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A Humble(d) Thanksgiving

We had eight at the table for Thanksgiving dinner yesterday--the four of us, a student and her mom, and a college groundskeeper and his wife. It was a lovely and relaxed meal, very traditional, pretty much the same menu as always--turkey and gravy, cornbread dressing, baked yams, green bean casserole, fresh fruit salad, cranberry sauce and rolls. Over the years I've been doing this (about 20?) I've made peace with the corners I need to cut to remain calm--i.e., storebought gravy, rolls, and pie--and have figured out how to key the menu to available oven space (for example, the yams can be tucked into the corners of the oven around various casserole dishes). I also made good use of our fresh organic produce delivery, putting organic onions and celery into the dressing and boiling up organic cranberries for homemade cranberry sauce.

It was such a stress and sweat-free morning of preparation that I was doing quite a lot of silent self-congratulation. Everything was easy, everything went into the oven at the right time, the prep dishes got washed up BEFORE the meal was served, I had time to take a shower and put on makeup. "I have finally mastered Thanksgiving," I thought smugly to myself. "Next year I'm going to have to make something new to make things a little harder." I congratulated myself with a half-glass of red wine.

Our guests arrived and were assembled in the living room. Everything was on the table but the turkey--it was still "resting" in its roasting pan -- and Husband and I went into the kitchen to carve it and put the meat on a serving platter. Husband carved off a few pieces, and then turned to me. "I'm having trouble finding the breast," he said. So I took a closer look.

Oh yeah, I've finally mastered Thanksgiving. I had roasted the turkey UPSIDE DOWN.

We put our hands into the pan and turned the turkey right side up, and furtively sliced off enough to make a lovely platter of meat. I don't think anybody knew, and the turkey, of course, tasted just fine. Roasting is roasting is roasting after all, whether right side up or upside down or sideways. And my wonderful Husband, bless him, said he thought my mistake was "brilliant" because it made the breast meat really juicy, and that I should do it that way every year (um, no, Honey).

Loose Ends of Summer

We're finally back into the school year--Youngest started 8th grade yesterday, and Eldest started her senior year of high school today--and I'm vowing to blog a lot more regularly than I did this summer.

One notable summer event that I didn't get around to blogging about (maybe I should call it a "creative hiatus"?) was the reunion we hosted in July of Husband's family.  Husband's mother and father from California, sister and brother-in-law from Ohio, brother and sister-in-law from Missouri, as well as assorted children, all came to Portland for several days of food, storytelling, and mayhem (by mayhem I mostly mean the preschoolers climbing all over the teenagers). 

Besides the requisite talking and laughing, activities included a trip to Mount Hood, an excursion to the science museum, leisurely walks, church together on Sunday, and lots and lots of shared breakfasts, lunches, and dinners!

Here's a photo of the assembled children, ages (left to right) 11,17, 4,13,15, and 5:

We had a joint celebration of the birthdays of Youngest (13) and Grandpa (80) which come less than a week apart in July.  In this photo, Husband lights the candles on their shared cake (chocolate mousse cake, of course) while one of the Ohio cousins looks on.

And here's a sweet one of Youngest with one of her little Missouri cousins:


Dinner tonight was plate-licking tasty--the kind of meal I'll hear about on some future occasion when someone will say, "Remember when you made that great chicken thing?"  Sadly, though, I'm sure tonight's "chicken thing" is destined to live only in memory because I'll never be able to recreate it-- it was one of those "what's in the fridge, make it up as you go along" kind of meals.  First into the pot was the olive oil (foundation of all good things).  Next I sliced up little new potatoes and added them to the pot with some sliced onion and several cloves of garlic.  Stirred that around a little.  Then added some chicken broth and a bay leaf, covered it and simmered about 15 minutes.  After that I put in two stone cold frozen chicken breasts, some fresh snap beans, and a pour of white wine.  Fifteen more minutes on simmer and it was a meal to remember.

I also made a little blueberry crumble for dessert, which turned out sweet and syrupy and fruity and deeply, deeply purple-- bliss on the plate and in the mouth, and proving, perhaps, that fewer ingredients make more flavor (the ingredient list:  blueberries, lemon juice, margarine, sugar, flour).

Undoubtedly much of the credit for the renewed tastiness and variety of my cooking should go to the bountiful fresh veggies and fruits delivered to our door weekly by Organics to You.  Fresh and local does indeed taste better, and the assortment is different each week which is not only good for us, but is encouraging my culinary creativity.

Holiday Weekend

The days are very long right now in the Pacific Northwest--it's 9 pm right now and just beginning to be twilight--and our days continue to be full.  On the Fourth of July itself we did the classic all-American meal of hamburgers on the grill, macaroni salad, and brownies, and among the other events of the holiday weekend were the wedding that Husband did on Friday (followed by celebratory bowling) and church with the Lutherans today (Husband preached for them in the absence of their pastor). Youngest went out to a sleepover with a friend which allowed Husband and me to have a great dinner out without kids (Eldest still being on her mission trip in Los Angeles)--and we spent the afternoon today shopping at the outlet mall (Youngest got some new shirts, Husband got some new chinos, and I now have so many dresses that I'll have to start wearing them to work!).

In these last few weeks I survived the latest round of volunteer training classes (love those Saturdays at work) and managed to preach and lead worship three times in a row at the Presbyterian church of Laurelhurst.  Among the great joys of leading worship there was being able to baptize little Oliver on June 14th. (To read the baptism sermon, "Living Water," click here; sermons from the other two days are also posted.)

As we head into the heat of the summer, Husband and I are looking forward to our 20th wedding anniversary--on the same date scheduled for the premiere of the new Harry Potter movie and the advent of Walla Walla onion rings at Burgerville--and then a reunion with Husband's family, Youngest's birthday, and our week in Southern Oregon!


We've started things off with a bang here in May.  On Saturday Eldest and I drove down to the University of Oregon campus in Eugene (2 hours by car) so that she could compete in the State Solo Music competition.  We sang show tunes along with CDs all the way down there and back--"South Pacific" (the newest version that we saw on Broadway just last summer), "Gypsy" (with Patti LuPone), and "Light in the Piazza."  It was a fairly uneventful drive, except that just as we were exiting the freeway at Eugene we had a thundershower that roared and pelted down rain, threw up fog and mist, almost obscured our view out the front windshield, and slowed traffic to under 40 mph.  By the time we'd gone the few miles into Eugene, it had stopped and the sun came out.

Kids compete in all kinds of areas at the solo competition--everything from saxophone to piano to tuba to drums to voice.  Eldest is a mezzo soprano, and competed in the mezzo division with thirty girls from all over the state of Oregon (all of whom had scored highest in their district competition).  As each girl in turn stood by the piano and sang her chosen songs, three judges sat at a table at the back of the room and busily scribbled comments and critiques on buff-colored judging forms.  Eldest's time slot was the last of the day, and she did a lovely job singing her two selections:  "The Lass from the Low Countree" by John Jacob Niles and "Chanson d'Amour" by Faure.

It was particularly wonderful that Eldest's Voice Teacher (who is also Youngest's choir teacher at her middle school) was able to come down to Eugene for the day and hear her sing.  Another of Voice Teacher's students, also a mezzo-soprano and a friend of Eldest's, took part in the competition, and two more of Eldest's friends from middle school were there as well (competing in bass voice and soprano voice).

Here's a photo of Eldest and her singing teacher after the competition:

Eldest and I drove back to Portland, where Husband delivered her to the Junior/Senior prom (she changed into her prom dress and sassy red high heeled shoes in the bathroom at the Music Building in Eugene).  Here's a photo of Eldest in action at the prom (of course, she didn't get home till after 11 pm):

After church and a fairly relaxed Sunday, Eldest's Voice Teacher called to give her the news that results from the State Competition were in and that Eldest had placed 10th among the mezzo-sopranos.  We are so proud of her!

And just to prove that she's no slouch in the academic department, either, this evening we all attended the National Honor Society induction ceremony at the high school, at which Eldest was received into membership.

Up for her next week:  the AP US History exam and the premiere performance of a one-act play.  And then we're off to Chicago to look at colleges!


The Cruelest Month

April is awful. Not because "In the room the women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo" (mix one part Waste Land and one part J. Alfred Prufrock and stir), but because I work tomorrow (Saturday)--again. Sometimes this Volunteer Coordinator business is unwieldy and inconvenient. I've been out until 10 pm two nights this week and will be training volunteers all day tomorrow (last week it was the same schedule, sigh).

Combine this with the very busy April/May schedule of Husband (college dinners and lectures) and daughters (practices and performances) and we're lucky to sit down to dinner together twice a week. When we do manage to have dinner together it's often close to 8 pm before everyone is gathered and the food is cooked.

Just for fun, here are some fairly recent photos from the Mixmaster that is our life.

This one is from Youngest's recent trip to New York City with her choral Ensemble, as they perform in the Festival of Gold competition at St. Bartholomew's:

Here's a better photo of the Ensemble in New York--and Youngest is actually visible! She's standing on the far left, back row:

Here's one of me and Youngest in the airport before they left for NYC:

This is Eldest all dressed up for "80's day" at school. The heavily shoulder-padded peplum top is the one I wore as part of my "going away outfit" after our wedding in 1989:

And here's a not-quite-in-focus photo of Eldest at rehearsal for "Once On This Island"--she's the one in the center in the pink peasant garb, taking direction from her (slightly blurry) theater teacher:

This is all I can manage for now. . .

Google Bomb Away

This is a little bit different from what I usually do in this space--however, I've just learned that Amazon.com has stripped the sales rank information from books with GLBT content (as defined by Amazon).  This action prevents any of these books from coming up when you use an Amazon search feature--essentially "hiding" them from searchers.)  Now I have to admit that the GLBT genre isn't my usual reading, but this kind of censorship just amazes me.  There's a site here that lists some of the works which have "disappeared" and they include books by literary giants Christopher Isherwood, Annie Proulx, James Baldwin, and EM Forster, as well as some non-fiction (e.g., Dr. Nathaniel Frank's Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America).

i find this action on Amazon's part extremely distasteful and misguided, and it will certainly affect my book buying routine.  In addition, I'm hoping that a little covert action will influence them to rethink their decision--thus I am joining the effort to "Google bomb" them (linking to a negative definition of "Amazon rank" so that it will be the first result on a Google search).  Here goes:

Amazon Rank

Bombs away!

After the Ides

A strange March weather day today, going from pouring rain to bright sunshine to hail and back again over the course of a few hours.  I spent most of it in the car, doing errands and running Eldest to the doctor for a quick check up.  Amazing how a day off from work goes by so quickly in the space of just a few errands.

We all survived the high school musical "Once On This Island," with Eldest doing a marvelous performance as the lead, Ti Moune.  There were 8 performances in all, spread out over two weekends, and I saw 7 of them.  For a while there the earworming was so bad I would wake up in the middle of the night with the songs going through my head and be unable to get back to sleep!  The family schedule is getting back to what passes for normal, punctuated with singing lessons, choir rehearsals, and Youngest's practices for "Guys anad Dolls"--for at least a couple of weeks until the next adventure, Youngest's Ensemble trip to New York City.

I've been reading a lot of mystery novels--right now I'm in the middle of the Maisie Dobbs series (set in the early 30's) by Jacqueline Winspear.  For a while there after Eldest was born (and it's been a long time--she turned 17 yesterday), I couldn't read mystery novels because they suddenly became too scary for me.  I think it was one of Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta mysteries that made me put them down for good--not because the novel wasn't worthwhile (it was terrific), but because I was alone in the house with the baby and the book's wacko psycho killer gave me the serious willies.  Now that the kids are older, I've been able to go back to the mysteries, but mostly now I read historical ones--the psychotic killer action thus being safely in the past.

Other series on my shelf that I'm following include the Sebastian St. Cyr series by C.S. Harris, Laurie R. King's amazing Mary Russell series, Lauren Willig's flower-titled books, and Deanna Raybourn's Julia Grey series. Although for most of them I've reached the stage where I've exhausted the paperback backlist and am stuck awaiting the "hardback-only" new releases.

The Hive's Abuzz

It's my Dad's birthday, which means that this is the second anniversary of the blog and I need to write an entry!  It's hard to know where to start.  Husband and I morphed into our Super Alter Egos MomTaxi and DadTaxi for most of the weekend ferrying girls to church, parties, and rehearsals.

Eldest competed in the solo singing competition for our district, came in second, and will go on to compete at the State level later on in the spring.  She's the only one from her school chosen to go on to State, and her judge told her, "You have a beautiful lyric mezzo voice."  Eldest is just loving taking voice lessons, and claims that the district competition was "really fun."   This week we'll hardly see her as it's Tech Week for the upcoming "Once On This Island," and she'll be at school rehearsing until practically 11 every night until the show starts on Friday. Perhaps I mentioned that she has the lead role in the show? I am just going to have to accept that this girl (woman, really--she's 17 in a few weeks) is a performer at heart.

Youngest is on the serious birthday party circuit--there seems to be one every weekend.  The "scavenger hunt" party theme seems to be hot right now--she's been to three or four of those this month, with the occasional black-light miniature golf party thrown in--and pizza is ever-present.  Youngest has been cast in the chorus of her school's "Guys and Dolls," so that and Ensemble rehearsals fill her afternoons, and she's also taking confirmation classes which meet after church on Sunday.  Someone pointed out to me today that when Youngest turns 13 in July I will be the mother of TWO teenage girls--no wonder the MomTaxi is so active and exhausted!

Speaking of exhaustion, my recent check up at the doctor's office revealed that although my cholesterol etc. is great, my iron is low (again!) and my vitamin D level is, in the doctor's words, "abysmal."  Dr. Alice promises that if I am a compliant patient and take the MASSIVE iron and vitamin D supplements she prescribed, I will soon be feeling much more alert and awake and energetic.  Could the (in)famous Smith lassitude be the result of poor vitamin D levels? Will my co-workers and husband be able to stand an alert, awake, and energetic me? Time will tell!

Last night was my annual indulgence, the Oscars.  Husband lit a fire in the wood stove and the girls and I cuddled up on the couch with fried chicken and ice cream to watch.  A well-deserved congratulations to "Slumdog Millionaire," a brilliant, poignant, and exciting movie that wrung me out and lifted me up all at the same time.