This morning, three small perfect pumpkins, the color of a child's orange crayon, sat on my counter.
Five hours, two pounds of butter, eleven apples, and a lot of dirty dishes later, the pumpkin and pecan pies are cooling on the counter, and the apple is just finishing up its stint in the oven. The house smells like cinnamon and love. My hands, I realize as I sit here typing, are t.i.r.e.d. from all the chopping and rolling, mixing and patting.
I sit here, thankful for my warm house, snug against the raw rainy day. For my children who are playing a game happily together. For my husband who brings me lunch when I am having a work crisis, and who cleans up after our ailing dog with perfect calm.
Even thankful for the moments of crabbiness that punctuate long days of wrangling rambunctious little ones . Mine is, after all, a crabbiness that exists still in luxury. My children are healthy and whole, comfortable and kind, empathetic and creative. I could have it so much worse.
My daughter runs into the room. "Mama," she says winningly, looking at me in that way she has, out from under her lashes and slightly to the side, "Mama, would you like something?" She has a container in her hands, though I cannot see clearly what it is. "No thank you, sweetie," I say. "Would you like something?" She grins. "I thought you'd never ask," she says with satisfaction holding up the lidless raisin container. And through my laughter, I squeeze her tight. And then dole out the raisins.
And then sit, overwhelmed with love for this little monkey. It awes me sometimes, how much it is possible to love one's children. For that, I am most grateful of all.
Happy Thanksgiving from our silly family to yours.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
This morning, three small perfect pumpkins, the color of a child's orange crayon, sat on my counter.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I love everything about pie.
The plump fresh fruit. The rolling out of crust. The weight of a beautiful pottery pie dish, deep, with fluted edges and shimmering designs in glaze. The smell of cinnamon and nutmeg, or toasting nuts, or caramelizing sugar, or slowly softening apples or berries.
I love the way pie marks seasons.
Peach is summer, in all its glorious deep orange days, sticky from the heat and the exercise, breathless with the sugary goodness of freedom from obligations. Pumpkin is fall, spicy with the scent of dry leaves, rich and warm and comforting as a crowd gathered around a kitchen table, laughing. Pear and cranberry with homemade caramel is winter, when cozy sweaters wrap us in their caramel arms and lull us into contentment by the fire, when soft, sedentary days need the punctuation of something bright and tart and red. Raspberry is spring, bursting with sweet promise and filling your mouth with the sudden luxury of fresh fruit that is not orange.
I love the process of making pie.
The cool smoothness of the marble rolling pin and the deft wrist movements you need to peel the crust up from the counter and gently lay it into the dish. The wonder in my son's eyes as I peel the apple in one continuous curl. The "helping" that dots the floor with flour, the counters with butter, the noses with nutmeg. The anticipation of small hands and faces pressed up against the oven window, the scent of cooked goodness wafting around the kitchen.
This year we are going to visit family for Thanksgiving, and we are bringing the pies. Three pies. All to be topped with the most decadent whipped cream you ever tried, flavored with orange and cardamom. We have three small pie pumpkins, lovingly chosen a few weeks ago, and left in the cool of the garage to mellow and sweeten until we can roast them tomorrow and puree them and turn them into heavy disks of pie perfection. This morning, around the breakfast table, we had our final, serious conversation about Just What Kinds of Pie To Make. Tomorrow, we roast pumpkins for Son's favorite, peel apples for Daughter's, and break up pecans for Husband's. And then, we bake. Our family, all together. Covered in flour and spiced with laughter.
We bake together, and then we eat together. Thankful that we have a family that can laugh together even when, inexplicably, the pie turns out terrible as it did on one memorable Christmas. Thankful for the ritual of pie.
Monday, November 23, 2009
The kids are getting old enough that we are starting to have (or overhear) some great conversations around these parts. Here's a little sampler from the weekend.
Son: "How come chicken is the only meat that doesn't have a different name when it's cooked?"
Son: "I mean, cow is beef when it's cooked, and pig is pork. How come chicken is just chicken all the time?"
Me: "That is an excellent question."
Yet another Mama-stumper. Score one for Son.
In the car
Son: "Don't sing so loud. It's too loud. PLEASE! Don't sing so loud. You are singing tooooooo loud!!!!"
Daughter: [pausing in her extremely loud singing of "Sweet Escape" by Gwen Stefani and pointing to Husband and I in the front seats] "I have to sing loud. I like to. It makes them laugh."
As Husband and I try to control our completely out-of-control snorting with laughter at this very perceptive response, all I can think is: score one for Daughter.
While playing Trivial Pursuit
[As an aside, this is either a horrible game or a perfect game to play with small children, depending on your patience for creative thinking. We have the original edition, which seems perfectly pitched for someone born in 1939. As a result, neither Husband nor I can answer a solid 50% of the questions. You can imagine how the children would fare. While they are great with the ones about fairy tales, Disney movies, and first-grade science, everything else is pretty awful. So I make up questions for them when we draw cards that of course they will be unable to answer.]
I drew a card this weekend for Son that contained a question that brought back a flood of happy memories from my childhood. The question was, "What ran through the briars and ran through the brambles and ran through the bushes where the rabbits couldn't go?"
I knew those song lyrics immediately, and was instantly transported back to being nine years old and dancing and singing loudly (perhaps because it would make them laugh?) to a whole bevy of funny songs: "He's a clown, that Charlie Brown" and "Monster Mash" and "Purple People Eater."
So when I pulled the card, I knew Son wouldn't know the song, but I could not resist smiling and reminiscing, and telling him that I remembered the song it asked about. Of course, he wanted to hear it, so I sang a bit of it for him, up through the lyrics on the card. I paused.
"HOW do you know that song?" he asked wide-eyed.
"Oh," I replied. "Your aunties and I had a record with this song and lots of other funny ones on it, and we used to sing and dance to it all the time."
His eyes, if possible, got even wider. I thought he was trying to imagine my sisters and me as children not much older than himself, singing and dancing our way around the family room.
Practically breathless, he asked, "What's a record?"
I almost fell over laughing.
Score one for Mama.
Here's a video of the hilarious/politically obnoxious/totally random song in question, and believe me when I tell you that although it's been approximately 30 years since I heard this song, I still know every single word and can sing along.
So now that I've fessed up to this absurdity, please tell me that there is some goofy song from your childhood, or odd skill, or hidden talent from way back when that you still possess.
And then, please to enjoy imagining me dancing around the family room at age nine, yelping and yodeling and practicing my Southernisms full-throttle to "The Battle of New Orleans."
Thursday, November 19, 2009
When my son was in his first daycare (the one we had to replace in an instant because it was shut down without any warning one evening by the state, but that's another story), they had a Birthday Treats Policy. And the policy was not "no candy" or "no high fructose corn syrup" or "no giant sugary balls of goodness." No, the policy was: nothing homemade.
When I first heard that this was the policy, I started to giggle because I thought it was a joke. However, the giggle quickly turned to nervous laughter that petered out, and in my awkward silence, I could see that the daycare director was totally serious.
We could bring anything we wanted for Birthday Treats. As long as that anything did not contain nuts and had not personally been made by us. We could bring giant, fist-sized sugar cookies coated in 3/4" glossy green icing and each one sprinkled with 1/4 cup of oversized colorful decorating candies. We could bring garishly yellow cupcakes studded with fake M&Ms. We could bring Peeps or buckets of candy or brownies the size of small children's heads. We could bring goodies saturated with fat, sweetened with gallons of high fructose corn syrup, colored with torturously neon shades of red and blue that would dye children's lips and cheeks for 48 hours or more.
And believe you me, people did. In the toddler room, as the children started turning two, my son started coming home with goulish lips and stained fingers from the shocking colors of icing that routinely substituted for "snack time."
His birthday rolled around, and it nearly killed me that I could not make his favorite banana mini-muffins to take in for his birthday treat.
The school's logic? Too many children with allergies meant that it was not safe to have foods on hand for which one did not know precisely all of the ingredients. Therefore, the Birthday Treats Policy had been put into place to ensure that all Birthday Treats would arrive with a convenient ingredients label.
Nevermind that store-bought treats are routinely supersized and present a serving that is probably four times what would be reasonable for a preschooler's empty calorie intake on a given day. Nevermind that there have been studies documenting the connections between HFCS and weight gain. Nevermind that many parents swear their children's behavior problems can be clearly linked to the intake of artificial colorings. Nevermind that when there are 24 toddlers turning two within a four month period, that will perhaps mean an over-abundance of sugary treats in their little tiny toddler bodies.
No, the only requirement was a pre-printed list of ingredients.
I tried to suggest that I could make the banana muffins and then bring them in with the recipe attached.
If they could have excommunicated me for my suggestion, their shocked looks said, they would have.
So we brought the hideous fist-sized cookies that my son was magnetically drawn to when I took him to the store's bakery section to choose a birthday treat.
Our second daycare has no such rule. Oh, they have a Birthday Treats Policy, but the policy basically is Birthday Treats are Gooooood, and they let us make things as long as they don't contain nuts. So we've done brownies (cut into reasonable, 1" squares, which in my opinion is all a three-year-old really needs) or rice krispie treats.
Now, in elementary school, we are encountering a new Birthday Treats Policy. This one is Birthday Treats are Baaaaaad. Apparently taking a page from my book about how children don't really need to consume giant handfuls of sugar which will only make their blood sugar plummet in 45 minutes and make learning even more difficult, the school does not allow the bringing of edible birthday treats. (Stickers, we have learned, are an acceptable Celebration Substitute.)
Not to worry, there are still the requisite Halloween Party, Thanksgiving Feast, and (I'm sure coming up) a series of other feast days during which the children will be allowed to imbibe sugary goodness with all the abandon of special treats. I don't actually think I'm opposed to this policy, for many reasons.
But I don't know what to think about the fact that we have also reentered the Land of Nothing Homemade. The official school policy is that homemade goods are not allowed on any of these feast days because homemade goods do not contain an ingredients list and teachers of children with allergies therefore cannot tell if the items are safe for certain children.
While I completely understand the dire consequences that can befall a child who eats something to which he or she is allergic, this does make me want to revert to my original question: can't I just bake the pumpkin muffins and attach the recipe when I send them in?
If I bake them, I will tell you what they will NOT contain: nuts (I'm not stupid), high fructose corn syrup, red dye of any number, yellow dye of any number, chemical preservatives to prolong freshness, unpronounceable chemicals for purposes unknown. They will contain eggs, but my recipe will tell you that. And since the sign-up sheet was sent out requesting muffins, and it's nearly impossible to make muffins without eggs, and certainly unlikely that anyone would be purchasing vegan muffins, it seems a pretty safe bet that any store-bought muffins would contain eggs too.
So I proposed the muffins-with-recipe-attached alternative to my son's kindergarten teacher, and she said she thought that sounded like a very good plan. I am delighted. So is Son, since he has been asking to help make pumpkin muffins to take to school for the Thanksgiving Feast for several weeks now.
But this individual teacher's compromise with me still begs the question: is it a better policy for schools to require store-bought goodies? Are children with allergies better served by an ingredients list on a packaging label than they are by my taped-on recipe? If so, how? If the issue is one of trace elements, I will tell you after having lived for a few years with this policy in the past that it is next to impossible to find ANY baked goods or similar suitable treats that do NOT say somewhere on the label that the item, while not containing nuts as an ingredient, may have been prepared in a facility that once had a nut as a guest on Bring a Nut to Work Day. So, I don't think that items coming out of my kitchen, in which nuts have occasionally existed, are any more or less dangerous than those store-bought baked goods for a very severely allergic child.
Unless all the feast day treats are going to be unsweetened applesauce, there are going to be things containing eggs, gluten, and produced in places that might result in trace exposure to nuts.
How is that different than my kitchen counters? And isn't it better that in my kitchen, there are no ingredients whose names contain numbers, or 28 letters, or unpronouncable combinations of syllables? Overall for the health of children, if treats are going to be had, aren't homemade things better than store-bought ones? Or at the very least, certainly not worse?
These are honest questions, not sarcastic ones. I don't have a child with food allergies. I do worry about junk food (Fruit Loops cereal is an option at snack time in the after-school program, for goodness sake). And I don't know what the norm is in terms of school policies. What's it like where your kids go to school? And what kind of policies do you think make the most sense, assuming we are still going to let our children be children and celebrate with occasional party days in the classrooms?
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
UPDATE: There is an official Caring Bridge site up for Anissa now, where her husband is posting updates and you can find out more about how to help, if you are interested.
Some of you may know Anissa Mayhew -- loud, funny, hug-you-the-moment-she-meets-you Anissa. She is one of those Forces to be Reckoned With. In a good way. She will defend her friends, keep them laughing, and work harder than anyone you know at anything she takes up. She's a mom of young kids, a friend, a blogger. She could be me, or you, or one of a dozen other people you know. Except she's not. She's Anissa, gloriously herself and supremely wonderful as an individual.
And right now, she's in the ICU after having had a stroke yesterday afternoon. The news circulated on Twitter, and now posts are starting to pop up about her. This one is just to say: if you think of Anissa as a friend, and you want to leave a comment sending her some love, or keep her in your thoughts or prayers, or do something to help out her family, here are the links that will help. There's a P.O. Box set up for anyone interested in donating things like gift cards for food or other necessities. And if you don't know Anissa, but you know that feeling of dread that something could happen to you or your children, perhaps you'll send some healing thoughts in her direction too. Right now, I think she can use all the help she can get.
So far, I don't know any more about her condition except that she did manage to squeeze her husband's hand last night. If I hear more, I'll post an update here.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Or a totally different one, in another color, if this isn't your thing. I'm completely serious.
From now until Sunday, November 15, you can print a coupon online that will save you 30% on ANY in-store purchase at the GAP, Old Navy, and Banana Republic. And in addition, if you use the coupon, those stores are donating 5% of your purchase price directly to DonorsChoose. The coupon is good for multiple uses, and there are no restrictions limiting you to using it only on full-price items. It's even good at the GAP Outlet and Banana Republic Factory stores!
How cool is that? as Daughter often says.
Don't know DonorsChoose.org? It's a fantastic site that serves as a collection point for worthy proposals from teachers in needy schools. Donors who would like to help out schools can fund all, or even a tiny portion, of any project that interests them. If you are looking for a place to do a little charitable giving this holiday season, and you are interested in eduction, I can't think of a better way to go. You know exactly where your funding goes, and you can see how your contribution adds to the growing pot to fund the project you adopt. You'll find projects for everything from buying books and journals for elementary classrooms to science equipment for high schools to basics like a white board for urban schools in terribly underfunded districts.
And, in case you forgot. Here's another cool way you can give to education: go shopping.
So, if you need winter clothes for yourself, or have a friend's brand new baby to outfit, or a husband's holiday present to buy, or a birthday present upcoming, or you just got a raise, or you ruined your only nice black skirt last week, or whatever...if you have any reason at all to shop retail clothing this weekend, why not do it with a giant coupon full of savings for yourself, and help out some deserving school kids in the process?
Holiday generosity seriously couldn't get any easier than this.
(This is not a sponsored post of any kind. I've done fund raising for DonorsChoose before because I really believe in the education cause and the small-grant model, and so I was emailed this news and thought it was worth passing on. After all, who doesn't love a 30% off coupon any time of year?)
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I just got an email today from an organization's rep who wrote:
I volunteer to help spread the word about a new free Urinary Incontinence online support group. As I know this falls within your interest I thought that you might want to help us in the quest to reach as many people as possible.
At first, I laughed out loud. Then, I got a little creeped out: HOW does she know this falls within my interest? I've never mentioned incontinence on this little blog, so she obviously didn't read the blog to find out about this area of my interest. And, in fact, I've never mentioned this topic to anyone, so she must have been reading my mind to find out about this area of my interest.
And then I realized that apart from those nightmares that all extremely pregnant women have that their water breaks while they are up front teaching a class in a lecture hall full of 300 students (what? you didn't have those?), I've never had any serious interest in incontinence in my life.
Which only makes me wonder what this rep knows about my areas of interest that even *I* don't know.
And in other disturbing thoughts: did you hear that Melissa Gilbert is starring in the musical stage revival of the show Little House on the Prairie? As Ma. Now, obviously, she's a leetle bit too old to play "Half-Pint" Laura. But there is something more than a little saddening about realizing that the idol of my youth, the girl whose romantic life as a homesteader filled my girlish dreams of adventure, is now old enough to be that pretty, care-worn, always-a-little-exhausted Ma.
Which means, of course, that I am now old enough to be that pretty, care-worn, always-a-little-exhausted Ma.
Got it, Universe. Thanks.
Melissa Gilbert is a middle-aged mom + ominous reminders that I really ought to take an interest in problems of incontinence = a very clear message.
It's obviously time to do something juvenile and foolish just to prove that I've still got it.
If only my memory weren't so patchy, and I could actually think of what something appropriately juvenile and foolish might be.
Monday, November 9, 2009
See Mommy. See Mommy cough. *cough* *cough* *cough* Mommy is coughing. Now Mommy is sleeping. This is not fun. Go find Daddy. He is not coughing. He will play football with you. Yay! Daddy! Fun Daddy! Run, run, run in the fall leaves with Daddy!
Seriously and for real, swine flu is less fun than having your wisdom teeth removed. Ice cream doesn't even sound good when you feel like this. In case you haven't yet had friends come down with it, here are a few things I've learned in the past week in the haze of hacking that is this delightful strain of flu.
1. H1N1 does not necessary start with a high fever or come on suddenly. It's pretty common for seasonal flu to hit so fast that you can be happily out to lunch with friends at 1pm and lying in a puddle of your own aching exhaustion on the couch, completely beset with all the worst flu symptoms at 3pm. I can tell you from experience, though, that a few days of coughing, coming from deep in your chest, without any fever or other symptoms, can be the opening act of H1N1. The CDC website notes that "People may be infected with the flu, including 2009 H1N1 and have respiratory symptoms without a fever." I wish that line had been in bigger, bolder type, though, because I assumed for those first three days that of course I didn't have the flu, since I had no fever. So I pushed myself to keep teaching, running errands, and doing all the other things that a busy mom does, until I got to the point where I felt like I couldn't take a deep breath and was worried that the "cold" I thought I had was turning into pneumonia. Then I went home. THEN, four days in, I spiked a fever. A whole group of graduate students at my university have since told me that when they got the flu in August, that's precisely how it started for them: three days of coughing, which got progressively worse, and then the fever and headaches set in.
2. Tamiflu can do a great job with the headaches, body aches, and fever. Two hours after taking my first dose of Tamiflu, my headache and neck aches were almost completely gone. They say you should start Tamiflu within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms for it to do any good. I started Tamiflu the afternoon of the first day I had fever, which was on day FOUR of the coughing, and it still worked like a charm. I know that Tamiflu is pretty heavily guarded right now: your doctor won't prescribe it if she isn't pretty certain that you have the flu. It has done little or nothing to alleviate the cough, the gunk in my lungs, or the feeling that my chest is tight when I take a breath. But given how horrific I felt at the doctor's office, I'm very grateful for the relief it did provide for the aches and pains.
3. Nothing is better than rest. You already know this, but it's much easier to enforce for our children than for ourselves. One commonly-listed symptom of flu is "extreme exhaustion." Here's what that means: you will be home in bed, not that sleepy, but feel that the process of using the remote to scroll through all those annoying menus is simply too much work, and that perhaps keeping your eyes on moving images on the television will be too much work, and so you will not watch a movie. That's right: you will be too tired to face the extreme effort of turning on the television set using the remote control that is lying next to you. What should you do? Sleep.
4. Your family has already been exposed to you, so you don't have to wear that mask they gave you at the doctor's office in the house. Assuming they aren't super-high-risk people with compromised immune systems, you can be around your family while sick, since they were already exposed to contagious you before the symptoms manifested. That said, use separate dishes, glasses, and towels; wash your hands every time you blow your nose or cough into your hands; do not kiss them; and do your best not to purposely/carelessly hand them extra germs.
5. The rest of the world has NOT already been exposed to you, so stay home. Send someone else to pick up that book you need at the library. Let your husband drop the kids at daycare. Get a substitute to run that meeting. Eat that box of pasta in the back of the pantry instead of running out to the grocery store. Especially while you have a fever (just because it's reduced due to Tamiflu or ibuprophen doesn't mean you don't still have a fever), try to limit your exposure to other people.
6. That nose swab test that they do to confirm that you have the flu? When the nurse says, "this won't hurt; it will just be a little uncomfortable," she is lying through her teeth and with every fiber of her being. Here's what that test feels like: imagine you are an ancient Egyptian, and the nurse is the person whose job it is to collect your brain before you are mummified. You know how they used to do that, don't you? With a sharp stick poked up through your sinuses. The only difference is that the brain collector with the sharp stick back then was working on a conveniently DEAD person who could not feel, while you are very much alive and have sinuses that are already tender from all that nose blowing. (A neti pot worked wonders, by the way, for clearing out and soothing those sinuses pretty rapidly after the near-mummification experience.)
On the up side, having swine flu means you get to have constant reaffirmation that you picked the best husband in the world, as he spends lots of extra time doing the drop-off and pick-up of both of your children who literally could not go to schools further apart and still be in the same district, and then comes home and cooks dinner and cleans up after it too, and then takes the kids to the zoo for five hours on Saturday so that you can sleep. You will get to see how quickly your son is becoming a better reader, as you watch him read to his little sister in the indoor tent. You will learn that you have done a good job working on empathy with your children, when your three-year-old makes you endless cards and messages saying (in scribble which has to be translated), "I heart love you" and your five-year-old tells you on the day you feel your very worst that HE will cook the breakfast for everyone so that you don't have to--and then he proceeds to make scrambled eggs and set the table.
I won't tell you to enjoy the flu. Because you won't. But it might make you grateful for your wonderful family, as it did me. I wish you all well!
P.S. If you or yours are suffering from the flu and need an easy distraction, may I recommend the re-released Snow White? Check out my review here. It's a darker, grimmer movie than you might recall, with a happy ending that makes it perfect for days when you are feeling lousy. And if you can bear to read, the review gives you a link to a totally fascinating history of cartoon making at its inception.