Saturday, December 29, 2012

Writing Thanks

Mandatory Writing Activity

My two youngest children are not big fans of the Handwritten Thank-You Note.  When asked to write one, my son has been known to play the environmentalist card. He objects, “How many trees have needlessly died due to thank-you notes?”  Youngest Daughter zigzags between complete entitlement syndrome and clingy hugs of thanks, but rarely wants to spend time expressing her thanks in writing.  Oldest Daughter is a bright light, willing to write a note cheerfully and appropriately.

At my church’s adult ed class, just before Thanksgiving, we had a session on gratitude.  We spent most of the hour just writing a thank you note or two. It was easy to do, when I had that hour set aside for the task, and when someone handed me a blank notecard.  But I fear I myself have lost the discipline of the thank-you note.

At our family Christmas celebration, some of the seven teenagers showed little sign of gratitude.  I had to prompt my younger two to say thanks, as if they were five-year-olds.  After the gift-giving exchange, my sister-in-law said to me, “Most of those kids didn’t even say ‘thank you’!”  This was especially galling since she had hand-knitted them some gorgeous items.  
Lovely sock, knitted by my sister-in-law.
No need to knit the second sock, as YD
never wears matching socks.

My mother, who was not able to join us for the festivities because of my Dad’s condition, had spent valuable time selecting gifts for each of us.  She called later and asked how each person had received her gifts.  Clearly she was heartbroken not to be there with us.

When we got home from our travels I decided to take action.  Today I told the kids, “This afternoon there will be a mandatory writing activity for all the children.”  This includes my niece, who is with us for a visit.  She is notorious for not sending any sort of message in response to packages sent to her at college. 

I cleared off the dining room table.  When this happens in the Common Household, it means something serious is happening.  I located all my blank notecards, pens, and some lined paper. Finally, I assembled the teenagers themselves at the dining room table.  On the lined paper, each of us made a list of gifts we had received.  I had the kids circle the names of people who had not been there when we opened the gifts.  Then I had them underline the names of people who were at least 10 years old than they.  Thank-you notes to both groups were required. 

We spent about an hour on this activity.  My husband even joined in.  The six of us produced 25 hand-written thank-you notes.  If I had planned it better, I could have put many of the notes in one envelope and saved postage, but in the end I'm happy to spend the $11 to mail them separately.  Won’t it be nice for those elderly relatives to have a full mailbox?!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Right Tools

It's important to have the right tools to get the job done.
MOM's scissors and MOM's tape.

Chocolate.  Very important.

A variety of Christmas music.

Box of wrapping paper.  Every year my husband
 buys paper that is too big to fit in my box.  Every year
I imagine that I will switch to a more environmentally
sound method of wrapping gifts.  So far, not yet.

Laundry basket of gifts.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gift from a Teenager

I received this as a Hanukah gift from Youngest Daughter.

Thirty minutes of being able to command the teenager's time and attention!  I received this gift on Dec 9th, but just like a department store coupon, it was not immediately valid.  Now that it's after Dec 15th, I'm wondering where I put this coupon.  Tomorrow might be a snow day - I might really need it.

Today probably would not have been a good time to redeem my coupon.  The middle school had a bomb scare.  YD came home and said cheerfully, "Today I got evacuated!"  

Son replied, "Did they empty all the air out of you?"  

YD said, "No, we all had to leave the school."  The school staff did take the entire middle school student body to the high school.  They had to spend the rest of the day in the auditorium.  I thought this sounded horrible - I was imagining a noisy, unruly crowd of kids, full of eye-rolling and sarcasm, to add to everyone's anxiety.  But YD said the kids all had to stay silent the entire time.  An auditorium full of teenagers forced to be silent for 2 hours - that also sounds difficult.

Her 8th grade English class is studying the Holocaust.  She's studied this topic before, at Hebrew school, but somehow there are never adequate answers for her constant 'why' about this topic.

She doesn't know that the greatest gift she gave me today was her arrival home from school safe and sound, and her concern for the human race.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Making Music

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
—Leonard Bernstein on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Jr.

To see eloquent responses to the sad event in Connecticut, please visit The Blogs I Commonly Read, over there on the right.  There is also this:  Grieving Together.  These writers all have fine and true words, and I really can’t add anything more to them. 

My reaction is to avoid obsessive and pointless checking of the news.  Instead, the Common Household plunges itself in music.

Oldest Daughter came home from college yesterday, and my daughters and I spent part of the evening singing our heads off, going through loads of Christmas hymns and carols to sing when we visit the Old Folks Home next week.  I take solace from the hymns based on Bach chorales: O Morning Star, how fair and bright.  Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light.  And the Advent chorale Wachet Auf, which does not mean “Whack it Off” but rather “Wake, awake for night is flying.”  Lots of light in these hymns.

Then Youngest Daughter and I joined the church youth group for a caroling stint at a local nursing home.  The highlight for YD seemed to be the cookies at the end.

YD likes this new Advent hymn that we introduced at my church ‘carol sing’ a few weeks ago.  Darkness hangs, the world is aching, Yearning for the coming light.  

My son is learning a new piano piece by Heitor Villa-Lobos – O Polichinelo, which must mean “hands are moving really fast.”

Oldest Daughter also brought home some a cappella pieces sung by the Wailin’ Jennys, for instance, Parting Glass

I'll gently rise and I'll softly call
Good night, and joy be with you all. 

Even in the midst of sorrow.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Smile! It's Latke Time!

At this season, when we are told “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” some people are less than cheery.  There are several conditions which make people feel sad, and I’ve got one of them.  I’ve determined that I suffer from Latke Envy. 

Latkes are on the list of recipes I did not grow up with but that I am called to cook in our interfaith household.  (See recipe and photo. And here for Boy Scout latke recipe.)  

On Saturday the Common Household Husband and I went to a Hanukkah party for adults.  We were anxious about what to bring, and decided against a bottle of wine, as our taste leans toward the kool-aid types, and the party hosts would not only have a more refined taste, but also probably have their own wine cellar.  I decided to bring cookies.   The other 65 guests brought wine, so my intuition was correct on that. 

At the party I noticed that the latkes were beautiful perfect circles, and a lovely golden-brown.  Did I mention that this party was catered? 

On Sunday, back in our So Very Common Household, I spent an hour and a half making latkes. This is a laborious process, even with the use of the Jewish cook’s favorite cooking tool, the food processor.  I found that some of my potatoes were inedible, with black spots in the middle (Pittsburgh potato famine?!).  After an hour of simultaneous two-frying-pan cooking, I only had 24 small, thin, irregularly-shaped latkes to show for my effort.  Oy vey! My son alone could eat 24 latkes at one meal.   

As we were sitting down to dinner, Youngest Daughter said in a cheerful voice, "Mommy!  I forgot to tell you!  You and Shane's Mom can make latkes for my English class.  We're reading The Diary of Anne Frank and we're at the part where it's Hanukkah!"  She revealed that there was a class discussion as to whose Mom, among the two Jewish students in her class, makes the best latkes. 

My first response was to look plaintively at my husband.  I said, “I have been volunteered.”

But then I noticed that YD didn’t say, “you must make latkes” but rather, “you can…”   Word choice matters!  I was emboldened. 

"No, I can NOT make latkes for your English class.”  I surrendered that honor to Shane's Mom.  She wins.

We lit the candles, said the blessings, and started our meal.  The family expressed their disappointment at the number of latkes.  My Latke Envy surged.

I said to my husband, “Did you notice that the latkes at that party last night were perfectly round?  How do they DO that?”

He said, “Well.  They use the Ronco Latke-matic.” 

Ah.  As seen on TV! Makes perfectly round latkes every time!  Call now, and you can also get the gefilte fish mold for just $9.95!  Makes a wonderful gift for the goyim who suffer from latke envy!  While supplies last.

What December cooking task do you wish Ronco made a tool for?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Getting back on track

We got a great card from my sister-in-law today.  (Warning!  Punnery ahead!) On the outside it says “Seasons Eatings!” and has a picture of a bird on top of a can of Bartlett pears.  Inside, it says, ‘Two turtle doves… and a partridge on a pear can.” My husband looked at the front of the card again, and said, “There’s a partridge sitting on a pan of cares.”  (That’s what the Capitol Steps call ‘whipping your flurds’.)

For the past few days, I’ve felt like I am carrying around a pan of cares. I am glum just because there’s too much to do, too many expectations to meet, too many papers to look at.  When I try to tackle one thing on my list I get distracted by something else on my list, and I go off track.

My husband has more reason to be glum, because he has had disappointing news about his grant application and his leg still hurts (although Doc has said he can stop using the crutches!  Yay!).  Someone told him that his leg will probably hurt for a year.  To his great credit, he is not one to mope around.  I’ve got the moping covered for him.

At the end of dinner, we had this conversation.

Husband: Today was the last day of my journal class.
(This is a class he teaches to the grad students. It consists of reading and learning from scientific journal articles.) 

Me:  What did you discuss today?  (I cross my fingers, and my legs, hoping that the topic wasn’t incontinence.)

Husband: One of the papers that a student selected was about fruit flies.  About how fruit fly larvae find… other fruit fly larvae!  And how do they do it?  They SEE the other larvae!

Me:  (doing an enraged dance around the kitchen) How did THAT topic get scientific funding, but yours doesn’t? 

Husband:  Well, then we discussed another paper which showed how proteins generated by the AIDS virus affect the brain.

Me:  Well, at least that seems pertinent to people’s lives.

Son:  Why isn’t ‘impertinent’ the opposite of ‘pertinent’?

See what I mean about getting off track?  Next thing you know, we’re off and running, that is to say, running off at the mouth, about the meaning of words. 

Tomorrow I am meeting with my Bible study pals.  This should get me back on track.  Because It’s Not About the Lists, is it?  It’s about kindness, and generosity, and God with us, and us with God.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Upon My Return

I was gone on my business trip for 2.5 days.  I’ve been back for a week now, but I’m still having a hard time getting back to any routine.

My husband related that while I was gone, Youngest Daughter actually missed me, for certain reasons.  By dinner on Wednesday, she was asking, “When is Mommy coming back?  I want some salad.” 

Ha!  Victory in the battle to bring fiber to the next generation! 

My husband said, “Why do you want salad?” 

YD:  “I want to eat something crunchy. 

Husband:  “What do you think the Doritos are for?  Put some of those in your sandwich.” 

* * * * *

Here are some of the  inexplicable things I discovered around the house, the day after my return.

Lettuce that got left out all night.  It COULD have been salad,
but it became inedible.  I don't like to clean up, but it seems I
have a talent for putting the food away.  None of my children
seem to have inherited that talent.

The neighbor's mail that we were collecting while they
were away.  It was supposed to be returned to them the day I left,
not the day after I returned.  Oh, well.

A stack of Youngest Daughter's math papers,
under the dining room table.
A defeated turkey pillow.

I brought this losing lottery ticket back with me.