Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Critical Mom's Continued Existence

Once upon a time three pizza parlors set up shop on one block.  The first called itself "The Best Pizza In The World."  The second called itself "The Best Pizza In The Universe."  The third called itself "The Best Pizza On the Block," and sold more pizza than either of the other establishments.  My blog needs a new domain, or my old domain.  Sometime in the next thirty days, it is just possible that whomever purchased TheCriticalMom domain will identify him or herself and offer to sell it back.  But for the twelve bucks for which I purchased it when I thought up the term?  Or multiples of that?  Assuming the fee turns out to be out of my range, I still want to be the best critical mom on the block.  So I welcome suggestions from readers.  (The New Critical Mom? The Advanced Critical Mom? The Better Critical Mom? Well . . .  .)
I do keep going to the old domain.  And what do I see?  A blank page, topped by laughing persons at a bar drinking what appears to be Windex.  The latest: within thirty days, I should know whether whomever purchased the domain is willing to sell it to me.   So I'm dreaming of domains. . . 

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Critical Mom and the "But You SAID, Mommy" statement.

While I was out, two cases of beer were delivered.
"But my friends paid for them!"
According to my fifteen-year-old, I said that anything under fifty bottles of beer was okay for his upcoming overnight party in which he and about seven friends will play computer games all night.   Having vetoed the Red Bull, I might have expected the bull.
Since the legal drinking age is sixteen on planet Germany, I said the sixteen-year-olds could have maximum two beers apiece, and that my son could have the same too, but that else anyone under the legal age would have to get his parents' permission.
The fifteen-year-old is open-mouthed with resentful astonishment.
Then there's the twelve-year-old, who, when told to put on a sweater, because it is fifty degrees (that's ten degrees celsius, Europeans) says, in a profoundly annoyed fashion, "That's waste, Mom, because I'm not cold, and I'm not gonna get cold, and I'm not gonna catch a cold . . . "
If I have had enough sleep, I explain the importance of warm clothes and the prevalence of viruses in a peaceful fashion while handing him a sweater.  This is however never the case.  I usually bark: "put it on, or we're not leaving," and today, he did. Now, the ten-year-old presents another picture.  She is very sweet.  And even when hormones begin coursing through her, and acne sprouts on that smooth forehead, she will not, I believe, address me with any four-letter words.  The worst so far:  "I didn't ask for that, Mommy," with an indignant stare (as though looking down her nose through an heirloom lorgnette at a peasant over whose neck she will shortly step ) when I hand her a favorite sandwich.  At least, the sandwich that, last week, was in favor, although she might not admit that.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Critical Mom Hopes to Stick Around

I am among the technologically challenged, and when I went to my blog settings . . .  and to many other places, electronically, logging into this and then logging in to that, I found myself unable to figure out how (are you listening, GoDaddy and Google?) to renew my domain ownership of this here blog.  Which I want to renew and somehow forgot to do last month when it was due.  So this morning, I asked my technologically sophisticated child to help me figure this out, assuming he'd be better at it than I am, and indeed, gentle reader, this is usually the case (I just learned from my ten-year-old how to use WhatsApp).  
Well, the fifteen-year-old tooled around, bouncing from this to that to this to that again and said HE couldn't figure it out.
He tried again, and said, with a mad grin, "Kill me."
"Aw, come on, sweetie, is it that bad?  Sorry.  Maybe that kid at school who helped set up your computer?  Isn't there some smart kid you know who might be able to do this?"
With a leer and chuckle, he said, "Satan."

You hear that, techies?  I want to renew this website!  I have my credit card out right now!  Whyohwhy is it so very complicated?  I want what I had before, which I think is the "annual" plan and when I tried, and my kid tried, we kept getting directions for the "flexible" plan, which is something entirely unknown and therefore quite possibly bad.  So I hope some nice, sympathetic Google or Googlemail or GoDaddy or somethingorother blogspot (or one of the others we tried) employee lets me renew soon.  Wouldn't want my little blog to evaporate.  It's been fun.  
P.S. Well, now I've talked to GoDaddy tech support twice; the first guy sounded very perky and positive and I paid 69 euros and something cents to try to buy the domain name back from whomever has purchased TheCriticalmom.com, but that can take up to thirty days.  My second conversation with GoDaddy tech support was, it seemed to me, less optimistic:  "THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO" said the voice of doom, or so it sounded to me.  So I will either purchase a new domain or wait to see if I can get this one back soon.  I think readers can access this through blogger.com

Friday, September 19, 2014

Scotland Rising and The Critical Mom

I'm imagining the sound of bagpipes and my despair is dissipating.  I checked the vote at 5:55 a.m. today and the final tally still hadn't been called.  The Scots didn't fight the bloody battle of Culloden--and a host of others--for nothing. 
The day before the vote, I went to the office and there, in the hallway, my Austrian colleague stood in a kilt, not a tartan but a black punk-style one, that showed off his shapely legs nicely, although he doesn't hold a candle to my husband.
"So, you'd be in favor of Scottish independence?" I asked
"No!  I'm in favor of wearing kilts!" I got quite a piece of his mind about nationalism and its evils, how a Yes vote would increase UKIP's power, how it couldn't be good for the Ukraine . . . and I thought no, no, no, it all depends on what we're calling nationalism, and Scotland's efforts to free itself from England is not German nationalism in the 1930s or even Quebec's struggle.  It is just the Scots wanting some peace and quiet, the end of interference, and the right to enjoy their riches in peace.  The deal they signed 300 years ago--well, the American colonists didn't keep theirs, did they?  
My American colleague from the South was too reminded of the South seceding from the Union . . .

Scotland's burning, Scotland's burning
Look out, look out
Fire, fire, fire, fire!
Pour on water, pour on water . . . .

As these traditional lyrics show, the Scots are pretty good at imagining rational solutions to big problems.  And they'll find a way, I am confident, to shake the dregs of English empire off their honest boots.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Critical Mom votes YES for Scottish Independence

My name, which I'm not going to publish here, is so ethnically identifiable as to have been an occasional problem, once upon a time when I was employed by a Catholic college.  One of the priests kept trying to find out if I'd been related to a certain Catholic theologian who just happened to have a Presbyterian name. I'd be voting day after tomorrow, had my ancestors not left the tors and crags of their native Scotland for a dubious future as mercenary soldiers to one of the Williams of Orange, who allegedly stiffed them with non-arable lands in Pennsylvania (but here the story grows murky, for the land may well have been evolving into Philadelphia Main Line, while the wanderlust of my ancestors pulled them toward the Carolinas).  Still, few walk that far just for the beauties of the landscape and the sense of adventure. 
And if I were still a Scot, I'd vote yes.  David Cameron's speeches have the ring of a desperate patriarch hanging on to the shreds of a relationship outgrown by his children--who are no longer children.  There are sons out there who still live with their mothers; Norman Bates comes to mind.  The nail in the coffin for me was Cameron's rant:  "There'll be no going back!" as if he were speaking to a naughty two-year-old.  And as every mother knows, if you want the kid to follow you instead of stomp around and say, "I won't go!" you smile, turn away from him, and walk slowly away (he doesn't need to know that you've got the tiny mirror from your lipstick case trained on him for the bad guys who couldn't possibly appear in the nanosecond it takes for him to realize that yes, he does still need you.)  But it remains his decision to follow, and that becomes a part of his independence later on.  
Then there are parents who really don't want for their adult children to move out.  Excuses are made, apron strings tightened.  And England, the sun set on your empire long ago, and it is time for Scotland to build its own future.  As a canny old fisherman remarked, "It won't be the land of milk and honey.  But it'll be better."  I agree.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Critical Mom's September 11th

I remember everything I did on September 10th, 2001, which was, blessedly, an outrageously normal day.  We went to Bloomingdale's because I needed nursing bras and the saleslady, a gigantic, friendly woman, talked me into two different sizes based on how much bigger my breasts were going to get.  She turned out to be right, but I wouldn't know that for another few months.  We found and bought mattress pads that we're still using.  I called a friend and took my then two-year-old son for a play date with her daughters, who were a year older, and expressed their affection for him by sharing their boxes of raisins and then sitting on him.  I was about to rescue him when I realized that he didn't mind having two pretty little girls sit on him one bit.  But eventually all three children wanted to go to the playground, and ran around there, and the other mom and I chatted about what to feed them and how one ever got them them to go to bed.  The ordinariness of the day has stayed with me:  the next morning her husband, who worked in one of the towers, was missing, and only by late in the evening when she had almost given up hope did he finally make it home.
That morning, September 11, our two year old was watching Barney the Dinosaur, which got interrupted by a news flash showing a plane hitting the World Trade Center.  My husband scooped up our son, who was very angry about the disappearance of Barney, and took him to the playground because the phone had rung:  a friend of mine was glad to hear I was home, because had I heard?  I was just beginning to hear, and thanking my lucky stars that I no longer worked in New Jersey and took the PATH train from right under the World Trade Center anymore.  I'd missed the first bombing, in 1993, by about ten minutes, and students of mine who worked in the Wall street area told me they'd been blown out of their seats by the force of the blast.  And back in 1993, everyone assured us that nothing like this could ever possibly happen again.  
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was three months pregnant and asked my husband what kind of a world we were bringing this child into.  
"The only world we have," he pointed out.  
When, this past August, we saw the memorial fountains and museum, when I chatted with a friend who said, "oh, yeah, I was in fifth grade then," when I looked at children running around downtown New York, I felt, probably, the way everyone who has witnessed something new and horrifying feels:  that it should be remembered, that it cannot be told, that as indelible as it is to people who were there, it can never mean the same thing to those who were not, or those who were too young, or those who were not yet born.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Critical Mom's Orange Is The New Black Mood

This, I thought, surveying my hair--which, the fifteen-year-old observes, looks "like something orange fell on it"--is what you get for not really speaking German all that well.
"Hallowe'en," says my husband.
"I wish I had something to put on my head," I muse.
"How 'bout a burqa?" says the kid.
What happened was I grabbed off the shelf of the local DM a box of stuff that seemed like it was the same color as the stuff I usually use, which they didn't happen to have.  This new stuff added "Glam Lights," or streaks, as far as I could make out.  I didn't read the information at the bottom of the box, which warned, "Glamouröse Strähnchen-look in einem Bürstenstrich," which means, "Glamorous streaks with a brush stroke."  So I was supposed to use the little plastic brush provided to comb through selected tiny portions of hair, instead of dumping the bottle over my head, the way I usually do, and until now it's always come out much better than when those over-eager stylists at the hair salon do it.
Black is about the only color I can wear now.  Or white.  Hallowe'en.
"You look like you're fighting with the rebels," says the kid, before bursting into gleeful chuckles and assuring me that he means it in a nice way.
The other thing is that the older you are, the less you should go for orangey-blonde.  Dark blonde kind of makes you look marginally less older.  This (fortunately unique) shade that is now mine definitely does not give me a youthful look.
"What will your sister say when I pick her up from school?" I ask the kid.
"She'll say, 'where's my mommy?'" he replies.
My husband reassures me that really it's not so bad.
But he loves me, you see.

P.S. What she actually said, my ten-year-old, was, "Sorry, Mommy, but with that bright make-up and the circles under your eyes, you really do look like a zombie."

My appointment with the hairdresser--who glanced dubiously at my orange head and said, "we'll see what we can do!"--is tomorrow morning.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Critical Mom's Domestic Dilemmas

If I wrote about race, class, gender and ISIS I'd probably have more readers, but inside this academic is an Erma Bombeck screaming to get out.  What I'd like to know at the moment is how to get the twelve-year-old to like his new crocs, which will otherwise be taken back to the store because they are not absolutely pure black and have a slight indentation on the heel, a stylistic subtlety so tiny as to have remained unnoticed by me, but clearly a critical one.
Now,  I remember the days when I, age thirteen, carefully explained to my mother that I hated polyester and please not to buy me anything made of it.  This always seemed to inspire in her a delight in things polyester, and she'd come home with armfuls of blouses she "just thought would be lovely on you" until one day I shrieked and burst into tears.  That did stop her for a while.
I don't believe I've been quite so unable to hear my son's wishes as my mother was to hear mine, but nevertheless, I'm willing to take those crocs back.   It always gets me when he says, "when I'm eighteen I'm moving out!" until I remind myself, and I constantly do, that some of that sentiment is fueled by all those freshly pumped-into-his-veins hormones, and that some day he will be all grown up.  Friends with grown children smile when I worry and assure me that "around age sixteen it all gets much better."  But that does leave me with the next four years to be losing my temper about discipline around my husband, and then, just as child #2 is hitting sixteen, his very sweet (at the moment) younger sister will be right about where he is now, hormone-wise.  
Fact:   I have gone gray.  It could be age, but I do prevent people from realizing the true color of my hair with bottles of potions variously labeled, shades of medium-blond that are never called that but always something that sounds much more romantic, and as though it could instantly transport you back into your late thirties. 
Now, yesterday was my sixteenth wedding anniversary, and my husband and I got to go out, something we get to do only on birthdays and anniversaries.   I had to waste the morning delivering, well, waste, to the doctor in order to get off the no-fly list, and I do wish the German ministry of health would re-allocate its resources from harassing persons who had traveler's diarrhea three weeks ago to combating outbreaks of ebola virus in Hamburg or anywhere else in Europe.  W.H.O. needs you.  I don't.  I'd have had a much more fun morning with my husband, but we did have a sweet sixteen evening.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Critical Mom's Wasabi-Ginger-Coconut Chicken

For some time now I've been agonizing over new ways to bake salmon, and one discovery, Oil&Vinegar Wasabi-Ginger Dressing jazzed up a dish of which my diet-conscious husband and eldest son had begun to tire.  I'd been lining up the bell peppers and tomatoes under the slabs of salmon, shaking on the dill and/or garlic salt/and or the European equivalent of Lawry's seasoning salt, and they'd started to yawn.  So I bought a bottle of this:
and I dumped it over the salmon, and baked it for about twenty minutes, and it all went very nicely with sushi rice and steamed broccoli.
But my son kept saying, "Why don't you make it with chicken, Mom?"  So I did--we had two small whole chickens, enough for four big eaters, and I dumped the bottle of wasabi-ginger dressing over them.  But I saw right away that it wasn't quite enough to cover the chickens.  And I looked around for a can of coconut milk, which was not to be found, although I did have a pack of Thai dried coconut powder (just add water!) that I'd never gotten around to using.  I did just add water, and the stuff really approximated coconut milk.  And I poured that over the chicken.  Worried that everything would burn, rather than caramelize, I draped half of a large, fresh banana leaf (also cheap at the local Asian store) over the chicken and tucked it in, the way you'd tuck a blanket around a small, sleeping child.
That took care of the chicken.  Now how to wrap sushi rice in a banana leaf and cook it all in a rice cooker?  I found no recipe on the net suggesting this method, but am happy to report that it all worked fine, and the rice had a pleasant flavor that complemented the wasabi-ginger-coconut flavors in the chicken.   Fifteen minutes before taking the chicken out of the oven I removed the banana leaf in order to let the sauce caramelize a bit.  Now that I've told you what I actually did, I'm going to write out the recipe with suggestions, improvements:


Two small chickens, washed, dried, and placed in baking dish
1/2 to 1/4 cup grated fresh ginger
1/2 to 1/4 cup grated fresh garlic
1 bottle Oil&Vinegar brand Wasabi-Ginger dressing
1 14 ounce (about 360 ml) coconut milk
About half of a large banana leaf

Mix all but the banana leaf together and pour over the chickens.  Then take the half of banana leaf, tuck it around the chicken, and put all in an oven pre-heated to 200ºC (about 392ºF). Bake for about an hour and fifteen minutes, the last ten or so on whirling heat without the banana leaf.  Watch the chickens as much as possible during these last few minutes so that the sauce does not burn.

Once you've got that chicken in the oven, take the other half of the banana leaf and line your rice cooker with most of it.  Rinse and pour in sushi or basmati rice and fold the banana leaf over the rice.  Turn on rice cooker.

I served all this with a sweet ("lieblich") white wine and snow peas that had been very briefly steamed (they should remain very green; tell everyone dinner is ready and THEN start the snow peas, because they really do only take a minute).