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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The mini tent-- it never hurts to ask

Last Thursday was just an ordinary day until I made a mad dash to K-Mart to make a return and quickly buy some carrot seeds for the garden.
In a whirlwind race through the store that ended with a very slow nearly standstill wait in the check-out line, I noticed the mini tent.
I have always eyed these things up, these display models for the tents the store sells. They seemed the absolute perfect toy for someone like me who always hated Barbie and most doll-sized playhouses. Seriously, pretending to cook? Clean? Make beds? Rock babies? I had better things to do as a child.
Like go camping.
But back in K-Mart, there was, as usual, a few extra employees hanging around and not ringing people up, and on my way out I pointed to the tent and said to one of them, "you know, if you sold these things, people would buy them."
"It's for sale," she told me.
"Not anymore!" I said, the grin on my face forming instinctively, as if I finally got that Red Rider BB Gun.
I think I'm just a tad more excited than my kids, but still, we're pretty happy. This summer we can go camping...and play camping.
With a real removable rain fly, to boot.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Parents say the darndest things

There was a girl who lived down the street from me as a kid who used to come over and play pretty frequently. And I’m not sure that she ever knew it, but that little girl used to make my mother laugh.
We’d be well into a version of pretend something-or-other and I had an old rotary phone that was designated for play. My friend would grab the phone, hold it with her chin and say things like “uh huh, OK, sure, OK, yep.” According to my mom, that’s just what my friend’s mom sounded like on the phone, and back then I didn’t know what was just so funny about it.
Now, being I parent, I know. Oh, do I know.
Children, besides being tiny treasures filled with wonder and ideas, are also little sponges, absorbing everything they meet, hear, feel, and see. More than that they are also little mirrors, and if you look closely enough they can show you exactly how you, the parent, act, sound, and generally exist.
We’re riding in the car the other day, my children and I, and my son at age 5 starts rambling on and on about something that doesn’t make much sense and defies all reality of time.
“What are you talking about?” I finally asked him.
“Oh, it’s a long story,” he said. And it hit me. That’s my line. My line, and he stole it! That’s what I’m always telling them when I don’t feel like explaining something, like the time they asked why birds lay eggs and mommies don’t or when they asked how airplanes work.
“Oh, it’s a long story.”
Unfortunately, this phenomenon of imitation also extends beyond the comfort zones of our own family, where I find myself being embarrassed in front of my peers as my children go on to share my wisdom and knowledge (or lack thereof) with their friends.
We have a general rule about getting hurt in this house. Bandages are not to be used unless there is blood, although I’ll be the first to admit that a Scooby Band-Aid slapped on anything will just about cure it. But they don’t grow on trees, so we go through a little flowchart when a boo-boo has occurred.
Step one: Is it bleeding? If so, dig out the Band-Aid of your choice. If not, deal with it.
Step two: If it still hurts, mommy will perform her magical Polish cure, which consists of me rubbing my elbow while I rattle off one of a handful of Polish phrases I know and that is apparently equivalent to “how ‘bout them apples?” Then, once my elbow is all charged and ready, I simply place it on the boo-boo and it magically disappears.
It’s all rather ridiculous, but it saves me a ton of money on bandages. What’s even more ridiculous when I hear my kids put this abnormal, albeit creative method into practice. I have overheard them, amongst their friends and their parents, start the medical procedure on their own.
“It’s not bleeding. All you need is the Polish cure. Let me just rub my elbow…”
Now I know how my mom’s friend would have felt so long ago. In fact, I know precisely how she feels.
I recently caught my baby, at age 16 months, talking on an old cell phone the kids use for play. She held it up to her ear and held onto a purse with her other hand, and went about her play like it was her job.
My mom happened to see it too. “Look at that! I can’t believe it. Where’d she learn a thing like that?”
“Oh,” I told her, “it’s a long story.”

Originally appeared in the Holmes County Shopper and Wooster/Orrville This Week

Thursday, April 23, 2009

An afternoon eclipse

My real world has just been eclipsed. By peace and quiet.
One child in school, one asleep on the couch, and one off at the park with a friend. I changed a load of laundry without anyone bothering me and I even sat down at this here computer without yelling at anyone to leave me alone.
There's reheated coffee on my desk and the house is so silent that I can hear the trains and the birds outside.
This is all cause for a moment of pause, a deep breath, a smile, and a head shake. For as wonderful as this feels now, I'm pretty sure that in a few years time I'll be begging for the noises again and wondering why the birds are so loud.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Peter Cottontail: Swift, slick, and smart

We have a very clever Easter Bunny.
This year, because of the way the school calendar falls we took our spring break trip early this year. We had to visit the relatives that unfortunately live in a warmer climate, leaving all of the oh-so-lucky residents of Ohio to enjoy their egg hunts through the snow and dirty road slush.
But as I was saying, our Easter Bunny is very clever. Each year when he hops along his little bunny trail, instead of leaving a basket of sweets that mommy ends up eating, he leaves a basket of summer essentials. Specifically, the baskets my children receive are filled with the annual swimming suit and sandals, because the Bunny knows that last year’s suits have more snags than threads and one of the sandals got left by the pond and eaten by the tractor, which doesn’t matter because none of them fit anyway.
See? Smart bunny.
This year, while visiting the relatives the week before his scheduled visit, our brainy Bunny made an early deposit of goodies. Somehow while the kids were all in the kitchen and mommy went to the grocery store, he made his annual stop. The children were absolutely perplexed (as they should be) as to how the Bunny got in without anyone knowing or without anyone seeing. The dog didn’t even bark.
Beyond that, the Easter Bunny left a hand-written note. “Dear children, Thought you could use these a little early this year. Love, Easter Bunny.” The paper was propped up by their baskets and written on white paper with blue crayons in a scribbley sort of bunny scratch, which leads me to the point of this entire story.
Bunnies are clever, but kids are smarter.
At the age of seven and five, my children immediately took the note and with the skill of television detectives decided to analyze it.
“It doesn’t look like mom’s writing,” said one.
“And daddy’s is really messy,” said the other.
Between the two of them they decided to test the handwriting of all of the people in the house that day, going around the kitchen table with the note in one hand and demanding everyone’s signature with the other.
“Papa’s is too slanty. Nana’s is too loopy.”
Not that the handwriting mystery was solved, but it didn’t take long before they moved onto the paper itself which was equally puzzling.
“We don’t have white paper. We only have construction paper here, and the white paper in that pack is really more of a cream color,” said the older one, who has a potential future in something that feels that white and off-white are two very different and important things.
“Not only that, but we only have markers,” chimes in the younger of the two, not to be outdone and who obviously didn’t look in the bedroom closet.
“Well, it couldn’t have been me. I would never have cut the tags off of the stuff just in case they didn’t fit,” I answered, while hand-stitching the sides of my daughter’s suit in which must have been two sizes too big for her.
It was truly an enigma, but one that I’m glad they all subscribe to. There’s just something fantastic about believing that a tiny rabbit who may or may not wear a top hat with holes cut out for his long, floppy ears could actually hop around toting colorful baskets full of happiness for children. The average Eastern Cottontail rabbit weighs in between 2 and 4 pounds, and without opposable thumbs I reckon that the little guy hauling all of those baskets around just completely defies the laws of physics.
Yes, we’ve got a very clever Easter bunny. And Santa had better watch his back this year—he’s got less than nine months to prepare.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Holy cow. Microwave, dairy-free risotto.

I wouldn't believe it either if I didn't taste it with my very tastebuds.
Friends know that I've been dairy-free for the last year thanks to my allergic baby girl. I've learned to adapt in many ways, and if it wasn't for a mother's love I'd surely be scarfing down the pizza and ice cream. But love is a powerful tool.
And so is a microwave.
To satisfy my craving for creaminess, I turned to risotto. To satisfy my long to-do list, I found a recipe that lets you cook it in the microwave, without the constant stirring on the stove. With a few tweaks, I have officially found a staple side dish for our family.

Microwave garlic and pea risotto

3 Tbl olive oil
2-3 cloves minced garlic (we like the stuff!)
1 onion, diced fine
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup liquid of choice (chicken broth or white wine)
frozen peas

In a casserole dish, combine the oil, onion, and garlic. Microwave on high for 3 minutes.
In a separate vessel, heat 1 1/2 cups broth for 2 minutes.
Add hot broth and rice to onion mix, cover and cook on high for 6 minutes.
Add remaining broth and peas. Cover and cook for 10 minutes.

Notes: If you like it less soupy, drop the last broth to 3/4 cup. If you like your cheese, stir in 1/3 cup parm at the end. I have added a scoop of dairy-free cream cheese to boost the creaminess, but that's optional.
The peas are an option too. Add anything you like.

Dairy-free people unite and feast!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Squeaky squeak-- let's go to the movies!

As I'm sure I'll write about soon, I am returning to my roots (ha ha) and doing a garden this year...along with a zillion other people, according to the seed companies. While auto industries are failing left and right, the seed companies report booming numbers, some even hiring extra help for processing orders. The so-called "recession gardens" are all the rage.
Me, I just like homegrown tomatoes and dusty beans off the vine.
But that doesn't mean that I won't mind saving a buck or two on produce if our garden produces.
As true as it is that love to dig in the dirt, I also love a good bargain. Free stuff makes my world go round, and I reckon that even if I won every lottery in the country I'd still clip a coupon and enter my name five times in a basket raffle. I'm just that kind of person.
I was recently reading on another blog about RedBox and wanted to share this tip with any of my readers. Have you heard of RedBox? It's the vending machine outside of the grocery store that doesn't have candy or pop. For a buck (A BUCK!) you can rent a movie for one night, not due back until 9pm the following day.
The movies are new, the price is right, and there's no pimply-faced kid asking you to show fourteen kinds of ID before you can check out the movie. It simply takes the swipe of a credit card and the touch of a few fingers and you're done.
But visit www.redbox.com and it won't even take that much! On their site, if you sign up for the email list, you are sent the code for a FREE MOVIE! Better than that? If you're a texter with not much going on come Monday night, sign up for their phone alerts and get a code for a free movie every Monday night.
And then, if you're really like me, celebrate your free movie by blowing 10 bucks on candy and snacks for the show.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Green fingers, no markers needed

I really have the bug. Really, really. It's probably because after years of waiting and planning, we finally built some garden boxes for our home. Because most of our backyard is wooded, there's not much space for a garden but I really felt incomplete without one.
This year we've got some garden boxes built pretty much in the middle of our yard. There's just no better place. And beyond that, I am again going to attempt a sunflower house that will no doubt take up the remainder of the grassy area.
Last year I wrote a column about "putting on an addition in our side yard" (read the old post here to learn about just what a sunflower house is) and after not one, not two, but three attempts, nature got the best of me. Rains and toads and bunnies completely shattered my dreams, but not this year. This year I am bound and determined to successfully complete this magical playland, even if I have to spend $400 on fake flowers and glue them into my backyard.
You can read more about the whole ordeal on my other blog, Dirt Don't Hurt, and I'll wait until the last frost comes our way very patiently...or not.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

At this moment, you mean eeeeeeverything…

It’s not the greatest theme song for a mom and her children to dance to, but if you block out most of the lyrics and just focus on one itty, bitty line, it’s pretty fantastic.
Our kitchen has, I believe, abnormally large floor space. Like there should be a big butcher block island right in the middle of it, but there isn’t. We did it that way on purpose because we thought that such an obstruction would surely be cause for detrimental wounds and cases of bandages as our children learned to walk/run/boogie/etc. As good of an idea as that was, it was an even better idea because without knowing it, we’ve created our very own private dance club.
And let me tell you, Club Kitchen gets really rockin’ sometimes. There are nights when the music blasts and we’re all in our wool socks showing off some smooth disco moves on the wood floor and other times when I hope the neighbors aren’t watching because I’m trying to do my best MC Hammer impression. We waltz to classical, and it goes without saying that everyone should stand clear when the polka music is cranked up.
But our kitchen, like most kitchens, “rocks” in many different ways.
Like one morning a few weeks ago. The place was hopping, and despite my few hours of sleep and not enough caffeine, I was doing my best to keep up with everything, sans music.
Because I am the procrastinating type, I somehow thought I could whip together a costume for Right to Read Week’s Fairy Tale dress-up day, prep another kid for show-and-tell for preschool, and do everything else I normally do, all within a span of about 15 minutes.
There were breakfasts to be made, babies to be fed, letter “S” day, and myself grasping at non-existent creativity to try to transform my first grade daughter into Thumbelina, who is really nothing more than a tiny girl.
So while braiding hair with one hand and pinning dresses with the other, my left foot shoved oatmeal into a crying baby’s mouth who decided she didn’t like oatmeal anymore and my right foot told my son to change his clothes because, and I quote my big toe, “you can’t wear a “sleeveless shirt” to preschool even though it starts with S because it’s only 28 degrees.”
We ran, we rushed, we made a gigantic mess in the kitchen, and we made it out the door just in time to drop off my fairly well-clothed son and Thumbelina at their schools.
It wasn’t until I got home and looked at my kitchen that it all hit me. There on the counter sat a spilled box of safety pins from the costume and four thousand breakfast dishes. On the floor was a pile of sleeveless shirts. In the fridge was the juice box I had forgotten to pack Thumbelina, which I had never forgotten to do in what seems like a lifelong career of lunch-packing.
So I did what any decent mother would do.
I grabbed my baby, turned on my theme song and started dancing away to (and I know you’re all waiting for it) “Come On Eileen.” Like I said, not the greatest theme song for a family. Beyond its great beat, though, one line taken completely out of context is absolutely wonderful. “At this moment, you mean everything.”
The pins can wait. The dishes, too. The clothes will still be there because I know I’m the only one who is going to pick them up. That morning, I meant everything to my kids, getting them ready for their special days, and any warm-blooded person can tell you there ain’t nothing like dancing with a baby. After a morning of tending to everyone else, at that moment, she meant everything.
Who would have ever thought that a one-hit-wonder from 1982 could have such a deep and profound meaning and bring such solace to a family? Too-ra loo-ra too-ra loo-rye-aye. It plays quite frequently at Club Kitchen.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Wilma vs. Fred: the paycheck wars

It must have been a cold and gloomy day because instead of kicking the kids outside to mess up the yard, they were inside messing up the house. It must have been the afternoon too, because my entertainment/educational energy had worn out and I think my exact words were, “will you little people just sit down and watch some TV? Please?”
I had things to do. As a stay-at-home mom, there is dinner to cook, clothes to wash, crusty rice to Dustbuster off the kitchen table. I don’t need to write out the entire list—any mom can relate. So in my mind, there are times in my day that the TV Babysitter becomes a very legitimate tool, for one low monthly fee.
Today’s sitter: The Flintstones, a good, wholesome and classic cartoon. But in this episode, the modern stone age family was a bit unstable because Wilma and Fred were arguing about who had it more difficult – the stay-at-home mom raising young Pebbles, or the working dad, operating machinery at the quarry. It goes without saying that I had to drop my Dustbuster to see how this episode, written in the early 1960’s, was going to turn out.
I found the beginning quite pleasing, when the bird-alarm went off and Fred grumbled in his sleep, “wake me up when breakfast is ready.” Wilma’s response was something along the lines of “whaaatever.” And so their day began.
Wilma handed Fred a list of the things she normally does, carved on a piece of stone that must have weighed 14 tons. He had to tend to Pebbles, clean the house, run errands, answer the phones, make dinner, and so on. Wilma simply had to go to work and teach herself how to maneuver a dragline.
As the show went on, Fred found himself in quite a quandary and Wilma kept dropping giant pieces of limestone too near to Mr. Slate, Fred’s boss. I won’t spoil the ending for all of you TV lovers, but as most cartoons go, all was happy in the end. They both appreciated the work that the other person does, and they vowed to never take it for granted again. (I suppose Mr. Slate was pretty happy about this, too.)
After the credits rolled I stood there thinking about how the episode would have played out if instead of Fred and Wilma, it was my husband and I. Could we handle it? Could I do his job? Could he do mine? (Or rather, could he stomach the amount of coffee I need to drink to get through my day?)
Instantly I knew I could not do his job. I could do it, but not well. I would probably have taken out Mr. Slate long before the lunch whistle blew. But could he handle mine? Most likely yes, but maybe not on an on-going basis. Being a stay-at-home mom isn’t rocket science, but it takes some serious skills, perseverance, patience, and the aforementioned coffee-induced energy.
I remember a few years back that someone calculated what a mom’s salary would be should her jobs and tasks actually be separated and reviewed. It was an enormous amount, enough to hire a butler, chauffeur, and chef. But then we’d all be out of a job, right?
A quick search on the Internet took me to a site whose fabulous tag line is, “What is your mom worth?” It is an online calculator for moms to personalize a paycheck.
“What fun!” I thought, and began inputting my number of children, geographic location, and numbers of hours spent weekly on various tasks that include Chief Executive Officer, Nurse, and Plumber, but surprisingly not Cartoon Viewer.
My paycheck? A bit above average at $127,524. Before taxes, of course, but I’d bet with that kind of money Wilma could have bought Fred the entire bowling alley.

Calculate your own mom’s salary at www.mom.salary.com.
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