Cracking the Cultural Nut

A colleague recently told me, “I’m not nearly as good as you are at getting my kids out to cultural events.” I knew instantly that my own kids might prefer to live in her house. You see, I love arts and humanities and I have this twisted parental attitude that developed years ago while reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting that says, exposure to said events will result in increased synapse firing for developing brains. In other words, what I love must be good for them!

Last week during our vacation we got to the point where my sons’ eyes rolled to the back of their heads and they cried, “no more museums!”. Then, we shifted. Instead of a museum, we traipsed them through Little Havana to stand in a park where they couldn’t hear a word of English spoken, where men played dominos at rapid speed, and where they could taste fried plantains and ropa vieja. Disguised as a meal and an outing, culture was suddenly more bearable.

Shel Silverstein helped me do the same thing with poetry. Poems disguised as funny tales about tasting poison or eating one’s parents wove their way into our bedtime routines and paved the road for less animated folks like Billy Collins and Ted Kooser. Granted, when Billy Collins visited our town earlier this year, I had to drag two of three to see him but by the same margin, I also had a kid buckled in two as Billy read a line from his poem, Hangover, that spoke to each kid being quizzed on the history of Marco Polo and then executed by drowning. (Boy humor, I guess.)

I don’t know that my sons will grow to appreciate season tickets to the symphony or a civil discourse debate regarding national health care policy but if they don’t, it will be a preference developed from experience. As I wrote this, I was delighted to find a video of one of my favorite poets, Naomi Shihab Nye, reading her poem about taking her son out for a cultural event. Her plain language lyrics snare all that is trying and humorous about this endeavor.  It is National Poetry Month. Find a poem that you love and share it.

Pistachio Couscous Stuffing
Yields 3 cups
  • 2 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 cup plain couscous
  • 1-1/3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped dried apricots (or other favorite)
  • 3 Tablespoon dried currants
  • 1/4 cup shelled pistachio nuts, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
Heat butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add onion, garlic, cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric and saute until onion softens, 3 to 4 minutes. Add couscous. Stir until well coated with spices and butter, 1 to 2 minutes. Add broth, bring to a simmer, remove from heat, cover and let stand until couscous has absorbed all water, about 5 minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork, then stir in apricots, currants, pistachio nuts, and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. For the gluten free, this can also be made with rice.
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  1. Tammy, great news! Your countless hours of sharing culture with the boys will payoff. I hear my adult children either taking their girlfriends or children to places we visited in their youth. Culture is a marvelous experience. Even when you don’t take them, they will remember where you went and desire to experience what you did.

    Tomorrow is a lovely day!

  2. I agree with Luana – you just wait and see. All this exposure to things cultural WILL stay with them as it has inexpicably seeped into the recessess of their mind, only to come out one day to impress. They might even surprise themselves when others find them to be ‘deep’ and ‘worldy’ and ‘cultural’.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the video! How fun is she?? 🙂

  3. This is so good . . .and funny. Great combination. I love how you switched it up to get culture in outside of museums. It reminds me of how you said to sneak in healthier foods for my family. 🙂 And the poem was outstanding!
    Thanks so much!

  4. Hey Tammy, I was just thinking about your blog and I thought about how your outlook and point of view was so important. Have you considered writing a non-fiction book about all you talk about here? It seems that if only at least it might get more people to see the way you see the world, or at least have it all in one place. Anyways, just something I was wondering if you ever considered.

    • I am working on my first e-book right now. Once I see how that goes, I’ll see what’s next. Thanks for the encouraging words.

      • Meanlittleboy

         /  April 9, 2011

        would you send me the info on an E book? great blog by the are a great writer,,cheers mlb,,,

  5. 1. Love the look of this recipe – it sounds delicious. I never really liked pistachios when I was younger, but recently have gotten into using them in baking and cooking.

    2. Congrats on working on your first e-book. What’s it going to be about?

  6. You’re a good mom, Tammy!

  7. Your post hit home for me in many ways. First, I hold an MFA in creative writing/poetry, so thanks for keeping poetry alive! Also, my two boys love Shel Silverstein and Where The Sidewalk Ends travels in the car with us, often hauled out for entertainment on longer drives. Last, we are, at this very moment, headed to Mission Santa Barbara and Hearst Castle for Spring Break–not Disneyland.

    • Sounds like you’re a great mom doing what it takes! Have a great trip and post on it. Happy National Poetry Month!

  8. You always leave me edified, entertained, and fed – in more ways than one! Love the looks of that recipe! If I had some time right now I would tell you a story about my own exploits with my kids and “cultural” events. Perhaps another time, as I am already behind in my commenting, and getting further behind every minute.

    Thanks for such a great post!

  9. My teacher mother listened to the Opera on the radio as my brother and I did Saturday chores. “Why do we have to listen to your music when we are doing all the work?” She told us each week that we could tell her the story we conjured from the singing and the music after we finished our chores.

    That’s when I learned how different a boy’s brain works from that of a girl’s! 😀

    I think of my mother every time I hear and/or attend an opera.

    • That is funny about the girl and boy brains and what great memories. I always tell my children – who hate to hear me sing – that one day it will provide the memory for them. Thanks Aimee.

  10. This takes me back to many years of attending outdoor cultural events only to watch my kids abandon the show for the swings. I can second Luana’s comment (and others) that a lot (though not all) of the culture will “stick” anyway. FWIW, an early success was using poetry refrigerator magnets to write our own holiday verse–great fun editing/expanding each others work.

    • Oh that’s a great idea. Magnet’s don’t stick on ours but I can do a paper bag variety at the table to celebrate National Poetry Month. Thanks for the Inspiration Ingrid. I may have to blog about the outcome!

  11. Kath (My Funny Little Life)

     /  April 10, 2011

    My parents have risen me in a very cultural way. They both love classical music, so I was used to it already when I was still in my mom’s belly. We also read a lot of books – my parents used to read to me for half an hour every night before bed, and especially my dad chose a lot of classical children’s literature which I more or less liked (disliked Robinson Crusoe, Tom Sawyer, etc, LOVED the Wind in the Willows which is still one of my favorite novels), and my mom chose Tolkin (Little Hobbit, LOTR) which I totally loved. Mom reads a lot, and we both love Jane Austen’s and Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels. 🙂

    Going to a concert with my best friend this evening … Schubert and Liszt. Looking forward! 😀

  12. Kath (My Funny Little Life)

     /  April 10, 2011

    Oh, and holidays were always cultural as well. We visited a lot of museums and historical places, but it was always balanced very well with relaxation times. I think I’m easy in that regard because I always had a genuine interest in cultural things. But it was great that I got so many input from my parents, otherwise I’d have had to figure it out myself. I really like that you raise your children in a similar way. 🙂

    • What wonderful parents you have Kath. It’s wonderful that their sharing of experiences worked into a love of the same elements for you. Time will tell if I am so lucky but I’ve got my fingers crossed.

  13. What a trip to hear her wonderful poem! It took me back to the years when my two sons were young. We didn’t have much in the way of financial resources in those days, but I firmly believed that experiences of all kinds were one of the best things I could provide for my children, experiences that broadened the world for them in ways that would give them choices and open minds. Wonderful thoughts. Thanks once again.

    • I couldn’t believe how perfectly that poem captured my feelings. She is a talented poet and such fun to watch. I’m so thankful for the person who put it on youtube.

  14. Anne G

     /  April 10, 2011

    Wonderful article Tammy. You are a fabulous mom!

    My parents experienced their fair share of eye rolls from my brother and me as kids. But today, as a grown-up, I wholeheartedly agree with you that exposing children to as much culture, arts, sports and life as you can, opens their minds and hearts, even if they don’t always appear to “get it” or actively resist your efforts. You are planting seeds, some of which will take root and a few that won’t–and the ones that do take root may not sprout for years. It’s all utterly unpredictable. However, the real gifts that you are giving your sons are the gifts of knowledge and experiences that will allow them to grow into open-minded, curious, interested and engaged citizens of the world. I predict your sons will be as grateful to you as I am to my parents.

  15. I bet you’d be surprised how much your boy(s?) will appreciate all your “cultural efforts” in the future… they will become a part of your family folklore… “remember when mom always use to drag us to….”…etc. You don’t know if you like things until you try them…. keep at it!

  16. We did the same with our daughters and you simply grow them and expand their world by having them participate in cultural events. Way to go!

  17. You have an interesting blog here; I’m off to rummage around.

    Thanks for visiting mine 🙂

  18. Such a cute video

  19. I loved the video. What a riot! My kids probably do roll their eyes at some of the things I think we simply must do and see, but I think they actually liked the Nutcracker Ballet. 🙂

    • Isn’t that funny. Thanks for taking time to watch it. My kids moan sometimes but in the end, I think they enjoy at least some of it.

  20. Tiffany Anderson

     /  April 11, 2011

    I made it a point to see the nutcracker with Krister in my belly and very much plan on having him go as soon as he can sit long enough to see the King mouse 😉 Thank you Tammy for driving home my desire to continue a bilingual approach to living and loving.

    • Don’t stop Tiffany. A child’s ability to learn a second language peeks at puberty – before then, you have a clean slate and it will make his other learning easier.

  21. CLASSIC video, Tammy, thank you!! I’l smile all evening now….

  22. Your sons will grow to love culture. We took our son to plays, museums, concerts, etc and now that he’s 23, he goes to them on his own.

  23. Lisa H

     /  April 12, 2011

    That poem is perfect! You are doing a great job of introducing your boys to different cultural events. We have to drag our kids out sometimes, too, but in the end, they have a really great time. It is well worth the moans, groans and eye-rolling. I remember doing it myself when I was younger, but as I grow older and have my own children, I truly treasure those times and have learned to appreciate them in a way I could not as a youngster.

  24. Tammy I loved this post, I like to drag my kids around to things too, however here we dont have so many museums I drag them out into nature and festivals…. gumboots etc. etc

    I think it does all seep in, and become part of their consciousness.

  25. Oh I love Shel Silverstein………..and I laughed ‘no more museums’. Sigh, so much for stuffing them full with culture. Truth is, in their own way and at their own pace, they pick up the intellectual’ ideas and knowledge – Mondriaan’s style, Gaudi’s architecture…..I feel you

  26. I love this post, pistachios, and your honoring National Poetry Month. The language of poetry distills moments and emotion into an accessible form to experience. What you continue to expose your children to brings richness to their life in unseen ways, still to manifest.

  27. Very cool. My wife is Puerto Rican, so my kids get plenty of the Hispanic taste. I’ll never forget we wanted to surprise them to see a concert of latin-jazz music.. I think we built up the suspense a litte too much, because when they finally got seated at the concert, they were like, “This is it? THis is the big surprise?” We were kind of put off, as parents, that they didn’t appreciate it more. They thought it was going to be Coldplay or something. (Although we did take them to see Coldplay, too!)

    I love this post, and what it means to take the initiative to get the kids exposed. I am SURE they will appreciate it when they are older!

  28. Beautiful advice and encouragement ! Thank you for posting that video; I hadn’t heard of her, and now I’m anxious to read more of her poetry.

    Take care!


  29. Good for you..I also loved that book what to expect..I played different music each night when my girls were in my belly..they both love music..same thing with food, me they will thank you…great post, your a loving mother..


  30. What a treasure you’ve given your boys even if they do not appreciate it now. I on the other hand would be delighted to tag along.


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