Sunday, August 29, 2010

Detoxify your life with fancy skin products that bring on snazzy new expletives

We have this unwritten reward system in our house. Whenever life really starts wearing me out and I work super hard not to end up yelling at stuffed animals and throwing meatloaf, my husband says to me, “why don’t you take a bath?”
And I do. Because I love baths. Sylvia Plath wrote, “There must be a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know any of them.” Amen, sister.
A hot bath, coupled with locked doors, a humming fan, a good book and a glass of wine are just the things I need to de-stress and de- freak and relax. Coincidentally, it’s also a good time to slather my face in mud to de-tox my skin and fight with tooth and nail the inevitable wrinkles. (I’m no girly-girl, but having a face that looks like my old leather hiking boots is just plain wrong.)
And so, after a long day of sifting through not one, not two, but three people’s clothes and rearranging one entire bedroom (see upcoming column on Thursday for full explanation), when he told me to take a bath, I sprinted up the steps, wine in one hand, book in the other.
It had been literally months since I’d last let the hum of the faucet drown out background children noise, a seemingly perfect decibel for ignoring the turn of the locked door, the argument over pajamas and toothpaste going on in the other bathroom. Stepping into the steaming water, I couldn’t remember the last time I had gotten a chance like this to unwind.
Settled in, and face prepped, I applied the detoxifying facial mask I paid too much money for. Sitting back against a moldy bath pillow, I rested in and cracked open my book while the heat from the water began to release every tension from my body.
Suddenly, from out of nowhere, my face which is supposed to be resting and releasing the toxins starting burning like I had razor burn from my forehead to my chin and someone pushed me into a pool of rubbing alcohol. I started saying things like, “Good Charlie Brown in the morning with turkey for breakfast!” (OK, I really didn’t say that, but what I was honestly thinking isn’t proper lady talk. And yes, I just made up that entire expletive phrase. And yes, feel free to use it next time you stub your toe or see your second cousin from Wisconsin at the gas station.)
My face was on detoxifying fire. Apparently a summer of sun and wear and tear without any proper care was too much for this special European formula. I quickly grabbed the bottle. Nowhere did it say, “the tingle means it’s working!” It just told me to keep it out of my eyes, and leave it on for 10 to 15 minutes.
Reeeeeellllllllaxxxxxxxxxx I told myself. The tingle means it’s working, I lied to myself. I pretended to read a chapter in my book while every so often glancing into the reflective drain to make sure my face hadn’t combusted.
When I could take it no longer, I plunged my whole head into the water and held my breath while I submerged myself, attempting to relieve the stinging sensation that had ruined my entire restful, rejuvenating, and rewarding experience.
Of course the first thing I did upon exiting was to check the condition of my face. Mostly I wanted to make sure I still had eyebrows and that my special freckle on the tip of my nose hadn’t been burned off in the escape of the obvious tons of toxins that were being harbored in the flesh of my cheeks.
Surprisingly enough, they were all still there, intact, and after a quick fingertip test, feeling smoother than ever.
Charlie Brown in the morning with turkey for breakfast, that stuff really worked! No pain, no gain!
Face smooth and book still in hand, I’m looking forward to my next chance to do it all again. In another four months.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Summer report cards

It’s late August, which means a few very standard things. For one, tomatoes are at an all-time abundance and there’s a good chance only three people are actually reading this column because the rest of them are toiling away over a giant pot of spaghetti sauce, wondering just why in the world they put in so many tomato plants. Secondly, parents of school-aged children everywhere are riding the roller coaster of emotion now that school is back in session. (Just how does it happen that the very people that nearly drove us to the edge disappear for a few days and already we’re moping around and missing them?) August also means that the stores start putting their Halloween stuff in the sale bins to make room for the ultra-early Christmas decorations.
But finally, late August means the end of summer.
I know what you’re thinking, that the season of summer officially ends somewhere around the third week of September, when the Earth does its fancy tilting thing and we have the vernal equinox. While that’s technically true, I have to think that the physics of space and time got it just a bit off because, for all intents and purposes, the end of summer occurs at the very second your child laces up the new shoes you’ve been saving, straps on the backpack, and we take that ceremonial back-to-school picture by the front door.
Bam. Welcome, fall.
For me, at least, I spent the last two weeks rushing around to make sure that my kids enjoyed their summer to the very fullest. Even in elementary school – yes, even kindergarten – school means that a carefree life of playtime is nearly non-existent. There are homework and afterschool activities to be shuttled to and from. We’ve got book reports and concerts and early bedtimes to contend with. My son said it all best when we asked if he wanted to play a sport. “But mom, then I won’t have any time to just play.”
Too true, the wisdom of a six year old.
Knowing that our school-year future was going to kick us where the sun don’t shine, we packed in as much fun as we could this summer before their youth as we know it melts away like a Push-Up in the midday sun. Someday, as awesome as I think I am, it won’t be cool to hang with mom anymore.
And now, as they are safely back in their desks with their freshly sharpened pencils and pristine notebooks and folders, I take out a sheet of paper and an old chewed up pencil of my own. No homework for me. Instead, it’s time to make out our own summer report card.


Did we set up the sprinkler more times than I can remember? And did set it up anyway even though I whined incessantly about dragging out the hose? Yep. Score: A
Did we go more than three days without bathing because surely a swim in a chlorinated pool killed all evil stink germs? And then some. Score: A
Did we go to bed smelling like a campfire as much as we could? Probably, but we’re campfire junkies and probably could have had more. Score: A-
Did we make at least one entire meal out of junk food bought at a concession stand? Indeed. Score: A
Did we have adventures that left us standing by the car, covered in mud and mosquito bites, and left me wondering why I didn’t pack towels or a change of clothes? Unfortunately yes. Score: A
Are my kids thoroughly bruised and cut from head to toe from climbing, running, falling, playing, sliding, and scratching? Two boxes of Band-Aids, baby. Score: A
Finally, did I fall asleep exhausted every night and count down the days until the kids went back to school, secretly knowing that I’d miss them the second the first bell rang? Absolutely. Score: A very tired and affectionate A+.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A philosophical look at motherhood

Forget the age old question about the tree falling in the forest. There’s a more relevant query to ponder: If a mother isn’t around to hear her children whine/fight/ask for snacks, do they ever really make a noise?
I believe I have the answer to this philosophical question using no philosophy at all.
But before I reveal the answer, let us first determine that for this whole transaction to take place, we need to have a) children making noise, b) air for the soundwaves to travel through, and c) a mother’s ears that are not automatically programmed to shut out the sound of her children’s voices when they start sentences with “Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom?” If any one part of these things do not exist, the question is moot.
But in reality, we do normally have these things. At the end of a wonderful, loving, and did I mention long summer with my young children forever underfoot and overhead, I, for one, know that there is a constant hum of chatter that comes out of their mouths, among other parts. Not a minute goes by when one of them isn’t following me around, a small shadow tracing my steps and asking the most ridiculous requests like, “can we wash the house with bubble soap?”
We also typically have plenty of air in our house. The only thing that would remove air in a physics class sort of way would be to have a vacuum, and I know mine is too busy gathering its own layer of dust. In fact, the amount of air in our house has increased exponentially in the form of hot air, specifically the stuff that comes out of my children’s mouths.
And finally, we require a mother’s ears to be open. And willing to listen. I will be the first to admit that I don’t listen to 87% of the noise my children make. I frequently say things like “uh huh” and “okay” and “that’s great, dear!” without having a clue what is going on. But that other 13% and in particular the comments that require bandages or “what I did to the dog” stories, my ears are perked up like a bunny.
So speaking barely scientifically, all three pieces of the question are present. But philosophically, well, that’s a whole other story. And one that I have the answer to.
There is a family of wrens that have nested in the box that we hung directly next to the back patio where I like to sit in peaceful morning silence until anyone realizes that I am awake. The wren has two broods over the season, and I was lucky enough to witness both.
After the eggs hatch, the mother (or father—they both look the same), fly back and forth non-stop, feeding their hungry babies. And I do mean non-stop. Sometimes the round trip takes only 30 seconds.
But here’s the funny thing about the little baby wrens: they are totally silent the entire time the parent is out of the nest. Dead silent. But the very millisecond that mom or dad peeks into the house with a speck of food, they chatter and sing like nobody’s business.
(Wrens have a very complex song, and while the adult tune is quite pleasing to the ear, a bunch of babies sound as cacophonous as my own children when it’s lunch time.)
The parent wren drops off the food, and once again, the instant the parent is gone, the babies are completely silent.
Processing this birdie behavior returns us to the original question. If a child is whining and there’s not a mom around to hear it, does it make noise? The answer is simple if you look to our friend the house wren:
A child only makes whiny noise when their mother is around to be annoyed by it.
Case closed.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Baby Blue Dustbuster, 2001 – 2010

It is with mild sadness, barely a slice of dignity, and a few giggles that I announce the death of our Dustbuster. Today, at 8:02 AM, he was gently laid to rest.
Our Dustbuster had been with us for a few years, always a dutiful small appliance. He happily stayed charged up when we needed him and ingested more than his fair share of dog hair and Cheerios. But after a bout of destruction last year, his last leg finally gave in after a terrible fall in the driveway.
He will be greatly missed.
The Dustbuster, as we know it, has quite the history. According to the Black and Decker Web site, the appliance that has either hung on our wall or was stashed in the corner for most of my life came as a result of a two wonderful things: the U.S. Space program and women stealing their husband’s garage tools. In the 70’s, Black and Decker introduced a set of cordless tools for the workbench, including a small vacuum that I imagine was mostly used for picking up beverage tabs and sawdust. Wives surely caught on to this and began sneaking the hand-held vacuum to use inside, leaving their husbands in a sea of teeny, tiny trash.
But there were battery issues to deal with, as always, until someone realized that Black and Decker did some amazing research and development for the NASA Apollo 15 mission in 1971. It was a happy marriage of technology, and our beloved Dustbuster came to be; a lightweight, handheld, dustpan-shaped piece of American pride, to be used and loved by many.
Our Dustbuster astonishingly made it through three children and all of the messes that ensued. Our kids all were huge fans of rice, although I’m pretty sure that one-half of it ended up in small crevices around the kitchen table and another quarter ended up ground into the rug. But it was no match for our handy helper! A quick vvvvvrroooom after dinner and we were back to a regular state of disaster.
Our Dustbuster use was not limited to the floor, either. I discovered early on that it was also great for spills on the couch, the counter, and even for a fast and lazy dusting session. If you think diamonds are a girl’s best friend, you’ve never had one of these babies.
But one fateful day, a spill proved to be too much for us. The children had made some awful mess and were not helping to clean it, and with tempers that I am not proud of raging, I threw my darling Dustbuster on the ground, breaking off the clasp that holds the contents, and leaked dried cereal and hairballs all over the floor.
He’s not been the same since. I’ve apologized and tried to nurse him back to health, treating him with gentle kindness and holding him together each time I have used him. Old faithful that he is, he’s hung in there like a champ.
But yesterday, as my husband grabbed him and headed out the door mumbling something about having a car with black interior and crumbs, I heard a distinct “what?” and then a small crash. Without my TLC, the current contents were splayed all over the driveway, a veritable crime scene of crusty stuff. We tried to put him back together but when we flipped him back on, my husband was shot in the eye with a residual piece of rice, probably circa 2005, that was stuck in the workings.
He held his eye and I grabbed the Dustbuster for another attempt, but again my husband was pelted with dirt and more rice, and I knew the time had finally come.
Dustbuster, we will miss your soft shade of blue resting in our laundry room, always ready to help us out whether it be pet hair or popcorn. You will not be forgotten, just simply replaced with a newer model that hopefully has an equally powerful sense of pride and an angry-mom-proof closure system.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Late Summer eating habits are sweet and anything but corny

My husband isn’t much of a picky eater. He’ll eat pretty much anything I put in front of him, and he never really puts in specific requests for certain foods.
Except in late summer.
It’s as if there’s some unwritten rule that when the end of July and early August roll around that we Ohioans have to eat our own weight in sweet corn. Sometimes we even make an entire meal out of it. Surely it’s unbalanced nutritionally, and surely our digestive tracks cringe at the very thought of it, but in late summer, it’s just something you have to do.
As far as I can figure, people have been swarming over corn for hundreds of years. An elementary school history lesson will tell you that when the settlers came over to this great land they were in search of religious freedom and the chance at wealth. Really, I think they got a good whiff of corn blowing across the Atlantic and followed their noses to the real gold: corn.
People on this side of the world have been eating corn for thousands of years. Literally. The oldest remnants of corn were dated at 7,000 years somewhere in the Mexican Valley. Back then, scientists figure that corn wasn’t anything like the delicious varieties we have today. They were much less sweet and succulent and I reckon that somewhere, in the history of mankind, there must be cave drawings and stone carvings that translate to “we need to figure out cross-breeding and hybrid agriculture and get us some good sweet corn.”
Because that’s exactly what happened.
Sweet corn as we know it has been an evolution over generations of harvests. Records show that the first sweet corn grown by the colonists wasn’t until around 1800 (give or take a few years) and before then their varieties were less than tasty. Probably more like the corn I used to sneak out of the fields behind my house when I was a kid—they grew field corn and sweet corn and my untrained eye couldn’t tell the difference, especially while sprinting through the woods in full camouflage because I was so afraid I’d get caught for taking a single ear of corn.
But once sweet corn and its seed hit the colonial market, those freedom-seeking Americans were free to bear arms and eat as much sweet corn as they could grow. The rest, we say, is a long history that was only improved upon by continually sweeter hybrids, and a few crucial inventions that greatly enhanced American’s corn eating experience. These are, in no particular order, the invention of dental floss (early 1800’s), the invention of those little prongy things you jab into the ends of the corn so that your hands don’t have to touch the steaming hot ear but certainly your mouth will enjoy the scalding temperature, and finally, the granddaddy of all inventions, the corn butterer that holds a handy half stick of butter with a special curved end so you can easily glide the greasy deliciousness all over that beautiful golden ear.
The corn butterer plays a special and significant role in our house. It only comes out during the peak of corn season, when the giant pot has a permanent place on the stove and the dental floss is left out on the bathroom counter. And as soon as the kernels start acquiring that starchy taste and texture, we sadly know that the great feast of sweet corn has come to an end. It’s a short and wonderful time, and one that we are thankful for and are happy to take advantage of.
And so, to the great farmers of the sweetest corn around, we raise our little prongy things and our corn butterers in your honor. It is because of your hard work and dedication to this fabulous vegetable that we are proud to have silk in our teeth and butter dripping down our chins which, in my opinion, is the ultimate salute.
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