Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Thought for Christmas

If God really didn't want Adam and Eve to eat the fruit, he would have packaged it in a hard plastic shell and wired it to the tree. And maybe included a door for batteries that you have to use a screwdriver to open. And then given them three or four kids who all want their fruit opened first. By the time Eve finally got her own fruit opened, she'd be too pooped to eat it.

Seriously, do I have to come up with all the good ideas?

Merry Christmas! Here are a few pictures to make your morning happy - your house can't be as messy as mine!

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Grinch Lives Here

I like Christmas as much as the next Christian, but I am thisclose to stamping my foot, crossing my arms, and declaring this a No Christmas Zone.

It's not even Christmas that has my hackles rising, it's not the busyness or the visitors or the stress of decorating or the obligatory neighbor gifts or even the rampant commercialism of an important religious holiday. No, my biggest beef with Christmas is toys.

I hate toys. To look at toys from the point of view of a rational adult, it's difficult to see why we buy toys in the first place. For the most part, toys provide merely temporary happiness. They are something that gets played with for a few days after Christmas, until the batteries die or the novelty wears off, and then the toy gets deposited in a box of similarly discarded toys, to be pulled out when searching for that lost dart from the Nerf gun or something.

When toys do get played with, anything with more than one piece ends up distributed between every room in our house. Today, there are Magnetix in the family room, craft room, and the basement and markers in the dining room and living room. That's in addition to the pile of dvd's that Zack took out and piled on the dining room table, the books that have been pulled off the shelf, the coats/shoes/backpacks that were deposited in the entry and the living room, and the Santa hat that has no home, and floats from place to place in the house. I fight the encroaching toys by putting them in nicely organized boxes and storing the boxes in the basement, bringing up a few boxes at a time so as to keep the mess to a minimum and rotating the boxes to ensure maximum play time. It doesn't usually work, but I try real hard.

I'd love to do some kind of statistical analysis of the true cost of toys. I picture an equation that looks something like this:

Number of times a toy was asked for X Dollar amount spent on toy = Expected Joy From Toy, or Minimum Joy Units

One Joy Unit for each time the toy was played with during the Christmas break
One Joy Unit for each time the kid mentions that toy when asked "What did you get for Christmas?"
One Joy Unit for each time the toy is coveted by a sibling and a fight breaks out over who gets to play with it.
Two Joy Units for each time the toy was played with during the month of January.
Three Joy Units for each time the toy was played with every month after January.
Five Joy Units for having to change the batteries due to actual use, not just leaving the thing on.
Five Joy Units if the toy was played with on their birthday (when theoretically they would have newer, better stuff to play with)

Minus Five Joy Units for not being sad if the toy breaks
Minus Five Joy Units if, after a week, the kid cannot remember the last time he saw the toy.
Minus Ten Joy Units if the kid attempts to sell or give away the toy.

Now, let's analyze a couple of presents from last year. Brad asked for a Rubik's cube about 5 times, and it cost $10, so I expect that toy to garner at least 50 Joy Units. He played with it a grand total of one time, on Christmas day or thereabouts, and then it sat on his dresser until the summer when he attempted to sell it for a dollar. So by my calculations, that toy which should have gotten us about 50 Joy Units, ended up with -9 Joy Units. Yes, it actually caused us Negative Joy, or in other words, Actual Pain. I got 9 Pain Units from buying him that toy.

Noah, on the other hand, got his Star Wars Lightsaber game, which he never asked for but cost roughly $30, so I'll give that a Minimum Joy Unit expectancy of 30. That toy was played with many times a day during Christmas break, garnering let's say 10 Joy Units. Every time it was played with, a sibling demanded a turn, causing many, many fights, for another 10 Joy Units. It was played with probably every day in January, for approximately 60 Units, and although play tapered off after he beat Darth Vader, it has enjoyed a renaissance of late, and I'd say the game has been used about 100 times this year, for 300 Units. We've changed the battery at least three times, for an additional 15 Joy Units. So this toy, which I had only expected to give us about 30 Units of Joy, has instead produced a whopping 395 Joy Units and counting.

The problem with Christmas is that more toys go the Rubik's cube way than the lightsaber game way. I worry that this year, we'll go so far into the Pain Unit hole that we might never recover. The kids have done a ton of asking for things, but I just can't forsee the eventual Joy earned from each item ever equaling the Minimum Joy threshold. And Noah is really starting to worry me, because he asked for every single BYU item available on their website, plus various baseball paraphernalia. But in the last week or two he has switched back to his Star Wars fascination, which means that all of the stuff we bought a month ago is already starting to garner Pain Units.

Last summer I asked the boys if I could just not buy them toys, but instead give them money. Noah was completely two thumbs up with that idea, whereas Brad was on the fence - could I give him some toys and some money? But no one wants to wake up on Christmas morning, open a box of dollar bills, and then go on about their day without even being able to go to Wal-Mart and spend it like it's going out of style. So we're back to buying toys this year, and I'm doing it with a Grinch-y heart. Maybe someone can give me a "Get Out of Pain Free" card in my stocking this year. I think I'm going to need it.

Seeing is Believing

I wouldn't have believed this if I didn't see it with my own eyes. My first thought was to check outside to see if there were pigs flying across the sky, or check the weather report to find the temperature down in Hades.

I made something fancy for dinner. And my kids ate it.

I'll wait a minute until your hearts start again, I know this comes as quite a shock.

Ryan's parents were going to come up for a visit a week or two ago, and I bought a pork tenderloin so that I could try out a new recipe on them, for Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Grilled Pineapple. Yum! But they didn't end up coming, and so the pork sat in my fridge while the pineapple went bad, because it seemed stupid to cook this meal for just us and the kids. But it was just going to go to waste if I didn't cook it, so one afternoon I whipped up the glaze, spread it on the pork, and popped it under the broiler.

Naturally, as with everything I attempt to broil, I burned it. I don't know why it's called a broiler - a burner is a more appropriate word choice. I guess "burner" is already in use in another part of the stove, a place where I rarely burn things. So the glaze is completely black and charred enough that it lifts off in chunks. But the middle of the loin is still pretty pink, due to the fact that my brand-new, just used once for Thanksgiving, digital meat thermometer is now broken because it can't handle the heat from the broiler. So I overcooked the outside of the pork and the thermometer, but upon cutting into it, I haven't cooked the inside enough.

Ryan came home at this point, when I'm about 30 seconds away from chucking the whole thing in the trash and getting out a box of cereal for dinner, but he claims it smells good. I was only making this for two people to eat, trying to keep my expectations realistic, so if he was still game, I thought I'd keep plugging away at it. I sliced that bad boy up and laid each slice on the broiler pan, then put it back in the oven to try to, at the very least, heat up the E. coli bacteria that we were going to have as a side dish to our possibly undercooked pork.

When they were nice and toasty (and the pork looked less pink) Noah and Zack were both hanging out in the kitchen. So just to humor ourselves, we told them that dinner was ready and they sat down. I put out plates with a piece of pork on each one. I had some steamed veggies that were in a bowl also on the table. We sat down and Ryan and I each took a kid's plate to cut their food for them.

And then they ate it.

All of it.

Noah was even excited by the bowl of steamed broccoli on the table. No one complained about the crust being black. As far as I know, they didn't even take the burned parts off, just ate the whole thing.

This is such a stunning development that I barely know what to think about it. Do I could this as a fluke? Is this just a precursor of good things to come? Should I expect this kind of behavior more often? Is this a reaction to us trying to be more laid back and less uptight about mealtimes? Or do they just like pork?

My guess is, the planets aligned for this one meal and I shouldn't expect this again. Most likely, if I cooked this again they would completely reject it. But it does make me see what is possible for the future: someday, my kids are going to sit down and eat dinner like grown-ups! We'll have scintillating conversation as we explore the pros and cons of universal health care or conservatives' reactions to Romney's JFK speech. I'll ask them if they've read any good books lately, and we can discuss them.

I'm going to look back fondly at this dinner as a nice, one-time thing. Right now, Zacky and his friend Jonathan are eating lunch while wearing snow hats pulled down over their faces. Brad and Noah both think it is perfectly acceptable to crawl under the table instead of walking around it to go get a drink. Later that night, we found Zack playing our Star Wars lightsaber game with a piece of pork shoved in his cheek, like a chipmunk. And fish sticks are still received with cheers and accolades. But they know to thank me for dinner, which they do every night, even when they choose to make themselves a sandwich instead. I just didn't believe I'd ever see the day.