Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Chef Tara is coming to town

This is a personal invitation to any of my Utah friends or local blog acquaintances. My good pal Tara, chef extraordinaire and gifted teacher is coming to town just to teach a cooking class in my home. She'll be demonstrating a traditional yule log cake and dipped oreos, among other yummy things. The class is this coming Saturday (Dec 1st). There are still a couple of spots left, so if you're interested, let me know right away. You can find out more information by following the "cooking class" link on Tara's Nov 11 post or by emailing me directly.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving and pass the Cheez Whiz

I think if you really cared to do so, you could recreate my course syllabus by looking at my blog. If I neglect my blog for two weeks in a row, it’s a sign that I had a large batch of papers to grade, followed by an exam to administer and correct. I think I’ve displayed the same pattern every semester. The only way around it is to never assign papers or exams and devote my life to blogging—something which would no doubt make my students cheer and my department chair scowl.

I’m looking forward to a little Thanksgiving break.

Turkey Girl, by Camille Pissarro
It’s an “off year” for my family of origin, which means those of us who have in-laws will be eating the big feast with them. I have always been a bit of a purist when it comes to Thanksgiving. I don’t mean everyone should eat only what the pilgrims ate. I mean everyone should eat only what my family has always eaten. I expect all other families to conform to my sense of tradition, and when I attended my first Thanksgiving dinner with Ken’s family and they pulled out the bottles of soda, brownies and instant potatoes, I’m ashamed to say I snorted with derision. There are certain items that must be on the table and anything extraneous amounts to sacrilege. Turkey is a given. Ham is borderline. Stuffing, of course, but it must be of the homemade variety, not from a box. Same goes for the potatoes which must be real and must be mashed. I cringe at the thought of instant anything on my plate and funeral potatoes just seem wrong. Rolls with butter and cranberry sauce (the only time of year we see the stuff). Peas. Yams baked with butter and brown sugar (marshmallows are allowed only if they are sufficiently melted and unidentifiable as marshmallows per se). The only beverage suitable to the meal is water; anything else detracts from the significance of the food. Dessert may consist of only pie, of three varieties: pumpkin, apple, and mincemeat. I usually take a small slice of each in honor of my aunt Weezer even though I don’t like pumpkin pie and every year am reminded anew that I’m not all that crazy about mincemeat either.

It took me years to get past my snobbery and respect the fact that every family has a unique set of traditions. I think I finally got it the “off-year” that my food assignment was to bring cheez-whiz-filled celery logs to Ken’s family feast and I balked at the absurdity of such a menu item. Turns out that due to a long-standing inside family joke, the celery logs are a sacred food at Thanksgiving and by asking me to bring them, my in-laws were welcoming me into the fold. Oops. I vowed never again to whine about the missing foods or mock the apocryphal extras. I’ve learned to enjoy the fact that Ken’s cousins always make turkeys out of gumdrops for the table settings. Ken's Aunt Nikki makes banana cream pie, a tasty enough dessert that we can all suspend our disbelief for a moment and imagine that some of the pilgrims had friends shipping them exotic fruit from Costa Rica. Ken’s Grandma carries a sheet of hot rolls around the room and tells you for the 15th time that you need to take another, allowing the kids to practice their best manners by saying “no thank you Grandma” instead of rolling their eyes. There are at least ten different kinds of soda to choose from and Aunt Shauna always brings me a cup of ice water because she knows I prefer it.

A tradition of love, generosity and loads of good food, enough to feed three-times the amount of guests present. How could I not be grateful for that?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I was in 5th grade when I understood for the first time that the humans on planet earth had the power to annihilate each other. This was in the late 70s, a period I like to call the freezer-burn stage of the Cold War. I remember being angry at the adults who had created the bomb and the adults who ran the countries who owned bombs and the adults who were stupid enough to stumble into excuses to launch the bombs. In my mind, and the minds of many kids of my generation, nuclear war was not so much a possibility as an inevitability. It was just a question of when.

Remembering this helps me better understand what my son Ethan is going through. He is passionate about the environment and obsessed with the issue of global warming. He is pretty much convinced that the adults will destroy the earth before he gets a chance to grow up. His passion and concern frightens me sometimes (should a 12-year old be losing sleep over the demise of polar ice caps?) but he also inspires me to conserve resources and try to leave more behind as a legacy for my children. I am by no means a model of tree-hugging ethics. But I try harder than I would if I had no sense of obligation to my offspring.

Tomorrow, Thursday November 15th is America Recycles Day. In honor of this day, here are a few things I will do.

1. Post something about it on my blog (check). Encourage people to go to the America Recycles Day website where they can do a cool "Conversionator" exercise to calculate the impact of their recycling efforts. We learned that by recycling our Sunday newspapers each week we saved 8 trees this year! (This made Ethan, the bird-lover very happy). We also learned that the Compact Florescent Lightbulbs we installed in our home this year use one-fifth the energy of a regular bulb (and I thought we were just saving money). We also learned that recycling one glass jar saves enough electricity to power a CF lightbulb for 60 hours. This year, we recycled enough glass jars to power zero lightbulbs for zero hours.

2. Call my city officials and ask why we don't recycle glass around here. We're already recycling cardboard, paper, plastic products, etc. but glass takes a phenomenal amount of energy to produce. I hate it every time I have to throw away a spaghetti sauce jar. Maybe we should just boycott spaghetti.

3. Get serious about reducing our use of plastics. I learned on this broadcast about this book that plastic is forever and there are continent-sized islands of it floating in the ocean. No wonder Ethan is losing sleep over these things. I vow to put a big wad of plastic grocery bags in my van. I will use these when I go to the grocery store instead of getting new ones. Sure we can recycle the old bags, but isn't it even smarter to keep using the same ones over and over? It still takes 17 BTUs of energy to recycle one pound of plastic bags in a process that produces greenhouse gases. (Plus the Wall Street Journal reported that only 1-3% of plastic bags actually get recycled).

I remember when we lived in Spain it was the shopper's responsibility to bring their own bags for their purchases. My mom had a great little cart on wheels that she kept stored by the front door of the apartment just for that purpose. I think I can handle keeping some bags in the van. I should look into buying some more sturdy, reusable ones too.

4. Encourage my students and everyone I know to go to this website and read everything there is to read about the No Impact Man and his amazing idea. I heard about this family and their plan to live a year with zero impact on the planet this spring in this NPR discussion. I think no other single story about the environment has impressed me more. If this family can make their own shampoo, buy only food produced locally, walk up and down 9 flights to their apartment several times a day and give up toilet paper for a year, I'm sure I can think of something.

5. I will ride my bike on at least one errand that I would normally do with the car.

6. I will support Ethan and McKay in their plans to promote America Recycles Day (I believe this may involve public spectacle in front of the grocery store, but I must be willing to sacrifice myself and my ego for the cause, right?)

Let me know if you have any plans to help save planet earth. The kids living on it will thank you.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Mom, the human safety net

How often do you rescue your kids? I don’t mean rescuing them from physical peril, although I do a fair share of that as well. I mean saving them from their own mistakes or the harsh realities of life, shielding them, easing the blow. I’m not sure about this because rescuing my kids always seems right at the time. But then I read all the parenting experts who tell me that to raise independent, confident children, I have to let them learn a few important lessons in the school of hard knocks called Growing Up.

Today, for example, at the exact moment that the bus was pulling away from our house, I noticed Ethan’s homework assignment lying on the kitchen floor. I knew it was an assignment that was due today because he had worked on it for over an hour last night, typing it up, printing it out and setting it conscientiously on the kitchen counter where he would be sure to remember it in the morning…that is unless it managed to slip onto the floor somewhere between breakfast and his departure for the bus stop.

I felt terrible about the assignment because Ethan has been doing much better this year about remembering homework and being responsible for his own assignments. He brought home a report card last week with straight A’s and I think the sun shone a little brighter for a few moments in tribute to his accomplishment. He was so proud of himself (as we all were, of course, but I think it’s more important that he was proud of himself).

As I stared at the paper on the floor, I had one of those dreaded internal debates—the kind that, for some reason, one of me always loses.

Ack! He left the darn assignment.
There’s nothing you can do about it.
I could drive over to the school and deliver it to him.
Don’t be ridiculous. He’ll just have to turn it in late.
But he’ll be so sad about losing points.
He should have put it inside his school binder. He needs to learn from his mistakes…you can’t always be there to diminish the consequences of his actions.
(Me, imagining Ethan opening his binder, looking for the assignment, knowing that he finished it, getting more frustrated by the second as he looks through every part of it in search of something he will never find, the feeling sinking in that he has blown it again and left it home.) I just can’t let him suffer! He tries so hard. I will drop it off to him on the way home from taking McKay to school....just this once.
Pathetic enabler.
Heartless wench.
Gas waster.

Well, you get the idea.

I assume it’s a common problem: knowing when to sweep in for the rescue (when to push my stroller down the Junior High halls for the rescue, sneak a peak around the door of my son’s classroom, breathe a sigh of relief that he is sitting right in the corner nearest me, slip his paper onto his desk, and catch a glimpse of his surprised, glad face turning around to see me as I duck out the door) and knowing when to let them grow up and learn that life is hard and mom can’t always be there to catch them. Or then again maybe she can. You know, maybe I can keep up the human safety net act for a few more years. At least until they weigh too much for me to hold.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

All Hallow's Eve Day

I can hardly type because my hands are suffering from spray-paint-button-itis. I used a whole can of red on McKay's Lego costume. Today, my wrist-tendons are still so sore it hurts to do everything. I can't hold a pencil to grade papers (wahoo!). I made my husband trim a chipped nail because I couldn't squeeze the clippers myself. You want to know the worst part? My house is filled with candy and chocolate and it's all sealed up tightly in these annoying little wrappers!

But enough about me and my sorry disability. Let's take a look at my children and the costumes for which I sacrificed my ability to brush my own teeth.

McKay embodies his love for Lego

Doctor Gabie (of course)

Nora the Good Witch