The Great Depression Dinner Project

My twelve-year-old son has been learning about the Great Depression in history class. He and his classmates were tasked with the project of cooking a complete, balanced meal for their family with a total budget of $6.50. The only ingredients that didn’t have to figure into this sum were salt and pepper, and things the children or their families may have grown or hunted themselves. We went hunting and gathering at the local grocery store in the little town of Crozet.

As we approached the register, the cashier took one look at our purchases and said, “Everything has to be under $6.50 right?” The young men clustered around the register reminisced about the dinners they had made when they were at the same middle school.

As we strolled the aisles, I watched my son make some hard choices. He kept having to put back ingredients that he would have to forgo. Several times he had to substitute cheaper alternative ingredients in his effort to make it under budget. In the end, the grand total came to only $5.63!

Here’s the simple recipe he devised:

1 box of Farfalle
1 block Colby cheese
1 green pepper
2 cans of tuna

Boil farfalle. Chop green pepper into small bits. Drain two cans of tuna. Grate cheese. Add all ingredients together and bake in baking pan or dish at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

The real surprise was how delicious his dinner was. Everyone had seconds and even thirds, and there was even enough left over for my older son to take for lunch the next day.

Destination Imagination

Part I:

I’ve recently discovered that there’s a right and wrong way to praise children, and I, of course, have been doing it aaaaall wrong. Not only have I been “cheapening” my words when I’ve praised my children, I may have actually been harming their development. I’ve created praise-junkies, afraid to to take risks for fear of not getting their next hit of approval. In fact, when I think I’m praising my children, I may actually be “belittling” them, because I am sending them the message that their every move is some sort of high wire performance for my benefit and judgment.

Now whenever an errant “Good job!” escapes my lips, I clap my hand over my mouth and try to counteract the bad I’ve put out into the universe by immediately shouting out something more appropriate:

“I mean: ‘I can see that you worked hard on that!'”

After my child wins a soccer game, rather than “Great game!”, I have to remind myself to say, “I loved watching you play…Not because you’re a good player or anything, but because I truly enjoy sitting in the blazing sun/freezing cold/pouring rain watching you and your friends kick a ball around the field for an hour.”

It’s frankly exhausting. What? It’s not enough just to keep these little people alive?!

My daughter has been a part of a Destination Imagination team for three years now. Last year was the first year her team was old enough to compete. They had a wonderful time, but did not advance beyond the first round of competition. This year, before they had even competed, she was chirruping away about the Global Tournament. I felt that it was my duty to manage her expectations. I kept gently interrupting her reveries by saying things like, “…It’s actually quite difficult to qualify for Globals. Only a few teams get to go…” and “Let’s see how you guys do at the Regional Tournament first…” She took it on the chin for awhile, but one day she narrowed her eyes and said, “Wait a minute…Do you have low expectations for us?!

Clearly, I haven’t yet hit upon the right balance.

Part II

Two weekends ago my daughter’s team competed at the Regional Tournament and qualified to advance to the State Tournament, so this past Friday she and I headed to Harrisonburg, Virginia. We shared a hotel room for the night with our good friends, who also happen to be the DI team manager and her son. I think my daughter may have slept three hours. She spent the rest of the night thrashing, getting drinks of water, going to the bathroom, and being shushed by her increasingly grumpy mother…

The rest of the team and the rest of our family showed up the next day for the competition.

Because I’ve been appraising other challenges, I’d never actually been able to see my daughter’s team perform this year. She looked like this!

The gym before the Award Ceremony looked like this!

The kids were feeling rather glum when the awards were announced and they didn’t place high enough to advance to the Global Tournament. I was mentally preparing my consolation speech, when they were announced as the winners of the Instant Challenge part of the competition!

At the very end of the ceremony two “Wild Card” teams were pulled out of a cup. The only teams who could qualify for the drawing to advance to the Global Tournament had to have placed first in either the Instant Challenge or the Main Challenge…They won!

This awesome  hard-working team is going to the Global Finals in Knoxville, Tennessee!

Two years ago when my son’s team advanced to the Global Tournament, my daughter was crushed when her mean mother didn’t pull her out of school so that she could accompany her brother to the tournament. Here she is saying goodbye to him as he headed off back then:

And here they are on Saturday!

Knoxville, Tennessee here she comes…despite all the damage her mother has inflicted upon her psyche over the years!

Fly-by Post

Thanks to my friend, Anne, who posted this link on Facebook, I have now become a completely useless and unproductive member of society.

A livecam is set up 24/7, which gives you a front-row seat to all the adventures happening in an eagle aerie, somewhere in Codorus State Park in Pennsylvania. Two little eaglets hatched from their eggs just a few days ago and their parents are lovingly tending to them.

The first time I tuned in, I saw a bloody and headless-yet-still-flopping-fish in one corner of the nest. The mama eagle sat on top of her charges, impassively watching their next meal’s wild gyrations from the center of the nest. When I tuned in today around lunch time I got to actually see the two gangly, ridiculous-looking little eaglets roughhousing with each other like a couple of toddlers. The mama sauntered over to the edge of the nest, picked at that now-unmistakably-dead-fish and tried to feed her charges. They took a few bites but were far more interested in wrestling with each other. She finally gave up trying to feed them, sat on them, and rocked them back to sleep. I’m not exaggerating, she ROCKED her little eaglets back to sleep, or submission, or at least stillness. Her partner made a cameo appearance too. He showed up for a few minutes, ate some fish, and flew off.

This is the most compelling reality tv I’ve ever seen!


I’ve been working on my wheat belly since the day I started on solids. My mother’s culinary witchcraft has led to a lifetime of chronic overeating. I simply couldn’t stop eating her magical food. No one was immune. My friends would literally beg to be invited over for dinner. After each meal, when we finally let the spoons drop from our limp fingers, we would clutch our distended bellies and whimper with pleasure and pain.

I remember one day I found my mother standing over her bubbling cauldron stirring something that looked delicious. The tantalizing aroma made my knees go weak and my mouth water.

“Can I try a little?” I pleaded.

“NO!” she replied indignantly, “It’s for the dog!”

When she wasn’t transforming random scraps into three star Michelin guide-worthy dog food, she was conjuring up wondrous meals for us. Each bite would make you want to weep with joy and fall on your knees and beg for mercy because surely you must be committing a mortal sin by eating something so impossibly, wickedly delicious.

One day there was a piece of rubber hose lying around on the kitchen counter. My husband wandered into the kitchen just as my mother was throwing it away.

“I’m so disappointed,” he said as he watched her put it into the trash can, “I thought you were going to whip up a delicious casserole with that.”

It had been a long time since we’d been to Arlington, and this weekend my mom pulled out all the stops for us.

On Sunday morning the smell of bacon, pancakes, and eggs lured the kids out of bed.

“I wish breakfast could be like this every day,” my son said dreamily as he tucked into the feast set before him.

“Dream on, kid,” I said as I crammed mouthfuls of magic into my mouth.

All day long, my mother would disappear into the kitchen at intervals and come out bearing some new triumph. The kids ate as if in an ecstatic trance…

One time she emerged from the kitchen with a crumpled paper bag that looked vaguely familiar.

“Look what I have!” she said, “It’s a Royal Cookie!”

“MOM?! Is that the cookie I bought at the rest area on our way home from Christmas in New Jersey?!”

It was. She divided it up and we ate every last crumb. And yes: somehow even that three month old cookie stored in nothing but a paper bag tucked away in my mother’s cupboard was magically delicious.

It’s called sorcery.

Driver’s Ed

We made a very quick, long overdue trip to Arlington to see my parents this weekend. The last time we saw them was at Christmas when we were all together at my sister’s house in New Jersey. The kids have been missing their grandparents. As for the grandparents? When I talked to my dad over the phone a few weeks ago, he said in a forlorn little voice, “So…you’re not going to visit us anymore?”

We had a lot of catching up to do. My oldest son is about to turn 15 in a couple of weeks and so at the top of the list of discussion topics was the astonishing fact that the state of Virginia would be prepared to give this baby a learner’s permit a mere six months after his 15th birthday.

I’ve written before about the conversation I had with my son a couple years ago when he was about to turn 13 and was already then excitedly musing about the fact that he could legally get his learner’s permit in less than three years.

Obviously, I couldn’t shirk my moral responsibility and duty as his mother to disabuse him of the notion that this was a given. “Killjoy,” “Wet Dishrag,” and “Party Pooper” happen to be my middle names. This is why I get paid the big bucks after all.

“It’s not just about how old you are,” I replied. “We would have to see that you were really ready for the responsibility of driving. We’d want to make sure that you were mature enough to handle that responsibility.”

I watched the light die in his eyes. He was silent for a moment as he pondered my words and performed some mental calculations before coming to an unwelcome conclusion, “If T (his sister who was then 7) is driving me around when she‘s fifteen and a half, I’m going to be really, really mad!”

The fact that his brother may soon be driving has apparently been weighing as heavily on my 12 year old son’s mind as it has on mine.

“N. will be learning to drive soon,” he said to me one day as I was ferrying him back home from some activity. “That’s a pretty scary thought…Can we make sure he doesn’t drive with me in the car until he’s at least 18?”

I reported this conversation to my dad and we chuckled about it. Our conversation reminded me of the day my mother finally got her driver’s license at the age of 50 after years of trying. She never actually failed the test, she just lost her nerve every time she was about to take it. It wasn’t her fault. Every time she would screw up the courage to start learning how to drive, she would get into a serious car accident. I don’t even think she was driving the car any of the times that it happened. It was just extraordinarily bad luck and timing.

When she finally came back from the DMV clutching her brand new driver’s license, she was giddy with triumph.

“You got it! That’s amazing, Mom! Tell me all about it!”

“Well, the man told me to drive around the block and so I did. But THEN, he told me to do a U-turn! I said, ‘WHAAAAAAAAAT?! I don’t know how to do a U-turn!!'”

“Uh-oh…So then what happened?”

“He reached over and turned the wheel for me,” she replied as if this should be perfectly obvious.

Here’s where the story got confusing. Who pulls a stunt like that and then actually passes the test and gets her license? My mom. That’s who.

“And that’s when I knew she had magical powers!” I said to my dad, “I mean I’d always suspected it, of course, and I knew she could get people to do whatever she wanted them to, but that was definitive proof that she really is some kind of a witch.”

To this day, I have a recurring nightmare in which I find myself in a car with my mother at the wheel. But to her credit, the day she got her license was the last day my mother ever drove a car. It was enough that she had slain the dragon. The best witches know their limits.

She Said…

Here are just a few of the things I’ve heard from Miss Sassy Pants in the past 24 hours:

I got my children all excited by attempting to replicate my mother’s legendary mackerel for the first time. She always cooks this for my children and it has magical, highly-addictive properties…kind of like crack cocaine.

My daughter took a bite and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way…I’m not saying it’s bad…it’s just not the same as Grandma’s.”

This morning when she came downstairs in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt I told her, “It’s not going be that warm today.”

She replied, “Mom. I was sweating so much yesterday, I practically drowned.”

As I was driving her to school this morning she said out of the blue, “You should enjoy being taller than me. While it lasts.”


Today the sun shone for the first time in days. Most of the snow has now melted and my beloved crocuses are pirouetting all over my yard. Oh joy! Thanks to Daylight Savings, there was just enough light when I got home from work today to take some photos.

The first thing I planted in the yard of our very first house was a variety of purple crocuses. For seven springs I loved watching them come up through the grass. I think I’m so fond of them, because of the way they intrepidly shoot up right through the snow to announce that spring is just around the corner. When we moved to our current house, I couldn’t bear to have a spring without them and so I planted them by the handful again, all over our new front yard. I know I’ll do the same when we move to our next house.

It takes a certain amount of faith to shove crocus corms into the earth in the autumn. There’s something quite miraculous about the fact that within these hard, brown kernels are hiding gorgeous silky flowers that bide their time all winter long, just waiting for spring to come sashaying up out of the mud.

In her poem The Crocus (1858), Harriet Beecher Stowe compares the miracle of the crocus with the miracle of the Resurrection:

Beneath the sunny autumn sky,
With gold leaves dropping 
We sought, my little friend and I,
The consecrated ground,

Where, calm beneath the holy cross,
O’ershadowed by sweet skies,
Sleeps tranquilly that youthful form,
Those blue unclouded eyes.

Around the soft, green swelling mound
We scooped the earth away,
And buried deep the crocus-bulbs
Against a coming day.
“These roots are dry, and brown, and sere;
Why plant them here?” he said,
“To leave them, all the winter long,
So desolate and dead.”

“Dear child, within each sere dead form
There sleeps a living flower,
And angel-like it shall arise
In spring’s returning hour.”
Ah, deeper down cold, dark, and chill
We buried our heart’s flower,
But angel-like shall he arise
In spring’s immortal hour.

In blue and yellow from its grave
Springs up the crocus fair,
And God shall raise those bright blue eyes,
Those sunny waves of hair.
Not for a fading summer’s morn,
Not for a fleeting hour,
But for an endless age of bliss,
Shall rise our heart’s dear flower.

In The Year’s Awakening Thomas Hardy ponders the mystery of nature’s unerring ability to detect the shifting of seasons. The “vespering” bird and the crocus are the canny heralds of spring:

How do you know that the pilgrim track
Along the belting zodiac
Swept by the sun in his seeming rounds
Is traced by now to the Fishes’ bounds
And into the Ram, when weeks of cloud
Have wrapt the sky in a clammy shroud,
And never as yet a tinct of spring
Has shown in the Earth’s appareling;
O vespering bird, how do you know, 
How do you know?

How do you know, deep underground,
Hid in your bed from sight and sound,
Without a turn in temperature,
With weather life can scarce endure,
That light has won a fraction’s strength,
And day put on some moment’s length,
Whereof in merest rote will come,
Weeks hence, mild airs that do not numb;
O crocus root, how do you know,
How do you know?


Alfred Kreymborg describes the wonder of the changing of the seasons when “the first small crocus” banishes winter to the grave:


When trees have lost remembrance of the leaves
that spring bequeaths to summer, autumn weaves
and loosens mournfully – this dirge, to whom
does it belong – who treads the hidden loom?

When peaks are overwhelmed with snow and ice,
and clouds with crepe bedeck and shroud the skies – 
nor any sun or moon or star, it seems,
can wedge a path of light through such black dreams – 

All motion cold, and dead all traces thereof:
What sudden shock below, or spark above,
starts torrents raging down till rivers surge – 
that aid the first small crocus to emerge?

The earth will turn and spin and fairly soar,
that couldn’t move a tortoise-foot before – 
and planets permeate the atmosphere
till misery depart and mystery clear! –

And yet, so insignificant a hearse? –
who gave it the endurance so to brave
such elements – shove winter down a grave? –
and then lead on again the universe?


 Happy Weekend!

Birthday Blessings from Auntie Harpy

Today is the first birthday of my niece – the youngest member of my gigantic family…

May she always be surrounded by people who adore her:

May she always have girlfriends who would do anything for her:

May she recognize true love when it looks her in the eye:

May she always be curious about the world:

May the world let her remain as gentle as a lamb…

and as fearless as a lion:

May she never lose the twinkle in her eye:

And may all her days be filled with love and laughter:

Related posts:

First Birthdays

How my brother foretold his future when he was 1 year old

Hangin’ with the Harpies in Minneapolis

Signs of Spring

Friday morning the sun was shining and the snow was melting fast…We went from this:

To this, in just a couple of days:

On Sunday I spent a pleasant afternoon with the sun on my back as I strolled around the yard on my very first hunt for spring for the very first time this year…

It’s become a daily ritual that I look forward to around this time of the year…

…when the monochrome landscape suddenly transforms into a technicolor scene of riotous shape and gaudy color with new surprises springing up from the muddy earth every single day.

Every year it seems to me that I am witnessing an impossible miracle.

I was most excited about spotting this little friend, the greatest miracle of all:

I always consider the first sighting of the fish in our backyard pond as the true harbinger of spring. It always fills me with an unreasonable amount of joy!