Monday, September 29, 2008

Trying to decide whether or not to keep the change

by Karrie McAllister
I’ve been thinking a lot about change lately. Maybe it’s because I see and hear the word 5,873 times a day in the political campaigns, or maybe because I’m just finally realizing how much I am surrounded by it in my daily life.
I’ve always considered myself a person who likes change. I was reassured of this when I went in for a haircut last week and told the beautician to “do whatever” and that “it was only hair, it would grow back.” She took a good five inches off of my eight inch hair, leaving me surrounded by a pile of my own clippings.
Looking in the mirror at my new self, I smiled.
“You like change, don’t you,” she said, speaking the truth.
I was reassured of how right she was when I had the sudden urge to rearrange my house. I find I do this frequently, even if it’s just moving my kitchen table (which is pretty much a square) a simple ninety degrees. I also adjust the angle of my couch for no real reason, or maybe I’ll switch the end table from one side of it to the other side. Just to shake things up. Just to keep things moving. Just to satisfy that craving for change that must make me tick.
Another reason I can tell I’m a change-lovin’ kind of girl is that I live for the seasons. I get all giddy when the weather starts to change, like when the first fall crispness hits the air and I am drawn to my kitchen to make a giant pot of soup and then put pumpkins and gourds all around my house and then pull out all of my sweaters and wool socks and grab a rake and sit outside and wait for the leaves to fall – even though it’s only early September. (Can you just hear my excitement?!?!)
But for all of the reasons I seem to welcome change in my life, there is one thing holding me back.
My kids.
They provide me with plenty of change, often more than I want.
I change their diapers when they are young. Then they grow up and change their clothes a dozen times a day. Then they grow up a little more and change their minds about dance class and a remote control dinosaur and I’ve got a drawer full of leotards and a pitiful triceratops that now sits untouched in the basement.
Not only that, but they also mature and hit milestones right before my very eyes. They are constantly changing and growing up no matter what I do. And unlike my furniture, I can’t simply move it back to the way it was.
It’s the little things mostly that really make me realize that my children are changing. My baby just started waving and eating Cheerios this week, and as happy as I am to see her make this tiny accomplishments, I know she’ll never be that babe-in-arms that only reaches out to grab my finger. My son is starting his second year of preschool and is a whiz on his bike, riding one-handed at breakneck speeds and it seems like only yesterday he was crawling onto a baby scooter. And my oldest daughter told me the other day that “actually mom, I’ve discovered in my research that…” when I’m so used to her asking me to please read her a story about fuzzy bunnies or flower fairies.
I don’t know how it all happens, but it happens fast. The change is gonna come, whether I want it or not. There’s no stopping it, although I can’t say I haven’t threatened to put bricks on their heads to keep them from growing up. They aren’t too fond of that idea.
I can hear it now. “Actually mom, I’ve discovered in my research that the placement of a heavy object atop a person’s cranium does not inhibit growth patterns in any way.”
Pbbbbt. At least I know they’ll soon be big enough to help me move the furniture.

Insider tips, straight from the trenches of parenthood

It’s time to break out the itty-bitty socks and diapers again in our family, and in my current state of total and utter chaos, I’m glad it’s not me.
It’s my sister-in-law, which will give me my very first chance to be an aunt, and my children to have their very first cousin. We’re all so excited we can hardly stand it. Not only will we be able to empty out some of the baby clothes we’ve accrued over the years, but it also gives us older, more seasoned moms, an opportunity to relive those glorious newborn days. You know, the ones where the kids are too small to dress themselves in ridiculous clothes, be picky eaters, and roll their eyes at your every word.
Besides, it gives me a chance to reflect on all I’ve learned as a parent deep in the trenches of parenthood. There’s only so much to expect when you’re expecting, but what comes in that fateful fourth trimester—the one that lasts about 18 years – is the hard part.
And even though my parental wisdom only gets me as far as the elementary school years, I thought this would be a good of time as any to start writing down a few of the things I’ve learned before old age sets in and I forget these things as quickly as I had to learn them…
1. Outlet covers and table padding can only help so much. Crawling babies can find danger in just about anything, including leaves and shoelaces. I’ve also learned that children of all ages and sizes are inevitably smarter than the average doorknob protector.
2. Children will eat just about anything that includes dip, sprinkles, or a magical ingredient. Keep in mind that pepper can also be called “fairy dust” and if you eat it without whining, you may gain mystical powers.
3. During the infant and toddler years, you will praise the maker of Cheerios because they occupy your child for more than one minute at a time. You will have various personal shrines to the Cheerio, in the form of little containers of them in every purse you own.
4. All of those so-called child specialists that say TV is terrible for your child doesn’t know how wonderful it can be to their parents.
5. As much as you love your kids, you’ll still squeeze them into shoes and clothes that are too small (or drown them in items too large) because you just bought them and they aren’t even dirty or stained yet.
6. Shopping by yourself, even if it’s the grocery store, is an absolute luxury. And if the kids are with you and misbehaving, you’ll find that you have gotten really good at threatening them through gritted teeth and a phony smile.
7. Toys that are safety-approved and brain-stimulating and made just for your child aren’t interesting at all. Give them a wooden spoon, some measuring cups and an old pot filled with scraps of fabric, and they are happy for minutes.
8. When dealing with small children, minutes are practically hours. Get used to it. The ride to Grandma’s house that normally takes 45 minutes is now officially 18.75 days.
9. It may take a few years, but you will eventually grow to love cartoons and G-rated movies. You’ll find yourself sitting to watch PBS Kids and then realize that there are no children in the room. Don’t panic, this is normal. Some people even find that they turn on Spongebob when they are all alone, but I don’t know any of those people…
10. Sending your kids to school is a blessing and a curse. You’ll appreciate the break but get all worked up the first time the school’s rules trump your own better judgment. Your desires to fight with the powers-that-be will then be trumped by the thought of your kid getting the evil eye every time she passes the front office.
11. You will worry about spoiling your child when you answer to every cry when they are infants, by putting bandages on every scrape as a toddler, or by smothering your school-aged child with enriching experiences and the latest in backpack crazes. Don’t worry all that much—no amount of spoiling you do can compare to what the grandparents are capable of.
12. There will be bad days and you will pray hard that your child grows out of that particular stage. And the moment they do, you’ll long for the way it used to be…and look forward to tomorrow. It is a continuous emotional conundrum that is thankfully soothed by the occasional random hug, kiss, or simple “I love you, mommy.”
Have your own tip? Email Karrie at KarrieMcAllister@aol.com.

Make new friends, but keep the old…

by Karrie McAllister
Guaranteed, all of the scout alumni are finishing the title with “one is silver and the other gold.” In fact, some might even be attempting to sing the ever-so-popular round, even as a solo.
I, myself, sang that around many a campfire when I was a kid, with the new friends I made way back in Girl Scouts. Someone would direct us in small groups by waving their arms around in an attempt to appear like a real conductor while looking more like a flying bird, and as sure as the s’more is tasty, we’d sing the round.
And even though it was just a silly song so many years ago, I now know what real truth rings through those few simple lines.
Today I had breakfast with a relatively new friend. We both amazingly ditched our children, leaving them in the fragile care of our husbands, and discussed the big issues in life over coffee over French toast.
It was fabulous. The conversation, that is, as well as the French toast. It’s not often that two people connect on such an everyday level, and after my breakfast I spent the entire day with a smile (and a little syrup) on my face.
New friends are something special for many reasons. We usually get acquainted in the here-and-now, and have something recent in common. We get together and discuss daily changes in our children and our own lives. We talk about current events and something good we made for dinner this week or how we feel about the new changes in the grocery store.
Easy stuff, but stuff that makes a difference in our lives. Important stuff.
Now, contrast that with old friends, the friends that I once sat around the campfire with and sang Girl Scout songs.
The same old friends that I have reconnected with on Facebook.
In a moment of weakness and sulking about the fact that I’m over 30, I went against my better judgment and signed up for Facebook. If you are unfamiliar with this web service, it’s a site where people can connect and re-connect, chat, and share about their lives. You can look up people you know and invite them to be on your “friend list,” and only then can they have access to the photos and life updates that you post.
And of course, she with the biggest friend list wins.
So in my quest to add to my pathetically small friend list, I started searching into my past. I sifted through college friends and high school friends, all the way down to the little boy who lived across the street from me when I was growing up. He’s not so little anymore.
I found old friends that I hadn’t talked to in ten years, and in just the click of a mouse we were reunited. We have since chatted and written and have even talked on the phone to make plans for a lunch date. When we meet, no doubt our conversation will not be about the new grocery store or what’s for dinner, though. It’ll be about major life happenings: careers, marriages, children. Big stuff, but stuff that makes a difference in our lives. Important stuff.
I’m sure we’ll also reminisce about the old times, too, and laugh about all of the songs we used to sing around the campfire.
Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold…but they’re both on Facebook.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

dirt baby

You know how some babies just hate the feeling of grass on their bare legs? Not mine. She loves it.
I just spread a blanket out in the lawn under the side maple, where the grass is sparse in the late summer weather. There are rocks and twigs and dry leaves, so I thought a blanket would be somewhat appealing. I hauled out toys and plopped little Annie down in the middle of it.
It lasted for about, oh, two seconds.
She crawled off and into the grass. Crunched leaves and waved sticks. And now she's digging a hole in the mulch, happy as a lark.
The toys sit untouched as usual.
Fischer Price should figure out how to market a stick toy or capture the texture of crunching leaves.
Until they do, the real thing will work just fine. Probably even better.

dirt baby

You know how some babies just hate the feeling of grass on their bare legs? Not mine. She loves it.
I just spread a blanket out in the lawn under the side maple, where the grass is sparse in the late summer weather. There are rocks and twigs and dry leaves, so I thought a blanket would be somewhat appealing. I hauled out toys and plopped little Annie down in the middle of it.
It lasted for about, oh, two seconds.
She crawled off and into the grass. Crunched leaves and waved sticks. And now she's digging a hole in the mulch, happy as a lark.
The toys sit untouched as usual.
Fischer Price should figure out how to market a stick toy or capture the texture of crunching leaves.
Until they do, the real thing will work just fine. Probably even better.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Cardomom, cardomom, I love cardomom

There was a recipe in the newspaper today and to my suprise, it didn't contain dairy! I had to try it. And as usual, half-way into the preparations I realized that I didn't have half of the ingredients.
So i tweaked here and there, and the result was pretty darn good!

Dairy-free spice cabinet applesauce cookies

1/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup cinnamon applesauce
1 heaping cup flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
heaping 1/4 tsp of: cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardomom
1/3 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Stir (not with a mixer!) everything together by hand in a giant bowl. Drop by rounded teaspoons on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake at 375 for ~10 minutes.
Makes 2 dozen.

MEANWHILE, make yourself some coffee and after putting the grounds in the filter, sprinkle in a little cinnamon and yes, cardomom for a fabulously simple spiced coffee!

And if you haven't tried cardomom, I recommend it highly. It's insanely expensive as far as spices go, but really out of this world.

“Squeak, squeak” and before you know it, unit calculations

My husband left for work pretty early that morning, so I didn't get a chance to explain.
But the email came through shortly after he arrived at his desk: "The heating/cooling people are coming out to check the furnace in a couple of weeks. It's making a terrible noise. I don't know why, because it's not even running, but for a few bucks, it's better to have it checked out and tuned up before the weather turns."
And while I'm all for a pristine HVAC system, I had to laugh when I read his email. This was my reply: "Uh, well, that squeaky noise is the rock tumbler we set up in the basement. I heard it this morning too, only I thought it was a cricket."
Besides chuckling at the emergency call to fix the furnace, I giggled a bit at myself for the whole rock tumbler ordeal. When I was a kid, an only child, mind you, my dad constantly shoved science down my throat. Example: for my 8th birthday I got one of those electrode kits where you followed a long, complicated series of connections and something like "HELLO" would appear on the tiny screen. I got my own rock tumbler at an early age and created a ton of smoothed out gravel, which never quite made it to gem quality. And then there was the time while studying for a test on cloud types in the fourth grade that he "helped me" by teaching me unit calculations and drilled me on them so much that I forgot all about clouds and got a D on the test.
Too bad there weren't unit calculations on there for extra credit...
You know how when you're a kid and your parents annoy you and you swear that you'll never ever ever do those same things to your own kids? And then you grow up and have your own kids and you end up breaking your promise and you treat them the same dysfunctional way your parents treated you? Yep, I'm doing it to. On a daily basis.
All of that force-fed gadgetry must have worked because I find myself shoving science into our lives all the time. We've always got some experiment running that is way over my kids' heads, and I wish I was kidding, but when I want them to do something quickly I instruct them to be molecules of hot water.
It's rather sad.
But last year for Christmas something magical happened. My then 6-year-old daughter wrote "rock tumbler" as the number one thing she wanted for Christmas. We scoped the toy catalogues and found some good ones. She tore them out and hung them on a poster. It was rock tumbler mania.
And sure enough, her Papa (my dad) came through with the science, and got her the gift of the world's best rock tumbler. Double-barreled, with extra sets of grit and polish. Plus a heap of rocks sure to tumble into something decent. We could barely contain ourselves.
It took awhile to find the time to get the thing set up, but when our sugar crystal experiments were completely solidified and the chipmunk tightrope had fallen down, it was time to get things churning in the basement. Next to the furnace. Where it turns and turns and inevitably squeaks, like all rock tumblers have been doing since the dawn of rock tumbler time.
It all leaves me wondering, could we use unit calculations to figure out how to pay the furnace man in polished stones? And is my first grade daughter too young to learn?
He's scheduled to come out in 2 weeks, and if there are 7 days in one week, that makes 14 days. And if there are 24 hours in each day, that gives me 336 hours to get it down her throat.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A natural playground?

Tonight I went to my first PTO meeting. It was against my better judgement, but I went because I thought it best that I enter the school with a positive connotation, rather than the pesky mom I feel like I've sometimes become.
But low and behold, there may be a reason I was there.
One committee that is looking for volunteers is the playground committee-- a group of people who are going to help plan the playground at the new elementary school that is being built.
Maybe this is my chance to put in a HUGE plug for "natural" playground equipment.
What's natural playground equipment? Great stuff.
Trees to climb and run between.
Rocks to turn into mountains.
Logs to walk across.
etc.
The creative benefits are enormous. A slide is a slide is a slide, but a giant rock is a pirate ship, a house, a giant egg, anything.
The hard part is going to be convincing the others on the committee of this wonderful idea. I'm trying to figure out how many copies of "Last Child in the Woods" I can hand out at the next meeting...

A natural playground?

Tonight I went to my first PTO meeting. It was against my better judgement, but I went because I thought it best that I enter the school with a positive connotation, rather than the pesky mom I feel like I've sometimes become.
But low and behold, there may be a reason I was there.
One committee that is looking for volunteers is the playground committee-- a group of people who are going to help plan the playground at the new elementary school that is being built.
Maybe this is my chance to put in a HUGE plug for "natural" playground equipment.
What's natural playground equipment? Great stuff.
Trees to climb and run between.
Rocks to turn into mountains.
Logs to walk across.
etc.
The creative benefits are enormous. A slide is a slide is a slide, but a giant rock is a pirate ship, a house, a giant egg, anything.
The hard part is going to be convincing the others on the committee of this wonderful idea. I'm trying to figure out how many copies of "Last Child in the Woods" I can hand out at the next meeting...
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