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Friday, April 27, 2012

An Arbor Day Anthem

“People!” she said with a sawdusty sneeze,
“I’m not the Lorax. But I speak for the trees.
I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.
And I’m asking you, people, at the top if my lungs”-
she was very upset as she did shout and yell,
“Don’t you have a tree that you once knew so well?”
Perhaps it was in your yard’s back or the side,
Maybe the trunk was thin or quite wide,
Was it the kind that had leaves that turn in the fall?
Or needles so green that they don’t change at all?
Did you play underneath it, climb to its top?
Take a big leap that ended in flop?
Did you once find a nest hidden safely so high
And watch as the birds had their first chance to fly?
Did you take the branches that fell to the ground
And turn them into swords for the enemies you found?
Did you take the leaves red or orange in their looks
And press them between paper, stacked between books?
Did you sit in its branches and contemplate life?
Did you carve in initials with an old pocket knife?
I, not the Lorax, have something to say,
I’ve had a tree or two in my day.
There have been forts underneath that I carefully made,
I’ve leaned on their trunks, I’ve sat in their shade.
I’ve made piles and piles of their leaves that I raked,
And I’ve cursed them again as my shoulders they ached.
But I’ve never saw a tree and said, “hey, you know,
That old giant tree there?  It’s just got to go.
It’s ugly.  It’s pointless.  My view is impeded.
The shade and the oxygen, it’s really not needed.
That kid that plays there, he’ll not know it’s gone.
Let’s chop it down and let the grass grow right on.”
Instead I’ll say things like, “That tree there’s a beaut’,
From the top of its crown to the base of its root.
It’s taken forever for it to grow to this size
And someday when this gargantuan dies,
It’ll crash with a boom and I hope I’m not near it!
(But I wonder then, if someone will hear it?)”
At the end of each April, on the last of Fridays,
There’s this wonderfully simple of all holidays.
It’s Arbor Day!  A day that speaks for the trees,
That started around eighteen hundred seventy three,
And reminds us each year that these things growing tall
Shouldn’t be taken for granted at all.
So this year, I urge to you take a quick look outside
Where the big trees grow and the Lorax abides,
And find a nice tree to call your own,
And perhaps a fresh spot where one can be grown,
And plant in a sapling, so fragile and frail,
Give it water to drink from an old wooden pail,
Give it rich soil too so its roots can have room
And watch as the leaves soon blossom and bloom.
Do this year after year, it’s more than a ploy,
So your grandkids can have a tree to enjoy,
Just as you, in your youth once did,
When you were just tree-loving kid.

Arbor Day this year is celebrated on Friday, April 27, 2012 in Ohio.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dirt really doesn't hurt

God made dirt, and dirt don’t hurt.
I can’t take credit for this phrase that I use so often.  I first heard it somewhere lost in the wilderness of New Mexico from a friend on a backpacking trip while discussing living in our own filth for the past five days.
“God made dirt, and dirt don’t hurt,” she said, and then we scooped up a handful and wrote empowering words all over our selves with the dark brown mud from the forest floor and went on our way.  Filthy, stinky, and quite happy.
As it turns out, we were really doing ourselves some serious good by using the natural body paint, and even more, my friend’s phrase seems to be truer than we accepted.
Researchers from Oregon State University have concluded that dirt does more than just not hurt.  It may actually be healthy for you!  (Feel free to go outside, dig up a good mushy bit, and slather in all over your face right now.  I don’t, however, suggest eating it.)
The basis of the article is nothing new, that playing in dirt when you’re a kid introduces your body to all kinds of lovely bacteria and germs so that you can build up your system to fight off other things as you grow older.  Allergies, immune deficiencies, etc.  Instead of getting vaccinated at the doctor’s office, you essentially get vaccinated in the mud, and having held down my children while getting shots, I can personally attest that playing in the dirt would be a lot less stressful.
The main point of the article, though, is not necessarily about the mud, but who plays in it.  Girls just aren’t getting enough dirt.  Whether its because parents like to dress their daughters in frilly white clothes or whether society has pre-programmed girls to think playing in outdoor conditions is just “icky,” there’s a definite shortage of muddy misses who aren’t getting their recommended daily allowance of bacteria and germs.  The scientists in the study think this lack of exposure to yucky stuff has had serious effects on females as they age, stating that women statistically have higher rates of asthma, allergies, and a 3:1 ratio compared to boys when it comes to autoimmune disorders. 
And apparently all we have to do to protect our children is to open the back door and kick them outside.
It’s more than just mud vaccination, though.  Countless studies have been done about the whole life benefits of playing in nature.  The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children play outside for 60 minutes each day.  Physical fitness is well accomplished by playing tag and other such games, and being outside helps improve vision, vitamin D levels, and motor development.  Sadly, a recent study by some other long-named pediatric group concluded that nearly half of all children between the ages of 3-5 are not taken outdoors every day.  And while I understand that climate and weather can skew some studies, but this is just plain depressing.
If you forget about the girls vs. boys issue, the autoimmune disorders, the epidemic of childhood obesity, and every other scientific study out there, a few simple things remain.
Playing outside is fun.  Dirt is good for the soul.  Sunshine makes you smile.  Rain inspires dance.  Stars can’t help but make you dream.
Just yesterday I found myself in a situation outside with my children where there was nothing around except a large grass-covered man-made hill used for sledding in the winter.  While I sat there, I couldn’t help but watch and admire as they truly played on this hill, rolling down, running down, making dandelion chains and more.  When they came back to me covered in mud, grass stains, and dandelion stained faces, I heard, “sorry I got so dirty, mom.”
“No worries.  God made dirt, and dirt don’t hurt.”  
Thankfully, someone else somewhere made stain remover and high-powered laundry soap for some of the healthiest kids I know.

ps.  Yep, that's me on the left, after my friend and I got into a bank of good, Ohio clay.

Our own hunger games

Please don’t think there is any more violence than normal in our kitchen.  I can assure you that the only bloodshed is by myself, mis-slicing an onion.  And the only things that truly goes from alive to dead are the meat and vegetables we eat.
But there are games we play, and there are battles we fight.  And like you might imagine, there is a definite government among the people and just a bit of monarchy when it comes to ruling the refrigerator.
And because we all know the story of the Little Red Hen, I can sum it up in one sentence.  “There’s the stove, and if you don’t like the meal that I planned, purchased, and prepared, make your own lousy dinner.”
As you might expect, they don’t make their own meals, which is a rather good thing because we would eat butter noodles and chicken nuggets and huevos rancheros (I have one wild eater) every night of the week.  Their stunning apathy when it comes to meal preparation leaves me in charge, the sole and absolute ruler of the kitchen.  And being in charge has its benefits, such as I get to control what goes into the mouths of the people that I love so much.   If I don’t buy donuts, they won’t eat them.  Likewise, if I really want banana chips, the delicious snack that no one else but I enjoy, I have the power to throw them in the cart.  This is the perk of the monarch.
Like in most government situations with one head honcho, my power is always being tested.  Constantly creeping under my skin like toothpicks and kebab skewers is the most frustrating bit of food known to mankind:  The snack.
If I had a nickel for every time someone has asked me for a snack, you’d find me sitting in a diamond chair on top of my golden palace, with a coffee fountain and a lifetime supply of banana chips.  These children, they know exactly how to play a parent when it comes to eating these small bits of food between meals that they claim to need or else they’ll fall over and wilt away into a puddle of slime.
It always happens that they ask for a snack at such a time they won’t be hungry for the delicious dinner that I planned, purchased, and prepared.  (See Little Red Hen comment above.)  And thus begins our very own Hunger Games.
Scene:  Mother busily cooking dinner.  Pots are on the stove, bowls and ingredients all over the counter and as usual, we have about 30 minutes before some evening practice event.
“Mom, I’m hungry.  Can I have a snack?” 
“No.  Are you blind?  Can you not see that I’m clearly making dinner?”
“I know, but I’m soooo hungry right now I think I might die if I don’t eat something.”
“I’m soooo sorry,” I respond and I find myself chopping onions with a little more vigor.
You can imagine this goes on for quite a bit, until the child slinks away to prepare his or her next strategy.  Eventually the child returns.
“What about a healthy snack?  If I eat something healthy would that be OK?”
“Maybe.  What do you want?”
“Um, is pizza healthy?  It has tomatoes and dairy products and protein, right?”
At this point, the games are in full swing and this lady isn’t backing down.
“I will allow you a healthy snack.  If you are so hungry that you fear for your own life, I will certainly give you a healthy snack.  Here are your choices.  You may have a dish of radishes, a can of garbanzo beans, some delicious kale, or a big brimming bowl of unflavored oatmeal.  I would be happy to prepare any of the above for you,” I offer with the grin of the century on my face, knowing full well that this mom has just won today’s rendition of the hunger games.

Things that go bump or blah in the night

It started with a pork roast, but we’ll get to that.
Sleeping next to the same guy every night, in the same room, with the same surrounding noises, has had very different responses over the years.  I don’t think either one of us considers ourselves necessarily a light or a sound sleeper, and on any given day, I just count my blessings that I’m actually sleeping at all.
Such is the life as a parent.
And there doesn’t seem to be any real rhyme or reason as to what jerks me out of a deep sleep and keeps my husband snoring away, or what keeps me in dreamland and has him racing frantically through the house.  There have been times that the mere cough of a tiny infant has had me rocketing up and sprinting down the hall, and other times when a bulldozer could have backed into the kitchen and I would have not noticed a thing.  I’ve also become quite adjusted and able to sleep through his alarm clocks, his late-night business phone conversations, and when he was on the volunteer fire department, blaring sirens and details of calls.  
Likewise, he quickly became adjusted to sleeping through baby cries and when the kids rolled heavily in bed while things like a falling stuffed animal sent me running.
All this seems irrelevant, but really is perfect background knowledge for what made for a long night for him, a sleepy night for me, and a video I hope never goes viral.
Like I said, it started with a pork roast, and more importantly a pork bone.  When my kid asked if he could give the bone to our dog, in a frantic dinner frenzy I said “sure” and didn’t think twice about it.  For the record, small dogs shouldn’t eat giant pork bones, and while she enjoyed it very much going down, it was not quite the case when it came back up.
All.  Night.  Long.
This was one of those cases when my body must have been so tired that I completely shut down all ability to hear a vomiting dog in the wee hours of the morning, or else my brain was smart enough to not wake me up because, essentially, dog barf is gross.  According to my husband, the bone ‘resurfaced’ starting around midnight and kept resurfacing via both ends for hours.  
I woke up in the morning to find the bed empty and figured he must have left early for work or went for a jog, only to find him camped out on the couch with a pathetic dog on his feet and a roll of paper towels and a bottle of carpet cleaner on the table.
“Check your email,” was all that he said.
And when I did, I saw it.  A lovely little self-filmed video sent with a subject of “thanks for your help last night” that has this very script:
“Good morning.  It’s one AM.  The dog has puked twice.  I’m standing out in the hallway outside our bedroom with all of the lights on.  I’ve been scrubbing carpets and where is my wife?  Sleeping through the whole thing.  Let’s go check on her to see if this will wake her up.”
With that, he walks the camera into our room and pans around to display my sleeping self, sprawled out in a sleep so deep that even the a video camera doesn’t wake me up.  In fact, nothing woke me up, as the dog continued to be sick all through the night.
All’s well that ends well, though.  The dog recovered, the carpets were unscathed, the pork roast was delicious, the video never made it to YouTube, and I made my husband a nice, strong cup of “I’m sorry” coffee in the morning.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Running Away

I would be lying if I said I’d never thought about running away.  There are fleeting moments of hopping in my car and my last words being something like, “you guys drove me one mile past crazy.  I’m outta here!” There are other times when I feel like gathering up the whole crazy-inducing gang and leaving town and living in the middle of nowhere so that my kids are safe and protected from the scares of the day and the mean kids in school.  
I would venture to say that I’m not alone when it comes to the thoughts of heading for the hills, and this week I’ve had to deal with two runaways from my own home.   When the dog took off after a bunny or a cat, I knew she’d eventually come trotting home.  But it boggles my mind why anyone would want to leave this miraculous place where their mother feeds them, clothes them, teaches them, and horror of all horrors makes them get along, practice piano, and do their homework.  Still, such was the case a few days ago when I almost lost a redheaded son to the lure of the rails.
He comes by it honest, though, if I’m being truthful.  I remember countless episodes as a child preparing my escape.  I would pack a few clothes and my teddy bear into my Barbie hard-sided suitcase and plan to hit the highway, or at least the road to Grandparent’s house where I’m sure they would never yell at me and feed me bread and butter and peanut butter crackers and ginger ale until the cows came home.  I never actually made it there, but in my mind I was already walking down my street and contemplating how to cross Sate Road, never looking back.
I don’t remember what set me off, and I’m guessing that my son has no idea of why he wanted to run away this week, but he was thinking ahead and really planning for his survival.
“Mom, I need you to go to the grocery store for me.  I need some bottled water and I need it soon.  I’m leaving at 8:00 sharp.  Downtown.”
Naturally I dove right in, and asked him why he needed water and why it was downtown.
“I need fresh water to drink.  And it’s a train, duh”  (As a sidenote, he went through a phase of being infatuated with hobos and hobo symbols, and riding the rails seems pretty glamorous in his eyes.
“Hmm.  Do you want food too?” I asked.
“Nope.  I’m going to get a part-time job.  That’ll be enough to pay for food and I probably won’t make it past age 14 anyway.  Starvation, I’d guess.”
“Well, swing by your grandparents on the way out of town.  I’m sure they’ll want to say goodbye.  And I can drive you to the train station later so we can stop at the store and get some water for you.”
And away he stomped, off to sit in the tree house and eat crackers until he came to apologize and tell me he’ll stay which is good because I’m guessing life on the rails isn’t as lovely as it looks in the movies.  Plus I kinda love my kid.
As silly as it sounds, there are a lot of kids that do run away for real, and as a parent I couldn’t even imagine how scared I would be.   The US Department of Justice reports that over 450,000 missing children each year are runaways, and that one in seven children between the ages of 10 and 18 will hit the road.  Some return in a few days, but most stay away from anywhere between one month and one year.  A portion of the runaway children come back on their own accord, and others never come home—they either start a new life or find their own ended by assault, illness, or suicide.  Sad statistics, and if you ever see a redheaded boy playing a harmonica with a handkerchief pouch on a stick, send him this way.  I’ll be mighty appreciative. 
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