Friday, December 15, 2006

Holiday Stress, Part I

I'm a cliche -- the too-busy person who has procrastinated on every aspect of holiday preparations -- shopping, decorating, wrapping, sending cards. I'm going to a holiday party for my husband's office tonight, and I have no dress and my hair looks like it was styled by a four-year-old on a Christmas cookie high. Plus I have the little matter of several work projects I need to get done before Christmas, car problems I have to deal with, AND I'm going to be out of town part of next week. All of which means I'm too busy to write this post, which of course is why I'm doing it anyway.

But despite all of that, I'm not feeling completely stressed. Partly because I just sent my husband an email dumping all my angst on him, and partly because I've got a lot of experience with being in this position. And it all works out. Well, Christmas cards often (okay pretty much always) don't, and the decorating is definitely not Martha Stewart-approved, but I know there will be gifts, wrapped (or at least stuffed in gift bags) and under the tree on Christmas morning. And more importantly, there will be the good feelings of family together or at least catching up on the phone, and the joys of all our silly little traditions like arguing over who gets to hang the ceramic pig ornament this year, Christmas Eve dinner of fondue and wine with just my husband in front of the fire, and of course, the reading of our four standard Christmas favorites. Which I'm going to list for you here (and next post I'll add some of my personal favorites that I sometimes force my teens to listen to even though they've long outgrown them):

Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore (maybe). We usually read my husband's childhood copy, a Golden Book illustrated by Corinne Malvern. I always have to snigger, because this version alters the text to read, "Had just settled down for a long winter's nap," when of course the correct line is "Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap" (emphases added). I prefer my childhood version, breathtakingly illustrated by Arthur Rackham (well, gorgeous except for the creepy picture of Santa just opening his pack, with all the toys kind of leering at you, and long dark shadows -yikes!). But some people are philistines, and can't help their taste.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Suess. When my daughter was "not more than two," she looked exactly like Cindy-Lou Who, which has only added to my enjoyment of this classic. She, on the other hand, hates when we call her that, so of course we have to call her that all the time (especially in front of her friends). (Incidentally, the animated version of this, perfectly narrated by Boris Karloff is one of the few book adaptations I love.)

The Polar Express by Chris van Allsburg. I love this book and the way it makes me feel. I know I still hear the sleigh bells on Christmas Eve, and I swear I always will.

Olive, the Other Reindeer by Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh. This is the most recent addition to our Christmas Eve arsenal, and it's the Christmas book I give most frequently. I love Olive, and I love Santa and the other reindeer for giving her a chance to be one of the gang.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I Return with a Peace Offering - A Great Pumpkin Bread Recipe

Well, I've taken rather a long hiatus from my blog, but I promise to return to being reasonably regular in my posts now -- or at least until I'm under the gun with another book illustration deadline (Merry Christmas, Cheeps! by Julie Stiegemeyer derailed me last time. It's due out from Bloomsbury next fall). I'm going to continue soon with my A Tree Grows in Brooklyn comments that I abandoned last spring, but for now I wanted to share a favorite seasonal recipe.

The recipe that follows is for my mother's pumpkin bread -- and it is absolutely the best pumpkin bread in the world, as well as my favorite comfort food. It works for tough times and happy ones, and it makes a great gift or a pick-me-up for yourself. Today I took a loaf to a gathering to remember my friend Susan's mother, who died recently after a long illness, and last week I baked it for my sister on her birthday. I've wrapped it up in care packages for my son who's a freshman in college several times this fall. It tastes especially good on a gloomy autumn day, but I'm happy to eat it all year, in any weather. I pretend, quite successfully, that the nutritional value of the pumpkin offsets all the sugar.

Kee Mom's Pumpkin Bread
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease 2 regular loaf pans, or 4 1-lb coffee cans (I use Pam spray) .

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together and set aside:
3 1/2 cups of flour
2 tsp. baking soda, slightly rounded
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt

In a large mixing bowl, combine:
3 cups of sugar (my mom says she uses less, but...)
1 cup vegetable oil (I use canola oil)
4 eggs

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ones, alternating with the contents of:
1 15-oz can pumpkin

If you like, you can stir in:
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Divide batter evenly among your loaf pans and bake for 1 hour. Dump the loaves out of the pans and cool on a rack. Delicious served with cream cheese or all by itself.

Okay, while your pumpkin bread is cooling, get out some good picture books to share with a little friend while you nibble your treat. If it happens to be a one year old you're reading to, here are my recommendations for must-own books:

Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann. Look for the balloon on each spread and share the giggles. Some one year olds can even "get" the allusion to Goodnight Moon.

Helen Oxenbury's large board books -- Clap Hands, Say Goodnight, Tickle, Tickle, and All Fall Down. These books are a visual feast for any age, and tykes quickly learn the short, simple rhymes, chiming in with actions and rhymes.

More, More, More Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams. This is one of my all time favorite baby books, with lush paintings, and a sweetness that appeals to kids and parents alike. It also invites acting out the fun, with chases, kisses, and even toe nibbles.

Tumble Me Tumbily by Karen Baicker (my sister-in-law). Fun language and real warmth. Also available as a series of three board books (Wakity Wake, Yum Tummy Tickly, and Snuggle Me Snuggly).

Cheep! Cheep! by Julie Stiegemeyer and illustrated by me! (Bloomsbury, 2006). It's particularly useful if you're expecting a new family member soon.

Also, anything by Sandra Boynton, the Nicky books by Harriet Ziefert (No, No Nicky was a much read title in my house), and many of the Karen Katz titles (like Where Is Baby's Belly Button -- fun lift-the-flap books).

Whew, this is long. I'll list books for two year olds next time.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Tree Grows, Part I: Read to Your Tyke

I've been rereading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, originally published in 1943 by Harper and Brothers. I'm enjoying it even more than I did the first time. (Hardly surprising since that time I read it cover to cover in a single day. It was a school assignment and I had -- shocker! -- procrastinated about starting it.)

At any rate, nearly every page contains something that makes me think, reminds me of my own childhood, or tugs at my emotions. One of my favorite parts so far is when the protagonist, Francie Nolan, is born and her young poor mother laments that she has no way to make a better life for her child. Grandma responds, "Nonsense!" and proceeds to dispense some of the best universal parenting advice I've come across. I've decided to paraphrase it in installments, along with my thoughts.

First, says Grandma, "The secret lies in the reading and writing." She recommends reading a page daily from a good book to the child so that the child will grow up knowing what is great. The two "good books" she recommends are Shakespeare -- because the plays teach all the wonder of life, beauty, and wisdom there is to know, and because its language sings -- and the Protestant Bible (even though the Nolans are Catholic) because "it contains more of the loveliness of the greatest story on this earth."

I couldn't agree more about reading to your child daily, beginning at birth. Not only will it motivate and prepare your child to become a good reader (lots of research to support that), but good children's books help kids learn how to deal with their emotions, solve problems, or just have fun -- and reading time gives kids and parents a time to concentrate on one another. (Not that reading time is always the quiet, snuggly time that most of us romantically envision. I remember that my babies squirmed and chewed on their books as much as they cuddled and listened, and the big kids often bounced, paced, doodled, and played with "figures" while I read.)

I've yet to hand out copies of Shakespeare or the Bible as new baby presents, but I frequently give the three books my own grandmother, Kee, considered essential for the nursery: a copy of Mother Goose rhymes (my favorite versions are the ones edited by Iona Opie and illustrated by Rosemary Wells: My Very First Mother Goose and Here Comes Mother Goose both from Candlewick Press), Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd, and the interactive classic Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt. Those three books together introduce baby to beautiful language, address the fundamental issue of separation, and provide some fun to share.

Now I've got to think about my can't-miss choices for kids at other ages. I'll add these to future posts. I also welcome any suggestions about best books for kids (and adults).

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Peeky Eggs

Ever since I was a small child and read the classic book The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Du Bose Heyward and illustrated by Marjorie Flack, I've been captivated by those peeky eggs like the one the wise, kind, swift and brave bunny delivers to the sick child on the mountain top. I was thrilled to get a small peeky egg one year in my own Easter basket. I tried hard to obey my mom's admonishments not to eat it because it contained raw egg whites and might make me sick. But it was irrestistable, and for weeks I took secretive licks of the bottom -- until I managed to dissolve enough of the base that the whole scene fell right out of the egg. Oops. At least I didn't get sick and die.

A few years ago, I found an old library book with instructions on how to make your own "panoramic eggs" as they're really called. Since then, I've made the eggs many times with my kids, their friends, and my nephews and nieces. We use powdered egg whites or pasteurized ones so nobody is reduced to secret licking and risking deadly diseases. The book I used is Easter Eggs for Everyone by Evelyn Coskey (Abingdon Press, 1973) and the instructions are very thorough. Also, here's a website with links to instructions for making panoramic eggs and many other fancy Easter eggs.

Happy Easter or Passover or any other spring holiday you're celebrating.

Friday, April 07, 2006


Welcome to Doodles and Noodles! Okay, I realize it's a ridiculous name for a blog, but everything better I tried was already taken (which says something about how completely unoriginal I am...).

Anyway, I'm planning to share some of my artwork, thoughts on children's literature, parenting tips, good recipes, and occasionally a little PMS insanity on this blog, and I hope you'll stop by to visit from time to time.

The above picture is today's doodle -- Delores trying on her new polka dot bikini. She's wondering whether the tankini would have been a better choice. Or better yet, why can't women have bathing suits like men's -- ones that actually cover your thighs AND have pockets.