Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween fun.

The kids are excited for Halloween tonight (except for Vivian who refused to wear the cute Hello, Kitty Halloween shirt I got for her). Dots is disappointed that the middle school doesn't have Pumpkin Day like her elementary school did. I think she also longs for kindergarten days when she wore her costume to school and had a parade.

We are having a block party at 5:30 to gather and eat dinner before trick-or-treating. I'm bringing Pumpkin Bars and my standard Corn Bake. Hockey Boy is going to his high school football game. Our weather has been beautiful - perfect for Halloween and fall football!

Pumpkin Day entry, 2002

Halloween 2003

Vivian (right) with a neighbor, Halloween 2004

Dots and her BFF Allison, Halloween 2004

Dots, Halloween 2005

"Dr. Vivi," Halloween 2005

Halloween 1999

Halloween 2000

Hockey Boy, Halloween 1992

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Coffee break.

On Thursday mornings I meet my friend Wendy at our neighborhood Starbucks for a cappuccino (her) and a cup of Earl Grey (me). It's one of my favorite times of the week as she and I catch up and compare notes on our families and lives.

One Thursday this summer Dots wanted to go with me. I told her she could but encouraged her to bring something to entertain herself.

Dots was quite content sitting curled up in a corner with her book but was thrilled when one of her own friends happened by, and they quickly snagged their own table.

One of life's special treats: coffee with a friend.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Some enchanted evening.

Tony Bennett

I have a running joke with my kids that they had better be able to name my favorite songs. Dots chides me because I don't have them ranked past number four, but she definitely knows that I Left my Heart in San Francisco is in my Top Ten.



Suffice it to say, when I saw that Tony Bennett was coming to Dallas to perform at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, I quickly secured tickets for Robert and his mother and me.

We stopped for drinks and hors d'oeuvres at Hibiscus and sat at a table by their fireplace, which was a perfect start to the evening. I even ran into two friends from my Monday bridge game who ironically had just been telling their dinner companion about my blog!

We arrived at the Meyerson and found our seats just before Tony Bennett came on stage. Accompanied by a piano, guitar, string bass and drums, Tony Bennett sang many familiar favorites interspersed with stories of their origins. He was lively and engaging, and his voice was remarkably strong and vibrant; it's hard to believe he's 82 years old! Among my favorites that he performed were Cold, Cold Heart, For Once in my Life, Stepping out with my Baby (where the guitarist played snippets of Marty Robbins' El Paso and The Yellow Rose of Texas during an interlude) and of course, I Left my Heart in San Francisco. But the highlight of the evening was when Tony Bennett turned off his microphone and sang Fly Me to the Moon without amplification. The audience was silently mesmerized as his magical voice resonated through the Meyerson.


An enchanted evening, indeed.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pizza night.

First of all, warm thanks to everyone who offered support after my post last night. I had several phone calls and emails in addition to the sweet comments left here. Even two friends at my bridge game today had read my blog this morning and gave me a big hug when I arrived. It was all much appreciated, and the world seems much brighter today.

We had pizza night tonight, though it was not the family event that I'd envisioned for last night because Robert and Hockey Boy had a Boy Scout meeting, and Vivian fell asleep early.

Nonetheless, Dots and I enjoyed ourselves. She loves to help me knead the dough - always fun and therapeutic, and she thinks it's great fun to watch it rise.

Homemade pizza is Dots's favorite dinner; she requests it about ten times for every time I agree to make it. It's not at all difficult; some parts of it are just a hassle.

My oven came with a very cool bake stone that is ideal for pizza. But to use it, I have to remove all the racks from the oven, pull out a little plug cover in the back, insert a special heating element (that's stored above my refrigerator - so for 5'1" me, that involves getting out the stepladder). Then I have to install a special rack and place the stone on that (this rack and the bake stone are also stored up high). The oven has to preheat to 500º and is nowhere near cool enough to remove everything for several hours afterward, so the tasks of cleaning the stone, putting it and its accompanying paraphernalia away and reassembling my oven have to wait until morning.

Another aspect I dreaded about making pizza was getting the pies in and out of the oven. I had a metal pizza peel, but if the crust was at all thin or laden with yummy toppings, it was darn near impossible to get onto the peel and into the oven without its falling apart or becoming grossly misshapen with toppings spilling onto the hot stone and burning.

Enter my previously mentioned, wonderful sister, Marian. After our family hosted her daughter Guinn at our house this summer, my sister sent me this fabulous contraption called a Super Peel as a thank you gift (she had read an endorsement for it in Cooks Illustrated). Tonight was our first time to try it out, and it worked perfectly! I could not believe how easy (and even fun!) it was to slide the pizzas onto the peel and then off and onto the stone.


Marian, do you think for Christmas you could give me something that would take the racks in and out of my oven? Then we'd be set for pizza night every night around here!


Pizza Dough
by Evan Kleiman, from Fine Cooking, March 2002

1 package active-dry yeast
1½ cups very warm water
4 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Dissolve the yeast in the water. Pulse together the flour and salt in a food processor then add the water/yeast in a steady stream with the machine running. Add the oil and pulse a few times to combine. Flour a work surface and scrape the soft dough out of the processor bowl and onto the lightly-floured surface. Knead by hand for about 5 minutes. Divide into fourths and roll each into a tight, smooth ball. Place on a lightly floured baking sheet, cover with a cloth and let rise for 45 minutes. Bake in 500º oven for 7-9 minutes. Dough can also be frozen and allowed to thaw and rise in the refrigerator at least 10-12 hours before use.

Crushed Tomato Sauce
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)

If I'm really feeling ambitious, I prepare lots of great toppings: roasted tomatoes, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, etc. Robert and I are the only ones who like any of those, however, so usually we just have the pizza with fresh mozzarella and basil.

***I neglected to pull out my camera tonight, but you can see pictures from a previous pizza night here (scroll to the bottom of the post).***

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The cruelty and kindness of strangers.

Late this afternoon I needed to run to the grocery store to buy some fresh mozzarella for homemade pizza. Vivian had not left the house all day so I asked her if she'd like to go with me. Initially Vivian didn't answer me, but then she returned with her shoes and said, "I am ready to go to the grocery store."

After we parked, Vivian grabbed the box for her Dumbo movie and climbed willingly out of the car. She held my hand and walked with me almost to the store before stopping and saying she wanted to go home. I tried to convince her to come in with me just long enough for me to pick up some cheese, but she insisted on returning to the car. We walked back to the car, climbed back in, sat there for a few minutes, and then she announced, "I am ready to buy some cheese at the grocery store now."

We walked back to the store. I decided not to risk my luck by having her walk but instead got a grocery cart and lifted her into the basket. She was quite content in there. We found our cheese, waited our turn in the express lane and checked out. Right as I was finishing paying, though, she climbed out of the cart, darted out the door (which fortunately was only a few steps from me) and laid down on the sidewalk right outside the door. I hurried to her side and tried to coax her into standing up and walking to the car. She just repeated, "I am lying on the floor. You don't want me to lie on the floor?"

I know from experience that trying to force her to do something when she's acting like this does not work; it merely escalates into her really throwing a fit and fussing and prolongs the misery for me. Usually if I can wait it out, after a minute or two, she'll just stand up and walk with me like nothing was ever wrong. I can't always see these episodes coming nor can I tell with certainly what triggers them, but rest assured, they are not rational and attempts to reason with her or even bribe or threaten her have never been successful.

We weren't blocking the doorway, were off to the side a bit. I sensed people looking at us as they exited the store, but that didn't really bother me. I just calmly kept saying to her, "Come on, Vivian. Let's go to Mama's car and go home. Don't you want to go home? You don't want to stay at the grocery store, do you? Let's go home and see Percy." None of this was working, but neither was the situation worsening. I wasn't in any hurry so I figured I would just wait for her to come around (it wasn't like there was anything else I could do - she's too heavy for me to lift when she's lying on the ground and not cooperating).

I'm not sure how long she'd been on the ground, I'd guess maybe three minutes, when a man walked by and said to me, "This is ridiculous. You need to get that child off the ground and make her behave." I began to say to him, "Sir, I'm doing my best. She's mentally retarded..." when I just lost it and began to cry. He shook his head and walked away.

Immediately two nice ladies stopped and asked if they could help. At this point I had dissolved into sobs. I tried to explain that there wasn't really anything they could do, that I was just upset because a man had made a mean comment to me. One lady rubbed my arm, while the other told me not to worry about the man. Someone from the store came out and asked if everything was okay. Vivian, meanwhile, was oblivious to all this and continued to lie on the ground. One of the ladies brought a cart over and put my grocery bag and purse and Vivian's Dumbo box in the basket. Vivian finally agreed to let me carry her, and the sweet lady pushed the cart to my car for me. Vivian kept saying, "I am so tired. I want to go home." I wanted to scream, "Me too!" but I refrained. Vivian climbed into the car without incident, I thanked the lady profusely for her kindness and help, then I got into the car myself. I sat there and cried for several minutes before I composed myself enough to drive home.

It's sad that though the number of strangers who responded compassionately to Vivian and me way outnumbered the one mean man, it's the ugliness that is sticking with me right now. Hopefully as I calm down and reflect on things, the gestures of kindness will override the singular act of cruelty.

So much for homemade pizza, though. I lost my appetite and ended up ordering in something for the rest of the family.



Hockey Boy's high school had its Homecoming dance last night. He invited a girl who was a friend from elementary school days. Hockey Boy picked her up and then they met eight other couples at another girl's house for pictures (parents gathered there briefly to ooh and ah and take photographs - for boy moms it's our one chance to see our sons with their dates). Then all eighteen of them boarded a bus and went to dinner at Maggiano's, then to the dance and then back to the picture-taking house for an afterparty. The moms provided food for the afterparty, and the kids swam, played basketball and visited until 12:30.



When he got home, Hockey Boy said briefly that it was fun. He was up early for a hockey game in Fort Worth (he slept in the car on the way over there), and he's been asleep most of the afternoon since the game. He scored the game-winning goal this morning, but otherwise I think all that dancing (ha!) wore him out.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

100th post giveaway.


In celebration of my one hundredth post, I am hosting my first giveaway. My husband gave me a Chicken Little "the sky is falling" talk at dinner last night about the economy, so in an effort to spend less by using things I already have, I am pulling a favorite item from my gift stash.

Kim from 3 Peanuts turned me on to Henri Bendel's Vanilla Bean candles. I have one in my kitchen and one by my bathtub. The candle smells wonderful, but its scent is subtle, not overpowering.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post by midnight, Central Time, on Halloween. I'll have Vivian, who is an overwhelming favorite of my blog readers, draw for the winner, whom I'll announce next Saturday.

Have a good weekend!

Friday, October 24, 2008

My lovely (but lonely) sister.


My sister Marian is two years and three months younger than I am. We live 800 miles and four states apart, but we are very close. I talk to her almost every day, sometimes more than once a day.



Marian has been a big supporter of my blog, encouraging me and giving me input. A week or two ago I added a "Followers" label on my sidebar. After several days when I still had NO followers, I called her and said, "Marian, I don't think anyone wants to be the first follower on my blog. I need you to sign up." So, good younger sister that she is, Marian dutifully uploaded a picture of herself and joined up as my inaugural blog follower. A week later, however, she sits over there lonely as can be. She never complains, mind you, because she's truly the nicest person I know other than my husband (they are very alike in temperament - I think being kind and patient is a major prerequisite for being able to live with me). But I'm sure she would like some company.



Thursday, October 23, 2008

Candy for a cause.

I received this from my children's dentist yesterday. I thought it was quite clever.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Vivian again.


Vivian has a private speech therapist she works with twice a week after school. The speech teacher meets Vivian's bus so that Vivian doesn't have the chance to come into the house, put on her Rudolph pajamas, crawl in bed and then refuse to get up and work.

Yesterday when their session was finished, Vivian brought me this paper that she and her speech teacher had typed. The speech therapist told Vivian to *read* it to me.

Vivian said, "I need money."

"What kind of money?" the speech teacher prompted, pointing to the words on the sheet.

"Green money," replied Vivian.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I have been tagged by Kappa Prep:

Top four wishes:
1. That Vivian would always be loved and cared for
2. For each person in the world to experience the peace and joy of a loving God and caring friends and family
3. To have a flat in Paris and the means and leisure to spend time there
4. For my husband to retire and enjoy all the things he so selflessly and generously provides for his family

Four places I want to visit:
1. Provence
2. Berlin
3. Paris
4. Rome

(I've been to the last two but could return again and again)

Four careers I would like to be involved in:
1. Crossword puzzle constructor
2. Designer of roads and bridges
3. Travel planner
4. Owner of a small neighborhood book shop

Four things I would like God to say to me at the gates of Heaven:
1. "Well done, my faithful servant."
2. "Your grandparents and your friend Amanda can't wait to see you."
3. "Welcome home!"
4. "I love you!"

(I copied Kappa Prep's answers on some of those because I thought her responses were great!)

Four friends I'm tagging:
Amber at the McIleece Spot
Erin at M&M's Mommy
Laura at Actually Laura
Melissa at Sunbonnet Cottage

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A day at the fair.


Yesterday Robert and I took the girls to the State Fair of Texas (Hockey Boy had a choir commitment). The weather was gorgeous, and it was the last weekend for the Fair this year.

The traffic and crowds were predictably hectic, but we finally found a parking place some distance from the gate. Three trams were lined up to shuttle people to the entrance. As we approached them we realized the first two were full and were pulling away. The third was completely empty. I commented to Robert that perhaps we should just begin walking because we were likely going to have to wait some time for that one to fill up and leave. But the people working the tram motioned to us to board. They were exceptionally nice and helped us load Vivian in her stroller into the handicapped section. The parking lot attendant gave Vivian a free ticket to the fair, and then the tram left with the four of us as its only passengers and drove us to the gate.



We headed for the livestock area and saw some sheep and pigs. Robert picked up a fluff of sheep's wool off the floor and handed to Vivian. She fussed at him and told him to give it back to the sheep! Vivian kept asking where the baby animals were. When we came into the cattle barn, we saw several calves and stopped to show them to her. The rancher who owned them could not have been nicer. He untied one and brought it over to Vivian. She must have said to the rancher a hundred times, "May I pet her?" and "The baby cow likes me!" but he patiently responded to her each time.

The calf's name was Delight. She is a longhorn so one day her horns may be over 6' long! Isn't she a beautiful color?

We stopped for the requisite State Fair lunch of corny dogs. Vivian devoured hers! At one point I looked over and realized she was consuming her corny dog so eagerly that she was eating the paper.


We ventured over to the Midway. Dots wanted to play the games and win a stuffed animal. Robert bought her an arcade card that had 28 credits. She played a squirt gun game four times that cost six credits each time, but she won nothing.

Notice Vivian eating an ice cream cone. She thoroughly enjoyed it but was not happy about the mess it left on her shirt. We tried to turn her shirt around so the chocolate stains were on the back, but she wasn't falling for that trick. I ended up conceding to letting her wear just her undershirt (mainly because she pulled off her pink shirt every time we tried to put it back on her). Oh, the things I swore I would never do...

We left the squirt gun game and set out to find something Dots could play with only four credits. She stopped at a fishing game but lamented to Robert that it also required six credits. The man working that game kindly came over and told her she could play for the four credits remaining on her card.


She pulled out a fish and turned it over. The bottom of the fish indicated she could choose a small prize. The man whispered to her, "Let's put that one back and try again." The next one she caught gave Dots her choice of any prize! She excitedly chose a large orange Teddy Bear. We thanked the man profusely. As we walked away, Robert commented to Dots and me that he thought the man had been so nice because we were with Vivian.


We stopped to have our picture taken next to Big Tex. Big Tex is 52 feet tall and has looked over the State Fair of Texas since 1952. His cowboy boots are a size 70!


Next we decided to ride the Sky Buckets over the park. Vivian insisted on getting out of her stroller for this, and she was fascinated by the ride. The views of Fair Park, the Cotton Bowl and downtown Dallas were spectacular.




We stayed at the State Fair much longer than we had planned. As we left the park, Robert and I expressed to each other what a wonderful experience our afternoon had been. I had been apprehensive about how Vivian would react to the crowds and noise, but she behaved so well and really seemed to enjoy being there. We were especially moved by how generous and warm people were to Vivian. She's not really able to appreciate it, but we certainly did.


Friday, October 17, 2008

From the archives.


Excerpted from my Christmas letter 2003.

Hockey Boy is now 12 and in the 6th grade. His real passion these days is hockey, and playing on a hockey team has kept him quite busy. He completed Communicants Class this fall and joined our church, and he is active in its 5th and 6th grade Bible Study and Youth Ministry. Hockey Boy plays the piano as well as the euphonium (a small tuba) in the school band, and he recently achieved the rank of First Class in Boy Scouts. He enjoys camping, skateboarding, snow sports and playing outside with friends. He is a delightful, kind-hearted boy.

Vivian has had a rough year, health-wise. Her seizures returned with a vengeance early in the year; she had over 60 grand mal episodes between January and April. When we finally got her medication high enough to control the seizures, it brought about problems with her liver, causing weight loss, excessive sleepiness and general malaise. During all of this, she became very agitated and aggressive and experienced some cognitive regression. Thankfully we now seem to have arrived at a good mix of medicines; her seizures are largely under control, and she is once again making progress at school, with only occasional episodes of hitting, kicking and biting her teachers, friends and mother. Her sweetness still shines through, though. One day she and I were holding our cat Jack, and he began to purr. I explained to her that this meant he was happy, and she replied, “He don’t know how to clap his hands?”

Dots is 6 and in kindergarten. She enjoys school and has made many new friends. Early in the year, her teacher gave her a page with the story of the Gingerbread Man and instructed her to illustrate it. Before Dots would draw any pictures, though, she crossed out all references to the Gingerbread Man and inserted the words Gingerbread Girl and feminized all masculine pronouns! I am actually somewhat relieved that some feminist traits are present in a child who aspired to be “Prom Queen Barbie” for Halloween. This fall Dots joined a school soccer team, where her chief contributions were in the areas of socialization and team fashion. She sported sparkling silver cleats, which she took great strides not to scuff or blemish, and she kept the goalie company (as well as any opponents she knew) while on the field. Dots became an “heiress” this summer when my great-aunt Anna (for whom she was named) died and left her $1000. As Dots was perusing for ideas on how to spend her money, I suggested we might put it in the bank. She looked at me like I was a little dense and said, “Well, it’d fill up the whole bank!”

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mother-daughter book club.

Dots and I were recently invited to join a mother-daughter Book Club. We met for the first time last week.


Our first selection was The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry. Dots and I really enjoyed this book, billed as "a short novel mocking the conventions of old-fashioned children's books stuffed with orphans, nannies and long-lost heirs." The writing was clever and witty with a lot of subtle references to classic children's literature. Another fifth grade girl led our discussion, which was quite lively and interesting. Her questions ran along the lines of "How does the author make it amusing to read of children with truly awful parents?" I was impressed with the girls' thoughtful comments and also with their respect for one another and their willingness to take risks with their answers.

At the back of the book, Ms. Lowry included a glossary. The girls loved sharing their favorite definitions from it. An example: "cryptic means seeming to have a hidden meaning. If your mother says, "Consider yourself grounded, mister!" it is not at all cryptic. But if she says in a certain voice, "We need to talk," she is being cryptic. And you are about to be grounded."

Here are the books the girls chose for the rest of the year:

The City of Ember
Dots is reading this right now and will not set it down long enough for me to even look at it.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
This book has fabulous illustrations that help tell the story. We have given it as a gift several times, and it has been very well-received.

The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1
Dots ranks this series among her all-time favorite books.

A Mango-Shaped Space

The Thief Lord

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Things I like: Herend porcelain.

I collect Herend figurines.


The little animals are quite appealing, and I love the intricate patterns on them. Most are available in a selection of colors. Each year a special figurine painted in gold is offered to Herend Guild members.


Two years ago I accompanied Robert on a trip to Budapest, Hungary. The town of Herend is located about two hours from Budapest, and I couldn't pass up an opportunity to visit the home of this exquisite porcelain. I hired a driver to take me there, and the Herend Guild arranged a tour for me.


Most of the artisans at the porcelain manufactory grew up in the town of Herend. The company sponsors a local vocational school where students train to be porcelain painters and manufacturers and plaster cast makers.

The guide told me that the fishnet pattern that I associate with Herend is mainly popular with Americans. She said that Europeans prefer the natural bisque painting.

Forming a plate on a potter's wheel

Casting a figurine

Assembling a figurine. This one is the Bremen Town Musicians

This girl is carefully cutting out the lattice work of a cachepot

Painting a plate

Notice his tiny palette of colors

Finished products

After observing the intricate and labor-intensive craft that each piece involves, I have a new appreciation for my collection.

This museum showcased the history of Herend porcelain. Many of the patterns were originally created for wealthy families or royalty and were not available for general purchase until many years later