Tuesday, February 26, 2008

predicate mom-native

For thousands of years, it was assumed by all artists, purchasers and purveyors of art that sculptures, by definition, stood still. The Venus de Milo does not hitch up her robe (however vulnerable and disarmed she may feel). Michelangelo’s David never slings the stone. Bernini’s Daphne is trapped with her toes half-rooted and fingers half-branched, eternally frozen in her desperate escape from her would-be rapist Apollo who is also frozen mid-pursuit, a dangerous, forever insatiated hunger carved into his eyes. It was always assumed that sculpture was defined by what Arthur Danto later called an artistic predicate. In this case, the artistic predicate was that sculpture is immobile. This “i” (immobility) trait was so taken for granted as a fundamental characteristic that no one imagined that it could ever be any different.

Then along came Marcel Duchamp with his spinning bicycle wheel and Alexander Calder with his revolving "mobiles" and suddenly sculpture moved. In fact, it seemed that it had always been possible for sculpture to move but artists had simply chosen to make it do the opposite. The artistic predicate “non-i” (non-immobility) had existed alongside the predicate “i” which had simply enjoyed a temporary monopoly. Later in his career, when Calder began constructing giant sculptures that filled city squares and did not move, he felt compelled to invent a new term for them to differentiate them from the mobiles. He called them stabiles.

The trouble with having homeschooled my children in the past is that I have introduced the predicate “non-p” (non-public school) into my world. Many parents (and this would be me in a former life) are perfectly content with the belief that school equals “p” (public school). I grew up believing that school was the building down the road, the one with 500 kids of all ages happily learning their math facts from teachers with degrees in teaching math facts who are paid by my tax money to teach math facts. I never imagined I would feel guilty about sending my children to school. The problem is that I have tasted of the fruit and can never go back without knowing that I am not just choosing to send my kids down the road to school, I am choosing to not-homeschool them.

This week I am ruminating over decisions already made and decisions yet to be made about school for McKay. Ken said last night that I don’t ruminate; I agonize. Well, be that as it may, the decisions must be made (and re-made and re-made). And it might as well be a painful process.

McKay has been in a special 4th grade advanced program this year at a district school across town. It has been a tremendous challenge for him—and this is a good thing—but it has also, in his words, “stressed him out.” He has a difficult time writing neatly and producing the kind of teacher-pleasing work that other kids in his class seem well-suited to produce. He spends hours writing and re-writing assignments only to have them returned with low grades because he has failed to meet his teacher’s high standards. Many times over the course of this year, I have lamented the fact that only I know how truly creative and kind-hearted and brilliant he is. I see him struggle and I see the damage to his self-esteem created by the struggle and I know that the best thing for him would be to have a teacher who loves him and knows him as well as I do. But there is only one person who fits that description. And she’s the same person who breathed a several-month-long sigh of relief when she decided that she would not be homeschooling any of her children this year.

Homeschooling was never easy for us. Some years were better than others. Some days were better than others. It took a tremendous amount of self-discipline (something I lack these days) to focus on my kids all day and follow through on even half of my best intentions. I still think it was a good decision. But I’m afraid to take it on again. I’m afraid that I’ll have to completely set aside all my writing plans. I’m afraid that I’ll do less for McKay than he would be getting in another gifted program or even a regular classroom at our neighborhood school where he’d also get to spend the day with friends his own age. I’m afraid I'll do a crappy job.

But I'm also afraid that I'll regret it if I send McKay to school next year. I believe I owe it to McKay to at least try to give him what I know would be the best education for him right now in his life—at home. Isn’t this why I'm a parent: to teach my children and nurture them? Writing can wait. Sanity can be stretched a bit thinner. McKay is the middle child and the least-squeaky of all four wheels. He deserves the same kind of attention to his needs that Ethan got when I homeschooled him at this age (and I suspect Gabriel and Nora will get in a few years). Why am I hesitant to take the plunge again?

Recently, whenever I’m talking to my friends who homeschool, I remember all the reasons why I homeschooled before. I remember the excitement. The sense of purpose. The fun we had. The incredible amount of real learning that went on. I remember why the “non-p” seemed like the best option for us and public school was always a valid back-up plan in case we needed it. On the other hand, also recently, when I can’t seem to make it through a day’s worth of exam-grading and Nora-tending and Gabie-entertaining without feeling overwhelmed, when the house is a total wreck and I haven’t even peeked at my blog for two days, when I can barely find time to help the kids with the hour or two of homework they have in the evenings, I think: HAVE YOU TOTALLY LOST YOUR MIND? What makes you think you could squeeze any more out of your life?

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. Just in case you were wondering. I even looked up my old notes from my graduate aesthetics course to find the Arthur Danto stuff because I remembered his artistic predicate philosophy and saw the connection. I doubt Danto (still living) cares much about homeschooling or non-homeschooling. He’s busy writing articles for prestigious journals or curating exhibits of art about the 9/11 attacks. His wife is busy producing her own art and if they ever had children, they are grown and raising kids of their own. Maybe Danto's kids agonize over these decisions. Maybe they don’t. All I know is that once you’ve seen both sides of a coin, you can’t pretend that if you flip it, you’re always going to get the same result.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Five books

Winslow Homer, The New Novel

One of the ladies in my book group gave us all the assignment to think of the five books we would take with us to a desert island. We’ll assume that a set of scriptures has already washed ashore on the beach. Also assume that you can’t take a book called “How to get off a desert island in 101 easy lessons” (just in case you were going to get clever).

This was an agonizingly difficult assignment. I decided in the end to pick books that I wouldn’t mind reading over and over for the next 20 years or so. Otherwise I might have been tempted just to pick five books with lots and lots of pages for their, shall we say, personal hygiene potential.

Here are the five books I came up with:

1. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think this book should be required reading for the whole human race. So there.

2. Final Harvest: Emily Dickinson’s Poems
If I’m going to be stuck on an island, I want something inexhaustible in terms of truth and beauty. Dickinson’s poems supply both. Plus maybe after a couple of decades of focused study, I’ll finally be able to understand all of them.

3. “The Death of Ivan Ilyitch” by Leo Tolstoy
This is either a long short story or a short novel. I’ve already read it dozens of times but it still moves me as only a story about a man who realizes in his last hours that his life has been utterly meaningless can. It’s an inspiring cautionary tale.

4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
This is a relatively new love of mine. I’ve taught it in my Humanities classes for two years now and I’m always amazed at the wide variety of discussions it sparks each time. This would be a perfect book if I were stranded on an island along with a bunch of other people who also took Frankenstein with them. Or maybe I’ll just start talking to myself about it in my own personal one-woman book group. Or I could find a literate volleyball to befriend or something.

5. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
Everyone needs a book to turn to for sheer entertainment purposes. If I get too depressed about being far away from all my loved ones and the land of Twix bars, this book would soon have me ROSL (Rolling on the Sand Laughing).

There. I can’t say it’s a perfect list but it will do for now.

I’m curious. What 5 books (or even one or two for starters) would you take with you?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

February Gabie-isms

We're riding in the van when McKay hollers from the back that Gabie has just scribbled in his book. This is totally unacceptable behavior, I'm tired of the squabbling, and I'm at a loss for what I can do about it, seeing as I'm clear up in the front of the vehicle and we're currently moving at 75 miles an hour on the freeway. I decide to threaten him with some undetermined future punishment, hoping the very idea will intimidate him into submission.

“Gabie,” I yell to the back of the van. “That's a terrible thing to do. I'm going to think of a punishment for you and it's going to be really awful! You simply cannot scribble in books!”

“Okay,” says Gabie (thinking he’s gotten off pretty easy). “I won't scribble in books for a whole year.”

* * * * * *

Last night, Gabie is making his case for expanding his TV time to more than one hour a day.

“You should let me watch more Mythbusters because it's educational. It's educational because it teaches you what not to do. Like you should never mix these things together and stick a match in them. Cause, foom! I won't ever forget that!”

Well at least he's learning something.

Monday, February 18, 2008

You know you’re an art nerd when. . .

Your onions have started to sprout and every time you look at them, you think you should throw them out, but instead, you keep them because they remind you of Cezanne.

You drive past this Tuscan villa-type apartment complex under construction and stop to take a photo of the second story Door to Nowhere because (a) What the…? and (b) it looks like something out of a Surrealist painting.

You’re glad it’s still February because you’ve been meaning to show this sweet little miniature of the month of February from the Breviarium Grimani (with accompanying detail) but you didn’t have a good excuse and then you finally just say aw, what the heck.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Here’s a family rule that has been around for forever: if you’re playing at a friend’s house, you have to come home by 6:00 pm for dinner. Simple. Set in stone. Not up for debate.

So tonight, 6:00 comes and goes and Ethan and McKay are still at the neighbor’s house. It’s 6:22 before they finally pop open the back door and charge into the kitchen.

“I’m glad you’re home boys,” I tell them. “And for every minute you were late, you get to work on an extra chore after dinner.” (I’m quite pleased with this brilliant new policy since I happen to have a pile of socks in the laundry room in dire need of approximately 44 minutes worth of sorting).

“That’s not fair,” says McKay. “You didn’t warn us!”

“Hasn’t there always been a rule that you need to be home by 6:00?” I ask him.

“Yeah, but there has never been a rule that you were actually going to enforce all the rules.”

He makes me laugh and he sorts my socks. What a great kid.

Friday, February 15, 2008

as vices go...

Nora had a difficult night last night which means that her parents had a difficult night which means that as I sit here at the kitchen table and type, there is a drained can of Cherry Coke Zero to the left of my keyboard. I have a problem. When I’m tired and numb-headed and not sure how I’m going to claw my way through the quicksand of my day, I resort to caffeine. It’s not a big dose: there are only 34.5 mg of caffeine in a can of Coke and I never drink more than one a day. (As vices go, I could do worse and I should be more worried about Gabie's recent addiction to Scooby Doo videos—something else I rely upon to make it through the tough days). Still I hate myself for what I see as a habit, a dependency, a hyperactive carbonated monkey on my back.

I managed to go the whole month of January without a single Coke. It was the only one of my New Year’s resolutions I managed to keep. Until now. All it took was a week of serious headaches at the first of February and a sale on the 12-packs at Smiths and I was off the wagon. I am weak. I’ll admit it.

I hesitate to confess my little habit because (a) I don’t want to sound sanctimonious to those who may drink coffee regularly or see caffeine as harmless, and conversely (b) I remember once reading a post by Katherine at Daring Young Mom where she talked about drinking a big jug of cola on a 10 hour drive to stay awake and someone left a comment to the effect of: “Hey, what are you doing? I thought Mormons don’t drink caffeine.” Yeah. Well, let me just clarify that Mormons do not drink coffee or tea. Mormons are also encouraged to stay away from caffeinated drinks (and as proof, the vending machines at the church-sponsored university where I teach sell only caffeine-deprived colas). But there’s no official church doctrine that forbids it and as far as I can tell, there’s no caffeine-sensitive breathalyzer on the pearly gates, which is a good thing because, well, as I said, I imbibe a Cherry Coke Zero almost every day.

I really hate the idea of being addicted to anything. I was shaken by the commercials for Pepsi Max during the Superbowl which basically stripped away all pretense that they were selling a beverage rather than a stimulant delivery system. I’m hoping to do better. Once I get the caffeine thing under control, I’ll be moving on to showing more restraint with the sugar and the chocolate, which frankly in the doses I consume are probably worse for my body than the Coke. I’m a mess. You know, if I drank alcohol, I’d probably be drunk in a gutter right now. Of course it would have to be a gutter with an internet connection because I couldn’t go too long without checking on my blog. Not that I’m addicted to blogging and need my daily fix or anything. Because that would just be silly.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I didn't plan for this

Some of my friends keep track of their schedules in planners. Others type them into their PDAs or cell phones. Personally, I have a wall calendar where I have the lists of events color-coded. For each child I use a different color of Sharpie fine-point pen: green for Ethan, blue for McKay, red for Gabie, black for Mom, purple for Nora who admittedly doesn’t have much of a social life quite yet but I’m fond of purple and sometimes I use it arbitrarily to note that recycle day is coming up. I like to appear organized. The calendar makes me look like I’ve got my act together even though some days I forget to look at it until it’s too late and we’ve missed something important yet again.

Today, I’m marveling at how much of my life is composed of the unexpected, the unplanned, and the unpredictable. I can get up in the morning, envision that my day will go a certain way, and then watch it all get derailed by one dead cow on the tracks after another. There aren’t enough different colors in the Sharpie collection to forecast the spectrum of the things that actually wind up happening in my day. Some of them are good surprises. A fair amount of them involve extra loads of laundry.

Yesterday, according to my trusty calendar, I planned to attend Gabie’s school program, pick up Ethan and a few extra kids from the Junior High after Knowledge Bowl, and get ready for class. Really, that’s quite a reasonable day’s work. Knowledge Bowl even got cancelled so I was off the hook there. Someone might glance at my calendar and think, she’s not busy at all; what’s she always whining about?


Since he had forgotten to tell me about it earlier, McKay and I spent the two hours before school decorating a box to look like a train engine for his valentines. (It turned out very cute if I do say so myself. Pictures to follow if it survives the week at school).

I got a last minute phone call from a woman in McKay’s carpool who temporarily has no car with which to pool and asked me to drive the kids today. This involved pulling Nora out of bed earlier than she’d like and getting rid of Gabie (sorry, shouldn’t put it that way, but I had to drop him off early at a neighbor’s house or not have enough seats in the van).

Nora gave herself a yogurt scalp treatment at breakfast so I had to throw her in the tub for a quick bath before Gabie’s school program. Nora promptly (and once again, I must stress that this was nowhere indicated on my calendar for the day’s events) pooped in the tub. Did I mention she’s had diarrhea lately? I won’t describe the details for you because I’m worried that this is turning into one of those poop and vomit blogs. Just picture me with a scrub brush and a bottle of Softscrub with bleach and a very beleaguered expression on my face.

The school program was a school program. But I had planned on that.

At lunch, Nora dumped purple grape juice all over the floor and down the front of her new shirt, the cute shirt that had caused me to do a little happy dance at the thrift store where I found it last week, the shirt that had probably survived years of light wear by an entire family of well-behaved daughters only to be ruined in its first day of usage into our home. Go ahead and ask what kind of an idiot would give a 20-month old child (with a penchant for dumping things) a cup of purple anything. I’m wondering the same thing myself. Maybe I just have a thing for purple. Various attempts at rinsing, soaking, and Oxycleaning, have thus far proved ineffectual at getting out the stain.

Today’s dead cow in the tracks was when Gabie was playing with my keys (yeah, I know. What kind of an idiot would give a child…?) and got the house key hopelessly stuck in the front deadbolt. No amount of yanking or twisting would get it out. In the end, I had to unscrew the whole deadbolt and drive it to the locksmith’s, an errand I’m pretty sure was not part of the plan today, although I have to admit I haven’t looked at the calendar yet so it’s possible I just overlooked the little note in magenta ink: spend an hour dealing with recalcitrant key. Ah, yes. There it is. Right next to the green reminder about the trumpet lessons Ethan forgot for the second week in a row. Drat.

And sometimes the train skips the tracks for better surprises. I had no way of knowing when I got up that Nora would choose to add a new, very practical word to her growing vocabulary today. I suspect the addition was a direct result of the aforementioned events but I’ll take the trade because, now that I’m on the other side of the tub decontamination session and the grape-juice debacle, it’s almost funny and Nora is just so adorable when she says her new word, clear as day: MESS!

I wrote the word in purple on my calendar just now so I’d remember the first day she said it.

So to sum things up, I want my days to look like a Piet Mondrian painting.
Compartmentalized. Balanced. As linear and sharply defined as the grid on my calendar. Predictable.

My days are, in reality, far more a Jackson Pollock painting.

Anything but tidy. Organic. Alive. Improvised. Full of surprises. Messy in a sublime kind of way.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I heard about a new book yesterday on NPR: Against happiness: in praise of melancholy by Eric Wilson. The author’s central thesis (as far as I can tell from the interview and the excerpts from the book on NPR’s website) is that melancholy should be seen as a gift rather than a curse. Over the centuries, some of our greatest poets and creative artists have embraced and expressed their inner demons, leaving the world a richer place. He argues that we cannot truly appreciate the sweet without the bitter, the happy without the sad.

While modern trends expect us to treat all depression, even mild to moderate cases, with drugs and therapy, Wilson says that rather than painting a happy face on our world and trying to eradicate melancholia, we should relish the muse of “sweet sadness” and face the “world's complexity, its vagueness, its terrible beauties.”

Wilson acknowledges, by the way, the need for medical intervention in the case of severe depression, but his main point is that life is about more than the pursuit of happiness. I’m intrigued by his argument. It's a well-known (and tragic) fact that many of our most creative artists have suffered from depression, some so profoundly that they took their own lives (Vincent van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath to name only a few). Did their dark thoughts steal their poetic visions from us? Or did their dark thoughts help create the poetry in the first place? It’s a question worth asking. Can we experience joy and beauty without suffering pain? Does suffering lead to a depth of understanding and creative vitality that would otherwise be lost in the sameness of contentment?

The idea of creative talent being linked with melancholy was very popular in the 19th century and dates back at least to the Renaissance. The print (above) is Melancholia from Albrecht Dürer. I also briefly mentioned Van Gogh’s famous portrait of the very sad Dr. Gachet at the end of this post here. Note the similarities in the poses and also in Michelangelo’s depressed prophet Jeremiah. I don’t know about you but when I’m really depressed, I don’t sit around with my chin on my hand looking picturesque. Personally, I take to my bed, put a pillow over my head and try to make the world stop spinning. I cry. I mope. I eat too much. I cope.

Oh, and yes, sometimes I write.

Monday, February 11, 2008

care to be an armchair anthropologist with me for the day?

Yesterday, my 12-year old son Ethan explained to me his theory about why so many teenage boys are obsessed with the combat video game Halo. Ethan isn’t allowed to play Halo (or, if I have any say in the matter, even be in the same room while someone else is playing Halo; I think the popularity of the game is a sign of all that is wrong with our society and I’m sickened by the fact that in the first ten weeks after the release of Halo 2, players spent 91 million combined hours playing the game online, but don’t get me started on that rant…).

Anyway, Ethan, the properly brainwashed child that he is, tells me he doesn’t really want to play Halo because it is too violent. The problem is that many of his friends in Junior High think or talk of little else and Ethan sometimes feels a bit “out of it.” Frankly I wish I could shake some sense into those kids and get them to pick up some less dangerous hobbies (playing with matches anyone?) but I’m afraid it’s a lost cause.

So, here’s Ethan’s theory (much paraphrased and simplified; his analysis was far more complex than mine, I promise):

The reason why young boys are attracted to violent combat games is because we have evolved as a species for the hunt. If we still lived out in the wild, boys Ethan’s age would be learning to throw spears or shoot guns. They still have this natural instinct even though our meat now comes wrapped in plastic at the grocery store or rolled in a tortilla at Taco Bell. Halo and similar games give boys a chance to act out in a virtual world their historical roles as young hunters.

I admit he makes an intriguing argument but I still don’t want to believe that there’s anything “natural” about these games or the impact they are having on our culture. If this is a vestige of a human behavior once necessary for survival, I’d like to hope we’ve gotten past it by now. What do you think?

Velazquez, Prince Baltasar Carlos as a hunter
vs. Halo Fighter

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

What if. . . none were enough?

A woman sets her ladder against an enormous block of hay and begins to climb. Her ladder comes no where near the top of the pile but the thought of what she will do when she gets to the highest rung has not yet occurred to her. The climb itself is everything. To her right and left, men and women raise their arms above their heads and caress the hay, stretching to embrace their body-width portions of the mountainous pile. Some pluck what they can with long hooks and forks. Others fight over fistfuls of the hay, willing to beat each other senseless or slit a throat or two if necessary.

And all the while, the pile of hay is on the move. Pulled by a team of monstrous creatures, the hay wagon is rolling along, taking with it an entourage of peasants and princes. The front wheel will soon crush the man who clutches at a tuft of hay instead of saving himself. The back wheel is about to snap the boney leg of an old man who has found himself entangled in the spokes. There is a disastrous kind of momentum, a willingness to follow the hay wherever it is headed—a compulsion to see its value, accept without question its desirability. Those who parade behind it see nothing but a wall of yellow. Those lucky few who sit on top of it feel nothing but the comfortable ride it provides. Those who brawl and grasp to the side of it want nothing but to have more and more of it.

And who stops to ask if it is worth all this? If it is worth anything at all? What exactly is the stuff they fight over, the stuff they collect, worship and climb? It is nothing more than a bunch of hay.

I was thinking of The Haywain by Bosch today while I walked a circuit through the mall. It has been snowing too much lately to take my usual walk around the neighborhood, so my friend Staci and I go to the mall in the morning, just about the time all the stores are opening. We are not shopping. We are exercising, dressed in sweats, pushing Nora in the stroller and walking at a furious pace past windows filled with jewelry and prom dresses and the soft porn of Victoria Secret lingerie modeled by sultry manikins. And every time we turn the corner in front of the Nordstrom’s Department Store, we come face to face with this:

Setting aside the grammatical issue (What if…the subjunctive tense were not optional?) the window drives me crazy (and crazier and crazier as we pass it repeatedly). Staci says, “This is why our country is in a recession” and I totally agree with her. The greed, the sense of entitlement, the imperative to buy something (more than once if possible), and the artificial need created by advertising campaigns and by trends and by followers of the hay wagon: these attitudes have driven people to spend beyond their means and lose track of what really matters.

And the hay wagon is always on the move. Today it is a Maxx New York bag (yes, I called Nordstrom’s to ask. “They’re really inexpensive,” the handbag associate told me, “Only $48.” I’m not sure which disturbs me more, the cost of the ugly handbags or the fact that there’s a dedicated associate who sells nothing but the ugly handbags). Tomorrow it will be something new. Maybe not a skittle-colored, patent leather, appealingly-impractical-at-any-price accessory, but something equally worth chasing after.

It’s for this very reason that I normally steer far clear of the mall. Just a few days of walking past the shops and already I find myself thinking about fashion far more than I normally do, wondering if I should be dressing Nora like the lucky kids whose mothers shop exclusively at The Children’s Place. It’s an insidious toxin, this materialism. It fills the air in drifts and breezes, influencing all who pass the imagery and product displays in the same way that the scents of body lotions and baking pretzels and colognes reach their tendrils out into the mall corridor like cartoon smells rising from freshly baked pies on a windowsill.

“Avert your eyes,” I tell Nora in the stroller as we pass the insipid handbags. “Pay no attention to the stuff behind the glass.” We don’t need one of those. We don’t need any of this. It’s all just hay.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Cream Horn recipe

As promised, here's the recipe for the cream horns I made last week. These are easier than they look, just a bit time-consuming. My friend Staci is even going to make them this week with her kids. And no, I promise I'm not turning into a cooking blog.

Cream Horns
(The instructions for the horns are from Cuisine at Home magazine; the filling recipe is from my friend Chef Tara)

1 box sugar ice cream cones
1 box frozen puff pastry (thawed)
1 egg
1 tsp water
1/2 cup turbinado sugar*
1 box (4-serving) instant pudding (vanilla or chocolate)
1 cup whipping cream
almond flavoring
powdered sugar

A few preliminary notes
*Turbinado sugar is a coarse, tan-colored sugar. I found it easily at the grocery store (sold as a brand called “Sugar in the Raw” in little packets). You’ll use it in this recipe to sprinkle on the outside of the horns. Do not substitute regular granulated sugar which will burn.

When I made these, I doubled the batch (used 2 boxes of puff pastry) and I finished with 23 horns. I made two batches of filling so I could fill half the horns with chocolate, half with vanilla.

The trick with the puff pastry is to keep it as cold as possible. Follow directions on the box to thaw it (takes about 40 minutes on the counter). Cover it with a damp paper towel when you’re not directly working with it and put it back in the fridge if it starts to get too mushy.

Making the horns
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper with nonstick spray.

Prepare the sugar cones by wrapping each in foil, then coating with nonstick spray. Slice the puff pastry into three sections (along the fold lines) then into 1/2 inch-wide strips (the long way) with a pizza wheel. Form horns by wrapping 3 strips of pastry around each mold, starting at the tip and overlapping the strips to prevent gaps. (The horns are very “forgiving” and look great once they’re cooked even if the strips aren’t the same thickness. Just be sure to overlap the edges and squeeze the tip closed so the filling won’t leak out). Rest the horns on the cookie sheet with the end of the last strip underneath. I fit 8 cones to a sheet.

You can re-use the cone-molds over and over. Just wipe them off a bit and spray them lightly again with nonstick spray between batches.

Whisk the egg and water together. Lightly brush each horn with the egg wash. Sprinkle them with the turbinado sugar. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Cool on a rack for 2 minutes, then remove molds. Cool pastry completely before filling with cream.

Cream Filling
Whisk 1 pkg pudding with 1 cup cold milk (half of what it normally calls for). In separate bowl, whip cream, 2 Tsp. powdered sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla to soft peaks. For the vanilla flavored cones, I also added 1/4 tsp almond flavoring. Fold the pudding and the whipped cream together until you get one color.

Another possible filling idea: Whip cream with 2 Tsp. powdered sugar and a squeeze or two (to taste) of strawberry jam. It makes a light, tasty strawberry whipped cream.

The horns look best if you use a pastry tip and bag to fill them. Or in a pinch you can use a Ziploc bag with one corner cut off. Fill the horns no more than a couple of hours before serving so they don’t get soggy.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Miss Austen regrets

I watched the “Complete Jane Austen” series on PBS last night (as I have for the last few weeks). Last night, I think because of the Superbowl, they did not show a new novel but a special film called Miss Austen Regrets. It was a somewhat fictionalized pseudo-biography, but we all seem to enjoy imagining what Jane was really like and I thought this film was well-made and compelling. I especially loved the moment where Reverend Bridges—the man who seems to have loved Jane the most, but now they’re both older and he’s married—asks her why she would not marry him. He tells her that he would have let her keep writing. She says she would have been too busy mothering children and would not have had the time. I completely agree with her. Some people say, “Oh, how sad that a woman with such a keen sense of the romantic never married,” but the truth is that had she married (and naturally had a household to run and children to bear and raise) there’s absolutely no way she would have written any of her books. They were written in the leisure time granted to her by her spinsterhood, her poverty and her freedom.

Maybe this is why I write about motherhood so much. It’s my way of having it both ways and only both ways. If I were not a mother and wife, I could not write what I do. Yes, I get frustrated by the fact that I have no time, no space, no “room of my own” in which to carve out a writer’s life, but what would I be writing about if I had those things and no family to inspire me? I’d like to think I would have nothing to say.

It snowed again on and off yesterday. It was beautiful, of course, but I’m tired of the snow. I feel trapped in my house. Trapped by the endless winter. Buried under it. There was much shoveling to do yesterday (and more shoveling later and still there was a new skiff on the ground this morning). I went to church without Ken because he stayed home with Nora (still sick, always sick) and when I got home, as I turned around to pull the car into the driveway, I got stuck in the gutter. My wheels were spinning and the thought hit me that now I was good and truly “stuck in a rut.” We are all stuck in a rut. I wonder if we’re just living through the same blizzard over and over and over again. “There’s no way that this winter is ever going to end,” says Phil Conners just before he kidnaps the groundhog and drives it off a cliff.

McKay spent at least two hours playing in the snow yesterday afternoon. He has taken over the pile to the side of the house (the one created by the repeated shoveling-off of the driveway) and has dug tunnels and caves into it. He is a child who also needs to carve out his own personal spaces. He is a cave-dweller. A fort-builder. He once asked for padlocks for his birthday. He wants treasure boxes, room, a bedroom of his own. One day when I could not find him anywhere in the house, I finally discovered him wedged into a tiny 2’ by 2’ space in his closet, alone, reading.

And yet, McKay would be miserable as an only child. He and Ethan are more than roommates; they are best friends. McKay is most happy when they are together, pacing circles into the carpet of their room, role-playing some elaborate space-battle scenario. I know that he would not trade the closeness of our crowded home for a room of his own and the silence that would go with it, just as I would not trade my domestic busyness for all the privacy and free time in the world.

The truth is that we don’t get to consciously make these choices. Even Jane could never have seen her options in front of her simultaneously since the consequences of her resistance to marriage only developed over time. But I can still take a good look from my present vantage point and say that, knowing what I know now, I would still live my life as I have lived it. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few things I wish I could take back—my kitchen tile, my laser eye surgery, my entire 7th grade year—but when it comes to my family and the choices I have made to marry and be a mother to each of my children, even if it means I will never ever be the subject of a PBS special, I have no regrets.

Friday, February 01, 2008

and then there was one

It started with Nora. One minute she was fine and the next she was vomiting all over the floor of the boys’ room—a floor which unfortunately happened to be covered at the time with 8 million Lego pieces. I’ll spare you the details of that cleanup.

Nora spent the next 24 hours proving the old adage that ‘what goes down must come up or at least out the other end.’ Much laundry was involved.

By Wednesday, I had caught the bug. I tried to call in sick to my job but my bosses (ages 1-12) said my benefits package did not include sick leave. Go figure.

Wednesday night and early into the wee hours of Thursday morning, Ethan and Gabie took turns racing for the bathroom…and not quite making it. Nora continued her pattern of filling her diaper (and pajamas and socks) with radioactive liquid waste every two hours.

And Thursday afternoon, McKay called home from school to say he was feeling lousy and needed to come home early.

Only my husband Ken is still standing, untouched by the plague that has spread all around him. Wish him luck.