Thursday, December 30, 2010

EWR to DEN (and back again)

We got back last night from a week-long holiday celebration with Mima and Boppie (and Aunt Jessie, Uncle Shane, Aunt Ali, the great-grands and a whole pile of other aunts, uncles and cousins).

Travel with a 3.5-year-old and a 1-year-old is... well, let's just say it's not fast. Airport lines are longer than they have ever been, and if you saw our little family of four re-shoe, re-coat, re-laptop and gather up our "liquid exception items" (the girls' milk and medicine) after passing through security, you would be amazed we actually made our flights.

We did make them both, and I can share some critical advice. First, direct flights only. Don't bother with connections, especially in December. We've been nearly stranded in Chicago, and who could forget our 3-day stay at the Hartford Airport? We no longer leave that portion of the trip to chance. Flights cost too damn much - and holidays with family are too important - to spend excessive time in airports. Which, incidentally, all suck.

The second word of advice is to put every butt in a seat. I know, I know: flights are too damn expensive (see above). But now that people have to pay to check bags and carry-on space is at an even higher premium, putting the baby in a seat makes a huge difference - we need those two extra carry-ons for all the girls' stuff. Plus, it frees up mommy and daddy's hands to find snacks, find milk, wipe up spilled milk, take the preschooler to the potty, take her again, scoop her up and run to the potty before the landing gear comes down, read books, pick up the books the baby throws and, if it is truly going that smoothly, enjoy a cold beer.

The Bug, on the other hand, thought that the airport was "really fun" and her favorite part of the flight was "blast off." She also liked the seat belts, and kept Pandy, Princess Dolly and Yellow Baby safe and sound.

I'll share more about our holiday fun times (including pictures) soon, but until then I hope you and yours had lovely holidays!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mansfield Park

I've heard complaints about Jane Austen's Mansfield Park several places, including on reading blogs I have come to respect.  I'd hoped that these criticisms - most often dismissals of Fanny Price, the protagonist, as an uncompelling heroine - would not bear fruit.  Although I really enjoyed reading the book, it is more of a testament to Austen's unparalleled authorship than it is to the characters and the plot of the novel.  It's my least favorite Austen novel read to date (I've only yet to read Northanger Abbey).

Fanny Price is the poor cousin of the Bertram family, Sir Thomas Bertram having married Fanny's aunt.  The Bertrams live on an impressive estate called Mansfield Park, located in Northamptonshire.  Through their (somewhat misguided) generosity, Fanny is brought to live with them when she is only nine, so as to relieve some of the burden on her working-class parents who have too many children to feed.

Fanny grows up at Mansfield but she never becomes a part of the family's fabric.  The Bertrams and Fanny's other aunt Mrs. Norris (who, incidentally, is the namesake of Filch's evil cat in the Harry Potter series... which I totally called halfway through the book!) don't understand her: she is quiet, reserved, unassuming, sickly, nervous... the complete opposite of her older cousins Tom, Maria and Julia.  Her cousin Edmund, six years her senior, is the only member of the family who reaches out to her, tries to help with her happiness and her education and becomes her friend.

When Sir Thomas is called away for an extended trip to his interests in Antigua, the charming and attractive Mary and Henry Crawford enter the scene.  Coming from London, they're wealthy and used to the finest entertainments.  Both Crawford siblings work their magic on the Bertram siblings, with only Fanny doubtful of their goodness and sincerity.

As with all Austen novels, Mansfield Park is a love story.  Fanny pines away for Edmund, who has fallen in love with Mary Crawford.  Henry and Maria entered into a flirtation that ended when he was called to London; Maria married her uninspiring fiance, and she and Julia moved with him to London.  Only at this time did the Bertrams, and Mary Crawford, begin to understand and appreciate Fanny.  When Henry appears back on the scene, he first toys with and then falls in love with Fanny.  Her refusal of his marriage proposal severely disappoints everyone, including her uncle Sir Thomas who thought it was the least she could do to show her gratitude.  Henry sets out to prove his devotion and make Fanny realize his sincerity and true love, but fails miserably by committing adultery with his former flirtation, the now-married Maria.  Fanny is proven right, Edmund realizes Mary's true nature and discovers his love for his cousin (which, by the way, ick!), and Fanny is installed as the mistress of Mansfield Park.

Throughout all of this, I truly hoped that Henry persevere, Fanny would be proven wrong about him and the book would conclude with an interesting twist.  I was disappointed.  Fanny, as opposed to Austen's great heroines Elizabeth Bennett or (my fave) Emma Woodhouse, is unerringly good.  She is never wrong, she never falters, she is never tempted from the righteous path.  She is boring.  As I said before, I still enjoyed reading the book - Austen deserves her place among the great writers of all time.  But Mansfield Park is simply not up to her usual standard.

Next up: As She Climbed Across the Table by one of my contemporary favorites, Jonathan Lethem

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Making cookies with my kid

The Bug loves to help me cook.  She has gotten to be good at washing veggies, peeling certain things, putting chopped veggies or fruit into the salad bowl, stirring eggs... enough skills to where she actually helps me out.

Not so much with Christmas cookies, though.  At least, not yet.  Her "help" definitely increases the time involved in an already time-consuming process.  Every year I make a few different varieties of cookie, all of which are from my Swedish and German great grand-mothers' recipes.  It's a ton of work, and I don't even have a sweet tooth, but I love them and I love making them and it's just a part of Christmas to me.

I've learned not to attempt them all in one night. And to increase my odds of not strangling the Bug, I often make the dough for one kind after she goes to bed so we can bake them together the following evening.  On Saturday we made the Pepparkarkar dough together (which was awesome), and we baked one batch before she went to bed.  She LOVED it.  But I... well, I think that if I sucked less at rolling out dough I would also care less when she stuck the cookie cutter in the dead center, tried to scrape that cut-out with her fingers, and essentially made me roll the entire thing out after only one or two cookies had been deemed more or less shapely enough to bake.  Did I mention I suck at rolling?

She does, however, wield the red and green sugar sprinkles with impressive dexterity and enthusiasm... WOAH, baby!

We did the Swedish ice box cookies on Sunday night (I make a half-batch which yields about three thousand cookies), and I made the German sugar cookie dough last night so we'll bake them tonight.  (These are particularly fun to make with kids because each cookie has to be pressed with the sugar-coated bottom of a glass.)  We'll do the svenska mandel kransar tomorrow night, and call our project finis at that time!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Deck the halls

I love the Christmas season.  I really love it.  Not because I am a Christian, or because I'm a Santa Clausian.  (I'm not really either, to be honest.)  It's because this is the time of year when people are a little nicer to each other.  It's the time of year when people throw an extra buck to the homeless guy.  When we pull our coats and hats a little tighter.  When you might see snow in New York City, (which is really magical, if you haven't seen it).

And it's the time of year when we decorate our tree.

I love decorating the tree.  Ever since I was a kid, decorating the tree has been one of my favorite nights of the year.  Mom would put on Willie Nelson's "Pretty Paper" record (which we duly made fun of), and we'd pull ornament after ornament out of the box - this one my great-grandparents brought with them from Germany; that one my parents bought in New Orleans.  My Mom - and Dad - could tell me the origin of every single one.

My great-grandparents with fab hats
Now it's my tree, and my family tradition, and my daughters.  The Bug had a blast hanging the ornaments (as evidenced by the super dense bottom two feet).  Now I know where every ornament came from.  And now I play Willie Nelson, but on CD.  Merging ornaments was one of the most loving demonstrations of our union, and hanging them with Joker makes me feel so warm, so loving, so happy.  I tear up when I hang some of them.  And I added to the spirit of our tree by eBaying some 1940s-era beads so my tree would look more like my Grandma Jan's.

This old horn from JOK is super irritating when blown