Kurbis Pie

Strangely, Thanksgiving always reminds me of Germany due to our quest to try to celebrate it when we lived there for a bit.  From the vault--a look at our pre-children lives.  Seems a lot longer than five years ago!


There's apparently a German custom that, on your birthday, you're supposed to bring cake and cookies and champagne for your office colleagues rather than have them treat you. Sort of like grade school, with alcohol. In that spirit, we decided that Greg should have a little champagne reception at his office in honor of Thanksgiving (well, really it was to provide a distraction so he could leave early to go to dinner). In the great tradition of our Pilgrim foremothers, I decided to bake cranberry orange muffins. Okay, not exactly traditional fare - but easier and more portable than turkey and stuffing. Besides, I figured the Germans wouldn't care. Greg, however, insisted on pumpkin pie for his office on Thursday.

After searching long and hard and high and low and becoming just a little weary of this wonderful holiday before it even started, I found cranberries, muffin tins, and what the guy told me was a kurbis. (There should be a little sideways colon over the "u", but I'm thankfully back to an American keyboard, so use your imagination). Kurbis means pumpkin, in case you're not up on your foreign fruit vocab. I mean, it should have meant pumpkin. It really looked like a squash to me, but my phrase book is surprisingly deficient on gourd varietals so I was in no position to argue.

I couldn't find a pie tin, but found a torte pan that seemed like it might do the trick. Well, my first-ever from scratch pie crust worked, but only because the kurbis did turn out to be a stringy squash that baked up bright, neon orange instead of rich pumpkin-y brown. It actually tasted okay (not like a pumpkin, but not bad), but even let-them-eat-muffins-me couldn't let the Germans have such misconceptions about American cuisine. Ya gotta represent, y' know? I decided to write off the squash torte and focus on the muffins.

Later that night, Greg arrived home, bearing 4 cans of canned kurbis. Apparently the grocery store next to his office rivals Sam's Club in size, and they had the elusive fruits - canned, no less. There was much rejoicing. Then, I looked at the can. Kurbis und honig (honey) und some other word I didn't know. Hmmm. A disgusting combination, but it beats a squash. Then, we tasted the contents of the can. Turns out that the mystery word was "vinegar." We were the proud owners of 4 cans of pumpkin pickled in honey vinegar.

I don't know what eating this would do to a person, let alone an entire society, but the German diet may explain a small degree of the discontent that made Germany's last 100 years what they were. Needless to say, Greg's colleagues went without pie and now probably believe that we sit around and watch that crazy NFL football and eat muffins all day. So sue me. Pie drama aside, both of our Thanksgiving celebrations were merry and bright.

In other news, my German lessons at the Goethe Institute started today. Even though I repeatedly told them (in English, of course) that I couldn't speak German and was an absolute beginner, they were very German and insisted on giving me the placement test. Diplomatic relations were re-established when they decided I didn't have to take the test after all. Staring blankly at the test for a few minutes, then asking where to sign my name proved much more effective than any discussion. Hmm. I'll be back in school every morning for 4 weeks. I'm a little bit leery because I haven't studied since law school (well, let's be honest, since before law school), but am looking forward to the days when I might be able to leave the house without my dictionary. That thing gets heavy after a while.

In sum: our boxes arrived at last; we do have some friends and are regulars on the weekly curry night circuit; Greg is working hard, but still no weekends; and let me know if you need some pickled pumpkin to put in the stockings of the not-so-good this year. We've still got 3 cans.

Good Night Already

Trying to find a toddler's sleep sweet spot is harder than pinning down the Holy Grail. Too much nap, and she's up babbling past 11:00 PM. We listen to her process her day on the baby monitor, then, inevitably, her door opens and her little p.j.-encased feet pound down the uncarpeted hallway. She periodically visits us downstairs. "I'm having trouble," she announces, before requesting food, water, stories, assistance with the potty, back rubs, a story, or a playmate. After a long day providing all of those things, I am done. I hiss at her to go back to bed. Greg's sometimes a softie, though (especially on nights when he's worked late and hasn't seen her all day), and gets her snacks as I seethe.

"Drop the nap," our more experienced friends have advised. But no nap, or too little nap, and, well, it's ugly from about 4:30 onwards. U-G-L-Y you ain't got no alibi UGLY. Every step is agony, every word is whined, she can't follow directions, and she can't self-direct. There's yelling and tears. She has me looking up boarding Montessori preschools on the no-nap days. So I'm she's we're clearly not ready to drop the nap.

I've been experimenting with shortening her nap: yesterday was one-and-a-half hours, but I heard her chatting away in her bed as I brushed my own teeth around 11:00. That's a problem because she didn't want to get up for preschool. She buried under the covers when I opened the shades, and I felt like I was trying to pry a teenager out of bed (albeit one with purple pacifier. Please God, may she not still have the pacifier in high school). Today, I woke her up after an hour and 15 minutes, and she exhibited the worst of both scenarios: a train wreck who refused to go to sleep.
I hear her up there now moaning, "Mooom-my. I'm having trouble!" And I think I'm going to forego trying to craft a conclusion to this post (because there clearly isn't one, yet), and pour myself a glass of wine, and go to bed myself. Maybe leading by example is the way to go here?

Homemade Halloween, Part II - The Elvish Curse

All good Halloween stories have sequels. You can read the first installment here.

The tutu! Who knew they were so easy to make? (Certainly not anyone who buys one from these people!) It was my most successful craft project ever, which isn’t saying much, but it really did look nice even by a more discerning standard. Flushed with success, I turned my attention to ladybug wings. And that’s when my craft karma flew the coop. (Or the Elvish pox kicked in.)

To sum:

- Five minutes into project ladybug wings: I realized that recovering feather-trimmed angel wings was a terrible idea. It took a surprising amount of brute force to rip off the original covering. When I’d finished, it looked like I'd sacrificed a flock of chickens in my living room.

- Next lesson: using red tights instead of dyed-red pantyhose was also a mistake that I might have anticipated. Tights. They were indeed. I could not get them to stretch over the wire frame. I tugged, I pulled, there was inappropriate swearing. The wire frame and my Halloween can-do spirit were getting bent out of shape.

- I enlisted Greg’s help. I love him too much to divulge how he got the red tights to stretch over the frames, but suffice to say, he loves his little ladybug very, very much.

- I cut and glued itty bitty elf boots together in 15 minutes. They took one night to dry. And just five seconds to unravel when placed on itty bitty feet.

- Realized Rosie’s first Halloween costume is in serious jeopardy. Bought cute elf hat on Etsy.

- Refocused on pointy boots. I dug out my sewing machine--itself a Herculean task, as it had been buried under the boxes we are going to unpack someday in the basement. Re-learned how to thread it. Sewed itty bitty boots together.

- Machine appeared broken. Remembered 8th grade Home Ec. teacher talking about ‘bobbins.’ Re-learned how to make a bobbin. Sewed boots together again. Cursed choice of slippery material and despaired over itty bitty size. Finally finished boots.

- Why were there still feathers everywhere?

- Tried boots on baby. Realized that I’d cut the foot openings too small even for my little elf. I could not face the sewing machine again. I cried.

- But Halloween drew nigh. It was time to try swimming on the other side of my gene pool. My mother's family may not have passed along the sewing gene, but my father, and his father before him, believed in the power of duct tape. I busted open the too-tight seams and hemmed them with silver duct tape. Et voila. I had elf boots that fit. I rejoiced.

- Lesson learned: in the future, we will go straight to duct tape.

So, after a week where meals, laundry, cleaning and recreation fell by the wayside in the name of homemade Halloween costumes, my kids were finally outfitted. Buzzy loved her ladybug get-up. And Rosie? She kicked off her boots in minutes. Her hat fell off after the first block of trick-or-treating. But she twinkled up her little grin and said something along the lines of “mamamamadadadababab”, which I’m pretty sure is Elvish for “I love you.” (More likely, she was wondering why chicken feathers still adorned all of our clothes. Or perhaps expressing a desire for a costume purchased from Target next year.)

Homemade Halloween

Gripped primarily by insanity and a bit by remembrances of Halloweens long past, when my mom took my sister and me to Minnesota Fabrics to look through the pattern books, I decided to make Buzzy and Rosie's costumes this year. Buzzy considered a puppy, a butterfly, an princess, a ballerina, a kitty, and a teddy bear before settling on a lady bug. What do those things have in common? Tutus, of course. When you are a freshly-minted three year old girl, even a Storm Trooper costume would require a tutu. As for baby Rosie, we decided to work with her ears and turn her into an elf.

Thank God that Google enables the easy mooching of others' creativity. A quick search assured me that tutus don't require sewing, which was fabulous. Despite coming from a long line of excellent sewers, my forrays into that domestic art always ended in lots of swearing and threatened violence. Google also told me that the ladybug wings could be constructed with wire hangers and white pantyhose dyed red. I wasn't too concerned about outfitting my baby elf. She had the ears and the grin. A cute hat and little pointy shoes, and I could call it done.

Off to the fabric store, where I bought the tulle and some silvery material that looked like they could be elf shoes. I dashed into the craft store and found a set of angel wings--wouldn't recovering them be much easier than trying to form old wire hangers? And Target had red tights - much easier than dying white pantyhose, right? And maybe Rosie needed a little, simple elf dress after all. I went to a fourth store and procured the felt.

"It's for my baby elf," I said to the clerk, excited by how crafty my purchases were making me feel.

The clerk appeared to be already in costume, sporting a Renaissance dress. She said something, but I didn't understand her.

"Excuse me?" I asked.

She replied, again, indistinguishably, then sighed. "I was speaking Elvish," she said. "Well, trying anyway. I asked what kind of elf she was going to be."

"Oh! Oh. Um. I don't know. Just an elf!" I wondered if I'd heard her correctly, and thought that maybe it wasn’t a costume after all.

"A Christmas elf?" she persisted.

"No. Um. Not Christmas. Just a general sort of elf." I said, aware that the line behind me was growing longer and less patient.

She looked disappointed in me. "You know, there's folklore about different kinds of elves. You should take a look."

"Okay! Will do! Thank you!" I grabbed my bags from the Elvish-speaking lady and left before she could put a pox on me.

It seems I didn’t move quickly enough. . . .

[To be continued.]