Lockdown

It was one of those crazy conversations that starts at the dinner table. The cat was outside, sitting at the end of the walkway waiting to come in, as he so often does. W got up from the table and let him in. When he closed the door, he said, “There. Now we are in lockdown for the night. No one goes out. No one comes in.” He sat back down at the table to finish his dinner.

“If that’s the case, you’d better lock the door,” I told him. Rather than get up, he leaned back in his chair, attempting to reach the door. He couldn’t quite reach, and the chair nearly toppled.

“You’d better get up to do that,” his sister advised. “Or you’re going to be the one going out. To the hospital.” W heeded her advice and stood to lock the door. “Or maybe,” she continued. “We’ll have to explain to the ambulance drivers why they can’t come in. GO AWAY! We’re on lockdown!” she demonstrated.

“But then they’d just kick in the door,” W said. “Lockdown or no, they don’t care.”

“True,” I said through my laughter.

By the time I got up from the table, I had completely forgotten about the “lockdown.” The cat was once again meowing at the door, and I let him out, clearly not thinking.

A few minutes later, J spotted the cat out the window. “I thought you let the cat in,” she said to W. “What happened to the lockdown?”

W looked out the window. “Wait… how did he get out? I let him in!”

I turned from the sink to see two kids looking at me. I shrugged sheepishly. “I forgot about the lockdown.” But then we noticed the cat going after something outside. He had clearly spotted something of interest, and he was hurrying toward it. I had been baking for an event at work, and I was sweating, so I took the opportunity to go see what he was after.

“Mom, you can’t go out. The lockdown!” the kids reminded me.

“I’ll just be a minute,” I told them. “I want to see what he is after. DON’T lock me out. There is no lockdown.” And of course, in my mind, my word was the word in this house since I pay the bills.

Nevertheless, I returned to a locked door and a sticky note. “Sorry. We are in lockdown. Come back tomorrow at 6:00 am.” Are you kidding? That’s a long time to be outside without a jacket.

I knocked on the door. “Let me in!” I laughed. “There is no lockdown!”

Yeah, they let me in. If they hadn’t, I would’ve gone to the neighbor’s house. I keep a key there just in case my kids do something crazy—like declare a lockdown and refuse to let me in!

The Cactus

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Tonight at dinner, my daughter went running up to her room and came back to the table with something in her hand. “Here,” she said, thrusting it into my hand. “Do you like my cactus?”

Over the past year or so, she has developed a love of succulents. I’m not exactly sure when this happened or why, but slowly, the plants began to disappear from the windowsill in the kitchen and reappear on the windowsill in her room. I noticed that some smaller pots were materializing, and shoots had been taken from the plants of mine that hadn’t yet made the trek up the stairs. [I am really hoping she doesn’t decide she needs some of my Christmas cactus in the next few days because it has just started to poke out some teeny tiny bud-lings….]

I examined the ceramic cactus in my hand. It was “growing” in a pot that almost looked like a wicker basket. The plant had understated spikes that gave the green ball a distinct cactus look. And the cactus bloomed with two dusty pink flowers.

“It’s beautiful!” I told her when I had finished my inspection.

“I made it,” she told me.

“No you didn’t,” I responded, only partially convinced by her words.

“Yes I did. It came out of the kiln yesterday.” And then she turned it upside down, so I could see the bottom. “My initials,” she pointed out.

Indeed, the bottom indicated that the piece was handmade. And it was beautiful! She just started taking a pottery class at school, this year. I can’t wait to see what else she brings home!

The Butter Monster

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When my children were little, I tried to make boring chores relatively entertaining for them. I felt that if I could bring a little fun to the mundane, it would help my children to develop a sense of adventure as they approached every day situations. I don’t believe I always succeeded, but we certainly had some fun along the way.

Years ago, as school was starting, the stores were pushing autumn baking, I was in the grocery store with two little ones taking care of our weekly shopping. Because I knew it was not their favorite time, we began to play a game. As we walked through the store, out of the blue, I told them that we had to be careful not to be seen by The Butter Monster.

Truth be told, I have no idea where that came from. Nor did I have any idea what we were running from. However, we made our way through the store, ducking behind displays and dodging other shoppers. We moved quickly up and down the aisles, grabbing the items we needed as we passed.

My two little children (I think they were maybe 4 and 6 at the time) were giggling and squealing like they were outside playing a game of tag. And then it happened….

We turned into the baking aisle and nearly bumped into a display of baking mixes, that was topped by a huge cardboard cut-out of the Pillsbury Dough Boy. “Ah!” I practically screamed, trying to maintain some composure while I still entertained my children. “It’s the Butter Monster!!” I whipped the grocery cart around and high-tailed it out of that aisle. We hid one aisle over while we caught our breath and tried to stifle our giggles. Somehow, we managed to finish our shopping.

On my next trip to the store, I asked the manager if it would be possible for us to have the cut out of Dough Boy when the store was done with the display. While they thought I was completely insane, they saved it for me. We brought the Butter Monster with us to Thanksgiving dinner that year and sat him at the table, spreading our fun to extended family.

Maybe grocery shopping isn’t such a “boring chore” after all. I realize that I might have made a hasty judgment. Just because I find a chore “boring” doesn’t mean my kids need to, as well. Perhaps, with memories such as these, my children can reframe the “boring chores” and look on tasks such as food shopping as an adventure!

{Image is a photo of the Butter Monster being placed at the Thanksgiving table years ago}

Appetites

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For some reason, I had ventured into this summer thinking I might catch a break in the grocery department. My youngest was planning a backpacking trip right after school ended, a week at camp in June, and another week at camp in July. With all that time away, I wouldn’t have to buy as many groceries, right?

Wrong. Instead, my son has been on a feeding frenzy this summer. When he returned from three days of backpacking, he needed calories. And lots of them. With three days of hiking—and carrying a pack to boot—he had worked off most of the nearly non-existent fat reserve he maintains. His muscles needed fuel.

When he returned from camp, the story was nearly the same. The boys were active from sunrise until bedtime—classes and hiking and traipsing around the camp, uphill in all directions, it seemed. And the boys were responsible for cooking their own meals. Some days, the food was overcooked; some days, it was closer to raw. He ate, sure, but….

These teenagers, their hunger comes in layers. There is the: I just got up and I’m kinda hungry hunger. That one is easily satisfied with breakfast, or in the case of my oldest, who rises midday, lunch.

There is the: I’ve been at practice for three hours and I didn’t eat enough before I went. Please let me at the food NOW kind of hunger. That one requires some leftover dinner, generally a more substantial meal will satisfy this hunger.

My youngest has been experiencing the: I’ve been away [at camp, backpacking, etc.] working out all day and I haven’t had anything to eat all week but rehydrated pack food or food burned by the boys in my patrol kind of hunger. This is serious. This hunger requires hundreds maybe thousands of calories over a period of days to finally satisfy. In truth, I am not sure there is enough time between camp pick up last Saturday and camp drop off this Sunday to make a dent in that hunger. And the food at the grocery store is getting sparse from my frequent visits.

Catch a break on groceries? Not a chance. The money I don’t spend on the weeks my youngest is away is just a small down payment on the groceries for the following week. He is hungry, and he needs fuel for all of his summer activities. And he’s not the only one. I have three active teenagers, after all.

*[Image is a photo of the typical state of the food supply in my house.]

eXpectations #atozchallenge

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Sometimes—more frequently than not, nowadays—my children say things that are completely unexpected, and I have a very difficult time maintaining my composure. Sometimes, I just can’t.

We were driving to my parents’ house recently. The drive had been a slow one, and it was getting on toward dinnertime. I asked J to call Grandma from her cell phone to let her know where we were. At that point, we were about 20 minutes away, and had just gotten close enough to civilization to have cell service.

She dialed, held the phone to her ear, and waited. The first thing I didn’t expect was her decision to masquerade as her younger brother, feigning a deeper voice. (Interestingly, despite the deep voice that made her seem more like her brother, she chatted with Grandma as herself.)

When she and Grandma finished their conversation and got ready to hang up, J said, as her parting words, “Stay pretty, Grandma!”

I burst out laughing. And I couldn’t stop. I had tears streaming down my face by the time I was able to pull myself together. And I was driving. Luckily, we arrived at our destination safely.

Driving or not, always expect the unexpected.

Veggies and Weeds #atozchallenge

Life Lessons from the Garden:

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I have spent the past several years as a gardener in my town’s Community Garden. At this time of year, I am typically planning my vegetable garden. I am acquiring seeds and making sure I have the proper fencing. I am hauling out tomato cages, and sorting through tools and row markers, loading up a bucket of supplies, and planning the layout of the garden I will grow. Not to mention fretting over how I am possibly going to fit everything into my small 10 x 20 garden plot (which is actually two plots in our community garden).

I have taken many lessons from the gardening experiences I have had throughout my life. I only hope that my children have learned one or two of these lessons as we have gardened together.

Planning: If you want to get the most out of your garden, you have to plan ahead. Vegetables are not planted haphazardly. Some require rows, some hills, and some—like tomatoes—are more individual in nature.

Patience: Once you plant the seeds, it will be a week or two before you even see the tiniest shoot of green emerge from the ground. And those shoots are just the beginning. It will be much longer before you can truly enjoy the fruits of your labor.

“Personal space” varies: Just like people, plants have different space requirements. Some plants only need to be separated from their friends by a couple of inches to grow to their potential, but others need their own little patch of space to grow up and spread out and produce the best vegetables.

Focus on the good: Nurture the plants you want in your garden. Remove the weeds, insects, and rodents that are not healthy or wanted and may even be harmful. These things can grow out of control, take over and ultimately, choke out the good stuff.

Persistence: As with any relationship, a gardener must constantly work at gardening. One day, you may spend hours in the garden weeding, and two days later, the weeds will have taken hold, once again, as the prominent greenery. Constant care and attention are required.

Things don’t always turn out the way you planned: There are so many variables that factor into a successful garden. Depending on the weather, the forces of nature, the local fauna, you may not reap what you think you have sown. One season might produce smaller than normal tomatoes. One season might produce a bumper crop of squash bugs—which means no squash/pumpkins/watermelon. But each season brings surprises. There maybe disappointments, but there will likely be pleasant surprises, as well.

Self-sufficiency: Growing a garden demands a great deal of attention, but it also demonstrates the amazing human potential to feed oneself using the resources of nature. And if your crop is big enough, you can preserve some of your harvest (by freezing or canning) for the coming winter.

Satisfaction: After a busy year of planting, watering, nurturing, weeding, and chasing vermin out of the garden, you can relish the satisfaction of having grown your own food. And there is nothing better than garden fresh veggies picked within the hour. Yes, vegetables taste just a bit better when you have grown them yourself.

This year, I will take a hiatus from my garden for a number of reasons. I will miss the daily reminders of these simple life lessons. But perhaps next year, I will choose to garden once again.

Turning the Tables #atozchallenge

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Spring has brought warm weather here in New England, and we are beginning to open windows and leave our doors ajar to let the breezes bring fresh air into the house. In our kitchen, we have a deep windowsill, and during the winter, when the windows aren’t open, things tend to collect there. Often, these items are placed there, then forgotten.

The other night, as we sat down to dinner at the table, it was warm in the kitchen despite the open front door. I surveyed the windowsill, which was cluttered with things that had not been put in their proper places.

“W, you’re going to have to clean off the windowsill so we can start opening that window,” I said, knowing that most of the time, the stuff that lands there belongs to him.

He turned and looked at the sill, most likely mentally calculating the amount of work required to complete the task. “That’s not all mine,” he determined. “J puts it there when she cleans off the table for dinner.”

“Well,” I thought for a minute. “What about those lifesavers?” I had watched him take a couple each morning on his way out the door to the bus. “What are the lifesavers doing on the windowsill?”

“Those?” he asked, pointing to the opened bag and the white candies scattered over the pile of magazines and mail. He looked me straight in the eye. “Those aren’t mine.”

I tipped my head in question. “Yes they are. You have been eating them.”

“Yeah, but they’re not mine. They’re C’s.”

With the mention of his name, C snapped to attention. “Those lifesavers are not mine!” he exclaimed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes they are,” W confirmed. “They’re the ones you took to Dad’s house.”

“Oh,” he suddenly appeared sheepish. “Is that where they went?” He looked more carefully at the windowsill.

“Those are the lifesavers you took to your father’s?” I asked.

“Yeah,” the two boys confirmed, simultaneously.

“I guess they’re mine then,” C shrugged.

“If those are the ones you took to your father’s, they’re mine,” I stated, deciding to claim them since the boys were still arguing over them. After all, I paid for them. Then again, by that standard, there wasn’t much in the house that didn’t belong to me.

“Okay, they’re yours then,” W said decisively. He paused for half a second, then turned to look at me, his eyes penetrating and his face comically stern. He took on my tone and inflection. “So Mom… what are the lifesavers doing on the windowsill?”

Wait… what?