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“Mom, can we get a bird?”

My mind lapsed to our family doctor’s favorite expression when you were sick and paid her a visit. “Bottom of the birdcage” was her way of describing the ick that would accumulate at the base of your throat. You’d nod your head. Your cold had birdcage written all over it.

“Mom, can we get a bird?” Sam asked again. “A tiny bird. One that sings.”

I couldn’t think about the song, the colors, how happy it would make my little man to have his very own bird. All I could think about was the bottom of the birdcage and who would have to clean it.

“I’ll make you a promise buddy. You keep asking and working on your good behavior and maybe for your birthday we can get one.”

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I’m more than happy to play my adults-only trump card, I’ve earned it. You need to play the losing end of enough childhood poker games to play that card yourself. “Sure thing” the adult says. But without the benefit of perspective, little Lord Fauntleroy with his batting eyelashes is unaware that he’s bound to stop asking by the time his birthday rolls around 9 months later.

“What’s that thing ya got there?”

I pointed to the pipe cleaner that he clasped between both hands, Cheerios lined up like little soldiers along its length.

Apparently they’d spent the afternoon building bird feeders in class. In celebration of Earth Day. April 22nd. Jackson’s birthday. I’d been so distracted lavishing my dog with attention on his special day (long walk, brand new rawhide) that I’d forgotten all about it.

What a shame, I usually make some kind of effort to celebrate.

I remember my first Earth Day celebration: climbing all 144 flights of the CN Tower’s stairs in Toronto, which at that point was still the world’s tallest building.

Last year we celebrated with a special Earth Day collaboration with TOMS; we participated in One Day Without Shoes. We walked around the New York City with bare feet. Maybe it wasn’t really around the city. But we did it for a few blocks, from our apartment to the site of the One Day Without Shoes bash.

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I can name three foods that my kids unanimously adore: spaghetti, avocados, and chickpeas. Occasionally chicken will find its way onto the short list, although lately we’ve had poultry battles reminiscent of The Cold War. I finally had to ask what was going on because everyone was silently pushing their chicken around their plates. Apparently I make it too often.

I have a love/hate relationship with spaghetti. On the one hand, I’m Italian and feeding my kids noodles for dinner is part of my job description. On the other, it’s a starch with little dietary value. Not the end of the world, an “absence of” is still better than foods that are “full of” [trans fats, preservatives, artificial colors, etc]. But I’d prefer to give them something that packs more nutritional heat.

Chickpeas are my hero food because although they look deceptively simple, they’re still full of the good stuff, namely protein and fiber.

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I’m making my kids sound pickier than they are – they do love many healthy foods. They like their tomatoes raw, their broccoli salted and their corn on the cob. Lauren starts most days with a slice of toast, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Carrots are a favorite snack. Runny eggs are religion.

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A tale, as excerpted from “The Buried Life”:

“A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full.. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’”

I am the professor.

The jar is my fridge.

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A kindly yogurt company delivered the golf balls last week in the form of probiotic yogurt drinks, yogurt squeezers, and 10,000 containers of yogurt.

The pebbles are now the milk, fruit, meat, and other items that called this (formerly spacious) receptacle home. They have been displaced.

Plastic boxes of cherry tomatoes, jewel-like jars of anchovies, preserved lemons, sandwich bread, all pushed, prodded, wedged, and jammed until virtually no negative space remains. The fridge light has gone dim, covered by sprawling leek greens.

There is no room for sand.

While I’m grateful to my friend the yogurt company for this bountiful gift of dairy, I can’t make enough smoothies to free up the kind of space that I need back. The kind of space that wouldn’t require that I shift five items in order to replace a package of ham. The kind of space that prevents bread from molding because “look!” there’s some bread on that middle shelf. The kind of space doesn’t make me curse.

When putting the smoothie machine into overdrive isn’t the answer, you turn to tried and true methods: the leftover meal. Now here’s a trustworthy guy. He’s accepting of all friends – no matter the color, shape or state of disrepair. The wilting mushroom; the forgotten bundle of asparagus; the piece of cheese who’s sweating it out, racing towards his expiration date.

Leftover dishes are aplenty – I’ve made soups, lasagnas, and you should all know by now that I’ll throw anything into a skillet with soy sauce and call it fried rice.

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Recently I complained to Rodney about the lack of office space in our neighborhood. “Office” meaning any place other than my apartment; “Space” meaning anything bigger than a 12” Starbucks pedestal table.

Rodney mentioned that a new bar had just opened on 8th avenue – according to him, a great spot, good food, nice and quiet, wireless access.

This… was innovation on a new dimension. Work at a bar? With craft beer? And duck poutine on the menu? So long Starbucks, there’s a new kid in town.

Working at a bar seems like a practical idea until you’re 50 sips deep into an English IPA and no longer have the clarity to write a grammatically-correct sentence, never mind a sentence that sparkles with creativity and wit.

And you feel guilty for having your light-spewing laptop open in a bar with limited windows, leather banquettes, and acres of dark wood.

Rodney doesn’t feel guilty about that kind of thing. Low on quarters to do laundry in our building, he’ll amble into the neighborhood laundromat to raid the quarter machine. The one with the full-width sign taped to the front stating “FOR CUSTOMERS ONLY”.

Which is why I usually send him out to do my dirty work. Guilt. Plagues. Me.

I feel guilty for the laptop. Guilty for ordering a beer and no food. Guilty that I’ve hired a babysitter to help with afterschool pickup so that I can get some work done, and here I am swilling brewskis. I’m sure that you could psychoanalyze the hell out of this. Show me a Rorschach and I’d see Atlas with the world on his shoulders and a pint in both hands.

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This bar, though a happy place for Rodney to get work done on the occasional weekend, would not be my solution.

I dragged my tipsy self back to Starbucks, back to the pedestal table. I reserved my spot with a scarf and a notebook. No laptop, no valuables, I know the routine. I ordered my coffee. I returned to my seat. I gazed into the wall mirror at someone two tables down who looked remarkably like my Dad. I re-focused, took a sip of my coffee and got back to business. Because long-lost family members or not, Starbucks is where I’m most productive.

What I need to do – rather than find a new place to work – is to re-train myself on all of the positive benefits of working at Starbucks. Accessible bathrooms that aren’t often clean, but sometimes are! Baristas who write my name on my cup so that I’ll always know that it’s mine! And most important, I won’t get drunk when I’m working.

You see? That wasn’t that hard. I just needed to shift my perspective. I needed to walk down the street to greener pastures and find out that hey! They were sort of a muddy green after all.

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I’ve had an intimate relationship this week with Justin and his peanut butter, and it’s not what you think.

If you’re unfamiliar with Justin, you’ve probably run into his products at Whole Foods – or these days, more appropriately – just about anywhere. He’s the creator of uniquely-flavored nut butters (honey peanut butter, vanilla almond butter, etc), the eponymous peanut butter squeeze pack, and those nightmarishly addictive dark chocolate-covered peanut butter cups.

As much as I like Justin and his products, let’s talk about why I’ve got a bone to pick with him.

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For those of you who are familiar with food allergies, it’s prickly business. Label reading becomes part of the daily routine, a necessary evil that keeps food allergic kids safe and free of full-body hives. And herein lies the problem – we expect brands to keep to a certain standard and not throw us for a loop.

A few months ago we got the good news that Lauren’s skin test suggested that she may be able to tolerate almonds. Now I know this may not sound like a big deal, but when you’ve had to avoid all forms of nuts and sesame seeds for your entire life, it’s pure joy to think that you might be able to eat an almond croissant. A granola bar. A candy-colored macaron.

And, maybe a little too selfishly, I was getting tired of using pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin seed pesto…pumpkin seed dressing.…roasted pepitas…..soup garnish….brittle….Buehller….Buehller…..

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