Bake sale for the British Heart Foundation


Brownies–which I DID make for the bake sale…although THESE are a picture of different brownies…

On Wednesday the 12th of February, I brought into my office enough baked goods to choke a horse. The reason behind this was not our office’s love of cake (but, BONUS), or my need to bake yummy treats. It was in aid of the British Heart Foundation’s ‘Ramp Up the Red’ campaign. Basically, I wanted to raise some money.

And it worked. My awesome colleagues helped me raise over £30! And, in addition, I received about £10 in donations from my justgiving page.  I made brownies, peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies (which I called meltaways), red velvet cupcakes with cream-cheese frosting (low-fat, natch), and fat-free raisin and apricot tea loaf. I promise to post the recipes as soon as I can! They were a hit–especially the PB and CC cookies…I could have eaten the whole batch, and THEN my heart would have really been in trouble.

My reasoning behind this was simple–heart disease sucks. All of my son’s grandparents have had some heart problem in the past. My grandfathers both had heart problems. My great-grandfather died from heart problems at 40. It scares me. It scared me enough to get checked out after I had my son. Luckily, at the moment, my cholesterol is ok, my blood pressure is ok, and my triglycerides are okay. But still–it is frightening to think that there might be an ACTUAL ticking time bomb inside of you.

I want us all to be around a looooooooooong time. I want my son to have all of his grandparents for a loooooooong time. I know that £30 isn’t much, neither is £40, but every little bit helps. I want to know that if shit hits the fan, something might be done to take care of me and my loved ones. And all of your loved ones too.

Please give to The British Heart Foundation–if not on my justgiving page, then directly to the BHF itself. OR–have your own fundraiser! It’s fun! Let me know if you do and what you do!


Be careful not to turn into a Volpeite

These were the words my ‘friend’ left me with after I made the cast of the school musical, a toned down version of Hair. ‘Volpeite’ was  a word–a name called, really–that some of my friends in Debate and Forensics called a person in theatre, stemming from the last name of our teacher and director–Lou Volpe. Was she issuing me a warning? Perhaps. However, the subtext of this statement was more likely a threat–‘become more like the drama kids, and I won’t be your friend’. It was a threat fulfilled, but as you can see from the picture below–I didn’t give a shit.


Before a performance of Hair, 1996

Drama in most schools is kind of an island of misfit toys, and it still was at Harry S Truman High School in Levittown, Pennsylvania; however, the distinction was that OUR drama program was a coveted island location. We were all misfits in a sense–coming from all walks of high-school life. Jocks, academics, populars, geeks–everyone was welcome. More than that–they were accepted. If you liked theatre, and especially if you were talented at it–the drama kids took you in as one of their own. That isn’t to say there wasn’t rivalry, bitterness, unrequited love, meltdowns, and the occasional case of ostracism. The thing was–we were our own little microcosm.

Michael Sokolove–himself a Truman alumni–has recently written a book about Truman’s drama program, Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater.  The book is a mixture of memoir, biography (of Lou Volpe, our beloved teacher and director)/homage, and a history of Levittown. He never paints Volpe as a saint, but really looks into who Volpe IS, besides an awesome teacher and director.  What Sokolove really did was bring home the DRIVE that Volpe has, and utilised to make Truman’s drama program so well-renown. Volpe helped us feel accepted at a time when I think none of us really felt normal. Some were closer to him than others, but that’s only natural. And at times ‘Fun Lou’ (a name given while I was in high school that stuck for awhile) would have momentary lapses of…well, meanness. But those moments really seemed almost familial in their intent and delivery. We were a family. It sounds corny, and probably IS corny, but for those short few years–we were a family.

Sokolove also really looks into what makes and has made Levittown, well, Levittown. He looks at the ambition and talent of students, some of whom have bad family lives, multiple jobs, and even paroles. Levittown is a suburb and far from a paradise. In recent years, it has grown more and more dangerous even–news stories of people being robbed in their own driveways seem almost commonplace. And Truman High School has been looked down upon as a sort of poor relation for ages. We never really expected much, and in reality, didn’t always get much. What we DID get were some really FANTASTIC teachers. Teachers that made us think, and made us feel good about ourselves. Volpe did that for his students–when other schools, universities, and even the state didn’t believe–Volpe did. Sokolove brings all of this to light, while simultaneously giving us the specific tales of some students (author included), the high school, and Volpe himself. With all of these aspects, one might think this book a difficult one to read. It isn’t. Or, perhaps, I’m biased. I grew up in Levittown. I went to Truman High. And I was in drama. I was, for all intents and purposes, a Volpeite.


PCFL Banquet, 1996

Originally, and continuously, I was a Debate nerd.
I started out trying events, mostly speech ones–poetry readings, declaration-making. I branched out and tried Lincoln-Douglas Debate, or LD for short. I liked to argue, so it suited me; however, my tendency to be fairly inarticulate when trying to illustrate a point meant that I never got past the ‘decent’ stage in that even. MY ‘event’ came to be Dramatic Interpretation, or DI, and I was lucky enough to be fairly decent at it–even going to Nationals my junior year (only to make the top 48). It might sound like bragging, but in all honesty–it scared the crap out of me. Every time. Every round was an audition–judges wrote notes, and scored you, based on…what? Good, solid opinion really. In a speech event like DI, you were giving a performance, a solo one–of an under 10-minute monologue or dialogue from a play. If any person outside of speech and debate were to witness one of these solo dialogue ‘performances’–they would think you were nuts. We couldn’t move, have props, or really do much of anything but SPEAK. I had tones of voice, accents–that was about all the arsenal we could rely on.

I bring up debate because, well, it was a really big part of my life. I really don’t want to minimise the role this program had in my life–it was HUGE, and still has a big spot in my heart. Most of my friends were also in Debate. It was the first safe haven I found at the big, bad high school as a sophomore (there were no freshman at Truman when I started in 1995). Carl Grecco, our teacher and coach, was an authority figure, but an almost fatherly one. We knew not to cross certain lines, but he was always there if we needed help in school or at home. As far as I know, no books have centered around the, now retired, and legendary Mr Grecco. Maybe one day, and I really believe that day should come.
Grecco and Volpe didn’t always see eye to eye. Debate and drama events sometimes overlapped. Even in my last year, I missed a show of the musical because I was at a Debate and Speech National qualifier.

The criteria in DI, that you had to stay in one spot, made me focus more on my voice, and how to project a character and characters to an audience. This really helped in theatre too, but it could also be a hindrance–I rarely felt comfortable using my body. This was also, in part, due to a lack of self-esteem. However, by my senior year–I was more comfortable. Auditioning in drama, and competing in debate never lost that edge, but I felt more confident, more ME, and more capable of my abilities.  A judge at a debate tournament gave me this note once, and I’ve never forgotten it, “You need to walk in here with that ethos veneer that says ‘I’m a national champion'”. I’ve never taken that as a slight, but as a reminder that I COULD do it, not only because I’d won things before, but because if I had confidence I could do just about anything. I’ve tried to apply that not only to drama and debate, but to high school, university, and just LIFE in general.

Drama became my life by senior year. I was dating a drama, eating with the drama kids (many days in the drama classroom), and most of my friends were in this group. We auditioned for scholarships, which, most of us won. Some of us got major scholarships to state schools that featured good drama programs. I never felt picked on, or bullied by these kids–sure, there were times where I felt left out, but I believe that to be mostly my doing. I was oddly both mature and unaware. By senior year, I’d lost many friends from debate–again, many from my own doing, but some from theirs. The girl who warned me about being a Volpeite–one of the latter, and to be fair, I’m sure neither of us mind.

Looking back is always a bittersweet thing. I LOVED drama and debate. There are times when I wish I had taken better advantage of them. One of those times was while reading Sokolove’s Drama High. Most of the time, high school seems more real, and more recent than it really is. That is, as far as I can tell, because while a lot of the high school experience is in a regimented black and white, or, a limited spectrum, Truman drama and debate and were in bright, bold, Technicolor.


Main cast posters in the main hallway of Truman High, 1996

Awhile ago, on Facebook, we Volpeites from the late 90s started to scan in hundreds of pictures. It was–honestly–a freaking joy. While on a visit home, I raided every photo album I had and scanned in my own. We got in touch with people we hadn’t talked to in over a decade. Some just to say hello and how are you, others to start newer friendships.  I don’t think any of us didn’t like our time in Volpe’s drama program. It seemed to make high school a better place. How often can someone say that?

Yogurt and Coriander Hummus

The other day I was watching a cooking show (I ♥ me some cooking shows), and the lady-chef-host made some hummus…with yogurt!

So, it doesn’t seem weird, right? I mean, it’s not that far-fetched. I had never thought of it though! It seemed like such a great replacement for tahini, which can be expensive. Ok, yogurt doesn’t taste like tahini, but it does give the hummus a tangy-ness that is very nice.

I gave it a go.

I threw a tin of chickpeas and some of their juice into the old blender, along with a handful of fresh coriander and about 1/4 cup of greek yogurt…maybe more. I added some lemon juice and garlic powder and blitzed until smooth, adding a little olive oil as I went to loosen things up.

And behold! It was DELICIOUS! I highly recommend using yogurt in hummus! I baked some pitta chips to go along with it–I sprayed the cut pitta bread with olive oil spray, sprinkled with salt, smoked paprika, and dried mint, and then baked for about 15 minutes at 170 degrees C. The perfect accompaniment

Homemade yogurt hummus and pitta chips

Oh, and my son loved it too…Hummus-BONUS.

Broken Glass…Broken DREAMS!

Ok. I have a doodle. It was an art project, from my high-school art class. I had finished a previous project, with time to spare, so my awesome teacher gave me a huge piece of paper and a tiny-nibbed pen and said, ‘Go for it.’ Hence the name ‘doodle’–because I just drew whatever came to mind. Is it the best piece of art ever? No. Will it win the Turner prize? No. Do I love it? YES!

All through University, it hung over my bed, almost as a dreamcatcher. And now, that I have my own home, I have been wanting to frame it properly and hang it up. FINALLY–FINALLY–I measured the thing (American paper sizes are different to UK ones), and decided to get me a frame at IKEA.

So, I buy the frame. The next morning, I’m excited to put my doodle in this frame. I proceed to break the glass of the frame.

I then proceed to beat myself up for my innate stupidity and lack of patience.

I WOULD love you, picture frame, but you’ve broken my heart with your shoddy engineering (read: my ineptitude)!
picture copyright of


  • Just get  a new frame.
  • Get new glass from a framing shop/glazier.
  • Buy a HUGE clip frame and cut the glass down to fit my frame.
  • Burn everything in a huge bonfire

I’m looking into all these options.
However, I am leaning towards cutting glass–I know, I know–not a great choice of activity for someone with the aforementioned stupidity and impatience. BUT–it might be the cheapest option, AND I can learn a handy new skill.  I’ve even had a look at this ‘How To’ video and instructions online: So, in the hopefully near future–watch this space for my attempts at fixing this sham of a framing attempt!

Summer…but not summer

British summer…well, up north it is fairly non-existent. We’ve had alot of rain. Alot of humidity. And a few days of good, ol’fashioned sunshininess. Complaining–me? Never! But seriously, I can’t complain–in America, it’s currently in the 100s of degrees Fahrenheit, which, in my book, is encroaching on WTF temperatures.

The L-town crew, circa 1987

My parents are coming over soon for a visit. They haven’t seen their 9 month old grandson since he was born, so, it’s going to be a pretty exciting visit. I miss them–my parents. My sister. My best friend. I also miss my childhood and teenage years in the States–ok, not the WHOLE time. But the summers. They were the BEST.

  • The vacations–to Amish country, renting a house in Ocean City, MD or in the Poconos with my aunt’s family
  • playing outside
  • sun-showers and running inside for a towel
  • trips to the pool
  • staying in our neighbours pool ALL DAY until we were ‘water-logged’
  • trips out for ice-cream and sitting on the pull-down of my dad’s truck or our family’s station wagon while we ate it
  • riding in the back of my dad’s flatbed truck (before it was illegal)
  • waiting and then RUNNING for the ice-cream man
  • the smell of newly mowed grass, even with the lawnmower/petrol smell, which, ALWAYS reminds me of my dad SO HARD that I end up aching with how much I miss him
  • summer thunderstorms–and sitting outside on the carport watching the lightning crash
  • Family barbecues
  • visiting my grandparents and aunt, uncle, and cousins in upstate PA
  • playing ALL day, with kids on the street–and later, in my teens, riding around with friends and going on road trips
  • In high school–going away to the theatre festival at William and Mary College in Virginia

Our set for ‘Godspell’, 1998

  • My birthday!
  • Going to the shore–walking around the boardwalk and spending a small fortune trying to win candy and stuffed toys…or, in my parents case–cigarettes
  • St Mikes Fair–the tilt-a-whurl is still my favourite ride!
  • rolling up, at the end of summer, to the school to see what teacher we’d have that year…

There’s SO much that I remember and adore about that time. So much that I hold in my heart, and in my soul. I hope my son has just as good a time in the summer…even a northern British summer!

The Growling, Growing Baby

Does anyone else’s kid GROWL?

My kid growls. He growls.

AND he throws mighty tantrums, which are surprising not only in their intensity, but in their NEWNESS.

I never thought that these would start so early. 6+ months, and we got full tantrums. He sees, he wants, and if he can’t have–boy, oh, boy.

The first stage is a whimpering cry–saying, I want that, so, give it to me. If that doesn’t happen, it escalates to stage two, which is turning beet red and screaming even louder. Stage three is going stiff as a board, going even redder, and screaming even LOUDER. Luckily for us, this screaming baby can be thwarted with silly faces and funny noises.

He LOVES remote controls, telephone handsets, mobile phones, cameras, etc, in stereotypical man fashion. I will usually relent with the remote, but, obviously, with things that are slightly dangerous for him, I won’t cave. But more and more, I keep thinking that he needs to learn that he can’t have every thing he wants. And then I think–is that reasonable? He’s not even 1 yet! Is this a lesson he can even learn? I’m not sure, but I guess, over time, he would learn. I just didn’t think we’d have to start this early!

And maybe I should be the type of mom who teaches those lessons, instead of, I don’t know…taking pictures….

It's clobberin' time! ((c) athenapearl)


Springtime! (c)athenapearl

Spring has finally arrived in Britain! Ok…it’s still been overcast a few days out of the week here, but still! There has been SOME sun! Yay!

On Thursday, I took my son for a walk into town, and it was wonderful to get out and about while the sun was shining for a change! We walked around, shopped, and visited some people. As we were heading back towards home, I had a great dinner idea and stopped off for some supplies.

A few weeks ago, my husband had come back from a grocery run with a few odd bits for a tapas type meal. I say tapas, but really I mean smorgasbord. We had a little of this and a little of that–chicken, pasta salad, olives, hummus, and…miso soup. Ok, a little bit odd, perhaps, given the rest of the buffet, but still–it was really tasty! And I thought–hey! I can try something like this! And so, on this one lovely spring day, I decided to give it a go…

Springtime Miso Soup with Pork and Chive Dumplings

  • 1/2 large onion, finely sliced
  • 1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
  • 2 C button mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 C choy sum, chopped (but keep the leaves whole)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp ginger, finely chopped
  • 1/2 C white wine
  • 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp light soy sauce
  • 3 Tbsp red miso paste
  • 1/2 tsp wasabi
  • 800ml water
  • packet of frozen pork and chive dumplings
  • 100g rice noodles, or vermicelli
  1. Heat a little oil in a pan and gently fry the onions, carrot, and ginger for a few minutes.
  2. Add the sliced mushrooms, choy sum, and the garlic, and carry on frying for a few more minutes.
  3. De-glaze the pan with the wine and vinegar. Let that cook off for a minute, then add the soy sauce, honey, wasabi, and miso paste. Once that is all incorporated, add the water and let simmer.
  4. Follow the instructions for cooking the dumplings. Ours said to boil from frozen for 8 minutes.
  5. Add the rice noodles to the soup, and cook for 3 minutes (or however long yours need). Add the cooked dumplings, and let the assembled soup simmer for a few minutes.
  6. Serve!

Springtime Miso Soup (c)athenapearl

This was a light and delicious soup. I garnished ours with some cilantro, but to be honest, it was a little overpowering. We didn’t have any, but shiitake mushrooms would have been a great addition, and probably a bit more authentic! Also, as we didn’t have any mirin, I just used the white wine. This type of soup is great because each person can add an individual touch, like more wasabi to taste–or chilli paste, lime, or anything else you fancy. I also had bought some char sui buns, and steamed those over the dumplings as they were boiling. All together, it was a light, but very filling meal!

My Blueberry Weekend…

This past weekend was a blueberry weekend. By that, I mean that I used a fair amount of blueberries. Ok–I used blueberries in 2 things, but they were DELICIOUS things.

My first experiment was to make Ina Garten’s (or the ‘Barefoot Contessa”s) Blueberry Crumb Cake–which is basically a streusel cake. Streusel is a crumb topping of butter, flour, and sugar, and in this case–some cinnamon and nutmeg too.

Ina Garten's Blueberry Crumble Cake (by athenapearl)

First things first–the blueberries. Now, I had read somewhere that if you flour the blueberries before putting them in the batter, they won’t sink to the bottom of the cake. I floured the blueberries. THEY SUNK. So, with some further thought, next time I make this cake I’m going to set aside the blueberries, put 2/3 of the batter in the cake pan, sprinkle in the blueberries, and then top with the remaining batter…and then the streusel, as per the recipe instructions. With this recipe, I used 3 regular sized eggs instead of the 2 extra-large eggs, and I didn’t have any brown sugar, so I used Demerara sugar. This may have made the streusel a little more crunchy than it should have been, but nonetheless tasty.

Homemade apple, banana, and blueberry baby food (by athenapearl)

Blueberry experiment number 2: I made some homemade baby food for my son. I made it using an apple, a banana, and the leftover blueberries from the punnet I used for the cake recipe. My kid LOVED it. It was great on its own, or mixed with some baby rice for a ‘breakfast’-y alternative.

So–2 great ways to use 1 punnet of blueberries!

How do you like to use your blueberries?
Any great recipes you’d like to share?

Pajama Mom


Recently, I read an article on on the debate of ‘dirty’ moms vs. ‘primped’ moms.  I have to admit, if I had to label myself with either of those titles, I would be the former. However, in reality, I am not ‘dirty’ in the sense that I’m unclean–although I will admit that there have been occasions when I haven’t managed to get in the shower for a few days.


I consider myself what I’m going to call a ‘pajama’ mom. And apparently, I’m not alone in this. Even before I had my son, even before I was pregnant, I’ve been the type of person who comes home and gets in her pajamas–even if I was already wearing something comfortable. I really can’t say why. I tend to be a couch potato–not necessarily watching telly all the time, but I like to sit, relax, get comfy. And pajamas are the best way to get comfy.  Background story is that I had a C-section. After I got released from the hospital, even some of the yoga trousers I wore almost religiously during pregnancy felt tight around my sore tummy. I tried on some normal jeans that were a size larger than my pre-pregnancy ones, and although they fit, the structure around my tummy felt horrible. Not tight, just WRONG. So I kept on wearing yoga trousers and pajama bottoms whenever I could. I switch it up more now, but I still wear the comfy things on a day-to-day basis. I keep my hair tied back (because my boy LOVES hair and will grab it if he can), my glasses on, and my outfit as comfortable and breastfeeding friendly as possible. That’s it. Make-up–only if I’m going into town, and only if I can manage it. It’s not the top priority.

The thing that people really need to keep and mind, and what is an interesting part of this dirty vs. pimped debate,  is that mothers are really sensitive. Myself totally included. Some of us are insecure, whether it’s because we’re first-time moms, or just because that’s our nature. In general though, most of us are just immediately on the defensive because once you have a kid, people come out of the woodwork to give their opinions on what you’re doing. People are always coming to us with advice. But its an odd thing–there are times we WANT advice and times we DON’T. We DON’T want to hear that you think what we’re doing is wrong. That should be a given with most people–something that would register as ‘rude’. But it doesn’t. People will tell you that you’re feeding your child wrong. That your baby is small. That your baby is really big for his age. Sure, many things are said with all good thoughts and intentions behind them. Then again, some people are trying to be rude. They’re trying to get at you. Luckily, I’ve only come across the former. I’ve known people who’ve been on the receiving end of some extremely rude comments. For example, a friend from high school on a social networking site was criticised openly for having 3 children and not being in a relationship with any of their respective fathers. She’s a good mother. She takes care of her kids, has a job, and makes a home for them. But that gets tossed aside once some people hear that she’s not with a man.  Number 1, why is it anyone’s business so long as her kids are happy and well cared for? Number 2, it’s not a blame game. Some relationships don’t work out.

It’s a bit ridiculous that someone has to almost justify why they’re not all dressed up to take their kid to baby massage or to the supermarket.  And oppositely, why some women are sneered at for having their hair done or make-up perfect–as if they were being selfish. It’s a double-edged sword, moms. And seemingly, we’re judged by a lot of people. Whether it’s being looked down on for wearing trackie-bottoms while walking your baby through the park, or for not having your kid in cloth nappies, or for breastfeeding in public–some people think they have the right to say rude things to you, or simply judge your parenting.
The trick is not to care.

Being Pregnant–the things they don’t tell you…

In my last post, about having a baby (more like living with a baby), a friend commented and asked me what I feared whilst pregnant. So, I thought I’d make another list!

1. You fear for your safety, but at the same time feel solid as a rock.
Naturally, your instinct will be to protect yourself, of course. This, I think, heightens when you’re pregnant. You worry about something prodding your belly. About people targetting you for a mugging or something because you can’t run away fast enough or because you’re more likely to do what they want because you want to protect your child. Or you worry about tripping, because you’re clumsy anyway, and hey! your sense of space is off because you’re not used to so much girthage. BUT, at the same time you feel almost…invincible. I don’t know if that’s the right word. Personally, I felt right. Like, this is the perfect place for me right now, and I am a ‘goddess’. Seriously. You feel golden.

2. You fear childbirth, the pain–sure, but more about shitting the bed whilst doing it.
Ok, this is self-explanatory. But let me say, which most women will tell you, you do not care at all when you’re in the middle of it. So many people saw my who-ha and me just at my WORST, but I didn’t care AT ALL. I could barely see straight. Believe me, when you’re in the middle of childbirth, you’re thinking about other stuff.

3. Towards D-Day, you start to think ‘What the hell did I sign up for?’.
Again, I think this is natural. It’s akin to performance anxiety–will I be a good parent? What’s labour going to feel like? Will my baby be ok?  All those questions come to the fore, and you start to freak out a bit.

4. You really worry that something will be wrong with your baby before it’s even born.
They give you pamphlets, usually before you’re second big screening, that list pretty much everything and anything that can be wrong with your baby. Including that he or she could be born without the top of their head. For realsies. This is NOT what you want to hear. You can’t worry about this stuff, but you will. At every screening, and for days before hand.

5. You worry about having a miscarriage or stillbirth.
This is almost a taboo subject. And even writing this makes me cringe or want to cry. It’s the darker side of the above, you will worry–pretty much throughout your pregnancy–about the possibilty of miscarriage. It does happen. And it’s heartbreaking. But like so many scary things in life, you just can’t think about them. You’ll go insane. The thing to remember is that the statistics they give you take into account miscarriages that occur before the 4 week mark. Miscarriage is tragic at any point in a pregnancy, but before 4 weeks, many women don’t even know they’re pregnant. However, in this modern age, with pregnancy tests telling giving you a plus or a minus even days before your period’s due, it makes pregnancy at the forefront of many of our minds.

6. It’s a bit selfish, but you worry that your body will never be the same.
Whether it’s the additional inches on your ass, the criss-crossing red marks on your now flabby stomach, or the weird state of your bajingo–you worry about ‘bouncing back’. Me–I’ve always had a bad body image–so this was a concern for me, I’m not gonna lie. But your pregnant body—is awesome. Like I said before, I felt so right. And I LOVED my tummy. I felt tired and encumbered at times, but I adored that big, but pert belly. It’s the post-game that’s a bit of a bitch.