April 30, 2011

To my Husband

I went to a wedding today for a great guy friend that we’ve known for a few years now through the Air Force. It was a beautiful affair. The couple was very happy. When the priest was giving the homily, he talked about fate and how getting assigned here, not the most glamorous assignment, turned out to be one of the most important decisions in both their lives.

This would be Homecoming 1998. Wow.

My anniversary was yesterday. I spent it away from my husband. In fact, we are one for four for spending our wedding anniversary together. While this is a very sad statistic, in the history of our relationship, it is par for the course. I don’t say that meaning that I am mad or even that I’m feeling sorry for myself (though sometimes I do). I say it because it’s true.

Josh and I met basically because I didn’t get the schedule I wanted my junior year in high school. If you’re going to trace it back to one big item, it would be that schedule. The details are really a story for another time, but I’ve always felt very blessed that this one small fact pushed my fate from one path to another. After all, we went to the same secondary school for six years and never had a class together.

This blessed beginning, however, was followed by a long distance relationship during all of college (471 miles apart) and grad school (462 miles apart). Through a good dose of faith and a whole lot of stubbornness I then followed him halfway across the country to our first base. We shared an apartment, but I quickly discovered that I had actually moved there alone. He was gone so much that I had seen him more when we were nearly 500 miles apart. I lived practically alone, I had no good friends, and I worked at a job I hated and was horrendously underpaid for.

But things got better. He started to actually be at home. When the tail pipe fell off my car, he bought me a new one. When our lease ran out, he bought me a house. Then, a little more than a year after moving in together, he bought me a ring. Yes, this part of the story does feature a few items that are slightly out of order in the traditional love tale, but the big ones (school, marriage, babies) came in the right order.

Even now, though, after 12.5 years together, 4 of them married, he is often gone when I want him to be here. He has missed things. We missed celebrating his birthday four years in a row. He’s missed July 4th at least four years in a row. As previously mentioned, he’s missed three of our four married anniversaries.

And it doesn’t matter. It makes me sad when he misses these days. But they are only days. You quickly learn that you can celebrate those days whenever you want, however you want. More importantly, you learn that your love is not defined by a day—be it birthday, Valentine’s Day, or your anniversary. Love exists whether those days do or not.

I love my husband wherever he is in the world. All the time. And, to let you in on a little secret, do you know what we did the one anniversary we spent together? We had dinner at home, and I made him take me out for ice cream at Friendly’s. Because, when you don’t get to have your husband whenever you want, you learn that being together is the best gift of all.

April 22, 2011

Green Your Kids

In honor of Earth Day, I thought I’d come up with five child-related things that you can do to help “green” your household. I am a big fan of being green because not only is it good for the environment, 99% of the time, it saves you money! Total win-win.

  1. Used Clothing. While we all love to get that ridiculously adorable new onesie, the truth is that babies outgrow their clothing very quickly. Sometimes before they even have a chance to wear everything. If you have a friend or neighbor who offers you baby clothes, take them. If your neighborhood has a baby clothes swap or big yard sale, go to it. You’ll be creating less stuff that can end up in landfills, and you’ll be saving big bucks. Plus, it’s still new to you! On the same note, there’s nothing wrong with hand-me-downs. I have several space bags packed with clothes that are awaiting future kiddos. And even if we have a boy next, there are some gender neutral PJs that are coming out!
  2. Breastfeed. Because we are talking Earth Day here, I will skim over the vast health benefits for both baby and mom and simply say that there is good reason we ladies have breasts and we should use them! Breastfeeding is also environmentally friendly. Producing it does not require any carbon footprint outside of feeding ourselves, it costs nothing, and there’s nothing to wash or warm up, so no extra water or energy is used. Perfect food, right there.
  3. Cloth Diapers. There is an initial expense involved in cloth diapering, which sometimes turns people off. Depending on what type of diapers you use it could range (very roughly) from $125 (pre-folds) to $270 (pocket diapers). A very low ball estimate of how much it would cost for disposables for two years comes in around $600. Keeping in mind that you can reuse the cloth for more than one child, it’s really quite the steal. Cloth is also better for the environment in terms of the materials needed to make them versus disposables. Other benefits include fewer blow outs, generally fewer rashes, and cute plump bums.
  4. Stock the “Grocery” Shelves. These last two I am totally stealing from my friend Kate. If your toddler is at that stage where he or she wants to be like mom, set up your own grocery store for shopping fun. Just clean out and save old kitchen containers. It’s great to have something to do with containers you can’t recycle, and it’s cheaper than buying fake food at the toy store.
  5. Dirty Diaper Bags. Instead of buying those deodorizing dirty diaper bags to tote home soiled goods, just use old bread bags. After all, you are putting poop in them. Do you need new bags for poop? Collect bread, bagel, tortilla, and other bags and stock the diaper bag.
I’m sure that I am only scratching the surface of green living. If you have green tips, please share them in the comments!

Happy Earth Day.

April 17, 2011


Good friend and personal Trainer, Natalie Shovelain, asked me to share my spaghetti sauce recipe. But it’s really so much more than just a set of steps.

I come from a family that makes life work through food. We cook when we’re happy. We cook when we’re sad. We cook when we celebrate. We cook when we mourn. We cook just because we don’t want these bananas to go to waste, and they’ll make great banana bread.

Got to start early to learn to cook.

But while I have lot of food memories to choose from, spaghetti sauce is probably one of the most vivid from my childhood. It could practically be another member of the family.

I cannot tell you how many days I came home from school or opened the door to my grandparents’ house and inhaled the heavenly perfume of garlic, olive oil, and tomatoes. It makes me smile every time I smell it. The presence of sauce has marked untold birthdays, graduations, Sunday dinners, Christmases, and special events.

If you're going to cook, you'd better clean too.

You can’t tell from my married name, but I come from a very Italian family. I’m only third generation American through three of my grandparents. (Funnily, my Nana’s family has been here since the Revolution.) That same Nana, the only non-Italian in the mix, lived above her in-laws when she was first married. As a good, very young, new bride, she followed my great grandma Miraldi around the kitchen and became one of the best Italian cooks around, despite her lack of Italian descent. I love to picture Nana towering over my tiny great grandmother, who spoke only the most basic broken-English and used only a giant coffee cup as a measurement. I very much wish I had the chance to know Grandma Miraldi. It is through her that we come to the actual recipe, which is more of a method, which is really Italian for love.

Sauce (Cooking time: at least six hours)

A note before we begin: There is no written recipe. This is truly something you learn by feel and watching your mom do it 500 times. Accordingly, this may be the vaguest recipe ever written. But trust me, it’s worth it.

Tomato Puree (two 15 oz cans)
Tomato Paste (one 12 oz can)

I like to use a 6-quart pot. Brown the garlic in a little olive oil in the bottom on the pot, being careful not to let it burn. You can use one or more cloves of garlic, depending on how you feel about it. I’d recommend at least two. (I’ve been known to use as many as four.)

Once the garlic is brown, pour in the puree. Be careful because it will spit when the tomato hits the hot oil. Add the paste. Fill with water to about two inches below the rim of the pot. You want it thin, but not so watery that it’s just reddish water. Add in a palmful each of dried basil and parsley. (You can, of course, use fresh. In which case, you want a nice handful of each.) You’ll need to stir it around to mix in the paste.

Set the heat to high and wait for it to come to a boil. Once it boils, lower the heat and cover it with a cocked lid. You want it on simmer: just a few little bubbles, not a real boil. The cocked lid is very important to allow some steam, but not all the steam, to escape. You want the sauce to cook down.

I wasn’t kidding about the at least six hour thing. It takes time for tomatoes and water to turn into perfect sauce goodness. My Pop Pop always said that anything less than six hours was “fast sauce,” and he wouldn’t go near it. I have to say I agree. You’ll want to start this after breakfast, mid-morning sometime. As the sauce simmers you’ll want to stir it every couple of hours to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

When you have about four hours to go before you plan to eat, you can add in meat. The meat cooks in the sauce itself, and in turn, adds great flavor. My family puts in whole Italian sausage, both sweet and hot, meatballs, and (my personal favorite) pork chops. You don’t know good until you’ve had a pork chop poached in spaghetti sauce. You can put the meat in frozen (the sausage and pork, at least). The meatballs you can put in either raw or cooked. If you plan to fry or bake them, you don’t have to add them until an hour or less before.

Some extra tips to an Italian pasta meal
Meatballs are the iconic pasta accompaniment. Back before we were more health conscious, these would always be fried. In my house, a freshly fried meatball on a fork was like a meat lollipop. It was a special treat before dinner. When my brother and I would sneak back into the kitchen, forks bare, mouths slightly burnt, and eyes hungry for more, we’d get chased out before we could stab another meatball and leave nothing for dinner.

1lb ground beef
1 egg
1-2 cloves garlic
Italian flavored bread crumbs

You’re going to want to chop the garlic very fine. Otherwise, you’ll be biting into big chunks of garlic in your meatball, which may or may not be a problem for you.

Combine all the ingredients. You want enough breadcrumbs for everything to come together and not be too wet and slimy.

Form into balls and either poach, bake, or fry them.

Cooking pasta
While I trust that everyone reading this can boil water, I have run across some people in my life who do not cook pasta on a bi-weekly basis like myself, so I thought I’d throw in a few tips.
  • Despite what the box says, almost all pasta takes 8 minutes to cook.
  • The water must be boiling and it must remain boiling while you cook it. It’s ok if it has to go back up to a boil after you add the pasta. You can put a lid on it to help it re-boil faster, but don’t go far. You want to take the lid off as soon as it comes up or you’ll have a mess.
  • If you have problems with pasta clumping, then your pot is too small. Use at least 4 quarts for a pound of pasta.
  • The best way to tell if pasta is done is to taste it. Take a piece out of the pot and run it under cool water so you don’t burn yourself. It should be firm, but not raw. Pasta should never be mushy. “Al dente” means “with bite.” You want it a little firm.
  • Do not cook your pasta until you are ready to eat it. Never ever rinse it. You don’t want to remove all the good starch that helps the sauce stick. Just drain it and then immediately add your sauce.
Finally, a word on cheese. The best way to finish off a spaghetti dinner is with really good grated cheese. I swear by Locatelli pecorino romano cheese. You have to get it in the gourmet cheese case in the grocery store. It’s expensive, but totally worth it. It’s salty and sharp and it stands up to the very hearty tomato sauce that you just made.

Once everything is on the table, if you really want to be a good Italian, shout, “Mangia!” to call in the troops. Let’s eat.

April 11, 2011

His Dark Materials

Turns out this is a trilogy by Phillip Pullman. It’s made up of The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. It’s rather a convoluted plot, so please bear with me. I’m condensing as much as possible. Also, the plot may be somewhat offensive to some readers. Please remember that it’s a work of fiction.


Golden Compass: A spunky little girl, Lyra, gets embroiled in worldwide espionage when she saves her “uncle” Lord Asriel (really her father) from being poisoned. Her mischievous eavesdropping and subsequent rescue lead to a convoluted adventure to determine the very fate of God. Before any of that can happen, her best friend gets kidnapped (along with many other children), and she goes off to live with the glamorous Mrs. Coulter (played by Nicole Kidman in the movie). Mrs. Coulter turns out to be one of the bad guys, so Lyra flees with her daemon (A part of her soul that appears as an animal. Everyone in that world has one.) and her alethiometer (the golden compass, which allows her to ask any question and get a true answer). She’s taken in by gyptians (think gypsies) and together they go to the far north, save an armored bear from indentured service, and go off to rescue Lyra’s best friend and the other kids who were kidnapped. Turns out the kidnappers were working for Mrs. Coulter, who is also Lyra’s mother. They were experimenting on them to see if removing their daemon would enable the children to somehow exist without the taint of original sin, which the bad guys think comes from elementary particles they call Dust (no, I didn’t really follow the reasoning either). Either way, all the experiment did was kill the kids.

So, kids saved, Lyra and bestie Roger are reunited and go off with previously mentioned armored bear, Iorek Byrinson, to his homeland to return the throne to Iorek and to see Lyra’s dad who is imprisoned there. Lyra fast talks the false king, Iorek tears his jaw off and eats his heart, and Lyra sets off to see Daddy. Turns out Daddy has a crackpot plan to open a hole in the universe and set off to kill God (known here as the Authority). To succeed he has to kill Roger by separating him from his daemon and setting off some sort of cosmic bomb. He does all that and goes off into the mist, Lyra following. End scene.

The Subtle Knife: We’re introduced to Will, who is from our world. He’s trying to take care of a schizophrenic mom, who’s not entirely paranoid for nothing because strange men have been showing up and asking strange questions about his long-lost father. The strange men break in; Will tackles one of them and accidentally sends him down the stairs, where he presumably breaks his neck. Now running from the law as well as the strange men and in search of his dad, Will comes across a weird looking spot of air in the suburbs of Oxford. Closer examination reveals that it’s a hole to another universe. Will goes across thinking he’s found the perfect hiding spot.

The other universe is virtually empty of adults. It’s plagued by ghost-like creatures called Specters that eat adult souls. Kids are just fine. There Will runs into Lyra. They agree to help one another. Lyra finds a physicist in Will’s world who has also discovered Dust and it turns out that it’s some sort of sentient particle that collects around conscious beings and their artifacts. (All I can say is, “Don’t question the movie.”) Lyra also runs into a kindly old man who turns out to be a bad guy and steals her alethiometer. This sets up a standoff in which the guy promises to return it if Will and Lyra steal a knife from the other world. When they do, they discover that the knife has the ability to cut anything in the universe, including the fabric between the universes. This leads to the stealing back of the alethiometer and Lyra and Will fleeing from Mrs. Coulter and her bad guy buddy who want both Lyra and the knife.

The kids are aided by witches from Lyra’s world and do a pretty decent job of escaping. Meanwhile, Will’s dad turns out to have been stuck in Lyra’s world and is now in search of him to tell him that the knife is the most important weapon in the war against the Authority. Also, Lyra’s physicist friend, Mary, talks to the Dust who tell her to go to another world and play “the serpent.”

Coulter and her baddies catch up with the kids. While Will is meeting his dad for the first time, she kidnaps Lyra and kills all the witches save the witch queen who was out on a side mission. Will learns that he’s of the utmost importance in the war, his dad is killed by a witch who was scorned by him, and two angels appear to him to lead him to Lyra’s dad. Will refuses until he can rescue Lyra.

The Amber Spyglass: Lyra spends a good part of the book asleep in a cave in the Himalayas of her world, where her mother has her drugged to keep her away from the church, who wants to kill her. Turns out that witch prophecy says that Lyra will be the new Eve, and the church would like nothing better than to kill Eve before she can be tempted. Will spends a good amount of time trying to find her. He hooks up with Iorek Byrinson, armored bear, and together they find Lyra with the help of Will’s angel friends.

Battle ensues. The church and Lord Asriel’s forces both show up the same time as Will. The church wants to kill Lyra and take the knife for themselves; Asriel wants the opposite. The battle provides cover for Will to save Lyra, but in the process he manages to break the knife. Coulter is captured by Asriel. Finally, Iorek uses his awesome bear skills to fix the knife, though it goes against his better judgment. (Did you not know that armored bears are very skilled metal workers? Who do you think makes the armor?)

Knife fixed, Lyra and Will go on a quest to the world of the dead. Lyra feels she needs to apologize to her friend Roger (from the first book), and Will wouldn’t mind talking to his dad again. They manage to cut through with the knife and get to the ferry that will take them to the world of the dead. Only problem is that daemons can’t go to the world of the dead and every live person has one whether you can see it or not. Lyra’s daemon is left behind to great pain and misery on both sides and Will also suffers.

Turns out that all dead souls are brought to a dull, gray, endless wasteland with no way out. No heaven, no hell. More like hell though, because the keepers of the world are harpies that scream at you with every bad thing you ever did in life. Lyra and Will make a deal with the harpies to lead them to a place in the underworld where Will can cut a hole into another world and let the souls out. There they would break into tiny pieces to become one with all of creation.

While they’re traversing the world of the dead, the church tries to assassinate Lyra from afar with some sort of bomb that targets her in any world so long as they have some DNA. (I thought this was the least plausible of all the highly suspect parts.) Mrs. Coulter escapes Asriel in an attempt spy for him against the church, unwittingly supplying the hair needed for the bomb, and then tries to stop the church. Disaster is averted, but a giant fissure is created in the fabric of the universe and Dust starts pouring out.

Back at the ranch, the dead are released. Happy dead people. Lyra and Will go off to find their daemons and in the process accidentally kill the Authority. He was really old and they found him in the woods after his guard had been killed. In trying to release him from his crystal litter, the wind pulled him apart. Asriel and Coulter, meanwhile, sacrifice themselves to kill the Regent to the Authority who was the one with all the power. Lyra and Will find their daemons and escape into the same world the dead are being released into.

In the new world they meet up with Mary, who plays serpent by recounting how she fell in love when she was a teenager. Suddenly Lyra and Will realize they’re really Romeo and Juliet. All would end happily ever after, except that all this cutting between universes is letting the Dust leak out and if all the Dust leaks out then consciousness goes with it. Also, you can’t live for more than a couple of years in a different universe from your own. Only one door can be left open, and Will and Lyra decide that it must be the door for the dead. And so, they are parted forever. The end.

Other thoughts:
  • Dear goodness, that was really long and complicated. Believe me, I left out giant parts of the story, and it’s still that long.
  • There was a lot of highly theoretical and mature topics in these books considering that they are young adult fiction. Just because the main character is a kid doesn’t mean that the books are aimed at children. I sort of think it’s dirty pool to aim this at children without making sure there’s an adult they can talk to while reading it.
  • The series has been billed as the anti-Narnia. Now, I have not read The Chronicles of Narnia yet. Regardless, it took an entire book and then some for me to finally pick up on the whole, “Let’s kill God,” plot. Clearly this is where it differs from Narnia.
  • On that same note, I was not nearly as bothered by the let’s kill God idea as I thought I would be. Let me explain. First, I have a very strong, “This is fiction,” instinct, because if someone suggested this in real life, I would take issue. Second, in reality what the author seems to want to kill is not God himself, but the oppression of the church, here symbolized by the actual God. He’s not entirely wrong in asserting the fact that the church has been responsible for some of the worst oppression and persecution in history. Still, it’s a pretty risqué plot line.
  • From a dorky physics major perspective, the fact that he cast Dust as dark matter was both cool and kind of ingenious. For those who don’t know about dark matter: based on the math, for the universe to exist as we know it, it should, in theory, have a whole lot more matter than what we can measure; the theory goes that dark matter makes up the rest of it. It’s all around, but we can’t see or measure it. In the series, this is the source of consciousness and intelligent thought.
  • I do sort of wish I had a daemon. It would be cool to have an awesome animal companion all my own that could talk to me.
  • Lame ending. I don’t see why we couldn’t have had a little happiness there. At the very least, he could have given us a nice epilogue about how Lyra and Will live full and meaningful lives.
We are now coming to Shakespeare. I’m going to try to do it a play at a time and provide some mini-post commentary on the way. Meanwhile, I’ll be continuing with the novels. Anyone have a copy of Rebecca I can borrow?

April 1, 2011

Five Things I Didn't Expect Before I Became a Mom

I was out last weekend with some girlfriends, and during a quick bathroom trip I realized number 4 on my list. That made me wonder about other “A-ha” moments in the life of a mom.
  1. How totally head-over-heels in love a smile/kiss/hug can make you. H has only recently learned to give hugs and kisses. Now you can ask for a hug or a kiss, and she’ll come over and offer you her little pursed lips or put those small, chubby arms around your neck. There is literally nothing better in the whole world at that moment. I imagine that the only thing that will top this is when she learns to say, “I love you.” I will probably cry. This quality is also what keeps me from tearing my hair out on some days. 
  2. The unique brand of mother exhaustion. When they’re very small, you are no kidding physically exhausted from the walking and holding and bouncing at all hours of the day and night. Now I’m mostly just mentally exhausted. I have a pretty calm kid, but when she’s having an off day, it is downright painful sometimes. Car trips are the worst. We’ve gotten stuck in DC traffic a few times now, just she and I. She gets bored and throws her toy and burp cloth. I cannot always reach these items. If I can’t, she cries. And cries. A couple of times I have found myself yelling. Not really yelling at her, but just yelling to try to be heard over the craziness. I immediately feel terrible and fear that I have emotionally scarred her. Those are the times when no matter what the house looks like or what needs to be cleaned, you just collapse on the couch and watch the DVR. If I didn’t have great neighbors to talk to on a daily basis, I really don’t know what I’d do. Everyone needs a release valve, which brings me to my next two points. 
  3. How odd it feels to get out of the car and have only a purse to carry. When I do get to leave the house alone, which I now do on Wednesdays (that’s Mommy’s sanity time), I always think I’ve forgotten something when I get out of the car. How can I have only one bag to carry? Where is everything else? Is there not a small, squirmy child and a stuffed animal to carry, with a diaper bag and a purse? No stroller to unfold? No carrier to strap on? You mean I just get to look cute with my nice bag and cool shades? Huh. Cool.
  4. How nice it is to pee all by yourself. So there I was, in the extremely chic bathroom of a groovy DC restaurant. I close the door, pull down my tights, and instinctively check to make sure my toddler is not touching something disgusting. Wait. There is no child! I am alone. I can pee and no one will knock on the door (we hope) or try to grab my panties or the toilet paper. When you’re a mom, your toddler is with you 98.5% of the time. That includes toilet time, both yours and hers. To have that whole little room to myself was to realize that I was truly out with adults, all by myself! This is important for everyone’s sanity.
  5. How quickly she’d grow. H is very nearly two. She is very much on the petite side, but she’s so much bigger than she was as a baby. I know this intellectually. Most of the time, however, I just see her current smallness and feel how well she fits in my arms. Then we visit with my neighbor’s six-month-old, and I realize just how far we’ve come. She walks; she talks; she helps get dressed; she can feed herself; she can follow simple commands. A toddler is light years ahead of a six-month-old. I try to remember Helen at six months, and I almost can’t. I look at the pictures of her—so small and sweet. But my life was so different then—what I was able to accomplish, how I was able to accomplish it. It makes me sad to think that her babyhood is over in seemingly the blink of an eye. But she is such a cool kid! Today we colored together, and she pointed out that the picture was an octopus. We learned how almost every animal has a tail, and she helped me pick up her toys before bed. And I still get to hold her and kiss her, even if she is a toddler. And I’ll keep doing it until she threatens to run away because I’m “ruining her life.” Then I’ll still do it anyway, but not when her friends are around.

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