BookTalk: Pity Poor Mrs. Popper

We’ve started reading chapter books to Baguette at bedtime. Our first was The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. Neither Mr. Sandwich nor I had read that as children, and we’re continuing that with our next selection: Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.

On its surface, the story is cute enough. A seasonally unemployed house painter unexpectedly takes delivery of a penguin, and hijinks ensue. There is a second penguin, and then little penguins, and more hijinks. Baguette is enjoying the story, and that’s really the point.

But as an adult, I can’t help but be struck by something. Mr. Popper does not think things through at all. He only has an income for half of the year, which means that his family has to eat beans all winter. Nevertheless, he goes into debt to buy a “chilling machine” for the penguins in the basement.

Mrs. Popper, meanwhile, doesn’t even get a personality. All she does is clean the house and talk about whether the house is clean. And they have two children, but darned if I can figure out why. Janie and Bill are barely present and don’t add to the plot or the humor.

So on a level that the writers don’t seem to acknowledge, this is the story of a woman who puts a lot of effort into making a home for her family, but has the misfortune to be married to a man who spent the entire winter’s bean money on extreme air conditioning.

Fine. It’s fine. But it’s the kind of book that’s probably charming to a child, and a source of some eye-rolling for an adult.

cover of Mr. Popper's Penguins

For more reviews by more readers, and to support the American Cancer Society, visit Cannonball Read 10.

Mom-Friendly Meals

Recently, some of my friends have said, “You really seem to have this meal-planning thing down. What’s your secret?”

I do not have the meal-planning thing down. My secret is that I have a child who is slightly older than their child.

I think there are a lot of us in this boat. We think, “That person over there is doing this much better than I am.” And the truth is, they’re just working with different circumstances.

One of my college friends has a daughter about two months older than Baguette. She also has an older child and a stepchild. And when her daughter was a baby, every night this friend would post on Facebook about some amazing meal she was making her family for dinner.

Now, I know her. She wasn’t doing this to brag about how much better she was at parenting. She was doing it to show that it could be done–that often when you feel overwhelmed, it’s in your head. She wasn’t boasting, she was demonstrating.

But what I couldn’t figure out was this: how was she managing it? Like me, she had a full-time job outside of the home. Like me, she had an infant. Unlike me, she had two other children. So how was she pulling off this amazing feat?

As it turns out, she has a shorter commute. Like, a lot shorter. Mine is an hour each way. Hers is more like 15 minutes.

See what I mean? Different circumstances.

And my own circumstances have changed. Looking back, I’m not really sure what I ate when Baguette was a baby. I cooked for her, but I don’t remember what I made for myself. After a while, I found that I could use the crock pot on the weekends to make a big batch of something. That counted as cooking.

slow cooker
I no longer use the slow cooker for oatmeal, though.

More recently, I’ve been able to use the stove a little. Last night I made shrimp with bell peppers and zucchini in Red Thai Curry Sauce, served over quinoa. I’m having leftovers for lunch.

I have no idea what’s for dinner tonight.

Again, I think there are a lot of us in this boat. So I’m starting an occasional series called “Mom-Friendly Meals.” I’m going to write about what I cook, how I choose recipes, what tools I use, how I find ingredients, and anything else that comes to mind. You can follow me on Twitter at @tragicsandwich; I’ll be using the hashtag #momfriendlymeals for these posts.

One thing to keep in mind: These are mom-friendly recipes. At our house, we all eat different things. Baguette is going through a picky stage, and while we’re trying to move her through that, I’m not going to pretend that she ate the Thai curry with me. And Mr. Sandwich has his own palate, and tends to do his own cooking. So our kitchen is very busy, but we’ve finally started eating together as a family.

Now we just have to clean off the rest of the kitchen table.

Date Night?

Do you go on regular Date Nights? We don’t.

The last movie Mr. Sandwich and I saw in the theater was True Grit.

Hey, it could be worse. It could have been the John Wayne version. Now that would have been a long time since Date Night.

And that was our last movie, not our last evening out. We did go out to dinner for our anniversary in March, and had a wonderful time. That dinner, by the way, was something we’d been talking about doing since Mr. Sandwich’s birthday. In 2010.

Do I think that parents need to connect with each other in ways that aren’t focused on their children? Yes, absolutely. Do I think that we need to have Date Night to do that? No, not in the slightest.

When Mr. Sandwich and I started dating, he traveled to meet my parents. (This was our third date. It didn’t indicate anything about our relationship, it’s just how things went.) They showed him around town, and at one point, he said, “I feel bad leaving your parents in the car.” I said, “Oh, don’t worry about them. For them, retirement is one big date.”

Mr. Sandwich took that to heart. We have what we call “Home Depot dates.” What do we do? We go to Home Depot. To us, spending time together is a date, no matter who else is there, or where we are.

Our entire relationship was long-distance. What that meant was that when we actually managed to be together, what we wanted to do was be together. One of us would fly across the country. We’d spend the day meeting friends and touring the local area. In the evening, we’d go back to the apartment and eat pizza or Chinese food while watching TV shows we both liked, and talking about them.

Exciting? Maybe not to some, but it suited us, and it still does.

We like to go to the movies. We don’t get there as often as we’d like–we missed Bridesmaids and Captain America and The Hunger Games, and it’s looking like we’re going to miss The Avengers, which is really disappointing.

But at some point, no doubt, Amazon Prime streaming will come to our rescue, and we’ll catch up on what we’ve missed. It won’t be the same as the big screen, but we’ll see them together and talk about them.

Sounds like the perfect Date Night to me.