Confession

I was at the grocery store recently, in the coffee/tea aisle perusing the selections of both, really. But as I made my way toward the back of the store, some hot chocolate caught my eye—something different than the usual individually packaged powdered mix. This one was in a miniature, old fashioned glass milk bottle, and there were several different flavors. I bought some for my son—Chocolate Moo-usse. He likes hot chocolate, and this particular brand looked fascinating (and good!)—all natural and (relatively) local.

However, I have to confess that I bought the hot chocolate as much for the packaging as for the actual product, itself. Imagine what a cute vase that would make with some flowers (real or silk) on my desk at work! And just like me, the product promises, “Sillyness by nature.” Indeed, this is the perfect message for me and my life.

This evening, I went to the company website to take a look. They have a great story, and I have to say, I am quite anxious to try the “Hot Chocolate Silly Cookies.”

You know, maybe this was a silly purchase. Seeing as we’re heading into summer, it’s not really hot chocolate weather, first of all. And, as I said, I purchased the hot chocolate mainly for the packaging.

But on the other hand, think about this: all-natural ingredients, great recipes, and pure yumminess (and a new office decoration, as a perk!) all for under $4.00! What’s not to love about that?

Family Time

Yesterday, I was with my three nearly-grown children, and we stopped at Panera for lunch. At the table next to us was a young family. Mom and Dad were there with two young daughters—one about nine or ten going on sixteen, and a younger daughter of five or six. In the middle of the meal, Dad said good-bye and left to go to work. Mom stayed at the table with the girls while they all finished their lunch. As they sat there, it was hard not to notice that Mom’s cell phone was sitting on the table, loudly and regularly letting her know she had messages and notifications. Each time the phone alerted her, she looked down and responded.

Lately, I have noticed more and more parents interacting with their phones rather than their children. And I have heard from my children that many of their friends are on their own to make food at home, eating on the run, in their bedrooms, or in front of the television. So here’s my question: when are you spending uninterrupted quality time with your children? How do you show them that they are important and worthy of your time and undivided attention?

I have written about this before, but early in my parenting—and even when our family structure shifted, and I became a single parent—I established dinner together as a deeply important part of our day. This is the time when we come together as a family—and we are together for an important purpose: eating our evening meal. But dinnertime has become so much more over the years. Dinnertime is when we connect. We check in on each other. We talk about life, issues, morals, values, and what is happening in our individual lives and in the world. This meal has become a regular and expected time together as a family.

Now, I have two children in college, and they are home for the Christmas/winter break. Still, each night when I get home from work, we sit down together to consume our evening meal. We laugh, we talk, we eat. And now that they are older, we hash out political issues and share our views, we discuss environmental dilemmas, and we weave together the fundamental pieces of our day into an intricate tapestry that solidifies our family connection.

The unwritten rule, and one that is mostly followed, is that there are no devices at the table. This is family time, and devices are a distraction. Constantly looking at a device and responding to notifications demonstrates that we are not giving others our undivided attention. And it pulls us apart rather than bringing us closer.

And so… about childhood—this is time you will not get back. Establish a daily time to put away your devices and sit down with your children. Talk to them. Listen to them. Learn from them. They are amazing little people who will grow up to become wonderful adults. And those adults will need to know how to connect—deeply and meaningfully—with others. Scheduling some daily time to connect with family can make all the difference.

Dinner Grades

The other day, I was brainstorming dinner ideas, which is not an infrequent occurrence, and I suddenly realized I had a pot of pasta with green onions in the refrigerator. This pasta had started out to be pasta salad for a school event on Wednesday. But after an incident at school that day, the event had been postponed until the next week. Half of the pasta had been made into salad for a pot luck on Friday, but the rest of the pasta (complete with green onions) was still in my fridge. In limbo. And there was my dinner starting point.

I turned to the trusty Internet to find a recipe that would work for my particular pasta dilemma. Oh, and my daughter is currently testing out a vegetarian diet, so I had to find something vegetarian yet hearty enough to satisfy two ravenous boys. Not too tall of an order, I suppose.

I searched pasta and green onions since those were the ingredients already mixed together. Chicken… nope, bacon… nope, shrimp… oh, come on. I finally stumbled on Spaghetti with Skinny Green Onion Sauce. It was made with peppers, onions, and tomatoes with a base that included tomato paste and cream cheese. I could easily swap out the spaghetti for the pasta I had! I went to work, hoping the recipe would turn out as good as it looked.

As we sat down and began to eat dinner, a quiet fell over the diners at the table. That’s always a good sign. A minute or so later after several bites, C said, “This is really good, Mom—I give it an A+!” (as if grading dinner was a thing). He paused for just a second, then he looked me straight in the eye and added, “That’ll bring your grade up.”

Next to him, his younger brother’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped in a split second of shock. Then he pulled himself together. “That was rude!” he commented, and I burst out laughing. The thought of being graded on my cooking was humorous in itself, but the fact that this meal would “bring my grade up” made me wonder what my grades had been on previous meals.

Too bad I’ll never know. But at least dinner was a hit!

 

Ice Cream

The question was bound to come eventually. We had finished dinner (though apparently not dessert), and I was upstairs when I heard it, asked from one boy to the other, older brother to younger.

“What is it about those two flavors that make it better to mix them?” he asked. A burst of laughter threatened to give away my own curiosity on this issue. In truth, I had wondered this same thing countless times, but because this was a long-standing habit, I was used to it, and never asked.

Ever since I can remember, any time we went out for ice cream, W would order one scoop of vanilla and one scoop of mint chocolate chip in a large bowl. Then he would proceed to stir it up until it was all one flavor—vanilla-mint, melty and smooth.

I had been observing this phenomenon for years. I bought cartons of classic vanilla and mint chocolate chip ice cream, so he could prepare this concoction at home. And yet, I had never asked the reason why.

Sometimes, brothers can take not knowing only so long, and they finally break down and ask. But then I heard him ask, “What does it taste like, anyway? Can I try it?” And I wondered if he really wanted to try it, or if this was his way of getting some of his brother’s ice cream. Vanilla-mint or diluted-mint would not be my own personal choice….

The question of why he mixes these flavors was bound to come eventually. From upstairs, I didn’t hear the full answer, but for me, it was satisfying just to hear the question asked.

Just once…

I went grocery shopping on the way home from work yesterday. Grocery shopping is probably my least favorite job of the week, so I would definitely consider it a chore.

It was Friday afternoon, and the market was crowded with faceless shoppers on their way home from work. The only thing that would have made it worse was if there had been an impending snowstorm when everyone has to go out for bread and milk. Who knows why….

Anyway, I picked up everything I thought we might need for the majority of the week since I don’t want to go back right away. I got bread and milk and meat and veggies. The grapes looked good—green with a hint of blush (and they were not mushy)—so I picked up a couple pounds them. I might have gotten more, but I’ve learned over the years. If I get grapes and they are a touch too sour or the flavor isn’t just right, no one eats them.

I arrived home to two teens who could help me unload the groceries while I started dinner—it was fairly late by this time. I pulled the grapes out of the bag and tossed them into a colander and washed them. I tried one, and it was the perfect flavor and firmness. I ate a couple more as I made dinner.

When J came into the kitchen to set the table for dinner, they were still in the colander in the sink, so she tried one, as well. Her reaction was nearly identical to mine. “Ooo, those grapes are good!” she commented, stuffing a couple more into her mouth.

“Umm, dinner in two minutes!” I told her.

“They can be dessert!” she informed me, eating a few more.

When dinner was nearly done, J brought the grapes to the table. With two teens digging in, those grapes didn’t stand a chance. By the end of the meal, there were three grapes remaining. The two teens were too stuffed to eat even three grapes more.

Just once, I would like to come home from the market and not have to return in another day or two to pick up something that we have run out of. Apparently, this week is not my week. At least I can take comfort in the fact that they’re eating healthy!

 

The Middle of the Night

Many years ago, when my children were very little, I was in a writing group. This was a group of women who met every Wednesday to write. Unlike many writing groups, we did not meet primarily to critique each other’s writing. We spent much of our time actually writing with the option of sharing our work at various points in our session.

This blissful few hours each Wednesday night was an oasis from the trenches of early parenthood and my early days as a single mom. During this time, there were no diapers, no schedules, and no crying babies. It was me, this group of women, and our pens and notebooks.

When I was void of ideas, I would often start my freewriting with, “It is two o’clock in the morning, and I am….” I found this starting point could lead me in a variety of directions and was often all I needed to jump-start my writing brain. Because I am usually not awake at two a.m., crazy things would often happen on the page—a meandering sort of writing that could lead anywhere.

One memorable piece started with “It is two o’clock in the morning, and I am weeding the garden.” In the piece, I was weeding hastily, taking out the day’s frustrations on my garden. And in my haste—and the dark and the furious pace at which I was working—I accidentally pulled up something that was not a weed, but was a thing of beauty. It was, at the time, a reminder that beauty was all around me and I needed to take the time to appreciate it.

These days, there is a bit of a wrinkle to the middle-of-the-night writing prompt. The wrinkle is that I live with teenagers, and on any given night, I could write about what is actually happening in my house in the middle of the night.

It is two o’clock in the morning, and from the comfort of my bed, I hear the refrigerator close and the microwave open. It must be snack time. Either that, or all of the food in the house is being sucked into the black hole that exists just beyond the microwave’s false back. It is amazing how much food seems to disappear in the middle of the night….

And I can continue to write, documenting more of my night. Four thirty in the morning, and someone is stirring. A light comes on, and a teen is up, preparing to catch a bus scheduled for 5:30. As the heat clicks on and the wind howls just beyond my window, I remember the child out camping in the woods tonight, and I shiver.

I am usually not awake in the middle of the night, but crazy things often happen in my house—a messy sort of meandering night that is always a possibility when there are multiple teens and young adults residing in the house.

Bread

My daughter was recently telling me about an experience she had at school. Her English teacher was talking about his experiences when he was younger. He told the students that there was a time when people started to realize that bread was not good for them, and bread companies almost went out of business.

“Can you imagine if that had happened?” he asked them. “There would be no bread anymore.”

“What do you mean there wouldn’t be any bread?” my daughter responded. “People would just bake their own bread.” Because that’s a simple solution.

But then she realized that her classmates were looking at her as if vines were growing out of her head and traveling down her back. “No one bakes bread,” they told her definitively.

At that point, I imagine she shrugged, puzzled, and went about her business. She turned to a friend and quietly said, “My mom bakes bread all the time….”

That afternoon, as she told me the story, I could only chuckle. “I have to agree with your classmates. No one bakes bread anymore.”

This was one of those moments when my daughter realized that even though she might think our family is completely normal, maybe it’s not. And it was a moment for me to recognize that my kids might be a bit sheltered.

So what if my kids live a sheltered life? If “normal” means we don’t eat home-baked bread, I’d rather not be normal!