More than Milk and Cookies: Christmas Food for Thought

An elaborate holiday meal surrounded by family on Christmas Day is something often taken for granted. I grew up in what can only be described as a “Leave it to Beaver” family: a new hand-sewn nightgown every Christmas Eve, gifts and cinnamon cider the next morning, and turkey with all the trimmings. With few exceptions, this was Christmas, but my husband’s childhood experiences sparked a meaningful change in the way I think of this day. Roy grew up with little to no tradition and quite literally very little food. From a young age, he and his brothers were often forced to resort to stealing from grocery stores and searching fast food dumpsters for anything resembling protein. While his success in business afforded him a comfortable lifestyle in adulthood, his desire to help others remains one of his most inspirational qualities. Shortly after we married, we adopted a “give, not get” tradition. Instead of exchanging presents, we bought food, personal supplies, and gifts […]
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A Bountiful Life

Who doesn’t love Thanksgiving? Sumptuous food, the warmth of family and friends brought together in a collective spirit of togetherness, and the opportunity for a little much needed reflection on the important things in life. If you are fortunate enough to have even one person to sit down at the table with and enjoy a solid home cooked meal, then the meaning of Thanksgiving rings just as true. By being thankful, by pausing to see the positive aspects of our past and present reality, we raise the quality of our lives. By simply pushing out all those nagging pessimistic thoughts that invade our consciousness daily, we become the contented, grateful people we want to be, at least for a while. It truly is simple and it is quite simply true. My husband and I will host the family dinner this year, and I must say I wasn’t that keen on the idea. Last November we lost my dear mother who made every occasion fun and every holiday meal memorable. For weeks the prospect of giving thanks […]
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Times Have Changed, Haven’t They?

My best friend and I generally take advantage of nearly any holiday we can, from Arbor Day to Ice Cream Day.  In the past, we’ve always used these occasions as the perfect excuse to get together and celebrate in some way.  Not since our middle school days (and I’m not telling you how long ago THAT was), have we participated in a Sadie Hawkins Day event.  This year, however, we’re changing that. Just in case you’re not familiar with it, Sadie Hawkins Day is one of those time-honored, albeit unusual holidays where the girl is literally supposed to ask out the boy, whether on a date or to a dance or to some other fun activity.  Interestingly enough, this holiday became popular way back in the 1930’s after Al Capp did something similar in his ‘Lil Abner’ cartoon series. Now, fast forward some 80 years to present day.  I would have assumed, wrongly, of course, that Sadie Hawkins Day was almost obsolete.  That is, until I read an interesting article in Psychology […]
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From One Angel to Another

No matter how you look at it, being “owned” by a cat is pretty special. Bandit was the typical 8-week-old pet store kitten. Cute, cuddly, and completely independent. Our years together revealed that she was clearly the head of the household. For most of her life, she was 18 pounds of “don’t even think about moving me off this newspaper.” She helped me grade essays by taking a bite from the interesting ones. My students considered it high praise; my solitary coffee stain was evidence of Bandit’s clear disinterest. She was also my guardian angel. During the last four years of her life, it was just the two of us, and when the time came for her to meet my new beau, she must’ve known he was next in line to be my protector. On the first day of spring in 2005, she passed away in the early hours of the morning. It was a day of transition, you see, because my newest eHarmony match was coming to have lunch with me. I cancelled that date to bury my angel, and I didn’t know how […]
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Cooking Secrets

I’m usually the one who cooks dinner in our house, since my boyfriend gets home a lot later from work than I do.  ….And also because in his culture, women are the ones who cook. Although there is legal gender equality in France, traditions die hard.  Statistics show that, regardless of how many hours they work outside the home, French women are usually left with most of the chores; only 30% of French households report a fair division of labor. I don’t blame French men, so much as their culture, which is pretty old-fashioned when it comes to domestic life. Take my boyfriend, for example.  He actually likes to cook.  He’s got an innate talent for it, too, instinctively blending flavors to create delicious, complex sauces and seasonings that are an essential part of French cuisine.  But while I’ve always admired his culinary skills, it took a long time and a bit of a trick for his mother to acknowledge them. Whenever we’d visit her house in the French […]
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Halloween: New Traditions

What kid, inundated with an unlimited supply of candy can forget Halloween?  My memories of trick-or-treating in the Midwest run deep, and I’ve always wanted the same for my kids. But although I grew up with a culture of costumes and candy corn, my boys were born in South Africa, and Halloween has only just begun to catch on.  I know of only one neighborhood that opens its doors to excited kids clamoring for sweets. For the past 9 years, we’ve made do with borrowed costumes, makeshift ghosts, and costumes ordered early and sent from the States.  But as Felix is 10, I’ve realized that I’ve only got a couple of years to share the holiday as I know it with my son.So, I’ve given him free reign to choose his costume, and told him we would make it together.  After days of pondering his choices, he has come back with an idea.  “I’d like to be a Minion from Despicable Me.” Although Minions wear simple denim overalls, the trick is in the large, rounded, yellow […]
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Make a Difference… Together

I’ve got two boys, fairly close in age, so the younger one, Oscar, does tend to be saddled with the outgrown clothes of his older sibling. Oscar may know what it feels like to have clothes handed to him, but he also knows that there are children in this world who do not have many clothes at all – new or used.  He was the one to suggest going through his wardrobe, to donate his old clothes to a local AIDS orphanage. As we went through his closet, Oscar began to realize that he only had clothes to fit 6 to 7 year old boys, and he became concerned.  “What about the other kids?” he asked.  Completely unplanned, we decided to hit a local thrift store and pick up some more clothes together. Oscar took the task of shopping seriously.  Every now and again, he would pause to ask, “do you think they need clothes for winter or summer?” or “do you think they have swimming lessons?” It was not his questions that moved me; it was the time and effort he was putting […]
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Our Sweet Secret

One of the first things I asked my boyfriend when we started dating was, “What’s your favorite kind of candy?” A lifelong sweet tooth, I take my sugar consumption seriously.  When I moved to France, I knew there were changes I’d have to make, but sugar consumption wasn’t among my concerns.  According to the France.fr website, there are over 600 varieties of candy made in France – not to mention chocolates and sweet pastries.  What I hadn’t counted on, though, was the French attitude towards these treats.  In this thin-obsessed country, snacking on anything but fruit or yogurt is considered one of the worst things you could possibly do. My boyfriend had answered my question about candy, regaling me with descriptions of his favorites.  But as time went on, whenever I came home with a bag, or even just one or two pieces I’d picked out while buying a baguette at the boulangerie, he’d stare at me dubiously.  It’s sad to admit, but I started hiding the sweets […]
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Khun Yai, I Am a Lesbian

I came out to my parents at age seventeen. It took a few years of frustration and denial before they fully accepted the news. My being a lesbian eventually became a neutral fact, like how I won't eat papaya or that I must take medication. What’s important is that I know I am a daughter that they love and support. At age twenty-two, I visited Bangkok. On my last night I knew that I had to find the courage to tell my grandmother "Khun Yai" that I am a lesbian. I remembered being thrilled as a kid at the time spent with her talking and giggling after bedtime, and her weekly calls to the U.S. to comfort me after my mood disorder diagnosis. And the summers spent at her house, practicing my Thai and helping her survive the next nine months while I was in the States. Over the years her love for me had been tested. Sometimes she worried about me more than I ever worried about myself, but I was always grateful that she ultimately dealt with each challenge with grace and love. We had one […]
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Hispanic Heritage Month: Door to the American Dream

The National Council of La Raza President, Janet Murguia’s article on Hispanic Heritage Month for scholastic.com. Share these inspiring words with your children.  Enjoy! "Hispanic Heritage Month is a great time to promote civil rights and to appreciate the many Hispanic characteristics that have become an important part of the American culture, says Janet Murguia, President of the National Council of La Raza. "Hispanic Heritage Month is an important time for kids to understand that different cultures exist in America," she told Scholastic Kids Press Corps. The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is the largest national Hispanic Civil Rights organization in the U.S. As the NCLR council's president, Murguia says Hispanic Heritage Month helps showcase Latino talents in many sectors: the arts, science, business, and entertainment. Murguia has a long history of work in the public sector. She served as deputy assistant to President Bill Clinton in the White House and is currently on […]
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