Monthly Archives: December 2007

The Lazy Mother’s Guide to Giftwrap

Part three in an ongoing series.  I promise, the next installment will not be holiday-related.

            Say what you will about ordering gifts online; for those of us who dislike shopping, it is the greatest invention of the internet revolution.  Stores are bad enough, but stores between Thanksgiving and Christmas?  If, perhaps, you can put up with the crowds, the chintzy Christmas trees, and the salesclerks in Santa hats, you are a better soul than I am.  If you enjoy the continual auditory assault of “Jingle Bell Rock,” you are probably slightly mad already.

            What gets me most at the mall around this time of year are the fake wrapped gifts.  Stacked up under trees, strewn about the display windows, alluringly spread on checkout counters.  We all know those boxes are empty, people.  We are just not that stupid.  As I dart around women made three times larger by heavy winter coats that they insist upon wearing inside the store and fourteen shopping bags, I wonder: Just how much good could we do for the environment, just how many trees could we save, just how many chemicals could we not produce, if stores simply eliminated the fake wrapped gifts?

            I like to do my holiday shopping (for children, because you know what I do for adults) from the comfort of my own home.  There are no trips to the post office because the packages are shipped directly from the warehouse to the people receiving them.  Yes, there are resources spent to ship the gifts to the recipients, but at least they are not first shipped to a store, where I buy them, and then shipped again to the child.  I could buy the presents and hand-deliver them, but these days that would require a trans-Atlantic flight.  Talk about time- and resources-consuming…

            So, I click away.  I am actually too lazy to think up gifts on my own, so Zachary makes suggestions.  Our nieces are getting a lot of pink this year.

            The online ordering does have its snags.  There is a lot of packaging.  And, if you are willing to pay, say $2.99 to $5.99 extra, they will actually add more packaging for you.  Really.  I just opt for the free gift message.

            But this is a post about how to be lazy for the environment, not cheap.  So, in addition to forgoing the gift wrap at Amazon.com, I skip it here in my house.  Yes, that’s right.  The boys got seven nights of Hanukkah gifts (remember, one night was charitable contributions) without *gasp* any gift wrap. 

            So, here is what I propose.  Instead of spending days on end wrapping gifts for the holidays, just hand them their gifts.  Or, if they cannot take that, use old newspaper.  Or, if they really want something shiny, use reusable gift bags.  Make sure you use neutral ones, because you are going to want to use them again for all those birthday parties.

            Lest you think I am a scrooge who can sit back in my Christmas-less household and fail to see the joy of a tree stacked with gifts, let me tell you that there is one Christmas tradition that I can totally get behind.  Stockings.  Stockings make perfect sense to me.  You buy them once.  You fill them up.  You reuse every single year.  And, unless you are a total glutton for punishment, you don’t have to individually wrap each gift that goes inside.  I like stockings so much that I have, on occasion, tried to convince J that we should have them.  Not in December, because that is too Uncle Tomish for me, but maybe another month.  February can use all the cheering-up it can get.  And maybe not stockings.  Maybe we’ll fill mittens or something.    

            There are those people for whom gift-wrapping is an art form.  People who express themselves through silk-screened, homemade paper and ribbon they wove themselves from the flax growing in their backyard.  If you are one of those people, far be it from me to suggest you give up your art in the name of environmentalism.  I totally get the redeeming value of art, a subject for another time.  Suffice it to say, I would not have told Picasso that the studies he did in preparation for painting Guernica were a waste of paper.  If you raise gift wrapping to an art form, go for it, my friend.

            But slapping some shiny red paper on a box just to watch it get ripped off again?  Surely you have something better to do with your time.

M is for Monday and Mommy and Mean

            Monday began as days around here are wont to begin.  Toilet, blinds, diaper, cups of milk while Mommy pulled out the remains of Sunday’s pancake mix and set about making breakfast.  “May I watch?” Zachary asked.

            “You know what, Zach?  Not today.  If you get on a chair to watch, Benjamin is going to want one, too.”  Score one for Mommy.  Not yet awake ten minutes and I had already made his face fall.  Not content with that, I got angry with him for crying about it.  “Fine.  You bring a chair over and you can watch.  But I’m not going to help you.  You can’t watch every time.  When Daddy is here, we have more time, but when it is just me, I have to get you breakfast and I don’t have time to be pulling chairs all over the kitchen.”

            Zachary, all 25 pounds of him, tried to lug over one of our heavy wooden chairs.  Now, he was crying in earnest.  And I was annoyed in earnest.  Some little voice inside of me realized the sweetness of his request, so I reached over, grabbed the chair, and pulled it over for him.  Of course, Benjamin had to get up, too, and they pushed and shoved each other the whole time I was cooking. 

            Fast forward ten minutes to breakfast.  Everyone was seated at the table, with my butt in the chair the boys had used to watch the magical transformation of liquid to pancake.  The little voice inside of me was getting a little more air time, now that the masses had been fed.  And it told me I had been a grade A, class one bitch.  Zach had asked nicely, he had wanted to participate in making breakfast, and for no good reason, I had shot him down.  “He’s three, you jerk,” the voice said.  “You think maybe you could wait a year or two to make him feel like a nuisance?”

            Like I said, Monday began as days around here are wont to begin.  Toilet, blinds, diaper, cups of milk, Mommy feeling guilty because her kids deserve someone nicer.  My kids drew the short end of the stick, ending up with a rather crappy mother.  The next step is Mommy getting even more unpleasant because she feels so guilty.

            But, this was where Monday was a little different.  “I’m sorry, honey.  I got frustrated, but you did not do anything wrong.  I shouldn’t have yelled at you.”  Silence, sucking on the milk straw.  “Did it upset you that I got angry?”

            “Yes,” Zachary said.  “You hurt my feelings.”

            “I am sorry, baby.  Mommy was wrong to get angry.  Of course I should have let you watch me make the pancakes.”  All of a sudden, little Mr. Bright Eyes was back.

            An hour and a half later, I was standing in front of a group of fifteen three- and four-year-olds.  One of them was Zach.  The rest were his partners-in-crime.  I was the guest lecturer at P-xies Nursery School. 

Zachary’s school has a nifty little tradition that each Monday is Letter Day.  The children bring in an item starting with the letter of the day.  Our item is usually related to Thomas: Cranky the Crane, Harold the Helicopter, Emily the green engine.  We are learning to read steam-train style.  This week was M.  We brought in the little book about Mavis, who I believe is a cheeky young engine, but I am not sure since I totally tune out every time I am forced to read one of these books.

It’s a darned good thing that this was M day, because I was there to teach those children about Hanukkah.  Yeah.  ‘Cause I am just the person you want teaching your kid about religion.  What I bet you did not realize – and what I did not realize until this week – is just how many M words there are in connection with Hanukkah.  Miracle.  Maccabee.  Menorah.  And it’s a good thing, too, because I am pretty lousy at lesson planning for three-year-olds.  I lit the menorah and talked about Maccabees and taught them about miracles (not so easy) and read a book about latkes, which leads me to think I would have been OK had I come in last week on L day.  Zachary identified the shamesh and giggled with Timmy, who had decided for the moment that Zach was his best friend.

            Fast forward five hours.  After nap found Zachary perched on a chair, helping me prep dinner.  He turned bread into breadcrumbs by using the much-coveted food processor.  He measured olive oil.  He dumped in beans.  He stirred.

            Casserole completed and tucked in the fridge for later baking, we went into the living room.  Benjamin, we knew, would be asleep for at least another hour.  “What would you like to do now, honey?  Play with your trains or make a picture?”

            He stopped and contemplated a moment.  Zachary contemplates like a statue by Rodin.  “I want to make a picture.”  I hesitated, not sure I had heard him correctly, because I thought I heard him choosing art over trains.  “For you,” he added.  And so he used his brother-free time to make me a Hanukkah gift.  A rather abstract drawing of trains going in and out of Tidmouth sheds. 

            Ben woke up.  We took a little walk, returning in ten minutes when the cold was too much.  I read them a book together.  Each boy read a book to himself while I read a page in my book.  They played.  They watched Bob the Builder.  (Actually, Ben watched half of Bob the Builder, after which he decided that playing with trucks is more fun than watching them.  Ben has only recently started showing any interest al all in television, now that Zach is not using his 20 minutes of TV time to watch Thomas and Friends.  Apparently, even the one-year-old finds that show mind-numbing.)  The casserole, baking in the oven, filled the house with the smell of garlic and beans.

            We sat down to eat.  The boys, quickly deciding that their palates were not sophisticated enough for bean and vegetable casserole, asked for some peanut butter on their toast.  J came home.  We lit the candles.

            “How was your day?” he asked.

            Had you told me at 8:00 AM that I would answer as I did, I would never have believed you.  Because Monday, you see, ended much nicer than it had begun.

How I dream

Update on my updates (real post below): In case any of you are wondering what happened to the votes that you tell me you cast over the last few days, well, I was kinda wondering, too.  Only one of them actually registered, and I do believe those of you who said you voted (but hope you didn’t feel pressure!)  I have contacted Blogger’s Choice Awards to let them know I am feeling a little like Al Gore in 2000, and hopefully they will work out the technical glitches soon, permitting you to actually cast a vote for this blog or to give up in total disgust.  If not, Julie and I can take it to the Supreme Court.

——————-

            I am a vivid dreamer.  J rarely remembers his dreams, and, frankly, if my dreams were as dull as the few he does manage to remember, I would not bother either.  He has one- or two-scene dreams.  Mine resemble a Wagnerian opera.

            There are the nice dreams, in which I eat doughnuts.  Have you ever had a doughnut dream?  These dreams are fantastic on two fronts.  One, there are no calories or cholesterol in dream doughnuts.  And, two, they actually taste better than real-life doughnuts.  Nothing pisses me off more than getting awakened halfway through a glazed doughnut with chocolate frosting and rainbow sprinkles.  Can’t you wait till I finish eating and then wake me up before the part of the dream where I am re-carpeting the ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton or teaching elephants how to tango?

            There are also not-so-nice dreams.  These are the ones with Nazis.  In these dreams, I am running away.  That is the summary version; the long version is considerably more complicated, often involving abandoned buildings, neighbors’ closets, and other manner of hiding places, in addition to an absurdly convoluted, three-act packing extravaganza.  I used to have these dreams all the time.  Whenever a student seemed vulnerable or I heard about an innocent jeopardized, I dreamt about running away from Nazis with my cat.  Yes, I dreamed of protecting Nala from the Nazis, who for some reason had decided to target a slightly overweight calico-Siamese mix with a neurotic licking disorder.  Perhaps they had run out of gypsies, Jews, and nuns to persecute. 

Once I had a child, the Nazi dreams shifted.  I had them less frequently, but they were more intense when they occurred.  I no longer needed to protect Nala.  The Nazis had lost interest in her and moved on to my son.  But there was still the packing, the running, the hiding, the planning, and the looking behind every petunia pot for the enemy.

            Nazis figure deeply in my consciousness.  My maternal grandparents fled them, leaving behind large extended families to perish in one camp or another, and those were the ones who made it to the camps.  As a young adult, my Grandma Esther actually saw siblings shot in front of her by people they had once considered friends.  This might explain why Grandma Esther was a bit over-protective of her own children, although I am not sure Jewish mothers ever need a concrete reason to be over-protective.

            I may now dream about Nazis less frequently, but I worry about them more.  Yes, I know they are probably not on the verge of a world-wide comeback, but they are everywhere, if in slightly different forms.  I have a friend who has dual citizenship.  When she had a child, she was careful to get that child the dual citizenship to which she was entitled.  “A Jew can never have too much protection,” she said.  She is correct; she is way, way too correct.  I am only sorry that Benjamin is not entitled to dual citizenship, despite being born in the UK.  I would like to go through life knowing that there are two governments who take an interest in his survival.

            I think about scenarios.  If something were to happen, who would hide my children?  In Philadelphia, I had several potential families scouted out, not to mention friends across the country.  Here in London, I feel vulnerable.  What if a pogrom started?  Who do we know well enough to hide the boys and make sure they got out alive?  And, what if they started hunting someone not Jewish?  What if the English-French rivalry suddenly got out of hand?  Would I be brave enough to try to pretend the French children of our friends really belonged to us?  Would I put my children at that risk? 

How about an attack on the water supply?  The air?  We are in SW London, far from the U.S. Embassy, and J is gone a lot of the time.  What would I do?  How would I get my boys to safety all by myself?

            I think like this because I belong to a group of people who have been hunted throughout their history.  I think like this because I am a mother, and motherhood has made me understand how precarious is the safety in which I raise my children.  I think like this because I know there is a very good chance my children will live on a planet that cannot sustain them.  I think like this because my own childhood was so unsafe, and so I know first-hand that life is not all pixie sticks and roses.

            I also think like this because I know there are parents.  There are parents whose fears for their children are not hypothetical.  There are fathers who flee from their own versions of Nazis.  There are mothers who cannot give milk to their babies because they have no food of their own.  And there are mothers who, each day, have to decide whether to put themselves in the path of rapists or to skip collecting firewood that day.  There are mothers who give birth to their children, wondering whether it will be a girl, vulnerable to sexual attacks, or a boy, who will be abducted and forced to become a killer. 

While Zachary refuses to eat chicken nuggets, there are children who have never known a full stomach.  While Benjamin toddles about hurting himself, there are children in considerably more danger.  While I worry about raising my children to be good adults, there are parents who worry about raising their children to be adults. 

I would like to dream like Laura.  I would like to dream that I can make a difference, that I can help others.  I would like to be hopeful that I have that sort of power.  Instead, I gather my children to me and peer out into the darkness, ready to fight to defend them against whatever comes along, knowing full well that, if it does come along, there is very little I will be able to do and probably few people brave enough to try to protect us.

So, I dream about Nazis and they have no dreams left at all.

Updates

Update one:

            This first one is sort of awkward, but if I can’t embarrass myself on my blog, where can I embarrass myself?  You know how I told you that Slouching Mom nominated me for the Blogitzer over at Blogger’s Choice Awards for my Coleridgesque writing style?  And, you know how I told you that you could vote for me?  Well, it turns out that they were having some technical difficulties with that particular nomination that day, and all but one of the votes disappeared.  Something to do with hanging chads, I think.  So, if you think you voted for me, you probably didn’t.  Here is that button again, in case you want to recast your vote for real.

My site was nominated for The Blogitzer! 

Update two:

            Remember how I told you J and I are on the wagon, totally cold turkey when it comes to sweets?  Well, it turns out that J was still climbing into the wagon when it started, tumbled out the back, and was left behind at the starting line.  I, however, have made it three weeks now.  I am hoping to get to New Year’s Day (with the one already-scheduled exception I had told you about).  I had a rather ugly withdrawal period, a good sign that I was more dependent upon sugar than I would have liked to have been.

            The good side is that saying “no” to sweets in December eliminates all the internal debating about this particular Christmas cookie and that specific chocolate cake.  The down side is that J and the boys made a gingerbread house yesterday, and doughnuts are a traditional Hanukkah food.  ‘Nuff said.

 

Update three:

            The boys are doing well sharing a room.  Benjamin is no longer waking up at six and tossing objects at Zachary while screaming at the top of his lungs in hopes of awakening him.  They are sleeping nicely until 7:00 (knock wood).  Even better, they then hang out in the room for awhile.  Zachary uses the potty that we keep in the room and they chat till I can haul my lazy ass out of bed.

            Sometimes evening is a little rocky.  If they are really tired, they exchange a few giggles just for the sake of keeping up appearances and then nod off to sleep.  If they are not tired?  Well, J went in last night after twenty minutes to inform them that simultaneously jumping on their beds while screaming does not qualify as going to sleep.

 

That’s all.  A more substantive post soon.

What we did today

            Noon on a Friday is about the most inopportune time for Zachary to have an appointment, especially an appointment an hour away.  Friday is the only day of the week on which I have no one who could watch Benjamin.  Noon means Zach misses half of the morning at school, is away from home for lunch, and returns well into his nap time.  Noon on a Friday is a pain in the ass.

            Noon it was. 

            So, I shifted, rearranged, and maneuvered.  I packed a lunch, hired a sitter who could stay till Benjamin’s nap time, asked J to work from home to cover nap time, and investigated bus routes, all the while grumbling to myself about the inconvenience of the whole undertaking.  I was focused on the details, because it all had to be well-choreographed or the whole house of cards would… do what houses of cards are so well-known for doing.

            It all went off without a hitch, and 11:40 found me pushing an umbrella stroller over Westminster Bridge, darting around slow-moving Italian tourists.  Westminster Bridge on a Friday at lunch time is a veritable mine field.  It takes someone rather light on her feet to avoid stepping between amateur photographers snapping pictures of their spouses and children posed in front of Big Ben with the river flowing behind them.  Does every tourist who comes to London need to get that shot?  Seriously, folks: it’s just a big clock.

            So, it was not until 11:45, as I found the proper entrance and stepped in by the gift shop that it finally hit me.  I was bringing my three-year-old son to the hospital to visit a cardiologist.  Until one is in a hospital, one can almost forget the essence of sickness that pervades.  But, we are conditioned by years of exposure, and one glance at the linoleum floors and the maze of lighted signs pointing to places ending in “-ology” is enough to remind us that (unless one is timing the space between contractions) hospitals are very serious places.

            Even the giant play structure and the children’s books in the gift shop could not mask the fact that the children’s wing was a place for very sick children.  Children who have cancer, children with diseases, children whose hearts are not working the way they should.

            But, there was a potty to visit, an elevator to find, the “walrus” suite to unearth.  And so, as the clock crept around to 11:55, I was still not really thinking about how disconcerting it was to be bringing my three-year-old son to visit a cardiologist.  Instead, I was checking in and giving him a peanut-butter sandwich and wondering whether The Lion King video playing in the waiting room would frighten him.

            NHS is apparently considerably more efficient when it comes to pediatric cardiologists than it is when it comes to children with persistent rashes, because we were ushered back before Zachary had gotten in five bites of his lunch.  He sat there, having his blood pressure taken, munching on a peanut-butter sandwich.  He was resistant to the whole finger-pulse-taker-thingy, but otherwise, he was pretty compliant.  Even once we were sent in to see the doctor, Zach was rather uncharacteristically cooperative.  (That’s not fair; he is usually a very cooperative child, as long as the person asking him to cooperate is not his mother.)

            Stethoscope?  No problem, he just sat there, shirtless, with a half-eaten pear in one hand.  Ultrasound with cold, sticky jelly?  Fine, and the machine was pretty cool to watch.  I think he started contemplating a career in cardiology at about point where he got to see all the cool colors on the screen.  I had been concerned about an EKG.  Those little thingamabobs they attach to the chest look suspiciously Band-aid-like to me, and Zach does not abide Band-aids.  But, in the end, there was no need. 

            “It is an innocent murmur,” the doctor said.  “Which means that it is innocent.”  I always appreciate the humor that seems to go hand-in-hand with choosing to be a pediatrician.  Of course, we had suspected it would be innocent, one of those harmless murmurs that comes from having a tiny little organ in a tiny little body working its ass off to run the circulatory system. 

            The elevator took a long time coming and was so full we had to wait for the next one.  The tourists on Westminster Bridge seemed to have cloned themselves three times over in the hour we had been inside, because now there were Japanese families with strollers and Columbian families with complicated cameras and way, way too many Americans.  Across the bridge, I contemplated whether to pick up the 87 bus a block to my left or a block to my right.  One quick look at the throngs of people assembled outside of the Parliament building made it clear that turning to my right was the much safer option.  But, an 87 was just pulling away when we got to the stop, and it was only after four 88 busses had come and gone that ours finally arrived.  Zachary declared himself hungry three minutes away from our stop, so he was just finishing the last chomps of a banana as we exited the bus.  By the time we got home, we were tired, it was coming up on nap time, and one of us desperately had to go to the bathroom (the one who couldn’t just “water a tree”). 

            And, funny, I was not bothered by all these inconveniences one whit.

In praise of spinach

First, look what Slouching Mom nominated me for:

My site was nominated for The Blogitzer!

Way cool.  It is for the blogger who demonstrates the best writing ability.  You can click to vote for me, if you like.  Maybe that will convince publishers that someone other than Slouching Mom likes my writing. 

Now, for the real reason you clicked here today:

Spinach-apple-chicken nuggets 

As I mentioned, the spinach is optional, should you have a child who will inform you that he does not eat green foods.  Also, if you get your chicken from a butcher, you can have him run it through the machine to grind it.  Saves you lots of time.  It only took me four months of making these nuggets to figure that out. 

3 slices whole wheat bread

2 or 3 large skinless chicken breasts

2 or 3 skinned apples

Three or four handfuls of washed baby spinach

2 beaten eggs

Flour

1) Toss the bread in the food processor and make bread crumbs.

2) Puree the apples and the spinach, remembering that using too much produce will make the chicken too watery to form into nuggets.  Do this before even touching the chicken breasts or they won’t get totally processed, leaving flecks that prompt your pre-schooler to inform you that “something’s in there.”  Remove the processed apples and spinach to a bowl.

3) Chop up the chicken unless your butcher ground it for you.  Either way, puree the chicken.  You want it was ground up as possible.

4) Put the apples and spinach back in the food processor with the chicken and blend them all together.

(This is the point at which you can probably hand it over to the thirteen-year-old who is learning how to cook, as suggested by Melody.  The next part of the process is totally gross for adults, which means it would be incredibly fun for a thirteen-year-old boy.  Should you have none handy, you’ll have to do it yourself.)

5) Form the rather soupy mixture into nugget-sized pieces.

6) Coat lightly in flour.  Then dip in eggs.  Then coat in bread crumbs.  If you have a child who cannot eat eggs, I guess you could try it with milk, instead.

7) When you have finished making the nuggets and washed your hands twenty-seven times to recover from your Lady-Macbeth-goes-Julia-Child feeling, gently brush them with olive oil.  Flip with a spatula and brush the other side.

8 ) Bake at, say, 400 degrees.  Flip after ten minutes or when browned.  They usually take about 15-20 minutes to bake, but it depends on how much spinach or apple you used. 

Once you cool these puppies, you can wrap them in foil to freeze – I freeze them six to a pack: 2 for Zach, 4 for Ben.  Then, reheat in the toaster oven.

 

Bonus Recipe – Spinach That Your Child May Eat

As much as the last recipe was a pain in the ass, this recipe is easy

 “You can’t say he’s picky,” my friend tells me.  “He eats spinach.”  This is true.  Zachary does eat spinach.  The key is to start them on this recipe early – say eight months old or so. 

Olive oil (maybe a tablespoon or two)

Cumin, curry powder, cinnamon to taste

Small dash of nutmeg if you have some

Can of chickpeas, rinsed

Cup or so of raisins

Big honkin’ tub of baby spinach

 

1)      Heat oil over medium-low heat.  Add spices and cook for a minute to blend

2)      Cook chickpeas in oil (stirring frequently) till they start to soften

3)      Add raisins plus almost a cup of water (say 7/8 cup, if you need an exact amount)

4)      Cook for a couple of minutes to plump

5)      Throw in the baby spinach, cover.  Stir every few minutes till it does that magical thing spinach does when it reduces to a fraction of its initial size.

6)      Puree till smooth

7)      Freeze in portions

I hope none of this gave you the impression that I slave over foods for my kids.  This is it.  All I’ve got. 

The Lazy Mother and Holiday Cards

I’ll have that recipe up tomorrow, along with a bonus spinach recipe.  But, today is Hump Day, and Julie asks us to write about making new friends but keeping the old. 

Hump Day Hmm   25day3.jpg

Part two of an occasional series 

            I do not like opening the mail.  In fact, when J travels, the mail usually sits on the hallway shelf for days until he returns and picks it up.  He loves mail, so I leave it all for him to open.  Truly, if someone wanted to send me anthr@x, she would have to find a more effective method than the postal service.

            There are, however, certain exceptions.  I am in charge of baby announcements and wedding invitations.  (Lately we seem to only be getting the former; everyone got married while I was delivering children.)  I record the birth dates, send the baby gifts, and coo over the pictures.  I caress the wedding invitations and sigh as I imagine what the wedding will be like before replying that, no, sadly we cannot make a transatlantic flight with a newborn for a wedding on Rosh Hashanah.  I peruse the registries, deciding whether the bride is too much of a klutz to be trusted with fine china and then choosing the gift we most want to picture the happy couple using.

            And, I am in charge of holiday cards.  I adore holiday cards, even the absurdly Christmasy ones.  I read every last word of every last family holiday letter, no matter how many single-spaced pages it may be.  I pore over the pictures, deciding which parent which child has started to resemble and which little girl is too beautiful to be allowed out of the house when she reaches the tween years.  I arrange the cards for display all around the living room, balancing those picture-postcard thingies against the sturdier, two-sided ones. 

            Two of my favorites arrived in 2004.  First, from my friend C, who lives in DC but has a husband originally from Boston.  Their two little boys were featured on the cover, dressed in all their Red Sox finery, and inside the card read “We believed.”  The second card came from our neighbors just across the street.  Also originally from Boston, E is an artist, so she made a cover that had the words “Red Sox” etched into snowflakes.  Inside, it simply read “2004, the year hell froze over.”

            If someone wanted to send me anthr@x, holiday cards might be her only opportunity.  I love how the pour in from around the U.S. and beyond.  Texas, Florida, North Carolina.  I love how they bring tidings from people we have not seen in half a decade.  California, Vancouver, Iowa.  I love how they remind me of people I have cared for and still hold a tiny place for in my heart.  Massachusetts, South Carolina, Georgia.  I love how they keep that little thread of connection between old friends.  New Jersey, Virginia, Germany.  I love when new friends are added, a promise of becoming old friends in time.  New York, Wisconsin, Indiana.

            Our holiday card list runs to the hundreds.  We move so much and we keep adding people.  We never seem to subtract.  At last count, the list covered about 300 people and a quarter of the states.  It got to the point where we could no longer write out each card and we began ordering pre-printed ones with a whole letter inside and a picture of our progeny on the cover.  Even that is time-consuming, what with getting the right picture, composing the letter, and updating all the addresses.  And you do not need me to explain how expensive it can run.

            Yet, I kept doing it.  I loved the idea of connecting to old friends, colleagues, and teachers.  I loved the old-fashionedness of it all.  My lazy, cheap self was competing with my extroverted, longing-for-connections self, and my lazy, cheap self was losing.  Even when I wanted to stop, I felt guilty, as though people would be angry we had stopped.  We had entered a social system, and I sort of felt like we were not allowed to exit.  It was the Jean-Paul Sarte holiday card dilemma.

            Those of you who know me IRL will stop at this point and wonder.  “I haven’t gotten a card from them in years.  Am I the only one who has been cut off the list?”  No, honey, you’re not.  Because my lazy, cheap self found an ally: my environmental self.

            Holiday cards take paper.  They take energy to produce.  They take fuel to deliver.  They create piles of waste when the season is over.  My environmental self took on my guilty self, leaving my lazy, cheap self the clear victor.  So, we stopped sending holiday cards.  And birthday cards, because you know I was also sending out well over 100 of those a year.

            We do send out birth announcements and a card with a picture, an update, and a new address every few years when J’s company uproots us and lands us in another country.  But, the era of holiday cards is over.  Maybe a group email…

            I hope I still get a few family holiday letters, just for old time’s sake.  

Just in time for Hanukkah

There will be another installment of The Lazy Mother’s Guide to Saving the Planet soon, but I had planned this post for the first night of Hanukkah.

  

          It was sometime around mid-October when I realized that I was spending entirely too much time thinking about chicken nuggets.  Now, I am used to spending a lot of time thinking about food.  I like to cook; I like to eat; I like to think about cooking and eating.  However, I usually obsess about foods slightly more sophisticated than chicken nuggets.

            In the middle of the summer, I decided that Zachary was no longer going to be given commercial chicken nuggets.  Frankly, I had never wanted to give them to him in the first place, but I was desperately seeking a protein source beyond peanut butter.  He had agreed to eat chicken nuggets, albeit in limited quantities, so I had caved.  Then, Benjamin started showing an interest.  Since Benjamin is an astonishingly good eater, I decided that we were not going to start stooping to the lowest common denominator.  Zach was going to have to rise to his little brother’s level.

            So, I became one of those women I had sworn I would never be.  You know – the ones who make home-made chicken nuggets.  Yeah, that’s me making you look bad.

            The nuggets I devised were actually phenomenally good.  They are, to be precise, spinach-apple-chicken nuggets, made with organic chicken and whole wheat breadcrumbs, lovingly basted with olive oil and then baked till brown.  Honestly, they are fantastic.  J would like me to serve them for supper, but they are such a pain in the ass to make that I refuse.  I make large batches and freeze them in bunches for Friday lunch.

            Ben is crazy about these things, although he is pretty much crazy about all vegetables, sources of protein, fruits, and items requiring catsup.  The nuggets suit him perfectly because he is still working on teeth, and since I puree the spinach, apple, and chicken in advance of forming the nuggets (so that there are no textures to offend Zach), they do not require mashers.

            But Zachary?  The intended recipient of the chicken nuggets?  Yeah, you know what his response is.  After nibbling off the breadcrumbs: “They’re green.”  Kinda the point, baby.

            I steeled myself.  “He will not starve from missing lunch.”  Every Friday for two months.  “He will not starve from missing lunch.”  Sooner or later, he was going to have to cave.  “He will not starve from missing lunch.”

            Early October: “Would you eat them if they were not green?”

            Now, I was making apple-chicken nuggets.  Still really good.  Still really healthy.  Still really sitting there on his plate.

            Finally, I gave up.  I was going to have to provide him with an alternative.  It just was not going to happen.  And now I had gotten the other one, the one who will eat anything, addicted to these pain-in-the-ass, take-me-an-hour-and-a-half-to-make chicken nuggets.  I had devised them to make the older child eat something outside of the carbohydrate food group, and here I was, stuck making them in perpetuity for the younger child who considers kidney beans a really good snack and goes ape-shit over peas.

            And then, on a Friday two weeks ago, a great miracle happened.  Forget eight days of oil, forget virgin births.  A real miracle happened here in my kitchen.  Two Fridays ago, the kid picked up a chicken nugget and ate it as though he had never thought twice. 

            I was sure that was it.  It was a one-shot deal, like blueberries, hamburgers, and broccoli, all of which he has had a one-day interest in.  Raisins?  He once ate and enjoyed two.  Not two portions, just two raisins.  I was certain we were facing a similar situation.  But – and I weep while I write this – last Friday, the miracle repeated itself. 

            You just let me know if you want the recipe.

Lazy Mother’s Guide to Saving the Planet

            Yesterday, I linked y’all to a lovely young lady who has pledged to make a difference every day for all of Advent.  She is blogging about it, and she has gotten some excellent support, including people willing to make matching donations.  She has also challenged us to play along.

            Now, I think I love Laura for her determination to improve the world, her ability to believe she can do it, and her humility in wanting the rest of us to share the credit.  So, you may wonder why I am not taking her up on her challenge (other than the fact that it is only today that I actually figured out what Advent is).  I am not joining her challenge because it is a challenge I make to myself every day.

            Before you get all mushy and impressed, let me clarify.  I need to challenge myself to make a difference every day because if I didn’t, I would be perfectly content to sit with a jar of peanut butter, a spoon, and the remote control for hours while replaying Grey’s Anatomy reruns.

            For lack of a better word, I am selfish.  Really, I am (and don’t go arguing with me – I am not being self-deprecating and am not looking for reassurance).  One of the biggest ways I am selfish is that I want the very best for my kids because they are mine, dammit, and I love them.  That means I want them to be better people than I am, inherit a cleaner planet than I inherited, and have happier childhoods than I had.

            Frankly, I think I’m setting the bar pretty low on all three of those.

            The last one requires almost no effort, because even if I did do the peanut butter and remote control thing, they would still have a more pleasant childhood than I did.  The other two, however, do require some work on my part.  A cleaner planet and caring, responsible children are unlikely to happen on their own.  Sh-t.  Just when I was getting cozy.  So, I wake up every day determined to make a difference if only to fool my kids into seeing me as a good role model.

            In the spirit of Laura’s challenge, I will take some time this month to mention a few of the things I have found effective, particularly on the whole cleaner-planet front.  Because, you know, if a pre-teen can’t be your inspiration for better behavior, who can be?

            Fortunately, many of the things I do to improve the world and hoodwink my children actually simplify my life and appeal to my inner sense of selfishness.  Like holiday gifts.  While everyone around me is in a flurry of anxiety about shopping for family and friends, I am contentedly taking long naps and reading trashy novels.  (OK, I don’t read trashy novels, but I do like long naps.)  Why am I so relaxed?  Because most of my holiday shopping is done.  I still need some gift cards for the teachers and a tip for the rubbish collectors, but otherwise, we are all set around here.  That’s ‘cuz we do not buy gifts for adults.  We give to charity, instead.  And we ask them to do the same for us.  In 45 minutes last night, I made charitable donations in quite a few names, thereby polishing off at least half of any holiday shopping.

            Hanukkah, as you know, is eight nights long, and buying that many gifts for our kids could get pretty time-consuming, not to mention spoiling them off their a-ses.  We decided to shave a day off.  Ask Zachary what we are doing for the first night, and he will tell you there will be no gifts because we are giving the money to children who do not have enought food.  In one fell-swoop, we helped someone else, set an example for our kids, and saved us some holiday shopping.  That’s what I call a win-win-win situation.

            Tune in later for more of the Lazy Mother’s Guide to Saving the Planet.  Or just go read Laura’s blog, because her mother has obviously figured out how to set a good example.

Cool holiday idea

Very short post today.  Go check out this new blog to support a girl who is trying to make a difference in other people’s lives.