Monthly Archives: April 2012

A Mom’s Victory: I Survived “The Talk”

It’s been a long time coming, something I’ve put off, danced around, hemmed and hawed at, and frankly didn’t know how to approach: the talk. You know the one, the birds and the bees. The uncomfortable, sweaty-palmed, God-please-let-this-end talk.

My son has flirted with the topic for probably a year while I’ve done nothing but dodge it. It’s not that I haven’t planned on having that talk. He just always catches me off guard. Driving home from school is not a good time for me to start talking about body parts and what goes where. It didn’t help when his younger sister began asking questions about our pregnant neighbor.

“What I don’t understand is how did the baby get in her tummy?” she’d wonder. It was all I could do to keep our van from veering off the road. Why did they never ask their dad these questions while he was in the midst of trying to have a normal afternoon?

The thing was, I needed to wrap my mind around what I was going to say to my son. I had to mentally prepare. I couldn’t blabber on. I had to breathe. This required rehearsal, thorough thought, simple explanation. I couldn’t get too scientific or explain too much. I had to be prepared for questions because I knew he wouldn’t be afraid to ask. This was a delicate operation. I never felt ready when the topic came up, but I knew I had to approach it. He came to me, not my husband, so I felt I had to be ready to answer him the next time he had uncomfortable questions.

My own experiences around the same age included a boy passing the S encyclopedia around the class and pointing out the passage about sex. After a minute of reading and comprehending, I merely replied, “EW!” Later I overheard more details while I pretended to be asleep at my sister’s sleepover. I pieced things together. My parents never sat me down. They gave me a pamphlet about puberty. My older sister would never answer my questions. When I felt like the only kid who didn’t know things later on, I was embarrassed. I decided not to do that to my kids. But that hasn’t made having the talk any easier.

I knew my son knew the logistics. He gave enough hints. And I planned to bring it up. We talk about a lot of things. But last night he beat me to it. He gave me the talk. He schooled me in what third-grade boys think sex is. I sat, mortified, shocked, disbelieving, and a bit humored at the whole scene—unfortunately there were demonstrations, though certainly nowhere near correct.

But I was proud of myself. I remained calm. I wasn’t nervous. I set him straight about a few things even though he giggled through a lot of it. I used all the correct names like I was supposed to, and I told him the plain and simple truth. It was easy and fairly painless. My preparation had paid off.

Then he asked, “Did you and Daddy do that?”

“Uh…”

I totally wasn’t prepared for that.

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Not the Sound of Music

While I initially feared the sound of a dying cat clawing its way up a blackboard, I was relieved at the sound of a more tolerable low, moaning whistle. My son brought home a soprano recorder from school last week. He needs to learn songs as part of a music grade.

Knowing my son, he will diligently practice. Already I’ve heard the choppy notes of “Hot Cross Buns” early in the morning, after school, and before his bedtime stories, but I have to give my son credit for making the effort without any prompting from me.

My son playing a recorder

"Hot cross buns, hot cross buns. One a penny..."

I fear the reason is because anytime my kids get a whistle, kazoo, or flutophone, I firmly instruct them not to blow that thing in the house or anywhere within earshot of me. The sound pierces my ears, and it doesn’t take long for a headache to sink in when my kid’s musical attempt sounds like a torture device stuck on repeat. For years I have confiscated these things at any sign of abuse, meaning one shrill note too many, and stored them high atop our refrigerator with other illegal toys. Having a noisemaker with permission from school means my son can basically huff and puff on it whenever he pleases, all in the name of pass or fail. It’s like they’ve given him their blessing to taunt me.

Well thank you, school system. Thank you for bursts of unhinged melody, constant squeaks, and boring repetition. Two more years of this, I might add.

The bright side? It could have been drums.

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How Our Family Is Saving a Tree

So we don’t know when it will happen or the specific tree and we’re not chaining ourselves to it, but four years ago my family made a decision that will eventually save a tree.

A few years ago, it bothered me that our family of four made a big impact on the environment—in a bad way. We produced a lot of unnecessary trash. I needed to change our habits at home to help the environment, teach our kids responsibility for the Earth and its life, and surprisingly cut costs.

What we did is nothing you haven’t heard of, but the outcome surprised me, the transition was easy, and we’ve never looked back.

1. Switch to cloth napkins. In one day during meals and snacks alone, we were using about 20 paper napkins. That’s 140 napkins a week, 560 a month, and 6,720 a year. Sometimes the napkins were barely used, it’s just that no one could remember who wiped their mouth on the corner.

Instead of sets, I use a mix of napkins I made in different fabrics so each child will remember their napkin for the day. (This was important when the kids were younger.) I used fabric remnants to put them together. I don’t have tons of extra laundry to do. The napkins don’t stain. And I buy maybe two packs of paper napkins a year instead of one a month.

These cloth napkins have held up to lots of gooey hands and messy mouths during four years of use.

The National Resources Defense Council says, “If every household in the United States replaced just one package of virgin fiber napkins (250 count) with 100 percent recycled ones, we could save 1 million trees.” Imagine if more people started using cloth napkins or replaced more than one package.

2. Use cloth towels instead of paper towels. To dry produce or clean up spills and messes, I use bar towels. I probably use eight rolls of paper towels a year, reserving them only for meat juices and really icky stuff. This switch to cloth doesn’t really add to my laundry pile either.

3. Use reusable water bottles. I almost never used bottled water, but I think it’s important to say this. Those plastic water bottles do so much damage to the environment. They harm animals. They fill up landfills. Your great-great-grandchildren will probably be around when those bottles are still sitting in landfills, leaching chemicals. We use reusable stainless steel water bottles and refill them with tap water.

4. Reuse your shopping bags. One of the best purchases I have made is reusable shopping bags. They hold an unbelievable amount of stuff and I can still lift it all. Plastic grocery bags kill marine animals that think they are food, and those bags won’t degrade in your lifetime.

5. Keep recyclables for crafting.I keep a designated bin for recyclables and non-recyclables in my kids’ craft area. Imagination can transform cardboard, caps, lids, mesh produce bags, Styrofoam trays, and greeting cards into a treehouse for toy people, robots, sculpture, or whatever else my kids and I think up. Give trash a new life.

Who says you can't make something cute out of junk?

6. Pack a trash-free lunch. We pack lunches and snacks in reusable BPA-free containers instead of plastic baggies. (I sometimes still use these bags for freezing meat, but I buy and use a lot less than I used to.) Washing dishes is better on the environment than throwing away trash.

I think about how much trash we save in a year and how much we have saved since we started this: more than 26,000 napkins in four years. That doesn’t take into account the plastic baggies we haven’t used, paper towels, or all of the paper we have been recycling.

Though it’s impossible to know just how many napkins can be made from one tree because of the use of wood pulp and recycled content, I know we’re making an impact and we’re going to save that tree. And I know we can make a dent in the landfills however small.

You learn something new every day:

http://www.wireandtwine.com/green/50/

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Somewhat Strange and Tasty Collections I Didn’t Know We Had

My son collects things. He accumulates armies of knobby creatures that he makes scream and knock each other down. He’s obsessed with Legos. If he gets one set, he wants the entire line to complete his collection. He collects erasers. Just the plain ones that sit on top of a pencil. He lines them up, makes patterns with them, battles them, who knows. During his Cars the movie era, I can’t tell you how many times we patrolled the toy aisle searching for the elusive Tex Dinoco.

Now he collects names. Names of Harry Potter characters he reads that he scrawls in third-grade penmanship on lined paper, two columns, three pages front and back, and still going strong. Names of multihued tropical fish he reads about, likes, and dreams of one day owning as pets. Names of planets and their moons. Names of baseball teams and football players.

I have long wondered whether his quirky obsessions are normal, what it means for his future, and where on earth it came from. I can be a bit of a pack rat. My husband is a borderline box hoarder. But for years I’ve had no clues as to where his collecting insanity came from.

Then, as I tried to tame my overgrown pile of torn-out recipes the other day, it hit me like a swarm of cookbooks.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I like food. And I particularly like the challenge of finding a recipe to match whatever food I’ve recently inhaled and become infatuated with. Consequently, I’m a bit of a recipe hog. One could say I collect recipes.

Want to see my collection?

This vintage box holds my prized recipes that I use almost every day.

Look, there's room to grow!

These are recipes I want to try.

This doesn't begin to show my stack of recipes. Man, there's some good stuff in there.

And these.

Hmm. Forgot about these.

And I still need to go through these magazines to tear out the recipes I want to try because I know I will…or won’t…but just in case.

Some light reading.

I’ve been clipping recipes since around ninth grade. While my friends flipped through Seventeen and YM taking quizzes about kissing and fashion, I pored over Good Housekeeping and Martha Stewart, learning about cake frosting and chicken potpies. It certainly explains a lot about my awkward teen dating years.

Before kids, I used to try three or four new recipes a week. My husband and I like variety, tiring of the same old casseroles and quinoa salad week after week. Then came two kids who like my cooking but not adventure. They prefer comfort foods, the same old thing every week. But it’s OK. It seems there’s plenty in my collection for everyone. Just don’t ask me where anything is.

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Wanted: Five-Star Scout Camp

After a recent overnight field trip with my son, I felt I’ve already met my camping quota for the year. But what I do for my son, I try to do for my daughter. So I set off for Scout camp with my daughter. I would be going as a mom, not a chaperone, and besides, this overnight Daisy Scout trip offered horseback riding, something neither of us had ever done.

After seeing our accommodations, I quickly rethought my evaluation of my previous cabin experience. I may have had to use a bathroom stall with my legs angled a dozen different ways, but it became clear that I had been pampered. Those bathrooms were five-star compared to what I experienced at the Scout camp: an outhouse.

Not all cabins in the woods are charming.

I have camped at campgrounds equipped with bathhouses. I’ve put up a tent in the woods where nature was our bathroom. But an outhouse has many factors involved: no lights, bugs, and, well, bugs. It didn’t matter that someone put a toilet seat over the wooden hole. You just can’t fancy up an outhouse. And if you go into an outhouse not wanting to touch anything, as I did, you close the door and realize how tiny the space really is and how ridiculous that notion is. One needs clever balance and maneuvering just to fit without brushing the walls or falling into the pit. And I’m pretty certain “Little Miss Muffet” was actually written about a girl in an outhouse and not someone eating. How terrifying it is to be caged in and turn your head to see a spidey creeping down one wall and a patch of red and black hatchlings on the door. The outhouse never saw me again.

I don’t sleep well while camping. Nature can be so freaking loud. I much prefer the hum of electricity or my husband’s breathing to a chorus of strange what-the-heck-is-thats. While I lay there at 2 a.m. hoping a raccoon wouldn’t crawl through our ripped cabin screen, I realized I wasn’t the only one awake. Dogs barked, geese honked, crickets chirped, frogs croaked. From what I know, some of those animals are not nocturnal, right? A thud announced my daughter falling out of bed. I sleepily scrambled to get out of my sleeping bag as she tried to climb in bed with a bunkmate. At least the kids could sleep through nature’s hysteria.

The next morning, I took a turn on a horse named Tuffy. While the other moms easily made their horses enter the ring and circle the barn, mine stood there ignoring my commands. I wondered whether he had a rough night too or whether he was actually part mule. I just crossed my fingers that he wouldn’t throw me off. He knew he had a first-timer and I had to work for my ride along the wooded trail, making kissing sounds, squeezing him with my legs, and prodding him with my heel to get him going. He trotted slowly behind the other horses most of the way, then finally caught up and tried to pass one. I think he was checking to see whether I knew my commands. Thankfully “whoa” comes naturally to someone on a speeding horse.

Not the stubborn horse I rode. This one liked to give kisses.

Now I am officially bunked out, cabined out, camped out, and tired. And I promise to never complain about my bed or my toilet again.

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The Temptation of Chocolate Easter Bunnies

Every Easter morning of my childhood I awoke to a basket brimming with gooey marshmallow eggs, rainbow-colored jellybeans, speckled malted eggs, and other glorious pastel confections. The prize in the basket, though, was always the big chocolate bunny.

Having the sweet tooth, or teeth, that I did, it didn’t take long for me to plow through those springtime delights. By dark, I had eaten all of the good stuff and struggled with my failing elementary schooler’s willpower.

Throughout the week, I’d nibble the lame remaining candies and eye my older sister’s basket, still overflowing with goodies just like Easter morning. It tortured me like a pair of Sunday tights with a sagging crotch.

Every year, I gave in to my temptation. Daily I snuck into her bedroom, grabbed her chocolate bunny, and raced back to the safe haven behind my bed. Kneeling on my pink shag carpet, I fumbled with the packaging, trying to quiet the crackle of plastic and peeking over my bed to make sure my sister hadn’t heard. I took one bite of the bunny’s ear, savoring its creamy goodness, and sent it back to its package. Knowing I was safe for a while because the front of the box covered the bitten ear, I put it back in my sister’s room. I repeated this many times a day for several days until my sister noticed something had nibbled away her bunny’s ears and was headed toward its face. Sitting in my room, a shriek would break the silence. “KAAA-REN!”

Bunny ears I can't bite. He only looks chocolate. Bummer.

The jig was up. I may as well have had chocolate on my face. My story? You can’t leave something so good sitting there, in plain sight, and not eat it. Easter was over. Eat the candy already. She never learned her lesson. And I don’t think she ever caught on about her trick-or-treat bag either. She really could have tried to hide her loot better.

As an adult, I made up for the many bunny ears I ate as a kid. One year I gave my sister a chocolate bunny with super-duper bunny ears. I think we’re even.

My kids don’t know how to haggle over holiday candy. They simply don’t know what they’re missing. They politely ask to eat a few pieces of candy on Easter. By Halloween, we realize we still have Easter candy lying around. Poor kids don’t know how to work the system. Good thing they have me to eat whatever good stuff is hanging around.

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