Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A Dirty Secret

Monday, April 21, 2014
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Did I save the trip? Yes. Then I guess I saved Spring Break.

I always laugh to myself when I hear people mention that they’re going on vacation. Only spouses and children go on vacation.  Mothers go out of town.

As a family, we have a “travel bucket list” of places we want to visit with the girls.  One of those destinations included a good ol’ retro Spring Break along the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach. This idea was helped along by a call from a reservation specialist at Hilton, who told me that my husband had accumulated enough VIP membership points to earn six days at a resort in Kingston Plantation. And, since he was such a loyal customer, we qualified for a preview of fractional ownership opportunities at one of Hilton’s newest, most talked about properties.

Could he schedule a showing of an oceanfront condo that might better suit our needs on a future trip?

Oh, all right.  What’s an hour?

But life is never that accommodating. Shortly after securing this throwback week at Myrtle Beach, school board members decided to add a day and a half of classes back into the calendar.  Now the girls would miss makeup time and have additional homework before we could drive out of the zip code.

Oh, well.  What’s a few extra worksheets?

My husband had been traveling on business for the two weeks leading up to our family trip, so I was largely on my own when it came to servicing the vehicle, shopping for the house sitter, washing and packing clothes for four people, and picking up supplies for all of our pets.  I bought 25-pound sacks of dog and cat food to make sure their meals lasted while we were away, but our greedy Beagle decided he’d rather eat a sock. Instead of passing it one way or bringing it up another, the “foreign object” got stuck in the lower stomach and top half of the intestine. He was taken into surgery immediately, and we were left knowing that the next five days would be critical in case the two incisions leaked, or he suffered reactions to anesthesia.  Copper would also need intensive care for the first night, so we’d have to transport him to the emergency clinic for constant observation and pain relief treatment.

The beach was the farthest thing from my mind. Rather, Ava’s final honors music performance was that evening, and she had a snare drum part that I didn’t want to miss.  The concert started at 7:00, which was the exact time I had to transport Copper to the emergency clinic.  I promised I would drop and run — that I wouldn’t miss more than one or two numbers — and I’d see her rat-a-tat-tat her way into The Battle Hymn of the Republic. 

I missed every song but the last one.

After getting Copper settled and signing my life away (including my dog if I didn’t come back to get him by 7:15 a.m.), I drove with my flashers on to make it to Ava’s show.  I climbed the steps of the Cultural Center in pairs, a difficult task in muck boots worn to search the woods for our missing cat, which darted out of the house when tree trimmers started cutting down an oak in our yard.  Wearing a dirty shirt stained with my dog’s blood after he bit his tongue, I burst into the packed auditorium to watch Ava and her musician friends sing Sara Bareilles’ hit song, Brave.  Ava happened to look stage left, where I was propped up against the marble wall trying to forget that my back was throbbing from a sciatic nerve flare up.  She flashed a forgiving smile and returned to the hand-clapping tune that brought an entire crowd to its feet. When the show was over, she made her way through other kids’ parents to me.  I hugged her as tightly as I could and repeated how sorry I was for being late.  Ava told me that I could buy the DVD and watch it as many times as I wanted.  After the checks I’d been writing, what’s another $10?

The next morning, I ran into the school counselor who seemed to know I needed a hug of my own.  How’s it going, she asked.  I burst into tears.

“I missed Ava’s performance,” I cried.

After explaining what had caused this lapse in parenting, the counselor put her expertise to good use.

“Did you save the dog?” she asked.

I nodded pathetically.

“Then you saved the day.”

But the day wasn’t over. I had exactly 12 hours to make a decision about the beach.  It would be incredibly insensitive to leave a sick dog behind, but it would be a guilty shame to cancel a trip that two girls (and their dad) deserved.  I’d already missed a concert and class presentation that Ava had worked hard on, and I’d ignored everything at home (including our younger daughter) worrying about the dog. Fortunately, the veterinary hospital agreed that Copper needed extra care for several days, so he could be boarded while we were out of town. My house sitter agreed to visit him every day, and to manage things in case his situation changed.  What’s so bad about that?

I felt miserable for most of the drive down, which was oddly smooth given the time of year.  My back ached and my mind raced, and I fought a sour stomach that was churned by the stress of the last few days.  When we reached the resort, the thick scent of sea water seemed to loosen me up better than any muscle relaxer could, and I settled into “Salt Life” promising to trust that everything would be all right.

That next afternoon, tension returned as we listened to a loud, eager sales associate preach the benefits of vacation timeshare.  With rock music piped into the room full of exhausted-looking couples, we reluctantly watched a flashy PowerPoint presentation advertising the luxuries of 63 Hilton properties that could be ours for approximately 20 days a year after putting $11,500 down and paying $734 a month at 11.9% interest until the $36,000 debt was paid off.  Much to the sales associate’s frustration, we declined all opportunities to “own a piece of the beach” by way of a deed to a “unit in Las Vegas” that could be transferred with the purchase of “at least 5,000 points” for a resort closer to home.

Home.

The rest of our time was spent dodging college students and seeking shelter from bone-chilling ocean winds.  We seemed to invest the same timeshare expense inland, riding the SkyWheel, racing go carts, eating overpriced, underwhelming seafood, and buying souvenir tee-shirts that marked our discounted trip to Myrtle Beach.  While it was nice to order a grande vanilla latte every morning, return from the outlet malls to a room freshened with fluffy towels and crisp bed sheets, and read Southern magazines from a striped cabana, I didn’t want to be there.  Clearly, the timing was off.  Sick dogs, missing cats, work deadlines, homework assignments, school performances, and wayward tree trimmers (that’s another story and another sizable check) were calling me back.  Simply put, I missed my mess.

Despite coral-colored shrimp and cheddar cheese grits baked in a cast iron skillet, pitchers of tea sweet enough to rot teeth, and being called ma’am more than Mom, I was actually homesick for the problems I tried to escape.  And that’s a funny thing about mothers:  We like to tell anyone who will listen that we desperately need to get away.  But the truth is, we don’t always want to make a run for it. We’re fixers. We don’t know how to leave our troubles behind. Contrary to how we act, we secretly love these dirty parts of life, because it reminds us that we play a vital role with a special purpose.  We are important to other people, projects…and yes, pets. Sun and surf can be good for the soul, but it doesn’t always provide rejuvenation.  Sometimes, it provides a reminder.

 

 

 

Culture Shock

Monday, April 14, 2014
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It’s often said that babies don’t come with instruction manuals. I tend to disagree after being issued a self-published handbook by the doctor who was covering rounds at the hospital on the morning Ava was born. I read it front page to back cover during my 48-hour stay in the mother-baby unit, deciding that infants weren’t hard.  They were impossible.

Boy (or girl), was I wrong. Early childhood was a piece of cake. The tween-and-teenage phase is the real challenge. Moms and dads don’t need a manual. They need a computer science degree.

March Madness took on a different meaning in our house this year. My basketball bracket blew apart after Harvard lost (Go, Smart Boys!), and I really didn’t care who went on to the Final Four after that. So, we replaced athletics with adolescence, and my predictions fell apart there, too. Just when I thought we had discussed every potential pitfall of online activity, we tumbled into one anyway.

My husband and I were of the belief that our daughter didn’t need a cell phone until high school. Yes, ninth grade. That’s when other parents laughed and told us the days of going into the office to borrow the school secretary’s telephone were things of the past. Between evening events and practices, kids need a way to stay in touch with parents in case plans change or they need a ride home. A cell, despite its ugly side, does offer an added layer of protection for kids when they’re away from home. Oh, and most families have done away with a house phone. So if your child is visiting a friend, forget borrowing the cordless.

Ok, ok, so we’re 40-something dinosaurs. We’ll buy a cell phone for her, but it won’t be a smart one. It’ll be a dumb one. No texting (for now), no Facebook, no FaceTime, and now… no games.

Why? Because some of those games have back door texting features. Instant messaging without phone service? Yep. There’s an app for that.

Last week, we deleted it.

Without revealing too much about a private matter, let’s just say that I thought I was on top of this stuff. It turns out that we’re as green as grass when it comes to technology. Kids can play hide and sneak better than anyone who has come before them, and it’s easy for parents (and childcare providers) to fall a few steps behind.  When we said “no texting”, we weren’t aware that most games, such as Words with Friends, have built-in social networks. Not only can strangers request a match, but they can attempt to chat between plays.

I flipped through the Total Transformation Program Workbook to see how the therapist suggested working out these new obstacles in parenting. The author’s advice was clear and concise:

Discontinue pop culture as soon as school ends.

The minute the dismissal bell rings, the social life ends, too. Unless there’s a reason to get in touch with friends or classmates — such as homework or group assignments — there’s no reason to keep the campus wide open at home. Kids are with their buddies and BFFs for nine hours or more a day. That’s plenty, Dr. Lehman writes. Family time begins when the school day wraps up.

No texting. No Skyping. No gaming. No emailing. No calling. Shut the world out of the house and regain (some) control of your time together.  Studies show that turning off gadgets also turns off opportunities for hostile environments, bullying, and a host of other destructive influences that keep kids hard wired into negative thinking.

Taking the Total Transformation creator’s recommendation, we pulled our daughter off the grid at night. She may reach out to friends for homework help, and she may use the computer for academic purposes and even a few fun sites that we’ve researched and approved. The rest had to go.  Our girls won’t live in a cage, but they’re not going to live online, either.

We’re also abiding by the same practice. If we’re going to be a family in the evening, then we have to sign off or log off of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. We can’t teach or lead by example if we ignore our own imposed rules. We’re in a type of cyber rehabilitation program, closing doors to the world and closing Windows on the laptop.  But will it work during the summer? Time will tell. But if our girls want to play games, they can do so in the front yard.

. . .

What are some other types of apps that offer texting games? Here’s a short list:

I Spy

Story Builder

List Builder

Kiss, Marry, Kill

What If?

Simple Quiz

Would You Rather

Never Have I Ever

Name Game

Hangman

20 Questions

Song Lyrics

Abbreviations

Where Am I?

(Compiled from various websites and blogs)

 

 

 

Who…me?

Monday, April 7, 2014
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I recently wrote a short piece about ordering The Total Transformation Program after watching a 30-minute infomercial on TV. When the package arrived, I felt a pang of guilt, because my daughters are well behaved and they give us a world of happiness that I’m almost embarrassed to admit. They’ve done nothing wrong to prompt this research project, but I like to anticipate what may happen next.  I plan disasters you see, and I’m convinced teenagers turn into the spawn of Satan by the time they turn 15.

So, I’m preparing to dance with the devil herself.

As I cracked open the instructions (more demanding than a one room school teacher), I discovered that parents who order this disciplinary guide have serious troubles at home. If you have a rude, crude, obnoxious, violent, defiant child sleeping under your roof, then The Total Transformation Program better be on your bedside table next to the King James.  But what if your child (the age bracket begins at age five) has a couple of quirks — such as playing the victim too often, or playing the politician to say all the things you expect him or her to believe, just to get out of trouble?

I know.  I got scared, too.  I felt like I’d hired a lawyer to find potential lawsuits in my life. I didn’t have any problems when I sat down at the kitchen counter, but after I got up, I felt like we needed a family intervention.

But wait! There’s more!

So one of my daughters plays the victim and the other plays politics.  What about me?

Dr. Lehman, the Total Transformation Program therapist, reveals that I’m the biggest problem of all. ME!  In fact, it’s amazing that my daughters have gotten this far in life.

I’m a Perfectionist, a Screamer, and at times, a Martyr.  I tend to blame myself more than anyone or anything else (see Perfectionist), but this time, I’m taking Dad down with me.  He’s a Bottomless Pocket, Ticket-Punching, Savior.

Sticks and stones  may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…much.

THE BOOK, which is how I will refer to it from now on, suggests that our parenting roles are, at times, ineffective.  But if it ain’t broke, why try to fix it?

I may not fix it, but I can be aware of what works now … because it might not work later. I need to tweak how I manage the girls as they grow older.

This just might be the most important lesson for parents: Be aware.  Don’t be different, but be mindful of what we do (on occasion) that trigger behaviors in our children that we don’t like.  No, it’s not all our fault, but children learn from what they witness at home.  They take the best (and worst) of us wherever they go. We should at least be cognizant of our own weak spots so we can prevent tension and turmoil later on.

So, I’ve been humbled.  I opened the book (and the seven DVDs) thinking that I would read about other people’s problems.  Instead, I recognized all of us. There are no perfect children, and no matter how hard we work, there are no perfect parents.  The challenge is to find a way to solve problems without creating great divides in the relationships we cherish.

I bought the program after high school senior Rachel Canning sued her parents for tuition and living expenses despite moving out of the family home.  My daughters will not turn out like that kid, I said to myself. And they probably won’t.  But now I see that we could turn out like Rachel Canning’s parents if we don’t change our ways.

 

 

 

 

Infomercial Parenting

Friday, April 4, 2014
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total transformIf you read my blog posts – even every now and then — you know that I’m seriously afraid my daughters will turn on us. Well, me. It seems like most girls declare war on their mothers by the time they turn 15.  As of this very second, I have two sweet kids who respect authority and usually reject behaviors they see anywhere from the playground to Playhouse Disney. I couldn’t ask for better children, but now I’m asking for help to keep them this way.

Don’t borrow trouble, you may be saying to the computer. I’m not borrowing trouble. I’m paying for it in the form of $19 for shipping and handling fees. Yes, I ordered the Total Transformation Program after watching a 30-minute infomercial on parenting strategies to cure teenagers with terrible attitudes.

Oh, please, you may be saying to the computer. I’m out only $19 if this “help” turns out to be a gimmick.  As long as I return surveys after each lesson, I won’t have to pay the remaining balance of $109.  Trust me — I’m answering every question!

But how can I fill out the survey if I don’t have extremely defiant teens to test these theories? Let’s just say that I’m practicing preventive parenting. I want to be prepared in case we start to see signs of disrespect and disregard for house rules.

You can read about the Total Transformation Program here in The Mommyhood.  If the CDs and supplemental handbooks are all they’re marketed to be, I should have enough blog material to carry us from elementary to high school!

 

A purple heart

Monday, March 31, 2014
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ava window 2In parenting, there are memories and then there are flashbacks.  One is of the sweet, perhaps even bittersweet kind; the other is similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I’ve been having flashbacks lately. I can only blame them on the knowledge that Ava is going to middle school soon, and the ball has started to pick up speed in that direction.  She registered herself, more or less, and I signed the papers on the dotted line.  She submitted a form to join “Beginning Band”, and she indicated that she intends to play the snare drum. She and her classmates watched “the video” that included “the talk” with the school nurse, and I gave her a check to pay for the patrol trip to Columbus, OH. I can barely keep up, and I’m fighting to hang on.

Things are different at home, too.  I haven’t helped her with a homework assignment since the beginning of the year.  She says she doesn’t need anyone’s help, and her grades prove it. She spends more time in her room reading novels and and listening to music, and she’s finally taking an interest in clothes. But this kid — this big girl — this tween — is less demanding of affection, too.  I used to call her my “Velcro baby”, because she was stuck to my leg like dog hair.  Ava was the most loving child I had ever seen.  Now, when I reach out to give her a hug, she braces herself. Sometimes she leans in from the side, and other times she stiffens so it’s impossible to give her a long, motherly squeeze.  We’re about an hour away from a handshake. Yes, she’s putting up boundaries. Hugs have become a courtesy; goodbye kisses have become obligatory.

Many years ago, I couldn’t leave the room without her dissolving into a puddle of tears.  And this is when I experience a flashback that I can’t shake.

It was a wintery day that called for a nap on the couch.  I was pregnant with our second daughter, and I was nauseated from the time I rolled out of bed to the time I crawled back in. Caring for a two-year old with unlimited energy and a 78-year old with uncontrollable dementia was taking its toll on me.  Both of them, including a bored cat, followed me through the house for the bulk of the day.  To some degree, Ava and my dad were of the same mindset.  I didn’t chase toddlers.  They chased me.

So on this wintery day, I was closing in on a meltdown from sheer mental exhaustion.  I needed a reprieve to get my emotions in order, and to let a wave of seasickness subside.  Ava wasn’t having any of it, and my dad didn’t understand most anything.

“I just want a short break to close my eyes, and then I’ll be right back,” I told her, going into a first floor bedroom so I could listen for trouble.

Ava protested.  “No, Mama! Please! Stay with me!”

It doesn’t take Nostradamus to predict that a child who had just eaten a full lunch wasn’t going to play quietly while I put my head on a pillow for a few minutes.  She wanted to romp and tickle and play and bounce on the bed.

I asked her to please wait with her granddad for about fifteen minutes.  Here are some blocks.  Build the tallest house in the world.

Fifteen minutes? Neither one of them could comprehend time.  Play together? That means someone would have to take the lead and organize this activity.

Ava started to cry. ”NO!” she begged.

Those precious fifteen minutes were spent on worthless negotiation. In fact, her pleading to “play with me” became more dramatic. Finally, I carried her outside of the bedroom walls, and attempted to close the door.

She screamed as though she had seen me for the last time.

I stood with my back to the door and sobbed. She pounded and begged me to open it. My dad hovered in the hallway asking over and over again what was wrong.

Ava started coughing and choking. Then…she threw up.

I opened the door and found my sweet girl’s face red and soaked with tears.  She sucked in little puffs of air and sobbed some more.  “Pleeeeease let me in.”

And now, as Ava sits in her bedroom scanning Pinterest photos of her favorite boy band, I stand at the doorway and silently beg, Please let me in.

How times have changed.

Last night, I sat on the edge of her twin mattress that is covered in sheets printed with little pink flowers. Soon, this set will be used to protect a couch so the dog won’t get muddy paw prints on the cushions.  I told her about my flashback, and how much I regret shutting that door in her face.  I was desperate for a break from the constant demand for attention, and I envied her ability to throw up to relieve a sick stomach.  Mine was hormonal.  But hers was pure panic.

Ava put her hand on my wrist and then gripped it.

“I don’t remember,” she said, as if I needed permission to let go of the guilt.

“Yeah, but I do. It bothers me,” I confessed.  “I can remember every second of it.”

I sat on the edge of her bed for a long time that night, talking to both of my girls about things of no real importance. When it was time to turn off the light, I stood up to straighten their blankets.  Ava’s hand was still circled around my wrist.  I hadn’t even noticed. I unwrapped her fingers and kissed her on the  forehead goodnight. I traveled across the hall to my room, slid under the covers, turned onto my left side — a habit from my old pregnancy days — and slept like I hadn’t rested in weeks.

 

 

 

The birds and the bees in my bonnet

Monday, March 24, 2014
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Since the first day of Spring has come and gone with the wintery wind, I can use this time of year to say that I have a bee in my bonnet. Correction:  I have had a bee in my bonnet for some time.  I’ll blame snowstorms and snow days, chemical spills and a number of other interruptions for giving me more time to think about things that I ordinarily ignore. There’s an old saying of “having too much time on her hands.” I admit that I’ve had a lighter schedule since the first of the year, because as most working parents will tell you, it’s nearly impossible to maintain a job when schools are delayed or closed at least once a week.

So what’s this bee in my bonnet? Middle school. The very thought gives me hives. I guess I’m planting my hooves in the mud to avoid change, because I’m of the belief that eleven-year-olds don’t need access to full-fledged teenagers. I know, I know:  There’s nothing I can do about it.  Sixth grade was moved to middle school (or junior high) ages ago.  Go on or go homeschool.  Take your pick, Mom.

My complaint with this change is that it strips a year of childhood from our kids (in my limited opinion). As a parent, I feel like my daughter is being robbed of an innocence that’s owed to her. I’m irritated that a group of educators somewhere in the country think that kids should grow up faster.

Yes, I’m whining. I’m not ready to grow up as a mother, either.  But, to lessen the annoyance of that whining, I searched the Internet for reasons why I should look upon this “crossroads of development” with enthusiasm.

According to Public School Review, moving sixth graders out of elementary school was a financial decision for most districts in the nation. Elementary schools were splitting at the seams, while middle schools had plenty of room (clearly, no one studied Kanawha County’s profile). There was also an eagerness among families to get on with it. Boredom and restlessness tend to set in as kids reach sixth grade, and studies reveal that they’re excited to accept new challenges.

Here’s a preview:

1) Girls and boys change physically at this age and stage, with girls making the most obvious transformations in maturity.

2) Girls and boys start to notice each other in romantic ways.

3) Friends become more important than family.

4) Girls and boys are introduced to more adult themes and situations due to the older company they start to keep.

5) That older company also introduces new peer pressures, such as sexual activity, drug and alcohol experimentation.

6) Emotional instability due to those developmental changes produce an entirely new set of problems, which make an adolescent act more like a child from time to time.

I’m not enthused.

What about academics? Does any part of a sixth grader’s step up into the middle school ranks have anything to do with the classroom?

The website, Public School Review, also revealed that sixth graders that remained in elementary school for a final year scored higher on tests than those who were placed in middle school.  Why? Because teachers and counselors dedicated most of the year to managing the above-mentioned adjustments. In elementary school, the year was a continuation of similar subjects and studying. Some states (such as California) are revisiting this decision, with more than a few school boards re-routing sixth graders back to their elementary school bases. However, this poses another problem. Most buildings no longer have enough room, because policymakers filled sixth grade absences with preschool programs.

There has to be a bright side, right? Even though there are more behavioral problems in middle school because of the looser structure (more teachers, more students, more demographics, more socio-economic differences, and more influences), there are key points for sending kids on to the next level.

1) Sixth graders have more opportunities to make their own positive decisions, such as becoming members of groups, athletic organizations, and taking part in extra-curricular activities.

2) Sixth graders can break out of the shell (to some degree) to promote their own abilities and strengths. Rather than being lumped together with 50 kids that are treated alike, stand-outs can make names for themselves academically and establish their own scholastic paths.

Yes, the article stopped at two benefits. I had to search other sites and download white papers to find additional positive facts in this debate, which has been argued for decades.

3) There is a big difference in the way subjects are taught, particularly science and math programs. Students need to learn alternative ways of problem solving, a demand in high school curricula.

4) There are more teachers with greater depth and breadth of expertise in subjects, which expands a student’s intellect and interest in specific areas.

5) Organizational and life skills are stressed at the middle school level. Students tend to be “babied” in elementary school, which hinders their ability to handle situations on their own in higher grade levels.

However, school counselors believe that this critical time in a child’s development is the very reason why extra nurturing is a good idea.

So what do we do, Mom and Dad, if this is the way things are going to be? While there are many viewpoints, the most common piece of advice is to remain involved in your child’s middle school experience even if volunteer opportunities don’t exist like they did in grade school.  You may be called a Helicopter Parent, but you won’t regret sticking close for this particular year. Another tip is to make sure sixth graders are separated from seventh and eighth graders to help control exposure to too much, too soon.  Luckily, our new middle school isolates sixth grade students for the majority of the day to give boys and girls undivided attention from faculty and administrators.

Finally, start talking and don’t stop until you’re blue in the face.  Make sure your child knows that he or she can ask you any question, share any fear, and discuss any situation that doesn’t make sense.  If the door to the school is locked, make sure the one in your home is wide open.

 

 

Hashtag Nailed It

Monday, March 17, 2014
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Every mother wants to be known for something. Perhaps it’s knitting, fly fishing, running marathons…or perhaps it’s being able to peel an apple in one long, perfect spiral like Tom Hanks’ wife in the movie Sleepless in Seattle. We want to be famous for having a spectacular talent — a skill that no other parent can match. I assume my girls think of me as “the writer” when someone asks what I do, but I write so often that they’ve come to ignore it.  I decided to find a new flair so my girls could brag to their friends and teachers with renewed excitement.

“Yeah, my mom makes a mean macaron!”

Macaron? Don’t you mean macaroon? Or, have you dropped off the ’i' in macaroni?

Close your mouth! Let’s start at the beginning.

Macaron

Macaron is a French cookie made with almond and egg whites that are sandwiched around a cream-based filling. They come in a rainbow of colors and flavors, such as buttered caramel and Irish cream.

Macaroon

Macaroon is the American word for a version of a flourless egg-white-based cookie. Most often made with coconut, it can also include nuts or nut paste.

mac vs. mac

Courtesy: Pinterest

In other words, one is much harder to make than the other. And expensive.  Tres chic, not very cheap. 

With a little time on my hands this past week, I decided to try these beautiful macaron recipes pinned on Pinterest boards. I’m drawn to color, so I became obsessed with these puffy little pastel cookies that whistled springtime. However, I thought I should cut my teeth on a slightly easier list of ingredients and procedures, so I settled for a salted chocolate variety that promised minimal tears and maximum approval.

Here’s a summary of that particular day in the kitchen, as recorded in Facebook posts:

8:28 a.m.  Off to Lowe’s I goes for tools.

9:32 a.m.  Step ONE: Purchase a new, baby blue KitchenAid Artistan Stand Mixer, thanks to an AuthorHouse royalty check for “Sellie and Sam”.  I shall name her Julia.

mixer

10:28 a.m.  Step TWO: Stop at Kroger to purchase ingredients for “Double Chocolate Salted Macarons”.  Search for almond flour and Celebri-Kitty, but cannot find either one.

kitty kroger

10:34 a.m.  Step THREE: Play Pharrell’s “Happy” song to remind myself that THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN. Then, search the internet for advice on substituting almond flour.

11:10 a.m.  Step FOUR: Return to Kroger after I learn that almond flour is stocked in the organic aisle. FIND ONE BAG left on the shelf (lots of macaron making today!), notice the price, and drive home to write another book to pay for it.

flour

11:16 a.m. This is major stress. I should have learned to ride a bike first. But no — I have to drive a stick-shift Ferrari.

11:27 a.m. …and if you’re wondering why I’m online, it’s because I’m waiting on three eggs to come up to room temperature. (Comment from a friend: Just run them under warm water.)

ingredients

11:36 a.m.  Step FIVE: Follow all instructions and worry about the humidity of the house, which is a cozy 67 degrees unless you’re standing beside the window, and then it’s about 50.

11:50 a.m.  ZUT ALORS! (Translation: THIS IS HARD!)

12:01 p.m.  Piping bag? WHAT? How about a gallon-sized Baggie? I have my limits!

12: 33 p.m.  “Pipe into circles. 25 total.” Oh. So we’ll have 6.

meringues

12:53 p.m.   “Bake at 350 for 14 minutes, or until little cookie feet appear.” Mine have toes.

1:34 p.m.  Step SIX: Wait for macarons and chocolate filling to cool, match tops of the same size (Yeah, right…); add a sprinkle of coarse sea salt, and let set.

Drumroll, please….

finished mac

#nailedit

1:57 p.m. Sing loud and proud!  BECAUSE I’M HAPPY!!!!

Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do!

pharrell and paul

Pharrell (and Paul)

That evening, I presented Mike with one delicate, airy, slightly crisp, slightly chewy, chocolatey, velvety, rich, French macaron.  “Mmm,” he mumbled, biting into the little sandwich iced with salted ganache.

“That’s a $400 cookie in your mouth.”

Mike choked and sprayed the counter with crumbs.

Two days later (when he was speaking to me again), I decided to try another batch of my famous macarons.  This time, I paid more attention to sifting and mixing, and I cut a smaller hole in the corner of the gallon-size Baggie to pipe petite rounds of “lava-like batter” onto sheets of parchment.  Following the directions like Martha Stewart and forgiving mistakes like Julia Child, I turned out 26 salted chocolate cookies instead of six.

But I don’t have any to show you. The girls ate them all.

Want to try it? Here’s the link!

http://foodnessgracious.com/2013/04/double-chocolate-salted-macarons/

Homemade take-out

Monday, March 10, 2014
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Right.

Gag me with a spoon.

As far as our family is concerned, the water crisis is over. We’ve been washing clothes and brushing teeth with tap water for weeks, but I do hesitate to drink a tall glass of our city’s H2O. If this isn’t considered “normal,” then I’ll edit my comment to say that it’s our “new normal.”

Another “new normal” is making lunches for our two children every day. At the beginning of the school year, I made a big fuss about our oldest daughter, who refused to eat cafeteria food.  I accused her of being a food snob, and then I fussed at her for being so finicky about frozen chicken nuggets.  She one-upped me by declaring herself vegetarian.

There’s a salad bar at school!

But since the water crisis (which we consider to be over), I’ve changed my school policy.  If they want a homemade lunch, then fine by me.  However, there are slight changes to the law:  1) The girls have to accompany me to the grocery store to choose their lunch items; and 2) They have to assemble those meals by themselves.

I spent a small fortune on plastic baggies at The Dollar Tree. Pinterest to the rescue! Crafty moms offered a simple, stylish solution:  A Bento box! Ever heard of it? I first experienced lunch in a Bento box at a spa in Scottsdale, AZ (many years before kids). My healthy fare was delivered in a little bamboo crate divided into 1/2 and 1 cup servings of bean dip, vegetables, some type of grain salad, fruit sushi, and dark chocolate squares.  I washed the delights down with an overpriced bottle of Perrier and felt like a million dollars — much like my restaurant tab.

Bento box-style lunches are very popular, especially if parents have picky eaters or those who like to play with their food.  I yell at my children for both behaviors, but I can see how much better they eat if the options are pleasing to the eye.  Now friends, let’s keep it real:  This mother will NOT cut shapes into sandwiches.  Why? Because I tried that when our first born went to kindergarten.  1) No slice of bread is ever big enough to cut into the shape of a heart; 2) I refuse to get up at 5:00 a.m. to make goofy sandwich faces with raisins and strips of red pepper. If you’re this type of parent, I’ll compliment you on being Mother of the Year, and then I’ll talk about you behind your back. Pinky promise.

However, I will say that if you have snackers instead of meal eaters, these stackable, washable, lockable lunch boxes are the way to go.  Pinterest also helped ease the stress of shopping by publishing grocery lists that break out grains, vegetables, fruits, and healthy desserts.  Can’t I do this by myself? Yes. Well, I used to, until our neighborhood grocery store decided to move everything around and make me spend two hours looking for hummus.

Bento boxes are available online through the Laptop Lunches website, or in somewhat generic form at Target and Walmart in the aisles stocked with leftover containers.  Brown bags and plastic baggies are quicker and easier, but they do start to pile up in the pantry and then in the trash can.  Bento-ware is also a fun way to control portions, Mom, in case you’d like to treat yourself to a spa day at home. It has to be cheaper.

Namaste!

 

 

The “B” Word

Thursday, March 6, 2014
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I look at you sitting there politely — hands clasped, feet crossed at the ankle — and I wonder when and where it all went wrong.  With your Kate Middleton-inspired hair and makeup, monogrammed sweater, pearls, Ralph Lauren oxford, starched khakis, penny loafers, and blush-polished nails, I see your image on every Pinterest board dedicated to pretty, preppy girls. You are the poster child for a sought-after adolescence: academic achievements in a private school, elite social position, athletic involvement, Ivy League hopeful.

But this footage is also proof that you’re a kid who has come to expect it.  Since you aren’t getting your way, you’ve turned into an adult who has come to demand it.

I’m responding to news reports, of course, because I don’t know what’s gone on behind closed doors.  Yet I seriously doubt that you grew up in a house of horrors.  If your mother called you fat, and if your father invited you to drink beer with him, then that’s their misery. However, your account of psychological abuse is challenged by a rant directed toward your mother, which was laced with the filthiest words in the English vocabulary.

Have you been rebellious and disrespectful all along?

You’re the daughter of a former police chief. If a father of his professional background can’t control your tantrums, then who can? You see, that’s what bothers me.  All of the pieces that promise a better shot in this world were in place. You appear to have (or have had) it all.  Then, when you reportedly stepped out of line by drinking, cutting school, and dating boys who weren’t ideal, stricter rules and harsher consequences were enforced by Mom and Dad (obviously too little, too late). Now, you’re suing them.

I’m sitting here trying to figure out a way to make sure my daughters don’t turn out like you.  Why? Because you, my darling, are a brat.

While I don’t know you personally, I do know of you publicly.  You are not special.  You are common. There are many teenagers in this world who could be your identical twin. They just haven’t dragged their parents into court and made a media spectacle out of private family matters to get even more attention.

Yes, thanks to your drama, I’m in a tight spot. I now see the dangers of giving my children too much, too soon, and too often. I pray I haven’t already established a similar pattern of expectation and delivery. I suddenly question everything I’ve ever done for them, and what their father and I intend to do in the near future. I keep repeating to myself: Everything in moderation…including parenting.  But what does that mean, exactly?

Growing up as an only child, I was comfortable. When I turned 16, my mother bought a car for me to travel back and forth to a remote high school.  My dad put gas in it (I could drive all week on $5).  They bought the majority of my clothes and paid for a lot of my fun.  Most of this support was in exchange for never giving them any trouble. But when it came to my college education, my mother was frank: “I’ll do the best I can, but you’re going to have to help.” She sold a farm in Greenbrier County, and it guaranteed 40% of my undergraduate tuition to a local university. I was awarded a partial scholarship, and I worked on campus to pay the balance due.  When it came to graduate school, though, I was on my own. I got a loan.  I earned a master’s degree. I found a better job.  I paid off the loan.

My husband is a true do-it-yourselfer.  He wanted to attend college, but the money wasn’t there.  As an honor student, he could have earned scholarships, I suppose. Instead, he joined the Army, served his time, accepted GI Bill funding, graduated from engineering school, launched a career, and made a life for himself.  By himself.

Now, he’s saving every nickel to help send our children to college.  Unless our daughters land full scholarships or piece together enough financial aid to pay the way, they’ll owe something when it’s over.  And this fact keeps us up at night. Before hearing about your little situation, I felt terribly guilty that we wouldn’t be able to give our children free rides. Now, I’m beginning to think that it would be a mistake to underwrite the entire thing. In reality, we can only save and do so much. There are limits, and you don’t seem to comprehend them.  To be so bright, you don’t understand the meaning of the word “no”.

If you were my daughter, I would be thoroughly disgusted with myself. Mothers, in particular, have such high hopes for their children.  We want to make life easier for them. We want to give our kids material possessions and exciting experiences that we never had. We want them to be happier. Today, I see what all of those wants can do to a child, even if they are well intended.

What I need is the courage to be a bitch now – not later.  I need to remember that I am a mother, not a friend.  I am a parent, not a bank.  This hurts. It’s an entirely different type of labor pain.  But I refuse to be afraid that my daughters won’t like me someday.  I have to stress the importance of personal responsibility and accountability. What they can rely on and expect in this lifetime is unconditional love from us. But the rest is up to them.

As for you? Your family and everyone else’s family will wait for a judge to decide if children are entitled to prepaid college funds. Recent testimony revealed that after a series of infractions, your parents allegedly cut your access to a life of privilege that you took for granted.  Indeed, you should go away to school.  But biomedicine is the very last thing you need to learn.

 

 

 

Off-Beat

Monday, March 3, 2014
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I should've seen it coming.

I should’ve seen it coming.

I knew she’d ask me “that question” sooner or later.  I’d prepared for the moment, but when it happened, I stumbled. I stuttered. I stammered.  I’d practiced my response for months; rehearsed it in my journal.  I wrote down all the clichés that would make understanding appropriate for her age level.  I read multiple articles about this topic, and I bought a few books to help me understand how times have changed.

My 10-year-old daughter is going off to middle school next year. I’ve been told that I must address these delicate issues before she sets foot in this new place. But, I waited until she asked the question that I’ve been dreading.

“Mom, what if I don’t fit in?”

Gotcha! You thought it was the big birds-n-bees talk, didn’t you? But this conversation is equally burdensome for a parent.  What if your child doesn’t fit in?  Did you?

I didn’t at first. Seventh grade was an awkward time (that phrase is spot on) in which I wore a denim jacket with every outfit.  I grew out of Palmetto jeans (not Guess) every other month, and my hair was as shocking as the gap between my front teeth. A bad perm was tinted a terrible shade of orange thanks to a bottle of Sun-In highlight spray, and it wasn’t complemented by bronzing makeup that stopped sharply at the jawline. I looked weird.  I was weird.  I carried my mother’s old Aigner purse, for heaven’s sake.  Think I’m over it?

My daughter popped the question on my bed one night, when she should’ve been fast asleep.  She lingered a little longer that evening, bouncing a foot like she was kicking an invisible soccer ball.  “What is it?” I asked, closing my book.

She crossed her legs into some type of yoga pose.  This was going to take awhile.

“What if I don’t fit in next year?”

Mike walked downstairs to check the door locks for the third time.

“What makes you think you won’t?” I countered.

She shrugged her shoulders.  “I had a bad dream a few nights ago that I was walking down the hallway, and I didn’t know where I was going.  A group of girls started laughing at me, and then one chased me through all these classrooms.”

I shuddered.  Dear God, that would scare anyone.

“And I couldn’t get away from her.”

My overly-analytical parenting style forced me into thinking that she was dreaming these horrible things to try to deal with deeply-rooted worries.  It was her mind’s way of bringing a problem to the surface (I guess). This also explains why she’s been in my bed for the last few mornings, watching the alarm clock.

“Are you treated that way now?” I asked.

She shook her head no.  I then asked how much TV she’d been watching, or if her books were too old for her.  She shook her head no again. “I’m reading about Jackie Kennedy,” she said. Well that Ethel could be a real bully, I joked.  She didn’t laugh.

“You’ll fit in because you and 50 other kids from your school are headed in the same direction,” I began.  “They’re not breaking off from the mix just yet.  But most of them are involved in something — dance, soccer, softball, gymnastics — which will make the first days of school a little easier,” I admitted.

Choosing to be uninvolved has ramifications. Inaction has consequences, too.  “These kids have been going to practices for years,” I warned her.  “So it’s a little late to start something truly competitive,” I said.

After reassuring her that she would have the best years of her life because of a friendly personality, a kind heart and a generous spirit, I shared my worries with a friend as soon as she got out of bed the next morning.

“She is an introvert,” I told her. “She holds back, and we might’ve encouraged it to keep her safe.”

“Then you know what, Katy?” my friend began, in a slightly edgy tone (which scared me).  “That’s when she picks up an instrument and she joins the band.”

I sat there for a moment.  I was in the band. I played the flute (because my cousin did), and then I switched to the saxophone (because my friend did), and then I tried out for the majorette corps (because my cousin and friend did).

“Since kids aren’t introduced to marching band until sixth grade, it doesn’t matter that she’s never had a lesson.”

I perked up.  THE BAND!

Why didn’t this occur to us?  She’s already a student of the Magnet School of Music at West Side Elementary.  Why wouldn’t she continue this interest? THE BAND!

That night (on my bed), I asked our girl what she thought about learning to play an instrument. Flute? Clarinet? Sax?

She curled her lip.

“Well, you have to do something,” I snapped. ”That’s my new rule.  I don’t care if you run cross country or join the debate team, but if you’re worried about fitting in, then you need to find a group that will be a positive influence.”

“Oh no, it’s not that,” she exclaimed, fanning her arms in my face.  “I think I know what I want to do.”

I waited.  She smiled.  Then she laughed.  She tipped over on the bed and giggled some more.

“I want to play the drums.”

After a match of “No, you don’t” and “Yes, I do”, I withdrew from competition.  “You’re serious?” I asked.

“Yes. I want to play the drums and then the xylophone.”

“We’ll support you, but you’ll stick with it,” I replied, shocked that a book about Jackie Kennedy would be replaced by a biography of Ringo Starr.  A similar worry set in. Classmate reaction could go either way. Kids are so critical, especially of those who do something unusual. Fitting in and blending in aren’t exactly the same types of acceptance.

“I’m pretty sure that a tall girl with long, blonde hair and blue eyes pounding on a snare drum will most definitely stand out,” I said.

She never lost her smile. “And you and Dad can sit in the stands and watch!”

With bells on.