Wednesday, November 07, 2012

New website!

Hello, all! I don't know how many of you are still out there, but I thought I should post here and let you know that any future blogging will be happening on my new website! Go to www.annecarolynbird.com/blog to read any new posts - and take a look around the new site while you're at it! I love it and hope to really expand on it over the next few weeks. See you on ACB.com!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Imperfect Fall Cookies

I know this isn’t a cooking blog or a mommy blog - or heck, even much of a blog at all since I haven’t posted in almost a year - but it’s still my corner of the internet, and today I have something to share.
Yesterday my son (H, age 2) and I made Owl Cookies, the same recipe I made with my mom every fall growing up. They represent Fall for me in a way I can’t describe, and I have made them many times since I’ve had my own kitchen. Yesterday was the first time, though, that I've gotten to “be the mom” and have little hands help me. It was wonderful, a perfect “stay at home mom” moment, the continuing of a tradition that was so special to me as a child and is even more special to me as a Mom. And since all the owl cookies I see on Pinterest look like they were made by professional bakers and not moms with kids, I think it’s time to share this with the world! As my mom said, “Everyone should experience the joy of owl cookies!”

Here’s the recipe as my mom has passed it on. I’ve indicated my alterations in italics. The recipe first appeared in the military Officers' Wives Holiday Cookbook, sometime in the early 70s.

COOKIE OWLS

2/3 C. shortening (I used butter)
1 cup brown sugar (packed) (next time I’ll try less)
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
a 1/3 cup all - purpose flour (could easily use GF flour blend)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
 1 cup oatmeal
 1 oz. melted chocolate
Semisweet chocolate chips
Whole cashews

Combine sugar and shortening;  beat until creamy.  Add egg, vanilla and peanut butter;  blend thoroughly.  Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Stir in oatmeal.  Add to creamed mixture; blend well. (I never do it like this; it just dirties another bowl. I just dump it all in and mix. I’m pretty sure my mom did, too!)

Divide dough in half.  Shape one half to form roll 8 inches long.  Add chocolate to remaining dough.  Roll out chocolate dough on waxed paper to for an 8-inch square(ish).  Place plain roll on chocolate dough and wrap chocolate dough around it.  Pinch seam together.  Wrap in waxed paper; chill for at least 1 hour.  Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes before cutting. Cut into 1/4-inch slices.  Pinch chocolate dough to form 2 ears for each owl face.  Use 2 chocolate chips for eyes and 1 cashew for beak.  Place on ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes.  Yield: about 30 cookies

TIPS!!

* Double the recipe simultaneously in two different bowls, then double the chocolate and add it to one bowl. (Trust me, you’ll want this many cookies!)


* Chill the dough for about ten minutes before you form the log. It is very sticky otherwise.

* Ignore the “8-inch log” and go for a log that is no higher or wider than an inch, making two logs if you need. If the log is too thick, the cookies get huge and they are much cuter when they are little. Plus then you get more and, well, see above. Roll out the chocolate dough wide enough to cover.

* Be careful not to press the chocolate chips and cashews too deeply into the dough. Too deep and it will cause the cookie to break after it’s cooked.

* Take the cookies out of the oven after they have just lost the glisten of wet dough. This will keep them chewy and not too crispy (and crumbly).

HAVE FUN!! One of our favorite parts growing up was picking out just the right nose for each owl; they each have their own personalities! This year I pinched the ears and placed the eyes, and I loved watching H place the noses; most ending up looking like Picaso made them. The end result was adorable, real homemade cookies that look homemade.
I can’t wait to do it again next year.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Family on the Road

Hello again! I’m writing tonight from a hotel room in Dallas, where B and I are singing a Messiah tomorrow. B3 is asleep in his little hotel-provided crib and B and I are winding down after a roller coaster day. We’ve had amazing musical experiences countered with the down-to-earth realities of family life. Our heads are kind of spinning...

I wish I could have pulled out a laptop and written a post in the middle of rehearsal today; there were so many inspiring moments that I wanted to put into words! We soloists are placed on a raised platform in front of the chorus but behind the orchestra, and from that position we are completely bathed in the incredible sounds created by the musicians around us. Our fellow soloists are top-notch, and the four of us have really enjoyed working together, creating ornaments “by committee” and singing along with our favorite choruses. (Tomorrow during the performance we will have to sit and listen quietly, so we got it out of our systems today.)

B and I really haven’t worked together that often since we’ve been together, and it is nice to have our most trusted pair of ears right there to encourage and support us. I listen for things I know B will want to know about, and vice versa. We can exchange a look that tells each other exactly what we need to know about how we did. On breaks, of course, we put those looks into words, and take the other’s advice or encouragement into the next performance. I love it.

(NB: Soon we will get to announce that we will be singing together again! Sometime in 2013, and in an opera very near and dear to our hearts. Stay tuned...)

The conductor of this group was a Masters student at UGA when I was an undergrad, so he has known my voice from its early days of development. I was a music education major when we met, and he remembers telling me that I should consider switching to performance. His instinct was correct, it seems, for here I am, lo these many years later, making my living - and raising my family - in classical music.

No matter what your profession, it’s hard to raise a toddler. They are complex and constantly changing creatures, with so many needs - not the least of which is a relatively consistent routine. My poor little guy (PLG, as we call him); just when he gets used to things being a certain way, we up and relocate to Dallas or Richmond or Atlanta for a few days. We have several basic routines that we do our best to replicate - morning, bedtime, naps - but so much is different. Sometimes I feel guilty, sometimes I feel lucky (nothing entertains a toddler quite as much as a new place to explore!). And how do I know if his fussiness is related to regular toddler issues - teething, tummy problems, separation anxiety - and how much is due to a new environment? How do I know if he’s whining because his tummy hurts or because he’s still distraught from being apart from us today? B3 has been in a church child care situation while we’ve been here, and that has been brutal. He cries as if he’s dying both when we drop him and and when we pick him up, but he has a great time in between! I know it’s the sort of thing he would get used to if it was an everyday routine, but for now, for a short term arrangement, it’s just hard for all of us.

Tomorrow we will get dressed up a little early and go get our picture taken by the Christmas tree in the hotel lobby. Henry has a little one-piece tux that I can’t wait to see him in! I love having my whole family here on this gig; when I am alone in a hotel room in Hong Kong in a few weeks, I will remember this time and wish they were with me.

Even if it meant cleaning poop out of the tub.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Brave Face

Today is my husband’s birthday! And he is in Macau...

We miss him terribly today, and even with our iChat videos we can’t manage to really connect and make him feel close to us. The internet is amazing, but sometimes a rough connection can make us so frustrated that it would almost be better not to talk at all. Henry is having a rough day, very clingy, and the weather is miserable so we can’t get outside and run around. All in all, it’s not a very fun day.

Or wasn’t, I should say. I started this post at naptime, and the first half of the day was really hard. But, as is often the case, if I set my mind to it, naptime was a bit of a reset, and we ended up having a really fun afternoon. We made pumpkin bread, Henry helping dump in the ingredients; we bundled up and shoveled a little snow; we watched most of Monsters, Inc. in several 20-minute segments. I’m waiting now for Matt to wake up on the other side of the world and praying for a better connection this time. It would be nice to see him smile on his birthday.

Days like this are hard. And sometimes I wonder if I make them harder by not grinning-and-bearing-it better. By not putting on a brave face. I felt awful that I couldn’t fake a smile for Matt this morning. But these days I am a terrible faker! When my first marriage ended, I told myself that I was through with faking it. Years of hiding my unhappiness and anger didn’t exactly serve me well, so I just said enough was enough. And until now, it has worked.

But now that I’m a mom, I wonder: Do I need to learn how to fake it again? To put on a brave face? Henry is a very sensitive boy, and while I never want to lie to him or present a dishonest picture of myself, does he really need to see how stressed and upset I am? Does Matt? Do my friends? My colleagues? Who really needs that information? Is there a way to maintain my honest living and not make everyone around me as miserable as I am??

I’m laughing a bit as I write this, because in this moment I am not miserable. Tired, yes, but not miserable by far. But I’ve been thinking about this this afternoon. How did I change things around for us today? I think I just gave over to what was happening, to the day that was unfolding. A day we can’t get outside is a day that Henry will need a lot of holding, lots of reading and lap time, lots of convincing that he is really tired and needs a nap. (Two out of three of those are really not bad at all...) So this afternoon we just did those things. And it was fine. I gave up on getting to the laundromat (in the snow?? what was I thinking, anyway?), gave up on getting any studying done (sometimes I can while he’s awake), and just gave over.

There is something to be said for that at work, too. Accepting your fate and just deciding to make the best of it. I guess that’s different than putting on a brave face, though, isn’t it? It’s not faking it. What is it? Making lemonade? Accepting? Giving over?

Maybe it’s just living the life you have and not the life you wish you had. I like that.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Update

Remember the audition in this post?

I've been meaning to tell you that I got the job. :)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Better living through blogging

The season has started.

In the past ten days, maybe less, I’ve gotten two job offers and two inquiries for interviews about my life as a blogger and working musician and mother. So even though I’m not really working much this fall (except for a one-night concert at an awesome club in NYC), things carry on apace! Guess I’d better get to writing...

The thing is, “my life as a working musician and mom (and blogger)” is tough right now. B (my husband and fellow opera singer) is out of the country on a gig and I’m solo parenting our very spirited (artistically temperamented!) child. I’ve been on the road with Henry alone many times in the past, but being home (not working) is different, not to mention the fact that he is very different at 15-months than he was at seven! Let’s just say that if “getting into things” is Henry’s job right now, he is at it like he’s up for a promotion. Keeps me on my toes!

I used to compose my blog posts in my head throughout the day, sitting down and regurgitating paragraphs of brilliant prose that had been stewing in my brain for several hours. But now by the end of the day I can barely remember where I left my computer let alone piece together a blog post from memory. After making and eating and cleaning up meals and snacks, reading dozens of books several times each, changing diapers, walking and running and playing inside and out (regardless of weather), cuddling, crying (both of us, often) and napping (also both of us), I am done. I barely have enough energy to log onto iChat and check in with B, who is lonely without us on the other side of the world. How am I supposed to write? What should I write? Many people have been asking me to start up again, but honestly...

I am not a “mommy blogger.” I will actually go out on a limb and say that I feel that genre has probably done more harm than good. Well, maybe equal harm and good. Blogs have become so slick and sleek as more and more people are making their living through them, but now reading a mom blog is akin to reading a fashion magazine: Do you feel better or worse about yourself when you read it? Do you look at the pictures and compare your (real) life to the (edited and Photoshopped) one on the screen? How’s that working out for you?

Nobody likes a complainer; I get that. But nobody likes a fake, either. So I’m going to try to find the balance. This blog used to help me work through things that were troubling me, issues I needed to focus on; it was a great place to brainstorm. Even now, after working on this rather short post, I feel a bit of mental clarity. I know it’s good for me. Maybe it will be good for someone else, too.

I still get the occasional email from a young singer who tells me that my blog has encouraged or inspired them. Even though I often feel discouraged and uninspired as I figure out this working mother thing, maybe writing again will help. You’ll have to live with a boring Blogspot template, though; the last thing I have time for these days is learning graphic design. So until I get some high-paying sponsors and hire a designer...

But this is me. You just get me. Real, unflashy, working hard to figure it out.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

October

So my friend LMB sort of challenged me to start blogging again while I’m out of work this fall. I’ve tried several self-imposed challenges of the “write every day” type, even starting a new blog on Word Press instead of Blogger, hoping a new interface would kickstart me. Nothing has stuck, and this might not either, but here we go in any case.

Yes, out of work. I finished up a super fun Figaro at Opera North in mid-August, and between then and early December I have no work. Well, I have a one-night concert event - a fund-raiser for Gotham Chamber Opera at La Poisson Rouge - but that’s it. Scary! Thankfully, because of my past work at the Met as a weekly soloist, I actually qualify for unemployment! How many freelancers can say that? I am grateful and not at all ashamed. :)

It’s a tough time in the business. I think it’s safe to say that most of my friends are in similar situations. Smaller opera companies (the ones that aren’t top tier like the Met, Chicago, San Francisco, etc.) seem to have shrunk their seasons to fit in the period from January to May, rather than filling the full school-year type season. Not sure why nobody want to do fall operas, but those jobs were few and far between. It’s a bit of an ego blow that I didn’t get one of them, but when I look around at my fellow “starving artists,” I know I’m in good company. But what do we do in these months??

All of my work this season is in NYC, aside from a short jaunt to Dallas for a Messiah (with B!). I’m thinking about taking on some voice and elementar piano students here at home. I would love to put on a recital somewhere, but that pays exactly zero dollars and requires tons of prep time that I need to be spending on my winter and spring gigs. (Lucia! In Hong Kong!! Yay! Over Christmas!!! Boo.) So, we’ll see.

In non-singing (or, should I say, non-no-singing?) news, I am quickly becoming a Pinterest addict. I have already implemented several ideas I’ve picked up there, and I am constantly looking at ways to improve or enhance our home and our lives. Great recipes, fun activity idea for B3, tons of organization and decorating tips. Love it! It has inspired me to pick up my needlework again, working again on a huge project I started in January 2001. My mind is full of fun gifts ideas for friends and family, and I can’t wait for Christmas.

** In typical representation of the way I’m operating these days, I started this post on October 1. Ah, well... So much for a 31-day challenge! But, at least I’m writing again, and hopefully I’ll find something interesting to say...
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