Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Pioneer Days

Spring -- the season of field trips, class parties, and mandatory paperwork concerning same -- is here.

At a recent parents' meeting, I learned that the third graders' spring was kind of a big deal. In May and June, they would learn to swim, re-enact olden times at a historic mansion, dress up on certain school days ("Pioneer Days") for role-playing games, and perform an original musical play about -- if I heard this correctly -- "biomes."

My memories of third grade were of an orange-haired old woman shushing us while we tried not to punch each other and/or wet our pants. How things had changed! Third grade was now a magical journey through the elements and Time itself.

Busy practicing a series of throat-kicks for a martial arts tournament, my son took this in stride. He was accustomed to a certain amount of educational razzle-dazzle. When I mentioned I'd spent third grade sitting alone on a stump, reading library books about The Boxcar Children, he was like: "That's sad, Mom. Can I borrow your phone and go watch YouTube now?"

Well, I for one was jazzed about all the upcoming opportunities!

First, I volunteered to be a driver for the field trip to the historic house. Putting aside disturbing memories of last year's spring field trip -- when, blinded by eye-watering allergies after a farm tour, I had to drive three boisterous boys back to school ("Be quiet! I can't see!") -- I indicated on the form that I could take three kids. No problem!

Next, I began plotting to secure the best job offered to parents that day: churning butter. Oh, how I wanted to churn butter and not be stuck in some "barn scavenger hunt" nonsense! The hell with the barn! We'd all seen a barn! Perhaps if I arrived in period dress, it would give me an edge?

Third, I considered killing two birds with one stone and getting married at the historic house. Dave could take the day off work, and we could do it in a flashmob. Just let me put down this churning stick and -- hey, Mom! glad you could make it! -- stand before these splendid columns while I recite my vows . . . Then I imagined my son's eyes pleading me not to embarrass him with a flashmob wedding, but just to show up, take my post in the barn, and hand out snacks like all the other moms. Oh, all right!

After the field trip came the pioneer party. On a yellow posterboard on the classroom wall, I signed up for the task of making corn cob dolls for two hours on party day.

Two hours! It was one thing to make a corn cob doll (how hard could it be?), but quite another to guide a rotating cast of nine-year-olds through the process until my hands blistered from cobbing.

One thing was certain: After two hours dressing corn cobs, I would be a master of the form. Increasingly, I would sneer at the children's pedestrian efforts ("That's a very derivative cob, Dylan. I've seen that one a thousand times!") while pushing out in bold new directions.

My cob dolls would start out insipid -- buttons for eyes, a scrap of calico -- but soon evolve into Impressionist cobs, Cubist cobs, Dada cobs, cobs that problematized the arbitrary and oppressive binaries of male/female, black/white, and corn/carrot.

Meanwhile, the third graders would be grubbing around in my bucket of cob bling. No! I must have peace!

From across the room, I would summon my son for a private chat.

"Can you get these kids out of here? I'm working on something -- not to brag, but -- I think it could be pretty important."

"Sure thing, Mom."

Biome performance? I got nothing.

I don't even know what that word means.

(Image: Churn by Pearson Scott Foresman [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Sunday, April 24, 2016


As anyone with a nine-year-old boy knows, Mjolnir was the name of Thor's hammer, and Thor was the hero of Asgard, a celestial city of Viking gods.

He fought giants and rode in a carriage pulled by two magical goats.

His sometime enemy -- or "frenemy" -- was his half-brother Loki. They battled for control of Midgard, which sounds like a women's undergarment but actually was Earth. Thor's beautiful wife Sif could stir things up between the brothers, but mostly she just brushed her gold (literally, it was made of gold) hair.

Though I know a lot about Thor, the idea of owning a hammer never excited me. That all changed a few weeks back, when I came upon the perfect hammer.

It was a meat hammer, silver and brilliantly gleaming like the moon.

* * * *

I was doing my Saturday morning lap around the Fancy Grocery Store, where I buy hand-rolled sushi, organic chicken, saffron threads, and highly-specialized kitchen gadgets made by the Swiss. (This is followed by a trip to the Inexpensive Grocery Store, where I round out the week's shopping with white bread, canned soup, Cheetos, and a Kardashian-themed tabloid.)

My plan was to make chicken parmesan and do it properly: with uniformly flattened chicken.

That's when I saw THE HAMMER. (Technically, a meat tenderizer.) As the kids say, it was sick.

For a while, I carted it around the store, admiring its heft and weight.

Then I posed it on a stack of raisin loaves, took a picture of it with my phone, and texted it to Dave with the message: "Check out this bad boy."

The hammer made me feel vital and powerful, like I was finally going to cook meat, for real. I feel like men must feel when they fire up an outdoor grill the size of a small car, with a pile of raw steaks and a giant fork at hand.

Eyeing the chicken breasts -- which had lived a wonderful, expensive life somewhere in Napa County -- now in my grocery cart, I thought: You are GOING DOWN, my friends. You will be [evil silent laugh] UNIFORMLY FLATTENED with my SILVER HAMMER.

Once home, I rinsed the hammer and peeled off the tag. It was ready to fly!

* * * * 

Did I mention I have been eating a lot of chickpeas lately?

As it turns out, chickpeas in an Indian simmer sauce are delicious served over jasmine rice. Cucumbers are good on the side, or oven-roasted cauliflower with a sprinkling of cumin and chili powder.

And almond milk actually tastes better than real milk! It's crazy.

Halfway through pounding four raw chicken breasts, the obscure and idiosyncratic figure we'll call my conscience piped up. There was a piece of pale flesh on the counter, and I was banging on it -- pretty hard! -- with a large metal hammer. The chickens were long-dead: defenseless. And here I was, mutilating their corpses!

The chicken parmesan was good and flat. But chewing it, I experienced a certain ambivalence . . . (Lesson: NEVER OVERTHINK MEAT. Just eat it and don't think about it!)

The silver hammer makes a fine addition to my kitchen tool set. I'm sure I'll use it again, or Dave will, while my conscience covers its eyes and whistles.

In the meantime, I will sadistically run zucchinis through the Spiralizer. Maybe I'll pulverize some chickpeas and make hummus!

You just never know.