I was inspired to write this post when I read  another blog, though which blog it is, by now sadly I've forgotten.  The author posed the question to herself (and by extension obviously, to her readers):  What are the five things that are always in your fridge?  These are the items whose absence make you feel naked, so to speak, or at least socially so.  The shelf seems empty, bereft even.  You don't feel good about inviting people over when these precious items are no longer filling the spaces in your fridge reserved specially for them.    If your husband thoughtlessly thrusts another condiment into their Spot, you feel a surge of annoyance and then surreptitiously move his thing aside, preserving the Order of Things.   The 'surreptitious' part is key, though, as you don't want to provide him with fodder to call you controlling, of all things.  In no particular order, my never-be-withouts are:

1.  Sparkling Water - I always feel so elegant sipping on a glass of this.  It makes me feel fancy without drinking wine.  This is my weekday 'wine,' and by extension, the kids are not allowed to touch it.  I think in their little minds, sparkling water  is akin to alcohol and I've even heard it referred to as 'Mommy Pop.'
2.  Aged Cheddar - Does this really require further elaboration?  It's sharp, aged cheddar.  I need it.
3.  Whipping Cream - I allow  myself one dollop of this each day in one of my cups of coffee.  My bum cries out from the overindulgence of it, but I don't care.  My bum and I have been together for 37 years now and I say it's time for the bum to get over it.
4.  Olives - Ahhh.  I love olives.  All sorts of olives.  I've never been able to relate to the olive-haters among you.  My favorites would have to  be the garlic stuffed sort and the almond stuffed sort.  They're fancy and pungent and sort of other-worldly all at the same time.
5.  a Gargantuan Container of Diced Garlic - I've always suffered from a mild inferiority complex induced by my use of two items that I can't stop myself from using (and liberally) time and time and time again.  These trailer trash foods of mine are store-bought pre-diced garlic and canned mushrooms (which seem to me to be the stuff of Heaven Itself.  I could easily sit in my darkened closet and secretly eat cans upon cans of these, plain, without adornment .  I'm not saying I do, though.  Just that I probably could.  I'm practically a Hobbit in my passion for mushrooms of all sorts, most especially the ersatz canned variety.).  But back to garlic:  many of my lovely, well-intentioned friends have tried to convince me to go the more 'foodie' way of crushing one's own, fresh garlic, but the hassle of it puts me off every time I reconsider the idea.  I know, I know.  Fresh garlic is in a whole other category of garlic.  I've heard. 

If I were to be so bold as to extend the list somewhat (other than my passionate diatribe regarding mushrooms), I'd undoubtedly have to tack on these precious foodstuffs:

6.  capers
7.  canned diced tomatoes
8.  feta cheese
9.  hot pickled vegetables
10.  hotsauce

What's in your fridge?  Tell me!  I must know!  (Plus, I want to know who's reading this.  Evidently, yesterday, 52 of you did, which I find delightful and shocking and so encouraging.  Delurk!  Delurk you chickens!)
Pen and Ink drawing from nanlawson.etsy.com
Anabel is not long for the world of Pre-Teen.  I find that I can hardly believe it, cliche or not.  She'll be 13 in April and because she's our first-born, when I stop to really dwell on it, I can work myself into a quite a tizzy. 

She's our 'practice' kid.  She's the one who we think we have to be perfectly consistent with.  We're scared we might ruin her otherwise.  We are least lenient with her, though she's without question the most responsible.   We have the highest of high standards for her.  And she consistently lives up to them and in fact, raises the bar time and time again.  But every now and then, the first-born in me revolts just a little over all this.  Of course, the way we parent her creates a prototypical firstborn and she wouldn't be Anabel without it all, but sometimes I wish the world could be a little less exacting for her sake.   Sometimes I wish she would come home with a B+, or even a B.  I think it would be healthy for her to see that life doesn't hinge on one's sustained perfection.   I think that for her to make a colossal Blunder (capital B) might not be the worst thing in the world for her, so long as it doesn't involve me housing and parenting a newborn belonging to her and some Idiot Boy, around whom I'll grit my teeth  and try never to refer to as such (o I pray this theoretical boy stays far, far away from me and mine).  Maybe Anabel would see then that her worth doesn't depend on her performance.

So clearly though, she wouldn't be Anabel without the precise environment she's been raised in.  And she's so perfectly, greenly herself.  She's awash in a world of calm competence, almost as though she's underwater in a perfect, green world where serenity surrounds and permeates everything.    Her fair skin - in sharp contrast to the brown, brown skins of her siblings - looks like its origins are translucently submarine.  She glides through life, making everything look effortless and even elegant.  Sometimes  though, she limits herself in the things she'll try, as she likes to know beforehand that she'll be gracefully perfect.    I like to lend her my clothes and jewelry as they look so beautiful on her; feasting my eyes on my own clothes folding around my daughter's perfect little (but not so little anymore) body brings me far more joy than owning these items for my own sake. 

I always wondered how it would feel as an aging mother, to watch as one's daughter grew to be more beautiful and better in ways the World values than oneself.  The One ebbs while the Other flows.  I used to wonder if felt like a stabbing pain or more like a dull, under-the-skin ache that doesn't subside.  The growing obsoleteness of the woman seemed pitiful to me before I became her.  And now that life unfurls to find me here, this very woman, I'm reminded of Jesus' words  in John 3:30.  They say, "He must become greater; I must become less," and I'm surprised by the joy they bring in their wake.  To see the world receive my Little Love so beautifully, so enthusiastically even, makes me feel a deep happiness.  I see so clearly now that it's not either/or.  It's both and all and everything all at once.
From Beat This!
By Ann Hodgman, who writes:

This may be the best dessert in the world. It's certainly my daughter Laura's favorite. When she was six, she wrote her own version of the recipe, which read as follows:

4 squares of bitter chocolate
some buttercream
one bag of raspberries
plan crust

Melt the bitter chocolate. Smush the raspberries. Make the crust. First put the raspberries in the crust. Then buttercream. Then freeze it. Then it is done.

Laura was wrong about one thing. This recipe doesn't freeze well at all; the raspberry filling goes all kerflooey. (Generally, sauces and fillings containing cornstarch can't be frozen.) But you can make parts of it ahead of time if you want to. I'd recommend it because the pie is rather labor-intensive to do all at once. The crust (which can be frozen) can be made a few days in advance, as can the raspberry filling (which should be refrigerated).

Note that there are uncooked eggs in this pie. For a while I worried about what to do with uncooked eggs in this book. Finally I decided it would be enough to warn people about them. I've fed this pie to lots and lots of people, and they're all still with us.

Tart Shell

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 10-12 slices

1/4 cup ice water

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Raspberry Filling

1 12-ounce bag unsweetened frozen raspberries, thawed

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

White Chocolate Buttercream (reserve 1/2 cup for optional garnish)

4 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup superfine sugar

Pinch salt

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Note: If the eggs or butter are too cold, you will end up with a gloppy mess.

Chocolate Glaze

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

Garnish (optional)

10 fresh raspberries

Reserved 1/2 cup white chocolate buttercream

Tart shell: Butter the sides and bottom of an 11-inch round fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, place the flour, the sugar and the salt. Pulse the processor on and off a few times to blend the dry ingredients. Drop the sliced butter on top of the dry ingredients and pulse about 20 times, or until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Combine the water and vanilla extract in a small bowl. With the processor motor running, pour the water mixture through the feed tube. Process just until the dough forms a ball.

Divide the ball of dough into 4 roughly equal portions and place them in the buttered tart pan, spacing them evenly. Using your fingertips, press the dough evenly into the tart pan. The dough should be slightly thicker around the sides and should extend about 1/4 inch above the top of the pan.

Chill the dough for 1 hour. Then preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly butter one side of a 14-inch square of aluminum foil and place it, buttered-side down, on the unbaked tart shell. With a fork, prick through the foil (and the tart shell, of course) in 12 places on the bottom and 8 places on the sides. Then fill the foil with 2 cups of aluminum pie weights, raw rice or dried beans, spreading them evenly.

Bake the tart shell for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the edges are slightly browned. Carefully lift out the foil and whatever you've weighted it with, and bake the shell for about 10 minutes more, or until it is entirely golden brown.

Cool the shell on a rack, leaving it in the pan.

Raspberry Filling: Strain the thawed raspberries through a fine sieve a little at a time, pausing frequently to dump out the seeds. Stir the lemon juice into the pureed raspberries.

In a small nonaluminum saucepan, stir together the sugar and the cornstarch. Then thoroughly whisk in the raspberry puree. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it reaches a full rolling boil. Continue to boil the mixture, stirring, for 5 seconds, then remove it from the heat. Don't taste too much of ityou really need it all.

If you're making the raspberry filling the day before you make the tart, cool it to room temperature; then cover it with plastic wrap and chill overnight. If you're making it on the day you plan to use it, stir over iced water until chilled. Then cover it with plastic wrap and chill it.

White chocolate buttercream: In the top of a double boiler over hot waterneither boiling nor simmeringstir the white chocolate until it is two-thirds melted. Then remove from over the hot water and stir until thoroughly melted. White chocolate gets very nasty when it's overheated, and this will help keep it from seizing. If the chocolate isn't already tepid, cool it until it is.

In the small bowl of a standing mixer, or in a medium bowl with a hand-held mixer, cream the butter and sugar together for 5 minutes. Gradually beat in the tepid white chocolate and the salt. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating the mixture until fluffy after each egg. Beat in the vanilla extract. Set aside 1/2 cup of the mixture to garnish the tart, if you plan to do so.

It will all go easier if you leave the tart in the tart pan for now.

Spread the chilled raspberry filling evenly across the bottom of the baked tart shell. (One of those half-width rubber scrapers works well for this.) Spread the white chocolate buttercream across the raspberry layer. Be sure you extend the buttercream all the way to the edges; don't leave any raspberry filling showing.

Chill the tart for 30 minutes to firm the buttercream layer.

Chocolate Glaze: In the top of a double boiler, over barely simmering water, stir together the chocolates and the butter until they're mostly melted. Then remove from the heat and stir until fully melted. Cool for 5 minutes. Take the tart out of the fridge.

Pour the chocolate glaze over the buttercream, tilting the tart pan back and forth until it's thoroughly coated. (It doesn't matter if some glaze drips over the sides.) If that makes you too nervous, you can spread the glaze with a spatula.

Chill the tart yet again. If you plan to garnish it, place the reserved 1/2 cup buttercream in a pastry bag or a pastry tube fitted with a star tip. Pipe 10 evenly spaced rosettes around the center of the tart, and top each rosette with a (perfectly dry, so it won't smear) fresh raspberry.

Or you can just do the rosettes. Or you can just eat the buttercream with a spoon. When I'm pressed for time, I melt about 3 ounces of white chocolate, dip my finger in and repeatedly shake my finger over the tart. This makes a sort of scribbly pattern that I like to think looks high tech.

Return the tart to the refrigerator until serving time.

About 1/2 hour before serving, remove the tart from the refrigerator and take it out of its tin. Then set it on a serving plate and leave at room temperature until the rest of the 1/2 hour is over.

Serves 6 to 8, depending on seconds requested.

*My only comments are that I didn't strain the raspberry concoction as I love the seeds and that this dessert is one of the very best things I've ever eaten.  It's actually crazy.  This is anything but average.
Birds are my new Thing!
So Beautiful
These are my favorites; love the vintage feel of them
Look at how delicate, feminine and unique these are!
Look at what I found!  For many of you, Etsy is old hat.  But I'm an etsy newbie and have only just now made my first purchase.  Etsy, for those of you who don't yet know, is a site that features hand-made products created by people all around the world.  I could spend all day there, browsing endlessly.  The pictures above show my first delicious purchase!  I'm giddy about it.  The packaging was beautiful and the seller even included a coupon for a discount for a future purchase and a free pair of 'thank you' earrings.  I'm so impressed.  Check out Christina's etsy site.  You can find her at:  http://www.etsy.com/shop/CoffeeAndCream
Roosters Freely Roaming Everywhere
Mexico was sheer loveliness.   My cell phone’s battery was dead for days, nay weeks.  Our family lived in an airy, bright and probably magical condo where the Four shared a single bedroom.  Instead of invoking the spirit of sibling Christmas wrath the way I suspected it might, it bonded them powerfully.  Amazingly, there was almost no bickering.  There were almost no complaints, despite the fact that the Littles' schedule necessitated some changes in the Bigs'.  Anabel and Jude wouldn't ordinarily choose to start their day at the crack of dawn.  I wakened almost every day to the sound of muffled laughter.  That or the crowing of roosters.  We did have to institute a new policy - the fart tax.  I'll only say that both boys are a little less wealthy after Mexico than before and leave it at that.   

Our Christmas that felt like a non-Christmas was a delight and I can’t remember the last time I felt this relaxed and content.  We drank what probably amounted to our own weight in pina coladas and thanks to JoyBoy, mastered the art of making them ourselves.  Jude and I glutted ourselves on seafood, and in the end paid a heavy - but well worth it - price for our smorgasbord of octopus, lobster, prawns, butterflied jumbo shrimp, clams and mahi mahi.  To think about it again makes me sigh.  It was yummy for my sick tummy. 

I could feel the Vitamin D soaking into my skin as I lay there on the chaise lounge by the pool.  Little prickles of phantom sun pleasure meander their way down my forearms as I remember it.  It was a mish mash of colorful sensations all competing with one another for preeminence.  Laughing, splashing, delicious children.  A sky so blue it seems a cliche to try to describe it.  Faint snatches of diesel wafting through the air.  The thunderous crashing of waves so loud and so rhythmic you wonder how anyone could discount the Existence of a Creator.  The hot sun making its sultry way into the darkest, most chill-infested recesses of your soul so that at times you feel that you might just be able to fly.  Hyperbole seems the only even reasonably sufficient way to describe the way I felt lying there, listening to all the sounds wafting around on the breeze.  There were times where I couldn't even bring myself to read, so entertaining was the simple processing of the stimuli perceived by my five senses.  It was a nice time.
A Sand Jesus
A Mexican Flag with Accompanying Diesel Plume
These men were incredible street/beach performers!
Things Done Differently
Life Is Good
There's this little boy named Oliver.  His physical size is misleading.  He's a mere six on the earthly-years scale, but on the inside, he's the biggest and strongest person I've ever known.  When at first I discovered that the little baby I held in my awestruck arms was a person of mammoth inner proportions, I felt chagrin.  I felt things akin to personal failure and discouragement.  I wondered why his tiny self wasn't yielding to my fruitless attempts to control him.   It seemed that he bucked my systems at every.  single.  juncture. 

It seemed that he was never so uncooperative as when my attempts to control him peaked toward their zenith.  When I took him to the grocery store and tried ineffectually to display to the world my maternal competence, he would throw a fit.  A very dignity defying fit.  The kind of fit that makes the corresponding mother think to herself:   I will never judge another mother of a tantruming child in a grocery store again.  The sentiment is a healthy one.  In my case, it's a long-overdue one.  The truth is that I've struggled with some smug parenting self-righteousness over the years.  I'm ashamed to admit that I'm kind of a my-way-or-the-highway kind of girl at times; being Oliver's mother is therefore so healthy for my sometimes far-too-big-for-its-britches dignity.  Me and my burgeoning pride have been benefited by being in countless public situations featuring Oliver refusing to respond to the crossing guard's kind greeting because he doesn't feel like it, or  dismissively telling his coach, while I look on from the sidelines:  You don't need to tell me that, you know.  I already knew that.  I've come to realize that I am not my children; they are fully themselves.   I cannot take the credit  (much as I'd like to) when they soar through their special challenge classes or when they fearlessly champion the kid on the school field who is being bullied and I do not take the blame when despite my best and continued efforts, they feel like being rude to another child inviting them to a play date.  I just remind myself to keep on keeping on.  And to do as I preach endlessly to them, to be the best Me I can be.

But Oliver is a boy of special giftedness, too.  Despite the fact that he's only recently turned six, he uses phrases like, "not necessarily" and "I find that frustrating."  The incongruity between his underwhelming physical size and the largeness of the words coming (incessantly) out of his mouth brings our family great amusement.  He thinks very highly of himself and doesn't let anyone around him forget for even a millisecond that he is worthy of respect.  And respect him they do.  You can't help but concede that he's a Very Important Person.   He's also very intelligent and very funny.  His Lego and Kinex creations stun you sometimes.   He has more energy than the average newborn star.  Parenting him - depending on his mindset - either makes me feel very young or very old.  He has high standards for himself and for everyone around him.  He is painstakingly honest.   He has the loudest, most infectious laugh you ever heard.  He is an amazing reader and Mathie.   He asks me questions all day long and frequently I don't know the answer to them.   He goes with me wherever I go, and the day that finds all that changed, will feel like an empty one to me.  His dominance, his intrinsic sense of right and wrong, his passion for creating things, his quickness to hold adults to high account, his precociousness, his life-spilling-over-ness - they stretch me.  These qualities of his make me more wise, less quick to battle for dominance.  He's helped me to pick my battles and to see that I'm not the only one who sees the Way clearly.  He's my son and I'm so proud of him.  What a person.