Thursday, September 30, 2010

And So The Student Becomes The Master.

Yesterday, in a fit of 80's-induced insanity, I decided to wear legwarmers.  Madness, I tell you.  Pure madness:

I even channeled my inner Olivia Newton-John for a couple of very scary moments (although I'm sure Yousuf was majorly impressed with my  rendition of "Let's Get Physical"):

Later that evening, as I made dinner (my legs still toastily encased) - I heard a familiar bouncebouncebounce behind me.  That's the sound Inara makes as she moves through the house. She doesn't really walk, she kind of flits and jumps from place to place.  Bouncebouncebounce. Bouncebouncebounce:

Hold up.  What's that she's got over her leggings? I paused in mid-veggie-chop for a closer look.  But she just giggled and bounded away. Bouncebouncebounce.  Bouncebouncebounce:

So back I went to chopping up veggies.  A little while later she was back, bouncebouncebouncing her way through the first floor:

"Inara...what are you wearing on your legs?"
"Are you wearing legwarmers?"
"Yep.  Just like you!"
"But we only have one pair of gray legwarmers.  What are those on your legs?"

Upon closer inspection, what looked like normal legwarmers in the front:

Turned out to be my beloved arm warmers in the back!!!

Sigh.  You've got to give her credit for creativity, I guess. What a little fashionista.  Strike a pose!

Clearly, Nissa was not impressed.  Everybody's a critic when it comes to fashion. 

If only babies could talk: "ooooooh, Inara.  You're gonna get in BIG TROUBLE when Mama sees!!!"

I can't wait to see what the teenage years are going to look like with these two.  Sigh.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Today Is National Coffee Day. And Also? I'm Fairly Convinced that I Will Offend The Entire Coffee Industry With This Post.

Inara has been going through some big stuff during the week at school (nothing bad, she's just still adjusting to being away from us), and so I thought it would be fun for her and I to do something together, just the two of us, this past weekend.  There was a fantastic little Indie Craft Market (it was called Hearts and Crafts - neat name, huh?) running on Sunday, and I thought she'd like to check it out with me.  She only had one question: "Mama...will there be cookies there?  Because I really want a cookie." What can I say - the kid sure has her priorities straight.

So off we went - after promises of sugary treats were made - and we were looking forward to spending some quality time together.

The Hearts and Crafts Sale was fantastic little shindig - it was a small market but you could tell that this was THE place to be. I could feel my Mom Coolness Factor increasing just by being there.  What is the Mom Coolness Factor, you ask?  Well, my dears, I like to define it as those things, physical, emotional or fashionable, that make a mama feel as though she could stay up beyond 8pm without falling asleep standing up. It's a state of mind, my friends, and it can come to you in many forms. An uninterupped shower gets you +1 point, while a new pair of shoes will yield +2 to +4 points depending on the heel height.  I usually peak at +2.5 in this category because big heels give me vertigo.  Whatever, peeps.  We can't all be perfect.
Anyway. I'm pretty certain that my MCF was going up because of my proximity to Java's - a hipster coffee joint right in the heart of downtown.  Apparently, and I just learned this from Carla who is queen of all things cool, Javas is THE place to see and be seen on the weekends.  Which is why I have never been there.  I quickly gave myself +2 MCF points, because it's a rarity for me to be in any public place that doesn't have diaper change stations built into the walls, and I have to admit - at this point I was feeling pretty good about myself.  Big mistake.

Hearts and Crafts was simply jam-packed.  I spied pretty girls with high-cut boots (I'm always noticing the shoes) and Inara spied pretty boys with lots of eyeliner ("Mama! That man is SO pretty!  He has make-ups on!  I think you should do yours like that.").  I started wondering what the rating would be on the MCF scale for taking eyeliner-application lessons from gay men. I decided to call it a +1, and not take any points away for my eyeliner efforts that afternoon - because it's my point system and I can cheat whenever I want. Especially when my daughter tells me that I need eyeliner lessons from an extremely well made-up young man.

While we were walking around and taking in all the sights and sounds, I secretly thanked the fates for allowing me the chance to shower. (+1 point for me!)  And also for putting on some concealer (another point).  And then for deciding to wear my Cool But Slightly Uncomfortable Boots instead of my Look! I'm a MOM! Sensible Walking Shoes (+2.5 points but they were GREAT boots so there).  This was DEFINITELY not the place to be sensible.  Of course Inara looked fabulous, as she always does.  I have no idea how she, at the mere age of four, has the innate ability to put together a perfectly-accessorized outfit.  I'm still trying to learn how to do that at the age of thirty twenty something. (What?  I could be young. Stop laughing.)

Well, we were about five minutes into our cool crafty foray when all of a sudden Inara remembered the REAL reason for this little escapade.  "Cookies!  Mama. Mama.  MOM.  You said I could have a cookie.  Is it time for a cookie yet, Mama? Is it? Huhhuhhuh? MOOOOOOMY!!!"

And of course this was right when I was trying to talk with Marisa, a fantastic local jewelery artist who makes things like this:

And this!

Aren't they just GORGEOUS?!?  I'm more than a little obsessed with the lovely Marisa's work at the moment, and I was secretly devising a plan to have her come live in my attic and be my artist-in-residence. (Imagine how many MCF points that would be!  It's like...uncountably high!!)  I was trying to convince Marisa that it would be fun for her to make me pretty little baubles up in my attic and I, in turn, could pay her in Cheerios (regular and not the generic store brand stuff, because I'm classy like that). I think she was almost ready to go for it too...until a Certain Three Foot Person decided to stage a revolt. 

Mommy Cool Factor: -5 points.

Ouch.  That hurt.  But I brushed it off, because really I was there to have a fun time with the Three Foot Wonder Known as Inara, and I had promised her a cookie earlier.  So off we went in search of a cookie.

Unfortunately for my MCF, the only place to grab a cookie was at the unimaginably cool Java's.

As we waited in line, I looked around at all the hip young kids and then down to the sweet little girl holding my hand waiting so patiently for her cookie.  And I thought that for one fleeting moment, it was possible for these two seemingly opposing worlds to coexist harmoniously - where I could be a mom and feel just a bit worldly at the same time.  I vowed to myself to not let the stretchy pants and sweatshirts dominate my life and to just try to get out and have a good time, even with my kids.  I mean here I was, in a grown-up place with other grown-up people and I was having fun!  And you know, Inara was having a great time too - she didn't care that there wasn't a bounce house or people dressed up as cartoon characters - all it took was a cookie and she was good to go. 

I was contemplating giving myself some bonus MCF points because I had quite possibly achieved Mommy Nirvana right there in a cafe - when we reached the barista.  I was feeling pretty happy about life in general, and I thought that a just reward would be to share a treat with my special girl.  I didn't want a cookie though, oh no.  Cookies are not for Cool Mommies.  I was going to go ALL OUT.  I bravely asked the barista for a cookie and whatever the first coffee-containing drink was on the menu.  I don't remember what it was because I was trying to make it look like I knew EXACTLY what I was doing.  Which I sooooooo didn't.

And then Inara, love of my life, turned to me and said in her loudest four year-old take-no-prisoners voice: "Mama. Did you just order COFFEE? don't even LIKE coffee."

Oh no she DIDN'T.

Oh yes she did. In that instant I could feel my Mommy Cool Factor points plummeting abysmally into the void.  Goodbye, Coolness.  Goodbye, Mommy Nirvana.  Hello, sweatpants.

I'm sure there was much pointing and jeering at me as I slammed my cash onto the counter, mumbled "Keep the change" and booked it outta there faster than the time it took to pull Katy Perry from Sesame Street.

Just in case you've lost count, my MCF for the day was now hanging at somewhere below Unrecoverable.

And Inara.  Dear sweet, Inara.  Happy as a clam to have a cookie that was possibly even bigger than her head, oblivious to coolness factors and made-up point schemes. Just happy to be hanging out with her Mama for the afternoon. All of a sudden, with my MCF rapidly approaching Absolute Zero, I figured that there was nothing left to do but go with it.  And that's when Inara and I really started to have fun.  We chatted with artisans, danced to street music, picked up some great treasures and giggled about how coffee smelled like feet.  I loved every second of it, once I stopped stressing about trying to fit in.

And you know what else?  I think that I earned some major Mommy Coolness street cred with my sweet girl that afternoon - which in my made-up point system puts me somewhere beyond Intergalactic.

And I didn't even have to drink any coffee to get there.

Note:  I just found out that today is National Coffee Day, and now I'm pretty convinced that there is a larger hand at play here.  I think I was destined to write this post today, just to alienate an entire class of coffee-enjoying peoples.  Because I'm awesome like that. +10 Points for me!!! 

These were supposed to be pictures of all the great stuff we got at the Hearts and Crafts Sale, but instead I will let them serve as a warning.

This, friends, is the face of a someone who doesn't enjoy coffee unless it's been mixed with chocolate and/or Pumpkin Spice and/or more sugar than is safe for a human being to consume.  She may look normal - but SHE IS NOT.  Because she's not a coffee-drinker.  She is actually worse...she is a COFFEE POSER (see the next picture for details). Approach with caution.  And don't be distracted by her fabulous earrings (made by Marisa!):

And this is the face of a person who thinks coffee smells like feet.  Shocking, I know.  Don't let her adorable face and gorgeous hat fool you - THIS IS A COFFEE HATER.  And she can't abide Coffee Posers (see above picture for details).  Do not engage subject in conversation unless you want to give a detailed explanation of why your breath smells like doggy doo-doo.  Or unless you want to know how Black Holes are made.  Don't say you weren't warned:

And these weird little tree people may or may not be Coffee Haters, but as they can't talk we can't be certain.  However, they have been seen associating with Known Coffee Haters and Posers so chances are they will stare at you with their strange wooden faces as you ingest your caffeinated beverage.  It will be disconcerting and you will find yourself wondering why you ever spent 3 bucks a pop on people made out of sticks:

You too can look this good....but only if you think coffee stinks.  Like us.
No pressure or anything.

Note (again): For more information on the fabulous Marisa Krol and her stunning jewelery - shoot her a message on her Facebook Page (her pieces make great holiday gifts - wink wink, nudge nudge).  But don't tell her that a Coffee Poser sent you.  Because normal people really don't like to talk about that kind of thing.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What's Cookin': Yom Kippur Eggplants

So.  Now you know all about my fear ineptitude severe mental issues with the beautiful aubergine.  But now I'm going to tell you all about the recipe that changed EVERYTHING and has allowed me to have a much healthier, well-balanced relationship with my favorite purple veggie.

But first - after yesterday's post, I had tons of comments and messages of support.  It seems as though I am not the only one out there who has no trouble oogling at - yet has issues with ingesting - eggplants!  Who knew?!? I'm so glad that I'm not the only one!  I also received lots of delicious eggplant recipes and seriously, thank you to everyone.  I can't wait to try my hand at them, and hopefully kick this fear of eggplant-cooking forever!

I had another thought after reading my comments last night.  I started thinking about all those other often-unloved veggies, and I thought that there must be ways for me to make them more appealing.  So, here's where I need your help.  If there are vegetables that you are trepidatious about tenderizing then please comment below or send me an email and let's find a way to Punch Up Our Palates together.  I'm willing and ready, peeps.  Lay it on me!  And let's have some foodie fun together!

Right. Back to eggplants.  I first came across this recipe when a friend posted a picture of the finished product on her Facebook page.  If ever there was such a thing as food porn, I swear that picture would be it. The colors, textures, everything about that one little iPhone photo screamed "YOU MUST EAT ME NOW!"  I immediately stopped licking the screen and started typing out a message to my friend.  I'm afraid it wasn't very coherent and it might have gone something like this:


And then she told me that it was eggplants.

And then I spazzed out.

I mean, EGGPLANTS, people.  It was either fate or the twisted hand of karma that had come down to torture me for all the eggplants I had sent to their untimely deaths in the past.  Either way, I was stunned.  Flabbergasted, even.  Eggplants.  What the heck was I supposed to do with eggplants?  According to Carrie I was supposed to make this recipe and have a foodgasm, but I didn't think I could really go all the way with an eggplant.  I'm just not that kind of girl.  I'm the kind of girl that flirts endlessly with eggplants and even has them over for dinner.  Then while I'm fumbling to get to first base with a bowlful of baba ganoush I'm the girl that suddenly runs away crying because IT'S JUST TOO INTENSE.

But I also couldn't back down now that I'd asked my friend for the recipe.  What would I say when she asked me how I liked it?  That I was too intimidated to even try?  No way, peeps.  Backing down is not in my DNA.  Backing myself into a corner and then half-assing an excuse is more like my M.O. -  but not backing down.  I could do this.  I knew I could...even if it meant that I had to actually COOK a cute little aubergine instead of trying to decorate my house with it.  Which is like, crazy talk for a crazy person like me.

The recipe was really very easy to follow and preparing it was a snap.  It did take a bit of time from start to finish, but it there was a lot of waiting time so it's not like I had to worry about browning, boiling, broiling, under or over-cooking.  All of which are ways in which I have ruinied eggplants in the past.  In fact, the recipe calls for grilling eggplants and gives you such specific directions that even even the eggplant-challenged amongst us will find that it's really quite easy to do.

The trick to this recipe really is the marinade.  There aren't very many ingredients but oh my is it ever finger-lickin' good.  Even Inara (who really is the world's pickiest eater, which is a whole other post in and of itself) had a few bites and declared that it was "okay and does not taste like the other eggplants you make" - which is like a miracle in this house.

The rest of us couldn't get enough of this.  I think Yousuf almost gave it a standing ovation and he immediately decided that this recipe needed to go into our regular food rotation.  It is THAT good, peeps! I had to share just how much we loved this dish and I immediately called Carrie and left a very long message about how much I loved her eggplants (that sounds ruder than the way I said it.  I promise I was very wholesome), and how Nissa loved it so much that she ate a whole plateful and then frisbeed her plate across the room when she found out that there were no more.  I told Carrie how we honestly didn't even LIKE eggplants but thanks to her we were now changed Georges.  Eggplants were no longer just to be lovingly adored from afar in this house!  Hooray and huzzah!

Carrie emailed me the next day and said that it was the best message ever, probably because I had it on speaker the whole time and we were all acting like we were on eggplant crack.  She also said that it was very funny to get a message about food on Yom Kippur, which was THE DAY THAT SHE WAS FASTING.

Whoopsie.  My bad.  How insensitive was I?  Like the totally fantastic friend that I am, I not only called, but basically taunted my friend for almost five good minutes about food food food how much I love food - all while she couldn't eat anything all day long.


Carrie is a fantastic sport though, and she didn't even mind when I dubbed the recipe "Yom Kippur Eggplants".  Don't let the name fool you though - you don't have to wait until Yom Kippur to make this.  In fact,  you shouldn't wait at should make this RIGHT NOW if you can.  You won't regret it!  And then you can marvel at your inter-faith sensitivity and say that you are cool because you can make Jewish food even if you're an insensitive Muslim. Mazel Tov!

So without further ado, I give you:

Yom Kippur Eggplants
(the original recipe can be found at Beyond Salmon under the title Honey Grilled Garlic Eggplant)

Note: Aleppo chili that this recipe calls for is available in Middle Eastern markets. It’s not spicy at all, but sweet and musky. If you don’t have it, substitute it with a pinch of Spanish smoked paprika, or skip it all together (I used paprika and it tasted great).


1 eggplant (2 if using small Italian eggplants - the first time I made this I doubled the recipe. It was GOOD)
1 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 mashed garlic cloves
1 tsp aleppo chili (optional)
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

 Here we go!
- Peel stripes of skin off the eggplant to create a zebra like pattern of skin and no-skin. This is not only decorative, but makes the skin easier to bite. Slice eggplant into ½ inch thick circles, like so:

 Pretty eggplants, all cut and peeled.  They're so gorgeous...even on the inside! 

- Lay out a large sheet of paper towels. Sprinkle eggplant generously with salt on both sides and lay out on paper towels. The eggplant will release a lot of liquid. This will help get rid of bitterness (if any) and make the eggplant more succulent and less watery after it’s cooked. Let sit for 15 minutes, then dry both sides well with paper towels. 

-  In a large bowl, mix honey, olive oil, garlic, chili, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Dunk both sides of each eggplant slice into this marinade. 

-  Preheat the grill to high. Grab a wad of paper towel with tongs, dip it in oil, and brush it on the grill. 

-  Place the eggplant slices on the grill, cover, and turn down the heat to medium. Grill until marked, about 3 minutes. Turn 90 degrees to make cross-hatch grill marks. Grill until marked, about 3 more minutes. 

- Brush the slices with remaining marinade, flip and repeat the grilling procedure on the other side. Regulate heat so that the eggplant is browning, but not burning. Remove to a plate, and drizzle with olive oil.

And THAT'S IT!  Perfectly seasoned and delicious eggplants.  You seriously can't mess this one up.  Tell me this doesn't make you want to eat your computer screen this very second:

There are tons of ways to serve these too.  Beyond Salmon gives some great starting ideas.  Make Yom Kippur eggplants:
  • With garlicky-minty yogurt as an appetizer
  • With goat cheese in a sandwich
  • With lamb as a side dish
  • With pasta or pizza as a topping
I just made boatloads and we ate it pretty much as our main dish.  I made red and white organic quinoa with vegan broth on the side, and tossed it with cauliflower and garbanzo beans and it was a really nice compliment to the eggplants.  I'm thinking of drizzling tahini sauce over everything next time - the options are limitless!

I hope you enjoy this as much as we have.  Don't fear the eggplant, friends.  JUST EAT IT!

Yom Kippur Eggplants.  If I can make them, anyone can!  Enjoy!

    Thursday, September 23, 2010

    Ode To The Eggplant.

    I don't know about where you are, but here in Western NY our farmers markets and grocery stores are simply overflowing with beautiful, ripe and purply eggplants.

    I have to admit, I have a love/not-love-so-much (hate is such a strong word) relationship with the alluring aubergine.  Every so often, my vegetarian sensibilities will speak to me, saying, "Hey, you boring celery cruncher!  It's time to expand your palate!  Go flambĂ© a fennel!  Roast a rutabaga!  Refresh a radicchio!

    And then I go make some mashed potatoes and call it a day.


    Every now and then I will get this unscratchable itch to Just. Branch. Out.  And it usually happens during eggplant season.

    I don't know what it is.  There is jut something so delightfully appetizing about seeing heaps of perfectly shaped purple eggplants piled high on a table.  Maybe it's because purple is THE color of the season, and it just makes me feel so stylish to be standing next to a table of violet-colored lovelies.  In my cheese-cracker-encrusted shirt and unwashed hair.  Oh, so stylish, indeed.

    Whatever it is, I am powerless to purple's charm.  Eggplants to Mahreen are not unlike a flighty friend - she always lures me in, whispering the promises of friendship bracelets and matching jelly shoes.  And then just when she's got me handing over my super-limited edition Cabbage Patch Kid she always dumps me for an impromptu game of kissing tag behind the playground where we are NOT supposed to ever hang out.

    Ahem.  That never happened to me.

    What does inevitably happen to me, whenever I reach for those delectable little nightshades is something more like this:

    Yousuf:  You picked an eggplant.
    Me: I know.  It wasn't a mistake!
    Yousuf:  But we don't even like eggplants.
    Me:  But how do you KNOW that we don't like them?
    Yousuf: Because whenever we make them we say we're never going to do that again.
    Me:  Are you saying that I can't cook?  Because I totally CAN.
    Yousuf:  I didn't say that.  Just that we can't cook eggplants.
    Me:  But just look at them sitting there...all lined up in a row...they're so PRETTY!  And they're calling to me.  They're saying "Come and buy me!  I'm gorgeous and PURPLE and just the right shade to set off your gorgeous olive skin tones on days that you have showered!  You NEED me to be complete!"
    Yousuf.  Dude.  It's a vegetable.  Not an accessory.
    Me:  Whatever, dude.

    At which point I buy a whole bag full of eggplants and they sit around in my kitchen while I admire their beauty for a few days.  I make cooing noises at them and pet them whenever I think I'm not being watched. Yousuf thinks I've officially gone around the bend (what else is new, right?).

    And then things REALLY start going south.

    At this point, my eggplants are usually at their less-than-desirable stage of life, which probably contributes to our not loving them very much.   I usually end up spazzing out about what to do with them, because I will be darned if Yousuf is going to go all "Told Ya So...Neener Neener Neener" on me (which has never happened, but it so COULD.  Maybe.  Okay it couldn't.  Yousuf wouldn't do that to me.  But I still like to prove him wrong - hypothetically speaking, of course).  And so, even if there was a snowball's chance in a Miami summer of me making something that actually tasted like, oh I don't know - like FOOD, it is simultaneously ruined by the following:

    1) I am nuts for admiring my aubergines and instead of eating them I have let them go from purple to putrid.
    2) I can't cook under stress.  And the stress of turning disgusting eggplants into delectable eats is too much for any sane person to bear.
    3) Just in case you were not aware, I am anything but sane.

    And that is basically why, up until now, I could have eggplants in my house for decorative purposes only.

    You might think that's crazy but I can assure you, I'm not the only one.

    This past weekend I was at an arts festival, helping to man my friend Carla's booth and of course to people watch too. Carla's table was definitely the place to be - there were all kinds of interesting folks that stopped by and talked with us, and one in particular totally made my day.  A gorgeous young woman came up to the booth and said how Carla's work was so inspiring, and how she hoped to make something similar for herself.  Carla was flattered and said that her inspiration came from all around her - and the woman agreed wholeheartedly.  She went on to say how her biggest inspiration at the moment came from the natural world, from plants and trees and food like.........wait for it..........EGGPLANTS.

    And then Carla said that she had no idea what to do with eggplants in terms of eating them, but she sure as heck had the urge to shelac them and mount them to her wall.

    I swear I could have kissed them both right then and there.

    Take THAT, dear husband of mine - neener neener neener!

     Three little eggplants, all in a row.  Getting ready for a good shellacking.
    Yousuf is going to be SO impressed with me. 

    Sadly, I didn't ever get to mount my picture-perfect eggplants to anything - because I FINALLY found a great recipe that actually tastes INCREDIBLE and it's totally easy to make and the people in my house are clamoring for eggplants all the time now because of it.

    We call it Yom Kippur Eggplants.

    What?  You didn't know that eggplants were a traditional Jewish dish?  Well they aren't.  And I'm not even Jewish. But stay tuned tomorrow for that post - and recipe.  I promise the wait will be worth it.

    I know, I know.  I'm totally bonkers. 

    And I can't believe I just wrote an entire post about a vegetable.

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    You Spin Me Right Round, Baby...

    I'm always amazed at how easy it can be to make a tiny person smile.

    I love witnessing the pure happiness etched in every line of my baby's face during moments like these...there's simply nothing else like it in the whole wide universe.

    If only it were this easy to fix all the world's hurts.


    That's it. Pure and absolute joy.

    And a smile that can light up the world.

    Have a great day, friends.

    Friday, September 17, 2010

    Why I Could Never Take Pictures For A Living.

    I have a friend named Carla.  A fabulous friend who is fabulously talented.  Carla is a mother, a math geek, a part-time professor, and an artist.  There is nothing this woman can't do!

    This. Is Carla.  I loves her.  But I think I loves her hat even more.

    A couple of months ago, Carla asked me to photograph some of her gorgeous creations, which she makes herself in her guest bedroom/studio - all out of recycled fabric.  She takes scraps and buttons and bits and pieces of old sweaters, skirts, suits, lining, whatever she can get her hands on, and turns them into scarfs, hats and eye-poppingly stunning wearables for the whole family:

    It only took me about half a second to say yes.

    I did it because Carla is my friend, because I was happy to support her, and because I believe in what she does.  I did not do it for money.  Which is the first reason in a very long list of  why I have absolutely zero business sense whatsoever and why I could never be my own boss or hold down a real job.

    Let's review. When Carla asked me how I would like to be paid for taking photos of her wares, how did I reply?  I looked around at all the beautiful piles of soft fluffy accessories and my eyes got as wide as saucer plates.  I felt like a kid in a candy store as I said, "A scarf!  A hat!  A brooch!  Or two!  That is how you can pay me!!!!  Oh goody goody gumdrops...more accessories for MEEEEE!!!"

    Unfortunately, Mahreen forgot that hats and scarves DON'T PUT FOOD ON THE TABLE.

    But I don't regret my choice - because Carla is truly fabulous.  She paid me with not only all of the above, but she's going to be gracing my sad pathetic walls with some of her original artwork too.  I think she felt sorry for me.  I think I totally scored!  Because honestly, who needs food when you can look like this:

    Oh, Carla. You have a big flower growing out of your head.  But your scarf is divine!

    So as you can tell from the overload of pictures, we went ahead with the photo shoot and boy oh boy did we have fun!  I forgot how satisfying it was to take pictures of someone other than my kids, who now run screaming in the opposite direction whenever they see a camera (case in point).

    It was also great to hang out with another adult, and just be in the moment for a little while.  Which brings me to the other reason why I couldn't ever do this for a living.  I have no sense of time. Before we knew it, Carla and I were giggling like schoolgirls as we pouted, posed and made immature jokes about our mannequin (well, that last part was mostly me because I am about as mature as a teenage boy):

    And you know what?  I had FUN.  But I totally lost track of time, and what was planned as a short one-hour session slowly turned into morning-long affair.  BECAUSE I AM SO PROFESSIONAL, PEEPS.

    After we were done and I had pilfered half of Carla's stash, she told me that she was going on vacation and that there was no huge rush to have the pictures done.  BIG MISTAKE, MORRIS. Because rule number ONE on Mahreen's List of Unprofessionality is this:


    And I can't be bothered to type the rest of that part out.

    So basically I had more than a hundred pictures I had to get through, edit, process and post in two weeks, and what did I do?  I watched some movies. Ate some Cheetos. I think I even folded some laundry...all to avoid the inevitable.  The inevitable being, of course - Real Hard Work That Required Actual Brain Cells.

    And then the night before Carla got back from her vacation I was up until 3 in the morning processing and editing and twitching from too much caffeine and too little sleep.  Professionality ABOUNDS.

    Luckily, I got it done.  And luckily she loved the pictures. But you want to know the most hilarious part?  Carla is so flipping fabulous that she SOLD more than half of what we photographed to a local boutique before I even came home and had lunch.  So what the heck did I do all that work for?!?  Oh yes, now I remember.

    For this:


    That's right, peeps.  Mine, mine, mine and some version of this artwork that will be much larger and full of obscure math references will soon be MINE. 

    It was TOTALLY worth it. 

    I'm thinking of going into business now.  As a photographer who never gets paid and never delivers her product.  I think I'll do smashingly well. In fact, I tried out my new business model on my best friend who visited us at the end of August.  Here's some shots I did of her gorgeous girls:

    I'm still working out a payment plan.  Do babies with cheeks that defy gravity count as payment?  Because I could so go for that.  I could probably even score a cute Carla hat for her to make the deal even sweeter. 

    Oh, and the reason why my best friend hasn't seen those pictures yet?  It's because I took them so long ago that her girls are now in college. 

    That's me.  Missus Professionality.  I ROCK.

    Notes:  Here is a link to Carla's Etsy shop - but there's no pictures of her goods because her photographer sucks and only took pictures of items that were already sold.  She is, however doing tons of shows this fall - she's already been to Cleveland and will be making appearances in Alabama, LA, Philly, and a bunch of other places.  If you are local to Rochester, come and check her out this weekend at Artists Row at the Rochester Public Market.  You can also find her goods at Thread, a local boutique that has very sexy mannequins (we borrowed one for our shoot). Thread has a website too, for you far away-ers.  If you want to find out more about Recycled By Carla Morris or if she will be making an appearance near you (or if she's ever going to hire a REAL photographer to help her re-open her Etsy shop) drop her a line by contacting her through her Etsy shop.  

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Free Willa.

    Did you know that Yousuf and I are Canadian?  Well, now you do know.  Granted, we're the non-beer-lovin', bacon-avoiding, vegetarian-poutine-making variety of Canadian, but it's true - we're born and bred maple syrup chuggers.

    Being Canadian and living in the U.S. has it's up and downs. The thing that sucks the most is the fact that we can't vote here (YET! We're working on this, but it will still be some time before we can participate in your crazy two-party elections.  We're far more accustomed to a wider spread of political parties, ineffectual minority governments and repeated prorogations.  Fun times!).

    Anywhoo, you can imagine our confusion when we backed out of our driveway last week and saw, planted squarely in the middle of our front lawn, a very large and shiny campaign election sign.  Confusion and hilarity ensued:

    Yousuf:  Hmmm.  Look at that.  It's a campaign sign.
    Me:   Um, YEAH.  What is that doing on our lawn?  Who put it there?
    Yousuf:   I imagine "Willa" did.  Or someone that knows her.
    Me:   But WHY?  Did you say that they could do it?
    Yousuf:   I did not.  I don't know Willa. I did not authorize anyone to plant her on our lawn.
    Me (going native):   Weird, eh? Do you think someone is making fun of us?  Like taunting us?
    Yousuf:   With a big plastic sign?  Yes.  I think someone specifically targeted us, the only Canadians living on this street - or probably in this WHOLE TOWN - and mounted a highly sophisticated campaign sign-planting attack on our property.  Just to rub in the fact that we can't participate in the 131st district State Primary.
    Me:  OHMYGOSH YOU ARE SO RIGHT.  (Me, shaking my fists at the heavens:) WILLLLLLLLAAAAA!!!!!

    So then we decided that we needed to Free Willa from our lawn and find a better home for her.  Like in our recycling bin.  Now the sad thing about this whole story is that Willa might actually be a very nice person with plenty of interesting things to say, but she FREAKED ME RIGHT OUT.  I feel like she basically invited herself onto my property and into my life and then sat down at my dinner table and demanded some Canadian bacon.  Sacrilege!

    And that, my friends, is a surefire way to ensure that I NEVEREVERNEVER vote for a candidate.  Even if I could vote, which I can't, but someday when I can, let this be a lesson to all the Willa-ites of the world.  STAY OFF MY LAWN, WILLA!  Don't they have people checking to see about these things?  Preferably someone who knows that the people living in a particular house AREN'T EVEN ELIGIBLE TO VOTE before they go planting signs, willy-nilly all over the town?  Oh, the humanity!

    So, the Primary finally happened on Tuesday and poor Willa did not win.  Honestly, I couldn't say that I was surprised.  I mean if she had perhaps used her campaign marketing budget more wisely she might have gotten some more exposure, instead of promptly being removed to the recycling bin of countless ineligible voters.  Poor Willa. Maybe next time, eh? 

    And then, just as I thought this very odd experience was behind us, another very odd thing happened.  Yesterday, Inara and I were playing at her school playground (as we are wont to do after a long day of cut-and-pasting), when I noticed another mom hanging around at the school fence, looking to pick up her child or children, no doubt.  We looked at each other, as parents often do at these sorts of places, kind of half-smiling and half-nodding at each other in passing.  And then we both went on our merry ways.

    On our bike ride home, I realized who I had just met.  WILLA.

    And now I feel like I've met a (slightly overbearing and intrusive) rockstar.  I MET WILLA, PEEPS!

    I'm totally going to call her over for dinner next week.  Maybe I'll give her back her sign too.  I think it would be the polite thing to do, don't you?  Maybe she can use it again next election.

    Practicing for dinner with Willa - she looks friendly enough, don't you think? 
    It's not quite Canadian Bacon, but it'll have to do.  

    I know.  I'm totally off my maple syrup-lovin' rocker.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    No Babies Were Harmed In The Making Of This Tender Family Moment.

    This Is What I Get For Trying To Dress My Girls In Cute Matching Outfits.

    Never Underestimate The Power Of Tag Team Crying.

    No Person Under The Age Of Five Slept Last Night.  Can You Tell?

    Look, Mama!  I Can Yell Louder Than HER!!!  Wanna See?

    You get the picture.

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    I Am An Old Lady.

    It's true.  I officially am.  Old.  Never mind that I can spin a rhyme better than a Dr. Seuss character, or bust a move (off-camera) like a Young MC back-up dancer (preferably the hot one, and not the guy named Fatso).  I am officially a little old lady with chills in my bones and aches in my legs.  And that's after my daily Ben Gay fix wears off.  Yeah...I'm O-L-D.

    Case in point.  I get cold.  Like bone-numbingly cold, and at the first sign of a nip in the air I am shaking like a leaf.  Blame bad genetics, poor circulation, or just plain age.  Whatever it is, I am freezing right now and it's not even that cold outside right now (my NOAA weather page - which is bookmarked - because I'm OLD - says that it is currently 56 °F/13 °C).  All of a sudden, I know why my grandfather (bless his heart - I miss him so!) used to wear a tuque around the house, even in the summer.  And I also understand why he got so cranky from time to time - it's because he was freezing his armpit-high pants off, and that is NO FUN (both being cold, and having your pants up that high.  I'm sure it causes chafing in very odd places).

    Okay, so the problem with being cold when you get older is that you don't get all-over cold, you just get cold in your extremities.  Like right now, I'm cold in my earlobes, my toes and my fingers.  And it SUCKS.  I can't even see straight, and I can tell that Yousuf is laughing at me, but because he is six weeks younger than me he won't understand what I'm talking about until the end of October.  On the other hand, he is sitting across from me in shorts and a t-shirt (it's FIFTY SIX DEGREES OUT, MAN) so maybe he's just immune to coldness.  I hates him.

    Before I go and lecture my kids about how I used to walk uphill both ways in a snowstorm to school so they better stop laughing at me in my all-fleece leisure suit because I EARNED IT, YOUNG'UNS I will pause to tell you about my delightful new discovery (and no, it's not bifocals - even though I'm sure those aren't too far away in my future.  I have dreadful eyesight.  Oh, holy tea towels - I just used the word "dreadful".  I really am old).  I think they are hip and stylish and functional and I am told that all the young hip kids are wearing them.  And I got them on sale, so they make me extra happy because elderly people like to save money on necessities so that they can splurge on Vapo-Rub (I have a whole closet full!  You never know when you're going to need a mentholatum pick me up, peeps).

    I give you:  Mahreen in the morning.  It's a scary sight, so here is your official warning.  You will note all the elements of someone aging not-so-gracefully:
    - A cup of tea that is bigger than my head (it keeps me warm!): Check.
    - Really awful morning hair.  Possibly thinning, which is why my earlobes might feel like tiny little icecubes: Check.
    - Toothpaste stains (due to the fact that I tried to brush my teeth without wearing my glasses), which were mentioned to me at which point I gave the photographer my Patented Old Person Scowly Face: Check.
    - The GLASSES.  The horrendous, pop-bottle glasses (this is how much I love you, friends...that I would reveal myself at my most vulnerable point in the day. I really don't get much more frightening-looking than this): Check.
    - OLD LADY HANDWARMERS!!!!  ON SALE!  MY LIFE IS COMPLETE (unless they make earlobe warmers and then I can die a happy old woman who has lived a full, warm and toasty life)!  CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK.

    Approach with caution. Subject may try to entrap you in her bird's nest if you attempt to take away her preciousssssss handwarmers. Don't say you weren't warned.

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    The Night Before EidHashanah

    After my long self-indulgent post last week, I needed a break.  It's hard work being so self-revealing, peeps!  Anyway, since my days off coincided with the end of Ramadan, I decided to take a religious holiday and celebrate Eid.  For a week.  And then, since Eid also coincided with the Jewish New Year, I decided to honor my (three) Jewish friends and celebrate Rosh Hashanah with them too.  And THEN the 9 year mark of 9/11 was fast approaching right alongside the holiest days of the year for Muslims and Jews and I just thought that I had had ENOUGH of hate and fear and sadness and suspicion.  I know that most of you feel the same way.  

    So in the spirit of interfaith love and peace and good humor, my friends and I coined the term EidHashanah - it's a mashup of faiths and a mega dose of fun, and it's sweeping the nation, nay, the WORLD with it's feel-good cheer and massive doses of sugary sweets (I totally made that last part up.  But really, EidHashanah theoretically could take over the world...I mean between Jews and Muslims we've got a nice slice of the Earth's population covered.  I think.  I actually have no idea about that part either). 

    And then I wrote a poem about it. 

    The Night Before EidHashanah

    'Twas the night before EidHashanah, and throughout the land
    People of all faiths had thoughts of Park 51 on hand.
    The Muslims were thankful for a small gift from heaven
    When it was said that Eid would not coincide with 9/11.
    Their Jewish cousins decided to start the year off right
    As they sat down for challah and honey cakes that night.
    While the Good Christians of the world, so innocent and sweet
    Wondered why there were so many sales going on for Kosher meat.

    When down from Florida there arose such a great rumbling
    And rumors of hatred, bigotry and book burning.
    “Oh me, Oh my,” cried the Muslims with such woe,
    “Why do our fellow Americans hate us so?
    A shameful act of hate and we’ve all been painted with the same brush
    By oddly-named people such as Newt, Beck and Rush.
    We are not the people who flew those planes,
    We don’t share their faith - we are not the same.”

    But the clamor did not end, while the ignorance grew,
    And so the Muslims asked their cousins the Jews,
    “Fellow Sons of Abraham, during this holy time for us and you,
    Let us come together - oh what can we do?
    We hope you can help because we read that it’s true
    There’s a Gallup poll that says some Americans hate you too!*
    Aren’t you fed up with the ignorance and suspicion?
    Wouldn’t you just love to shofar some sense into them?”

    Don't mess with the shofar!  Unless you want to get "rammed". 
    (insert obligatory groan here)

    “Little cousins,” the Jews replied, oh so grave,
    “You are so quick to anger, that is no way to behave.
    Remember patience is wise even if it is less bold
    Take it from us, we’re over five thousand years old!
    EidHashanah is a time of introspection and peace
    We can use these examples to show people, to teach
    Show them peace, teach them to love one and all
    Teach them how to make some delicious matzoh balls.”

    “It’s true!” the Muslims exclaimed with glee,
    “We can show them that we are one big family!
    Let them look beyond the veil, let them see us for who we are,
    What we need are some big names, some really big stars!
    We’ll call upon Muhammad Ali, Olajuwon and Jabbar
    Don’t forget Dave Chappelle and Mos Def but that’s not all,
    We hope that will impress them - it really really should,
    But if not we’ll tell them we’ve got half of Bollywood!”

    Babes in Burqas. The Centerfold. Oh yeah.
    We’re just like the rest of you - out there in the world,
    We have hopes and dreams and stories to be told.
    We might wear hijabs and our men might have beards
    But we’re not evil people, you have nothing to fear.
    So what if we don’t have friends in  high places,
    We’ve got lots of oil to fuel your NASCAR races!
    Let’s call an end to all this anti-Islam sentiment
    At least for a couple of about until Lent?
    It’s the perfect time for Muslims, you see
    Because Filet-o-Fishes are buy one get one free!**

    Happiness is Kosher, it’s great, it’s Halal
    It’s free for you and me, for one and for all.
    And so we say to those Park 51 haters,
    Those attention-grabbing gutless faith-breakers
    Those who can’t stand to share this land with me or you,
    Whether you’re a different color, or a Muslim or a Jew,
    We say feh to all those schmucks and tuchus-hats
    Who can’t tell a blintz from a baklava or a kippah from a ballcap. 

    Remember we are one family, we don’t want to fight
    So Shana Tova Mubarak to all, and to all a Good Night!

    * - reference to the Gallup Poll (mentioned in the third paragraph of this article) which found that Americans’ bias against Muslims and Jews are linked.
    ** - Muslims follow Halal dietary restrictions, which limits the food they can eat.  Notably, fish is exempt from these rules, so whenever fish goes on sale it’s like a Muslim seafood bonanaza - and of course it’s very funny that the one time during the year we can stock up on fish happens during Lent.
    *** - This poem (epistle, masterpiece, whatever.  I can be modest) has been Kosher Certified by Officially Kosher People (two Jewish friends).  We hope that you enjoy it in the spirit in which it was written.

    I would be beyond thrilled if you should choose to share this post; all I ask is that you please link to my blog and/or this original post. More traffic for me = Happy Mahreen + Good Karma for you.  Happy EidHashanah, friends!

    Wednesday, September 8, 2010

    Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings...

    Okay, so I tried to write this post yesterday but two little people had other plans for me, and Yousuf worked late, so it was all me all day and by the time I sat down at the computer all I wanted to do was use it as a pillow.  Which I didn't, because that's just weird and so I jotted down some stuff and went off to bed later than I should have but hey, it all worked out eventually so hooray and huzzah for me!

    Anyway.  Because I promised you that I would talk about the ways in which we helped Inara prepare for her first day of school, here is the most boring, not funny, self-indulgent post EVER.  Don't say I didn't warn you.  And if you were here for a post about snot, poop or other hilarious bodily functions - go away and come back tomorrow.  I'm sure there will be something here for you then.  As for the rest of  you lovely people - don't say I never do anything for you, mmmkay? 

    Truthfully though, I'm happy to share more about many of you have asked about it, and if it will help any of our little buddies out in any way, then I'm all for it.  Even if it will pain me to not mention poop and snot.  Poop!  Snot!  There.  Now it's officially out of my system.  Maybe.

    So...we went gangbusters with the School Prep for Inara, mostly because I am an extremely loving, nurturing and intuitive parent who is not anal AT ALL about things like this.  Hah!  Actually, the truth is that for her whole entire four some-odd years of life, we've always prepared Inara for major life changes.  She is the sort of kid who is insanely bright, but needs to be handled with kid gloves when it comes to new situations, people or routines (And that last part is not like me AT ALL either...oh man, I can feel my Pinocchio nose growing by the second.  Poop!).

    Probably the most over-prepped child for the first day of school ever in the history of the universe.  Woot!

    We did a lot of things together before school started, but throughout it all I was just never really sure if what I was doing enough, or if Inara really understood what school was all about, or if she had any anxiety about the whole thing.  I mentioned that to one of my dear friends, Candice (she of raising money for Haiti fame).  Now the thing about Candice is that in addition to her smokin' hot post-baby body (not that I'm just the teensiest bit jealous or anything), she is also raising four beautiful, intelligent, well-adjusted and down-to-earth little girls. So whenever we're together and I'm talking to her about how hard I'm finding it to deal with something, she inevitably goes: "Oh, yeah.  That's just like what (insert mini-Candice's name here) used to do.  Don't you worry about it, doll.  Here's what you have to do..." and Whammo!  Just like that, your problem is solved and you're out the door with a spring in your step and usually some free food too. Because she's thoughtful like that.

    So the last time Candice problem solved for me, she sent me on my merry way with some gum and a little notebook.  I remember thinking that the gum was great but what the blazes was I supposed to do with the notebook?!?  And then I looked back at her house and thought about going in again, but I'd already walked away with too much free stuff and I didn't want to seem like a mooch and THEN I thought that I was a Mom and even if I didn't have a smokin' hot post-baby body surely I could figure out what to do with a bloody notebook.  Something about feelings, Candice had said.  Feelings, and school and writing.  And pictures!  She said pictures!  Did she say stickers too, or did I just make that part up?  It's possible that I had made it up because I was too distracted by the fact that I have more fat in my right earlobe than Candice has on her entire body...but wait!  Back on track, girl!!!!  Feelings.  Notebook.  Writing.  Pictures. School.  Possibly stickers.  I could handle it!

    And that's how the Feelings Notebook was born.  Out of confusion and chaos, gum and girlfriends.  I bet every problem in the world can be solved this way - just get a bunch of mama girlfriends together in a room and give them some free junk food.  Voila!  No more poverty, war or first day of school jitters.  Because we ROCK (Well, most of you Mamas rock.  All except me, because I'm just along for the free food).

    The thing that I really love about our "Feelings Notebook" is that you can totally run with it and make it work for you and your kiddo in whatever way you'd both like.  Case in point:  Inara HATES the name "Feelings Notebook" - I have no idea why, but she gets all irritated at me whenever I call it that, and right when she got her little hands on it she very promptly had me rename it with a title that makes complete and utter sense, but only to her: "My Favorite School Notebook".  Whatever, dude.  It works for her and so we're going with it.

    So what exactly is our Favorite School Notebook? Well for us, it's a whole lot of things.  It started out with me sitting down with Inara and asking her, openly, what she thought about going to school.  We wrote down everything that she said (well, I wrote it all down and sometimes she helped, while other times she drew faces or stuck stickers) and then talked about each feeling.  I was surprised at how articulate she was once we got talking about things - she said that going to school made her feel brave, that she was looking forward to trying out new things, and she also talked about her apprehension.  We wrote that down too, so that she'd know that all her feelings were valid and that I would listen to everything she had to say.

    It's hard to hear your kid talk about negative feelings, but I think that for Inara and I, the FSNBook is a great thing. What ended up happening was that talking about Inara's feelings  would lead into a discussion about how to address that concern.  So for her "Not sure what will happen" feeling, we started talking about what she could expect at school, and the next few pages of her FSNBook are filled with notes about her routine (get to school, put bag away in my cubby, say hello to the teacher and my friends, Circle Time, etc.) along with pictures of each event, or a little positive reinforcement (Have fun!  Create & Imagine!  I love Art!).  Really anything goes.

    Inara's picture of playtime (with her Mama if she got lonely) and a heart because she was going to love that part.

    The other thing that's great about the FSNBook is that everything just starts unfolding so logically.  When we started talking about her daily routine and playtime, Inara pointed out that she didn't know how the other kids would play with her, and how that made her feel nervous.  That led to a great discussion about sharing and playing with friends, and I asked her about the kinds of things that made her feel good when she played with other people. Again, I was struck by just how well-spoken and thoughtful she could be when she was given the chance to open up about her feelings.

    And when we talked about going home, she asked what time that would be at and how long she would have to stay at school.  This was kind of tricky because she is still learning to tell time, but I think we worked it out:
    So basically whenever we broached a topic that made her feel apprehensive we expanded on it, and there was no shame in talking about feeling nervous.  Also, writing down clear answers to her concerns eventually eased her anxiety, because everything she was worried about had a solution if we just thought about it together for a little bit - and honestly, once she got the hang of it, she was pretty good at coming up with the answers all by herself.  

    Other things that I love about the FSNBook:
    - I love that it's small and portable and that Inara can easily take it to school, or read it in the car - sometimes I can hear her back there, repeating her own little positive mantras ("The playground makes me feel like dancing!"), which makes me smile every time.
    - I love that it's not finite. We did a first day of school entry where I wrote a note to her and she read it to herself at school, and we just did another one today where we talked about her first week of school, sharing, and the things she can do when she feels like a classmate isn't playing kindly. I can't wait to see what else comes up.
     We actually do write down all our ideas...even the silly ones!

    - I love that it inspires creativity, for both Inara and I.  All of a sudden I have tons of ideas for other things to add to the book to make it even better for Inara - and totally kick-arse for when we do it with Nissa (like printing out tiny pictures of her first visit with her teacher, as well as one of us as a family and then pasting them into the book so that she can see them and remember that we love her and that she can ask her teacher for help anytime).
    - I love that it forces both Inara and I (and of course I'm including Yousuf in that as well...he's been in on all of this from the start) to come up with a solution by working together. 
    - I love the dialogue.  I love hearing what is really on her mind - sometimes she'll talk about things that happened days and days in the past, and I love that eventually everything that's on her mind comes out.  
    - I love hearing Inara.  Like really, truly, not just listening but hearing her out as well.  I love that the FSNBook is more than a rehashing of events, it's everything that she feels in any given moment.
    - I love that we are going to be able to look back on her first school experience in an honest way; that we're not going to gloss over the bad parts, and that we are going to have great memories about all the wonderful things. 
    - I love that Inara is proud of her book, proud of herself, and proud of facing the uncertainty of a new situation and figuring out how to work through it.  It's really, really cool and gives me so many warm fuzzies to see her that way.

    I hope that being open about all her feelings now will help Inara deal with all sorts of situations in the future (But who am I kidding? This post will probably do nothing except set Inara up for therapy for the rest of her life: "And then my MOTHER had the AUDACITY to show my drawings TO THE WORLD!  She said that it would be 'helping people'. How COULD SHE?!?!"). 

    I guess the take home message is this:  I have no idea what I'm doing with my kids.  I just hope that the bright colors and cute pictures in the notebook make for A Happy Inara.  Which at the end of the day, is all that Yousuf and I really want.

    And that's it.  I swear that I can hear the collective sigh of relief from most of you...I know that this post went on for way too long and was probably mind-numbingly boring for a lot of you.  I'm sorry!  See, this is why you should never ask me to write about serious things relating to my kids...I can't ever stop once I get started!

    Back to Poop and Snot and other hilarious posts in which I repeatedly make a fool of myself (Hey, wait.  That happened today too, didn't it?  Bonus!) tomorrow.  I promise!
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