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A mid-week movie night with Amie and Boppa at our house? With decorations and thematic food and a princess dress? Why not? Life is too short, right? And meant to be FUN!

Katie and I were extremely excited for our pre-order of Tangled to hit the Disney Store yesterday. Readers who have been with us since my previous blog will remember that Katie and I had a special girls’ date to see Tangled in the movie theater—Katie’s first movie theater experience—back when it came out in November. We couldn’t WAIT for it to be released on blu-ray, because it is kind of “our thing” now. Good feelings all around.

So of course we planned an event to celebrate! Katie helped me to determine tonight’s menu: angel hair pasta with lemon, olive oil, and romano cheese (to represent Rapunzel’s hair!); chicken schnitzel cooked in a frying pan (to represent Rapunzel’s weapon of choice in this movie); and île flottante…

The term île flottante means “floating island.” It is a very old-timey type of French nursery dessert (yes, I gave Eric some—yummy!), and we picked it to represent the floating lanterns that feature importantly in the movie. Katie and I (and Eric in parts) spent two days making this dessert, and it was worth every second. We made a caramel, and with some of the caramel, we then made an almond praline. Before Toastmasters yesterday, we made our creme anglaise. It took some time, and I showed Katie how to temper the eggs with the scalded cream. She thought the process was fascinating—a perfect moment to discuss science and also classic cooking technique—and exclaimed several times, “This is fun!” Today we made meringues (the islands) and put it all together after dinner.  The creme anglaise goes in the bowl first, followed by the islands. On top: a little cracked praline and drizzles of caramel. Oh, so delicious and sweet!

We also made some paper lanterns this afternoon to decorate our family room (where we watched our movie):

Katie got to practice her cutting (getting pretty good at straight lines now!) and of course her GLITTERING! I would say glittering was the best part!

We also managed to finish the last chapter of Little House in the Big Woods today. I know, I know. Last chapters of good books… But we took consolation in the fact that there are many more in the series. I think we will spend a week doing some wrap-up activities with this book and then move on to the the next one.

Nighty night!

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“Time, where did you go? /Why did you leave me here alone? /Wait, don’t go so fast/I’m missing the moments as they pass/Now I’ve looked in the mirror and the world’s getting clearer/So wait for me this time/I’m down, I’m down on my knees/I’m begging for all your sympathy…/You humble people everywhere /Now I’ve looked in the mirror and the world’s getting clearer/I’ll take what you give me/Please know that I’m learning/So wait for me this time”

-TIME (by Chantal Kreviazuk)

Last night we introduced the next generation to one of our family traditions: eating out at Steak ‘N Stein in Pico Rivera. As a child, I looked forward to our family trips there—Uncle Eric loved dinner there for his birthday, with dessert following at Grandma Mitchell’s (Nana’s) house. It is also a place that my Grandpa Mitchell loved.

I think I went one more time after Grandpa Mitchell died (fall of 1998) and never again—until now—after Uncle Eric died (January 2007). I remember that I sat next to my Uncle Eric for his birthday dinner at Steak ‘N Stein the evening of the day that I started the 4th grade. He was the kind of person everyone wanted to be near. Uncle Eric loved all the delicious, fine, beautiful parts of life, and he adored great food. All of the steak and seafood dinners at Steak ‘N Stein come with a green house salad, a huge baked potato, red cabbage, cheese bread, and onion rings. The cheese bread is epic, and I don’t use that term lightly. The cheese bread of dreams. I remember that Uncle Eric experimented with trying to make the cheese bread at home before Clearman’s started selling the official spread.

I hadn’t really wanted to go to dinner there since we lost him. But I felt it was time to suggest we plan a night there, time to bring our memories to the present, time to sit at the long family table again, to share new memories with Nana and my parents and my aunts and cousin and brother and all our new family members, children and spouses.

Katie and cousin Violet delighted in the atmosphere. They danced together to the saxophonist playing by the big circular fire in the middle of the main dining room (we were in a side room, but spent some time in there listening to the music). Katie and Violet held hands and danced together in a circle, carefree and beautiful, surrounded by the warm red lights and stained glass of Steak ‘N Stein. I wished we could have all been there to see it, but my heart didn’t break…instead there was peace in knowing that time brings new moments of togetherness, moments that honor those who have had to leave us. We had so much laughter last night, too, from jokes that Aunt Anna was making about her class this semester (she is an English professor), to witticisms about Spring Break, to wondering what would happen if Uncle Tom could combine his two hobbies into one sport (skiing and badminton).

The salads came with the cheese bread. It is an Uncle Eric “must” to combine all three offered dressings on the salad. As my aunts and I did this, it felt to me like Uncle Eric was almost present in that moment. My Eric sat on my lap and I gave him tastes of the dressings…and then he swiped a crouton! He cracks me up because he uses sleight of hand; I truly am watching, but he is quick. He darts his hand out, grabs whatever it is, cups it in his hand, and brings the hand slowly to his mouth like we won’t notice. Most of the time, we do…last night, he was extra adept at this technique.  Fortunately, he spit it out. Katie loved her Shirley Temple, and I had one, too. The cheese bread was scrumptious—just like I remembered! I ordered a steak and scallops—yummy!!!

Bill was able to capture some pictures:

My mom, Katie, and me

Visiting—and working on a huge baked potato!

Dinner!

The littlest Eric seemed to enjoy himself

Aunt Anna and Aunt Jenny

The Steak ‘N Stein experience!

This was the first Steak ‘N Stein dinner for Bill, Fon, Ashley, Katie, Eric William, Violet, and Oliver. We are gifted beyond measure to have added to our family, to have them with us. When we seek out those experiences so loved by those we have lost, we are able to bring their essences closer to us, to make the memories of them sharper in our minds. Let us be constantly resharpening and sharing tradition.  Even a simple dinner can have great significance, passing on the goodness and joy to the next generation.

By serendipity:

 

Katie June McGaugh, May 23, 2008. Watching the rain from Amie and Boppa’s dining room window.

 

Eric William McGaugh, March 25, 2011. Watching the drizzle from Amie and Boppa’s dining room window.

And a wave. He has been greeting us with a wave and often a “huuuuuuhi” to go with it. First word?

Although I am not above planning similar sister-brother photographs (I made a whole 2011 calendar to give at Christmas by taking shots of Eric that evoked some of Katie’s classics and juxtaposing them), this photo opportunity today was completely coincidental. By chance alone, they were both dressed in jeans and yellow tops, and by chance it was a drizzly day. They are almost the same age here, actually. Once I saw Eric pulling up to look out the window today, I remembered the picture of Katie (always one of my favorites from May 2008) and ran to grab my camera.

Sister and brother, forever.

Dear Alex,

You know that I am one of your biggest fans. We watch Jeopardy! every night in our home, inviting you in like an old friend. I am enamored of your flawless enunciation, the way your tone changes to that of slight rebuke when a single player continues to give wrong answers several times in a row, the way your eyes and corners of your mouth raise when it is clear the writers have authored a total dud of a stumper category that yields almost no correct answers, the way you flick your wrist when checking off a question on your lectern.

Seeing you reunited with my all-time favorite contestant, Ken (yes, I read his first book when it came out), last month for the competition against the computer Watson was like eating manna. That was Jeopardy! bliss. The dry humor, the sometime air of a cheerleader, the stern authority of a displeased teacher—Alex, you can do it all.

This week, however, I have a request. Please refrain from that tone of incredulity in your voice when referring to three-day champion Megan as a “stay-at-home-mom.” It almost seems like you are slightly surprised that a single one of us has enough brain cells to play Jeopardy!—nevermind that at least one of us (whom I happen to know well) can routinely wipe out whole categories on a nightly basis (with the exception of Potent Potables and sports categories and some questions about recent television shows).

Now, now, I am on your side, of course: I know the producers are urging you to play up this angle of Megan, the SAHM. It’s just that this ruse is so thinly veiled: you don’t seem to make many comments about the professions of other champions. The first time you used that tone with me, I let it go. After hearing it yet again tonight, however, I have to say something. Of course, I know (having read all about it from Ken) that all of these episodes are prerecorded and that therefore I may have to endure this all week.

You made me curious, though, I must admit. I started researching the education data on SAHMs. To my surprise—given what seems like more media attention in recent years to high-achieving mothers who leave the world of external careers—the education data looks much different than I thought. Still, Alex, it is not reasonable to assume that SAHMs, with or without a formal education, lead lives separate from all knowledge. Knowledge abounds—and many of us seek it out in our spare hours.

Okay, I am sorry to pick on you like this, Alex. You have brought me years of joy, truly. It isn’t your fault entirely—I know that SAHMs are the recipients of negative stereotypes, just like any group. I only ask you to recognize that many of us SAHMs are actually teaching all day long, creating learning experiences for our children, searching out experiences, managing a whole household, coordinating events, and also engaging in epic proportions of physical labor as we hoist up children on our hips (sometimes both at once), haul around the vacuum, balance towering basketfuls of laundry up and down stairs, and rarely put our feet up (even to eat a quick breakfast). And when we do have that spare hour here or there, we read (“hard” books, too!), we write, we think back on our university courses, we seek out new knowledge on our iPads, we contemplate the finer points of existence. I don’t feel I gave up my brain to be a mother—I’ve never felt that. In fact, I feel this has been the greatest challenge (requiring the most mental discipline and creativity) of which I have ever been blessed to be a part. The intellectual side of me feeds into my role as a mother: I did not sacrifice one for the other. I simply made a choice about where to put that intellectual curiosity, vitality, and energy. Trivia is fun; true deep knowledge is even better; my children are for always.

And I can still rock Jeopardy! (depending on the night). So yes, Alex, kudos to Megan for representing the SAHM-units! But it isn’t that unusual. No more incredulity, okay?

Sincerely,

Your Biggest Fan

One of the first things people learn about me is how much I love all of my cousins on both sides of my family, and how alike they are to brothers and sisters. The MLH (Matics-Lambert-Horne) cousins, and we are numerous, are family who have chosen to be friends for life. With marriage, we have added to our numbers: Bethany gave us Marshall (and Marshall has given us his brother Mike), Brandon has brought us Hannah from England, my brother David has given us Ashley. Truly, these spouses are more than just honorary cousins; to us, they are part of our brood for better or worse, in sickness and health, forever. When you marry an M or an L or an H, you truly marry the whole family.

Whenever I say my thanks for my cousins, I never can do so without honoring and being grateful for my parents, my aunts, my uncles, and especially my grandfather—all of whom made key decisions at pivotal times to put family above everything else. I am so humbled by the legacy of family love that they left us. At times when I have really started to grasp how truly huge a legacy it is, I am humbled beyond comparison. I think of times in high school when I chose to study instead of attending a family event, or times when I reveal my quirkiness, or times when I have been at my worst or best—and guess what? No matter what, MLH is always there. We never leave each other; we know how to watch someone test wings without forsaking her or him.

My cousin Kd drove up from Vista for a playdate this afternoon. I share a different special bond with all of my cousins for different reasons. Part of the neat thing about me and Kd together is that we represent the eldest and youngest of Grandpa Don’s eight grandchildren. The first and the last. There are a dozen years between us. I relate to the heart she has inside of her; she inspires me all the time. She is constantly doing sweet actions for others and thinking about them. She is both a young and an old soul at the same time—one reason I love her so. She is a blessing to our family, and I cannot imagine us without her. She has an inner light by which many of us can see ourselves better.

A picture taken at Grandpa’s Valley Center New Year’s Eve celebration, back in 2006. I am on top. From left to right: Jocelyn, Meredith, and Kd. Cousin love. (But not nearly all of us)!

It is a gift to me in this life that Kd wants to spend time with us, and that she values being part of Katie’s and Eric’s lives. What did I do to deserve such a gift in life? Watching her and Katie today, I kept smiling. I think Katie needs her in her life. They are copacetic, on the same wavelength. Even some of Kd’s preferences at Katie’s age mirror those of my daughter. She is a role model of someone who conducts herself with dignity, resilience, and gracefulness, of someone who honors her family.

Kd and Katie played Play-Doh and made jewelry out of it while I prepared lunch. I love watching them together. Katie asked Kd to tell her various stories from Kd’s life. I can see that she admires Kd. How awesome is that? And so Grandpa Don’s legacy of family love, perpetuated in turn by my dad and his siblings, is starting to be passed already to the next generation…

Here is a picture of almost all of us at my brother’s wedding last June:

A few are missing, but one day we will get everyone (all spouse-cousins and spouse-brother-cousins and even the next- generation-cousins) in one picture!

Growing up, I never knew that not all cousins were as close as mine. The longer I have lived, the more I understand what a rare gift I’ve been given.

Thank you, Kd, for your visit today. You brought your joy! What a gift!

I have been re-reading some of the work of Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher. Although I am not a Taoist, Lao Tzu’s work the Tao Te Ching is a favorite text of mine.

“Manifest plainness,/Embrace simplicity,/Reduce selfishness,/Have few desires.”

“Be Content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
“The sage does not hoard. The more he helps others, the more he benefits himself, The more he gives to others, the more he gets himself. The Way of Heaven does one good but never does one harm. The Way of the sage is to act but not to compete.”
“Treat those who are good with goodness, and also treat those who are not good with goodness. Thus goodness is attained. Be honest to those who are honest, and be also honest to those who are not honest. Thus honesty is attained.”

And finally, one of my favorites:

“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”

Reflections for a Tuesday night…

The night quickly marching on before me, with sleep to capture and a few more details to finalize on a photograph project, I have been dutifully pondering tonight’s blog topic.

And pondering.

Nada. Writer’s block. Nothing.

My sprained/broken/wrenched little toe?  Too whiny.

The insurance/medical related frustration? Too negative.

More about reading Little House in the Big Woods? Too repetitive.

Why this blog is hard to write tonight? Too much of a cop-out. Um, whoops, too late…

I asked my daughter what to write about, and she replied, “You can write about me! Why I am sweet! And what kind of books I like!”

My husband suggested I write a meta-blog on how difficult it is to write a daily blog. (I guess I kind of went with his idea).

My son is sleeping. Smart boy. Should be what I am doing.

Good night everyone!

 

Our young children are ours for but a second in life, and I intend to savor this time as much as possible. I celebrate them, I celebrate my oldest daughter. Katie brings so much effervescence to our lives daily, full of vitality, full of sweetness, full of her strong sense of self.

Today we were taking a little quiz about something, and one of the questions was about something she would really dislike. Among the choices were “going to my room,” “feeling left out,” and so on. Her choice was, “being apart from my family.” A girl after my ow heart: “There’s no place like home.”

As our friends on Facebook know, Katie and I are now deeply involved in Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Today we waited patiently, reading shorter books and playing other games, until Eric settled in for his morning nap. Then we made a big roaring fire in our fireplace, hunkered down with blankets and pillows on our couch, and, with the wind gushing outside, we snuggled in with our Laura book. Katie adores the character of Pa. She loves his fiddle songs (we always sing them ourselves as we read), and she is fascinated with his stories. Often, she asks me to go back and read Pa’s stories over again. She listens attentively when we are told about the ways in which the family makes things: butter, bullets, clothes, etc. Katie wants to make homemade butter next week, and getting cream is on our grocery list. Homemade butter is truly delicious, so I am happy to oblige.

To go out yesterday, Katie wanted to dress up (of course!!!) as Laura:

We pulled out Katie’s corduroy dress, and it was her idea to add the bright green satin sash (Laura’s dresses have sashes). My little half-pint.

Last night, we rejoiced in the robust, luminous moon, which periodically scintillated from out behind the clouds, throwing off sparkles of pure light as we danced and played with our shadows for almost twenty minutes. The cold air brushed our faces, and we could smell the cozy scent of hearth fires in the air. We imagined a world in which, at night, everything outside turns to candy and sweets and had fun figuring out what everything would be. Katie is so free and lively, and it was a special moment because we got to stay up past bedtime a bit and be just the two of us together.

My non-stellar photography notwithstanding, I think this picture captures the excitement of Katie as she danced on the driveway in the moonshine.

Last night also, we made our St. Patrick’s Day dinner finally, for our McGaugh Family Movie Night. Katie had three helpings of the roasted haricots verts with shallots, ate all of her filet mignon, and ended up skipping her broccoli cheddar soup (which she normally loves). For dessert, we made Funfetti cupcakes (we took a shortcut this time) to represent the rainbow, and then we made green frosting for the top.

A beautiful weekend!

 

Reading far too late into the night last week, I recently finished my first ever digital book—on my iPad 2. I know, I know: is that a little bit of ice I see forming around the entrance to…well, you know, that very bad place?

While I shall never be able to relinquish my library full of worn pages, the feel of paper turning beneath my fingertips, or the scent of the leaves, I have to say that there are definite advantages to reading on my iPad. I don’t need to wake up sleeping people with lights, and I can still read in bed; something about the lighting, font size, and not having to turn physical pages has actually made me an even faster reader (I can read fairly fast to begin with, but with two kiddos, any little uptick of speed really helps); and the copy of the book is easy to port about. Part of me still yearns to hold the book itself in my hands, though everyday we are constantly redefining what the Platonic ideal of “bookness” in this era of technology.

Published in September 2010, Room: A Novel is narrated by Jack, a precocious five-year-old who lives with his Ma in an 11 X 11 room. This room is actually a prison; eight years previously Ma had been kidnapped by the man known as “Old Nick,” who Jack only knows from peering out through the wardrobe when Old Nick makes his nighttime visits to Ma. Ma makes this room Jack’s whole world: he believes that images on TV are a fiction. Days are mostly entirely happy for Jack, as Ma invents games, a track course for Phys Ed, and toys from any scrap they can spare. Eventually Jack becomes aware of the real world outside of the walls around him and what follows is poignant and philosophical.

Author Emma Donoghue actually warns us implicitly about over-analyzing the story: Jack overhears characters later in the novel discussing the similarities between his story and Plato’s cave allegory, an obvious connection. In Jack’s report of that exchange, those with authority caution against a strictly academic interpretation of his story. I am still wondering what to make of this tacit instruction from the author. I am intrigued.

Instead, Donoghue guides us to consider another central issue: Ma’s choice to become pregnant with Jack in the first place. One of the later characters nearly flattens Ma with a question about her choice to conceive Jack at the hands of her tormentor, and thus, to bring Jack into the prison-world with her. It is clear, first of all, that bearing Jack was indeed Ma’s choice: she had conceived but lost a first child, we learn, and we also know that she has had access to birth control. This issue, for me, is the crux and brilliance of the whole novel.

Clearly, we are meant to wrestle with the temptation to excuse Ma’s choices  by reason of her victimhood. Yet, she is still accountable. How can readers question her choices with appearing insensitive? Yet the questioning process is the whole telos (the purpose) of the novel.

In the end, this questioning process that Donoghue artfully constructs brings me to this: in many ways, Ma’s decision to bear Jack is really no different than any mother’s decision to have a child. We bring children into an imperfect world, full of potential horrors, in order to create for them (and through them) a sense of lasting beauty and joy. Inasmuch as Jack and Ma’s room is a microcosm of existence, albeit a bit of an unusual one, Ma is faced really with the same philosophical questions that haunt us all: how far do we go to protect our children from the atrocities in the world? How much can we do to keep them in a perpetual state of innocence? How much do we reveal and when?

I enjoyed the journey of thought that this book took me on. Likewise, I was fascinated by the five-year-old narrator, the main reason I wanted to read it (I love when authors play with narration technique). Donoghue crafted Jack with just the right amount of precocity. Any more, and he would have been unbelievable. Any less, and we would not be able to gather enough plot points to sustain the forward momentum of the story. Even so, there are several issues that remain unresolved and that we have to let go of as readers. For Jack, too, those plot holes are just not important, not even on his radar. Again, the technique of omission comprises one of the ways in which Donoghue guides us toward the goals of her novel.

Has anyone else read Room: A Novel? What did you think? What was your interpretation?

Eric has a distinct cry when he wants me, and he is doing it now. Bedtime, but he is uncomfortable. This blog represents the last few minutes of letting him try to settle himself. He usually goes right to sleep, poor fella. I think he is getting ready to cut his top teeth, at least one of them, which I can feel under the gum.

Eric needs soothing, and Katie is waiting patiently for her Little House book.

It is time to go be a mama first.

Good night, all! Thanks for stopping by tonight.