Sunday, December 28, 2008

Happy New Year!

On the brink of a new year, here is what the end of the old finds us doing:

My oldest turned twelve, 12, ten and two more. She thinks she may want to be a vet most days, but the option of spy is also high on her list. In either case, she has decided that Spanish would be a good asset, so we are studying Spanish together. In the meantime, both she and her brother (now 10) have accepted a great lit challenge that I did not exactly issue, but suggested. They are both reading Dickens; Oliver Twist this month, and ds completed Plato's The Trial and Death of Socrates, Four Dialogues this week as well. If that all sounds very serious and academic, not to worry, they only spend about an hour or so a day with that particular activity!

Everyone is busy with their Christmas toys. Legos have kept some sequestered in their rooms building and rebuilding, especially no. 2 and 3. They have been building creative structures and very elaborate critters. The playroom houses block structures and a wooden castle. The basement has been turned into a gym and lots of time is spent down there with a new tumbling mat and music turned up till it hurts your ears. Outside, usually a favorite destination, has been a dubious one of late, with temperatures below freezing with a bitter wind or else in the 40s and raining. There were two days when it was too cold to stay out for more than 3 minutes, brave or not. Yesterday we came in completely soaked through all our winter layers with feet that required rubbing and rice warmers. At least we got in an hour's walk, but it was not the most fun walk in recent memory; if you weren't slipping on the ice build-up from weeks past, you were sloshing through running water, and getting rained on non-stop.

Our second daughter turned seven in November and insists on daily reading time with us both. She has scheduled her father for this during his vacation, and she and I have a standing 9am time to read. All her idea, she has decided she is too old not to be reading on her own, and is truly ready for the gift of reading from the Wise Sophia of her Waldorf book.* It has been very cute to see her work her way through the riddles, figure out the roman numeral system and learn her vowels. She and her sister can skip rope "like never so," and love to knit.

Little guy, but not the littlest, my four-year-old, is drawing real pictures and writing letters and has such a vocabulary he makes me laugh sometimes. He is all about knights and castles and being a hero against the bad guys. He does lovely cartwheels can sing any song he has heard once before.

Baby, now 19 months old, is a munchkin. He acts like a real little person, and can communicate almost everything he wants or needs quite clearly. And when that doesn't work, he gets your finger in a death grip and will lead you to where you need to be to see what he wants. He has a new word; en garde! And if there is a sword in his hand when he says it, you'd better take care. I have some worries about the situation, since he only says two words besides "Mama" and "Daddy," and they are "feu" or fire and "en garde." I trust this does not show a predisposition to a career in arson or violence, just natural boy curiosity from a third boy.

December has been a month of preparation of hearts and home for the holidays. We took break from a normal school schedule to decorate, bake and read Christmas stories together.

Other activities have continued, at home and out of it. The three oldest worked on a Christmas play for three months with their favorite director. The ten-year old has been playing hockey,(hockey?! Must have something to do with living in a land of snow and ice), and the girls have joined Girl Scouts. We have a darling four-year old who is a friend and has become part of our school day on Friday each week. She is apprenticing the French language with us. This has been great fun and encouraged all to remember to speak in French. She is a very quick learner and already knows a number of songs and expressions and how to count to twelve.

We have counted our blessings and look forward to a new year. Happy New Year to you all!

*A Journey Through Waldorf Homeschooling, grade one, Melisa Neilsen

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Recipe secrets too dark to share

I am waiting. I just slid the glutinous mass of flour, egg, sugar and sour cream into the freezer; a shortened version of "refrigerating for 3 hours," and the timer is set, things will be set in motion in just 30 minutes or so. But it will be later, when friends will taste what may be the lightest, fluffiest, most delicious sugar cookies they have ever had in their lives, that I will be obliged to make the big decision; to share or not to share the recipe. I don't think that I can, I don't believe I should.

This is a recipe capable of doing permanent damage. It can rip apart families; damage mother-daughter relationships, make a fool out of you in front of cousins or in-laws, stretch to the limit the love between a husband and wife. I have made my peace with it, I make the darn things, year after year, but this is the very first year I have been able to surrender to what I must have conveniently forgotten; what those cookies are going to put me through.

I woke up completely at peace with my project this morning. After attempting spritz with a cookie press last night, most likely nothing else could faze me. The dough would not come out of the cookies press. When the dough did come out, it stuck to the press and had to be scraped off with a knife, rendering the pressed image obsolete. I did refrigerate it, for a few days actually, between the first time I tried with limited success and this time. So I made a fresh, unrefrigerated batch of dough, at 8:00 at night, which is bedtime. I had promised the kids cookies. My husband is staring at me incredulously, and not in a good way, wanting to know what I am doing, not making more dough? What about the other dough?

The first disk I tried maybe wasn't the easiest, I went back to the Christmas tree. Still no luck. I simultaneously googled "cookie press instructions and called my mother. Online I read encouraging comments along the lines of, "I HATE MY COOKIE PRESS!" and; "Mine went to the trash man, and I put a hammer to it to avoid some poor other fool suffering the same fate." Hmmm, what had I gotten myself into. My mother came to the rescue with her observations of, "Your generation doesn't seem to have the same level of patience as mine had. Yes, they are a pain, you have to work with a press to get the hang of it. Grandma made even more types than I did; she would make wreaths with the ribbon-shaped one; around for a wreath, then a bow on top." I remembered them, they were even dyed; green for the wreath and red for the bow. That settled that. I loved both my mother and my grandmother, but I did not require some remnant from the 50's housewife era to make my time here on earth meaningful. I declared it a most unfortunate experiment and made the rest of the batch up as "smashed spritz," which consisted of pinching gobs of the stuff onto the baking stone and smashing them down a bit to look like what was coming out of the cookie press to start with.

But my epiphany came because there is more to it than that. I know that one person's nightmare is a labor of pure love for another. Each year up until now, these "fat sugar cookies," everyone's favorite, have been the bane of my holiday baking existence, yet the only ones anyone really wants to eat. They were always my favorites, so I guess I thought it only fair to share them with others.

The first attempt was made on a trip to Paris. I was visiting my husband to be who was working for a company there. We stayed with his uncle, aunt and their three young daughters. It was very kind of them to make room for us in their home and I wanted to do something nice in return. I had no job, no gifts, but I had my recipe with me. It was almost Christmas, and what could be better than cookies at that time of year.

I made a mess, a mess that took a long time to become a mess, and even longer to clean up. The sour cream was not the right consistency. Heck, it wasn't even sour cream, it was "creme fraiche," which technically means the exact opposite of sour cream. I had no Crisco, no experience with making this recipe, and no pastry cutter to at least get things moving in the right direction. Years later, I would also discover, via the wisdom of the great Julia Child, that the very consistency of French flour is different than American flour, and the percentage of fat in American butter also differs, which means recipe modifications beyond my wildest imagination.

The year my mother tried to teach me to make them we will leave out of this discussion.

I would eventually figure out a version of these that worked in France, still no pastry cutter, and make them year after year. I made them in a tiny toaster oven, six at a time, all for love. Each year it was a struggle. Each year I would threaten to throw the whole thing out the window as the dough warmed up and became stickier and stickier, then more and more full of flour to compensate.

Now that I have a great big ol' American oven, and a pastry cutter, and even shortening, life is pretty luxurious, but these fat sugar cookies are still a thorn in my holiday-baking side! I guess it's time to go unwrap the dough and get started. The recipe? A family secret, I'm sorry.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Twenty years

I have known my love for twenty years today. We met and fell instantly into something like infatuation within minutes on a rainy December 10th in France, twenty years ago. I walked in the door, he walked out, holding out his hand to his father for the car keys. Later that night at dinner, with the entire family present, as well as a few guests, things heated up, talk about a public courtship! But it was France and flirting was standard in this cozy atmosphere.

Dinner was a cheese fondue, and of course, if you drop your bread in the fondue, you have to take a dare. As a novice fondue participant, I dropped most of my bread into the pot with each try. The naughty dare was issued but not seized upon; "you have to sleep with me." It was all in jest, mostly, at least for that night.

And then, five years later, we were married, not far from that first meeting, in the town hall of a village that is so tiny it can't even be granted the title of "town." Many addresses, fifteen years and five children wealthier, we are celebrating.

Happy Anniversary, mon amour!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mini Christmas revolt

For all the poor Francophiles out there, affected by a decision of the French justice to shut down websites with lyrics to songs in French (which I discovered this morning while innocently looking up the words to "Silent Night" to make sure I got them right when I was teaching my little French citizen-abroad children the words to a classic Christmas tune), HERE ARE THE WORDS:

(I wonder if they can shut down my blog from France?)

Peace and blessings to you all in this Advent season,

from the snowy Midwest, to the tune of what we call, Silent Night, here is:

Paroles Chants de Noel Douce nuit, sainte nuit lyrics

Douce nuit, sainte nuit !

Dans les cieux ! L'astre luit.

Le mystère annoncé s'accomplit

Cet enfant sur la paille endormi,

C'est l'amour infini ! {x2}

Saint enfant, doux agneau !

Qu'il est grand ! Qu'il est beau !

Entendez résonner les pipeaux

Des bergers conduisant leurs troupeaux

Vers son humble berceau ! {x2}

C'est vers nous qu'il accourt,

En un don sans retour !

De ce monde ignorant de l'amour,

Où commence aujourd'hui son séjour,

Qu'il soit Roi pour toujours ! {x2}

Quel accueil pour un Roi !

Point d'abri, point de toit !

Dans sa crèche il grelotte de froid

O pécheur, sans attendre la croix,

Jésus souffre pour toi ! {x2}

Paix à tous ! Gloire au ciel !

Gloire au sein maternel,

Qui pour nous, en ce jour de Noël,

Enfanta le Sauveur éternel,

Qu'attendait Israël ! {x2}

Paroles soumises aux droits d'auteur. Ces paroles de chansons sont réservées à un usage privé ou éducatif.