Oddities #2

As the mom of a brood of hungry teens, I tend to buy various favorite food items when they are on sale. Bagels fall into this category because they freeze well for a short period of time. I buy them, slice them, and pop them in the freezer for consumption over the next couple of weeks.

For some reason, it seems my children never finish one bag before they start another bag. I have, at times, had two or more bags with half a bagel kicking around in the freezer. After all, we all know that if you want a whole bagel, the top and bottom must both come from the same bagel, right? Teen rule #1 about consuming bagels: Do not ever split up a bagel to make a new whole.

Interestingly, the single bagel halves in my freezer tend to be the bottom half. In one way, that is not surprising. The bagel bottoms would likely be the last in the bag. The surprising thing is that I have found up to three bagel bottoms lingering in my freezer while a new bag is being consumed.

To discover the reasoning behind this oddity, I went straight to the source. “Would you rather eat the top of a bagel or the bottom?” I asked my youngest. He thought for a minute.

“The bottom,” he responded, so I asked him why. “It tastes better.” Hmm. If it is all the same bagel, does one piece “taste better” than the other? This thought is an interesting one, but does not explain the reasoning for the plethora of bagel bottoms in my freezer.

I moved on to my next test subject, who was cleaning her room. Since this activity is one I try not to interrupt, I made it quick. “Would you prefer to eat the bottom of the bagel or the top?”

“It depends on what kind of bagel it is. If it’s a sesame bagel, I’d rather eat the top because it has all the sesame seeds. If it’s a plain bagel, I like the bottom.”

The response of my oldest? “I eat them both,” …and everything else in sight, I’ve learned.

My research was, therefore, inconclusive. There is no reason that I should have three bagel bottoms loitering in my freezer. According to my children, they eat both tops and bottoms equally. Which leads me back to the question of when a container is empty. If half a bagel remains, but the eater wants a whole bagel, is the bag considered “empty”? This will likely remain another of the great mysteries of raising teens.

Carhops

“I want to eat French fried mushrooms from A&W,” I announced, responding to a sudden craving I had. I was driving with my two younger children to complete some last minute holiday errands. The food item was one I experienced in my childhood, and one that I sometimes crave simply because it is no longer available.

“A&W… isn’t that beer?” my daughter asked.

“It’s root beer,” my youngest corrected from the back seat.

“And yummy root beer, at that,” I said. “You can still get the root beer, but sadly, the A&W is closed.” I allowed my mind to wander for a minute, reminiscing on the taste of fried mushrooms delivered on a tray to the car window on a warm summer night. “We would pull in and park, and they would come take our order and serve us right at the car.”

“So it was a drive-thru?” my daughter asked.

“Not a drive-thru like today. It was a drive-in restaurant. I don’t think many exist any more. We would go there and park and stay in our car. The waitress would come to the car window to take our order, and they would bring the food on a tray with hooks on it. Grampa would roll down his window most of the way, and they would hook the tray to the car window.”

“Is it still there?” my daughter asked.

“The A&W? The building is still there, but now it’s a pizzeria. No more carhops or window trays. I suppose you could eat in your car if you really wanted, but it wouldn’t be the same.” I remembered many summer nights when we would go to the A&W; I thought of the foil coated burger wrappers and the times we ended up eating next to a family we knew. When we were really young, my mother would spread a striped sheet on the seat of the car so that my sister and I wouldn’t spill our food and stain the seat.

When we returned home from our errands, I googled “car hop.” I came across pictures of the trays with the rubber-coated hooks and feet. There was even a frosty mug of A&W root beer on a tray that was hooked on a car window. You can even purchase one of these trays on eBay! Yes, it would be fun to share this experience with my children, but drive-in restaurants are a thing of the past. Our summers are too short for such a business to succeed these days. And drive-thru restaurants are quicker and more convenient than drive-in restaurants.

I sometimes think about the many experiences I had in my childhood that my children are not likely to have. I wonder what we are currently experiencing that my grandchildren will not. And I wonder what they will experience that we have not dreamt of yet. I hope their experiences will be fun and positive and worth remembering, experiences of their own “simpler times” when people gathered together to be present and to enjoy the company of friends and family.

Joseph

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Christmas is over, but my reflection on Christmas is not. This year, I have been drawn to a particular song and the story it tells; the song, “A strange way to save the world” by the group 4-Him, is told from the point of view of Joseph as he finds himself in the unlikely position of being in the stable in Bethlehem, staring into the face of Jesus. He wonders how he ended up here, and why God is using a mere baby to save the world.

We don’t often think about Joseph when we think about the Christmas story. He was not directly involved in the miracle of Christmas… or was he? He certainly had an opportunity to say no. He could have told Mary that because she was pregnant, he was no longer interested. Or he might have said he didn’t particularly want to raise someone else’s child, Son of God or not. He could have walked away and been free of the responsibility that God was asking him to take on.

But he didn’t.

First, he accepted that the child Mary was carrying was the Son of God, acceptance that was a miracle in itself (though the angels may have helped to sway him). Second, he agreed to raise this child as his own, to provide for the boy to the best of his ability. Third, he accepted the challenges that would arise in raising the Son of God. (“Jesus, you have got to stop walking on the lake! Bobby nearly drown yesterday because he can’t swim. His parents are furious…!”) Most importantly, he accepted that he would take a backseat to the child and to Mary, who figured prominently in our historical accounts of Jesus’s life. Joseph was a behind-the-scenes figure in this story.

When God said, “Joseph, will you…,” Joseph stepped up. And then he stepped into the background. The shepherds came and went. The Wise Men brought gifts and disappeared. Joseph remained constant, but we hear little about him.

No doubt, this situation was not what Joseph was expecting for his life. He was expecting to get married to the woman he loved. He was expecting to lead a quiet life with no fanfare and little drama; yet suddenly, he found himself with the heavy burden of supporting a child, raising the Son of God. What faith he demonstrated in accepting this challenge!

As we move through life, we should strive to be more like Joseph. We should strive to have the faith to accept the challenges that God throws our way. Joseph did not say, “I’m sorry, that doesn’t fit into my plan.” He didn’t reject the inconvenience of having a bride and a baby that wasn’t his. He realized that since God had chosen him, God would provide the tools to help him complete the job. He accepted God’s plan with all of its uncertainties and inconveniences, and he stepped out of the way to let God work through him.

Snowmen

Each year at this time, an army of snowman cookies arrives at my house. Uh, wait… let me start over.

Each year at this time, through a great deal of effort on my part, an army of snowmen arrives at my house. This year, I tried to gain support for the cause. On Sunday morning, I looked at W sitting on the couch surfing the Internet on the iPad. “Hey W,” I watched him intently. He looked up. “Do you like to make little balls out of clay?” I asked with a tone that implied I had something exciting in store for him.

He looked at me with a raised eyebrow before he sighed with a hint of disgust. “Do you want help with your snowmen?” Yep, he was on to me. Every year, I try the same tactic.

I nodded too fast, like an excited puppy. “Yeah! You wanna help?”

“Not really,” he replied as he returned to the iPad. I went to the kitchen, hauled out the bowl full of dough, and began to roll it into balls. Tiny balls. Actually, three different sizes per snowman. These cookies are labor intensive, but they are the local favorite—in my house, in my neighborhood, and among my family. The fact that they have been a favorite is why I have continued to make them. Every year. For seventeen years.

It wasn’t long before I had an army of little snowmen on my kitchen table. And taste-testers hovering. My daughter had her first bite. “I think we should keep them all this year. We give away too many.” This thought was one that would never fly with my neighbor who believes I make these cookies specifically for her and then withhold all but a small number.

I turned to Facebook with this thought. To my neighbor I posted, “My taste-tester just tried a snowman and says we need to keep them all this year.” The reply: a resounding “NO!” and the annual “war of the snowmen” had begun.

At least daily, I receive a text, Facebook message, phone call, or an in-person assault. “Where are my snowmen?!” And daily, I have to deliver the difficult news that they are still naked, they have to stick together for their “army” training, or they have not yet said good-bye to their friends. (Really, I’m stalling while I make other cookies to “fluff up” the plate). Soon, my neighbor on the other side adds her two cents in anticipation of receipt of her yummy snowmen.

These little snowmen have evolved over the years. Initially, they were simply a part of my cookie tradition. But through the annual battle, these cookies have taken on a life of their own. They add extra fun to the holidays in my neighborhood, and they bring us together each year. I imagine I will continue to make them for another seventeen years. And I wonder how the tradition will evolve from here.

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Packages

My youngest and I were discussing a package that I recently ordered—not a present for anyone, but a necessary item to make some presents that I will be giving. Because I never think of it quite early enough, stores generally run out of the item by this point in the season. So I went online and found what I was looking for; and I ordered some. If I’m lucky, the package will be here before Christmas. “Maybe the package will arrive today?” W said thoughtfully.

“I’d be surprised. I don’t think it has even been shipped yet.”

His expression brightened in thought, and I could see his mind churning. “What if the government discovered the ability to teleport things, and they only shared the technology with the USPS and UPS?” Yeah… because that’s going to happen. But imagination is an amazing thing, isn’t it?

“So your packages just appear at your house? Like… Boom! There’s my package!?” I pantomimed a surprised look as I glanced at the kitchen floor.

He laughed. “Yep, like that.”

“Darn! I just tripped over my package. I wish those people would stop delivering things to the middle of my kitchen when I’m not expecting it!” I dramatized tripping over a package that appeared via this new delivery method.

“What if you ordered something heavy, and it landed on the cat?” He cringed for effect.

“Ooh, that would not be good! Hopefully, the cat could run away fast enough.”

“Especially if you ordered something really big!” he added.

“Yikes!” I responded, thinking back to a time when something very big was mistakenly delivered to my house. I had to call UPS to come pick it up because it wouldn’t even fit through my front door. I briefly wondered if they would be able to teleport a pick-up as well as a delivery….

“Imagine if you ordered a car, and it landed right on your kitchen table!” W said, and we both laughed. I imagine that would be the end of my house, not just my kitchen table.

And with a little imagination, I now know how thankful I am that the government does not (yet) have this technology!

Dark

Each weekday morning, when I drive my son to school at the ungodly hour of just-the-other-side-of-dawn, we see people engaged in their early morning activity. Early in the school year, there was the woman who walked her dog not far from our house. She wore clothes the color of dusk as she walked her dusky shadow of a dog along the line on the road that separates the travel lane from the shoulder. One day, as she and her dog were crossing the street, their shapes emerged from the darkness just in time for me to swerve to avoid them.

Farther along on our trip, there was the man who walked to work in the early morning murkiness. His walk was brisk, and he bent slightly under the weight of a small backpack. As the temperature dropped, his pace began to quicken, and he always walked with his back to the traffic, unaware of the dangers. When it was raining or snowing or foggy in the pre-dawn, I would notice his form just beyond the edge of my car as I drove by.

More recently, perhaps because we have changed our departure time by a few minutes, we have seen one of my son’s friends standing outside his house waiting for his bus. We always look for him as we approach, but some mornings, we cannot tell if he is standing by the side of the road until the very last minute. Occasionally, it is only after we pass him that we notice his form lurking by the mailbox.

We started to think of ways to make this young man more visible in the dark. My son and I thought of light up clothing, but finally decided on a flashing Christmas necklace that looks like a string of lights. What does the friend think of this idea? He went along with it. He even discovered that the necklace had three different light settings. The one morning that my son didn’t go to school early, he wore it, and we didn’t get to see if it would work as we hoped.

Now (a day later), I hear the necklace broke. Its quality $3.54 construction couldn’t hold up to the morning routine of a 16 year old. We are looking to replace it before the holiday season is over and these necklaces are long gone. I definitely think we’ll be able to see him much better with the necklace.

While the necklace is a fun way to deal with this issue, our morning entertainment began as a simple lesson in visibility. For drivers young and old, the pale dark on the ends of the day is a tough time. And it is tough for pedestrians, as well. My son, a new driver, has had a great lesson in how challenging the dark hours can be. Being mindful of one’s clothing, and wearing bright colors (reflective or lighted!) can make a huge difference—for all parties involved.

Reversal

We are sitting at the table eating dinner. Our kitchen table is right next to the window, and only the window shade and a thin pane of glass separate the cozy kitchen from the cold evening outside. If I were to stretch out my arm, I could almost touch the winter night that tries to filter in to share our meal.

I do my best to make sure we sit down to dinner as a family as often as possible, but I am finding that as the kids get older and busier, it becomes more difficult. On this night, not only have I had time to cook, we have time to sit together. The evening meal usually provides our best family conversation, and we all look forward to this time together. In fact, my children have commented on how many of their friends and acquaintances eat dinner on their own or in front of one screen or another.

As I converse with one of the boys across the table, in my periphery, I can see my daughter intently studying my face. We are discussing an incident that happened in the lunchroom at school, and though I try not to be distracted, my daughter leans a little closer, tilts her head.

There is a pause in the discussion. “Mom…” she says, moving even closer. On her face there is the scowl of a question. I turn to address her.

“What?” I ask, wondering what she is going to say, but knowing it has nothing to do with the conversation we were just having. I believe she has no idea what we were just saying.

“Is that my eye glitter you’re wearing?” she asks. Huh… I wasn’t expecting that.

When my daughter emerged all sweet and little-girl-cute at birth, I prepared myself for the day she would borrow my clothes, my shoes, my scarves and jackets, my jewelry and make-up. I prepared myself to be minus a vehicle when she borrowed the car keys and, of course, the car. But this—the reverse—I was not prepared for. And I certainly was not prepared to be caught in the act.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have eye glitter. We didn’t wear sequins and crystals and all things shiny. So the fact that I find these things appealing speaks both to my feelings of deprivation and to my slightly distractible nature. Shiny? I am there! The glitter make-up was purchased to enhance her performance make-up (because everyone uses glitter) and not because she wanted it. In fact, she doesn’t even like it anymore. Nor does she use it. Since I bought it, and it has now ended up in with my make-up, don’t I have some unspoken right to borrow?

“Indeed, it is yours!” I admit with pride. “Or… it was.”

“You can have it,” she tells me. “I don’t use it anyway.”

Share and share alike, I say. My day will come to share my stuff. Then it will be my turn to catch her in the act!