Thursday, December 18, 2008


My sister-in-law has alerted me to a program that an IKEA in Seattle runs annually. It's a rent-a-Christmas tree program. Yes, that's right. You can borrow a potted Douglas Fir from those clever Swedes. Only maybe they're not so clever, because they will take the blasted thing back after the holidays. To be recycled. Not composted or thrown away. You can always keep it and make it part of your family by planting it in the yard. But if you return it, you get a $10 IKEA gift card.

So let's imagine that the eco-friendly consumer returns said tree. It is stripped of its garland, glass bulbs, and petrified gingerbread ornaments manufactured in kindergarten. And if the consumer is anything like me and my black thumb, this poor tree is in bad shape. It lists alarmingly to one side, needles cascading at every shiver. Who would recycle this poor creature? Why, IKEA of course! The Scandinavian king of cheap organization! Who else?

Oh, those clever Swedes. I have uncovered the racket. I now announce to the world that IKEA makes its multitude of engineered wood products from... recycled Douglas Firs! Mwah ha ha! ha... ha... huh. Maybe this is something the rest of the world knew already. What a great plan! I propose another!

There is a dearth of daughters in our household. I just adore my boys but every once in a while I start to wonder... what would it be like to borrow a girl for a bit? I'll propose the program to IKEA.

"Yes, I would like to rent a daughter, please. No, it's okay if she only speaks Swedish. Yes, I'll take one that is still in diapers. How much is the deposit? Let me think about this... how much will the gift card be worth when I return her? Phew. I'll take her."

I'll have a grand old time reminding myself why I'm glad I only have sons. Then, when I return her:

"What do you mean, I forfeit the gift card if I return her before puberty?"

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Don't dog my spice

When my parents were newlyweds, my mom made chicken curry for my dad. Apparently the recipe wasn't exactly stellar. He claims that he asked her about the dish in a neutral manner (memory is always a peculiar thing.) She then admitted that she didn't like curry and had omitted it from the dish. So it was chicken... chicken. Hey, she tried! They both giggle at the memory.

Needless to say, I did not grow up eating much curried food. Presently I like using curry for a handful of recipes. It is not, however, a staple spice in our household. I buy it in the smallest size available. The jar usually sits on our spice rack until I decide to make our favorite crockpot recipe; remarkably, it's a chicken dish.

A while ago I was at the grocery store replenishing supplies. I snagged a dinky little curry jar and headed to the check out line. As I unloaded my groceries onto the conveyor belt, I looked up at the checker. It was pretty obvious that she was Indian. I cringed inwardly and wondered what she would say at my pitiful little offering. Maybe she would applaud me for my lame attempt at international flavors? Or maybe she would toss the jar-- and me-- out the door, banishing me from the premises. Or maybe....

She picked up all 1.25 ounces of curry and pondered it for a moment. Then her face cracked into a smile. She giggled. And with a lovely thick accent, a single word:


She cackled to herself as she scanned the rest of my groceries. I took the grocery bags meekly and headed out the door.

Hey, give me some credit! I'm trying here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Moving violation

A good friend of mine is moving her family to Stuttgart, Germany on short notice. So the other night I traveled to her home in a nearby city to help her pack. On top of the house full of stuff, she has a new baby. As we worked, we chatted about having been roommates, the relationship between husband and wife, and raising kids. It was a bittersweet night full of endings that went late into the evening.

I finally drove away around 12:30 a.m. I was tired, it was raining, and the roads were rather empty. I had a lot on my mind. Partway home, I saw police lights flashing. Two cruisers were parked on the median ahead of me. I also suddenly noticed another cruiser parked closer to me and pointed at me, on the median, lights completely out.

Like any driver would, I glanced down at the speedometer. What a Citizen! I was going three miles under the speed limit. I proudly passed the cruisers with their flashing lights and continued home, SO ready to hit the sack.

A minute later red-and-blue flashers lit up my rear-view mirror. Me? I thought. What the heck did I do wrong? I pulled over and waited for the officer. He came up to the window and informed me that I had passed too closely to the cruisers. I should have been in the far right lane. Oh, man. I had nothing to say but to apologize, lamely. He took my license and registration back to his car. I waited the Wait of Shame as cars whizzed past.

When he returned, he handed me a clipboard with the form all filled out.

"This information that I wrote here is what I got from your license and registration. Signing is not an admission of guilt. Please sign here."

"You wrote this information?" I asked. He nodded. "So I should double-check that it's all correct?"

"Uh, well, if you want to. It's all correct."

Now, before you gasp, I did briefly think that he was telling me to double-check to make sure that my address, etc. was correct. But then I realized that it would be an interesting moment of levity. I was tired, mad at myself for my mistake, and ready to lighten the conversation.

"I'm... teasing you."

"Yes, ma'am." Strike one for the humor.

He then proceeded to explain the rule about yielding to emergency vehicles, blah blah. I just nodded at appropriate times. Then I asked:

"So, all these cars that are whizzing past us right now-- they are breaking the rule as well?"

"Well, ma'am, I can't get everyone. Besides, if I tried, it would put me in danger."

"And we definitely want to keep you safe."

"Well, yes, ma'am." He looked surprised.

"I'm teasing you again."

"Yes, ma'am." Strike two. I wasn't going to try for strike three. That might be classified as a felony.

::Sigh:: We'll see what happens on my court date next month.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Santa Theorem

My alter ego is that of SAT preparation instructor. I know, it sounds soooo thrilling. People want to come see me almost as badly as a dentist. You know you gotta go, and it's good for you, but man, those nightmares...

I also tutor SAT math. Which is strange, because math was not my strongest subject. But I did adore Geometry. Some of my favorite problems to solve were proofs. I know! Yeeesh! But they made a lot more sense to me than some of the later math that I had to endure.

Turns out I've given birth to a child who has an aptitude for math. It's pleasing to know that "T" is good at it without being a tortured genius. Plus we have various discussions that seem to go beyond his years about things like civil engineering, magic, and why seagulls have claws. His logic is fun to hear and it leads to deep discussions between us. Then came this...

"Mom, is Santa real?"

"What do you think?" (I felt like a I needed a psychiatrist's couch for this one.)

"Well, I know that Santa is magic. And I know that magic isn't real. So does that mean that Santa isn't real?"

A proof! A proof that I must affirm or deny! At stake here was not just a correct test answer, or even a college entrance exam score... it was the beginning of the end of childhood for my oldest. I wavered, cringed, and then wimped out.

"Magic is an important part of our imagination, like in Harry Potter. It's wonderful to have an imagination! Would you like some more Cheerios?" Did I mention that he's easy to distract?

Please Santa, just one more Christmas before I have to prove that theorem.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A few more coins

You try your hardest to teach your kids to do the right thing. And they tend to honor you in less-than-honorable ways. Like belching at the table at a friend's house on Thanksgiving. Or pitching a fit in the cereal aisle at the grocery store. Or shoving people out of the way in the halls at church. Sometimes, you wish you could melt into the floor.

Several days ago the Salvation Army bell-ringer appeared in front of our grocery store. That tell-tale red bucket suspended from a tripod is a definite guilt trip. This year, though, I tried to turn it into a life lesson for my three musketeers. I had a bunch of quarters in my wallet so I handed some to each boy. I explained that we would be helping out people who need food and clothes.

They were thrilled-- to listen for the plunking sound that each coin made. My oldest proudly dropped his in; my middle son, curious for a moment, followed suit. Then my youngest, who was barely tall enough to reach, dropped his coins into the slot and GRABBED the bucket. He spun it around and inspected the lock carefully. Satisfied, he grinned up at the teenage girls who were ringing the bell and, by the sound of their mews, melted their hearts. You can just imagine-- "Awww! He's so cute!"

Several days later we were at the store once again. As we hopped out of the van, "S", our five-year-old autistic son, heard the Salvation Army bell ringing. He darted back into the van, barely missing the automatic door as it clicked shut. He re-emerged with something clutched tightly in his fist. Turns out he had raided a rarely-touched stash of change that he hides in a dark corner of the van.

"S" proudly trotted over to the bucket and deposited his offering. I was so touched by his gesture and wished I could explain to the bell-ringer what had just transpired. As I herded my sons into the store, I marveled at how just a few coins could affirm that indeed, I am doing something right.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Worst. Mom. Ever.

The youngest of our three boys, "L", is one tough cookie. He is pummeled and pushed and whacked on a daily basis. This treatment comes mostly from his five-year-old brother who has impulse control problems. (The eight-year-old carries the rest of the blame.) I try my best to intervene but thankfully "L" has grown quite a thick skin.

As a parent you learn that your child's response to an injury directly correlates with your reaction to their tumble. It took me a little while but I have learned to keep a neutral face when my children fall or otherwise injure themselves. Ninety percent of the time, after checking your reaction, they jump up, dust themselves off, and go right back to what they are doing. It saves so much energy and emotional effort.

I took "L" to the mall to run some errands. As a treat for sitting patiently in the stroller, we stopped by the indoor playground to wreak havoc for a while. At the playground, there's a lot of screaming and running involved, and every imaginable surface is thoroughly padded. It's like a mental institution, minus the sedatives (although I can't speak for all the parents there.)

The kids must remove their shoes so you've got a bunch of stocking-footed munchkins tearing around the place like there's no tomorrow. On one side there's a 12-inch wide balance beam that is a favorite of the smaller kids. That lovely padded surface, though, is remarkably slick and leads to many a fall. I watched one child after another clamber on, stand up, and ::pffth!:: Down they go. It was mildly entertaining, until "L" came along.

He followed the drill but when he stood up he was just on the edge of the beam. His stocking feet slipped dramatically and he fell full-bodied onto the floor, his head slamming against the edge of the beam on the way down. I tried to school my expression as he lifted his head to see my face, but I failed. Instead, out burst

"Ha ha HA haha ha!"

Mine was a full belly laugh that came out of nowhere. I tried to check myself but it didn't work-- and then "L" hopped up and went right back to what he was doing. There! My lack of impulse control had a purpose! Except... I suddenly noticed that several moms within earshot were staring at me in horror. Yes, that's right! I am the worst mom ever because I laugh at my child. Gimme a break.

I turned away, hid my smile, and controlled the impulse to laugh at them.