Sunday, November 25, 2012

30 and not 13

This afternoon the Thanksgiving and post-Thanksgiving indulgence was really getting to me, so I decided I needed a long bike ride. My toddler was napping and my older two told me they preferred to stay home playing than come with me, so I set off on my cruiser alone, noticing how shockingly, breezily light it is without the baby seat and trailer. It almost felt like I might rise into thin air with the slightest wind. I made up my mind to bike down to (and through) the neighborhood where I grew up, ages 12 to 18. Though now I only live three miles away, it's funny how I simply never have a need to drive through the old neighborhood, so I haven't been in years. As I pedaled closer, I thought about how for a long time I've spent more time there in dreams than in reality.

I turned down the once-familiar street that passes by my old junior high and through almost a mile of neighborhood before it reaches the turn for my old house, and memories began to surface. I passed houses where I spent sleepover nights and teenage birthday parties, the bench my husband and I would sneak off to to make out, the gated development that used to be a vacant lot I would walk home through. I thought of all those kids who once lived in this unremarkable pocket of Chandler, Arizona, and all they have gone on to do in far-flung places. I biked around our junior high that still looks like a penitentiary, trying my luck at a game of remembering which rooms were where--locker rooms here, nurse's office there, and there the track where I circuited so many forced, unenjoyable miles. Finally I came to the turn for my old neighborhood--a smallish loop of maybe 50 houses. The look of things has remained strikingly the same. Same pink tile roofs, same squat orange trees, same can't-tell-one-from-the-next uniformity so typical of Phoenix. But I know the house. I curbed my pace as I approached and cruised by as slowly as possible, trying to take in as many details of my old home as possible (without looking like I was casing the joint). The screen door was closed but the door behind it was open so that I could almost see inside. I half considered riding up and knocking, saying, "I grew up in this house. I remember when it was built. I stood right there when it was just a foundation and a few beams. My mom picked out those terrible blue laminate countertops. Want to see where I spent summers laid out by the pool? Want to see where our hammock used to be, and our trampoline? Want to hear the story of the time a SWAT team surrounded this place?" But I knew today was not the day for that, me sweaty on my bike with no ID and the signature uncoolness of helmet hair. Still, that cloudy, wistful sadness of nostalgia whispered and tugged at me and threatened to overwhelm my heart with images of all the good and wonderful, bad and terrible things that happened in that house.

I felt so strange and sad.

Exiting the neighborhood, I figured I would spend the rest of the long ride home turning over these many memories in my mind and dwelling in the bittersweetness of nostalgia. But then a funny thing happened. I started to think of all those fantastic '90s songs I used to sit in my bedroom listening to on my boom box. I remembered Dave Matthews Band and Duncan Sheik and this band called the Longpigs who had one really great song on the Mission Impossible soundtrack. And I started singing--feeling silly and free and totally uninhibited like I didn't care who saw me (helmet head be damned!) I pedaled as fast as I could to see if the speed limit detector signs would report my speed to passing cars. And the whole way home I felt so relieved to be 30 and not 13.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Confession Time

Allow me to just say a few words about why the sacrament of confession is a truly wonderful thing.

I went to confession today. I'm not the type of Catholic to go every six weeks, as I've heard prescribed by the Church, but I do try to make it a handful of times a year. Seeing as how I could throw a hamsteak out my window and hit my church with it, I really have no excuse for not going more often than that. But today I knew it was time. There were some particular sins on my heart that needed to see the light of day, so when 3:30 came around, instead of going to Target to buy black tights and a gallon of milk like I wanted to do, I headed on over to the church basement. Whenever I walk to confession, I feel nervous and (frankly, sometimes) a little bit resentful that this is something I "have" to do, and there suddenly seem to be a thousand reasons why I don't really need to go. But then of course I always do, and like everyone tells you, I always feel better afterwards.

Today was a little different, though. Because of my burdensome sins (and no, I'm not going to tell you what they were…but, you know, feel free to speculate) I felt extravagantly nervous. It's a good thing there were only two people in line ahead of me, because my heart was pounding like a jackhammer and instead of praying about my sin, I was praying that I wouldn't throw up all over the church basement carpet. Somehow I'm always afraid someone's going to hear what I've done and treat me ungraciously, despite all my prior experience to the contrary.

So thank God for Father Charlie, the pastor of our church, St. Timothy's. He was a key player in our journey into Catholicism, and it is a huge blessing to have him leading our congregation. Going to confession today, I was actually hoping he wouldn't be my confessor because he knows me fairly well. (There's something to be said for anonymity when you're exposing yourself at your worst.) Well, God knows best, and lo and behold, when I walked into the confession room, there he was. But the moment I saw him and recognized the grace in his face, I knew things would be okay and I wouldn't be vomiting all over his priest-y closed-toe shoes. It's a funny thing, but uncovering my most hard-core sins actually led to the best confession I've ever had. Father Charlie's response to my sin was compassionate and real, just like Jesus' response to our sin. He neither minimized nor came down too harshly on my wrongdoing, but talked to me fairly and honestly about it. He gave me practical counsel for resisting and overcoming these sins.

We all want to hear God's voice, especially in the midst of our own guilt, and God isn't always going to speak in an audible voice. So often I believe he uses humans as his mouthpieces, and that's why (when done well) confession is so helpful. It allows a seasoned counselor to speak words of wisdom and comfort that we might not otherwise hear, even in prayer. And in the end, it gives us the promise of hearing an audible voice assure us that we are forgiven, that God's grace is greater than any of our sins.   

I am always so sorry to hear about the negative experiences some people have had with confession. Stories of shaming and harsh, useless penances break my heart because, especially after today, I know what a comfort and a sweet relief confession can be. (Sort of like when you hear stories of terrible parenting and you think, "But these are the people who are supposed to love this child!") When I think of an experience of confession like today's, though, I am reminded of the definition of a sacrament: an outward sign instituted by Christ to impart grace. That's a pretty awesome gift.

Maybe you should give it a try. ;)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Snatched-from-the-Grave Cilantro -- Serves 6

Tonight, as I frequently do when trying to use up extra barbecue pulled pork from a dinner earlier in the week, I made barbecue pulled pork pizza. It was a tasty delight, as always. (I'm becoming more and more convinced of Dr. Andrew Weil's belief that "our homes should be the best places to eat"…which could be its own blog post.) In addition to the requisite slow-cooked pork, barbecue sauce, and mozzarella, I always add thinly sliced red onion and a generous dose of fresh cilantro. But no matter how much cilantro I use to top the pizza, I never come close to using the whole bunch. So while I wait for our garden's cilantro plant to grow enough to provide me just as much or as little as I need for a given recipe, I always encounter the same problem: a 3/4-full bunch of cilantro that I don't want to throw out but which takes up space in my vegetable crisper. Inevitably, I end up pitching it in the compost once it's sat long enough to become a washed-up, old maid-y version of its fresh, spicy self. But it's always a shame, as food waste necessarily is.

About now I bet I know what you're thinking: "Really? A few measly strands of cilantro and you're whining about the shame of food waste? What are you supposed to do? Make a cilantro sandwich? It's not like you're throwing out some perfectly good all-purpose food like bacon, you hippie!"

I used to think the same way. Who cares about a random perishable smidgeon of food you can barely make use of? The obvious, only reasonable thing to do is toss it--or if you really want green points, put it in your compost. But then last Christmas (yes, actually on Christmas Eve, not sure why) Anthony and I watched a powerful documentary called Dive. Incidentally, the film is *mostly* about dumpster diving, not something I necessarily recommend and have never had the guts to do, despite the fact that the stuff these people get from Trader Joe's looks incredible. Long story short, the movie chronicles not only the director's experiences with dumpster diving, but the reasons he does it: food waste in this country and around the world is shocking. Appalling. STAGGERING. According to Dive, something like 50% of the food supply in the United States either spoils or is discarded rather than consumed. And still every day in this country people go hungry. One of those just-doesn't-make-sense social problems.  

Watching this movie really made an impact on me. Previously I had never cared much about conserving food. Really, in our culture of excess, do most people? The clean-your-plate-sonny-jim! attitude always seemed a relic of the Depression generation. If you don't want it, throw it out. You paid for it; it's yours to do with what you will. It doesn't matter; there will always be more. But since last December I have found myself much more attuned to my responsibility to my food, so to speak. If I dispose of perfectly good food, what does that action say? That I take God's provision so for granted that I can just chuck it? That I don't take my family's finances seriously enough to save the expense of eating out "just because" when I could have made something abundantly edible at home? I won't say I now wouldn't get takeout when all there is in the house is ketchup and a can of tuna, or that I save every jot and tittle of extra enchilada sauce, but I do give these daily decisions much more thought in the last ten months or so than ever before.

So tonight, as I was lamenting my cilantro bunch's progress to its grave, Anthony suggested I do something with it. Like what? I thought. Cilantro cookies? Cilantro chips? Then I remembered that our basil plant, the garden cilantro's overachieving older sister, has been calling me to make pesto with its plentiful leaves. While I haven't gotten around to that yet, it reminded me that pesto is one of those vague terms (like "splartch" or "glüg") of which there are endless variations. Guess what one of them is? Bingo: cilantro.

Cilantro pesto it is. In about 15 minutes, I was able to whip up this recipe: (with the addition of some parmesan, according to the classic cooking acronym CGWWC: Can't Go Wrong With Cheese). It gives us something to snack on with crackers over the next few days and just might make my Christmas party menu this year. 

There are probably a million other things I continue to waste without even knowing it, but it does make me feel just a little better knowing that my doomed cilantro bunch met with none other than a gustatory end. And now I feel all fancy because I made a food as trendy as pesto. Fifteen minutes well spent.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Angry Young Woman: My Thoughts on a Fiona Apple Concert

When Fiona Apple walked on stage, I leaned over and whispered to Anthony, "She looks like a meth addict!" Because it's true. Fiona Apple does, unfortunately, look like a meth addict--her long, stringy hair, gaunt face, and impossibly thin frame make her look like she should be on a poster with an 800 number on it. But she's also one of the most enigmatic and experimental artists I've ever seen, and while her show last night was raw and angry and at times left me wondering if I should be praying for her soul, I enjoyed it.

And how could I not enjoy it? From the time I was 15 and picked up her debut album Tidal, listening to it lying morosely on my bed in typical 15-year-old fashion, I've been a fan. Tidal, in fact, has only gotten better with time. As I've aged, I've found new nuances and truths in it, which is surprising since Apple was only 18 when she recorded it. While I've never been as devoted to any of her subsequent albums as much as Tidal, I've owned them and listened to them often. Certain tracks seem to come back to me like musical homing pigeons--their insights striking fresh chords each time. 

I think what appeals to me most about Apple and her music (and probably what appeals to most of her female fans), in addition to her totally original songwriting, is her unflinching Angry Young Woman vibe. As someone who struggles with anger, I totally get where she's coming from. I think we all need music for those times when we hurt, when we want to claw someone's face off, when we want to flip the world the bird. For some that might mean death metal. For me, it has meant Fiona Apple. She's certainly got enough vitriol to go around, and from some self-evident sources: her brutal rape as a child, her complicated relationships with acrimonious ends. So watching her last night, I could feel myself letting off some angry steam with her.

The thing I believe about anger, though, is that it's not meant to be a permanent state. While I resonate with Fiona Apple and will probably always enjoy her music, I have to say that I left the theater last night with some questions. Like how long can you stay angry? How long should you? If you keep if up for years at a time, won't it eventually start to make you look like a meth addict? (Or maybe Apple actually is on drugs, I don't know. The only words she spoke from the stage were a weird diatribe against her record label and the unusual fashion tip of using bra padding to cover up her open-toed shoes.) If Fiona's niche is the Angry Young Woman genre, what happens when she's not so young anymore? Is she still going to be on stage writhing and banging the piano and shouting out her lyrics when she's 40? 45? 50? Don't get me wrong: she's great at what she does. And I think there's always a time and place for angry music--in fact, I wish someone would have the guts to make some angry Christian music. But the angry stuff, sustained on a constant plane for the last 16 years since Tidal, has to stop somewhere or she'll either destroy herself or just stagnate. How powerful would it be if she came out with an album about forgiveness? 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Brief History of Meatloaf

Meatloaf and I go back a long way. My mother, of sturdy Midwestern stock, seemed to view meatloaf as a catch-all cloaking device for whatever bits and scraps remained in the refrigerator or pantry at the end of a given week (month? year?). I can remember watching with mounting distaste as carrots, spinach, rhubarb--was that oatmeal?--disappeared into her Pyrex mixing bowl, and wondering why a raw egg needed to be part of this process. Just observing the assembly of my mom's meatloaf had me convinced before my first bite that this was quite likely the most disgusting food ever invented. And then it came out of the oven--a craggy, rectangular meteorite from the part of space where they stare you down with unflinching meat-and-spinach eyes. I may have only been five years old, but I knew I was 


Well, you can imagine what happened next. In the classic parent-child food battle maneuver, I sat at the dinner table and refused to eat a single bite. Mom, not to be outdone in battle strategy, pulled the parent checkmate of you'll-sit-there-until-you-finish-it-even-if-it-takes-all-night! I really thought I could stick to my guns on this one, but around 2 AM (okay, it was probably only about 7:30) I was getting pretty sick of banging my heels on the rattan seat of my chair while my brother played. I grudgingly accepted defeat and picked up a piece of (now cold) brown meteorite and willed myself to eat it. And it was indeed wretched. 

Being the kind of kid who loved to make lists of favorites and least favorites--favorite color: pink, favorite stuffed animal: Puffalump--I quickly placed meatloaf at the very top of my LFFL, least favorite foods list. (Move over, lima beans.) For the remainder of my years at home, I gave my mom so much grief every time she cooked it that she eventually caved and stopped making it altogether. Still, over the years, meatloaf has remained the unshakeable king of my LFFL. Even as an adult, if forced to eat meatloaf under social duress, I have always made sure to spread it around my plate as much as possible to make it look like I've actually made a dent in the stuff.

The problem with meatloaf now that I am an adult, however, is that my husband loves it. So recently, motivated by wifely devotion, I decided to take a chance and try a meatloaf recipe I found in one of my favorite cookbooks, The Cleaner Plate Club, which incidentally focuses on getting your kids to eat healthy foods. How ironic. All the recipes I've tried from this cookbook have been great, so I thought I'd give it a go. Plus, it didn't call for anything revolting, which helped ease my trepidation. In fact, the ingredients actually looked appealing--parmesan cheese, fresh rosemary, garlic, homemade roasted tomatoes. I ended up using tomatoes and rosemary from our garden, some good quality ground beef, and yes, the requisite raw egg. And much to my surprise, the end result was…dare I say…delicious? I could barely believe my tastebuds. This fresh and fragrant comfort food was endangering meatloaf's long-held number one position on my LFFL. I even had seconds.

It may sound strange, but I feel like meatloaf is teaching me a lesson. Meatloaf seems to be whispering (with its meat-and-spinach mouth) that things are not always what they seem, that it is possible to change our minds about even the most white-knuckle-gripped opinions. Granted, my cookbook's recipe is drastically different from my mom's everything-but-the-kitchen-sink concoction, but if I can change my mind about meatloaf, what else can I re-think? My attitudes about people, places, things? I don't ever want my opinions to become so calcified that there is no room for change. Because how boring is that? I'd like to think I will carry the meatloaf lesson with me as I go about decision-making and opinion-forming in my daily life. 

Though I do promise I will not be carrying around any actual meatloaf. No matter how good it tastes, that would just be gross. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Tower and the Glory

Many times I've heard the C.S. Lewis quote from his sermon "The Weight of Glory" likening most Christians to "an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea." It's a defense of what's called Christian Hedonism--the principle of finding our supreme pleasure or satisfaction in glorifying God. As Lewis explains in the same quote, "We are far too easily pleased." Over the years I've thought about this quote many times, always nodding my spiritual head--partly in the Wheaton College graduate's iron-clad conviction that anything Lewis wrote should probably be included in the Canon, but also in the belief that we should indeed take more pleasure in God's gifts and pursue all the wonderful things he has for us. 

But today something happened that for a moment gave me a quite different perspective on that quote, and for the first time made me see it in reverse.

It being Memorial Day, our lovely friends Dave and Julia had invited us to a pool party and barbecue at Julia's mom's house. I'm just going to say it: this place was FAB-U-LOUS. There was $36 lotion in the bathroom. That right there put me out of my league. Not to mention the house itself: the approximate square footage of a Cheesecake Factory, vaulted ceilings, solid wood doors, the works. Beautiful. The backyard was its own garden of earthly delights with an expanse of lush grass, tons of outdoor dining space, and a pool/spa/waterfall setup. After we spent about an hour swimming, our family got out of the pool to get some snacks. As Anthony tended to our boys, I set up camp with Christine, our one-year-old, under an umbrella on the cool deck. I poured myself a Diet Coke and decided to let her do her thing for a little while. For Christine, "doing her thing" means wandering around exploring things at her eye level, then attempting to stuff whatever she has seen into her mouth. So, whatever. I can roll with that if I keep in close range. I watched her observe her little version of the world for a few minutes, and then she plopped down where the cool deck met some gravel and began picking up little rocks one by one, trying to build a tiny tower.

Just then the C.S. Lewis quote flashed through my mind, and I thought how Christine is like that child, wanting only to play with baby-palm-sized rocks while all this fabulousness of party and barbecue and pool gambols around her. My Evangelical-trained mind was soaking up this little Teaching Moment, re-cementing Lewis' tried and true sagacity, when I began to see something else in this picture. My sweet daughter is so content with the things before her, the things she does have, that she doesn't even think or care about the things beyond her, the things she doesn't have. And that is an image of satisfaction in such a different sense than Lewis was describing in "The Weight of Glory." The kind of satisfaction Christine showed me today is the kind that accepts what comes from the hand of God and enjoys whatever that may be. Her innocent satisfaction in building a tower of rocks was a reminder that taking pleasure in the smallest, simplest things can be as great a blessing as partaking in the biggest, most fabulous things. 

I love her for showing me this--how many are the ways our children point us to God, and how gracious is He to teach us through them.

p.s. Julia, invite us to your mom's house again ANY TIME. We had a blast. :)

Monday, April 9, 2012

My Top Ten...Okay, Fifteen Children's Books

Reading is big at our house. I would like to describe as an "avid" reader--admittedly sometimes driven more by achievement than pleasure--but reading really is a huge part of my life. A few years ago when I worked with junior high and high school students in our church's youth ministry, I remember several of the girls in my small groups saying how they hated to read and would never, ever pick up a book outside of school assignments. What a loss! I thought. Then I realized that quite likely no one had ever taught them how to enjoy reading. Since then it's always been extremely important to me to teach my kids enjoy reading…and wow, do they enjoy it now! Even if my boys say they don't want to sit down and read a book with me, it never fails that if I start a story without them, it's amazing how quickly Batman and Lightning McQueen get dropped as Gabriel and Elliot gravitate toward the irresistible pull of a book. And the last time we went to the library and all I got were cookbooks for myself, my almost-5-year-old couldn't believe I didn't check out any kids' books for him. Here's hoping this lasts a lifetime! (By the way, for some excellent points on how to teach your kids to enjoy reading, check out Diane Frankenstein's book Reading Together.)

Because we enjoy reading so much in our house and I'm always looking for new books to read with my little ones (who are 5 and 3, by the way--the 11-month-old is still in the biting and slamming phase as pertains to books) I thought I would compile a list of our favorites. These are the ones I pull off the shelf when it's my turn to pick. And I'll even let you in on a little secret…there are nights when the kids have gone to bed and I actually want to sit down and read these books by myself.

1. Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

A true classic. This is actually one of the first books I can remember reading in school--I remember being five years old walking around saying the peddler protagonist's mantra, "Caps! Caps for sale! Fifty cents a cap!" It has all the elements of great storytelling--repetition, an imaginative landscape, surprise, and a tree full of monkeys wearing hats. Come on, monkeys in hats? You have to read it now.

2. The Day The Babies Crawled Away by Peggy Rathmann

My current favorite. Peggy Rathmann is famous for many of her other children's books, such as Goodnight, Gorilla, Ruby the Copycat, and Officer Buckle and Gloria, but this one is by far her most delightful, in my opinion. The entire book is illustrated in silhouette with the vivid colors of a sunset fading to dusk in the background as the book progresses, evoking the feeling of a lovely day ending. The story's hero is a young boy who must track down a pack of naughty babies who have crawled away from a pie eating contest. Lots of whimsical touches throughout.

3. Our Raspberry Jam by David F. Marx

If you and I are friends on Facebook, you may have seen my pictures of the strawberry jam the kids and I made last summer. This little book was the inspiration for that adventure. It's a simple story of a little girl and her parents experiencing the joy of making their own raspberry jam from berries they've picked. It actually kick-started a whole jam phase in our family. Worth a read.

4. Burnt Toast on Davenport Street by Tim Egan

I guess I would be remiss if I didn't follow a book about jam with a book about toast. This strange book follows the Crandalls, a young couple picked on by bullies. Arthur, the husband, is in for a surprise when he is magically granted three wishes--a gift he does not take seriously until the wishes begin to come true. Oh, and did I mention the Crandalls are dogs? And the bullies are alligators? Yeah, it's a very strange book.

5. Any of the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel

Frog and Toad are king in my book. No pun intended. And actually, maybe they would be princes? Frog princes? In my book? Anyway, this utterly lovable pair star in four books, each of which contain several individual stories. Toad is the charmingly bumbling, rather obstinate foil to Frog's slightly more worldly-wise-yet-still-innocent persona. Ultimately these are tales of two friends who just love each other very much, and their stories are totally endearing.

6. Just Enough and Not Too Much by Kaethe Zemach

A great story about contentment with material possessions--something I very much want to teach my kids in an age and culture of excess! Simon the fiddler, at first content with a simple life, decides he doesn't have enough stuff in his house, but soon comes to realize that having more can turn into having too much.

7. A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon

This beautifully colorful and extremely imaginative story is another one about contentment--this time not about possessions, but contentment with ourselves. Camilla Cream is a little girl who doesn't want to admit she likes lima beans because she thinks it will make her unpopular. But the more she resists eating lima beans, the more her body breaks out in strange colors and shapes--everything from stripes to tails! I love the way this story brings home the truth that even our own bodies can rebel when we are going against what is right for us, whether it be physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

8. The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Marianna Mayer, illustrated by K. Y. Craft

I was given this book when I was a girl and it is one of the only surviving original copies of a book from my childhood. GET. THIS. BOOK. especially if you have a daughter. Throughout my life I have returned to this book when I need an escape to a land of fantasy or even just when I am feeling uncreative. The lush, gorgeous illustrations and patient pace of this fairy tale always renew me. A simply beautiful book.

9. Go To Bed, Monster! by Natasha Wing

Sort of a silly one here. The tables are turned on a little girl who doesn't like to go to bed when a monster she has drawn comes to life and won't go to bed, even after she herself is really tired.

10. The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant

This book certainly has an unusual tone for a children's book, as the central character is an old woman who has stopped giving a name to anything she knows she may outlive. Because of her hurt over so many of her friends dying before her, she is reluctant to take in a stray dog that wants her love. When I first read this to my boys, I thought, yikes, I'll save this for when they're older. But I realized that even young children sometimes think about death and may have to deal with it in their midst. This book has a very redeeming ending and is a good non-scary way to open the door to talking about the issue of death with younger kids.

11. King Bidgood's in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood

I am a big fan of the Woods. Some of their books seem story-driven, others image-driven. In this book, the illustrations are really the star. The various personages of King Bidgood's court are trying to get him to come out of the bathtub, but he is simply having too jolly a time to be bothered. One of those books where you can spot a million details on every page.

12. Alphabet Adventure/Rescue/Mystery by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Bruce Wood

In these three Audrey Wood books, an alphabet of lower-case letters must solve a mystery or save the day. Clever stories that get kids more familiar with the lesser-used "little letters."

13. How Much Is A Million? by David M. Schwartz, illustrated by Steven Kellogg

This one is probably for kids just a bit older than mine, but my kids sat through it and asked lots of questions. Essentially it endeavors to give a concept or a visual of how much is in a thousand, a million, and a billion, and compares the three. It was certainly enlightening to me as an adult! I like to think of it as foreshadowing some math skills for kids.

14. Rain by Peter Spier

Did you know Peter Spier is awesome? I had his Noah's Ark book when I was a kid and would look at it for hours, so I checked out Rain at the library for my own kids. It did not disappoint! Spier's trademark children's books tell stories in pictures only. Rain depicts a day a brother and sister spend in the rain, exploring all the minute details of what happens in a small town on a rainy day. The scene where they come inside to take off their soaking clothes and take a hot bath captures the feeling of that experience perfectly.

15. D.W. The Picky Eater by Marc Brown

Who doesn't like D. W., Arthur the aardvark's spunkily obnoxious little sister? Well, surprise, surprise, D. W. is a picky eater. This one is about the gradual development of her curiosity as the family goes out to eat at interesting places without her. I'll bet you can guess how it ends. While we are blessed to have adventurous eaters in our house, I think this book could go a long way with kids who aren't. Plus it's just a fun read that my kids have requested over and over.

So there you have a few of our/my faves. I hope the list continues to grow! What are some of your best-loved children's books?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Snack More Processed

While I'm at it, I might as well post this parody of "The Road Less Traveled" by Robert Frost, written amidst one of the many instances where I've thought I'm going to get cancer after making a bad food choice….

The Snack More Processed

Two snacks diverged in a vending machine

And sorry I could not eat them both

And be no fatty, long I leaned

And felt the waistband of my jeans

And considered the apple chips.

Then got the Twinkie, just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim

Because it looked sad, like it wanted air;

Though under the plastic packaged glare

They're really about the same.

And both that snack time equally sat

in coils, perched teetering on the brink.

Oh, I saved that first for another snack!

Yet knowing how fat compounds upon fat,

I doubted if I should ever rethink.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

When the cancer has commenced:

Two snacks diverged in a machine, and I--

I chose the one with Yellow 5,

And that damn cake made all the difference.

Playground Confessional

I took the kids to the park yesterday afternoon, despite the gray skies and generally uninviting outlook outside. Sometimes in the afternoons around 4:00, the lag between snack time and Daddy-gets-home time at 5:30 is just too long for this momma, and we have to get out of the house. (Not gonna lie, sometimes we just go for a drive. As I like to say, good for the mental if not for the environmental.) Gabriel, Elliot, Christine, and I showed up at Laguna Park with pretty low expectations, other than filling the hour and a half space with Something To Do. As we neared the playground, I saw we were not alone: a middle aged woman was pushing a broad-faced boy on one of the "big kid" swings. Coming closer, I realized we had met this pair here before, months ago when I was still (very) pregnant with Christine. I have a memory for names, and recalled that the woman's name was Gwen--the caretaker for the boy, Ryan, who is severely retarded. We smiled at each other with the awkward obligatory friendliness of the only two adults at a playground, and I could tell she didn't remember me. Finally after several minutes I re-introduced myself, saying we had met months back. I think it kind of weirded her out that I remembered not only meeting her, but her and Ryan's names, but she rolled with it, and we started talking. She told me a bit about her work with Ryan--the way she shows him "yes" and "no" cards to get him to answer her questions ("yes" with a happy face on it, "no" with a sad face), the fact that he was never expected to walk but has begun to do so since she started working with him three years ago. I watched her spot him as he practiced walking on a half-wall surrounding the picnic tables.

Gwen is not like the people I usually hang out with. She's quite pretty, but she looks like she's been around the block…maybe even "occupied" the block. She has no less than six piercings in each ear, each one droopier than the last and each one holding a dangling turquoise earring. Yesterday she was wearing a fleece with a loud southwestern pattern, accompanied by a neon pink scarf. When she pushes Ryan on the swing, she lets out this guttural, bordering-on-manly grunt--I assume to let him know what a big kid he is that it requires so much of her strength to push him--and when he groans at her (his version of speech), she gives him attitude and says, "Oh, yeah?" like she's about to pick a fight. I'll bet she drives a motorcycle.

It became especially apparent to me that Gwen is not my usual crowd when, about twenty minutes later, a couple of WASP-y young moms showed up with their four Baby Gap-ad little girls and I squinted over at them to see if I knew them. I guess I just assume when I see women who look vaguely like myself (one of them even got out of the exact same car as mine--same make, same year, same color) that there's a decent chance I know them from somewhere. You know, somewhere like my old women's ministry, my playgroup, or the gazillion baby showers I've attended in the last few years. It turns out I didn't know them, but the closer they came, the more they looked like what some corporate marketing genius might mass produce as Stay At Home Mom Barbie. Or, to take a more philosophical turn, they reminded me of an archetype or one of Plato's Forms--a template or idea of what it means to appear like a normal woman who takes care of children in the eastern suburbs of Phoenix in 2012. By this I mean nice dark wash jeans, shiny ballet flats, sleek hair, and (bonus trendy points!) an expensive professional-grade camera carelessly slung over one shoulder. While Gwen and Ryan worked on short-wall ambulation, I listened in on the SAHM Barbies' conversation. And wouldn't you know it? They were talking about several of the charter schools I've looked into putting my son in, a documentary I've watched part of on Netflix, and various kids' issues commonplace in my own life.

Any casual observer drawing social lines would probably group me with the Shiny Flats Ladies. I look like them (more or less--I don't actually own shiny flats and I definitely don't have sleek hair, but we're talking generalities), I speak their language, and my kids are probably much more like theirs than like Ryan--but I feel so much more drawn to someone like Gwen. As I sat there observing these two very divergent versions of Woman, I thought about how I want to be around people who know who they are and don't find particular value in trendiness. Women who are comfortable in their own skin, who don't have to fit a particular image. I know I can't judge those two young moms based on my brief playground surveillance, but they as representatives or archetypes of a particular kind of woman in my generation gave rise to questions in my mind…like what kind of people do I want to make my friends? How do I meet people different from myself on the outside but similar on the inside? What does it mean to be feminine? And am I awfully obnoxiously judgmental for pigeonholing these two unsuspecting moms who are quite likely lovely people?

Long after Gwen had pedaled away with Ryan strapped in a weathered bike trailer, I thought about my time at the park. All in all, it was one of those encounters I think we are all blessed to have from time to time--the kind that leaves you thinking, almost leaves you wondering if those people were even real, or were they strange angels put in your path to give you some message, remind you of some truth…then again, I think southwestern-patterned fleece is out of fashion even in heaven. ;)