Saturday, November 23, 2013

Actually, no offense

Oh, to be a kid.
The carefree lifestyle of decorated cereal boxes that don’t flash the word FIBER across the front to lure in adults and other boring people.  The wonderment of the latest toy craze.  The magic of simplicity, like swinging on a swing and not feeling like you’re going to toss the cookies you had at lunch.  There are rewards of ice cream and early bedtime.  There are naps.  
Oh, the naps.
But there’s also the fact that kids can presumably act like a grown up and be fairly cute about it.  Kind of like those old painting where animals are playing poker or shooting pool.  Totally unrealistic and yet so comical because they are trying so hard to be like us, but they are so very far away.
That’s what my daughter has become.  Not a bulldog shooting the eight ball in the corner pocket.  She’s become a wanna-be adult.
Two very important phrases come to mind when I think of her five-year old brain and what it must be going through.  The first phrase is: actually.
As in, “actually, whatever I say after I say the word ‘actually’ is really just a rambling sentence that explains that whatever you said was completely wrong and whatever I’m saying is completely right.”  
For example, I might say, “time to go to bed, dear.”
“Actually,” she replies, “the time is only 8:24 and you said that I have to be in bed at 8:30, so I can stay up for six more minutes.”  
“You need to eat some of everything on your plate.”
“Actually,” she retorts, I have eaten at least one of everything.  I just took a little bite out of it so there is still a lot left, but actually I tasted it, and, no offense, mom, but it makes me want to barf.”
And that, my adult friends, is the next phrase that makes me want to be a kid.  “No offense.”
I don’t know where my daughter heard this, but if I find the person who introduced her to it I will, no offense, slap them to next week and feed them food that will actually make them vomit.  Apparently my daughter is under the impression that she can say whatever the world she wants to say as long as she puts the words “no offense” in front of it.  No amount of explanation or discussion will change this.  I tell her it’s not kind, it’s not nice, and it’s not the polite thing to do.  But she just looks at me and says, “no offense, mom, but you’re wrong.”
So I get to spend my days blushing and shaking my head when this cute little blonde haired girl says things like, “no offense, but that lady’s outfit is really ugly.”  And the lady in question is well within earshot.  I glance over at her and offer an apologetic grin hoping that she didn’t quite hear that correctly or that she thinks my kid is being funny, when I notice that my daughter was actually right.  The lady was indeed wearing rather hideous looking clothes.
And that right there is the other main reason I want to be a kid.  
Kids are honest.  They say it like they see.  They see the world through truthful eyes and let those truths come out of their little sticky mouths and remind us, now and then, that honesty is the best policy.  
They also remind us that we should check our clothes in the mirror once in a while, taste the food we serve our family and our guests, and that 8:30 means 8:30.
No offense, but actually, they’re pretty smart.

Friday, November 22, 2013

You snooze, you lose


I’m a snooze-aholic.  I’m the person who purposely sets her alarm clock nine or eighteen minutes before I really need to get up so that I can have the pleasure of smacking that button on the top of my clock with the force of a freight train coming down a mountain before rolling back over and snuggling into the warm blankets.
Somehow, in my weary mind, I feel that I am tricking my body into thinking that I’m doing something really nice for it.  It’s the equivalent of knowing that you’re going to eat an entire pie, but you just serve yourself one sliver at a time, purposely allowing yourself the treat and the lack of self-restraint.
Because when it comes to pie and sleep, I have little self-restraint.
Which is why I’m so deeply in love with my snooze button.
And which is also why, I know now, that I stumble around for the first fifteen minutes of my day, walking in circles and doing things I have no recollection of because my body does not like the snooze button as much as my mind does.  There will be days when I have to stop and think and try to remember if I ate breakfast because I literally don’t remember what I did when I first woke up.  Sometimes I even have to look at the bread bin to see if there is a missing bagel.  How I manage to make a pot of coffee in this state of mind every day without burning down the house is itself a miracle.
Turns out that snoozy habit of mine is doing more harm than good.  
In a perfect world, or on the weekends when there are no soccer games or theater rehearsals, our bodies have little internal clocks that tell us to wake up.  They get all primed and ready about an hour before our eyes pop open and little chemicals are released that wakes us up happy, ready to start the day, and able to remember if we consumed toast.
But the world is not perfect, and there are lunches to be packed and jobs to be done and so we rely on these mechanical devices to rouse us out of our sleep, no matter if our body is ready or not.  When we hit the snooze button, though, there’s a chance our bodies will reset and fall back into the deepest of sleeps so that nine minutes later when it goes back off you find yourself slapping your nightstand and then standing in your bathroom wondering how you got there.
As always, the Internet provides countless tips on how to break the snooze addiction.  Some of them are really genius, as if some fancy scientist worked very hard to come up with them.  These suggestions are: go to bed earlier, put your alarm clock out of your reach, and disable your snooze button by super gluing it so that it is impossible to use.  Other more creative ideas are: buy a coffee pot with a timer, set your thermostat to heat your room an hour before waking so that your body will release those wake-up chemicals, or get a really loud alarm that will scare you so senseless that even if you push the snooze, your beating heart will keep you wide awake.  My favorite suggestion however, is to “reward your brain with being awake with an enjoyable mental activity such as reading a book, playing a game, or playing a musical instrument.”
I’m going with the last one.
So if at 6:00 AM one morning you hear the faint sounds of a saxophone coming from my house, do not panic.  I’m simply trying to remember if I enjoyed that bagel or not.
Endnote: Ever wonder why snooze alarms are only nine minutes?  It’s a feature of the digital age.  The clock only has to concentrate on the minute hand.  Ain’t got time for more math, I guess.



Thursday, November 21, 2013

Five napkins

In perfect world, I would listen to the quiet sounds of jazz music while I prepared a nutritious evening meal.  My children, numbering three, would each take a specific task to help organize our dining experience: one would get the plates, one would arrange the silverware, and the third would place perfectly folded napkins next to each setting.  My husband would put down the newspaper and join us at the table for a healthy dose of food, laughter, and family time.
But in reality, we spend 50% of our time eating from a paper bag before or after a sports or music practice, 30% of the time grabbing some sort of leftovers and shoving them in our face as fast as possible, 20% eating so late we are exhausted and staying awake is the main objective, and 10% of the time actually attempting the family dinner meal.
Of that measly 10%, 90% of the time someone forgets the napkins.
I usually get blamed, as mothers often do, and so I leave my warm food to gather them from the cupboard.  And every time I do this, I find myself going through the same motions.  I pick up a large stack of napkins, and flip through them to count: one, two, three, four, five.  One for each member of my family.
But it wasn’t always like this, of course.  When I was growing up, it was just my mom and dad and I and our napkins numbered three.  When my husband started joining us more and more for meals, suddenly the number became four which was but a temporary increase, because soon enough he proposed and we married and I began setting the table with only two napkins.
Soon after that it was three.  
Then four.
Then five.
And I know in my heart of hearts, that despite the picky eaters and food battles, the spills and the seconds and requests for a bowl of plain noodles, I love counting out those five napkins.  Even if it’s a leftover night standing at the counter and not a roast chicken with homemade mashed potatoes, five napkins are still pretty great.
Sometimes we only have four, when a child is off at a friend’s house or my husband travels for work.  Even more rare, practically non-existent, is a mere two napkins for an in-house date night.  Conversely, sometimes we count out seven napkins and have to pull in an extra chair for grandparent company, which is only beat out by big family gathering when napkin need is grossly outnumbered by the amount of folding chairs that we own.
But still, I know I am truly fortunate when I count out five.  I never thought that something so simple, such a menial daily task could make such a difference in my life, but the older I get the more important I realize these things are.  Maybe it’s the fact that I do it so often, flipping through that stack and thumbing out one for each member of my family, that it has been so easily overlooked for so long.  
As I sit back and watch my children get older, I realize that my days of setting five napkins are numbered.  The teen years send them spinning in a million directions, and soon enough they will trickle off to college or adulthood and I’ll watch my number of napkins drop.
From five to four.
From four to three.
From three to two.
And on those days when we gather and I am lucky enough to count out five napkins again, I will cherish every flip of my thumb and treat each one as the blessing that it truly is.  If the blessings continue, maybe someday I’ll have the pleasure of counting out eight or ten or twelve napkins.  I’d even make roast chicken and homemade mashed potatoes for that.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

You’re lookin’ at country

Not everyone likes country music, and I can appreciate that.  I know that plenty of people out there actually will go as far as to say they despise it, that they would rather listen to a crying baby run its fingernails down a chalkboard and operate a leaf blower at the same time, probably the way I personally feel about certain types of music.  
But for me, I love country music.  I always have, thanks to my dad and his collection of Willie, Merle, and Johnny, and I always will.
If you’re one of those people who don’t prefer country, I thought I’d clear up a few facts about it:
All country music involves a dying dog.  FALSE.  However, there are a few songs that do mention the passing of a worthy hound, some that will even remind you of Old Yeller and choke you up a bit.
All country music must include something about “mama.”  FALSE.  Although there are plenty of songs that mention somebody’s mama, I can assure you that in country music, being a mama is something to be proud of.  With a few exceptions, mama is always someone you’d want to meet.
All country music sounds all twang-y and whiny.  FALSE.  That twang you hear is just a little bit of soul coming through the microphone, and the so-called whininess is just the true heart of the singer telling his story. Also, partly TRUE.  Non-scientific studies have shown that the larger the brim of the hat, the deeper the twang.  (Not really, I just made that up.)
All country music has a steady rhythm and you could do the Boot Scootin’ Boogie to anything you might hear on the radio.  FALSE.  Please don’t try to line dance to every country song.  You will embarrass yourself and most likely your children.
The truth about country music, or at least why I love it so much, is that those artists are the great storytellers of our time.  From folk to bluegrass to mainstream country, each of the artists does more than just sing a song and strum a few chords.  They share simple emotions that connect with the listener, emotions that they may have felt if they had just lost a dog or hugged a mama.  If you’ve ever been sad, mad, happy, lonely, hurt, in love, cheated on, cheated with, lied, lied to, poor, rich, hitched, divorced, young, old, or stuck somewhere in the middle, country music has a song for you. 
And that’s the truth.  Here are a few more:
Country music still has style and class.  TRUE.  How many other types of music will you see where performers still dress up in glamorous dresses and suits and ties?  Seems some recent performers have been choosing to wear the absolute opposite.
Country music is fun to sing along with.  TRUE.  The roots of this music are not based on complicated chords like diminished augmented sevenths.  It serves it’s purpose by giving you something to tap your foot along with and keeps it basic enough so by the end of the song, you’ve got the chorus down pat.  The fancy stuff?  Save that for the steel guitar and honkytonk piano breaks.
Country music makes you proud to be an American, and a hard working one at that.  TRUE.  You’d be hard pressed to find any other music out there that still celebrates the freedom our country has, and even more hard pressed to find music that tells about how we got here.  From the steel mills to the battlefields, the slow strum of an acoustic guitar tells the tales of the everyday American man.  
And his mama.
And maybe his dog.
All in all, I admit that sometimes it gets me right in the back of the throat so much that I almost need to tip my hat and cover my eyes before I two-step on to the next song.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Uncomfortable fun

When’s the last time you stepped into something fairly uncomfortable?  And no, I’m not talking about skinny jeans or platform heels.  That’s just ridiciulous.  I’m talking about stepping out of your comfort zone and spicing things up a little, maybe taking a break from the chicken noodle soup of life and straight into a hot tamale.  
For me, we’ll say it was late July.
For those who know me now, you might be surprised to find out that I was indeed a very shy child.  I hated doing anything in front of anyone, blushed at the drop of a hat, and was perfectly fine staying at home instead of out socializing because I was afraid no one would like me or I’d do something stupid or generally embarrass myself more than I did usually, which was fairly frequent.  Ask my parents.  They’ll shake their heads and tell you it’s true.
I dabbled in theater in high school but was always content to work backstage or hide behind my instrument in the accompanying pit band.  I had one role onstage, but was beyond nervous the entire time and hoped that no one could see my gigantic sweat stains from the audience.  But recently my children decided to give community theater a try, and as I sat there watching them on stage, I couldn’t help but think to myself that they were having way too much fun.
Fun I wanted to have.
I think I even got a little jealous of them.
So I gathered my nerves and auditioned for the next production the theater company was putting on, and by some miracle of miracles, was given a part in the play.
From there on out it has been a wild ride.  I kind of see it as one of the funny videos you see on TV where there’s a little kid or an old lady, and she steps onto a trampoline.  At first, she is quite tentative.  She slowly steps and slowly bounces, and through a series of nerve building jumps, ends up bouncing as high as possible and maybe even throwing in some backflips, and never wants her turn to end.
I had no idea that doing this play would be “backflip” fun, but it is. There are lines and props and costumes and lights and some really great people up on stage and behind the director’s table.
In a world that seems to be dominated by wins and losses, it’s refreshing to see people come together for neither a win nor a loss, just plain teamwork.  On stage, there are no points.  No one calls a foul or gets benched.  We all just work together to make it the best show that we possibly can.  And besides that being generally a cool concept,  it also makes the whole bit of trying something completely new a little easier.  And more wonderful.
I’m not going to encourage all of you to take up community theater, but what a world it would be if we all stepped out of our comfort zones a little bit. Pushed ourselves beyond our everyday life.  Tried something new and out of the norm.  I can vouch that my experience of attempting something completely different has been a delightful one, and thankfully my “uncomfort” is turning into “comfort.”  (This, statement, however, applies only to my general participation in the upcoming production.  It does not apply to my costume, which sadly includes high heels.)
I survived all six shows.  In heels.  And apparently a "trashy" dress according to one audience member.


Monday, November 18, 2013

The sound of clocks makes for clean closets

Every year when my children go back to school, I spend a good solid day frolicking through my
house enjoying the peace and accomplishing tasks.  I turn on either the television to a show that is not animated or music of my own liking, or sometimes I just turn everything off and scare myself silly at the silence because it’s not something I have heard in many months.
This year, I did just that.  I turned off all noises and sipped tea in the kitchen while sorting though a pile of mail that had been accumulating since May and I heard the strangest sound: the clock that hangs on the wall.
My grandmother bought me the simple clock when we moved into our house over eight years ago, but I swear I never knew it actually made noise.  I thought it was some new-fangled fancy clock that had moving parts but didn’t tick-tock like clocks normally do, but I was completely wrong. 
The clock makes noise.  I was floored.  I nearly spit tea out on the overdue bills.
It was this quiet, creepy rhythm that was telling me to take advantage of the freedom from the noises and distractions and constant messes and to finally do something monumental and, as far as housework goes, colossal.  It was telling me to embrace the fact I now had the opportunity to do all of those things I had wanted to do over the summer when I was convinced I would have more time, which I didn’t.
So I did what any mother feeling a taste of freedom would do:  I cleaned my office closet.
My office closet is the place is kind of like the black hole of all things junky, and I have been working on this massive collection for eight years.  It is where I have put things that had no place, that couldn’t be classified into any sort of realistic category other than junk or general miscellany.
Any time something would break, I would think to myself, “maybe I could use these parts for something,” and stick it in my closet.
If there was an odd button or piece of string or even a piece of scrap granite countertop I found when they were building a house down the road, I would say, “this would be just perfect for a craft project,” and put it in my closet.
If I had an odd memento such as a child’s art project or a photo of my grandmother or even a nightgown that I received when I was ten years old that I just can’t seem to part with, I would think, “this is too special to throw away, so I’ll just stick it in my closet.”
But my closet is only so large, and even at it’s full capacity it isn’t big enough to hold all of the ideas in my head.  So I had to sit down, in the peace of my own home with the clock ticking away in the background, and sift through unfinished projects and memories.

Some things were easy.  Forty thousand finger-painted masterpieces were easy to decide upon, and that piece of granite found its way out the back door.  Pieces parts were tossed and various items were combined to make for the illusion of neatness.  But all the memories were too much to handle and in between ticks and tocks I cursed my own sentimental self and packed them all away into boxes where they will be neatly storied in the basement until further notice.  Something tells me that there will come a day when the clock ticking won’t only happen in late August, and I’ll have all the time in the world to sort through my so-called junk.  And I’ll love every minute of it.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sunglasses error is perfectly normal

I tell this story not because you, the reader, really cares about my son’s eyewear, but rather because it’s a glimpse into the reality that is, well, life.  And try as we may, life is everywhere and no matter who you are, you’re aren’t alone.
Also, it’s a shout out to TV sitcoms, may they rest in peace.
The word “sitcom” is really just a shortcut to two long words: situation comedy.  It basically means that we could flip on the television in the evening and put our feet up and watch some other family do stupid stuff.  And we’d sit back and laugh and get popcorn during commercial breaks and think say things like, “geez, they are something else!” or more likely, “see, dear?  Our life is normal!”
But TV sitcoms are few and far between these days, with the birth of reality television, which, c’mon, isn’t all that real after all.  Somehow, producers think we would rather stare at people eating jungle plants or going crazy living in a house of strangers than laugh at our own plain, boring lives.
Fortunately, there’s still a few sitcoms holding on, and even some that are family friendly enough for my kids to watch.  Which is just what makes this story so funny.  In a recent TV show, the dad took the son clothes shopping and accidentally purchased him a shirt from the girl’s department.  The boy then wore the shirt to school, was ridiculed, and in payback made his father wear a women’s shirt to bowling night.  Classic humor, and it didn’t go unnoticed by my children who revel in slapstick comedy and large men with floral flowing blouses. 
So sure, it was funny for them, and it was funny for me.  But it doesn’t compare to the hours of laughs we got because of that episode coupled with a recent trip to the store...
To set the scene, we were out and about and it was very sunny.  I try to equip my family with sunglasses to protect their eyes from the sun, but they are notorious for losing, scratching, breaking, or somehow completely destroying them.  The last pair of sunglasses I bought my son were about as cheap as they come, which is good because right at this very moment, they are laying at the bottom of the Colorado River, just south of the Glen Canyon Dam where the water is always a balmy 47 degrees.  He owned them for two days.
So when it came to purchase him another inexpensive pair, I rushed through the bargain shelf at the store to find something comparable.  Sure, there were sporty looking glasses and tough-guy looking glasses.  I wasn’t sure which ones to choose until I came across a pair of camouflage shades which I knew would be perfect—no one, not even the duck hunters on reality television shows, wears as much camo as my kid.  Quickly throwing them in the cart, I smiled because I knew he would just love them.
He didn’t.
In fact, the first words out of his mouth were not “thanks, mom, these are awesome!” like I had truly expected.  In its place I heard, “uh, mom?  Why did you buy me women’s sunglasses?”
In my mind, I saw green camo and thought they would have a masculine flair.  Instead, there were little metallic decorative studs that were situated in exactly the same place as they were on his sister’s glasses.
I tried to smooth things over, tell him that they weren’t girly and certainly looked nice on him and boost up their camouflage power.  But from the instant he put them on, I couldn’t say a single word with a straight face.  Just like the TV show.  Our silly little story is the same is theirs, proving that our crazy is really just a taste of normal.
And just like the show, there is payback involved.  So if you see me walking past wearing some children’s camo sunglasses with decorative metal studs, don’t wave.  Just giggle.



Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dear big, giant retailers...

Dear big, giant retailers,
I am writing today not really to complain, but more to express some deep concern for your lack of spontaneity and those who enjoy it.
You see, I myself am a last-minute shopper.  I don’t internally have the capability to plan far in advance, nor do I have the desire.  I’m a self-proclaimed shopping-hater because I don’t care for crowds of people, standing in line, spending money, or carts that have completely wonky wheels so that walking in a straight line is impossible.  But still, as a consumer, I have needs.  And because my children continue to grow, they have multiple needs in multiple sizes.  And because the seasons continue to change, my whole life has ever-changing needs, which brings me to the main point of this eloquently worded letter containing a plethora of large vocabulary.
At the time of this writing, it is late summer and as a family we are squeezing the last bits out of our sunblock and bug spray and attempting to avoid the inevitable return of school and all that comes with it.  And despite our best efforts at ignoring it, we find ourselves staring eye-to-eye with the start of a new school year which requires new clothes, various school supplies, more sleep, and a personal secretary to keep paperwork and activities organized.
But really, for the time being, we need scissors and notebooks and underwear that fit and pants without holes, stuff to pack lunches and some party music for mom to celebrate with when the kids are all finally back in class.
So upon entering various stores for these obvious essentials, I am disappointed to find the aisles filled with Halloween candy and a section of Christmas trees and other festive accouterments gracing your place of retail.  
For real.  Christmas trees and Halloween candy.  I just want a pair of Fiskars and an unbroken box of crayons.  And there are barely any left.  
It seems to me that in your attempt to please the over-prepared and extremely organized people, you have forgotten to tap into an entire different set of consumers: the last-minute shopper, or as I like to call myself, the “Carpe Diem Shopper,” who lives each day as it comes, not four months in advance.  I cannot fathom thinking about Halloween until late October, and Christmas doesn’t even cross my mind until the day after Thanksgiving, the way the Pilgrims intended it.  It would not surprise me if come early December I trot off to your store for trimmings and find myself having to decorate my tree with Easter grass instead of tinsel.
But despite the bashing, I would like to offer you a solution, something that wouldn’t be very expensive and still supply the masses with the things they need as the year goes on.  My solution is: a calendar.
You may even sell them yourself, or chances are you got at least one free one in the mail or from your bank.  I would like to suggest one that is organized by month with seasonally appropriate pictures of cute little kittens or dogs, whatever your preference, so that you can be reminded of the needs that last-minute people have at any given time of the year.
Is it August?  Sell some pencils.  October?  Candy.  November? Turkey decorations.  December? Ornaments.  It’s not rocket science, although I’m afraid that’s what it takes to stay ahead of your stocking schedule.  
I, for one, would be very appreciative if you offered appropriate items and didn’t rush the season or shove holidays down my throat before their time.   Making me think about Christmas presents when I am hunting for a bathing suit gets me a little fired up, even fired up enough to sit down and pen this letter.  Call me irrational, call me impulsive, call me crazy.  Just cater to me a little bit, please.  I beg of you.
Sincerely,
The Carpe Diem Shopper

Ps.  It would be really nice if it were all on sale, too.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cardboard dreams

In recent days, my household life has been dominated by laundry, mostly in the form of a dryer that had finally dried up.  After nearly 14 years and three houses, it was beyond repair and I couldn’t fathom stringing our socks across the back porch another day.  Finally we broke down and had to buy another one, which came delivered to my door and my children stood staring at the truck until one of them broke the silence.
I thought they would say something about the size of the truck or the amount of appliances it held.  Instead, it went something like, “does it come with a cardboard box?”
The kindly deliverymen overheard and after telling us that it did not come with a box, they quickly redeemed themselves.  “Why, did you want one?  We’ve got some here.  How many do you want?”
“Three,” I answered.
And I haven’t seen my children since.
The magic of the giant cardboard box is nothing new.  I’m pretty sure I spent at least four years of my childhood hanging out in one, either drawing flowers on the outside of my house or serving tea to my stuffed animals.  My houses or rocketships or ticket booths or restaurants took up the main living spaces of my parent’s house until they moved it to another room, then to the basement, then to the garage, until one day I would wake up and my beloved playhouse was gone and I’d cry and stalk the neighborhood on trash night in hopes of finding another.
Three full size washer or dryer boxes are nothing to shake a stick at, so when I turned around to find them all scattered throughout my family room, I immediately froze.  And then I listened to the incredible harmony that ended up being my children as they shared markers and helped each other cut windows and garage doors, build porches and fully supply their new abodes.
Later that day, I had to leave to run errands while my husband was in charge.  Upon returning, he met me outside.  “You’ll never believe this.  I told them to go play in their boxes and they’ve been in there for an hour.  Without fighting.  For an hour.  I’m not even lying.”  The look on his face was as if he’d just witnessed a miracle.  I nearly had to slap him back to reality.
The truth is that there isn’t much better than a kid in a box.  We as parents know that nine times out of ten, if you buy a kid a big toy they will end up enjoying the box more than the actual gift.  Back when I was young, we would scour the neighborhood for appliance boxes on trash night because even if you have to dig it out of someone’s garbage, the box is a mighty thing.
Maybe it’s the unbridled creativity that ensues when a kid is given a box.  My own three children did completely different things.  My youngest made a beauty salon where you can get a haircut (and a discount coupon for restaurant night, from the latest advertisement I heard). My oldest made the sweetest little cottage where I find her curled up with a book.  My son of course made a “bro cave” with lanterns, a stash of candy, and a direct view of the TV.  I think there’s real peace for a child knowing they can create a world of whatever they really want, to design their own dreams in a place big enough for only them.  So many of the things children see nowadays are 100% virtual.  There are virtual pets and virtual worlds and virtual bedrooms.  Time and time again they have designed things on the computer screen that they will never be able to touch or color or cut or just feel with their own hands.  The beauty of the cardboard box might even be more so now than it was thirty years ago, and fill a void in a creative child’s world that no digital programming could ever accomplish.
Or maybe they just want to draw on the walls. 

I’m good either way.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Summer’s sweeter when you’re the skeeter beater

Seasonally speaking, summer is one of my top favorite times of the year.  When the sun first starts shining and the woods and world turn green again, I am at my happiest.  And then comes the second half of summer when I start itching.
When you hang out in the out-of-doors as much as I do, there’s a good chance you also have a stock pile of anti-itch creams, gels, and sprays forever within reach.  If it isn’t poison ivy or some other unidentified plant rash, it’s the ever hated and cursed mosquito, which lately seems has taken over as Ohio’s state bird.
These little irritating things kind of need us to survive.  Male mosquitos pose no threat to us.  The female mosquito needs blood to lay eggs and reproduce, so it’s only the girls that drive us nuts.  She has to sniff around to find the tastiest of bloods to consume, which is why we so diligently attempt to make ourselves super stinky and unappealing to these blood sucking critters.  There are as many recipes for bug repellant as there are bugs, it seems, the most popular being a chemical called DEET, which I think stands for “Don’t Ever Even Taste.”  Effective as it is, there are plenty of studies out there that promise that the chemical does as much harm to us as it does keep away the bugs.  So people turn to other safer options.  There are non-DEET concoctions as well as strong smelling all-natural products that seem to deter humans as well as mosquitos with their nostril-burning aroma.  Eating an abundance to garlic might also help keep humans and insects away, and another so-called repellant idea is to gargle with mouthwash.  (I’m pretty sure this was invented by someone who was married to someone who ate garlic to keep the skeeters at bay.)
My clever uncle swears the best way to avoid mosquito bites is to sucker someone else into eating a ripe banana, the logic being that the poor person will attract them all and he will walk away bite-free.
But in the end, current science debunks all of these old wives tales, and I have the perfect and completely safe solution to beat the skeeters this summer.
Apparently mosquitos are indeed attracted to people with certain attributes.  We all know that one person who gets 1,000 bites while someone else gets three.  There is research to prove it now.  Here’s what they found:
The little ladies are picky in their blood types, and prefer type O blood.  A Japapnese study found that people with type O are twice as likely to be the lucky winners.  And while they will choose most anyone, mosquitos seek out pregnant woman because their skin is more moist and usually just a tad warmer.  Not only that, but they also seem to be attracted the greater exhalation of carbon dioxide in the pregnant woman.
But just because you’re not pregnant doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.  They also seem to prefer people who drink beer and who have smelly feet.  (Can you just imagine the study to figure this out?)
And finally, our blood-sucking female mosquito friends seem to have a thing for dark colored clothing.  The study states that black or red are their favorite colors and if you are wearing light khaki, green, or yellow you are mostly in the clear.
And now, my surefire way to avoid being bit by mosquitos… (Drum roll)…
Put on your favorite yellow outfit and stand next to a pregnant lady wearing all black and a guy with smelly feet drinking beer.  
Problem solved, case closed, bite-free.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Attack of the angry appliances

My appliances are trying to get me.  I think they’re angry because all summer long, when we’re all home all day every day, we use them a lot.   Also because I spend so much time cursing my dishwasher and my entire laundry room in general.
As a mom and CHO (chief household officer,) I spend a decent portion of my day playing a never-ending and not-so-fun game of catch up.  As soon as I finish the laundry, it’s piled up again.  Finish the dishes?  The sink is full.  Go grocery shopping?  The troops are hungry.  I often feel like a hamster on a torturous wheel where my children sit outside the plastic cage and laugh and giggle and change their clothes and ask for snacks because they absolutely delight in watching their mom go bonkers.
But now it seems that the house is trying to get me back for all the grumbling I do as I go about my day.
(The following stories are all 100% true.  I truly wish I could be making them up.)
The first bit of bad luck happened after an apparent allergic reaction to a popular brand of rubber shoes, which doesn’t really matter in the story except that after too many hours on the internet, I decided that the safest thing to do was to sterilize all of our rubber shoes in the dishwasher.
I will be the first to tell you I often complain when I wash the dishes.   It seems that no matter how many times I remind my family, they still think it’s necessary to take a separate glass with each sip thereby filling up the entire dishwasher before lunch.  But it has great accolades, too.  So when I went to disinfect our shoes, I carefully set them all in the top rack, turned it on, and walked away.  
“I’m washing our shoes!” I yelled to my husband as I walked out the door.
“OK!” he yelled back and didn’t bother to tell me he hit the “high temperature scrub” button to make sure everything that shouldn’t be there wouldn’t be there.
And here’s where the dishwasher started the attack on me, or at least my shoes.  All of our shoes were just a little bit smaller when the cycle finished.  At least a size or two.
And I’m pretty sure it chuckled at me just a little when I handed over my favorite shoes to my daughter, and she handed hers to her younger sister.
Then, the next week, my dryer broke.  If you’ve ever experienced this horror, maybe you know how I felt.  Like a fish without a fin, like a hot dog without mustard, like a morning without a coffee.  Helpless.  There was underwear strung from every apparatus in the backyard on any given day until the dryer was apparently fixed by the repairman.
But yesterday was the grand winner of all chicken dinners.  
The dryer broke again.  This time, it did more than just stop working.  It was more of an, “honey, I smell something funny, like someone threw wet socks on the fire” kind of a breakdown.
And that’s when the house completely started to attack because later that very same day, my son was told to take a pair of my socks  (which had dried outside on the back porch) up the stairs to my bedroom but instead decided to throw them up as far as he could and they landed in the chandelier.  Instead of my children dangling over the railing to their perilous doom, I told them I would get my socks later.
At some point, flipped on the light switch and the chandelier began to cook my socks, or more truthfully, melt them to the light bulb on which it rested.

And as I dangled from the railing myself, trying to pry my melted socks from the light bulb of the chandelier, I could only think that if my sandals wouldn’t have melted, I would have been sockless to begin with.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Stop and sniff the mushrooms




Yesterday I took a hike with my children.  We were in search of some of the lesser-known waterfalls that grace our nearest national park, more specifically a certain set of falls that I remember from my teenage years when our idea of a good night out was coming home covered in mud, creek water, and mosquito bites.  (I wasn’t quite your average teen.)
The problem was that we had to venture past the sign that said “end of trail,” which now, as a parent, takes on a different meaning then when you’re a wild kid.  “End of trail” as a child fills you with rambunctious spirit.  “End of trail” as a mother fills you with worry and fear that danger and certain death loom just past the sign.  But there are things you learn when you’re on the trail, deep in the sweet old woods of northeastern Ohio.  Life lessons that can’t be found just anywhere.  
There is also a totally awesome waterfall, as memory served.
And so we pressed on.
There are two ways to proceed on a trail when you have a very specific destination, and I admit I can barely walk anywhere without a very special children’s book that rolls through my mind with every step.  It is a story about two bears who are both headed to the same place, but one bear chooses to earn money for a fast train ride and the other bear chooses to walk the long distance by foot.  An honest race, the train-riding bear spends his time scrubbing floors and picking weeds and eventually takes the speedy train.  The walking bear ambles through the countryside, watches a snake, takes a swim, eats some berries, and by the time he gets to the destination, his friend has already beaten him.  The walking bear simply smiles and says that he would have been there sooner, but he stopped for blackberries.  He is the obvious true winner.
It’s your basic “stop and smell the roses” lesson, but one that for me comes to life in the woods.  So as we walked past the “end of trail” sign, I bravely took the lead and we walked, bear-style, through the woods in search of the hidden waterfall.  (Some literary folk might even consider it the road less traveled?)
There were pools of water for stone skipping and hunts for crayfish.  We marveled at a field of wet muck covered in skunk cabbage and for a solid minute we laughed at losing shoes in Ohio’s quicksand.  Rock ledges and slippery shale in the creek bed made for careful and leisurely steps but with the stops of sunlight to refuel us, we finally made it to the falls.
They were still there, some twenty years later thanks to the slow moving time life of our good rocks.  A cascading flow of water down a slope of shale that ended in a pool where I once sat with good friends, talked about our futures and contemplated the very meaning of life.
Once my kids and I were thoroughly wet, we headed back with me bringing up the rear instead of taking the lead.  When you backtrack on a trail, it’s always surprising what you see when you are walking the other way, because even if you think you saw it all, you haven’t.
“Mom!  Look!” I heard and my son had found a tremendous set of mushrooms.
“And there!  Indian Pipe!” my oldest daughter said, pointing out my favorite non-green plant.
Just a few hundred feet up the trail, my youngest daughter stopped us all dead in our tracks.  “Purple coral!” she said, finding yet another amazing fungus.
None of their finds were edible, but in our own way we stopped for blackberries.  I couldn’t help but think that the bear in the book would have been almost as proud as I was.
I can only wonder what they will find when they pass the “end of trail” sign twenty years down the road.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Three little birds at the store


Normally I like to feed my family healthy, fresh food.  In the summer when local produce is bountiful and beautiful, there is nothing better that the smell of a red, ripe tomato so fresh off the vine and into the store and then onto our plates.  And with the unstructured schedule of summer break, there is actual time in the day to prepare gorgeous salads that require tedious chopping and an abundance of ingredients.
I love all of that.  The food, the time, the preparation, and most of all, I love the eating.
In my dreamland, it would happen every single day.  We would saunter up to the market and handpick the greenest of beans and the reddest of watermelons.  Each child would have a nutritious recipe to prepare and a smile on his or her face as they watched their food take shape from the beginning to the very end, where they would all devour their creations.
But that’s dreamland, in the reality that is having my three lovely children home with me every day during the summer, it’s doesn’t quite turn out that way. It’s not that I don’t enjoy every second of time we are able to spend together, because for the most part I do.  But the bits of time that I loathe more than anything else is taking them all the grocery store.  It usually plays out a little something like this…
I finally get them all organized and dressed and remind them that they have to wear shoes in public places and by the time we actually get to the store, I am so flustered that I have left my organized list at home. 
Once we have dodged the dangers of trying to maneuver three kids who aren’t paying attention through a parking lot, we enter and I quietly remind them to please not take up the entire aisle and that they may not all stand on the front of the cart so I can take them on a joyride through the freezer section.  They politely don’t listen to a word I’m saying and immediately start asking for snacks and fighting over who gets to pick out the ice cream, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t on the list.
“Focus,” I tell myself.  “Focus on the task at hand.  You need food.  You have been cleaning out the freezer and the back shelves of the pantry for days and besides that mystery frozen baggie from last year, there is literally nothing left except mustard and pickles.  Focus, focus, focu…”
“Hey mom, what’s for dinner?  Can we get something to hold us over?  I’m hungry.”
And so it begins, the mental challenge of trying to concentrate with three little people doing their very best to distract you in any way possible.  You tell yourself that you will not yell or raise your voice, but in a matter of minutes you turn into that mom you never said you would be: The mom who smiles and grits her teeth and at a distance appears to be grinning lovingly up close to her child’s face.  But truthfully, she’s clenching her jaw and whispering things like, “if you don’t start behaving I will…” (You can fill in your own favorite punishment.)
My dear husband doesn’t quite understand what it’s like to shop with the kids.  The best way I can describe it is that it’s like instead of children, they are actually three tiny little birds. They are all sitting on your nose and no matter what you do or how many times you plead, they just peck away and inevitably drive you completely bonkers.  It’s not like they are trying to make you mad, they are just birds.  Cute little birds that do what birds do best and that can’t help the fact that they were drug along to the store.
Tomorrow’s dinner: mystery freezer baggie.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

You make your own bed…maybe


I had a friend in high school that swore that you never needed to wash two things: bath towels and bed sheets.  His logic was decent.  “Think about it.  You take a shower, you’re clean.  And you dry yourself off with just water, and water isn’t dirty so you never need to wash your towels.  And then if you shower just before you go to bed, you always go to bed clean so your sheets never get dirty either.”
(He’s still not married, that I know of.)
I always appreciated his logic but knew there was no merit to it.  But it didn’t stop there.  “You never really have to make your bed.  Just pile up the blankets at the bottom so it looks neat enough, and just recover yourself at night.”  
This was logic I could appreciate.  I hate making the bed.  It is the most worthless chore I have ever encountered, and I have encountered quite a few.  
I know it doesn’t take long, and my husband assures me he appreciates getting into a neatly made bed at night.  I can’t see the value in it, but that’s probably because my eyes are usually closed midair on the way to the pillow.  So unless he makes it, or we are expecting house guests who might wander past my bedroom door, my bed is forever unmade.
And as another wise friend recently told me, I am doing a noble thing by having unkempt bedrooms.  I am protecting my family from asthma and allergens.  He referenced a study done by Kingston University a few years back that reports that having unmade beds can actually make you healthier.
The study states that it all has to do with dust mites, these really itty bitty disgusting little creatures that feed on the flakes of human skin that accumulate in bed sheets, which is a fact gross enough to make us all go and wash our sheets immediately, even my old friend.  These little critters with their ferocious looking body parts don’t really need to drink any water—they just absorb the moisture from the air through their bodies.  When we make our beds, we are trapping tiny bits of moisture underneath those covers and (gulp) inside those flakes of human skin.  That lovely humid environment that we created as we tucked in those covers is like a haven for the dust mites, a cozy place where they have all of the moisture and skin they need to live and reproduce.
Then they gather and have little dust mite parties and when we slip in between the sheets, we are absolutely not invited.  But we deal with its aftermath, which they report as asthma and allergies caused by those little dudes not cleaning up from their merrymakings and inviting their friends to live with them.  Forever.
The study continues that if we simply leave our beds unmade, we can prevent these creepy celebrations.  When we leave the covers off, there’s no trapped moisture and even those delicious, delectable bits of skin blow away making a very inhospitable place for the mites.
Dead skin aside, I think that’s all the fodder I need to further my argument for not making the bed, and if my old friend should ever be visiting and have a comment about the blankets piled up at the foot, I will be ready to aim and fire with the apparent scientific cause as to why my sleeping place is in shambles.  I will, however, go on to explain that the sheets are clean.  Very clean.  Skin free and laundered regularly with all of my bath towels.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Bring on the bathroom horns


I have kids.  I work with kids.  And keeping those factors in mind, there is a very good chance that at any given moment, some sort of dried up food or bodily fluid is going to present on their hands.  These mystery substances are the little beauties that carry germs that make us sick and when you run as fast as I do, we just don’t have time for that sort of stuff.
It then follows that we are ardent hand washers.  Like, big time.
Come home from somewhere?  Wash your hands.  Eating?  Wash your hands.  Bathroom?  In a public place?  Wash your hands and don’t touch the doorknob on the way out.  
Call me a germaphobe, but some things are just good, solid personal hygiene.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  
One recent morning I was listening to the morning news and they announced a study done by Michigan State that reported that 95% of people don’t correctly wash their hands.  95%.  That’s a lot of dried up yuck on doorknobs.
“That’s ludicrous,” I said outloud, as I lathered up my fingers.
But there I was, later that day in the library bathroom.  The other stall was occupied and she finished up before me.  I listened as the person flushed, open the stall door, and completely bypassed the sink and walked right out the door, probably to thumb through the book I would eventually check out.  She didn’t wash her hands!  Maybe there was merit to this study after all.
So I looked it up and found that their results are pretty filthy.  The study followed 3,749 people.  Of those people, over 10% of them (including my library friend) didn’t wash their hands at all.  Over 22% simply wet their hands without using soap, and the remaining 67% actually took the time to apply soap, lather, and rinse their germs down the drain instead of sharing them with the rest of the world.
The study then goes on to report the correct method for washing your hands according to the CDC.  They recommend using soap and rubbing your bubbly hands thoroughly for 15 to 20 seconds, approximately the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” through two times.  The CDC stands firm in its statement that proper hand washing is the best way to fight spreading illness and to keep you healthy.   The study done at Michigan State sadly reports that given these standards, only a measly 5% of people actually took the time to correctly wash their hands by using soap for 15 seconds and drying them appropriately.  That means that only one out of every twenty people gets the yuck off.
As a germophobe who swears that touching an unwiped shopping cart gives certain pink eye or stomach virus, this is downright disgusting.  I certainly am not expecting every person in the world to belt out “Happy Birthday” at the bathroom sink, but I would really entertain the idea of a bit of peer pressure at the sink.  We do it all the time when we’re driving—a simple honk of the horn to let our fellow drivers know that something they are doing isn’t quite right and isn’t quite safe.  Perhaps they could be located next to the towel racks or electronic blowers, and if someone tries to skimp on the soap or, my word, just walk out without even a drop of water, we could just honk at them.  Maybe even yell out “didn’t wash hands!  Didn’t wash hands!” to evoke humiliation and certain scrubbing.
Of course, before touching the horn, please take the time to disinfect yourself correctly, like the other 5% of the population.  Chances are we’re the only ones who will use the horn and we prefer germ free honking devices.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Watery mustard, exploding hotdogs, and brain freezes


Summer catastrophes are something special.  I think we all tend to be a bit more adventurous during the warmer months and I personally have a constant supply of bandages with me at all times.   Because when the fun gets a little too far out of hand, I want to be ready.  Or, if at all possible, if I know what the dangers are, I like to stop them before they even happen.
Take, for example, three of the biggest summer catastrophes.  They are, in no particular order: runny mustard, exploding hotdogs, and the all-painful and excruciating brain freeze.  From soggy buns to wanting to smash your head against the wall, these misfortunes have happened to the best of us.  But that’s where the little bit of extra knowledge comes in.  We just need to be prepared.
Runny mustard.  We’ve all been there, with a freshly grilled burger in our hand when we flip the mustard over and squeeze out…a river of unwanted water.  Groans can be heard from backyards across the state, but it need not be that way.  The delicious condiment that we know as mustard is made of ground mustard seeds, vinegar, water, and maybe a few other things.  When it sits, the ground mustard separates out and settles at the bottom.  The best we can do to avoid the watery surface is to either shake copiously, or even easier, don’t be the first one to use the mustard.
Exploding hotdogs.  I can’t be the only one who keeps an emergency stash of hotdogs in the freezer for last minute lunch or dinner ideas.  They are quite handy, but could also be potentially dangerous if you don’t carefully thaw them.  A frozen hotdog set to thaw in the microwave brings certain danger, in the form of a BANG and hotdog guts flung across the once-clean glass door of your appliance.  As it turns out, the ice crystals inside the hotdog don’t do well with the jiggle of the actual microwaves flowing through them.  A couple might break free and do their little thaw out dance, but the others right next to them are totally locked in an icy place.  When some start to dance, there is nowhere to go but out.  All over the place.  While its frozen neighbor stays perfectly chilly.  Bottom line, unless you really want to clean dog splatter, thaw your hotdogs in another manner.
Brain freeze.  Ice cream headaches.  The torture of all torture when you are really craving that big, cold scoop of ice cream.  You quickly bite it and while savoring it in your mouth, your head instantly begins to feel like it’s going to explode.  Literally.  Like a frozen hotdog in a microwave.  Lucky for you, you’re reading this and can learn how to safely and effectively avoid the brain freeze this summer and will be able to impress your friends.
The roof of your mouth has these little nerve endings that send signals to your brain.  When you push the ice cream to the roof of your mouth, those nerve endings get all chilly and bothered and say something to your brain like, “we’re freezing!  Quick!  Help!”  And your brain does a great job responding to this, because it doesn’t like to be cold either.  So your brain tells your body to quickly pump extra blood through dilated blood vessels into your head so that your brain can be warmed up again.  The problem is that the rush of blood is painful.  You can easily avoid all of this by simply not letting the ice cream touch the roof of your mouth, or if it does happen, just press your warm tongue up against the roof.  Problem tastefully solved.
So live it up this summer, but stay safe.  Share your new found knowledge over your next barbeque or ice cream social, and always remember one very important thing: Don’t be first in the mustard line.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The unfolding of an RV trip


Apparently we took an RV trip when I was a young child, but my only recollection is running out of gas on the highway somewhere in Tennessee and standing on the side of the road, completely afraid for my life.
My next memory of a camper is the one parked in the driveway of my childhood friend, Liz’s, house.  I don’t even think it was theirs, but it was there and we would go in and play house and her mom served us roast beef deli meat sandwiches with A1 sauce on them, something I had never had before.  This luxurious adventure had definitely turned around my opinion of the house on wheels, not to mention opened up a whole new flavor profile for lunchmeat.
As an adult I admit the fascination has always continued, and so when my family decided on a summer vacation this year, we wanted to fulfill our dream of RVing out west.  The thought of only having to unpack suitcases once as we traveled between parks and cooking family favorite meals on a tiny stove next to a tiny refrigerator and tiny sink was far too enticing and we booked it.
If you are ever thinking of taking a family vacation in an RV, here is how the first few days might go:
Day one.  You pick up the beastly vehicle and upon opening the door, your children rush in and immediately start bouncing from chair to chair, laying on every bed, opening every cupboard, window, and nook and cranny.  They stake claim on their sleeping spots and within seconds somebody is begging to use the bathroom, because the thought of a bathroom on wheels is just about the most fascinating thing to a child.  
Later that day, they realize that the availability of snacks is too much for their little self-control to handle, and by the end of the day, you realize there is a fifteen second gap of time between the time someone has to pee or wants something to eat.  It all feels very exhaustingly fun, but the saving grace is the bed that you can reach in a matter of milliseconds.
Day two.  By this time, the children have come out of ultra excitement mode and are settling in to life on the road.  Or the campground.  They have learned how to turn the table into a bed and vice versa and are pros at flushing the toilet.  You feel like you have become domestic master because there is nothing you can’t cook in that kitchen with three square inches of counterspace.  The husband struts proudly around because he has officially figured out the hoses and buttons that come with keeping this monster running smoothly.  Kids are playing cards and drawing pictures.  Everyone is considering selling the house and moving in to one of these babies permanently.
Day three.  The novelty is starting to wear off.  The general odors involved with five people in a small box start to become a permanent fixture and you think that maybe moving hiking boots to an outside storage compartment would be a pretty good idea.  Flatulence has been completely outlawed and even mimicking the sound earns you a stern look from a mother who cannot take it any longer.  Playing cards have been ripped.  The cupboard is full of half eaten bags of chips and you realize there is not a vegetable to be seen.  General fatigue has set in, but there’s that bed.  Right there.  
Day four.  A new dawn is a new day.  Parents get strict and start barking orders to fold bedding and change underwear and brush teeth because moms know these things and before long, everything is clean and happy and we are ready to roll again.  First stop: grocery store for some roast beef and A1 sauce.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Our great National Parks


I really thought I was doing a part of my civil duty—showing our children a few of the great national parks that speckle our country.  They are jewels of amazement that are, if you think about things in the scope of the world, right in our backyard.  And so we flew out west, rented an RV, and headed out to see the sights.
And what sights they were.  
My husband and I have never been to the Grand Canyon before, and we wanted to make sure we gave our kids the experience while they were the right age: old enough to remember and young enough not to think we were totally dorky parents.  I think for their sake, we hit it just right.  But for my sake, it was incredible.  
They say the Grand Canyon is a fantastic hole in the ground, but I will tell you that upon walking up to it for the very first time, I got a little choked up.  I don’t know that I have ever seen such amazing beauty, so vast and powerful.  Even as a writer, I was without words when someone asked me about my first view of the canyon.  Maybe I could put it into a haiku:
Wow.  Wow wow wow wow.
Amazing, amazing, wow.
The Grand Canyon.  Wow.
Because that’s what you do when you walk up the edge, after of course you realize that it’s 5,000 feet down to the bottom and your kid is doing some little boxing dance, antagonizing his sister.  Once you get him settled and everyone is safely holding hands behind the guardrail, you stand there, as a family and bask in the glory.
And then, if you’re as lucky as our kids who have parents with degrees in geology, you can stare off into the red wonder and pretend you are listening while your mother blabs on and on about limestone and schist and faults and joints.  By the end of it, you think you are hearing some other foreign language….because you probably are.
One of the biggest things we noticed while traveling through our country’s national parks was that the visitors were not from our country.  American English speaking people seemed a minority, even more so if you counted the elk and mule deer that graced our presence every so often.  
I understand that visitors come to the USA and hit the landmarks.  I certainly would as well, if I were traveling somewhere else.  But we were really surprised at how few Americans were hiking the trails with us.  And it got me all fired up.  Or maybe it was hiking the six miles in the canyon with temperatures reaching 100 degrees…but still.  There seemed something wrong with the picture.
Our country, the United States of America, is big.  It’s diverse.  And it’s beautiful.  From sea to shining sea, our country has protected and preserved incredible natural landmarks so that we can view them and learn about the nature that surrounds us and makes up the very land on which we step.  And yet, so few of us actually take the time and make the effort to see what there is to offer.
Since 1872 when Yosemite was named a National Park until today where we have over 400 areas that make up the National Park Service, there is no good excuse for us Americans.  National Parks cover over 84 million acres in every single state, and chances are that a visit to one or more of them might be something you may have thought of but never followed through with. 
Please do.  Please visit a National Park.  Even a State Park.  Find a piece of American nature and get a taste of the frontier on which this country was founded.
I promise it’s good for your soul, and maybe even for your collection of haikus.



Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Give five minutes to the goose


According to some silly books that I’ve read, the Canada Goose excretes nearly two pounds of feces every day.  A fairly reliable source states that it poops every 12 minutes.  This may all sound very mathematical, because I know you are sitting there calculating how many times per day and how much per release, but really, that’s not what my story is all about.
The street where I live is an add combination of wild and suburbia.  We’ve had our fair share of misplaced critters, and though they seem to be diminishing with development, geese have started setting up camp and becoming our official neighbors.
The Canada Goose as it is called, is a rather pesky bird.  It is interesting to research that after the Civil War, the honking bird was all but gone from the state of Ohio and in 1956, a mere 10 nesting pairs were introduced by the Division of Wildlife.  In just a few decades, they multiplied and multiplied and realized that golf courses and subdivisions were the ultimate slap in the face to anyone who has ever thought, “mmm… goose jerky.”
And now they live on my street, these birds.
But normally, they fly.  They are, indeed, birds.  When it comes to comparing the list of flightless birds to flying birds, flightless birds are few and far between.  The Canada Goose normally flies and honks and poops, even in mid-air because 12 minutes happens quite often.  The goose on my street, however, does not.
I first realized it when my dog was going bonkers and a quick glance out my front window had me looking at a goose walking down the sidewalk in my front yard.  It walked all the way across, and then up and over a hill where it disappeared in the field.
And life went on.
But the very next day, I heard my dog barking and looked out to find the goose walking directly down the middle of the street.  He or she (both genders look pretty much identical) was taking a stroll from the field all the way down to the retention ponds at the other end of the street.  
And so it continued, this goose walking up and down our street from somewhere in the field to somewhere near the pond.  Curiosity was getting the best of me, and one day I could take it no more.  I went goose stalking.  I followed the goose, leaving plenty of space because I’m pretty sure it would peck off my face if not.  I followed it through my yard, over the hill and into the field where I stood for around five minutes watched it nibble on spring plants and waited until it did something spectacular or something.  
But it never really did.  It was just being a Canada goose.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of watching a single animal in the wild, do so.  I waited for something special, and truthfully, I got it.  I got to watch this big bird take a long journey to find something that it wanted, even if it couldn’t fly.  (I still am not sure about that part of this story.)  Watching nature remains something satisfying for one’s soul, a sneak peek that brings us closer to the rest of the world.  
So I encourage you all to give five minutes to the goose.  Or a groundhog, or a squirrel.  Anything really.  Just make sure that if it’s a goose, you only give them five minutes.  If you give them any more, say twelve, well, you might have a different story to tell.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dishing up a life sandwich


When I tell people that I write a column in the newspaper, they always ask me the same question.  “What do you write about?”
I suppose they are looking for an answer like fitness.  Or cooking.  Or politics.  But I always disappoint them and say, “well, I just write about stuff,” and they stare blankly back at me, as if I stopped mid-sentence.
“You know,” I say, in poor attempt to elaborate, “I write about stuff that happens to me or my kids or the silly stuff my husband does, or how the dog puked all night.  Stuff like that.  So basically, life.”
And it’s true.  I write about life.
Usually my words appear somewhere in the newspaper near where you find other standard life items.  There may be club news and stories that tug your heartstrings.  But there are also other sections that make my job in this paper a little sweeter.   The whole circle of life appears right there, in one short little condensed place on a piece of paper so thin that if left to the elements would disappear faster than the headlines on the gossip pages.  
There are the listings of births, the announcements that proud parents and grandparents make.  I read the names and chuckle about the utter creativity of people these days, and how before you know it, a boy named “Joe” will be the only one in his class.  I remark at how big or small they were at birth and wonder what that little baby will become and what headlines he or she will make down the road.  Someday I could see that same name in the business brief headlines.
Maybe that child will grow up and get married, and a glance at the marriage announcement section of the paper will always be a favorite.  Just to look at the people, young and old, falling deeply in love and posing for an often cheesy engagement photograph—perhaps the cheek to cheek pose, or the one when they stand with their arms around each other.  Each couple I wish a future of love and happiness.
But sometimes it doesn’t work, and the divorce section of the paper is short, without pictures, and never anything to smile about.
Other times, it does work and lasts forever, until one of those people are called Home and we read a celebration of their life in the obituary section.  I always make sure I give credit to each of those faces and names, for each have lived a life that is worth a moment of my time.  If nothing else, even a second or two to internalize each name and know that somewhere in my community, there is a grieving family who could use an extra prayer or two.
And then there, maybe even on the very same page, among the listings of births and marriages and deaths, is me.  Writing about everything else that happens between all of those major events that we deal with in our lives.  The daily routines, the things that make us laugh and the things that make us cry.  
If I stop to think about it, I know that just like when all of these events appear so close together on a piece of thin paper, these events have a real effect on what happens to us all.  Every single day.  It is because of them that our daily life is the way it is.  We call it life.  
It is life.  It is stuff.  It is all connected and a constant changing world that we often need to step back and realize how we are all a part of one another, from the births to the deaths, from the celebrations to the condolences.  The rest of it, in between, is the “stuff” and the glue that holds it all together like a big, giant Life Sandwich.  And we would be fools to not appreciate every single bite.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Benefits of Barefoot, a Shoe-free Summer


It happens about this time every year, when the wisdom of my grandfather and my mother tells me that Mother’s Day has passed and it’s finally safe to plant a garden and embrace life in the flower beds.  The leaves have nearly fully sprouted and the grass goes from its spikey dormant self to a lush carpet that needs to be mowed every other day or else small children and dogs will be lost by walking out the back door.
It’s the magic of spring, which is truly a gateway to the vigor of summer, which for me means that for the next few months, my short fingernails are allowed to be dirty and shoes are only required where that little sign hangs on the door, refusing service.  Because as soon as it’s close to possible, we don’t wear shoes.  I won’t say that that is my favorite thing about summer living in Ohio, but it ranks right up there.  Sure, it’s no pie and ice cream, but here are some convincing arguments for ditching your shoes and wiggling your toes in the summer sun.
Cut the clutter.  If you have a large family such as we do, chances are there is a room where all of your shoes gather and accumulate and assemble in such force that one day they and their odor might take over the world.  Once the barefoot policy has been made, your home will appear to be much more neat and tidy.
Excuses for pedicures, or lack there of.  Some people like to have ornamental toenails.  Others, such as my barefoot self, will destroy any speck of polish that makes contact with my body in a matter of seconds.   If you are the kind of person who likes fancy feet, going barefoot will work in your favor, requiring you to decorate.  If you are the kind of person who would rather not, you can share my excuse.  “There’s no use of trying to pretty these things up—the only color they see is caked on mud or grass stains.”
A little bit of dirt between the toes does a brain good.  Studies have shown that some of the bacteria found in soil is actually good for your brain.  Certain bacteria can activate the neurons that produce serotonin, a well-known natural antidepressant.  Therefore, there’s a good chance that playing in the dirt can make you happy, and I’m not just talking about the tickle you get by squishing it between your toes.
Free massages!  Going footloose and shoe-free makes every step a mini-massage.  Your feet are full of about a zillion different muscles and when they are cramped up in shoes all day, they don’t get to do their thing.  According to some foot historians, people didn’t start having tootsie problems until the Renaissance, when shoes became the cool thing to do.
Electrical powers keep you young.  One set of beliefs says that walking barefoot on solid earth allows you to properly absorb free electrons from the ground beneath your feet.  And then after a bunch of science gobbelty gook, the end result is that your body has an increase in anti-oxidants, which we know are the good things that keep us healthy and young.  
Save money!  With three kids whose feet change sizes every other week, we have a constant mountain of non-fitting shoes around.  Not so much in the summer, though, and with the money saved from all that footwear we can enjoy our summer with as much pie and ice cream as possible.  
So once full-blown summer hits, you can find us out the back door with our dirty feet.  We’ll be smiling and relaxed, feeling healthy and electrically charged enough to not worry about the condition of our unpainted, plain piggies.  Unless we drip the ice cream.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Enough room for love


Of all of the misused and overused words in the world, one of the biggest culprits is the word that is on everyone’s mind this time of the year.  Love.
Think of how many times a day we use it, and what we use it for.  I know how many times I day I tell my children or my husband that I love them, but I also say things like, “I love Chinese food!” and “I love it when I do a few loads of laundry and don’t have any mismatched socks!”  I talk to my mom nearly every day on the phone and end it with “love you.”  I end every email with my husband “love, Karrie.”  I sometimes tell my children that I love them so much, I could squeeze them until their heads pop off.
We love songs and television shows.  We love movie stars and seasons of the year, restaurants, cars, and fashion.   Toby Keith sang about how much he loves a bar, and Ray Charles sang that he can’t stop loving you, and the Beatles are well known for preaching that, above all else, all you need is love.
It all seems like a lot of love.  Almost too much for one word to handle, and if Love knew what it had to go through every day, it’d probably be fairly stressed out.  How can one simple four-letter word (that doesn’t follow simple grammatical rules, by the way) have to cover everything from socks to pop music to the Indian restaurant about an hour away?
The answer, I think, came to me during my first job in the real world.  My boss was a very wise man, as down to earth as they come and his knowledge continues to resonate in my head.  The father of many children, one dark early morning before they had even turned on the overhead florescent lights, we sat drinking coffee by lamplight and discussing our work for the day and like we did so often, we got off topic.  There in that office, he shared something so special with me that I carry it with me and see the truth in it in so many facets of life.
“When I got married, I thought I loved my wife more than all the world.  And then when we were about to have our first child, I got really scared.  I thought to myself, I love my wife so much, how can I ever have enough love for a child, too?”
A newly married woman, I sat in awe and listened.
“And when the child was born, I realized that I had enough.  I loved that child like I loved my wife.  The three of us were in so much love with each other, it was beautiful.  I thought I had maxed out on love, so when a few years later we found out we were expecting another child, I got scared once again.  How could I possibly have enough love to share with my wife, my daughter, and now another kid?”
Knowing this bearded boss of mine had a mind and heart of infinite wisdom, I waited for his answer.
“And you know what?  I did.  I had enough for that child, too.  And the next, and the next, and the next, and the next.   And enough for my wife, and God and all things that are good in the world.”
So whenever I feel like the word “love” is overused, I go back to that sunrise conversation because I learned that love is not something that can be measured, defined, calculated, or even described.  We can love everything, with enough room to go around, and that’s what makes this world such a special place.  Maybe John, Paul, George, and Ringo were right, and it’s really all we need.  (I just love the Beatles.)

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