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Friday, June 12, 2015

Number one summer


It was my fault because I had just said, “nothing crazy has happened to me lately.”  I wish I could take   It’s like I’m cheering on an invisible sports team or constantly asking a question to whomever I pass by, while being wrapped like a mummy.
it back because now I find myself kicking off this summer season with my hand held high in the air, sporting a perpetual symbol for number one.
Most readers won’t know, but I also have a small homemade soap company that runs under the same name, “dirt don’t hurt.”  I make soap from scratch using fats and lye and give it natural smells and color and most of the time, it’s a hobby turned side job that I absolutely love.  The artistry of fragrance, the chemistry of the soap, and the mission to tell people to love nature and play in the outdoors because, as I remember hearing often when I was younger, “dirt don’t hurt.”
The problem is that lye does.
There are moments in one’s life that should not be replayed, either out of misery, fear, general stupidity, or in this case, all of the above.  Normally I use extreme caution when dealing with sodium hydroxide.  I wear protective gear, have a safe procedure.  But when alone and in a hurry, I did something that will forever haunt me: I only wore one glove.
You can imagine where this story is going. 
While holding a container of liquid that was around 200 degrees, a chemical reaction went awry and the whole mixture bubbled over like a volcano, covering my hand in burning liquid and speckling my body as I threw the container on the counter.  Immediately following I said a few dozen choice words, danced around in pain, held my hand under cold water and stripped down to reveal the rest of the burns before dumping all of the vinegar I own over myself.  (The vinegar neutralizes the sodium hydroxide.  So glad I paid attention in chemistry class.  Also really glad I don’t have close neighbors.) 
I’m also really glad for the world’s best mother-in-law, who drove me to the ER in my pajamas with my hand in a bucket of ice water. 
Thankfully, the small burns from the splashing are nearly gone, and there was no damage done to my kitchen.  The doctors say it will take about a month for my hand to heal, and while I know I’ll be surrounded by cookouts where the grilled hot dogs remind me of my fingers, I’m thankful that the injury was only what it was because it could have been much worse.  Not the best way to start off a summer, but once things heal and the bandages come off, I’ll be sure to make this summer definitely a number one.
With two gloves.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The days of our yards

May 11, 2014

There was a short spurt in my life when my first child was an infant that I became hopelessly addicted to a soap opera.  Once when the show was cut out due to dangerous storm coverage, I actually wrote the station a nasty letter complaining that I missed my program because of their overprotective forecasting.  (I am still fairly ashamed of this.)
Thankfully my addiction didn’t last long and besides that bit of time, I have never been much of a person to enjoy watching the drama in someone else’s life.  I love a good storyline, but can’t stand to spend my spare time wrapped up in the problems of someone else when I have plenty of my own.
So I don’t watch soaps.  On television, that is.
Every spring when days get warmer and brighter, I get much better at keeping my bird feeders full.  “You spend more on those birds than you do me,” chirps my husband.   I can’t help myself, though.  Those birds become the soap opera that I never thought I’d ever watch, but I do.
I stand at my kitchen sink, occasionally washing a dish or two, and scan for the latest backyard drama.  And it’s getting juicy.
There’s a robin that was just crazy enough to build her nest right on the platform of our swing set next to the slide.  She sits there constantly until the kids get home from school and run screaming into the yard, but always keeps watch, which is really smart because there are also cowbirds and bluejays in the area.  (Both of those are potential bad guys who might harm those eggs.)  That mom is always on guard, and if you’re a bird, don’t even try to get close.  She’ll dive bomb you and flap you right on out of there.
She’s got neighbors, too.  Messy house sparrows have moved into one nesting box, but the sweetest little Carolina wrens are setting up shop in another one.  So much comedy as they gather twigs longer than the entry hole and have to figure out how to get them in there.
More neighbors are expected, too, or at least visitors.  The hummingbird feeders are set and ready alongside the regular feeders that often serve as the main stage for the backyard drama.  In the spring, you never know who will show up.  A rose-breasted grosbeak might make a cameo appearance.  And then everything is peaceful until a squirrel shows up, or a quirky chipmunk miraculously makes it way up the post. 

If you’re not a backyard bird watcher, chances are you think I’m a little nuttier than those aforementioned squirrels.  Maybe I am.  But a promise that nothing is an unpredictable as the nature out your backdoor.  And I’ll even venture further to say that birdseed is probably cheaper than cable.  At least that’s what I tell my husband.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Card carrying member

May, 2014

It was not an easy club to be in, but through the forceful voice of my father and my mother’s excellent cooking magic, I was a proud member of the Clean Plate Club for most of my life.
And for most of my life, I honestly thought this was something my dad made up so that I would finish my food and make me feel like I had been inducted into a secret society that was full of healthy people who had eaten copious amounts of vegetables and pot roast.  And eggs, in their entirety.
It was the morning of the fifth grade science fair.  My father had requested fried eggs and as I joined the breakfast table, I did my usual thing and dipped my toast into the yellow yolk and left the white part on the plate.
He wasn’t so happy.  Growing up in a family that barely got by, every ounce of food was precious.  “Eat the white,” he said.
“But daddy, I don’t like the white,” I replied which was pretty stupid because there was no way I was going to win this battle.
“Look,” he said, taunting philosophy, “when you are served a hard boiled egg, you only eat the white and not the yellow.  Now you’ve got a fried egg and eat the yellow and leave the white.  It doesn’t make sense and it’s wasteful.  Eat it.”
My future as a scientist hung in the balance.  The countless hours I spent drawing a poster on the magnetism of the Earth was pretty important stuff…but was it more important than forcing myself to eat the rubbery white part of a fried egg???
Mostly because I didn’t want to fail the fifth grade and I knew for certain that I would be sitting at that table until I ate the egg, even if it took three days.  Eventually I got it down (turns out it wasn’t that bad) and went on my way, having cleaned my plate like a good little girl and kept my club membership.
Turns out my dad didn’t make it up at all.  The Clean Plate Club was actually a concept that started in 1917, went by the wayside, and then was reintroduced in 1947 when food was in short supply after World War II.   The campaign encouraged children to leave no scraps behind, to not be wasteful, and to take only what they could eat.  Sound reasonable?
Today, some people think that the concept of the Clean Plate Club is leading to childhood obesity due to our ever-increasing portion sizes and psychological eating disorders.  I understand what they’re saying, but as a parent I find myself gently persuading my children to join the high ranks of this esteemed organization because I have learned that I just don’t appreciate wastefulness. 
I couldn’t imagine how full the landfills would be, overflowing with half-eaten eggs, if I had chosen my stubbornness over the science fair.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

On the job mom training

 I never played with dolls.  I didn’t have tea parties or strollers.  I didn’t dress them up and feed them.  The only feeding of dolls I ever did was with a certain doll that had a digestive system and came with little packets of gel powder.  You’d add water and make pink goo and feed it to the baby, pump the handle in the back, and wait for proof that what goes in must come out.
Then I gave her a haircut that would make you think she had a lawnmower for a beautician, and she ended up in the bottom of my toy box.
There were other dolls that people gave me, thinking that surely a little girl would hone in her mothering skills and enjoy them, but I didn’t.  I didn’t have mothering skills.  I had other skills.  I had rock collections and rode my bike with no hands.   
Being an only child, I always considered myself the daughter my parents always wanted and the son they never had. 
So when I got married and my husband told my parents that he wanted to have six children, my parents held their sides in laughter and I felt my hips getting wider and my world closing in. 
A bit down the road we were expecting our first kid.  A young mother-to-be, I thought I should really start reading what to do because I had no clue how to take care of a baby, let alone actually be a mother. 
A friend sent me a book.  “This is what helped us.”
Someone recommended another book.  “This will totally save you.”
Relatives told stories, gave advice.  “You’ll never find this in any book.”
But I was pregnant during the summer and had garden work to do, a lawn to mow, dinner to make, and was completely exhausted.  There was no time for reading stacks of books with diagrams on how to swaddle a baby and work out gas bubbles and the best way to establish a sleep schedule.  (I probably should have read that chapter.)
I read very little and when my daughter was born, I had never changed a diaper that wasn’t full of pink goo.  When that first time came, I just did what came natural to me and a lightbulb went off: I think I’m actually wired for this job.  Motherhood was inside me all along, whether I knew it or not.
My hypothesis was confirmed as I nursed her and rocked her to sleep, and skills continued to develop every day.  I already knew how to love this child unconditionally and with every inch of my being for the rest of my life and when she was hungry and tired and how not to run into the coffee table and how to put her toys, dolls and all, back in the toybox.  I just didn’t know it.

Happy Mother’s Day!

-May 2014

Monday, June 8, 2015

Black Jelly Beans

I’ll let you in on a few secrets.  First, my children don’t read the newspaper.  Second, my husband reads them all on the weekend after I’ve clipped my column and stashed it safely in a shoebox.  Third, the good candy is hidden under the spice drops.  And lastly, my childhood philosophy of the black jellybeans still reigns strong today.
There was always a candy dish in our living room.  A fancy blue painted one with a gold trim.  My mother kept a variety of candy in there that would change seasonally, but near Easter it was always filled with jellybeans.  Everyone knew it was there – friends and all of the kids in the neighborhood.  In a matter of minutes, the candy dish would be empty except for the black jellybeans because no one ever liked them. 
So it would go that the candy dish in my very own house that should have belonged all to me (I have no siblings to share with), would more likely be bare than not.  Except for those leftover black jellybeans.
One day I decided that if I wanted to have any sort of candy, I was going to have to eat those unwanted ones, so I forced myself to eat one.  Was it my favorite?  No.  Was it tolerable?  Yes.  Perhaps if I trained myself to eat them and actually enjoy them, I would forever be guaranteed my own personal stash of candy that no one ever steal!  Not only that, but I could have easy access to all of the black jellybeans at the houses of everyone in the entire neighborhood!  People would practically be begging me to eat their candy!
I thought this was brilliant, and to this day, I still agree.  Although still not my favorite, I have assured myself a candy supply of black jellybeans.
Nowadays, it’s harder to find jellybeans that include the black variety, but I’m still fighting the same candy dish battles with my family.  If I put out a bowl of candy, whatever it is, it will be devoured in the blink of an eye and I’m left licking sugar crumbs out of the bottom cursing candy companies for not including black jellybeans anymore.
But then something happened.  A friend bought me a bag of spice drops.  “These are my favorite candy!” I cheered, because I think all those years of training for the spicy beans has tweaked my tastebuds to prefer those flavors.  I ate half the bag myself and then, not wanting to be a pig, set out the rest.
No one touched them. 
“Those are disgusting.  How can you eat them?” I heard them say.
And so, next to the kitchen sink is a dish of spice drops. 
And below them, a secret layer of the sweetest non-black jellybeans ever.


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