Friday, February 27, 2009

Olivia's Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I've mentioned that my Little One loves to "mix it up" with me in the kitchen lately. This recipe for Oatmeal Raisin Cookies is one of our favorites.

Olivia's Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

2 sticks of softened butter (1/2 pound)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed--a dash more than this doesn't hurt

2 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla *

1-1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon of cinnamon *

a dash of salt

3 cups of uncooked oats

1-1/2 cups raisins*


*This recipe calls for a bit more vanilla, cinnamon and raisins than others I've tried; this is what makes these cookies so hard to resist.

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
2. Beat blended sugars and butter together until creamy
3. Beat in vanilla and eggs
4. Combine baking soda, flour, cinnamon, salt in a separate bowl; add to sugars, butter, etc., mix well.
5. Add oats, raisins. Stir until fully combined.
6. Placed tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet.
7. Bake for 11 minutes or until golden.
8. Cool for 2 minutes on cookie sheet, then remove to parchment paper or wire rack.

This recipe yields about 4 dozen delicious cookies. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

On Your Feet

You're sitting in class. You're cold/tired/hungry/bored. Maybe you're pinching yourself, just to stay awake. Your Algebra II teacher mutters in his monotone, looking as painfully disinterested in the principles of polynomials as you feel.

This wasn't just my experience, was it?

Apparently not. NPR reports this morning that some progressive schools are incorporating movement into classroom education. In Charleston, SC, they're jumping rope while memorizing multiplication tables. They're tapping out the rhythms of poetic refrains on their desks. They're active and moving and loving every second of it. Similar initiatives are in practice in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Missouri.

All I can say is, why didn't they think of this sooner? Instead of banishing physical activity to the sweat-soaked walls of some ancient gymnasium three times a week, we should mingle movement with classroom learning.

John Ratey, a Harvard psychiatrist and proponent of integrated physical activity in schools, notes that "[With exercise] you're seeing an increase in neurotransmitters … dopamine and serotonin, norepinephrine. These are hormones related to mood regulation, to attention. And, in general, help the brain be in a better state of equilibrium."

My own anecdotal experience supports these theories. A lifetime ago, when I was an undergrad Theater major performing Shakespeare and other verbose classics regularly, I always found that once we were up and moving through our blocking at rehearsals, the line memorization just seemed to happen. If I sat and simply tried to memorize passages of a script, it was infinitely more difficult.

But what about the kids who have real trouble concentrating? It actually seems that they're the ones who benefit the most from moderate bursts of physical activity. Evidence shows that the most distracted children are actually better able to focus after some moderate exercise in the classroom.

I don't know if jumping rope in my Algebra II class would have turned me into a mathematician, but it would probably have kept me from drooling on my desk. That's benefit enough, don't' you think?



Other resources:

Be Active

PBS

Take 10

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cookie Green Guide

Speaking of the economy, ever notice how the "green" products in any store cost about twice as much as the regular, polluting, wasteful, health hazard products? Yeah, me too. From non-toxic toilet cleaner to organic cotton dog sweaters, healthier, more sustainable products are available in almost every imaginable form. But who can afford them anymore?

Enter Cookie Mag, the reliable resource for Mamas for just about everything. Their Cheap Green Guide is packed with ideas on how reduce, reuse and recycle without draining your bank account.

I especially like the the clothing swap suggestion, for kids and mamas. It's just like shopping but without the plastic! Imagine! Also a "smart Cookie" idea: check out toys and books from your local library instead of buying them at your local Toys 'R Us. Talk about cutting down on waste.

In addition to their ideas, I submit a few of my own:

1. Get rid of the paper towels! They're costly and wasteful. Tear up some old t-shirts, repurpose those old towels instead of tossing them and stockpile some rags. Then, reach for these instead of the Brawny when the little one spills milk at the table. Toss them in with your regular laundry, which, if you're like me, you do just about daily anyway.

2. Make your own wrapping paper. Who needs to spend the extra cash these days to wrap up a birthday gift? Ask your resident artist to decorate some newsprint or a brown paper grocery bag. Then you can wrap your gift in a one-of-a-kind work of art!

3. Hang it out to dry! Spring is just around the corner and there is almost nothing as delightful as snuggling in for a good night's sleep between sheets dried in the sunshine. Talk about something to look forward to. If you're committed, you'll be able to live almost dryer-free for months. And that's savings you'll see on the bottom line.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On Perseverance

All you have to do these days is turn on the radio or walk past a newsstand and you'll get the dismal state of our economy full in the face -- or the ear, depending on your medium. From the unopened 401k statements that lie gathering dust on so many desks to the penny-pinching and coupon-clipping that go on at thousands of supermarkets across the country, we're all feeling it these days.

Yes, it's scary. Yes, it's serious. Yes, we all wish it would end already. But the bottom of this whole mess remains terrifyingly elusive. We are then, like so many Alices tumbling down a long, dark rabbit hole that seems to have no end.

But let us not lose hope.

Generations have come before us--everyone likes to cite "The Greatest Generation," the heroes of my grandparents' era who beat back the demons of fascism, sleeves rolled, belts tightened and righteousness clenched between their teeth--who have endured worse. From Great Wars to the Great Depression, millions of our blood relatives have endured times that were decidedly not great.

The one commonality that links these times--and the people who lived through them--is the power of perseverance. I don't believe so much that one generation can be greater or braver or better designed to handle adversity than another. What I believe is that adversity can extract greatness from each of us. Through hardship we discover our mettle.

Times like the one we are living through right now, foster--among other things--the kind of creativity and resourcefulness that can only be born out of desperation. The old rulebook is out the window, so now things are getting interesting.

I have a close friend who has been living, for months, with the ever present fear of being laid off. Last night, this woman said to me "I've had enough. I'm deciding to succeed, no matter what's going on. I'm smart, I'm capable. There is no reason I can't." She made a vow to follow a dream and begin researching a small business idea she's had for years.

Another friend lost her high-paying, number-crunching job last year and is finding that life with kids in New York City just keeps getting more expensive. She's a vibrant woman with many talents, one of which happens to be her culinary prowess. Lately, she's decided that she might just be ready to take the leap and start her own homemade food line.

I know Mamas who have committed to planting their own gardens this year, to offset some food costs. There are blogger Mamas writing books about repurposing materials for your home. Whether it's Mamas going back to work or Papas finding second--or third--careers, I know many people who are getting pretty creative when it comes to their survival. Heck, I didn't launch my freelance writing career because I had nothing better to do with my ten fingers.

This, then, is the point, right? It isn't that some generations are predisposed to heroism, but simply that we are all hardwired to meet the challenges life and time present to us. When it comes down to it and that dirty diaper hits the fan, we all do whatever it takes to shelter our families and preserve some recognizable world for ourselves and our children. We never, never, never give up. None of us. That's human nature.

And while we might not be storming any European beaches these days, for combat or pleasure-- that exchange rate is still too high--we're fighting the fight we were given. And we're meeting it with all the courage and creativity we can muster.

I know my grandparents would be proud.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hooray for Bollywood

Last night's big news out of Hollywood was the cinematic juggernaut that hails not from Studio City, but the slums of Mumbai, Slumdog Millionaire. (I know, I know, Slumdog isn't authentic Bollywood style, but for the purposes of this blog entry we'll just overlook that fact, shall we?)

Bollywood isn't just taking over our multi-plexes, it's invading our gyms, too! Tara Parker-Pope reports in her New York Times blog, Well, that Bollywood-style dance classes are the latest calorie-burning craze we Americans are sweating our way through. From New York to Denver to Los Angeles, people are shaking and shimmying to a combination of "folk moves and hip swings" set to pulsating pop music. Bollywood dance actually seems like a logical progression for gyms that are already offering belly-dancing, hip hop, and pole dancing as means to slimming down.

Even better, Bollywood dance classes sound like a lot of fun. And if the music they use is anything like the Slumdog soundtrack, then I could actually see working up a sweat with a smile on my face. I'm not sure if my gym offers Bollywood dance classes yet, but I may just suggest it. What Mama couldn't benefit from a little shimmy in her workout? Sure beats the stair master.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Little Fish Big Pond

"I could totally make that myself!"

These words almost never escape my lips, especially in reference to super cute kids clothes. But then, along comes Super Mom Linda Trent of Little Fish Big Pond Etsy fame and blows my whole "I could never make that if my life depended on it" theory out of the water. (Via Cool Mom Picks.)

Trent takes DIY dress-making to the next level. She doesn't just hawk patterns out of her Etsy shop, she tosses in all the bells and whistles--including pre-cut fabric, thread and accessories! She really couldn't make it any easier. All this for around 15 bucks. Yes, I said 15 bucks. No, I'm not kidding. Yes, you should go and browse her shop now.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Small Spring!

The big, fluffy snowflakes that tumbled down yesterday, dusting our yard, our mailbox and our little red wagon, belied the good news that landed in my inbox very early this morning: The Small Magazine Spring issue is out! And that means Spring is truly just around the corner. In fact, I swear I can see it from my front porch.

Small's Spring issue is bursting with breezy, whimsical beauty. It's really not to be missed. Some truly delightful highlights include:

An exploration of the truly unique work of designer/illustrator/
author Carin Berger. Her books are part illustration, part story and all art and have won multiple, well-deserved awards. Berger has a new book, OK Go!, out this spring. Small also touches on one of our most favorite books ever, also penned
and painted by Berger, The Little Yellow Leaf.


A snippet of an interview with children's singer/songwriter Danielle Sansone. This is a real find, which I can hardly believe I'm saying. I usually despise--and no, I don't think that word is too strong--children's music. I find that so much of it is poorly crafted, poorly produced and generally insulting to any music fan. Just about any Paul Simon album will do more for your kids than a whole library of inane, goofy children's music. But I digress. Danielle Sansone's new album, Two Flowers, is beautifully constructed work of art. Sansone's vocals slide easily from bluegrass to a more ethereal, magical sound. You can sample and purchase the album here.


There's much, much more inside Small's Spring issue--handy DIY ideas, fun Etsy finds, compelling photography--so make sure you check it out yourselves.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Slumdog Curry

In my crusade against picky eating, we have been slowly introducing the little one to Indian cuisine. We started when she was about 18 months old, with very mild foods--samosas, chicken tika, etc. But she has graduated since then and has tried things like lamb madras and rasam vadai. And she actually likes it.


So far, these epicurean adventures have taken place mostly at our local Indian restaurant. I enjoy cooking, but have always been intimidated by Indian food and have never, ever attempted it at home. What if I put in too much curry? How do you bake yogurt? It was all very confusing. And intimidating.


Enter favorite food blog: Smitten Kitchen and Chef Deb's red kidney bean curry. I actually started salavating while reading her post. And she swears--swears!--that it couldn't be easier to make. I've blogged before about the delicious delights behind every mouse click at Smitten Kitchen. Deb's never let me down. Not once. So, I might, with her sage (pun intended, sorry) advice, take the plunge straight into a big, steaming pot of curry in my own kitchen. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Mama 300

"Oh frabjuous day! Calloo! Callay!" This is my 300th post, Mamas!

In honor of this Mama reaching one of her milestones, I felt like I might just compile a random, but hopefully useful, list of a few of my favorite things. Why not, right? This list is, by no means, complete or comprehensive. It is also in no particular order.

1. French Onion soup. Seriously. I swoon. Try this recipe from Pioneer Woman.

2. The Strand bookstore on Broadway at 12th Street. Yes, I've linked to their web site, and it certainly is useful. They have just about everything--new, used, rare--often well below list price. But what I love about the Strand and their "18 miles of books" is the smell. And the creak of the old wood floors. And the 15' ceilings. And the slightly disorganized atmosphere of it; "though it be madness, there is method in't." Wax poetic about Kindle all you want, nothing will replace the written, printed, slightly musty word for this Mama.







3. Every single thing from Fragonard. Even their shopping bags. And when I get to Paris, I never miss a stop in their St. Germain-des-pres shop.

4. NPR. But you knew that already.

5. Music. Music, music, music. "If music be the food of love, play on!" I cannot live without it and, it seems, neither can my little one. All genres, all kinds, all sounds--as long as it is good. Looking for some music yourself? Let your search take you beyond iTunes: Said the Gramophone is an eclectic, unexpected stew of musical tastes, complete with reviews and listening capabilities. Pandora is a free, experimental internet radio of sorts, allowing you to create your own radio station and, hopefully, introducing you to all sorts of music you've never heard before but will probably like.

6. Art. Many kinds. And especially sharing it with my little one. Past art posts. Also, the Met for Kids is a great art resource for Mamas.
7. Photo booths. Who doesn't love these things?

8. The New York Times crossword. The more you do, the better you get. Such a great way to spend nap time on Sunday afternoons.

9. Summertime, every last little warm and sunny minute of it. The food, the clothes, the endless sunlight. It's just around the corner, right? Previous summer posts, to whet the appetite.


10. Number 10 is actually 2 items. I love a clean, uncluttered house, and I enjoy being helpful. To accomplish both, I like to clean out things: toy chests, book shelves, closets and then, I drive my extras over to my nearby Goodwill, local library or shelter. Or, sometimes, I'll just pass on what we're no longer using to friends or family. Nothing like a closet you can find your way around without shoving.






Monday, February 16, 2009

The Three Questions

Grandpa always finds the best books for my little one. For Valentine's Day, an inspired book, filled with breathtaking illustrations, arrived in the mail, just in time. The Three Questions, written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth is a peaceful, zen-infused retelling of the original story by Leo Tolstoy.

It is a tale about a boy, Nikolai, who is on a quest for what it means to be a good person and how, exactly, one should go about such a pursuit. Aided by some animal companions, a fierce storm and the kindness already rooted in his heart, Nikolai uncovers a truth so simple that most of us forget it most of the time.

Muth's watercolors are muted, save the vibrant red of Nickolai's ever-present kite. The softly-rendered animals will delight the children. And the moral of this story will sit with us parents long after we've tucked the kids in for the night.

There is nothing like the gift of presence.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sick of it All

Alright, I know it's Friday. I know that tomorrow is Valentine's Day. And I know that I always try to avoid any heavy-duty posts at the beginning of a holiday weekend.

But I am barely keeping down my breakfast after reading about the gut-wrenching abominations at the Peanut Corporation of America's Texas plant. Seriously. It's nauseating. Worse.

I've already cleaned out my fridge and pantry, tossing anything that had even the remotest chance of originating at this processing plant worthy of an Upton Sinclair novel. And I imagine that most of you, if you haven't done so already, will after reading the CNN link above.

This story, however, is far weightier than the half-eaten jar of Skippy that used to reside on the top shelf of my refrigerator.

On the surface, it's a tragic tale of medieval-style filth in one processing plant with lax rules or a lazy staff or both. But peel away the next layer and it is simply one unfortunate chapter in the epic tome of tainted U.S. food. From spinach to tomatoes--or wait, was it jalapenos?--to peanut butter it seems we are facing a crisis of cleanliness--and oversight--in our food supply.

I could go on endlessly about the simple bounty of my local farmers market, extolling the virtues of being in close proximity to organic, small-time food producers. But what purpose does that serve when the reality is that so many Americans don't have access to such markets? Isn't the real point that we, in our land of bounty, deserve a safe and nourishing food supply, whether the ingredients are grown around the corner or on the opposite coast? Whether we use debit or credit or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program--that's food stamps in the 21st century lexicon--we have a right to assume that what we eat won't make us sick, or worse.

It's time that we, as Mamas and citizens, demand greater accountability and oversight of our food supply. Admittedly, the federal government doesn't do much well. But one thing it can and should do is enforce greater food safety laws, employing more oversight and stricter penalties for violators.

We need to get involved. We need to make demands. We must fight for change. If we don't, who will?

Write a letter to your congressperson.

Get angry.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hearts and Crafts

Nothing says "I love you" like pink and red construction paper held together by dollops of tempra paint and fuzzy lumps of glue. Check out of these fun and easy Valentine's Day crafts from Kaboose.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Red Velvet In My Little Girl's Smile

I shared with you recently my daughter's new found affinity for baking. And while our winter pastime has yet to show up on my waistline, I imagine change is coming.

To that end, I've been scanning some of the yummiest, most delectable blogs out there. And I've found a new favorite: Pinch My Salt, a finger-licking masterpiece of a food blog, filled with every kind of deliciousness a foodie could desire. (The Saveur-worthy photography doesn't hurt either.)

For Valentine's Day, I was thinking the Little One and I might try this tempting recipe for Red Velvet Cupcakes. And if we promise to give most of them away, I might not have to go up a size in my jeans.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Letterary Press

Someone reminded me yesterday, of one of my favorite William Shakespeare quotes:

"O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful-wonderful, and yet again wonderful, and after that out of all whooping!" --As You Like It (III, ii)


And after hunting around a bit, with this quote in my Google search bar, I found the most extraordinary Etsy shop: Letterary Press. Just look at some of their lovely, literary letter papers.


But the well read word-worshipper who captains the Letterary Press does not limit herself to the beloved Bard. She offers beautifully crafted cards by other champions of the pen, wielders of words.


Using an old, platen press, an old cutter and her two hands of undetermined age, this artist creates delicate, literate greetings for every occasion. Because, as she notes in her profile, "You're a lot smarter than Hallmark gives you credit for."

Well put, indeed.

Monday, February 9, 2009

ALSC Book Award Winners

Most of you know by now that we're big on books around this Mama's house. Add to that a lovely sister-in-law who also happens to be a children's librarian and you'll understand just how firmly I have my hand on the pulse of the children's book industry. Which is why it has only taken me two weeks to share the Association for Library Service to Children's book award winners with you.

Some highlights :

The House in the Night, by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes is 2009's Caldecott Medal winner. A comforting bed time tale for your pre-schooler, this story, enhanced by Krommes illuminated illustrations, is the perfect way to say good night.

A bilingual story about a cross-cultural move, The Storyteller's Candle (La velita de los cuentos), by Lucia M. Gonzalez, illustrated by Lulu Delacre is a 2009 Belpre Illustrator Honor Book. It is a true story of Pura Belpre, the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City, and the way she helped shape the New York Public Library system--and many young minds.





No self-respecting pre-schooler I've ever met can resist a good Mo Willems read. The latest, Are You Ready to Play Outside?, is this year's Geisel Award winner. Part of his popular Elephant and Piggie series, this fun little book doesn't disappoint.



Find the full list of ALSC Award Winners here.










Friday, February 6, 2009

Sweets For Your Sweet

I've never been one to over-invest myself in a day of required romance; Valentine's Day was more fun and carried less pressure when we were kids, no?

That said, I don't think it's appropriate--or even very nice--to let the day go by without a little extra effort, some small gesture of love.

This recipe for Champagne-Poached Pears over at Cookie fits the bill nicely. It's sweet, it's special, it's easy to make and it involves champagne! What more could any Valentine desire? (A kid-free stay on a fully staffed, private Caribbean island, sure. But there's a recession out there. This year some fermented fruit will just have to suffice.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Mother Letter Project

I'm so moved, I don't even know where to start.

I just discovered a beautiful tribute from husband to wife, a project that links mother to mother, with a goal that will connect communities separated by thousands of miles. It's called The Mother Letter Project.

It began when a husband, Seth, wanted to create a meaningful Christmas gift for his wife, Amber. He enlisted the help of Mama bloggers, asking them to write "Mother Letters" --letters filled with the stories, worries and wisdom of motherhood. He collected nearly 600 letters last Christmas, giving his wife what I imagine is one of the most thoughtful and loving gifts any husband has ever given.

The story is good enough to end it right here. Except it doesn't end here. The goal of Seth and Amber's meaningful Christmas gift-giving was to be able to donate the money they'd otherwise have spent on ill-fitting, buzzing, blinking, battery-operated stuff to a small village in Mozambique, Africa where Seth had travelled previously. Seth's trip to Lichinga, Mozambique had a profound effect on him and he made a commitment to help this village however he was able.

That's where the Mother Letter Project comes in. MLP is accepting submissions of "Mother Letters" until Mother's Day 2009. This "Mother's Day Edition" will be available for purchase, at a rate of ten cents per letter, with all proceeds benefiting Compassion International's malaria intervention initiative.

A gift from husband to wife blossomed into an intimate conversation between mothers. The flower that resulted is now spreading it seeds of hope and compassion across miles and oceans, transcending almost every conceivable divide.

I plan on taking part in this project, in this conversation, in this rescue mission. I hope you will, too.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New York Visions

Yesterday, I trudged throw snow and ice (uphill, both ways!) into the city for some freelance work meetings.

Today, in Monday's New York Times, I found creative artist Christophe Neimann's interpretations of New York City living , as expressed through his children's Legos. Just check out some of his visions. Funny and true and absurdly creative. Nothing like a new, fully interlocking perspective.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Be Mine

Sweethearts and romance are just around the corner. Or, if not romance, then at least some shoe boxes decorated with aluminium foil and paper doilies to collect Valentine's Day wishes from lots of little classmates.

As usual, Martha Stewart's devised some cute DIY Valentine ideas, like these lovely stamped cards. And since the venerable Punxsutawny Phil has determined we will have six more weeks of winter (really?!) I'd say the odds are in your favor that you'll have a snowy afternoon or two that will make for some good craft time.


Monday, February 2, 2009

Sisterhood

There are times in our lives when we lean on our parents. We rely on them to nurture us and send us into the world, capable and strong, even if these skills are untested. There are times when we lean on our partners, our husbands, the fathers of our children, to grow with us and support us through new experiences, milestones and late-night fevers.

And then, there are times when we must call on our sisters, relations by blood or by trial--sometimes both--because they are the only ones who understand. It is during these times, often marked by the deep scars of disappointment and disillusionment, that we reach out for help and find our hands are held by the strong grip of a woman who has been where we are before. Or, at least, somewhere like it.

The capacity of the female heart to love, to reflect and to empathize is bottomless. Our sisters nurture us like parents, assist us like partners and love us with an unmatched, platonic passion, cheering our successes and mourning our defeats, completely and unselfishly.

As we age, as the scars of time and hurt accumulate, we find that the comfort and understanding our sisters provide can ease the pain and smooth away the marks and blemishes we've collected through our adventuring lives. Our sisters are always waiting, ready to cry with us, laugh with us or celebrate with us. Our sisters share their secrets over a cup of tea, a glass of wine or a homemade meal. Nestled on couches, pushing strollers in the park through the crisp winter air, or in the hushed darkness of a movie theater, our sisters support us, applaud us, and sit with us, even in silence, if that is what we need.

To my sisters--you know who you are--thank you. From the depths of my traveled soul, I express my gratitude. Your unrivaled support, your unconditional love, your unbridled laughter, your silent understanding, your earnest encouragement are blessings for which I will be grateful for the next five lifetimes. I don't know what I would do without you. You are selfless and smart and wickedly funny. You are my heroes. You are warriors of life and of the soul. You are women, strong and beautiful.

Never forget it.