake. But I could totally do it! I would get up at 3am, bake, deliver my completely unpredictable goods to coffee shops. Be home by 7, have the day with bubba, and go to bed early.

Novelist. This is for when I have a spacious, muse-friendly alpine lodge in the mountains, by a lake, with manageable amounts of snow outside, where I weave the fabric of my misspent twenties into a witty, trenchant bestseller and then become rich and famous but not like Britney (bless her) or Madonna, just the kind where they whisper after I've left the small general store in my mountain town, that's her. So down to earth. You'd think she was a regular person.

Philanthropist. This is for when I have made my fortune and have nothing to do all day except sit around and count my piles of gold coins, so I turn my eye toward spending it all. First, I make sure everyone in the whole world has clean water and that there are no hungry bubbas. Then I entertain proposals for world improvement and pick the ones I like best.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Hello, I'll be your stereotype this evening

I took bubba to a naturopathic physician. He's been sick since October, been on antibiotics twice, and with the last virus I had had enough. Like when you are in a restaurant and all of a sudden you have waited too long for your meal and can't wait another minute? Like that. I mean, jeepers, he refused all fluids for days. I was worried. And naturopaths? Aren't they all about prevention and stuff? Boosting immune systems and such?

So imagine my surprise when I got, from the competent providers taking care of me, the 1950's pat-on-the-head treatment. They didn't actually say "there there it's all in your head," but things were going in that direction. You realize this is normal for babies in day care blah blah I can tell you must be tired blah blah my niece had this same thing and we just waited it out blah blah blah.

As I wondered why they were looking at me as though my mouth was moving but no sound was coming out, I realized then how I must look. Rolling into their office with my really rather robust baby, my jogging stroller, my health insurance. My North Face jacket. Another overeducated delayed-childbearer with too much time on her hands who thinks every little cold her preshus baybee gets is a serious illness, who obviously has no idea how bad it can get.

I'm not trying to complain. They had some decent recommendations and I'm all for integrative medicine still. In fact, I'm so not a complainer that once I went to an Indian restaurant and ordered a simple korma and they brought me some other thing with a banana in it (a banana!), and I was all, it's okay, I can just pick the banana out, I don't want to inconvenience you or your chef.

But I felt invisible in that office, and it made me want to scream. And apologize to all the people I have ever looked right through because at first glance they filled a stereotype. I'm sure there are plenty. It is a terrible thing, to not be seen. And I was only invisible for an hour.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

I didn't make this video, but I like it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Leftover oatmeal bread

1. Have baby.
2. Wait one year.
3. When baby refuses the delicious, nutritious oatmeal you have lovingly prepared according to package instructions that he normally loves for, say, two days in a row, consider what else you might do with it.

4. Be too lazy to get out a recipe book, and say to yourself, I can whip this oatmeal into a delicious bread! Like the phoenix from the ashes, it will rise again! (Get it? Rise.)

5. Double check random recipe on back of yeast packet to get the hang of things, even though it doesn't call for oatmeal in the slightest. Figure you are all set.

6. Mix two packets of yeast with some warm water and dissolve yeast. Yeast packet says a half cup. Eyeball it.

7. Wonder if you should wait a few minutes for the yeast to "activate." Remember something about waiting for bubbles to appear on the top, check yeast packet recipe, it doesn't say anything about that. Move on.

8. Add leftover oatmeal. Mix.

9. Add some melted butter. And some salt. And throw in some milk, because your baby's been refusing that too, might as well use it. You know. Till it looks right. Mix.

10. Oh yes, forgot the honey. What's wheat bread without honey? Dump some in and mix.

11. Add wheat flour and white flour. About 5 cups total, 3 wheat and 2 white.

12. Mix together with your hands to form a soft dough. Dream about the day you will have one of these:

13. Let dough rise for 1.5 hours or so. Make cup of tea. Stare at sleeping baby. Check email. Dough will go from this:

To this:

14. Knead again, starting with a very satisfying punch.

Feel earthy and powerful and like you are on the verge of understanding life because you are hand-kneading bread dough.

Reflect that it is pretty good to be baking bread on a cold gray Northwest afternoon.

15. Wonder whether you have made enough for two loaves or one. Shrug. Decide to go with one big one. Shape dough and put in bread pan. Let rise again for another hour or so.

Let baby play with flour with his best friend the spoon:

16. Go on walk with baby. Forget about rising bread dough. Let bread rise for two hours instead of one. Check in turned off oven where it has been rising.

Fret that you have ruined it.

17. Bake it anyway. 400 degrees, 30 minutes. Smell the yum yum yum. Fantasize that Martha Stewart has just popped by unannounced and you say, oh hello, I'm just baking bread. Want some tea?

18. Let it cool for a few minutes. As few as you can stand. Cut. Realize it came out just fine.

19. Eat warm. Realize it totally came out just fine.

20. Share with baby. Rejoice that he does not refuse oatmeal or milk in this form.

"[Breadbaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world's sweetest smells...there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel. that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread." M. F. K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Spoon update

I am proud to say that bubba has continued to build a healthy attachment relationship with his spoon, first introduced here.

He and the spoon continue to relationship-build, sharing many hours of play time. Sometimes true friends just don't need to talk, they can just be together, you know?

While he remains possessive of his attachment to the spoon,

...he can now be parted from his spoon without tears, yet rejoices in being reunited with it. He has the occasional playdate with a spatula or ladle, but he lovingly returns again and again to the primary kitchen implement relationship, the spoon.

I think he is going to make a great spouse one day.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I'm famous! It's the only explanation.

About this "Nora Bee" thing. My real for-real life name is Nora. I have never really had any nicknames, except for the cruel British schoolchildren (so deceptively cute and civilized in their sweet little uniforms. I know their secret.) who called me Nora Batty, the mean old lady, famous for her wrinkled stockings, on a British TV show called Last of the Summer Wine that I've never seen but was on in the early 80's when I was a schoolchild there myself.

Doubly cruel because being from another culture I didn't know who Nora Batty was and that it was probably an insult, triply cruel because I had a hard time understanding their taunting little accents to even figure out what they were calling me. Actually, now that I think about it, the Nora Batty year may have been the event that launched me into the haze of sure-I-must-be-missing-something that lasted until I was about 29. I'll have to think more about that.

Batty things aside, my middle name and my maiden name both start with B. Several friends used to call me Nora B (lovingly, unlike certain schoolyard URCHINS) and remember when email was the best outlet for one's skills at dashing off punchy little stories to make people smirk? (That was so 90's.) I often signed my little email story efforts as Nora Bee, especially when I lost one of the B's to take on my married name of H. Then I started a blog, and kept Nora Bee, etc etc.

But guess what came in the mail today? To me, B Nora. Think he knows about my blog?

I may be speaking prematurely here, but I think my ship may be in.

Funny how a stomach flu can bring a family to a grinding halt

There we were, going along as though it was a normal weekend. Catching up with friends, going for walks with bubba, plans for baking (I was even going to take some pictures and do a BAKING POST! Imagine!), shopping, cleaning, etc. Then on Saturday, in the space of a few minutes, I went from just fine, still a "little full" from lunch, to...well, it wasn't pretty. Hurling all over the place. Unable to stand up without dizziness. Exhausted. Jeff snapped into action and was the stalwart nurse and child care provider for the next few hours, then it took him too, even worse. Bubba got it too, in the night, though not nearly as bad. I think he was the "vector" that brought it home and had been fighting it better than we were for a day or two before.

Sunday was a comedy of errors, Jeff and I trying valiantly to have at least one of us be awake enough to take care of bubba, who was all, who are you lazy moany people and what have you done with my parents?

We seem to have survived the worst of it. Here's to crackers, yogurt, and chicken noodle soup, and to living two blocks from a convenience store, even if you are too sick to walk there.

This is way better than our weekend was.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

It's green to have crafty friends

I am not crafty. Or maybe I should say, ever hopeful, I'm in an un-crafty "phase" that has lasted 34 years. Lucky for me, my friend Anne-Marie is of the fiber-arts persuasion. She is also one of my favorite people ever, and more importantly, one of bubba's. And she is doing her part to save the planet for bubba. She crocheted me this:

The guilty and oh-so-wasteful double cup? No more!

Behold! I just cut my coffee cup consumption in half. Can't you feel it? The world just got a little cooler.

You can see her most impressive handiwork on her blog, Bouclee. She also made bubba's most favorite baby blanket, a lovely hat, and a thingy to tie his mittens together through his coat. Aren't I lucky?

I may tackle her next year for one of those Christmas stockings. Not that I'm greedy or anything.

Friday, January 11, 2008

More reason why I am not as cool as Queen Elizabeth

First, her YouTube Christmas Greeting. Now this. I've never even SEEN a Wii. But then, I don't have strapping grandson William to bring one home to me, either.

Love her.

Some quotes about motherhood (and I always did have a good feeling about George Washington)

Blaming mother is just a negative way of clinging to her still.
- Nancy Friday

I love people. I love my family, my children . . . but inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that's where you renew your springs that never dry up.
- Pearl S. Buck

She was the best of all mothers, to whom I owe endless gratitude.
- Thomas Carlyle

My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw.
All I am I owe to my mother.
I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.
- George Washington (1732-1799)

I remember my mother's prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.
- Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

We have a beautiful
Her green lap
Her brown embrace
Her blue body
we know.
- Alice Walker

It seems to me that my mother was the most splendid woman I ever knew....I have met a lot of people knocking around the world since, but I have never met a more thoroughly refined woman than my mother. If I have amounted to anything, it will be due to her.
- Charles Chaplin

I never thought that you should be rewarded for the greatest privilege of life.
- Mary Roper Coker, Mother of the Year 1958

Making the decision to have a child - it's momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.
- Elizabeth Stone

Becoming a mother makes you the mother of all children. From now on each wounded, abandoned, frightened child is yours. You live in the suffering mothers of every race and creed and weep with them. You long to comfort all who are desolate.
- Charlotte Gray

Motherly love is not much use if it expresses itself only as a warm gush of emotion, delicately tinged with pink. It must also be strong, guiding and unselfish. The sweetly sung lullaby; the cool hand on the feverd brow, the Mother's Day smiles and flowers are only a small part of the picture. True mothers have to be made of steel to withstand the difficulties that are sure to beset their children.
- Rachel Billington

[from Mother's Net]

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Nora hearts Bo

Several folks around (like Mrs G and Melanie) have posted great songs lately. Here's another one. Growing up we didn't have a TV until I was 16 (!) and when we finally got one, I of course went a little nuts and spent the entire summer watching Dukes of Hazzard reruns until my eyes just about popped out of my head. Love it. Love the Duke boys. They still make me swoon after all these years. And it's a genuinely awesome song. Enjoy!

For the love of cards and grandmas

When we were in Hawaii, sans computers and such, Jeff and I played cards. Who plays cards anymore? Certainly not my husband, who spends every spare minute in front of one of his seventeen computers/gadgets/musical instruments. And me? I'm not much better now that I have this blogging habit. But in Hawaii we got so, like, 1970s, and played cards a few nights. And we giggled a ton. It was great.

The whole card game thing reminds me of my paternal grandma, with whom I played cards until she died. Lest you start to picture a sweet little pie-baking old lady, well, don't do that. She was a single academic smarty pants type, who had travelled the world (I know she taught English to nuns in Tibet for awhile, for example). She raised four kids with a man who was a terrible father, and then he left her anyway. She really wasn't much for children or anything domestic. At her house in Indiana I first learned about takeout Chinese food, being a country girl where there was no takeout anything (not even scrapple). And she taught me to make Jello (what, you say? She wasn't domestic? I know.) In the matter of fact way that one could imagine a worldly woman of a certain age teaching her granddaughter to make Jello: of course you can do it, Nora. Here's how. This does not define you. This is just so we can have some Jello. And here's a trick about ice cubes so it sets faster because my artist friend Arty McArtypoet is coming over for tea later. Yes, of course you can listen to our charming banter. There now, we made Jello. On to the next thing.

And in this same peer-to-peer style, she taught me how to play cards. Just about every card game I know, actually, came from her. Peanuts, casino, kings in the corner, rummy, hearts. And I loved her hands, not because they were beautiful, in fact the opposite. Because she was the only person I have ever known to have the stubby broad thumbs that I have, with nails wider than they are long and the rest perfectly, upsettingly straight unlike NORMAL PEOPLE who have at least a little curve to their thumbs. Really most unattractive things. So yes, genetics, they were passed down from her to me, et cetera. But my dad? My genetic link to her? Hitchhiker's thumbs. Amazing in their oppositeness to mine and his mother's. She and I must have looked quite the pair playing cards together with our special thumbs out for the world to see.

In a glowing example of my blogging naivete, I thought it would be cute and charming and family-oriented to post the rules to the game we played most (casino). It turns out this would actually be frightfully boring. And I can never learn a game from the directions anyway, just by playing, so come on over to my place and I'll teach you the rules and we'll have a giggle. Or, you can find the rules of casino here, by some nice folks who clearly have more patience than me in writing out rules.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Just another working mom daydreaming of staying home

I can hardly believe it, but it is so. Maybe because of all the love and bubba time we had in Hawaii and the holidays. Maybe because I have just scheduled my dissertation defense for the end of April. This April. Holy smokes, Batman! I have a lot of work to do. Thus I procrastinate. Thus I bake. Thus I dream of baking all the time. Which conflicts somewhat with having to go to work in a research office.

I hate bubba's daycare days. Hate labeling all his food and wondering which lucky underpaid staff person who is NOT ME gets to rock him to sleep. Hate getting home tired and cranky just in time to put him to bed. Hate all the colds and ear infections. I used to love his daycare days, going to my office, talking with adults, getting a break. On his mommy days, I would at the beginning of each one sometime, just for a moment, have a flash of dread--how am I going to fill up these hours? I don't have those any more. Now the mommy days are the ones I live for. Bubba is just so darn fun.

The work I do, it's interesting. I'd be happy to do this work for the rest of my career. But it is work. And all of my training is training me to know, for sure and real life, that my brain is MINE and I will be smart wherever I go and whatever I do. Thus I realize now that I would be just as smart as a housewife or as a fancy dancy researcher. (Aren't I smart? Took me 34 years to get that one.)

Where do you go, after experiencing the certainty that you would jump in front of a train for another person? Do you make a million small sacrifices for them instead because there is no train to jump in front of and you want to do something, some small gesture in the general spirit of train-jumping? Or do you go about your business, just knowing in your mind about the train?

And Seattle? The real estate market sucks here. I know it's worse other places, yes, yes. And to live how and where we would like--not that fancy, trust me, just a touch more space than we have now--I will have to work. And I get the uh-oh feeling about that. (Hope all yall with daughters teach them about the uh-oh feeling.)

Ah, and then there's when I'm 50. The empty nest. The needy mother who hounds her adult child because she has nothing to do herself, nothing to call her own. That's been one of my arguments for working now, to have something to do When He Leaves Home. There may actually be something to this. Sigh.



Because it's my blog and I think it's cute he sleeps with his butt in the air

Friday, January 4, 2008

Things I said I would never do as a parent that I have now taken back completely

I will never I repeat never have a house full of trucks. I said this when I found out I was having a boy. Ha! Thirteen months in, and you have no idea. I've got singing ones, woo-woo-wooing ones. Wooden ones and metal ones. I could write a children's book about trucks, if there was any corner of the truck-book market left and if my shelves weren't full of them. But, I have benefited. I know what a skid steer is now. I'm like smart and stuff.

I will never have a house full of plastic toys. I can hear you laughing. Don't think I can't. Know what I've learned? Pigs are bigger than dinosaurs and cars. Duh.

I will never put my baby in one of those infantilizing winter hats. See, I did not plan on a baby that would rip his hat off at the first available opportunity/dexterity.

I won't need a high chair because my baby will sit still and eat like a grownup ALL THE TIME. Wait, is that a giggle I hear? I can't hear right what with my own hysterical sobs of laughter. Milk just came out of my nose.

I won't need a stroller because I will wear my baby until he is in fourth grade forever amen. Did not count on having a 27 pound baby at 12 months. Did this kid not get my memo? Totally have two strollers. (I do still wear him, of course. To the fridge or so before I can feel the cartilage in my hips crunching.)

While I prance around with the stroller I will never own, I will never carry a latte. Yup, that one was one of the first to go.

Nah, I don't make many statements that begin with I will never any more.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Seattle city lights

The days are pretty short 'round these parts these days, so I, like many an enterprising Northwesterner, look for light where I can get it. I need not go far and I am rewarded! Light everywhere. These from a recent walk around the neighborhood, all taken before 5pm. While we are waiting for the days to get gloriously long again, we can get:

(yes please)

Or something a little stronger:

To go with our:


Which we may want before we take in a: get out of the:

And lest we forget personal grooming, there is light to show us the way to

...which we may want before going to the:

...for the ummm seasonally affected among us.

And my most deliciousest pleasure of early darkness: peeking in other people's windows as I stroll by. Honestly it's not about the people. In fact I look away if there are people. More about the decor, the warmth, the appearance of simplicity and harmony. A peek into life's next phases since just about any house I pass is nicer/bigger/remodeled/older children than ours. A peek into my own house from the outside:

Here's to an abundance of light, light, light. It's everywhere, even in Seattle in January.