Geekamama


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On marriage

Four years ago (this evening) my about-to-be husband and I stood up in front of our friends and family (and assorted venue staff), while a good friend of ours read this Ogden Nash poem:

I Do, I Will, I Have

How wise I am to have instructed the butler to instruct the first footman
to instruct the second footman to instruct the doorman to order my
carriage;
I am about to volunteer a definition of marriage.
Just as I know that there are two Hagens, Walter and Copen,
I know that marriage is a legal and religious alliance entered into by a
man who can’t sleep with the window shut and a woman who can’t
sleep with the window open.
Moreover, just as I am unsure of the difference between flora and fauna
and flotsam and jetsam,
I am quite sure that marriage is the alliance of two people one of whom
never remembers birthdays and the other never forgetsam,
And he refuses to believe there is a leak in the water pipe or the gas pipe
and she is convinced she is about to asphyxiate or drown,
And she says Quick get up and get my hairbrushes off the windowsill,
it’s raining in, and he replies Oh they’re all right, it’s only raining
straight down.
That is why marriage is so much more interesting than divorce,
Because it’s the only known example of the happy meeting of the
immovable object and the irresistible force.
So I hope husbands and wives will continue to debate and combat over
everything debatable and combatable,
Because I believe a little incompatibility is the spice of life, particulary if
he has income and she is pattable.

The bolded line is one of my favorites. We even hid it in our crossword-themed wedding invitations. Because, as anyone who knows us well has discovered, this is a pretty good description of the pair of us.

One of us is stubborn, and digs in their heels when their position is threatened. This. Is the way. It is going to be. Period. Convincing this one to change their mind can be an undertaking; even more so when they’re convinced that they are right. Conceding that there may be another, better, way is done grudgingly, with some muttering afterward.

The other is determined and lets nothing stand in their way when there’s something they want–even if it means an uphill battle against opposing viewpoints. For heaven’s sake, why can’t the rest of the world just see that they’re right? And while negotiation is nice, there are times when steamrollering is much simpler and faster.

It’s not entirely clear which of us is which, although it’s certain that the roles switch off depending on the situation. Most of the time, the force and immovability are directed outward, but there’s been an occasion or two when we’ve butted heads at home. Two strong personalities sharing one marriage. It could well be a simmering trainwreck. But it isn’t.

You see, immovable objects can also stand firm and give their partner someone to lean on without fear that they’ll give way. We are strong for them even in the most difficult times. We support them through sickness and stress. We are family, and we can stand up together against anything.

Irresistable forces can also face challenges head-on and propel our partner if their confidence flags. We carry the family over even the worst bumps in the road. We push aside the naysayers, the worries from the past, the discouraging statistics. We are family, and we will get ourselves through anything.

We’ve had our conflicts. We’ve had our trials. And we’re committed not just to getting through them, but to getting through them together.

Happy anniversary, immovable and irresistible husband.

Walking together at wedding rehearsal


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Mama’s little helper

It was a little surreal after dinner a couple of nights ago. I was the last one finishing up my meal (not unusual, since I’m often eating and kid-wrangling at the same time) and I needed a distraction for Kiddo. “Hey, do you want to go help Daddy pick up in the living room?” I suggested enthusiastically. “Yeah!” he said, and ran off to do… a chore I’d been putting off myself.

What parent hasn’t joked that the reason to have kids is to get free household help? It seems just a little ironic that he’s so eager to help now, with all his two-year-old klutziness, and once he gets the motor skills and attention span to be able to do a task well, he’ll find all kinds of things he’d rather do.

But we’re making the most of it while we still can. He’ll pick up his toys and books as long as one of us sits there directing Kiddo’s efforts. There’s a lot of, “OK, now please put away the red dump truck. The red one. That’s it, great! Now the yellow truck. The yellow–hey, we’re still working on the living room here, come back!” When we’re in a hurry or antsy to get on with the day it’s really tempting to just do it myself. But all that’s going to do is teach him how to get out of doing chores. That sure won’t forward my goal of being able to lounge on the couch eating bonbons while Kiddo vacuums around me.

His favorite “chore” these days is sweeping the floor. And if enthusiasm was all it took, our living room carpet would be as clean as the day it was installed. Kiddo likes to grab the old broom from next to the fridge–the one with straw bristles that break off pretty easily–so we can tell where he’s been sweeping by the trail he leaves behind.

He isn’t completely ineffective though. He’s gotten pretty good at picking up his clothes, if reminded, and he’ll help me sort laundry. First we sort it into shirts, and everything else. Then we sort the remaining pile into socks, and everything else. And so on. I’m confident that with practice, we’ll be able to reduce the number of passes through the basket.

A few months ago, I asked some of my toddler-mom friends what chores they recruited their children to help with. Some of their suggestions were things we were already doing, and others (like the laundry sorting) were easy to put into practice. But the one that surprised me was getting him involved with cooking. That seemed like asking for trouble! But I decided to give it a chance.

I was making a test batch of key lime fudge (you’ll see more on that project before long) and it seemed a simple enough and safe enough recipe to test out this mother-son cooking gig. Before we started cooking anything, I prepped everything. I opened the cans and containers, measured the other ingredients into little bowls, and lined up the equipment we’d need. I also recruited my husband to photo-document the whole thing.

Kiddo’s tasks were to break up some white chocolate baking bars in a Ziploc bag, and to pour ingredients into a cold saucepan. Once that was done, I melted everything together on the stove. I’d planned that he would pour the remaining ingredients into the pan once I took it off the heat, but we realized right away that this wasn’t a good idea and I took over. Fortunately, Kiddo’s nose wasn’t put out of joint at all by this, because he’s still got that typical two-year-old short attention span and he was ready to move on.

Breaking up the white chocolate

Scooping up the chocolate pieces and pouring them into the pan

Shaking up some condensed milk before we add it to the mix

We’ll probably try it again one of these days, when time and the recipe allows. I think it will take a couple tries before we get a good feel for what kind of recipes are best for him to help with–if anyone has suggestions, please let me know! We might as well leverage his desire to be just like mom and dad for as long as we can.


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A pair of sweeties

For Valentine’s Day I made cherry and blackberry fruit jellies. I half-dipped some of them in dark and white chocolate, and rolled the rest in sugar. They ended up distinctly different, even though both kids of treats started from the same foundation.

The ingredients aren’t far off from what you would use if you were making homemade Jell-O blocks. The jellies have a lot more sugar than the gelatine blocks, and the fruit flavoring comes from jam instead of juice. This means that you’ve got the pectin in the jam to help the gelatine do its gellin’ thing, producing firmer blocks. The recipe also calls for citric acid, which is used as a preservative and sometimes as a stabilizer for ice cream.

(Fun fact: Vitamin C, often associated with citrus fruits, is ascorbic acid, not citric. Rather than go off on a tangent about how they differ, I’ll just refer you to here, here, and here.)

The ingredients for the fruit jellies

This was one of the simplest candies I’ve tried so far, and probably the only one where the recipes in my two candy cookbooks were almost identical. Mix everything up, bring to a boil for a few minutes, then pour into a well-buttered pan. Then into the fridge for several hours, or in our case, overnight.

Mix it up, pour into the pan

It took some effort to get the jelly slab out of the pan after it had set up. When I’d made caramels, that recipe had suggested a pizza cutter to slice up the slab, so I tried it on the jellies as well.

Cutting the jellies

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Well, this looks like trouble! He’s standing on a small stepstool, but I suspect it won’t be long until he doesn’t need that anymore.

Cornstarch kept the cut jellies from sticking to the pan, the parchment paper, and each other. It also got all over the counter, the floor, and my sweater. You know what’s really dumb? Wearing a black sweater while working with cornstarch. No, you don’t get to see those pictures.

I let them chill for another 24 hours or so, and then got on with the dipping. I used compound coating because it was quick and easy, and because I hadn’t yet gotten any practice with tempering and dipping real chocolate. The blackberry jellies got the while vanilla coating, and the cherry ones got the dark cocoa.

Dark and white candy melts

I didn’t dip them all the way because I wanted people to be able to see the jellies inside, not just taste them. It ended up being a lot of work, so I only did about half of them in this way.

Dipping blackberry jellies in white chocolate coating

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The final result! They weren’t as beautiful as I’d envisioned, but they tasted great. I took most of them to work as a Valentine’s Day treat for my co-workers.

After all that, I still had half a batch of undipped jellies, and I wasn’t wild about doing the compound coating again. Both the books had suggested rolling them in granulated sugar, so after we got tired of nibbling the naked jellies, I gave sugaring a shot.

I found the easiest and least-risk-of-sticking method was to use a spoon to cover the jelly square with sugar and then to roll it around.

The blackberry ones got regular white sugar, and the cherry ones got pink sugar. Colored sugar is super easy to make: one cup of white sugar, plus 10 to 12 drops of liquid food coloring. Combine in a Ziploc bag, and shake the bejeebers out of it. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but I got a nice pink color.

And here’s how this bunch turned out.

The texture difference between the two styles is interesting. With the enrobed ones, the coating was a solid coating containing a soft center. I’d intended that the jelly flavor would dominate and that the coating would be just a flavored container. But the only way to get that effect was to eat it upside down. If I try this again, maybe I’ll dip the top halves instead.

The sugared ones have a more consistent jelly texture, with the graininess of the sugar as a minor contrast. I was worried that adding more sugar would make them too sweet, especially to the already-very-sweet blackberry jellies, but that turned out not to be the case. They’re much easier to handle too. They’re still sticky, but they can touch each other without fusing into a blob.

As usual (if two posts defines a “usual’) the post-mortem!

Lessons learned:

  • Be open to changing your plan. I had this vision of chocolate-dipped jellies that I wouldn’t let go of. Sugaring them was both easier and (in my opinion) produced a better result. In addition, I’d been determined to have two flavors, when one would have been plenty and would have saved a lot of time and work.
  • Consider how the components will react with each other. Jellies will melt with they get too warm. Melted compound coating is rather warm. The blackberry jellies were leaving purple streaks in the vanilla, and I had to keep stirring it up to get a uniform color. I’m sure the cherry ones were too, but it was harder to tell with the dark cocoa coating.
  • Dipping is harder than it looks. Half-dipping? Good grief. I think it would work with something like a mini candy bar where I could hold one end, but trying to manage blocks this small got frustrating. I’d also made them too small for my dipping forks, so I had to use regular table forks.

Changes for next time:

  • Single batch rather than taking on two flavors
  • Sugar the whole batch, don’t bother with dipping unless I’m feeling really ambitious.
  • Try not to be overambitious.


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Hashtag #momfail

I know, I know, everyone out there thinks I’m a paragon of parenting perfection. Thank you, thank you very much. But I have my MomFails just as much as anyone else does, and sometimes I even tell people about them.

There was the time we left Kiddo’s favorite stuffed animal Doggie at home when embarking on a week-long trip to California. There have been numerous occasions when we’ve gone out to dinner, only to find the diaper bag was missing some important equipment. And then… there are the ones I feel compelled to share with the Twitterverse.

Oh well. At least I’m not alone.


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So soon?

This past weekend, Kiddo had his first encounter (that I know about) with bullying. It was pretty minor in the scheme of things: Kiddo wanted to play on a piece of play equipment, the other child pushed Kiddo around a bit and then held onto Kiddo’s shirt when he tried to get away. I intervened–not without some angry words, I confess–and a few minutes later Kiddo was off playing somewhere else, happy again. Meanwhile, I simmered about it, and spend the next half hour trying to pinpoint the other child’s parents, although I honestly don’t know what I would have done if I’d figured them out.

I was pretty sure that it had affected me more than it had affected Kiddo, but apparently he was still thinking about it, because that night at bedtime he brought it up again. I’d settled him into his bed and turned off the light, when out of nowhere Kiddo said “That boy wasn’t very nice.”

It caught me off guard, and I had to wing it. I agreed that the other kid hadn’t been nice, and Kiddo and I talked about it some more. I reassured him that he’d done the right thing by asking a grown-up for help when someone was bothering him, then had to define “grown-up,” and then confirmed that yes, Dad and I and his teachers and his aunts and uncles and grandparents are all grown-ups. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Parenting so far has had a lot of “uh-oh, I didn’t realize we’d hit THAT milestone already” moments. Most of them have been net-positive; inconvenient for us, but overall a sign of growth and maturity, like when Kiddo first was able to grab things off the counter, or the first time he told us that he wanted to go to a restaurant for dinner instead of eating at home. But this weekend was the other side of the coin. I’ve always known that at some point in his life some other kid would be mean and push him around, but I didn’t expect that I’d see it at two and a half.

Kiddo hasn’t brought up incident since that one bedtime conversation, so maybe he’s over it. I’m the one still chewing on it. Most Mondays I’m telling my friends all about our weekend family adventures, but I’ve held back on talking about this one because I’m not sure what there is to say. “This happened. I’m bummed about it.” I thought that I’d be all full of spit and vinegar, but instead I’m just… sad, I guess.

Every parent wants to wrap their child up in love and bubble wrap to protect them from the unpleasantness of the world. And we just can’t. We have to let them get emotionally scuffed, because one day they’ll have to deal with it, without us to cushion it.


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Is privacy just an act?

I keep trying to write something up about the recent New York Times article on how Target gleans information from shoppers to better, well, target them as customers. I’ve swung from “that’s a little eerie” over to “yeah, but data mining can be fun! and beneficial!” to “the practice shouldn’t be banned, but customers need to be aware that it’s happening.” In the end, the one thing that I keep coming back to is this: it’s a little silly to complain about our personal data being used, when we put so much of it out there voluntarily.

Update: Here’s a better summary of the issue: How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did

 

Any time you use a credit card, sign up for a discount shopping card, or create an online account with your personal email address, you’re giving the recipient a way to keep track of the actions associated with that ID. Ever give a doctor’s office or other service your social security number? I’d put money down that they aren’t planning to use it for tax purposes.

People share personal stories on blogs, Twitter and Facebook, choosing to pull back the curtain to the world. Once it’s out there on the ‘net, it’s out there forever. People have lost their jobs because of their Facebook updates, and have been detained by TSA for what they posted on Twitter.

Personally, I’ve been an un-fan of Facebook since the update last October. For the past five months, the songs you’ve listened to and the news stories you’ve read on many websites have gotten shared automatically, rather than letting you choose for yourself. Oh, and that can happen even when you’re not signed in. Sometimes it surprises me how many people are okay with that.

Those of us who are parents have another privacy issue to consider: the privacy of our children, many of whom may not be old enough or savvy enough to realize the implications of the way their parents share (or overshare) information. I wrestled with this issue myself not long after starting this blog, when considering whether I should post pictures of my cute little Kiddo here.

I’m not deluding myself; even though I use a nickname for him here and on Twitter, it wouldn’t be that hard for someone to find out his real name. Birth certificates are public records; depending on the state, all you might need is the child’s date of birth and the full name of one or both parents. How to find those out? Marriage, divorce, and name change records are public data too. And if those don’t pan out, there’s always Spokeo, where fifteen bucks will buy you all kinds of personal information.

Oh, but there’s a much easier route. One common practice on Facebook is to tag pictures of children with the names of their parents. Look for pictures of me, and you’ll find pictures of Kiddo captioned with his real name. Many of those are in albums restricted to “Friends of friends” — which really isn’t a restriction at all, considering how most of people’s hundreds of friends also have hundreds of friends themselves.

So, given all that, isn’t it a little hypocritical to complain about the way Target collects and uses personal data about individual shoppers’ purchases? In my view, the only line that they might have overstepped is not giving customers more disclosure that by shopping at Target, the company reserves the right to track the data that they volunteer. Discount cards and internet hotspots have this buried in the fine print that people generally skip over when they sign up, but there’s no notice on the door when you walk into Target. I’m sure that Target isn’t the only retailer that does this, either. They’re just the only one that got caught at it.