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Friday, December 23, 2011

This is your brain on Christmas

This is your brain, any given day,
When the sun shines bright or the sky is gray,
January, November, July, June, or May,
But this is your brain on Christmas…

You wake up in the morning, at half past two,
And make lists of all you have to do.
Shopping, baking, and caroling, too.
This is your brain on Christmas.

Off to the market, something feels strange,
List will do no good left on the home range.
Can’t pass the red kettle without dropping some change,
This is your brain on Christmas.

You think of the people that make your life sing,
And rush to the store to buy last minute things,
Carols are blasted, who doesn’t love Bing?
This is your brain on Christmas.

At home there are so many memories to make,
Sewing and wrapping makes any back ache.
At times you feel as fruity as cake.
This is your brain on Christmas.

There are halls to be decked, no if’s, and’s or but’s,
Stuffed reindeer antlers to be tied on our mutts,
We all pray for snow, are we really nuts?
This is your brain on Christmas.

You dig out Grandma’s recipe
These certainly aren’t low calorie!
Kids don’t like them?  More for me.
This is your brain on Christmas.

Wrapping presents in the wee hours of night,
Better hide them!  Kids peek?  They might!
Lock that basement door up tight.
This is your brain on Christmas.

Stockings hung waiting for when Santa drops in,
Cookies set out, each pulled from a tin,
Put out carrots, too, for Rudolph and kin,
This is your brain on Christmas.

Waking up early the big day is expected,
Look at the pile of paper collected!
Installing batteries is more than perfected.
This is your brain on Christmas.

In-laws, out-laws, all that are able,
Gather closely like folks in a Bethlehem stable.
Kids eat dinner on a folding card table.
This is your brain on Christmas.

We sing louder in church without caring,
We speak kindly to strangers, how daring.
We reach out to others by giving and sharing.
This is your brain on Christmas.

We bundle in cold, we snuggle near fire,
We look at fellow man, and admire,
We send praises to beings so very much higher,
This is your brain on Christmas.

Whether belief in Christmas you share,
Or if Chanukah, Kwanza, or nothing’s your flair,
You have to admit there’s something in the air,
This is your brain on, well, something.

I wish from the bottom of my heart so dear,
For all to bottle this feeling of love and cheer,
And spread it around throughout the year,
(but maybe without the snow?)
This is, thankfully, my brain on Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holly growly to holly jolly

There’s something funny about the holiday season.  While there’s plenty that is “haha-funny” and plenty that is “weird-funny,” mostly it’s just that unexplainable phenomenon of love that transcends us all no matter how we fight it.
Take me, for example.  I had this week’s column mostly written and complete.  It was a long tale about how my husband had to buy the world’s largest pumpkins for our front porch and then decided to leave them there.  To rot.  And be illuminated by the Christmas lights.  I have since donned the sagging, orange orbs with festive Santa hats, and I can only hope that the temperature gets low enough to prolong the life of the biggest one, which has started to ooze itself all over the front steps.
I have also fallen into the horrible trap that is the stress of the holiday season.  I feel like I have so much to do—presents to buy, crafts to make, meals to plan—that there’s no time to focus on the now.  My poor daughter has a December birthday.  She wanted a doll cake, where the skirt of the doll is made of cake and the torso, arms, and head sticks out of the frosting.  With moments to spare before the guests arrived I found myself with Barbie in the vice grips in the garage while I sawed off her legs just above the knee because she was too tall for the cake I had already baked.  (Nevermind that the dog chewed off one of her hands.  I hid that in frosting.)
Not only that, but I found myself maniacal at the stores, weight-forward in my cart and moving at such rapid speeds I should have probably buckled my kid in the little seat.  And I’m not even going to mention the parking lot, the school drop-off line, or how every other family in the world has Rockwell-esque trips to the tree farm with hot cocoa and sleigh rides and chances our we will be in the parking lot of a grocery store a few days before Christmas, pointing at which one has the most needles so they can quickly strap it on the top of the car before they close for the night.  
Yes, my holly jolly was getting pretty growly.
But then something happened.  
I opened my mailbox today and saw a Christmas card from someone I didn’t know.  Turns out it was a reader of this column who was kind enough to share a holiday greeting knowing that cards are, I sadly find, a dying tradition.  Opening the card and reading it, it was as if my Grinch heart that was three sizes too small started to grow and grow and grow.  What a kind reminder of the spirit of the season, that it’s a most wonderful time to just let others know you are thinking of them.  (Drop-off line included.)  
It was with a newly warmed smile on my face that I loaded up my children and whisked off to purchase supplies.  “We need a new tradition!  For no good reason other than that it’s Christmas and I love you guys and someday you’ll thank me for this!”  I spoke in exclamation points for the majority of the night as we stayed up late on a school night to make our first ever batches of hard tack candy, singing songs and remarking how beautiful each colorful piece was.  
Someone asked if they could give their teacher one little piece of each flavor.  “Of course,” I said.  “It’s not for us to eat, mostly, it’s for giving.”  And I thought of the woman who sent the card and how I hope to find the time to write her back.
With that their Grinch hearts started to grow too and they listed off all of the people they want to share their candy with, and right there, standing in the kitchen, we had our very own Rockwell-esque moment.  
Without a Christmas tree, hot cocoa, or a sleigh ride in sight.

Stay tuned for the hacked-up Barbie cake.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Pay no attention to the man with the long, white, beard. He doesn't belong to us.

And there we stood, all five of us, in line for our photo with Santa.  My dear husband who is not privy to the ins and outs of ordering Santa pictures, went ahead and ordered two without my knowing.  According to the way our Santa’s photo shoots work, we had paid for two pictures each of two different shots.
Which is two more than we really needed.
But still, when life presents you with an opportunity, you take it, and for us that meant piling in around dear old St. Nick and posing for a family photo. 
It was practically a Christmas miracle in and of itself. 
“Hurry up and tell him what you want,” I told the kids.  “We’ve got an important picture to take here.”
And as we stood there, cheesing it up while my kids sat semi-petrified of the man in red, my first thought was one of complete practicality and selfishness.  “Finally,” I said to myself, “a full family photo.  Now I won’t have to feel like such a bad parent at preschool anymore.” 
This excitement comes off of the heels of an embarrassing mom-moment when my daughter was asked to bring a family picture into her preschool class.  Apparently they were going to count family members or do something super cute like that, which was kept secret.  All I knew was that I needed to send one in.  It didn’t help that I remembered very last minute, but as I scurried around I sadly realized that we have not one single family picture with our entire family in it taken in recent times.  Not even hanging on the wall in a frame.  We have plenty of pictures of my husband and the children (taken by myself) and plenty of pictures of the kids and I (taken by my husband,) but none of us all together. It seems that life just hasn’t allowed us the courtesy to pose for one, mostly because there’s no self-timer on our cell phones which is the way we now take 99% of all photographs.
Besides the hardware issues, there’s also the fact that with five people in a family, there are substantial odds against everyone looking decent at any one given millisecond of an open shutter.  Chances are someone never brushed their hair or someone else dressed themselves without mom’s approval.  (Captain Camouflage Never Looks Dirty But Really Is and Princess It’s Backwards Day, I’m talking to you.)  And then there’s always the way that I end up turning my head to yell at someone to not stick out his tongue and the print reveals me and my bad hair with eyes closed, mouth open, and a wrinkled forehead aiming at one of the smallish people in our family.
But the lady behind the camera said it was a good enough shot and moved us right along while dozens of children waited to tell Santa what they want for Christmas and to get their own treasured keepsake.  Not only that, but they also stood there with their parents, a group largely composed of our peers and neighbors, who all saw us amble up and position ourselves poetically in front of the fireplace background with our surprisingly color coordinated outfits, as if we planned it.
But we didn’t plan it.  Instead I’m just chalking it up to being one of the little bits of magic of the Christmas season that reminds you that something in the air is just a tad different and a tad more joyfully mysterious.  We certainly felt the joy, holding our smiles and waiting until the man in red himself passed out fun-sized candy treats. 
Believers?  Yes.  And anyone who isn’t will see photo proof on our Christmas cards, in my daughter’s preschool, and potentially even framed and hanging on the wall.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fed up with drop-off (Adventures in the car lane)

With the weather starting to change for the worse and this being the season of giving and caring about our fellow man, woman, and child, I feel it may finally be time to discuss something that plagues so many of us on a daily basis.  And by “plague,” I really mean irritate, annoy, and drive us to frustration so much that our preschool aged passengers are picking up less-than-pleasant phrases for other drivers. 
And it’s not just me.  I know for a fact that this problem is one that happens around the county, as well as the state, the country and probably all over the world.  I’m speaking of the car lane at school.
If you have ever met me for longer than thirty seconds, you’re probably laughing now because the drop-off lane has been my nemesis for years.  I have been known to purposely park my car a block away and walk to pick them up because that’s how long it took me to cool myself down.  Even after years of trudging through snow and rain, I still park and walk instead of going through the drive-through lane.  I can’t handle how adults are teaching their children, who are obviously in the car with them, to have little respect for other drivers and that following rules are absolutely optional.  Does there happen to be a blazing sign meant to direct traffic?  Just ignore it, Junior. 
As I see it, school parking lots and pick up lanes are the unspoken traffic jams of our time.  When I’m up early slapping together some PBJ’s for school lunches, my local news keeps me company and they have entire segments dedicated to the flow of traffic to and from downtown areas, where lots of people are trying to get to or from, mostly at all the same time.
Our elementary school is really not much different.  Lots of kids, minimal time, and parents who sit right in front of the door and sign permission slips and check homework while forty five other cars sit at a standstill, unable to even honk because, my goodness, how embarrassing would that be??
If only those morning news casters could give traffic reports about some of the small scale traffic jams that raise the blood pressure of parents everywhere…
“Let’s look at the school traffic report this morning.  It seems there’s a blue minivan that has blocked up a good line of cars by stopping and getting out of the car to open Junior’s door and tie his shoes, fix his hair, and clean the oatmeal off of his face.  Traffic has backed up all the way to the playground.  And at another school, traffic has come to a deadlock because apparently the directions given to parents a zillion times have not been enough and a dark red SUV is attempting to enter from the back alley.  A game of bumper cars may ensue, which will surely result in tardiness and detention slips.  And finally, road rage has erupted in the elementary school lot, completely blocking off traffic.  Women in sweats and slippers are duking it out while their children slink down in the backseat, praying that no one sees them.  Words are flying and an on scene reporter says that bologna sandwiches are being used as weapons. Wait—there’s now report that cheese doodles are being rapidly fired at the women by cars that are staring to drive over the curbs just to escape.  Mass chaos is breaking out and, wow, someone’s got a saxophone!  This area should be avoided at all costs according to the parking lot patrol.  And now, on to the weather…”
If you didn’t chuckle at the aforementioned spoof, you’ve never had the pleasure of dealing with these things on a daily basis.  Either that, or you’re driving the blue minivan, the dark red SUV, or have been seen in your sweats with a saxophone over your head.
Me?  I’ll just take that extra block to cool down and eat my cheese doodles.

Crunch, crunch.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The true (?) turkey of the turkey table

Thanksgiving is a beautiful time of year for all of us, and whether you use this holiday as one last deep breath before the full onset of the Christmas season or spend the entire day planning your route for the 5:00 AM door-opening sales, one thing remains true: Turkey.  (Unless you’re vegetarian, and I’ll let you have your tofurky and eat your share of the dark meat.)
We all know that the first Thanksgiving was nothing to rave about.  There was no parade to watch, nobody did little cutsie pilgrim plays, and certainly there was no Snoopy special on TV.  They ate things like mussels and eels and turnips there probably wasn’t a whipped cream topped pumpkin pie in sight.
We can only pause and give real thanks that somewhere between then and now, this holiday has progressed.  From its start, it has evolved from the meager harvest of a settlement by the sea to what my husband calls the greatest holiday ever.  “You just sit around and eat and eat, watch a little bit of dishes, watch a little bit of football, and then eat some more.  And then its deer season.”
Taking center stage of the Thanksgiving meal is none other than Tom Turkey.  Historians may argue whether or not it was actually served at the first Thanksgiving, but by the time President Lincoln declared it a holiday in 1863, the gobbler had already found its way to our table.  Turkey seemed the ideal meat—it was fattened up from its birth in the spring and didn’t provide milk or preferable eggs.  Plus, I reckon, they figured a bird with a cavity that big could hold a boatload of one of my favorite Thanksgiving foods, stuffing. 
Or is it dressing?
The stuffing vs. dressing debate is one that not many people know the answer to, including me.  I will tell you that some people say that you call it “stuffing” if it’s inside the bird and “dressing” if it’s cooked outside the bird.  Others, from below the Mason-Dixon line, will call it all “dressing” no matter what you say.  I prefer to call it whatever you want me to call it, as long as I can have a second helping.
And speaking of second helpings, one can’t think of a modern day Thanksgiving meal without bringing up the one and only green bean casserole.  My grandmother spent her entire life being one of the best cooks around, and yet sadly I remember her mostly by the green bean casserole she brought to every holiday meal. 
She’s not really to blame, though.  What busy housewife wouldn’t jump on the chance to whip up the easiest side dish in all of American history?  It was Campbell’s Soup, in 1955 that released the brilliant idea and gave women everywhere a chance to hang up their aprons a few minutes early.  A can of beans, a can of soup, a bit of crunchy onions, and I dare say that old Mr. Turkey has some competition when it comes to being the quintessential Thanksgiving dish.
But no matter what is served during the main course, nothing, and I mean nothing, beats the traditional desserts served at Thanksgiving.  Although the first Thanksgiving may not have included them, nothing makes my family happier than a rack of pies, each with a bit of a milk glaze, crusty sugar on top, and holding a feast of cinnamon spiced apples or a moist and gooey pond of pumpkin with extra nutmeg.  Pumpkin pie, it seems, wasn’t around for the first Thanksgiving either.  It is believed to have appeared on American tables in the 17th century.  I’m not sure of the exact date, but I think it may have (or should have) coincided with the invention of whipped cream.
So this Thanksgiving while you dine on the actual meal or are sneaking leftovers, take a moment to say a little thanks for each of our traditional foods that fuel us for the Christmas season and be extra thankful that you’re not going to be eat eel salad sandwiches for the next few days.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ain’t too late to hibernate

With a hint of chill in the air, I reached for a cup of tea and found this quote by Pietro Aretino staring back at me from the box.  “Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.”  Instantly I thought that dear Pietro didn’t have to shovel driveways or dress children in snowsuits who mysteriously have to go to the bathroom the second the zipper goes up.  I thought that Pietro must not have had to endure darkness at 4:30 while his kids bounced off the walls and surely he didn’t mind the smell of well-worn snow boots permeating through his house.
But still, the spring of genius.  And as I sat there with my steaming cup of tea, snuggled in under a blanket while the outside world grew a bit more dark and a bit more cold, I thought that maybe Peitro was on to something.  I may not be a genius, but good things can come from hunkering down overwinter, reading books and drinking tea and playing board games by the firelight.  Knitting and crafting and singing songs, and cooking big pots of soup that nourish the soul as much as they do the body and brain. Staying tucked away while the cold winds blow can indeed bring genius, if maybe we just listen to what our bodies are telling us.
Maybe not all winter long – I love a good day of skiing or sledding as much as the next person – but as soon as there’s a bite in the air, I can’t help but get the urge to hunker down with my family, wearing slippers and doing all of those inside things we never get to do because we’re too busy outside all summer long.  It’s such a strong feeling that I can’t help but wonder, if we are truly just another animal living on this Earth, that biologically we shouldn’t hibernate (or at least go into torpor for you science nuts out there) for a few months a year.  There is astounding evidence.
For one, I personally don’t like to shave my legs as much in the winter, nor do we get our hair cut short during these months.  I think it’s instinct’s way of telling me to grow a winter coat and stay warm. 
And speaking of staying warm, there is no better insulator than good old body fat, which we all know is inevitable during the Bermuda Triangle of holiday goodies that begins with Halloween candy, continues with turkey and gravy, and ends with enough Christmas cookies to fill a bear’s den. 
There’s also the overwhelming awareness that cold does not equal good.  I’m sure there are cold-lovers out there, but when my body is cold and shivering and my lips are turning blue, this is not a time when I proclaim how wonderful it feels to be outside in winter.  Instead, we as humans do everything we can to avoid the cold.  We have furnaces and insulation, Gortex and polypropylene, and even those amazing little packets that emit heat that we stash in our gloves and boots.  And yet, our bodies still get cold enough that we yearn to stand next to a roaring fire and hold our palms up to it, ever so slightly toasting our skin back to core temperature.
Once we are warm, there’s a much better chance of us curling up and heading to bed early.  With the amount of darkness that surrounds us from now until spring, it’s hard not to inch towards the couch or push the snooze button a few times.  Last time I checked we’re not nocturnal and when the lights go out, I’m not too far from dreamland.
So maybe Pietro was right, genius does come in the winter if you listen to what the genius is telling you.  Stop shaving, eat some cookies, lay on the couch and take a nap.  Spring will be here before you know it, and you’ll be all the wiser for it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Supersize me

(Because of space issues, this column didn't appear in its entirety in the newspaper.  If you were looking for a missing ending, find it below...)

They say everything’s bigger in Texas, but I think everything is bigger in Parenthood.  I came to this realization when I recently downsized the girth of my vehicle.  I did this purely out of selfishness, because I really got tired of my kids calling it a “spaceship” and having to park in Timbuktu so that no one would smash into my doors.
Bigger cars are convenient for children.  You need seats to put them in, cargo room to haul their things around, and compartments galore to hold emergency snacks, books, deodorant, homework pencils, etc.  If I had a semi-trailer, I could certainly fill it with the things we tend to need while on the road running from this to that.  In fact, I would be lying if I said I never dreamed of just buying an RV so I could take an honest nap during piano lessons.
But with my new smaller vehicle, I’ve been awakened to an entirely new philosophy of motherhood.  Everything gets bigger.  (Except patience and free time, but that’s another story.)
And so, an annotated sampling of a few things of mine that have gotten bigger since I upgraded from Wife to Mother:
My Purse.  I used to not even carry a purse, it was merely a wallet with an extra storage pocket.  Now when I toss the tote bag of necessities into the front passenger seat, I swear the air bag turns on. 
Shopping Carts.  It’s a good thing I have experience driving a large car because if you’ve never had the pleasure of maneuvering one of those giant beasts through the aisles, it’s almost as hard as signing the credit card slip when you see how much money you spent to fuel your growing children.
Arm Muscles.  I personally got into the habit of holding my children while going about my entire day.  With each pound they gained, my arms began to look a little less like Olive Oyl and a little more like Popeye. 
Medicine Cabinet.  Cough?  Cold?  Allergy?  Fever? Belly ache?  Somehow we find it necessary to have symptom suppressants for every ailment, for every age level, not to mention 3,000 of those little plastic measuring cups accumulating in our kitchen drawers.  This, of course, does not include the plastic cups and medicines that have made their home in my ever-prepared giant purse.
Medical Bills.  Because sometimes you want your kids to be healthy, happy, have straight and clean teeth, and live long enough so that they can endure the same explosive sizes that you are.
Bags Under My Eyes.  Naturally your kid decided to get sick in the middle of the night and you have to hold them and love them until the doctor’s office opens.  (See above.)  Under eye bags are also caused by having to stay up all night to sift through the gobs of paperwork your children throw at you, and you sort through them and really wish you could carry around a personal assistant in those bags.
Bookshelves.  Fellow book people will understand this without an explanation.  I’m pretty sure my house has sunk two inches under the extra weight of picture books.
Miscellaneous Body Parts.  Forget the arm muscles and eye bags, there are plenty of other body parts that lose all concept of proportionality after you become a mother.  Weight seems to distribute itself in a way that your body is afraid that you’ve got balance problems and consequently adds bulk to your feet and every other place that you really don’t want it to go.  I’ll just say that my center of gravity is sufficiently substantial.
Bed.  At the end of the day when you’re exhausted from driving your big car and hauling your big purse to the doctor’s office while filling out sport release forms in the waiting room, nothing beats a giant bed for flopping down.  You relish the space because no matter how big it is, sometime during the night there may be the pitter patter of little feet down the hall and what space you had will be taken up by the warmest, softest, often smelliest, ball of the biggest love you’ll ever know.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Reject Stash of Tootsie Rolls

I don’t know about all of you, but Tootsie Rolls are really low on my list of preferred candies.  They’re even below black licorice and those wax lips that claim to be cherry flavored but end up tasting like, well, wax.  And it just so happens that after a successful night of trick or treating, my kids end up covered in Kit-Kat’s and sour gummies and I end up with what I like to call the “reject stash,” which is made up of broken sucker bits, rock-hard bubble gum, and more Tootsie Rolls than I would want in a lifetime.  Whatever it is I think I see, turns out to be a Tootsie Roll for me…
I’ve never quite understood the little chewy chocolate confection that has been around for so very long, but surely there must be more to this popular candy than my taste buds realize.   A quick survey among friends revealed to me that people actually enjoy these things, although I’d like to see someone consume half of the collection I’ve accumulated since the reject stash of the summer parade candy.  The Halloween supply might put me over the edge, but somewhere, someone would jump for joy.
It’s no surprise that we amass so many of these sweets.  According to the official Tootsie Roll web site, 64 million are produced every single day.  And theoretically, every roll produced has a tiny bit of the very first Tootsie Roll ever produced because of their special technique of incorporating yesterday’s batch into today’s.  That means that if you eat one this Halloween, in theory you are eating a very little piece of the first Tootsie Roll ever made in America.  Keep in mind that the first ones were made by Leo Hirshfield in 1896, which might explain exactly what is that odd flavor that sticks in my teeth whenever I do eat one.
My children do not only share my dislike for the original rolls, which were named after Leo’s daughter’s nickname, but they also have something against the inside of a Tootsie Roll pop—that giant-sized sucker with minimal sucker and maximum tootsie.  These lollipops have been known to be passed out as ghosts on trick-or-treat night, where a tissue is draped over and tied with a piece of yarn.  Two eyes drawn in felt pen stare at you as if to say, “go ahead.  Try to figure out how many licks to get to my middle.” If any one of my kids had the actual patience to count the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop, they would jump for joy and then hand me the chewy chocolateness on a stick.  Lucky, lucky me.
A bit of research will show you, however, that you might not actually even have to count the licks.  Children who write to the Tootsie Roll company to report their lick count are rewarded with a “Clean Stick Reward” (also printable online for cheaters everywhere,) and while the numbers range from 100 to 5,800, the average is about 700 licks.
I, for one, will not be doing any such experiments.
And so it stands that while I sit surrounded by the piles of Tootsie Rolls we have collected over the year and my kids run around on a Snicker’s sugar high, I have to wonder if I really am missing something.  A candy so with such a solid history and so many fans must have something to offer that I’m missing. 
The secret may not be so secret anymore.  As stated on the Tootsie Roll web site, Minnie Larson, age 105, of Muskegon, Michigan says that the secret to long life is “peace and quiet, a single life, and an endless supply of Tootsie Rolls.”
She’d live forever at my house.

What's your favorite reject candy?  Let me know in the comments below.   Just don't leave me any Tootsie Rolls.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mama badge for a real trooper

In a moment of weakness and semi-insanity, I agreed to help take on an entire Girl Scout troop.  And while anyone who truly knows me knows that there is probably no better job for me, I have to admit that it’s harder than I thought it would ever be.
Growing up, I was a Girl Scout for many years.  The girls in my troop were without a doubt my best friends, and my leaders were positive and permanent role models in the way I live my life even today.  It was, all in all, an outstanding experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything – not even all the badges in the world.  As it was, for all of the years I was an actual scout, the number of badges we actually earned were very few.  It was almost as if one night around a campfire the leaders looked at each other and said, “we don’t need no steenking badges!” and they erupted into hearty belly laughs.
But here I am, faced with having to plan meetings and read books and organize beyond my wildest dreams, so that our troop can earn the lovely badges that grace their fancy uniforms and look fantastic.  Meanwhile, we leaders end up run ragged and usually have glue, glitter, or paint stuck to us somewhere, and there’s not a badge in sight.
That’s why I’ve decided that Mom Scouts (yes, I made that up,) the ones who live our lives to the fullest even without a vest or a promise, should have our very own set of badges.  Dust off an old vest, ladies, and get working towards these lovely rewards:
First Aid.  For a mom to earn this badge, she must always carry a bandage in her purse, along with a kiss and a magic phrase or gesture that instantly turns booboo’s into giggles.  She must also be able to do an instant conversion from milliliters to teaspoons for administering late night fever reducing medicines as well as know the difference between “my tummy hurts” and “clear a direct path for the bathroom.”
The Clean House Badge.  This a badge worthy of the Mom Scout who is always ready for the unexpected guest without just shoving everything into the laundry room and closing the door.  To earn this badge, complete at least one of the following: a) Find the bottom of your kitchen counter, b) dust your return air vents, or c) scrub your toilet tanks with a toothbrush.
The Sports Badge.  Contrary to what you might think, a true Mom Scout doesn’t need to even flex a muscle to earn this badge.  Instead, she has to sit absolutely quietly, either in her car, on a bleacher, or on a folding lawn chair while she watches her children all play sports and tries hard not to yell at officials and even harder not to hit the concession stand for snacks a-plenty.
Food: Simple Cooking Badge.  In real Girl Scouting, the girls are required to do things like plan a simple meal and make sure it is part of a balanced diet.  For Mom Scouts, the ante has been raised.  Not only do you have to plan it, but you have to race to the store last-minute because you’re oddly out of mustard.  You then have to finish the preparation and set the table in light speed because someone has practice of some sort in fourteen minutes.
Know Your Nature Badge.  Forget the wilderness and survival knots and foraging for plants to eat if you were stranded, this badge has to do with one thing: flowerbeds.  They must be neat and weeded and seasonally correct, and this badge can be revoked if, come January, you have the skeletons of summer’s flowers poking up through the snow.
Community.  For a Mom Scout to earn her community badge, she must give selfishly to the community, volunteering for everything she possibly can even though it means that she puts her own life on the back burner to get it done.  She must be overscheduled, underpaid, and believe she doesn’t have the word “sucker” tattooed on her forehead.  For an extra gold star, she might even lead a Girl Scout troop of her own.

By the way, cookie orders start in January.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

In the days before social networking

If you must know, I’m a Facebook junkie.  I consider it my morning news, my afternoon conversation, and an easy way to stay sane so I don’t end up just talking to myself all day long.  It also makes a great gossip column, not to mention a nearly effortless way of reconnecting with old friends and new acquaintances.
But with every simplicity in life comes some other form of inconvenience, and for all of the hours I spend on social networking, it only took me a minute to figure out the main downfall of this new-fangled way of interaction.
For all the communicating, it makes you actually miss people.  Mostly, I miss the face-to-face conversation, the laughter, and the emotion that inspired friendship in the first place.  Before the days of logging on to get the latest scoop or see a recent picture of a friend’s child, I used to meet my friends and chat over coffee while dishing the news and sharing a smile.
Now I brew myself a pot and hunker down with my laptop in the lonely comfort of my own kitchen table, enjoying the ease of it all but missing a few old-fashioned ways of pre-Facebook life…
Now, if I want someone to be my friend, I just ask them.  A simple click on the “accept” button and instantly we are connected in an elite group in each other’s lives.  But back in the day, if I wanted someone to be my friend, I had to actually talk to them, to ask about their day and care about their life.  There was no button to click, no email notifications.  Instead, a friendship was sealed with a handshake or a hug—an honest touch between two people without a pop-up window to be seen.
Conversely, if someone really drives me up a wall and back down again, or does something to hurt my feelings, now I have some simple way to remove them from my life.  I simply delete them; a sly “unfriend” action that seems like the cowardly way of breaking up with a middle school boyfriend, when you wrote a note and folded it up and gave it to a friend to give to a friend who stuck it in his locker.  No body has the guts to do even that much these days.  Just a click and it’s over, which sounds cruel but would have made middle school a lot less difficult.
If someone is still a kind person but annoys you by posting or tweeting their every move all day long, you have an option of merely “hiding” everything they have to say.  I personally don’t like to hear about how great your life is, how perfect your kids are, or how delicious your dinner was while I ate a bowl of cereal.  But with hiding or unsubscribing, I have the virtual choice to put my fingers in my ears and sing la-la-la-la-la so I don’t even have to hear about it.  Handy, yes, but back in the day if someone grated on your every last nerve you actually had to physically not be there or not listen which gave the person a pretty good hint of how they made you feel. 
I’m not sure where all of this leaves us as a society.  We are caught in a chasm between connection and disconnect, stuck in a space that has the chance of being beautiful or hypocritical.  The word “friend” has taken on an entirely new meaning, especially since the comforting noun has morphed into a verb. 
I for one, however, am not giving it up.  I like seeing photos of my far off friend’s children, to hear the latest news, to know when to help friends in need. 
But I miss the old ways, too, the real face-to-face or even phone-to-phone communication that is second fiddle to the instant news flash or someone pulling a school photo out of their wallet.  Mostly, I miss the touch and the security of knowing that try as you may, you can’t fake a handshake or the look in someone’s eyes when they smile.  Just like you can’t fake a smile when someone sticks their fingers in their ears.  La-la-la-la-la.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Guilty thoughts of squirty cheese and Kool-Aid

***I realize now that I've written this that I what I thought was Cheez Whiz is really called Easy Cheese or Ready Cheese or something like that.  No need for squirty cheese connoisseurs to correct me.  I am obviously a novice, and stand corrected. km

I really do try to be a decent parent because when it comes to my children, I know that their general health and their behavior are the direct result of the upbringing my husband and I muddle through.
I correct their grammar.  I watch their language.  I encourage good moral character and am constantly forcing upon them such things as exercise, education, and healthy eating habits.  Generally speaking, it’s exhausting.  Parenting would be a much easier job if I didn’t give a hoot about how clean their bodies, mouths, and minds were.  I may not be so drained at the end of each day if I let them just eat French fries and didn’t check their homework.  But I do give a hoot and so it goes that by the time they are tucked in bed with clean teeth and a story with a life lesson, I collapse in a pathetic heap.
But the universe has something to say to me about all of it.  At the store where I do most of my grocery shopping, right on the end cap by the snacks and beverages is a full rack of something that seems to jump out at me every time I roll my cart by.  It practically leaps off the rack and challenges my very parenting techniques no matter how I try to avert my eyes.
It’s Cheez Whiz, that lovely cheese in a can with a nifty little squirty top so that you can make star designs in cheesy delight on top of your crackers.  And if you’re really good, you can make a perfect swirl design so that it builds up higher and higher in the middle of the cracker to form the most splendid little flop at the tip, so idyllic that it looks professionally decorated.  When no one is looking, you can even just squirt it into your mouth.
I know all of these things despite the fact that I have had not had any processed cheese in a bottle for years and years.  Obviously, I spent a good portion of my childhood eating Cheez Whiz.  The stuff was amazing, especially when you could give yourself a Cheez Whiz mustache which was just a line of orange that lay overtop an already shaded upper lip, thanks to the gallon of red Kool-Aid I drank every day. 
Drinking tropical punch like it was my job, my teeth and my clothes were stained red for years.  I was a skilled Kool-Aid maker and even more skilled Kool-Aid drinker because when it came down to it, I really only cared about the points that were listed on the back.  I saved enough for a t-shirt, a Frisbee, and my favorite, a Kool-Aid man shaped pitcher and two cups.  If I close my eyes I can still feel the wooden spoon in my hand and hear the sound of it scraping the pound of sugar around the bottom of that pitcher…
But here I am all those years later, and my poor kids are forbidden to drink red punch of any sort and have sadly never, ever enjoyed a cracker decorated with Cheez Whiz.  They’ve never had a three-day red-punch mustache and have never known the joy and wonderment of embellishing a piece of bologna with cheese-ish eyes, nose, and smile.  They’ve never even tasted the stuff and I couldn’t feel worse about it.
Sure, I’ve done my job filling their little bodies with healthier options.  I’ve made sure their cheese comes in a block and their beverages contain a little less of that crusty sugar that settles on the bottom of every jug of punch that was ever made.  But I have been selfishly keeping these genuinely fantastic things from them.  I’m not sure what side of good parent/bad parent that puts me, but I know that next time the Cheez Whiz stares me down in the store, I’ll toss it with a hefty heave ho into the cart and head down the beverage aisle.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Taking time to stop and see the miracles


It’s a typical scene around this place. I’ve got a to-do list a mile long.  I’m sure one of my kids is going to be low on underwear for lack of clean laundry, and twice this week we’ve eaten hotdogs and frozen vegetables.  I don’t even need to mention that there is homework to check and columns to write.
But they all have been pushed aside for the good, because this week my life has been centered around one thing: a caterpillar.  And I don’t even mind it’s poo that stained a piece of furniture.
A few days ago while practicing the fine art of being children, my kids were playing in the yard.  Footballs were thrown, someone made a craft from some tall grasses, and I was busy cleaning the kitchen and missing it all.  (Motherhood: if ever there was a time for maid or a clone…) 
Suddenly my son came in, yelling.  “Mom!  We found an awesome caterpillar!”  Being a self-proclaimed nature nut, I dropped everything and ran out.  And there it was, a beautiful and large swallowtail butterfly to-be, munching away on some wild carrot.
Knowing that these were not really harmful and easy to raise, the dishes piled up and I began to construct what I like to call the world’s sweetest caterpillar digs.  I dug up and potted host plants (its favorite foods) from around the yard, hand selected sticks with enough strength to stay up, and placed them all in a net enclosure.  One child named it “Harvey” and so we began to spend our days watching him.  Or her. 
I may have fed my children junk food, but Harvey got fresh parsley and wild carrot every day.  I checked to make sure he was always well fed and properly digesting and basically spent more time on this thing than I did myself.
One night we came home to find Harvey sprinting as much as a caterpillar could around the enclosure.  I thought he was just going bonkers until I noticed a big dark splotch on the bottom.
“Kids!!!!!  Come quick!!!!  He just emptied his digestive tract and he’s going to get ready to make a chrysalis!!” 
And when you say “insect diarrhea” to a little boy, they come running like you just offered them 10 pounds of candy. 
Later that night, after the sprinting stopped, Harvey found his perfect location on one of my hand-selected sticks and began to “pre-pupate” where he attaches his front and back to the stick, hunkers down, and waits to morph into a full chrysalis.
And that’s where I am right now, watching this motionless insect, waiting for him to make his final morph as a caterpillar.  The process takes only minutes once it starts, so against my better interest I plan on propping open my eyeballs with toothpicks and Scotch tape, drinking a pot of tea, and staring until I’m cross-eyed at this inch-long pre-pupating caterpillar, which has now come out of its cage and is propped right in the middle of my kitchen table.
If I make it to the miracle, I told my children I would wake them up.  Even if it’s midnight, or even if it’s 2:00 AM.  When something so cool is on your kitchen table, it’s worth it.
I’m sure that if I lived in a busier neighborhood, a hundred people might have walked right past little ol’ Harvey, munching away in the sunshine.  I’m thankful my children took the time to get at grass level, even it meant getting grass stains on their clothes.  Watching this caterpillar go through these amazing changes reminds me of how many incredible miracles of nature there are out there, and if I can get this much enjoyment out of watching something an inch long hook itself to a stick, I’m bound to smile a little larger, even if there’s a stain of caterpillar poo on my baker’s rack and even though the to-do list has spilled off the table, rolled out the door and under a bush. 
There just might be another caterpillar hiding under there.

A chrysalis!  I never saw it happen, but Harvey sits in waiting, another miracle in the making.

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