Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving with Family and Friends

This year we had our big Thanksgiving dinner on Friday. It worked out better for everyone as far as traveling goes and it was nice to be able to have the whole family in one place at the same time.

The food was great! We started out with Curried Sweet Potato Soup, then a great salad with mixed greens, chopped pears, pecans, dried cranberries, blue cheese and a simple homemade vinaigrette. We also had turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with marshmallows and crescent rolls with herb butter.

Sylvie and Miriam showed up just in time for dessert, which was perfect because we had 7 pies! We enjoyed our dessert and a rousing round of Apples to Apples. It was great to get to catch up with Sylvie and Miriam and Meg was able to stop by for a cup of tea, too.

Saturday morning started out quiet with just Dad and John and I awake, so we decided to start a Scrabble game before everyone else woke up. By the time we were toward the end, everyone else was up and Jill had started a round of Yahtzee and before that was over, Blokus was already out on the table. Here's Dad playing Yahtzee and Scrabble at the same time.

I had to leave around 10am to make it back up to Princeton for my part-time seasonal job at the Paper Source, but it was great to get to see everyone for a couple days.

It was a great Thanksgiving weekend full of all of the things that I'm most thankful for: wonderful family and friends, good food, conversation and lots of fun.

Monday, November 23, 2009

NYC Museum Day

Yesterday I spent the day in New York City going to museums. There were a few shows that I wanted to see before they closed in early January and this seemed like the best opportunity to do it before the craziness of the holidays. First I met up with my brother John at the Whitney Museum of American Art. They had a few interesting shows, but I was most interested in Georgia O'Keeffe: Abstraction. It was interesting to see similar works being compared to each other and seeing how different themes were used over and over. She lived a very long life and they had works ranging from very early charcoals to watercolors she made late in life when her eyesight was failing. It was a fascinating show and I'm so glad I got to see it.

John and I popped into the other shows that were there and then headed to lunch at a diner around the corner. John had to be home in time to play football with Nathaniel before the sun went down, so I was on my own for the rest of the day.

My next stop was The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was most interested in seeing Robert Frank: The Americans, which ended up being ridiculously crowded, so I didn't spend too much there, but I'm glad I got to see what I did. It was a beautiful day so I headed up to the rooftop sculpture garden, which is one of my favorite places in all of NYC. The current work up there is Roxy Paine on the Roof: Maelstrom. I couldn't take photos inside the other museums, so I took plenty of photos here. The sculpture was huge and spread over the entire garden area. You pretty much had to walk through it to get to different sides of the deck. It was fun to see how different people reacted to it and interacted with it. It was great to get some fresh air and enjoy the late afternoon light.

From The Met, I hiked up to 92nd Street to go to The Jewish Museum. They have a new exhibit up called Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention. It was a fascinating look at an artist who I usually consider a photographer, but had his hands in so many creative endeavors. I enjoyed seeing his paintings, but have to admit, my favorite part was getting a close up look at the original photographs. There was a video of an interview with Man Ray that I found totally fascinating. One of my favorite quotes from the video was "Anyone who does creative arts is a sacred person". He was referring to the fact that some things that people make don't suit his taste, but that doesn't mean that it's not art or that the person doing it isn't creative.

It was a great, although exhausting, day in the city. Between this excursion and working at the Paper Source for 8 hours on Saturday, it felt like I spent most of the weekend on my feet, but it was all worth it. I love having easy access to NYC, it is one of the biggest benefits of living in Princeton.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Harvest Fest and Naptime

I recently had the chance to visit Sebastian at his school for a multi-classroom Harvest Party. All of the families brought in tons of food and I got to help Sebastian put together his awesome plate of food from the huge buffet. I loved when he said "Can I have some fruit please? ... Oh, and a cookie?" Of course. He even tried some mango, which got a rating of "alright". It was fun to see his classroom and meet his teachers and classmates. He even showed me some of his art that was hanging up in the classroom. This was his contribution to the classroom Thankful Quilt:

You can barely see it, but there is a crayon drawing of him and both of his brothers sitting on the couch under the beautiful watercolors.

After the kids got settled, the adults had a chance to make their own plates of food and Jill and I sat down on the classroom floor and Sebastian came over and said he wanted to have a picnic with us, so we all sat together and enjoyed our food. After cleaning up I had a chance to play with Sebastian a little bit and then left the party to go say hello to Emerson before he went down for his nap.

Emerson and Sebastian are in the same school right now, so Jill took me to his classroom. She had to head out to teach, but I got to read Emmy tons of books while he was supposed to be taking his nap. At one point I told him to close his eyes and just listen to the book, but that didn't last long:

After reading many books, it was time for me to leave and he still hadn't fallen asleep, so I gave him Goodnight Moon (which we had read 3 times already) and he liked just looking through the pictures.

It was so fun to get to see where the boys go to school and to meet their teachers and some of their classmates. It will be nice to be able to picture their classrooms when they tell me about things they've done in school.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Creativity Retreat in Northampton

The weekend of November 6-8 found me driving up to Massachusetts, not to my usual Boston trip, but this time to Northampton for a creativity retreat hosted by Nerissa and Katryna Nields. It was a weekend full of writing, drawing, painting, singing, photography and most of all getting to know some fabulous women.

I arrived a little late to a house full of 11 other women sitting around eating vegetarian chili and getting to know each other. I sat on the floor with my hearty bowl of chili and instantly felt at home. The drive took longer than I thought, I could tell I was stressed about being a little late and all of that instantly fell to the wayside when I felt the warmth of the people in this house that would be our home base for the weekend.

After dinner and quick introductions we moved to another room and discussed a writing assignment invoking the essence of the Hindu goddess Kali. It was probably the most intimidating part of the weekend for me since I don't really consider myself a writer per se. So after half an hour of writing time everyone in the room shared what they had written. It was a very encouraging environment. And once everyone had shared and we had a little discussion we ended the night with one of my favorite songs: Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie.

When I signed up for the weekend I was asked to bring a favorite quote to use in an art project. I brought a bunch and the one I decided to use was from an Erin McKeown tune, "To the Stars". It says "We are lit within by all we've been and by all we care to be". I felt like it was appropriate not only for my job search, but for this time of transition in my life. It's always important to remember where you've been, who you are and where you'd like to go. We used watercolors, gouache and permanent markers to create these paintings. It was fun to work with everyone around, seeing how others used the materials and what other quotes people chose. Once they were all finished and framed everyone had a chance to see what other people had done.

After our morning art project we took a long break for lunch and a little photography. The conversation and the beer were better than the food at lunch, but it was a great opportunity to get to continue to get to know this group of women. We walked into town along the bike path on a beautiful fall afternoon.

I took some photos on the way home and attempted to capture the autumnal nature of the season and the day.

Nothing is more New England than a white steepled church.

After getting home from lunch we spent the afternoon learning and singing 3-part harmonies to different songs. We had another great dinner at the house and then continued singing in a less formal way. It was a relaxing, and at the same time energizing, evening. We ended with one of my favorite Nields songs: Easy People. Here's a shot of all of us sitting in the music room, relaxing and singing:

Here is a more posed group shot of everyone who was there for the weekend. Starting from the top row: Nerissa, Katryna, me, Ruth, Maddie; middle row: Heather, Kate, Jen, Marianne; bottom row: PiƱa, Sienna, Amanda and Liz.

I had the pleasure of being able to stay with Christa and Kyle in Amherst while I was attending the retreat. Their apartment is adorable and full of all the charm I've always known in Christa's homes. We got to catch up on Saturday evening and for breakfast we ate Kyle's homemade muffins and drank tea out of hand made mugs and ate it all at this beautiful table.

Here we all are, early on Sunday morning. I had to be at the retreat by 9:15am, so it was an early morning, for sure, but I think we're all looking pretty good.

At the retreat on Sunday morning we focused on creating "vision boards". We all went through a huge pile of magazines cutting out images that spoke to each of us. I took a long time with this process and actually didn't get to finish my board before the retreat ended, but I did bring it home and put it together there.

There are images and quotes related to finding a new place to live, finding my new career path, appreciating gardening and good food, singing, photography, reading and appreciating the chaos that life throws at you sometimes. You can click on the image to see it larger.

I made the decision to attend in a rather last-minute fashion and followed my instinct that this was something I needed to do. I was just starting to feel overwhelmed with the idea of a major job search ahead of me, and I knew this weekend would offer the chance for a good, deep cleansing breath as well as some time to gather my thoughts about the upcoming months. And it was totally worth it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Frosted Arugula

This morning I went to pick the last of the arugula from the garden. I probably should have done it last night, but it was dark by the time I got home from work. Amazingly only one little part of the arugula patch got frost last night and I was able to harvest a good amount of un-frosted plants. This will go into more of the salad I made last night and possibly into an arugula pesto or arugula ravioli.

This is a little bit of a sad moment because it's probably the last thing that I'll harvest from my garden plot in Princeton. It was a good season and I hate to see it end. I learned a lot about what works well (arugula, carrots, green beans, tomatoes, tomatillos, sunflowers) and what didn't work out so well (cucumbers, bell peppers, squash, broccoli). It was also fun to watch everything grow and change as the summer went on.

Who knows where I'll be when next year's growing season gets underway, but wherever it is, I hope I can get in on a community garden, or better yet, have a yard to grow things in.

Salad worth blogging about

This is what I had for dinner last night and it was delicious! It's from Ina Garden's new(ish) cookbook - Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. I know it's a lot of ingredients, but it's totally worth it. And I got to use arugula from my own garden and a butternut squash from the farmer's market. Mmmm....

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Warm Cider Vinaigrette

  • 1 (1 1/2-pound) butternut squash, peeled and 3/4-inch) diced
  • Good olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup apple cider or apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 4 ounces baby arugula, washed and spun dry
  • 1/2 cup walnuts halves, toasted
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the butternut squash on a sheet pan. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, the maple syrup, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss. Roast the squash for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once, until tender. Add the cranberries to the pan for the last 5 minutes.

While the squash is roasting, combine the apple cider, vinegar, and shallots in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the cider is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Off the heat, whisk in the mustard, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.

Place the arugula in a large salad bowl and add the roasted squash mixture, the walnuts, and the grated Parmesan. Spoon just enough vinaigrette over the salad to moisten and toss well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dad!

My dad's birthday is at the end of October so they decided to come up today to celebrate at John and Jill's. As soon as Dad walked in the door, Emerson came running up with his gift and said "It's your birthday, open it, open it!". So right away we opened gifts. The boys had picked out a little target game and I went for a very traditional Dad gift in our family: Chocolate Covered Cherries. You always know it's going to be a hit. I also gave him some of the pumpkin seeds that I roasted and he was grateful for that, too.

Emerson is a birthday cake fiend! Jill made a nice chocolate bundt cake with whipped cream frosting and Em was pretty excited to get into that. Here he is caught in the act.

Later in the day he was caught with his fingers in the icing of some cupcakes, too. Good thing he's so cute!

Halloween in Montclair

On Saturday I headed out to Montclair to enjoy Halloween with my nephews. That morning I woke up early and scooped out 3 pumpkins and roasted the seeds from them and the seeds we saved from the night before. I also got dressed up as a witch, since I have a witch's hat and it was easy enough to just wear a black dress. It was a really warm day, in the mid-70s, but a little bit rainy.

Emerson was pretty excited about the pumpkin carving. I asked him if he wanted a smiling face or a scary face on his pumpkin and he opted for smiling. I drew a little picture and asked him if it was good and he said yes, so I carved it on the pumpkin for him. He wanted to try the carving, so I helped him do that, too.

When we were finished carving it he said "My pumpkin is laughing!".

Nathaniel drew his own pumpkin face and I helped with some of the carving, but he did a lot of it himself.

Sebastian also drew his own pumpkin face and I did the carving. It was so fun to see the different personalities come through in the pumpkins. Here's everyone's sketches:

And here are the final products. Sebastian's on the left, Emerson's in the middle and Nathaniel's on the right.

And here's me with everyone in their costumes. Emerson was Batman, Sebastian was GI Joe and Nathaniel was a grim reaper type scary thing. I somehow look really short in this photo, I must have been crouching down:

And just the three boys in their costumes:

It was a little drizzly so Emerson decided to carry his Batman umbrella.

And Sebastian really wanted to carry this J Crew bag instead of the GI Joe pillowcase Jill had picked out for him to put candy in. I asked him to give me a good GI Joe face and this is what he gave me:

John took the kids out and Jill and I enjoyed sitting on the front porch and handing out candy. It was so much fun to see all the different costumes. And after all the Trick-or-Treating was finished, we ordered some pizza and watched the World Series. It was a great Halloween!

Pumpkin Carving at my house!

On Friday evening I had my annual pumpkin carving party. Kim, Kelly and Karen came over and we had a good time carving, chatting and enjoying some good snacks and pumpkin beer. I think the pumpkins turned out great! Kim and Kelly ran into some trouble trying to find pumpkins (due to the pumpkin shortage), but Kim pulled through with the little pie pumpkins from Trader Joe's.

It was a great way to start off the Halloween Weekend.