Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania

  Early this year Jon introduced the idea of a Christmas Country. Anna or Isaac would pick a flag and we would learn about that country over the year. Come Christmas, we would incorporate some of their Christmas traditions, focus our charitable giving on that area, and I would make Christmas dinner based on the regional food. In February, Anna picked a flag that would appeal to any three year old: one with a moon and a star. The flag of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.
  Obviously, this presented some challenges in terms of incorporating Christmas traditions, but I was excited to try some of the food and learn a little about this north western African nation. It is also a country of some need, having one of the lowest GDP rates in Africa.
  Selecting our Christmas gift to Mauritania was easy thanks to World Vision's gift catalog. I like the idea of doing something tangible, and I also think it was useful for Anna. I can't say for sure whether our gifts went to Mauritania itself, but we figured it was close enough.
  Deciding on Christmas dinner was more difficult. There aren't many online recipes specific to Mauritania, but I eventually cobbled something together. We barbecued a leg of lamb, based on this recipe for lamb mechoui. We also made couscous, a modified spinach recipe inspired by hakko, and grilled root vegetables. We could not resist incorporating some of our own traditions, serving pita bread with tabouleh & hummous (graciously provided by Jon's mom), and pluma moos (a holiday soup made with dried fruit, common in Mennonite homes). For dessert, we made matrimonial squares (a date square), Americanized with Cool Whip. Yum!
  To commemorate Mauritania I printed out a small picture of the flag and Anna colored her own rendition on the other side. I'll cover this in sticky tack and make it into an ornament for the tree. I'd also like to find a set of test tubes with corked tops, and every year fill one with something symbolizing our country. Sand for this year, since a large portion of the country is desert.

  Other than that, we had a fairly typical Christmas. It is our first in Colorado, having spent the prior ones in Canada. We were blessed to have both of my parents and my brother stay with us (Mum is here until after the new year - sweet!), and Jon's parents came for dinner. My Dad was thrilled beyond measure to have a snow-free holiday. Temps were balmy, in the upper 40s and 50s. I missed the snow, but it certainly made travel easier. While family was here we went swimming, checked out the mall, had fun at our local indoor play ground, Jon & I went out for dinner a couple of times, and we all ogled the amazing light displays at some nearby houses. We also visited Zoolights, but that was a disaster. Isaac decided he wanted to attach himself to Jon instead of the stroller, and Anna was crushed that we didn't ride the carousel. On the upside, we ended up at the home of some dear friends who provided yummy snacks and hot chocolate. So it was well worth it in the end.
  Christmas morning was typical for us - stockings attacked, a break for fresh baked cinnamon buns, and then gift mauling. Since many gifts were shipped here from Amazon, and there was no way of telling whose was whose, I simply wrapped them all the same and we played "guess whose present." I received exactly what I wanted, including a newly detailed car and a camera. I cannot begin to tell you how badly we needed a camera.
  [I also gave myself a gift: highlighted hair. I've never highlighted before since I have very coarse frizzy hair. I also rather like its natural color. But the gray is coming fast and furiously, so I thought it would be a good time to experiment. I went with gray highlights, since it was something different. I like the color, but I wish the streaks were much wider and more dramatic. It looks a little too natural.]
  Among other things, Anna received the one gift she'd consistently asked for: a unicorn pillow pet. I had gotten her a pink pig (it's pink, she likes pink, right?) but it became obvious that a unicorn was where things were at. So I tried to return the pig to the store I had purchased it. But they gave me $4 less than I paid! And there was nothing they could do about it! So I took the poor piggy back and donated it. Now I was a pillow pet short, and there were no unicorns to be found. So I did what any hysterical parent would do: ordered it online and paid $10 more than I would have in the store. A few days after that unicorn pets were everywhere. Oh well. I will consider that $10 my own personal stimulus packet for the economy.
   Isaac's favorite gift appears to be a little bus my mom picked up at the dollar store. Although the hot wheels and books about vehicles are also hits. Anna is thrilled with her Ken doll, but the Razor was not as loved as I had hoped. And now it's snowing (finally!) so I think her scooter may reside in the garage for awhile.

  I wish you much joy in the New Year.
  2011 will be wonderful, I think.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas goodies

Apple crisp season melded into pumpkin goody time, and it is now the era of gingerbread. So far, all these baking opportunities have passed me by. I prefer baking to cooking, but man (and woman, and child) does not live by dessert alone. As with many things, it is hard to find the time for what I enjoy amongst the pressures of what must get done. However, some yummy desserts made their way to our home this season. Nanaimo bars (a decadent Canadian confection), biscochitos (a New Mexican specialty), and caramels are among them. The latter two came from the quarterly get-together that I enjoy with my local female in-laws. We convene at regular intervals to cook or bake and generally hang out. The caramels are from a recipe originating with Jon's great-grandmother. My MIL hadn't made it since she was a girl, so this was a great adventure. We learned, for example, that the caramel should only boil to 230 F (soft ball stage), not 245 F (medium ball). When it came time to cut up the slabs of caramel it was so hard we resorted to throwing it on the granite counters to break it into shards. Jon preferred using a hammer and knife, but I think that took too long. He also likes these caramels rock hard - no accounting for taste, is there?

Anna and I decorated a gingerbread house (no pics - camera is a bust and I'm still not sure how to get photos off my phone), and I hope to make gingerbread men. I want Anna to help with the cookies, but her enthusiasm is inconsistent. Since I'm not all that interested in eating them (I prefer actual gingerbread) cookies may not happen. Perhaps better to focus on the inevitable: cinnamon buns (a must have for Christmas morning, according to all the males in my family), and matrimonial cake. You may not have heard of the last one. It's a common dessert at potlucks where Mennonites are found: a yummy oatmeal cake with a layer of cooked dates in the middle. Dates are important this year, since they seem common in Mauritanian cooking. Mauritania is our "Christmas country," but I'll explain this further in a separate post. It is a big country, after all.

In other, non-baking, news... I guess there isn't much news. Jon was away for a couple of days this week, and I'm finding these trips to be less bothersome than when the kids were younger. The usual sicknesses have been around: runny noses, vomit, coughing, etc. And the snow levels have reached pathetic lows. Maybe that's why I haven't been baking as much. It's hard to get into a gingerbread mood when the temps are in the 60s. 
We did manage to go swimming today, and I was pretty proud of myself for pulling this off. We had a great time, and Anna is getting closer to sticking her head under water. Alas, things ended on a sad note when Isaac split his lip on the stairs of the baby slide. Lots of blood, and he keeps sucking on the wound. Yuck! He got over it, of course, and now is having an extra long nap. So, I still count our trip a victory.

Only eight sleeps until Christmas!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hurry Hurry Hurry

Whew! The floors are finally clean, after laying fallow for longer than I'd care to admit, and I have about 20 minutes to write an over-due post before picking up Anna from preschool. So this will be "out there" without editing - apologies for run-on sentences, non sequitars/sequiters/nonsequiters... and spelling mistakes.

I am rushed in general, and can see that fall and early winter will be this way for many years. October will see me gathering outfits for Halloween, November will be all about Anna's birthday and Thanksgiving, and then *surprise!* suddenly it's December! In December we have our anniversary, Jon's birthday, various other b-days, and of course the coming of our Lord which we will celebrate via mass consumption. I will ponder the latter more fully when I have time.

The little people in our house had their check-ups today, and Anna has reached a special point at which her height and weight are the same: 42. Which is, of course, the answer to everything. Perhaps this means that she knows everything and we can stop paying for preschool. But probably not.
Some good news about Anna is that the Zyrtec (an antihistamine) that she's taking appears to be working, although it does make her tired (mental note: only give at bedtime). The bad news is that there's not much we can do about her constant illnesses. We're going to try Flo-Vent (a steroid) to see if that helps some of her symptoms, or at least reduce the amount of times that she's wheezing without us knowing it.

Isaac is also growing well, and is healthy other than his runny nose. Again, the theme of illness. We are on week 8 of constant illness over here, so it is on my mind quite a bit. Of course, I suppose I could stop taking them places (like indoor play areas, and child care at the gym), but that also seems counter-productive. And a good way to lose my mind.

In terms of overall development, Anna seems quite her age. She is very social and still loves to dance and make believe. A budding theater major, if this dramatic arc continues. For example, while watching her during dance class I realized she was the only child who had trouble listening to the teacher simply because she couldn't get her eyes off of herself (the kids face a mirror). She was making faces and just enjoying her own movement. It was pretty cute, actually.
Anna is also is becoming increasingly helpful around the house, and can be given a few chores to do. At the same time I cannot believe how poky she can be about some things - getting dressed or getting out the door seems to take forever! And it is so frustrating. Even washing her hands can be interminable - again, the pull of the mirror is irresistable to her.

Isaac is also quite his age and appears to be a force to be reckoned with. He doesn't take any guff from anyone, and has no qualms about hitting or "taking down" his sister. Given the inability of this age group to inhibit much in the way of behavior, time outs seem more punitive than instructive at this point. But we do it if only to remove him from the situation. Other than a penchant for violence, his demenour is very sweet and loving. He is so very cuddly, and loves loves loves soft fleecy blankets and stuffed animals. He's always snuggling into something. Has only about 10-15 words, but gross motor skills are a bit advanced. He's great at throwing, climbing, running, and things like that.

Okay - time is up. Until next time....