Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas greetings!

We were limited in our hard copies this year (maybe a good thing - this is pretty random).

Caroling, caroling now we go
Gongs send Christmas greetings
Caroling, caroling thru the snow
In Michigan still living.
Joyous Genghis's one and a half
Can say 2 letters of the alphabet
Ding, dong, Genghis Gong sends his Christmas greetings

Caroling, caroling thru the town
Gongs send Christmas greetings
Caroling, caroling up and down
Our family keeps growing
Mark ye well child #2
Still has 3 months in utero
Ding, dong, Baby Girl Gong sends her Christmas greetings

Caroling, caroling near and far
Erin goes consulting
For museums and libraries—the non profit sector
But any paycheck’s rewarding
Abe’s teched up with web development,
Cloud computing plus a new hair cut
Ding, dong, Parents Gong send their Christmas greetings.

Happy Holidays!
From the Gongs

Friday, December 23, 2011

friday photos

Getting cozy - two new favorites for Genghis.

Friday, December 16, 2011

remember the time i had a blog

Yeah, I barely do, either.

No Friday photos today because I'm not at my home computer. Instead, I offer a collection of random thoughts for the weekend.

1. I made these bar cookies for a party this week. I don't usually like bar cookies but when Abe took the leftovers in to work I had to call him halfway through the day to request that he go snag a few to bring back home for me tonight. My one Christmas wish is that you try making them yourself before the end of the month.

2. While making said bar cookies and other party goodies on Wednesday night, I think I worked myself into pre-term labor. Not because I was working particularly hard in the kitchen but because I had just stuffed myself with delicious Chinese seafood and couldn't stop eating the cookie dough. I had to give up before everything was done and go to bed. The cramping had stopped by morning. Kublai seems just fine now.

3. I love the rain but have mixed feelings about it in December. It's too early to be complaining about weather, though, so I'll just leave it at that.

4. For a while Genghis had the habit of walking around the house saying "money, money, money, money". We weren't sure what he was really talking about but it was an endless source of amusement for us. About a week ago, he became an almost overnight expert in identifying "Dada" and "Mama". This has been very heartwarming for us. Then a few days ago, he started referring to me as "money mama". Abe encourages this. I don't know what to think.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

friday photos

We were apparently too busy making and eating delicious food to take any good Thanksgiving photos. My parents came into town for a few days, and Genghis loved having their undivided attention. We spent Thanksgiving day with them and with some good friends.

Genghis spent most of Thanksgiving dinner chasing this cat.

My dad, the food scientists (specializing in dairy and cheese), trying out some of Zingerman's offerings. Still looking for Parmesan that doesn't have a dirty feet/baby spit up aftertaste.

Mom got sick the last day she was here, but put on a bold face.

We had our first real snow this week. After many tears and kicks, we got Genghis bundled up and headed out for a few minutes. He was wary of the snow, especially after falling hands first in it without gloves. I think I'll put him through a regimen of indoor boot training for the next 2 weeks. He couldn't stay standing in his (let alone walk), so we had to go with regular shoes which soaked through pretty quickly.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Playlist

I threatened to do it, and 1 hour and 48 minutes before turkey day, it's done. Here is my Thanksgiving playlist, in alphabetical order by song title. On a better day, all of these songs would be linked. Apologies. However, I did put it together using Grooveshark, and if you're interested I can share my playlist with you - it should be easy for you to listen to it in all its glory.

I'm pretty sure this is the most eclectic playlist I have ever put together.

(In the spirit of the holiday) Thanks to all contributed ideas. I'll let you know how this goes over tomorrow.

All Creatures of our God and King - BYU Concert Choir & Philharmonic
Amazing Grace - Susan Boyle
America - Simon & Garfunkle
Appalachian Springs (simple gifts) - Aaron Copland
Autumn Lullaby - Natalie Merchant
Battle Hymn of the Republic - Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Be Still My Heart - Postal Service
California Dreamin - Mamas and the Papas
Cinder and Smoke - Iron & Wine
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing - Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Don’t Stop Believing - Journey
Down to the river to pray - Alison Krauss, O Brother Where Art Thou
Dust in the wind - Kansas
For the Beauty of the Earth - Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Give Me the Simple Life - Rosemary Clooney
Heartland - Peter Breinholt
Homesick - Kings of Convenience
How Can I Keep From Singing - BYU
If I had a million dollars - Bare Naked Ladies
John Williams Olympic Theme
My Shepherd Will Supply My Need - BYU Concert Choir & Philharmonic
Peace Train - Cat Stevens
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty - Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Prelude 1 - George Gershwin
Shenandoah - Judy Garland
Somewhere over the rainbow, what a wonderful world - Israel K
Sweet Baby James - James Taylor
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot - Lower Lights
Take It To the Limit - Eagles
Take Me Home, Country Roads - John Denver
The Crane Wife 3 - Decemberists
The Fox - Nickelcreek
The Parting Glass - Waking Ned Divine (we have)
We'll Shout and Give him Glory - BYU Men's Chorus
You’ve Got a Friend - Carole King

Friday, November 18, 2011

friday photos - video

Typical evening events at our home.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

saturday is not a special day

In recent weeks I have read not 1, not 2, but 3 blog posts from various friends/family about "perfect Saturdays". While I immensely enjoy all of these people's blogs (and the people themselves), I feel obligated to take a official stance against "perfect Saturdays".

Don't worry. It's not you, it's me.

You see, I'm on the road to recovery from Perfect Saturday Syndrome. The syndrome reached its height in Autumn 2011 (I continue to blame at least part of this on pregnancy hormones). During this time, I started every Saturday morning with a vision of what the perfect day would look like. My vision often included a leisurely homemade breakfast, a round of intense but efficient house-cleaning, a day trip to a beautiful new sight, a long afternoon nap for Genghis, delicious dinner (cooked in the wonderfully clean kitchen), and a relaxing evening with good entertainment and dessert.

But the vision never seemed to take shape. Food burned, Genghis screeched, Abe (or I) had overflow work from the week, destinations were lame. Part of the problem was that there are some things that are just out of our control and we have to deal with that uncertainty. Part of the problem was that Abe and I have fundamentally different views on what elements make up a good Saturday. And it turns out that those two problems don't work particularly well together. Abe and I can usually come to a mutually agreed-upon plan for the day through good communication beforehand. But when the unexpected messes with the plan, we are totally out of sync. My instinctual response to the unexpected is usually exactly the opposite of Abe's response. My feelings get hurt, Abe feels unnecessarily blamed for everything, etc, etc, etc.

After too many Saturdays that required therapy sessions, I have decided to give up on perfect Saturdays. Every Saturday is different. Every Saturday has its own set of demands - baggage from the week, scheduled commitments, to-do lists to stay on top of life. And every Saturday has its own set of opportunities - good weather to take advantage of, bad weather perfect for warm drinks, unexpected free time, children sleeping in late.

So I'm going to relegate Saturday back to the ranks of the other days of the week. I will expect Saturdays to be just as perfect as Tuesdays, or Thursdays.

(And I secretly hope this will make for more perfect Saturdays in the long run, but I'm not supposed to think about that too much because it probably would ruin the recovery plan.)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

friday photos - new addition

In March, we will have a new addition to Friday Photos. Here's a sneak preview of little Kublai*:

*While Kublai is historically the grandson to Genghis Khan, in our family's case she will be Genghis's little sister.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

your favorite...

I usually dislike "your favorite [something]" questions because I don't ever have an answer. In any given "favorite" category I have many things I like, often depending on my mood and most recent experiences. While I realize that most of these questions are meant to open up conversations rather than pinpoint my exact self on a multi-dimensional graph of things, I'm still not a fan.

But I do actually have one true favorite. A favorite holiday: Thanksgiving. For me, it's the perfect holiday. Eating delicious food, visiting with family and friends, sleeping, relaxing with games and leftovers of delicious food. There's not a lot of pressure to meet up in one place in particular, and no gift-giving worries. Plus, people tend to be in pretty good moods because they are just starting into the holiday spirit but haven't exhausted it yet. It's kind of like how you feel really excited at the very start of your vacation as opposed to weather-worn by the end of it.

Bonus if we get a crisp fall day or a late autumn warm spell.

Several weeks (months, sometimes) before Thanksgiving I find myself day dreaming about the Thanksgiving feast. Must-haves for my Thanksgiving are freshly baked rolls, fluffy potatoes (regular or sweet), stuffin muffins (think hearty, seasoned bread pieces baked with tons of butter in individual muffin tins with a piece of bacon over each), and cold pumpkin pie with real whipped cream. Last year we had an amazing turkey cooked by our friends (more to the point, basted every 30 minutes by our friends) that almost got the bird on the list.

One thing I feel Thanksgiving is missing is music. Typically, I celebrate the music side of Thanksgiving by starting to play Christmas music on that day. But it could be fun to have a soundtrack just for Thanksgiving.

Any suggestions for what it should include?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

ancient halloween!

We love dressing up for Halloween in our family. For Abe, it started his Freshman year of college when he and his roommate constructed a 2-man full-body rhinoceros out of cardboard that could wiggle its ears and open its mouth to receive candy. (Sometime, ask Abe about his grades that year.)

Abe and I have continued to enjoy costumes since, though we have scaled it back some. I usually try to maximize for originality, comfort, and recognizability. Homemade is a must. This year, we came up with Genghis's costume idea first, and themed ours around him. We were particularly proud of coming up with a good theme that didn't have us all looking the same.

Here we are!

(Sorry Abe, for picking one where you look exhausted - it was one of the few without Genghis sucking his thumb.)

And a full body shot.

If the "recognizability" part didn't come through, Genghis is a mummy, I am Egyptian royalty, and Abe is the archaeologist who discovered our tomb circa 1912. Genghis won the award for scariest costume at the party for the singles congregation at our church. He also won cutest costume at the party for the family congregation (or something similar - we unfortunately had to skip out to make the singles' party just before the awards). This is his second year of award-winning costumes, which I'm pretty proud of (check out last year's caterpillar here).

Me in ... character ... I suppose.

For a time, I considered going as one of the Egyptian goddesses, like Isis or Hathor. But I didn't think I could pull off something that specific, and cow horns coming from my head may have thrown people off. In the end, it would have just been an excuse to live in the fantasy world of Amelia Peabody, which I continue to enjoy as light reading.

Genghis's costume was more time-consuming than I planned for. I wrapped an inside-out sleeper in a torn up pillow case, and secured the wrappings by loosely hand sewing them on. Hand sewing takes forever! Luckily, my mom got stuck en route at the Detroit airport over the weekend so she spent a night with us, where I promptly put her to work on the costume. She came up with a better technique for securing the bandages (I suppose you don't have 20 years' and 5 kids' worth of costuming experience for nothing) which saved the day.

If you're wondering about the white head, it's baby powder. Genghis vehemently opposed us wrapping his noggin in gauze.

Friday, October 28, 2011

friday photos

Swinging in the park, a favorite activity.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

friday photos

From about 2 weeks ago, when we had some gorgeous fall days. I returned last Sunday from a 9-day trip overseas so more about that later.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

friday photos

giraffe series.

Friday, September 16, 2011

friday photos

I love this series of "people trying to do fun things with Genghis while he pointedly ignores them". Followed by a photo of him contentedly playing on his own.

One-year-old Genghis is introverted. While he loves to smile at and babble to and pull hair of other kids when they're around, he gets his energy from solitary, introspective activities. One morning after a nap, he sat and read in the corner for 45 minutes. I was reading too, and got bored first.

Cousin with Genghis on a tractor at Grandma's farm. You can't see his expression unless you click to zoom in, but it's wonderful. (Genghis: "I am way too small to be anywhere near this thing.")

Riding ponies at Bay Beach in Green Bay. (Genghis: "What is that smell?")

Grandpa playing with Genghis at the park. (Genghis: "Seahorses are undignified.")

Reading at home in the afternoon. (Genghis: "Mother, can't you see I'm reading?")

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

how to eat a potluck

A few years ago I got completely sick after eating at a potluck. Since then, just looking at a table filled with mismatched dishes of mismatched foods makes my stomach churn. But because of some church service I'm involved in, I end up at about 1 potluck a month. I've cultivated some careful potluck habits, and thought I'd share my strategies.

A disclaimer before I begin: If I have ever eaten your dish at a potluck, I'm sure it was wonderful and gave me no digestive troubles.

Potluck Rules.

1. Bring cut fruit or vegetables.
The potluck table can almost always use more produce. It's easy to prepare, and it always comes out tasting good (as long as your produce is fresh-ish). If you wash well, you aren't likely to make people sick. Picky potluck eaters like me will appreciate it.

2. Err on bringing the vegetables if going to a BBQ.
These potlucks are notoriously overloaded with watermelon and grapes. Some peppers, tomatoes, and cauliflower are a good alternative. But if you are thinking about bringing that shark watermelon (from a friend's blog), then by all means bring the fruit.

3. Since we can't all bring produce, another option is a food you make often.
If you make it often, that probably means it's simple, easy and reliable. Although it's fun to show off your culinary skills, I learned this lesson from my sister. She made beautiful and time-consuming stuffin muffins (not the same recipe, but you get the idea) for a potluck that were immediately devoured by 7- and 8-year-olds before the adults even got a look at the spread. And in true kid fashion their deliciousness sat only half-eaten on plates loaded with brownies and snickerdoodles.

4. When eating, see the table as a menu, not a platter.
Often, I think potluck pains are caused, not by poor food quality, but by the unprecedented mixing of all kinds of foods at once. I used to choose my food starting at the head of the table, selecting small pieces of each thing that looked good. Now I glace through the entire spread and select a main dish, 1-3 sides, and dessert that look like they could have come from one kitchen.

5. Find the best chefs, find their dishes.
Okay, this is a little below the belt. There's sort of an unwritten potluck rule that the identity of the chefs isn't widely broadcast. But if you know a few people in attendance that are reliable cooks, find out which dishes are theirs and go for the safe options. In the monthly potluck I attend, I always select the main dish of one particular contributor who makes excellent food.

6. No matter how much you think you want 2 desserts, you only want one.
I have always regretted picking up a second dessert. First, because my original dessert choice is usually superior and I feel obligated to waste precious no-nutrient calories on finishing the second choice so no one is offended. Second, because even if both desserts are good, it's just too much for me in one sitting. If I must have a second dessert, I choose one that I can wrap up and save for later in the evening.

Friday, September 2, 2011

friday photos

I'm glad I caught this on video a few weeks ago, because now Genghis refuses to repeat words on cue.

In case it's not clear from either of us, his words are:
- Arrrrrr
- Bath
- Hot

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

need non-fiction now

I'm picking the book for our book club next month, and I need suggestions!

When I got home from our meeting tonight and I immediately went to our bookshelves and pulled approximately half the books off as possible selections. Life of Pi by Yann Martel - always a classic book group read. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga - a dark and fictional look into India's economy. Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros - Chicana lit full of beautiful and brutal prose. In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez - inspiring and tragic (need I say also Latina).

Luckily, I decided I'd chose something from the "topical non-fiction" genre. I think I made that term up, and define it as non-fiction that is based around a topic of interest rather than biography or general history (e.g. math, physics, medicine). I don't read as much there, so my choices are more limited. A good thing. I have a few ideas, but would love more suggestions.

The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow. Pros: An accessible book about math, which I find different and interesting. Some of the puzzles he presents would be fun to talk through together. Cons: While the book was fascinating, it was a little slow in parts. The math topic may turn some people off.

Outliers or What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. Pros: Very engaging writing, easy to get through. May be able to pair "Outliers" with a chapter of "The Drunkard's Walk" for an interesting contrast/comparison for people. Cons: I haven't actually read either of these. But maybe that's a pro because I love to read new things.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Pros: brings up really interesting history of both culture and medicine. Cons: drags a little, not sure how much discussion it will lead to.

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. Pros: quick read on a relevant topic for everyone. Cons: a little preachy. Bonus: I could play this awesome clip from NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me", from 2:45-6:45 in particular. (It's really worth clicking on the link, I promise.)

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. Pros: Really engaging historical fiction. Cons: Not "topical" and not "non-fiction". How did this one get on the list?

What book should we read? And please, suggest more.

Friday, August 26, 2011

friday photos - birthday!

The beginning of the month marked Genghis's first birthday. It's hard to believe it's been so long. Or maybe not so hard to believe.

A few of my favorite Genghis-isms at this age.
  • He purrs like a Star Wars Wookie.
  • He spends 10 minutes each morning practicing saying "Uh oh!" in his crib before getting up.
  • He toddles around the house, with a walk that looks like he just got off a horse.
  • If we leave our bedroom door open he either (1) goes into stealth mode and in absolute silence sneaks in to get into whatever electronic or choking hazard is closest at hand or (2) makes a wild and raucous run for it, choosing speed over caution.
  • He says "bath" (aah) and "hot" (aht - tahhh).
  • He sits by our bookshelf, paging through "Animal Farm".

We had a party for his birthday. Mostly for us, but some of the adults came with children too.

Blowing out the candle. This "cake" is actually just leftover batter from cupcakes that I threw in a bread pan. Good for Genghis to plunge headfirst into.

The progress of eating his cake and ice cream.

Father and son.

Decorations. After the food had been eaten and the balloons pulled down or popped.

Photo wall. Loved this idea, which I got from Janssen.

Said cupcakes. They have peanut butter cups inside of them. Mmm.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

At letter #20!

At the beginning of the year, I started Project alphAmuse. It's a crowd-sourced children's alphabet book done via blogging. I post a letter of the alphabet, people submit sentences using that letter, and then everyone votes on the best sentence. I've also been illustrating each of the winning sentences.

We're voting on letters S and T now (#19 and #20 in the alphabet). Check it out (and vote!) here:

Here are a few of the illustrations I've done so far.

If you want to follow the alphAmuse blog for the last 6 sentences and the rest of the illustrations, then subscribe here:

You can also subscribe to to see all the comments and sentence submissions.

Monday, August 22, 2011

wasn't i supposed to take a class on this in college?

We just got back from a family reunion in Utah, during which we had brief training on how to clean a house. As I listened to tips and tricks with toothbrushes, magic erasers, scrubbing bubbles and vinegar, I realized that I know next to nothing about cleaning. Well, thanks to my 2010 Survey of Household Chores, I know I should wash my sheets more than once a year. But really, that's about next to nothing, huh?

Then I was looking through my closet for something to wear (also a recent topic of this blog). Why is my closet full of clothes I don't wear because they don't fit right, aren't comfortable, don't match anything, or aren't right for the occasion?

And this morning I had a conversation with a friend about paying more for better quality goods. Real wood. Shoes that last. Produce that is delicious.

All of this led to me spending Genghis's afternoon nap trying to write a personal, comprehensive self-help guide to my life. A plan to live well, in budget, and with enough leisure time to enjoy it all.

I'll let you know when it's done.

In the meantime, perhaps I'll advise my children to take Home Economics because no bets they'll learn it from me.

And now follow my stream of consciousness to a funny conversation I heard at a Wendy's in nowhere Indiana where I was stopped for dinner on a long drive home. The conversation was between 4 fresh-out-of-highschoolers, although this snippet is just 2 of them. The girl was talking about starting school at the local college the next day.

Girl: I'm so nervous for tomorrow! It's like, do I bring a backpack? I had to buy tons of books for my classes. What do I do with them?

Guy: You can bring a backpack. Everyone does.

Girl: (whew!) Oh really!? My brother totally said that no one has backpacks. I didn't know what to do. And then I have this hour break in my schedule from 11 to 12. What do I do then?

Guy: Whatever you want. Study.

Girl: But where do I go? I'll be, like, all alone.

Guy: Just go wherever you want. The library?

Girl: Oh, I'm so nervous. What's your schedule like?

Guy: I have some classes in the morning?

Girl: So will you be around at 11?

Guy: Yeah.

Girl: Okay, you totally have to come find me. I'll be like the dorky one that doesn't know where to go. Please, please, please!

It made me wonder if I was like that when I started college. Most likely, yes.

Friday, August 5, 2011

friday photos

Happy Birthday Genghis!

We had 2 parties, one at the Gong family reunion in July, and one on Monday. Here are photos from the former.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

yes, i'll have fries with that!

Some people wish there were another hour in the day so they could accomplish more.

I am not one of those people.

Sure, I usually have an unfinished to-do list at the end of the day. But I'm certain that an extra hour wouldn't help that. I would just put more on my to-do list. In the end, an extra hour simply means more work. No, thank you.

Last week, though, I had the rare experience of having, not just an extra hour, but a whole extra day. I was coming home from a conference. Abe and Genghis were coming home from a family reunion. I got home just fine. The others' flight was canceled, so they had to stay a full day more. For me that meant one full, unexpected day with no dependents under my roof.

What, oh what, would I do with all that time?

I found out about this situation while still driving home, and I spent 2 hours in my car envisioning afternoon matinees, decadent desserts, no alarm clock, dinner at a fancy restaurant. Heck, mini golfing. The world was open to me (should I be embarrassed that my imagination extended only to putt-putt golf?).

Of course, I ended up spending 8am-6pm working. To be fair, I did have a scheduled work engagement from 8-1. It wasn't all my fault.

What else made the list?
1. A super-sized McDonald's lunch. I have been craving a McD's cheeseburger for weeks. Someone should give their Director of Advertising a raise.
2. Quesadillas, with a virtuous salad.
3. Two episodes of Glee. I think it's a first and last for me. I felt like I needed to get in touch with today's youth. Check. Genghis, never go to high school.

The good news was that my extra day was pathetic enough to make me grateful for my family when they came back. Who knew that a family could be more fun than two corn tortillas with cheddar cheese?

Friday, July 29, 2011

friday photos

We're back! Lots of traveling, some photos, no editing time. Here are a few snapshots of a recent Gong reunion at the beach.

This is a classic Genghis look (including having some debris around his mouth).

He really did like the tube.

Time with grandmas. We have better photos of grandma time, including photos with Grandma Gong, but they are on another computer so I can't post them now. These will have to do.