Monday, February 18, 2013

Breakfast by candle light

[caption id="attachment_449" align="alignleft" width="224"]Breakfast by candle light Breakfast by candle light[/caption]

“Do you want me to cut your cake, honey?”

“Not really mom…”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I don’t really like store-bought cake that much.”

“But this is from a bakery. It’s a gourmet chocolate cake with buttercream icing. Here, taste this.” I pulled one of the dark chocolate shavings off the side of the gorgeous cake.

Everyone else who was over wanted this cake, but I wasn’t going to cut it if the birthday boy wasn’t interested. His actual birthday was the following day, and we were all watching a football game, anyway, so it wasn’t like the cake was the main attraction, though it certainly was the most compelling feature on the buffet table.

“Oh, hmmm. No, thanks. Not right now.”

And I knew what he meant was “not ever.”

My original plan was to bake a cake. It wasn’t that I didn’t have cake mix and frosting: I had congratulated myself weeks prior when I bought the Pillsbury cake mix and frosting on sale, well in advance of my son’s birthday. My guilt over boxed cake mix (since my own mother would have never done it that way) was long ago assuaged by my colleague’s affirmation that “if it comes out of my oven, it’s homemade.”

This is actually the way I overcome most of my remorse about feeding the kids chicken nuggets, fish sticks, pizza, mozzarella sticks, or anything that they really like that comes out of my oven (since my own mother would NEVER have allowed us to eat these things growing up), as well as conquer my contrition about allowing the Bigs to eat hot food from the Middle School’s oven every day (since my own mother lovingly prepared our lunches, complete with our names on one side of the reused-and-wrinkled brown bags and our initials inside a heart on the other) until we were just about done with junior high. My boys asked long ago, “Mom, do you hafta put notes inside our lunch bags?” No, I don’t, I realized. There are many different ways of doing things.

It’s just that when I saw gourmet chocolate cake with buttercream icing, I knew it was decorated far better than I could have done, and it wasn’t like it had the typical neon-colored, sugar-flavored lard covering it. Plus, I justified that I could use the food prep time saved to clean the house, since we were having company and most of my cleaning is event-driven (which meant I really needed to clean). However, I wound up giving it to our neighbor to take to the office.

The next morning, on my son’s birthday, I pulled the Pillsbury box out of the cabinet. Cake would be the first priority after we’d finished our morning breakfast routine, which is the story within this story.

In order to ensure we have family mealtime, we have to do it at breakfast. I have given up feeling guilty about not having dinner as a family. We’ve rushed through it prior to evening activities, tried it in the car while en route, or attempted it later on at night when everyone is too tired to do anything other than feed. A lot of times one or more of my kids still eats that way because the fact of the matter is, there is barely a night of the week when someone doesn’t have “something.” One night, we have two or three basketball practices (during one of them, the Bigs are assistant coaches for their younger brother’s team and sometimes my oldest has a school practice or game in addition to rec practice) as well as hockey and chess club. This means someone is doing something between the hours of 2:30 and 9:00 p.m. so there’s no way we’re going to have the family-sit-down-togetherness that my own mom insisted upon nightly when I was a kid and that parenting experts everywhere agree is vital.

Instead, I make the kids hot breakfast every morning. Usually it’s pancakes or waffles (yes, from boxes) and some combination of eggs and/or bacon. Sometimes there are oven things, like muffins or coffee cake (also from boxes) or breakfast “cocktails” (juice and seltzer in non-plastic cups). We dim the overhead lights and burn candles. We might listen to music and I might read out loud (which incidentally never worked for us at bedtime; I’d have to corner them in the bathtub before the closed-door policy was enacted.) At this writing, we’re listening to a motivational book on tape and reading sports trivia. My youngest does his homework in the morning because after the Bigs get on the bus, he has an hour before his bus comes. There are many different ways of doing things.

That morning, after each boy took his turn cracking an egg into the cake mix, I got busy with my son’s cake. After all, as Pillsbury’s slogan says, “Nothin’ says Lovin’ like something from the oven.”

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The true value of a Starbucks gift card

homelessI pushed the button to open the car window. “Wait!” I called out to the woman as she shrugged and slumped, shuffling back the way she had come.

The light had turned green and traffic was starting to move, but I was enough cars behind that I had a few moments. I rolled forward a bit to meet her as she about-faced.

“Can you use this? It’s a Starbucks gift card.”

“Oh, uhm, yes. Thank you.” I pressed the small envelope into one of her fingerless-glove-covered chapped hands. I noticed how cold it was.

Someone in the line of cars behind me honked.

“You’re welcome,” I said, and looked directly into her bright and blue eyes. “God bless you.”

The only word I’d been able to make out on the well-worn cardboard sign she held in her other hand was “HOMELESS.” I drove off on Route 16 towards Medford, closing the car window with my freshly manicured finger, heading for the innermost part of Cambridge, and no longer cursing my GPS for sending me that way.

Because it was me who God had blessed.

Tears clouded my vision as they threatened to spill out of my eyes. I tipped my head back and blinked furiously, willing them away, because I was wearing mascara: I’d gotten all dressed up and made up – and even did my nails – for a meeting.

Just minutes before I was in a sour mood, thinking about my three-hour round trip drive for a one-hour meeting, which I was convinced was a total waste of my day. I’d had a hard drive failure to start the year, which, as a telecommuter, put me mostly out of commission for a week and even though it was approaching the end of January, I didn’t feel that I’d caught up. I couldn’t imagine what would be accomplished that couldn’t be taken care of over the phone, and I couldn’t help thinking about what else I could have done with the commuting time, as well as the time I’d spent to make myself look like a real professional grownup, since normally I don’t take much more time than my boys do to get ready for a day’s work, nor do I dress much differently: sweatpants, tee-shirt, and hoodie.

It seemed like I’d hit every red light on the way in to the city and “just my luck,” I thought. “This one is turning red, too.” It was a busy intersection near the Alewife train station. There were a couple of people pacing back and forth alongside the stopped cars.

“Please, please, please turn green,” I willed the light. I didn’t want to have to ignore the woman with the tattered cardboard sign heading my way.

But a voice inside me prompted, “You don’t have to ignore her.”

“Right,” I huffed. “Well, all I have is a $20 bill. I wouldn’t want to give her that much money. What if she spent it on booze or drugs?”

“What if she did? Is it any of your business what she does with your gift?”

“No, I suppose it isn’t,” I sighed. “But I need the money to pay for parking.”

“Surely you must have something…” I was nudged.

“The gift card!” I had just seen it in my glove box that morning when I’d fished around for my company badge.

“Yes, why not?”

“Because my friend gave it to me for Christmas…” I had been saving that gift card for a special occasion. For me, just going to Starbucks would be a luxury: I rarely bought a cup of coffee, and if I did, it was usually a “Dunks” from the Exchange, about halfway between our house and school.

“Re-gift it. Your friend would want you to.”

“Right. Of course.” And without further ado, I popped open the glove box with another freshly manicured finger and retrieved the card, which brings us back to the beginning of the story.

This was the special occasion.

I shuddered to think about being homeless at all, never mind that day, when it was no more than nine degrees out, and I hoped there was a Starbucks nearby. I think the card was worth $25. I imagined what kind of snacks or coffees the woman would like best. I’d had a fruit and cheese tray and a plain tall coffee with just milk the last time I met the ladies at Starbuck’s after church one Sunday. (Well, they’d gone to church; I’d gone to my youngest’s hockey game.) I wondered if just being entitled to enjoy the warmth of the inner sanctum of Starbucks would be the real significance to the woman. I knew one of my colleagues had been hanging around in a Starbucks for the better part of the week when her wireless was down, so I supposed Starbucks was generous that way to its patrons.

“Thank you, God,” I thought. “That I have a meeting to go to, that I have a warm, safe car to get me there, that this job enables me to provide a home for myself and my children.”

And I realized I didn’t need the card, after all. I had the luxury of making coffee at home.

Every good and perfect gift is from above…James 1:17 NIV

But no one will see it

I set up the nativity in the back yard again this year. In the past it has been out front near the fire hydrant that is on our property, and...