It Takes a Village

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Heart-shaped pancakes straight from the skillet.

​If you’ve ventured into the Valentine’s Day section of Target lately, you probably had to squeeze past other shoppers trying to acknowledge the holiday with sanity. A few heart-shaped cookies here, maybe some chocolates and, of course, cards for the kids to hand out at school. Though the aisle was probably full, there was not yet a sign of mania.

Nevertheless, there are some — and I used to be one of them — who still crumble under the pressure of having to produce an appropriately deep and meaningful display of affection for their sweeties. And in desperation, end up buying — forgettable, or not so forgettable — tchotchkes like heart-bedecked dress socks. But why all the pressure? We could blame the Victorians, who made the practice of sending a card to that special someone de rigeur. But really, there’s nothing wrong with a simple card.

The thing is, little is actually simple these says. And retailers like it that way.

If Valentine’s Day becomes another chance to have a little fun and celebrate our friends, or families, or sweethearts, there’s no reason for people to lose their minds. So, there’s no need to order that Vermont Teddy Bear Christian Grey, equipped with mask and handcuffs. (I kid you not — that bear, in all his three-piece-suit glory, exists. That’s just fifty shades of wrong!)

Instead, think of February 14 as an excuse to have pink-and-red and heart-shaped fun! Like heart-shaped pancakes for dinner. That’s fun, and you don’t even need a mold to make them — unless you want them to be absolutely unquestionable in their heart status, in which case, a trip to Bed Bath and Beyond may be in order. But really, it’s very easy to shape the batter into a heart once it starts to bubble and get a little bit of form on the bottom. And the result really does look more like a heart than not.

Pizza dough is also pretty easy to shape into a heart, and I’ve even seen some with the pepperoni cut into little hearts. Use a heart cookie cutter for sandwiches, and if you go online, you’ll see that people can turn just about any food into hearts. Cookies and Rice Krispy treats look downright pedestrian compared to heart-shaped cinnamon rolls, strawberries and cherry tomatoes.

You name it, there’s a how-to for it. There’s even heart-shaped salad — to offset the chocolates, of course. Or, since we’re all about being low-key, low-stress and fun, buy heart-shaped ravioli, and boom! — you’ve met your heart-shaped quota for the meal.

Homemade Valentines can be fun with stencils, doilies, glitter glue, stickers and construction paper. I admit we went the way of Frozen and Spider Man, but the grandparents, at least, will get something original. In fact, for something a little fancier, you can cut flowers out of tissue paper and stick a Dum Dum lollipop through the center to make an edible flower valentine. But you only have to do it, if you want to.

Are you overdue for a new mix of love songs? (I know it’s a playlist, but mix tapes bring back such good memories.) Besides, what’s more full of emotion than music? (Not a word from you, Kanye). You don’t have to be a fan of Lionel Richie, George Michael or Chicago to have a romantic list, though who can resist their deliciously cheesy ballads? There are so many ways to mix your music — with standards, Broadway duets, or all 60s or 80s or 90s fare. And who says it has to be romantic? With some C and C music factory, Paula Abdul, and Michael Jackson, you can make it a dance party!

There’s a certain sweetness to the way kids celebrate with corny candy heart expressions and cartoon characters cards. It’s the idea that love of every kind is worth celebrating, especially friendship and appreciation for those who make a difference in our lives.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do on the day marked with a huge heart on the calendar. All that matters is that you don’t wait for that day to arrive to show those around you that you care.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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WholeSoy yogurt fans couldn't be happier about its long-awaited return

No need to go without organic soy yogurt anymore!

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Stonyfield Organic's O'Soy yogurt tries to fill the void left by WholeSoy's absence.

Stonyfield Organic O'Soy yogurt at Wild By Nature is one option to fill the hole left by WholeSoy.

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Where has all the soy yogurt gone? 

WholeSoy yogurt is nowhere to be found on supermarket shelves.

Okay, so I am not crazy. Well, I am, but not when it comes to my conspiracy theories about the sudden and suspicious disappearance of all-soy yogurt from the supermarket shelves. 

For the past few weeks, I’ve been trekking from store to store in search of strawberry-flavored soy yogurt. The shelves at my usual haunts —Stop & Shop, Wild by Nature, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s — were all filled in with coconut milk yogurts, as if to deny that the soy yogurt had ever existed. The stock people couldn’t give me any information and would give me that “crazy lady” look when I told them that the only soy yogurt to be found anywhere has dairy in it — what is the point of that? I was convinced that something was up. And they were convinced that I was a little nutty. 

But you could sort of see why one might jump to the conclusion that there had been some kind of organic soy bean blight or something. Had my instincts directed me to the WholeSoy and Co. website sooner, I could have saved myself some consternation and possibly even commiserated with the people who “stuffed” the company’s inboxes and comments page with messages. 

As it happens, according to WholeSoy’s May 31 blog, the facility where they made and packaged their yogurt “just abruptly closed its doors” with only three days notice! Fortunately, for them, they were already in the process of completing paperwork and testing equipment for a move to a new facility. A process that can usually take several months, took them only eight weeks, they say, but it still caused a yogurt shortage.

Yesterday’s blog post shared the good news that the California-based company’s new facility has not only received its “organic certification,” it also started to produce strawberry and vanilla yogurt over the weekend! Progress for those going through strawberry soy yogurt withdrawal. And yet, the wait won’t be over just yet. 

WholeSoy, and yes, the company is cutesy in the way it spells its name, will begin shipping what it’s made so far this week. But, says the company’s website, “With demand so high, and a distribution channel that has been completely empty of WholeSoy for a few weeks, it will take time to completely refill the entire yogurt pipeline from warehouses to store shelves with every flavor.” 

Nevertheless, they are on it, running production literally 24-7 for the next several weeks. What commitment! They estimate that we’ll start to see yogurt on our shelves here on the East Coast by late next week. Phew! It’s still a wait, but I feel so much better just knowing, don’t you?

As to the disappearance of the Trader Joe’s brand soy yogurt, all I’ve been told from a store in California is that it has been out of stock since May. I can only presume that, perhaps, they used the same facility that suddenly shut its doors. 

Either way, the great soy yogurt shortage is about to come to an end, and all will be right with the world again. And won’t the stock clerks at the stores where I shop be glad about that!

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Gift cards are a much appreciated end-of-year gift.

Color-coordinated shirts for field day? Check. Watermelon, bubbles and chalk for class party? Check. Graduation party invites? Check. Teacher gifts? Teacher gifts….

Still trying to devise a fresh way to show your appreciation to the people who meet your children at the other side of the bus or car line, whose supply of patience seems to outpace yours by miles and who, most importantly, educate and nurture our children throughout the day? No pressure or anything. I’m just saying.

The good news is that, in many cases, classes pool their resources, taking donations from all the parents, to purchase a class gift for the teacher.  If this is the case, then you’re golden. But not all classes do a group gift and some families still like to do something for the teacher in addition to a class gift. Of course, if you have more than one child and each has more than one teacher, personalized gifting can get a bit daunting and even a little pricey.

So I reached out to my network of mom and teacher friends to get some more ideas of gifts that say “thank you,” are useful and don’t contribute to clutter.

  1. Gift Cards. Everyone — teachers and parents alike — universally agree that you can’t go wrong with a gift card.  Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, Target, Visa, restaurant gift cards and movie passes. It’s all good!
  1. Photo gifts. If you’ve got a camera-happy class parent or students on sports teams and in clubs who like to document everything with their cell phone camera, you can put together photo gifts like travel mugs or photo books. And FYI, the end of the year coincides with fantastic Father’s Day sales on photo sites, so photo gifts can be sentimental and economical.
  1. A gift that is personalized and says something about your child’s relationship with the teacher. A friend mentioned personalized cereal bowls. She has a word each of her children uses to describe their teachers, along with the teachers’ names, inscribed on a cereal bowl.  As far as I can tell, you can never have enough cereal bowls! Another friend who taught high school mentioned a student who made awards — à la the Emmys — for his teachers. She still remembers the student and his thoughtfulness years later.
  1. A new take on homemade treats. Or maybe this is an old take, but it’s yummy and relatively healthy. If you have the time and energy and like to cook, like one of my Martha Stewart-esque friends, homemade preserves may be the way to go. And I think it’s pretty safe to say that most teachers don’t have an overabundance of preserves landing on their desks.
  1. Potted Plants.  I’m sure it’s been done before, but it’s such a lovely idea, especially at this time of year. Another mother — and former Camp Fire Girl, always the nature lover — mentioned that you can get really nice plants on clearance at the end of the season. That will make both your teacher and wallet happy.
  1. Thank you notes from the kids. This, by far, seemed to have the greatest resonance among teachers, who said they remembered those notes for years after students had left their classrooms. Whether your child is young and draws a picture or writes a few words, or is older and can tell the teacher what he learned from her that year, this is always a treasured gift.

At the end of the day — or school year, really — what really matters is that your gift is a token of appreciation and acknowledgment of the role a teacher has played in your child’s development. And while teachers don’t expect anything and will appreciate just about any gesture, it is the simple one — the one that expresses what your child experienced with that teacher — that has the most meaning.