Winter Management


I read Louise Plummer's post this morning and was struck by the matter-of-fact way she talks about scheduling things to "get her through" January and February, like she just expects that it's going to be tough and depressing, and she plans for that just as she would plan for anything else.  This is a new concept to me.  I usually just feel like I shouldn't be depressed, and if I am it means I'm failing to appreciate my blessings like I ought to. 

However, this has made me think.  I did a lot of planning this year before Christmas (making lists of things I'd like to do together just as a family, so we wouldn't overschedule ourselves with stuff we don't really enjoy; planning time to make presents for people; etc.) and it is intriguing to think that perhaps I could plan out January and February in a way that might head off sadness/boredom/overwhelment(?!) before they have a chance to take hold.  I can see, looking at this past month, that I have unwittingly had things going on that have stacked the odds in my favor, and it HAS helped.  These are some things that have been getting me through so far:
  • fresh flowers (thank you Sam)
  • a fun/absorbing/creatively challenging project (of which more later, perhaps)
  • low expectations
  • Wednesday clean-up night
  • Friday cleaning days
  • shopping at Sunflower market (thus, being able to afford lots of fresh produce and interesting ingredients to experiment with when I cook)
  • fruit smoothies (we usually have these more often in the summer/fall, but have had a resurgence this month)
  • "I love you" banner I won from Beth last year---it looks so cheery 


We (I) instituted the midweek clean-up night a few months ago, after I found that our usual Friday cleaning days were harder now that I had Daisy (surprise!) and we needed to start with everything picked up if we were going to have time for polishing/scrubbing and the other finishing touches that make things actually feel really clean.  (Have you noticed that?  It's the last 20% that makes the biggest difference, but we were never GETTING to the last 20% because the other 80% took so long, so my house was always partly clean, which for me emotionally is kind of the same as not clean at all.)  So now on Wednesdays after dinner, the whole family moves together from room to room, picking everything up and putting everything away until the whole house is clean.  When we're all working on it simultaneously, you'd be amazed how fast it goes.  And it usually can't degenerate TOO far by Friday, when we do the rest of our cleaning and make everything shine.  And I can't tell you how much it does for my mood and outlook, to wake up to empty floors Thursday morning, and then to have the WHOLE HOUSE CLEAN AT ONCE on Friday evening, just in time to enjoy date night and the weekend. 

Anyway.  That's one thing that has helped me this month, but it's not winter-specific---but I like the idea of planning and scheduling winter-specific activities for the express purpose of getting you through January and February, and I want to try it.  For me, I think it will be things like flowers (as above), tickets to a play or the ballet, driving somewhere fairly close (like Price or Logan) and spending the day there, not-too-difficult art projects with the boys, homemade pizza nights, puzzle-and-cookie nights, getting some new music to listen to, etc.  And of course we still do our alphabet weekends when possible, which also helps me make it through these LONG, GREY, weeks.

Has anyone tried this---planning ahead to combat your January/February depression?  What do you do?  Has it worked?
3

Italian Pasta Soup


I remember that I promised to post the recipe for this some time ago, so here it is at long last.  (It's actually called "pasta e fagioli" but I feel pretentious trying to say that with an Italian accent.  Also, any accent I do tends to come out French.  Bad French.  Like "enchilada," for example.  I've been ridiculed for saying "onn-chilada" instead of "enn-chilada" . . . ahem . . . Rachael.)

Sam informed me last night that he thinks this is his favorite soup.  (A high honor---since I make a lot of soups.)  I make it frequently in the wintertime, because I like the faint touch of heat from the red pepper flakes, and because it's made from ingredients I always have on hand.  And so, I give you:

Italian Pasta Soup

4 slices bacon, chopped (optional---I hardly ever add this)
1 onion, diced
1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced (optional---I like the extra color it gives, though)
1 T. fresh oregano (or 1 t. dried)
1/4 - 1/2 t. red pepper flakes
2 cans diced tomatoes
2 cans white beans---cannellini or great northern
5-6 c. chicken broth (or water)
Salt
8 oz. small pasta, such as orzo or ditalini (I like to use whole wheat)
2 T. fresh parsley, chopped

Toppings:
more fresh parsley, chopped
fresh-ground salt and pepper
olive oil
any kind of grated white cheese--I like parmesan but white cheddar or mozzarella works too

If using bacon, fry it and then remove it from the pan, then saute the onion and bell pepper in the bacon grease.  (If not using bacon, just saute the onion and pepper in olive oil.)  Stir in oregano, red pepper flakes, tomatoes (with juice), beans (drained), broth or water, and 1 t. salt.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 min. or so.  Stir in pasta and cook till slightly underdone.  Finish seasoning to taste.  (Add bacon back in, if using.)  Stir in 2 T. fresh parsley.  Sprinkle each bowl with cheese and parsley, and drizzle with olive oil.


4

The Frogs


I don't know if it's popular these days to like the composer Stephen Sondheim?  I know Andrew Lloyd Webber ("Andy" as my Music Theory teacher called him) is considered kind of lowbrow in "true musician's" circles, but Sondheim has been avant-garde for so long, I'm not sure if he's now become "expected" and lost his trendy edge in the musical world. 

Anyway, who cares, because I love Sondheim's work.  (When I composed my art songs for my honors thesis, my teacher said they reminded him of something by Sondheim---I was so flattered.)  I haven't seen anything of his in person, except West Side Story of course, oh, and Into the Woods.  And Sunday in the Park with George at BYU when I was little.  But here we are talking about his musical called The Frogs.  So, it's weird.  It's based on a Greek play by Aristophanes, but it's modernized and kind of sarcastic and silly in parts.  And it was originally performed in a swimming pool (including, quote, a "frog ballet on bungee cords") so at first glance it looks like one of those things which is trying mostly to be artsy rather than good.  But it turns out, it IS good.  Well, the music is.  Sam bought it for me for Christmas and I can't get enough of it.  I like the complicated, clever, almost puzzle-like lyrics (I hear Sondheim's a puzzle guy, one of those math/music genuises) and I like the range of music: there's a section of Shakespeare's Cymbeline set to music that is really ethereal and gorgeous, and there's a hymn to Dionysus that seems like some sort of odd mix of Hebrew music and Jazz, and then there's the song sung by the eponymous Frogs, which includes lots of "Brekekekéx-koáx-koáx" (that's how frogs croak in Greek, apparantly).  Something for everyone :)

Intrigued?  I realize I may not have the MOST mainstream musical tastes (seeing as I probably couldn't name a popular song from the past 15 years) but I think it's pretty accessible and, more important, INTERESTING.  Maybe you'd enjoy it too.  Sam bought the album on iTunes, and the more I listen to it the more I like it.
4

Basic Economics



I've been wanting for a long time to write about one of my favorite authors and thinkers, Thomas Sowell.  Everything he writes is so refreshing---because he explains things so clearly, I think.  Reading his work is like getting a long cold drink, or maybe a better metaphor is turning the light on in a dark room.  As I read his writing, I find myself constantly nodding my head, not because I already know or agree with what he is saying, but because it makes so much sense that I feel immediately like I should have always known it.  He writes quite efficiently, so for me it does take some concentration to read one of his books.  I can't do it while the kids are running around and asking me for things, like I can with easier books.  But by investing that focus and concentration, I get such enlightenment that it's worth the extra time it takes me to get through a book.

Several years ago I was talking to my sister-in-law and she mentioned Thomas Sowell's book Basic Economics.  She referred to it using the word "life-changing," and at the time I thought it a strange adjective to use to describe such a boring-sounding book.

Then I read it myself, and I had to agree.  The book is life-changing.  It, and its just-as-enlightening sequel, Applied Economics, are two books that have made me examine my own ideas, actions, and opinions more closely, and to more positive effect, than any other books outside the religious sphere.  The principles I learned from Basic Economics and Applied Economics are not only economic, or even just political, in nature---they have far-reaching implications that have helped me think more reasonably and---maybe more importantly---act more consistently in ways that match my thinking.

Maybe that idea deserves further explanation.  Most of us, obviously, make our voluntary decisions based on the assumption that those decisions will bring us closer to our desires and ideals.  But I found it fascinating how often people (me included) end up acting in ways that have the effect of bringing to pass things we never intended---even things that are the opposite of what we would have hoped when making the initial decision.  In other words, whatever our stated goals are when we act, the consequences of our acts are sometimes very different.  This comes mostly from lack of clear, reasonable analysis of our own and others' motivations, and from ignoring the future implications of what we do now.  (Sowell calls this "failing to think beyond Stage One.")  It is not that we aren't capable of thinking reasonably, but that we are not in the habit of doing so. 

I love good poetry for its brevity and the clarity of its images, and I love Sowell's writing for much the same reason.  Although his clear, forceful prose is the opposite of "poetic" in many ways, it is similar in that it can convey a new thought with remarkable power in just a few words, and with such skill that you think, "Of course!  Anyone could see that!" rather than simply marvelling at the intellect behind it.  Basic Economics takes concepts that seem complicated and makes them absolutely transparent and understandable.  It makes plain many fallacies and inconsistencies in the way we usually think, without ever coming across as condescending.  It  is very readable and engaging---not esoteric or too "scholarly" in tone---but it is transformative in its effect:  it will make you view the world differently.

I originally found Basic Economics at the library, but it was hard to get (long hold list) and it is a mark of my esteem for it that when we got a Barnes and Noble gift card for Christmas last year, we bought Basic Economics even though it cost nearly $40 and there were lots of other fiction books we wanted as well.  I usually love reading good fictional stories and I love poetry, and I would never have thought a book on ECONOMICS could compete with those for my time and attention---but it does.  (Sam got me Applied Economics this year for Christmas, so I can now lend them both out if you are interested.)  I think both books should be required reading for college-age young adults (I will certainly give it to my own kids when they are old enough) and for anyone who wishes to learn to THINK more clearly and make better, more informed choices in their own lives.

In short: I recommend Basic Economics and Applied Economics wholeheartedly and hope that you will find them as enlightening and yes, life-changing, as I have.
8

Push here, then tear upwards

Okay, does it EVER work for ANYONE to "press flap in here" on boxes?  I don't think I've ever been able to simply "press" and have the box tear easily.  I'm always trying to do it in a desperate hurry (as my water is already boiling, or whatever), and after breaking off a couple fingernails trying to push the flap in, I end up stabbing it frantically with the scissors or a knife, ripping the box until it looks like it was torn into by a wild tiger.  All the boxes in my pantry look like this: 

3

Allocation of household duties: SAM (partial list)



  • Re-loading inefficiently loaded dishwasher
  • Incorporating "bad" phrases (e.g.: "Out on your ear," "Round and round we go") into conversation
  • Getting out/Putting away cake stands
  • Drawing birds
  • Ejecting, Polishing, and Re-loading scratched DVDs when DVD player has trouble with them
  • Crepe-, pancake-, and waffle-making
  • Keeping up with and Dispensing latest BYU Sports news/trivia
  • Final Design Editing of fliers, invitations, etc.
  • Finding funny YouTube videos
  • Changing camera settings (but not changing BACK to normal)
  • Answering science-related questions
  • Mistakenly Referring to his mom as "Your Mom"
  • Grilling things
  • Bringing home flowers
  • Remembering previous years' football scores, players' names, and other relevant sports information for reference in current year
  • Retaining household color information (Me: "Will this match our pillows?" Sam: "No, they're a little less saturated.")
  • Building/Lighting fires
  • Doing funny voices in Cock-a-Doodle Dudley and The Monster and The Tailor
  • Responding to any questions that begin with "How do you draw. . . "
  • Ignoring announcements in church and then Reacting with Great Surprise when they come up on the calendar at home
  • Middle-of-night Getting and Distribution of Baby, as necessary
  • Doing pushups while festooned with boys
  • Pillow fluffing
  • Investigating any Funny Noises (from fridge, toilet, computer, drain, washing machine, baby, car, etc.)
  • Changing light bulbs
  • Choosing music to listen to while putting puzzles together
  • Sitting on the "upside down" side of the puzzle
  • Making/Stirring/Adjusting temperature of family hot chocolate
  • Swaddling babies
  • Imitating German accents
  • Stirring up/Squeezing lime on our shared salad at Cafe Rio
  • Monitoring household Kleenex Usage
  • Noticing when things are crooked
  • Toasting marshmallows
  • Carrying temple bags/other luggage
  • Covering eyes of those scared during scary parts of movies
  • Lurking
  • Imitating and Developing Silly Walks
  • Evening up edges of brownies/cake/etc.
9

In honor of Karl, Nana, Dad, Roger MacFarlane, and anyone else who likes this "poem"

It gets in my head sometimes and I can't rest till I've said it.  Sorry!

Latin Lesson

Boyibus kissibus
Sweeta girlorum;
Girlibus likibus,
Wantus somorum.

Pater familius
Enter parlorum;
Kickibus boyibus
Outof thedorum.

Nightibus darkibus,
Nonus lamporum;
Jumpibus fencibus,
Pantsibus torum.
1

For your enjoyment


Sam sent me this excellent video, a perfect example of what I find disturbing about Elijah Wood.  And you should watch it.  Have you ever wondered why they cut out the dialogue from these sort of sappy slo-mo scenes?  This is why.
2

Sticker Books


The boys got sticker books in their stockings this year, and don't you think sticker books are the perfect format in which to enjoy a sticker?  Because consider: it's so fun to have a sticker, and to peel it off its backing, but then what?  There's so much uncertainty in that sticker's fate: will it become fuzz-covered from being stuck and re-stuck on one's shirt? will it meet its demise in the washing machine? will it be stuck secretly on furniture, never to be removed again? will it be stuck on a scrap of paper and then lost?  will it be stuck on a paper and then unceremoniously ripped back off because the paper it was on was, in fact, a utilities bill or other necessary document? 

With a sticker book, you have a place to put the sticker (usually an exact outline into which the sticker fits perfectly, which is so satisfying in and of itself), and it's accessible, so you can enjoy it immediately, but also archiveable, so you can keep it and look at it later.  And you get the fun of peeling the sticker off, and sticking it down, without the worry of what will happen next.  Perfect.
5

A word about reviews


(One of my favorite Monte Python sketches)

I'm one of those people that likes to have opinions but not necessarily to reveal them in polite company.  (Maybe that makes me the worst kind of intellectual coward: I only get into a discussion when I'm pretty sure we're all going to agree.  On things that are close to my heart, anyway.  I don't mind disagreement about the small things.)  I think it makes me kind of a boring person to be around, but as I don't generally enjoy arguing, and most people are generally pretty immoveable in their opinions anyway, it seems the best way.  So for some time now I have resisted writing book reviews, movie reviews, etc. on this blog.  But the trouble with that is, that I can't think about something properly until I've written about it.  And I do much better writing about it if I think someone's going to read it.

I've also been inspired by some very well-done review sites I've come across online, including:
http://likeordontlike.blogspot.com/ (I especially like the "like/don't like" format, as it allows you to be kind of non-committal if necessary---i.e., "it's not that I HATE the movie, I just didn't like it!")
http://polyopine.blogspot.com/
http://www.hatrack.com/osc/reviews/everything/index.shtml

Here are my thoughts about reviews:
  • I appreciate a willingness to state a true opinion forthrightly, but without being condescending towards conflicting opinions.  Respectful disagreement (some people can pull off being disrepectful and also funny without seeming mean, and I like that, but I don't know if it's my forte) is okay.
  • It doesn't have to be too concise if it's interesting.  But brevity is usually good.
  • I like it when people review unusual things along with the more conventional movies, books, etc.  I'm always looking for books and movies and restaurants to discover, but I sometimes enjoy the other things just for the review's sake alone.
  • Cutesy blog-phrases like "I'm coveting" or "I'm swooning over"---not my style
  • I dislike reviews with an agenda (i.e. "Must-have" organic baby toys, lists of "eco-friendly shopping tips!", etc. that reveal a desire to present oneself as a Virtuous, Enlightened Overseer of Others' Choices and, hey! maybe you'll start getting free products from the companies, too!)
So.  I will probably begin reviewing things from time to time, trying to stay true to the above principles while not being too wishy-washy.  I have a bunch of things I've been wanting to review, and even drafting posts of, (mostly things I like, such as restaurants) because it's fun for me to clarify my thoughts by writing them down.  And don't worry, I have made up my mind not to care if you disagree with me (as long as you are either respectful, or at least funny, about it).
5

Would you like to know what Ky is doing?


He is picking up crumbs from the table one by one and dropping them into his empty chocolate milk jug (which he got in his stocking).  He has been doing this for half an hour.  Yes, there are that many crumbs.
3

The moment you've all been waiting for


Beth's contribution---pure elegance

We had a lovely time at our Glamour Party!  It was a snowy night and only the most intrepid souls ventured out.  But for those who did, the rewards were great.  What a good-looking group!  (If you want a high-res version of these files, friends, just let me know.)


  (this one is un-retouched, but her expression is so perfect I had to include it)







Thanks for such a fun time, everyone!  Maybe we can do it again sometime.
8

Three Billy Goats Gruff


My favorite character in this last of our little tableaux is the MEAN, UGLY TROLL.  (Key to successful casting of infants in drama: ensure that crying/fussing improves the final result.)


















4

Three Little Pigs

Following the overload of cuteness that was Halloween, I started scheming about what other fairy tales I could force my fortuitously-numbered children into.  We decided our family project for the next couple months would be to make a book of Fairy Tales for my mom's Christmas present (you see that I am not totally blinded by motherly bias---I realize that this is the kind of gift one can give a grandmother, and no one else.)

But while I had enough sense to see that a book full of pictures of my darling children might be a little much for most people, I am going against that better judgement to put up a couple blog posts of---not ALL the pictures---but, my favorites.  Feel free to go elsewhere when it gets excessive. :)

Of course, we owe much (although maybe not as much as you'd think) to the digital painting of the estimable Sam.  Thanks, Sam.

And now without further . . . without further . . . ah, let's move on now (that was for you, Rach):

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