Monthly Archives: December 2011

Dressing Up and Running Wild

by Kate

Yesterday we left the city sparkling in the bright December sun and traveled to a tiny country church with the steepest set of steps I have ever seen.

We were there for the baptism of our godson, Gideon Josef.

Gideon is a remarkably peaceful, contented, and quiet child. This makes him distinctly different from his two year old sister Avila and my daughter Olympia. Actually Avila wasn’t so bad, but as for my child… Well. Any of you who have stood in front of a silent congregation holding a very vocal and squirming toddler can probably understand why I have claw marks on my face and neck this morning. I was fiercely engaged in a silent and public wrestling match with Olympia while standing in the front of the church before the baptismal font, until finally recognizing that she fervently wanted to be reunited with Avila, and gratefully surrendering her to the grandparents in the front pew. Meanwhile, the priest dropped his cane, and Gideon threw out his arm to ward off the holy water and knocked the vials of chrism oil onto the floor. In the end the cane and chrism were retrieved, the toddler was pacified with a camera, and the baby was duly baptized. Then there was cake, and time for the little girls to run wild. Note Avila’s truly fantastic fur coat.

The friendship between these two little girls has been a delight to watch. They have always had a special connection. It was interesting to watch an affinity so clearly pronounced between tiny babies. They are just getting old enough to do more than stare delightedly into each others eyes. I suspect this means they are on the verge of getting into a great deal of trouble.

They come by the friendship, fur coats, and propensity for trouble making honestly enough, as their mothers have spent many years dressing up, dreaming, and getting in and out of trouble together.

Granted we weren’t usually that dressed up. That picture was taken at the in the midst of the time we spent living in a blue cabin and running a theatre company together. Rebecca made all the costumes, so the cabin was full of them, and moments like these flowed out of our daily life. Of course, our daily lives tend to lead to dress up on a regular basis.

I am delighted to see the friendship (and the dressing up) continuing in the next generation.


You can read more about Rebecca (and her farm!) here:

Sunday at Sparta Farm




A Sense of Wonder

by Kate

The clouds have been low and looming the past few days, with grey skies and intermittent cold rain. Bare branches and rattling leaves cast spiked shadows, and at night the bright silver moon peers through the bony fingers of the trees. The flaming glow of autumn light has faded, but this picture is currently set as the screensaver on our computer, reminding me of autumn light streaming through the changing leaves.

It also reminds me of the importance of nurturing a sense of wonder. Living with a small child is a remarkable opportunity to remember to be open to discovery and delight on a daily basis. In this park, I often catch myself wanting to take Olympia’s hand and rush forward, toward something different and something new. I have to take the time to stop, crouch down, consider the intricacy of the leaf she is holding, or the mysterious depths beneath the grated drain cover. There is wonder everywhere- waiting for us to open our eyes and behold it.

The Winter Cotillion

by Colleen

I am not the dancer of the family.  While Kate can bellydance like no other, and Clare can catch on to dance moves crazy fast, I got put in the front row of show choir because I smile.  After weeks of practice I would finally realize that at this point in the song you go-wait! let me think, let me think-oh yes, left, and next you go right.  Suffice to say, I had everything down by the performance, but it really was my stage presence and ever beaming face that got the judges to like me.

And so when the Winter Cotillion rolled around this past Saturday, I was not to hopeful about my chances of dancing.  The Cotillion is an annual tradition here, complete with six classical dances and dance cards for the ladies.  I knew only the waltz (barely) and the swing as I walked into the room on my smallest heels (which still got me to about 6 feet in height).  Somehow I knew that I wasn’t going to find a plethora of willing partners.  But, I felt better standing next to my friend, Katie.

And of course, we had to get a picture in with our friend, Meghan, fellow cross country runner and tall girl.

I eventually did ditch my heels, and hit the dance floor.  Somehow I found at least three guy friends (none of whom actually knew how to dance either) taller than me, and of course the ever-faithful Killian to go out there with me.  The people who did know how to dance were magnificent, and the ones who didn’t were just as fun.

It was a night filled with laughter and  music.  I may not have had a full dance card by the end of the night, but I did come away with a new appreciation for the waltz and tango and a new sympathy for the girls of Jane Austen’s time.  It was truly a night to remember.


By Mary

A few weeks ago I was immersed in a fantastic book that focused on 80 countries of the world . The book blended anthropology and nutritional information together to illustrate global differences in various cultures, many of which stem from the world’s food supply. Somewhere in the book, I came across a profile on Greece and saw a photo of baklava.

A friend once clued me in on a  Middle Eastern Bakery here in Lacrosse that sells Baklava. For roughly a year now, I have been planning to stop by and purchase some of it and a cup of coffee. Of course my book induced cravings sent me there the other week. Stopping by the store taught me that there are natural punishments for procrastinations. The store had went out of business. No baklava for me! You can probably still see the smear marks in the stores window which I peered into while throwing a pity party. 

The first time I ever tasted the sweet flakey goodness of baklava, I was in Paris at a Mosque with my friends Havilah and her husband JB, and their infant son.

 Now I associate baklava with being in the Mosque’s restaurant where everything seemed so special in such an intriguing foreign way.

The tiles and the textures of the environment were simply amazing.

And the bakery case with its many choices was tantalizing….

Perhaps, I liked the beauty of the restaurant better than the baking though. It was magical to eat while watching birds fly in and out from a hole in the roof. The grand colors of the place were mesmerizing.

 To date, I have still not given up on procuring the pastry. I bought some filo pastry sheets while in town today from the coop, and want to use a recipe from a musty Greek cookbook that was published (and probably not opened since) in the 70’s. I intend to take the time to make it this weekend. Hopefully it turns out well! No recipe, however, can duplicate the special sweetness that I experienced the first time I enjoyed tasting it.

The Spirit of Christmas

by Clare

Sit back and let me tell you a story.

Back in first grade, little Me was just starting school. As the days until Christmas ticked off, I decided it was time to preach to my fellow classmates the reality of Christmas; there is no Santa Claus. I can still remember sitting on the play rug, telling this to some of the children in my class, seeing the look of horror and disbelief on their faces. No amount of talking could get them to believe me, so I had to tell them they were being “babies”.My teacher did not appreciate the sermon I was giving at my pulpit as much as I enjoyed giving it. She pulled me aside and told me very sternly that I was not allowed to ruin my classmates’ visions and dreams of Santa Claus. I did not appreciate this lecture very much. I was only doing my duty as a good friend! Who else was going to break the news? My speeches on the nonexistence of Santa Claus continued until I was caught in the act again in third grade. I was given the same lecture, but this time I  actually listened (although I did have to tell them that the Easter Bunny didn’t exist either). These kids weren’t going to believe me anyway. I was not an outcast in school. I was a leader.

So who wants to know the reason I’ve never really believed in Santa Claus and his sleigh?

Now, I have to correct myself. I did believe in Santa Claus at one time. But by the time I hit the grand old age of four, I started to see the skewed logic of this Christmas tale. Big fat Santa, coming down the chimney? How is that possible when our chimney doesn’t open up to one of those fancy fireplaces with the mantle? Mom said he came in through the front door. Oh sure. I thought it through, and my disbelief grew. But the big thing that threw me off was our family’s tradition of name drawing. With nine kids in the family, our parents obviously are not going to be able to buy each child gifts. So instead, we’ve always put everyone’s names in a hat, and had each person draw a person’s name out. Whoever’s name you drew, you were responsible for buying a few gifts for.

Ordinarily, we draw each other’s names the day after Thanksgiving. Well, this year we forgot to make that happen until just a few night ago.

So we put all the names in James’ Yankees’ cap.

Somehow I managed to get everyone downstairs. This was definitely not the easiest task.

A name is carefully chosen from the hat.

Some are overjoyed with the name they get…

but some are broken hearted. Or just disappointed. Or just annoyed.

Example: when Raphael drew Colleen’s name. Three years in a row.

And to top off our Christmas cheer….it started snowing. I was overjoyed, and ran outside screaming and shouting like a maniac.

Yes, I’m the creepy creature in the back crouching down in that photo.

And so, the holiday cheer and Christmas spirit is slowly entering our household, more and more each day.

The Cookie Tour

by Kate

The cookie is a powerful lure.

These tiny fragments of cookies and slips of recipes are a magic spell for the retailers along Butler Street, which serves as Main Street for the Lawrenceville neighborhood here in Pittsburgh. Every year on the first weekend of December, these shops are decked out to the hilt in holiday finery…

and each stop offers a new platter of complimentary cookies and sheaf of recipes for said cookies.

Of course, each shop is also cannily and cunningly stuffed to the brim with a wide array of possible Christmas gifts.

And friendly salespersons in, ready to assist or inform the hordes of customers in any way.

And of course, there are the crucial coffee shops selling lattes to fuel the touring and accompany the cookies.

For there are many, many cookie seekers on this cookie tour, intent on capturing every crumb.

Lots of hip young families- I love this woman’s red coat.

And happy young couples….

Roving packs of friends out for an urban adventure…

And beautiful boots. Women with great boots seemed very drawn to this tour. Often they came in twos.

The woman below was very elegant, from her velvet beret down to her leather boots.

It was a beautiful day for an urban stroll- crisp and bright and beautiful.

It was a perfect day to shop the streets of the post steel  still bluesy now artsy Lawrenceville neighborhood.

I was accompanied not by my husband, who insists that the only couples who attend these events are still in the courting stage of their relationship and would rather have hot pins stuck into his eyes than meander down Main Street with me, but instead by my one and a half year old daughter, who was very stylish in her own right and had no problem at all meandering.

She was a delightful companion, and often led the way in search of more cookies and conversations.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. I walked away full of cookies, but also the satisfaction of knowing that I had thoroughly accomplished my goal of distributing flyers advertising my new bellydance class at the Pittsburgh Dance Center in every possible shop along the way.

For certainly after that many cookies, some people might be interested in shimmying a bit after the holiday season? Also, a gift certificate for dance classes would make a fantastic holiday gift- don’t you think?

More posts about my urban adventures are here:

Painting Pittsburgh

Caffe Mona

Pittsburgh is my Paris (A Bibliophile’s Dream)

City Morning

The Downtown Department Store

A City Walk

Melting Pot

By: Mary

I can’t recall when it was that I learned about the definition for melting pot in history, but on Saturday I was reminded of the expression. This was due to the fact that I was at my friend Mary Mark’s house which I have dubbed ” The Amish Mansion” and I was eating fantastic traditional Filipino food that was cooked my Mary’s Filipino friends.

These friends have been a helpful support system to my friend Mary, who was adopted from an orphanage in the Philippines as a girl. It has been many years since she came to America. Mary now has 2 children of her own, and is expecting her 3rd in March.

Here is a photo of her daughter Jade the birthday girl (or monkey as I call her due to her typical habit of hanging off of me) in her pink birthday dress.

Mary and her husband Julian rent their home from my sister-in-laws Aurora’s father. (You can read a more about Aurora here.) Now, Dr. Menn is not only a doctor but a rancher as well. He wears cowboy boots and bolo ties to the hospital.  Doc Menn wanted extra haygound and ended up buying an entire farm from an Amish family to get the acreage. Well, he certainly got more than hayground when he bought this house! Check it out:

I know-crazy right? I swear this house must have at least 10 bedrooms, not to mention tons of odd nooks and crawl spaces. Every room in the house is painted the classic light blue shade that the Amish paint all of their walls The story is that a young Amish family built the home and proceeded to have oodles of children(14 I think) who than proceeded to start their own families. One of the children built on a second home that is adjoined to the first by the  porch.

The place is a fantastic house to wander. When it was vacant I loved to hunt down plants from the abandoned Amish garden and explore the house, all the while feeling like I was in the midst of a Amish commune or Mormon compound. Gone now are the days of vacancy that existed after the Amish family moved North. Since then indoor plumbing and electricity was installed, and the house has been split into 2 units. Now Mary and her husband live on one side and another young family live in the other half.

When I first learned about the phrase melting pot, I thought of European immigrants on Ellis Island. Now the definition has broadened, and yes, it does include a variety of people at a birthday party in an Amish home in rural Wisconsin in the year 2011.