Sunday, November 25, 2012

Half the World and Thanksgiving

Last Thanksgiving Eve, a friend described a childhood tradition she'd bridged into her own family, one that was striking and humbling in its nature.  Each year on the Eve of turkey day, she and her family would have only rice and tea for dinner, since half the world's population subsists on a variation of this simple meal, most days.  It was too late for our 2011 meal, but I knew for certain what I'd be serving on Thanksgiving Eve 2012.

We talked to the kids about our meal a week or so in advance, and then again at dinner that night.  I shared with them the information I had googled before the meal - that 2.8 billion people, half the world's population, lived on less than $2 per day, and that rice was the staple crop that many people relied on for 2 or 3 meals every day.  I shared with Jeff that 1.2 billion live on less than $1 per day.  As our grocery bill routinely tops the $200 mark each week, I find those numbers staggering.  And appalling.  And humbling.

We said grace and dinner began.  I'd already made a concession for the kids, since they are not big rice eaters and I didn't think they'd care much for tea, either (despite copious amounts of sugar).  Instead, I made available buttered noodles and apple juice.  Aidan was slightly wary about dinner - last week, at a restaurant, he'd ordered buttered noodles for lunch, then found himself still quite hungry after he'd polished off the plate.  He cajoled his brothers into sharing their leftovers, and told me later, "I really regretted not ordering something with more protein in it."  But Aidan is a very good sport about dinner and food in general, and helped himself to noodles and rice, then asked for a taste of our tea.  Leo stared grumpily at his plate and asked what else he was getting for dinner.  "Nothing, honey, remember?"  I tried to talk through the point of the meal again, but Leo couldn't hear me above his howls of protest.  Meanwhile, Pax whined that he wanted an apple, wanted an apple, where was his apple? and refused to touch the noodles he usually gobbles right up when served as a side.  Defeated, I quietly sipped my tea and gave Jeff a long look that said "What was I thinking?"  I muttered, "This is a disaster."   Dinner ended early, and quickly.  I felt a pang of guilt when I realized how little clean up there was, and how easy the dinner prep had been.  Was I really supposed to be enjoying that part so much?

Oh, and then of course there was all the cheating.   I'd loaded the kids up on lots of fruit and some protein-rich granola bars in the afternoon, in preparation for the austere dinner.  In general,  I'm pretty disciplined.  But a gin-and-tonic proved irresistible to us at 4:00 in the afternoon, and I reasoned with Jeff that possibly 1/8th of the world's population enjoys gin and tonics before dinner.  By 9:00 at night, I was really, really, really hungry.  (And wasn't that the whole point?) But then Jeff reasoned that if we let the apple pie we'd made that weekend sit any longer in the fridge, it would have to be pitched in the trash.  So we would actually not be wasteful of food if we were to consume the leftover pie....

I felt like we'd failed.  But with a few day's worth of perspective, I suppose I've come to appreciate that the take-away message from the meal was perhaps more important than the discipline required to fully embrace it.  We didn't eat only rice and tea, we didn't forego indulgences like mixed drinks and pie, we didn't feel a particularly deep connection to half the world's population.  But we did experience that it was hard.  And staggering.  And humbling.  And important.  It was important, to be uncomfortable and hungry and feel guilty for our indulgences.  While I don't think we did a good job sticking to tradition, I think we each learned from the experience.  I walked away with an even deeper sense of compassion, and gratitude.  I'm really grateful that my kids love fruit and expect it to be served at every meal.  I'm really grateful that rice is a choice in this house, in addition to pasta and grains and bread and dairy and veggies and lean meats.  I'm really grateful that each of us struggled in our own ways through the meal, because if it had been easy, how could we grow?

I'm glad we did it.  I'm glad we failed.  It will give us something to work toward next year, and in the meantime, it will make us think more deeply about half the world.

Aidan wrote this recipe at school, two days before our meal.  Perhaps he knows exactly how to serve the whole world, after all....

A Recipe for a Happy Thanksgiving, by Aidan Carter

Ingrients:  famly, food, prayers, freinds, brotherhood.
First you stir a family, food, freinds.
Add brotherhood beat for 360 seconds.
Servers the whole world.
Full of Thanks giving

Pax and his "Hold onto"

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Eggs like fish

I absolutely love what comes out of the mouths of babes!

Last night, at dinner, Leo was telling us about his day.  A classmate of his had gotten in trouble earlier in the week when there was a substitute teacher, and she was facing the consequences of her bad behavior.  Leo announced, "Sasha* had to go see the advice principal today because she was so bad when we had the substitute."  (*not her real name)

Me:  She had to go where?

Leo:  The Advice Principal (with a look that said, are you deaf?  I said advice principal!)

(...I sure do hope that the vice principal had some good advice to offer Sasha.....)


Today, Pax and I were making brownies, his all-time favorite treat to bake.  After I helped him crack open the egg, he watched as the yolk slowly slid out of the shell.  Grinning and giggling, he said with glee - -

"Oh!  The egg just came out like a fish!" 

"Like a fish?"  I asked.

"Yes!  Like a clean goldfish!"

And indeed, the golden yolk bore an uncanny resemblance to Cookie, the goldfish Pax had helped return to her newly cleaned bowl, just last week.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Filled to overflow

I fear that my posts have been rather thin these days, lacking substance.  I hope to remedy that soon enough.  In the meantime -

For many years now, our family has created a Tree of Thanks each November.  But this year, the idea of the tree felt old and stale. I wanted something new.  Inspired by the Trick or Treat banner and influenced by the letter-centric world in which both Leo and Pax exist, I thought of an alternative. 

I cut out 26 different colored leaves from cardstock, and labeled each one with a fancy gold letter at the top - A through Z.  For a week and a half during dinner conversation, we went though each letter and named the things for which we were most grateful, letter by letter.  Some were amusing, others, poignant, others still, tender and true. 

I hot glued each leaf to a long satin brown ribbon and hung the banner low enough in the dining room to both read and to add to as the month goes on and our gratitude grows.

P.S. May I just add.... this idea did NOT come from Pinterest, thankyouverymuch.  While I probably saw something like it, months ago, resulting in a simmering-on-the-back-burner effect, this came from my brain.  It felt refreshing and encouraging to have figured something creative out all by myself, for a change....

Highlights of the letters include many adventures and appreciations we've shared this year, including corn mazes and baking brownies and keyboarding lessons and gymnastics and speech therapists and ice cream.
Predictably, A included many names - Adam; Anne; Aunts; Aidan.  However, when Leo added "Apple Baby" to our A-list gratitudes, I was undone.  Apple Baby is the nickname he gave to the baby we lost before we had our Leo.  Perhaps, in some very deep and unconscious part of his mind, Leo will always hold appreciation for our Apple Baby, because without her, there would be no Leo Gabriel - our Leo "Good News."  His willingness to bear witness, out loud, to her life in utero always makes me take a deep breath, filled to overflowing with gratitude and love.

Filled to overflowing with gratitude and love - that pretty much sums it up.  For even when I am exhausted, annoyed, angry, upset - even then - I am grateful.  For them. 

For Aidan:  This morning, he snuck down the stairs before Jeff and I were up, fed the cats (even though it makes him gag), and fixed breakfast for himself and his brothers.  He cut Pax's toaster waffle just how he likes it - some in strips, some in pieces - and added syrup carefully as a Sunday treat.  He carefully spiked his hair for church and asked Jeff for another lesson in tying a tie, loving how much he looked like Dad today in pinstripe shirts and blue ties. 

For Leo:  Who, when asked at dinner what his favorite animal was, responded, "I love ants, because they always work together as a team and help each other out."  Who showers his affection and tender care on his friends and his family, who has transitioned more beautifully to kindergarten than I could have ever hoped or dreamed.  

For Pax:  Who never stops talking.  Who never. stops. talking!!!!  We're in the process of rearranging pictures and photos all over the house, rehanging and reframing right and left.  I brought down a huge framed Matisse print from our bedroom and stashed it in the kitchen, hoping to coax Jeff into swapping the five naked dancers for a proud, tall rooster poster we'd stored behind the Matisse.  When Pax asked why the frame was in the kitchen, I answered, "There's a rooster in here that Daddy is going to frame."  Later, when my mom visited, Pax took her by the hand, led her to the frame and announced, "There is a rooster in here." Furrowing his brow, he added, "But I do not hear him inside here....?" 

And of course, for Jeff.  Without whom none of this would be possible, or funny, or fun. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween 2012

Harry Potter, a stegosaurus, and Baby Jaguar walk into a bar....
oh wait.  Different story.

Halloween 2012 was a complete success! We hosted our sort-of annual Halloween party, and it was great fun for everyone.  Highlights included a fantastic Pumpkin Ale homebrew by Jeff, a really fun group of guests, and a rockstar babysitter who helped with every aspect of the party, from making punch to overseeing the kids to cleaning up with me afterward.  I loved my costume this year - a Book, set to battle the evil Nook - and as usual, I loved seeing Jeff's creative genius as applied to costumes come alive again this year.  A few party pics, including some decorations I spent many hours creating...

Bat Garland & kids' spooky artwork
Trick or Treat banner (felt) + party table!
Spray painted pumpkins (this is cuter in real life)
Rat infestation!!
Spiderweb valances
One of the kid stations at the party - "Creepy Feely"

Duking it out:  Book vs. Nook
Bada** Boxers

Seth as himelf;  Jeff, Nursing a Beer; a drunken German; Mittens Romney
Halloween Night was especially fun this year.  It was a low-stress, low-key afternoon paired with an equally relaxed evening.  The weather was chilly yet the skies were finally clear, and I fell in love with our community all over again.  I love our street, I love our neighbors, I love this community in which we've made ourselves home....

....I seem to have this uncanny ability to draw attention from the local police, however.  When my parents came to our house to hand out candy while we trick or treated, we borrowed my dad's golf cart to transport the kids from house to house.  At the second house on our street, I sat in the driver's seat while Jeff took the kids to the door, and who should appear beside me but a cop in an unmarked SUV.  He was not particularly amused with the golf cart and told me to get it off the road. (I forgot to tell him that it was really a volkswagon dressed up as a golf cart....)  Busted.  I called it a draw, though, since he didn't notice the closed container I'd stashed in the cupholder on the dashboard.  (Did I mention I don't even know how to drive the golf cart, so I had to wait for Jeff to come back to move it?  Or better still, the irony in the fact that the cop said the golf cart was "unsafe, especially on a night like tonight" yet he was driving.... an SUV?!)

A few more photos:

I wore this costume when I was pregnant with Aidan, then again when he was 4 months old & went as Hedwig.  I altered it for him 8 years later....

My Stegosaurus. 

Baby Jaguar, complete with a ferocious growl!

Just before The Bust.

Happy Halloween!!!