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It’s Not That Easy Being Green

September 25, 2011 16 comments

“It’s not that easy being green …but green’s the color of spring and green can be cool and friendly like and green can be big like an ocean or important like a mountain or tall like a tree.”  ~ Kermit the Frog

So, it’s the first full week back to school and at the end of my work day on Friday, the Director and Fitness teacher ask me to take off my “office” hat so they can speak to me as a “parent”.

You know this can’t be good.

It’s about my 10-year old daughter of course and it seems there was an issue in her fitness class. There are 25 multi-aged children in this class on Mondays and Fridays and my little “lemon drop” happens to be the oldest. Many of the younger kids look up to her, literally. She is also the tallest kid in the school and would perhaps be, by any other standard expected to “set the example” maybe?

“Ahem.”

Okay. So, it seems my little “apple dumpling” is the only one, out of these 25 kids that said “no” and flat out refused to sign a goal oriented agreement that has the following requirements:

  1. Everyone feels safe and no one gets hurt.
  2. Everyone has an equal chance to enjoy each game.
  3. Everyone learns how to be a better team member.
  4. Everyone has fun.

Not unreasonable, in fact when queried, my little “butter-cup” said she had no problem with setting these goals as a group. She just didn’t understand why she had to sign her name to it.

Her argument:

“They know me, Mom.

I just don’t know why my ‘word’ isn’t good enough anymore.

If they don’t trust my word what difference does my signature make?

Either they trust me or they don’t.

Besides, it didn’t  say ‘pacificly’ that it was for fitness only.

I am the biggest kid — in the entire school. What if I hurt another kid by accident?”

They know her, indeed. She was welcomed by this school well before she ever spent her first full day there as a student at the age of three. From the time she was about 9-months old, she would tag along on school trips to the farm, to pick apples, pumpkins and attend theater shows with her older brother’s class. When she finally got there, it was in this fine progressive, hands-on learning environment that she was truly encouraged to be herself, to think, to ask and to imagine. She was the child who wore a communion veil to class every day for the second half of second grade, even though she never made her communion. She’s the kid who never wears matching socks and when I tell her in the morning…

“You either brush your hair or wear a hat to school,”

…nine times out of ten, she chooses the hat.

This school nurtured her, told her in no uncertain terms that she had a voice and helped her to find it, so there was really no disrespect when she said “no.” Her response, in effect was a culmination of seven years of being taught the importance of being your own person.

That day, she was told that if she wasn’t going to sign the paper, she wouldn’t be able to participate in the fitness program. She would have to sit out, and she did. That’s the price isn’t it, of taking a stand or being different, not following the crowd, standing up for something you believe in, even if you’re the only who believes in it? There could be a consequence.

There could also be a compromise, which is why I love this school.

After a few discussions with her fitness teacher (who just happens to be a former student of this fine school) the two exchanged positions and she understood the need for all the kids in the class to know they were all on the same page. She agreed to verbally acknowledge the four points and she did not have to sign her name. A resolution born out of mutual respect.

Many of the younger kids look up to her. Literally. She is after all the tallest kid in the school and the oldest and would perhaps be, by any other standard expected to “set the example”…..

……and maybe, she did just that.

She is her own person and while it may not be that easy being who she is, she’s cool and friendly like, she’s big like an ocean, important like a mountain and tall like a tree.

You can visit her blog at I’m Thinking Happy! if you like.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Photo credit #1: Kermit

Photo credit #2: ©Karen Szczuka Teich & http://www.Takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

Video Credit #1 YouTube

Foul! Parental Interference!

August 21, 2011 10 comments

As I mentioned last week, I’m a newbie to the whole playing-of-football thing and while I’m truly grateful for the side-effects it seems to be having on my boy so far, I can’t help but question some of the misconduct I observed during play, by a few of the parents!

I was only slightly perturbed when at a recent scrimmage game I overheard one dad in the stands telling another dad that he has given his son carte blanche on what he eats,

“I took away the vegetables. I don’t care what he eats as long as he bulks up.”

I was completely unnerved however by the actions of a few of the moms at the same game.

Tell me, is it really common place in football for a mom in the bleachers to stand up and yell out to her boy that for every kid he “hits”, excuse me, every kid he “hits and takes down– CLOCKS!“, he will get $50 from his dad?

“That could be an Xbox 360!” she said.

Or is it normal for a mom in the stands to threaten the loss of an activity to her son, if he doesn’t make a hit?

Some of these boys, like mine, are new to play and as expert as they may be when they watch the NFL, I suspect actually playing the game, is a tad bit different. You have to execute the rules you know so well by heart from watching. In this recent game, one newbie player from the other team had a tendency to put his hands up in the air, making it appear as though he was going to hit an opposing player, by way of fist.

You can probably guess how that played out; in a stock-pile tussle on the field ending with two boys crying and one parent spectator yelling out “Suck it up, man. Suck it up!” to his son.

I am all for NOT raising pansies. In fact, I happen to think parents in general coddle their kids a bit too much these days. Me included. I won’t let my girl go beyond our cul-de-sac without permission and when we move, I probably won’t let her go out at all. Meanwhile, when I was her age, I walked through town to go to school, meet a friend or to the movies, completely on my own.

The idea of yelling at an 11-year old to “suck it up!” after having just been punched and piled upon though, to me, seems a little extreme; among other things.

Worse was when one of our mom’s started screaming at one of our player’s dad because she mistook him for being a parent of an opposing player. Yes, for all the players and spectators to see and hear, this mother of one of our 10 to 12-year old boys, ripped this man to pieces from across the stands because he called out that the play was getting too rough. That prompted a screaming debate between actual opposing parents in the stands on whether or not kids who did not want to get “hit” (or hurt) should play at all.

  I thought they were here to learn the rules and play the game. Am I wrong? Am I being naive?

Football is an aggressive sport and tackling is part of the game. They have gear, they’re protected. I get it. I think competition can be healthy and I consider myself a fairly competitive person. I like to win, just as much as the next gal. And if no one knew I was at the game beforehand, there was no mistaking my presence when my boy got the ball, broke through the center hole and shot down-field like a bullet for his first touchdown!

WooHoo!! THAT’S MY BOY!!

I am after all, his biggest fan.

These boys are 10, 11 and 12-years old. They don’t need to be encouraged by parents to exhibit barbaric behavior. They just need to be encouraged. Even at 12, our children watch closely what we do and say. The power of example is a strong one.

Every year when I register my kids for soccer, I’m handed a piece of literature entitled Parents Code of Conduct. I’m asked to read and sign it. The first time I read it, I thought to myself, “Really, is this necessary?”  Perhaps it is. As I’ve never seen the same kind of behavior I witnessed at my first football game at any of the soccer games I’ve attended over the past seven years.

And while I must say, I was impressed by the way the coaches handled the boys on the field, I call, “FOUL! “on the way the parents’ behavior interfered with the game.

And to think, this was only a scrimmage.

Any advice on how to get through this from the not-so-newbies out there?

Photo credits: Google Images

The Boy Who Lives…On

July 17, 2011 8 comments

If you haven’t heard of Harry Potter, you must live under a rock. If you have but haven’t read the books, what are you waiting for? If you’ve read the books and didn’t like love them, I may have to re-think our acquaintance. 

I’ve read all seven Harry Potter books, to myself, to my kids and then re-read some of them to myself, again. I immediately fell in love with the wide-eyed, innocent boy who spoke to snakes and had no idea he was special. I was equally drawn to the large and hairy, Hagrid who charmed me with his sincerity and devout loyalty to the Headmaster and to Harry. Then of course, there is the Headmaster; wise, beautiful and fiercely powerful, Albus Dumbledore. I don’t know how anyone could not love him. From the Weasley family to Dobby the house elf, the secondary characters are just as endearing and as important to the whole story.

My favorite character however is the Half-Blood Prince himself, Severus Snape. I was overcome with emotion when I realized I’d misjudged him. I hadn’t trusted my instincts and instead, I judged him. Lily was kind to Snape. She befriended him and forever, he loved her.

Kindness, is incredibly powerful.

Now, when I think of Snape, the image of a silver doe comes to mind and I could easily cry.

In her books, J.K. Rowling explores the power of love on multiple levels; how to love, who you love, what you do for love, what happens when you love.

For the past seven years, I’ve been getting lost in the friendships and the adventure, first in the words, then on the screen, submerging myself in the details surrounding this boy’s life. Watching him grow and learn through lessons of life and love. While the books don’t lack in humor, as a mom, I totally appreciate J.K. Rowling’s lack of fluff. Things don’t always go right and right doesn’t always win out. Things don’t come easy to Harry. They don’t come easy to most people. That, is life. And even though we overcome our struggles, our successes are often short lived, lasting only long enough for us to realize we are strong enough to overcome them.

J.K. Rowling also repeats the real-life-fact (over and over again) that things are not always what they seem, not with friends, family or strangers, reminding me again, to try not to judge people, their lives or actions but instead, to continue to strive to be true to myself.

Regardless of your age and despite the fact that the story takes place in a world of fantasy, everyone can relate on some level to some of the emotions these characters experience. Life is unpredictable and even painful. Sometimes things just don’t make sense but there is another side, a better side and when you fight for what you believe in, eventually, you get there. Perseverance.

You may love and you may lose people you love in the meantime but no matter what, you go on because life and love are worth it.

It’s so healthy to get excited about something and this weekend, boy was I excited! Not only did I LOVE the movie but I LOVE spending time with my kids too, so it was truly a win – win for me. Thanks to this gender-generation, transcending phenomenon, I had a date with my 10-year old daughter as well as my twelve-year old son who frankly, would otherwise, rather spend time with just about anyone else but me – but because we all share this common bond, this love for all things Harry Potter, any obstacles that would normally keep us at odds or apart, magically vanished for nearly three, whole hours and together we shared the experience of watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, at midnight!

Harry Potter, the movie epic has come to an end on the screen anyway but is it over? Hardly. In my lifetime, I can’t recall a phenomenon such as the Harry Potter series and how its appeal really has transcended genders and generations. Harry has already proven to have the same kind of staying power as the likes of Dorothy, Alice and even, Scrooge. J.K. Rowling’s story of “the boy who lived“, has earned its rightful place among the Classics. Harry Potter will live on and be read, over and over and over again, for generations to come.

Thank you, J.K. Rowling.

Crazy For Cannolis

July 2, 2011 8 comments

After researching several recipes, I chose what I liked best from each and then threw in my own secret ingredient!

As a first generation AMERICAN with parents who emigrated from Germany and Ireland, I ate lots of sauerkraut and Irish soda bread as a kid. I suppose it’s only natural then, that as an adult, I would want to learn how to make Cannolis.

Let me connect the European dots for you. My best friend’s Dad was from Italy. Once a year he would take us to New York City to the San Gennaro Feast in the historic Little Italy. The smells alone were enough to make a young girl giddy. Her mom used to make mostacciolis during the week and her grandmother would nurse a sauce all-day-long on a Sunday. Mid-afternoon she’d come out of her kitchen, wipe her hands on her apron and wave us inside for a serving of spaghetti and sauce with Italian bread. Heaven.

I grew up loving and yearning for what was on the other side of the fence, Italian food.

My love for all foods Italian may also (in a twisted sort of way) have something to do with the fact that when I was very young, we rented a second-floor apartment in a house owned by an Italian family who had three boys: La John-o, La JoJ-o and La Carl-o. We were often invited down to their basement to share a meal that always included home-made pasta, bread and wine.

Go ahead, turn me on my side, coax a little girl inside, close the lid and roll away!

I have a very strong and clear memory of the two younger boys coaxing me into a wine barrel one day, closing the lid and rolling me around their front lawn, just for fun.The smell of wine inside the barrel was so pungent, it too resurfaces every time the memory does. In addition to the obvious trauma that would accompany such an event, I truly believe this is why I don’t like confined spaces. It was also probably the first time I ever got “tipsy”. I think I was five.

Back to making Cannolis.

This holiday weekend I’m spending a few days Upstate New York with my daughter. I always try to have a few activities in mind for my kids when we come here and ever since they could stand on a stool and hold a measuring cup, my children and I have been creating in the kitchen together. I love doing things with my kids and the kitchen is a wonderful, natural classroom that provides a great opportunity to bond, learn and teach. We’ve made everything from soups to nuts, — including pasta, cakes, cookies and this weekend, Cannolis!

The ingredients.

Just check out the visual above for a clear view of what you’ll need. I guess if I was Italian, I’d know where to buy fresh ricotta but I’m not, so I settled for Sorrento brand from the supermarket. I didn’t need the granulated sugar or farm fresh eggs but they seemed to complete the photo so I left them in. And yes, those are boxed (store-bought) Cannoli shells you see in my picture. They were the only ones my grocer carries. I’m Crazy for Cannolis that’s true but I also know, what I don’t know and what my limitations are! Making the shells from scratch was not an option, this time.

Here’s my I’m-Not-Italian But Here’s My Very Delicious Cannoli Filling Recipe:

2 lbs. ricotta cheese

1 1/2 cups confectionery sugar

1/4 cup half ‘n half

4 tsp. vanilla

1-2 tsp. cinnamon (more if you love cinnamon like us – more cinnamon will result in a darker filling complexion)

Semi-sweet chocolate morsels (enough to make you happy)

1-2 tbs. honey (my secret ingredient that’s no longer a secret)

Drain the ricotta of any excess moisture. Mix ricotta, confectionery sugar, half ‘n half, vanilla, cinnamon and honey together until smooth. Fold in chocolate chips. Chill and fill the shells using a pastry bag or small spoon shortly before serving. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Makes about a dozen Cannolis.

Yummy! Not bad for a first try.

It’s that easy! Have a safe and happy holiday and most of all, enjoy!

Photo Credit #1: ©Karen Szczuka Teich

Photo Credit #2: Google Images

Photo Credit #3: ©Karen Szczuka Teich

Message in the Attic

June 12, 2011 5 comments

Somehow I let myself slip into the delusion that life would get easier as I got older. Maybe older, is meant for the over 60 crowd, in which case, I still have a little while to go. As for this mid-forties mom and for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, life just seems to be extraordinarily difficult right now and I find myself in the position of having to “let go”… of a lot.

Coincidentally, while recently rummaging around in my attic again (looking for more things to sell) I stumbled upon an old, yellowed-out piece of paper at the bottom of a box labeled “Childhood”. I’ve no idea where it came from or how I got it but of this I am certain, it’s mine and it feels like an appropriate time to share it.

Without credit of an author and in an old, bold, script type face, this is what was written on it:

Let go……..

to “let go” does not mean to stop caring, it means I can’t do it for someone else.

to “let go” is not to cut myself off, it’s the realization I can’t control another.

to “let go” is not to enable, but to allow learning from natural consequences.

to “let go” is to admit powerlessness, which means the outcome is not in my hands.

to “let go” is not to try to change or blame another, it’s to make the most of myself.

to “let go” is not to care for, but to care about.

to “let go” is not to fix but to be supportive.

to “let go” is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being.

to “let go” is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes but to allow others to affect their destinies.

to “let go” is not to be protective, it’s to permit another to face reality.

to “let go” is not to deny, but to accept.

to “let go” is not to nag, scold or argue, but instead to search out my own shortcomings and correct them.

to “let go” is not to adjust everything to my desires but to take each day as it comes, and cherish myself in it.

to “let go” is not to criticize and regulate anybody but to try to become what I dream I can be.

to “let go” is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future.

to “let go” is to fear less, and love more.

Sometimes I can get so bogged down by the details of  “the issue at hand” that I just can’t see the obvious. Lucky for me, I believe in receiving signs, messages and answers from the universe (or whatever higher power has it’s hand in our fates) and I believe they can come in many forms and places. This time, it was in the quiet of a warm, stuffy attic and it was clear; certain circumstances are just out of my control and I need to let go.


Photo Credits #1 & #2: Google Images

A Wet Haven

June 5, 2011 4 comments

Think back to when you were a kid in grammar school. What would it have been like for you, if you were able to throw a bucket of water over your “favorite” teacher’s head without fear of retribution? What if, once a year, you were allowed, encouraged even to get the principal or head of school soaken wet?

My girl soaks her math/science/this is how you build a rocket, teacher!

And what if, even after you left that school, you were still allowed to come back at the end of the year and take part in a wild and wet, water-splash-out of students vs. teachers and parents?

My boy gets to come back and relive this thrill even after being gone for two years!

Six years ago, I began working at the small progressive school my kids attended so I could be near them and see firsthand, what it was all about and why my kids barely got any homework. Coming from a catholic grammar school and an all girl catholic high school, I was a little skeptical of the progressive education that I’d signed on to for them. I ended up getting an education for myself, on what it means for a child to be in an environment that nurtures their curiosity and fosters the development of a life-long love of learning. For eight years my son went to the Randolph School. He left after 5th grade. My daughter is finishing up 4th grade. Next year will be her last. I’m already feeling sad.

The curriculum at Randolph School is project based. Several months are devoted to one study at a time, such as birds, Native Americans and human flight. Math, English, Social Studies and Science all get incorporated into the study using a hands on learning approach. These kids are out and about, seeing, doing, building and loving what they’re learning. They’ve done some pretty awesome things too, like making paper and cooking an annual ThanksGiving meal with vegetables they planted and harvested themselves. They’ve tapped maple trees, collected sap and boiled it down to make their own syrup for a pancake lunch. They’ve been schooled on tracking people and animals, building shelters in the wilderness and trebuchets in the back field. They know how to use the resources they have to solve a problem. Each child builds a rocket and launches it every year and each year ends with an adventure day which usually involves a hike along the Hudson river or in this year’s case, a walk across the Hudson River on the newly opened, Walkway Over the Hudson. After the adventure there’s an all-school barbecue. After the barbecue, the older kids, students in kindergarten through 5th grade, get to camp-out behind the school with parents and teachers. Tents are pitched at the bottom of the same hill the kids and teachers, sled down during the winter. A bon fire is made, songs are sung, stories are told, s’mores are eaten.

Somewhere in-between the end of the adventure and the beginning of the barbecue, a twenty-plus-year-old tradition lives on. It began when two teachers who overheard a plot being hatched by two students to bring water guns to the camp-out, staged a surprise counter-attack, fully equipped with their own loaded water-guns and behold, a no holds back, teacher-parent-student water splash-out filled with 100% pure fun was born!

A wet haven for kids of all ages! Splash-Out June 2011

It’s tough being a kid. Society is drenched with all kinds of peer pressures and technological enticements. Finding a place in early childhood where children are free to be themselves, free of some of these stresses just long enough to give them a solid footing is a blessing.

So much of parenting is like playing pin the tail on the donkey. Without foresight, you point yourself in what you hope is the right direction and move forward, praying that you hit the target. Sometimes, you get lucky and hit it dead center.  Other times, you veer way off to the left or the right and have to go back and try again.

Sending my children to a school that encourages kids to be kids was a “hitting the target dead center” move — a blessing.

The result, is that they love to learn, they always will and I am very grateful.

What do you love about your child’s school?

 

The Power of Three

May 22, 2011 6 comments

To me, there’s no sweeter sound than that of a child’s laughter. It’s comfort food to my ears and fills my heart with a strong sense that something is “right” in this world. When it’s a giggling girl, it’s a little piece of heaven, add two BFFs and it’s an all-out party. That’s what it seemed like anyway when my 10-year old daughter had her two gal pals over for a play date this week. Ten is such a joyous age. It’s the pre, pre-tween-age of self-discovery, where everything is new again and funny.

After a brief stint of one-on-one-on-one basketball, there was the discovery of a blue bird’s egg on the front lawn and the nest that was knocked from a bush. They huddled around it with great concern trying to figure out what happened and what they could do to save it. They played on the over-sized swing-set that dominates a good chunk of our backyard and seems to get less and less attention as the years go by. I was happy to hear the boards creak again as they ran across the wooden bridge linking one tower to the other. Then they did what girls often do and tried on clothes for the next hour. My girl is a bit taller than the other two and has grown two sizes this year alone. One by one, they came out of their giggles to model their outfits. I was checking my Facebook on the kitchen computer as they cat-walked the runway for me.

A friend had posted the now infamous pictures of President Obama and his national security team as they were briefed about the demise of Bin Laden. I wondered what (if anything) three girls in the fourth grade would think about the removal of prominent government officials, who just happen to be women, from a government issued photograph in two news articles that recently circulated in Brooklyn, New York.

Without going into the detail behind the original photograph, I asked them to look at both pictures and tell me what they thought of them.

They immediately recognized that they were the same picture but that the two women who were in the first photo, were missing from the second and they wanted to know, why? In very simple terms I explained that it was a cultural decision.

“But it’s not true. They were there!”

10-year old girls believe in the truth.

“Isn’t that what they call sex…um, sex-ist?”

10-year old girls are smart and a force to be reckoned with.

“I don’t agree with it and I do find it very offensive but it’s their culture.”

10-year old girls are tolerant.

“That’s just wrong. I’m a Jew and that’s not my kind of Jew. I don’t like it.

Let’s go play.”

10-year old girls speak their mind and really do just want to have fun.

And they should.

I take great comfort in their play and all that it encompassed in just one afternoon. From their savvy athletic skills in basketball, their great display of compassion for the unborn bird and it’s home and their fantastic, imaginative adventure on the play structure, to their sophisticated sense of fashion on the runway of my kitchen, the promise of strength in these little women is evident.  And while one may be able to “faux-toshop” them out of a picture someday, I don’t think for one second, they will ever be out of the game.

They are powerful indeed and in a tough spot, this power of three. It’s the end of the school year and they are very much aware that one of the points that keeps this triangle in flow, will not be coming back next year. With a class size of ten, losing one makes a big difference, especially when they’ve been together since they’re two. It’s difficult for them and I’ve been thinking a lot about how to help them honor their growth, celebrate their friendship of eight years and acknowledge their parting of the ways as a natural part of life, albeit a sad one.

Sometimes we need to say, “goodbye” to the people we love in order to become all that we can be.

Life after-all is a series of “hellos” and “goodbyes“, some lasting longer than others, some merely preparation for when we meet again.

So, if it’s up to me, for now, I think I’ll just let them play as much as they can or want to, together.


Photo Credit # 1 & #2:  ©Karen Szczuka Teich & http://www.takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

Photo Credit #3 & #4:  Yahoo! News The Cutline

Spring Break: Blizzards, Blossoms And A Belly-Busting Belch!

April 24, 2011 8 comments

Sometimes, life has a way of throwing you a curve ball (or snow ball) when you least expect it.

I left a mini-blizzard behind in Buffalo, NY after visiting for a few days, right before heading out to meet my children in Washington, D.C. to see the blossoms for Spring Break last Monday. Yes, that would be April 18th and yes, I said blizzard, as in snow. A good friend of mine who lives in Buffalo text-ed me while I waited for my plane to be de-iced, and I quote:

“Even the locals are dumbfounded!”

It felt like winter was literally smacking me in the rear as I flew from it.

Luckily, I was sitting in the first row and had no checked baggage. We arrived in Boston 12-minutes before my connecting flight to D.C. was due to take off. I was the first one standing behind the stewardess when she lifted the plane door to the gateway. I was off!

Think O.J. Simpson, running through the airport years ago wearing a three-piece suit and carrying a brief case while hawking Hertz rental cars. That was me, strategically racing through the airport looking ahead, planning my next maneuver so as not to knock into or over, anyone. Only I’m a 5-foot tall, Caucasian female who was wearing 3-inch heeled boots and instead of a brief case, I had my computer in my backpack and a rolling carry-on to deal with. I sailed through just as they were shutting the cabin door. I was out of breath for the next 20-minutes, but I made it!

I’ve always wanted to see the Cherry Blossoms in Washington D.C. and I have a penchant for all things political. My kids are old enough to appreciate both. It seemed like a good fit and it was. Our country’s capitol has much to offer, for free! Although if you plan on having lunch in any of the free museums, be prepared to spend nearly $20 per person. Air and Space, Native American and American History were our top three. I was particularly impressed with the African American exhibit and the First Lady exhibit in the American History Museum. An over-all favorite find, was stumbling upon Carmine’s Restaurant in downtown D.C, which is related to the two Carmines in NYC that I love so dearly. Other than soft rigatoni, the food was delicious!

We drove back to New York but I’m not a night driver so when the lights begin to blare and I can’t see the horizon, we need to pull over and get a hotel room.

“The restaurant closes at 9pm.” the hotel clerk said upon check-in. It was 8:20. We dashed up to our room, dropped off our bags and arrived back down at the entrance to the eatery by 8:30. With no one there to greet us, the bar tender glanced our way and said, “Go ahead, sit anywhere, she’ll be right with you.” Only two other tables were occupied so we pretty much had the pick of the place. We hadn’t eaten since 2pm and that was three states ago so I chose a far-enough-away-from-the-other-patrons table to make sure we gave them their space. My 10 and 12-year old kids were hungry and punchy. If you’re a parent, you know how that can go. After realizing we’d been sitting at our table for nearly 15-minutes with no sign of service, I asked my daughter to go find us menus in an effort to be prepared for when the waitress finally did get to our table. Hannah came back with one menu.

“That’s all there was, mom,” she said.

Pork Chops and Penne alla Vodka were their dinner choices. But having worked as a waitress all through college, and knowing how fickle each kitchen’s cook can be around closing-time, I knew enough to advise them to pick something from the sandwich menu too. Plan B. We were becoming impatient and just as I uttered the words, “Jeez, Sistah needs to put the move on it, under my breath, “Sistah” came out of the kitchen and it was clear why it was taking her so long in the first place. With no disrespect intended here, Sistah, was probably 75-years old and while she seemed surprised to see us, she was pleasant and not in any rush at all. After several minutes, she took our drink order and found us another menu to share. Then she vanished again. At five to nine, she took our food order and at 9:05 she came back to say, the cook wouldn’t do it.

“You’re too late.” she informed us. “He stops making dinners at 8:30. Snack foods only.”

(Um, okay, it would have been helpful to know that ten minutes ago.) We revised Plan B and ordered a few appetizers although when it came to Hannah’s turn, before she could speak, the waitress said,

“You can have chicken fingers.”

After writing, repeating and re-writing our order, she once again disappeared behind the swinging kitchen doors. There are two ways you can handle a situation like this. We chose to take the humorous route and laughed at our silly circumstances. Still no drinks. One calamity seemed to follow the other from that point on, interspersed by short, uncontrollable fits of laughter. Several times, Sistah came out of the kitchen looked around and went back in. A couple of times she walked over to the other two tables to check on them and finally at around 9:15 she brought us our drinks. From the moment Hannah got her diet-coke she kept complaining that it just didn’t taste right. We all took a sip and agreed there was something off about it. We concluded a mix-up of sorts, possibly root-beer and coke combined. Another ten minutes passed before Sistah re-appeared with our food. The loaded nachos were loaded indeed, with processed Cheese Whiz and remained for the most part, un-eaten. Our mozzarella sticks never showed up. We all shared Hannah’s chicken fingers.

For dessert our waitress said we could have ice-cream only — even though we saw a variety of cakes listed on the menu. We settled on one chocolate, the rest vanilla. Fifteen minutes later Sistah emerged with one very large bowl of chocolate ice-cream hidden under a mound of whipped cream and topped with a cherry for Noah. She turned to Hannah and said, “Sorry, no vanilla but we have cake,” and proceeded to list the cake options we saw earlier on the menu. After that bizarre exchange and before Sistah came back with Hannah’s carrot cake and the remaining ice-cream, Hannah took another sip from her soda. I watched her as she set her glass down and began to open her mouth, I thought to complain again, but this time something completely unexpected happened.

A small explosion seemed to occur within her little body.

Similar to that of a volcanic eruption, a loud, growling BELCH blasted from her throat filling the room, startling everyone in the restaurant, including herself.

Honestly, it was a monster burp of epic proportions.

Even the bartender and the three men who came in to watch the hockey game, all turned in our direction. The elderly couple in the booth looked affronted. The middle-aged man dining by himself simply gaped at us with his mouth hung open in disbelief at what came from my sweet little 10-year old daughter’s body. Under ordinary circumstances, I would be mortified. I would admonish her for burping at the table but I can’t even be certain that was a burp! Clearly it was not something she could control and neither was the laughter that ensued. There was no reprimand, instead we nearly fell to the floor doubled-over in bellyaching hysterics. Really the timing was impeccable. It was truly a price-less moment.

After dessert (and regaining our composure) came the bill.

“I took $4 off because you had to wait so long at the beginning,” said Sistah.

Upon further scrutiny, I saw that she also gave us $4 in coupons for our next meal and we were not charged for the mozzarella sticks that never came.We were also not charged for our drinks. Nor were we charged for the ice-creams and carrot cake. Our bill came to $21 and change. It was 10pm.

I can’t remember the last time we laughed so much together as a family. I left a $15 tip. Thank you, Sistah!

Tell me, what curve balls has life thrown you lately?

Photo Credit #1: Jet Photos

Photo Credit #2 & #3: Me

Photo Credit #4: Google Images

Photo Credit #5: Brian Gray -Monster Burp

I’m Out-ing My Book Club

March 27, 2011 9 comments

Maybe I shouldn’t do this but I’m about to OUT my Book Club.

Like most other Book Clubs (I suppose) we meet once a month. We just read Just Kids by Patti Smith. It was an inspirational book about an artist’s quest to be true to herself.

This month there were six of us. There could be anywhere from two to twelve of us. Sometimes our lives don’t afford the leisure time needed to read a whole book in one month, so it’s okay when one of us doesn’t have the mindset for whatever reason, to have finished the book. We are still invited to come and we often do. We meet at one of our houses and everyone brings something really good to eat.

We are a diverse group of women ranging in age from our early thirties to our mid forties. We have a lot going on in our lives and while we do discuss each book, inevitably, one of us strays “off topic” and we find ourselves talking about other things. Last Monday, it started with our pets; the dog that licked the furry inside of a pair of UGG moccasins, the chickens that come up to the porch every day and “call” for their food, the cat that carries the toy kitty in its mouth like a baby all through the house.

I’m sure every Club has its unique qualities, ours however, is very special. Okay, here is where I start the OUT-ing.


One of the six of us recently plunged back into “commute-mode”, making the hour-and-a-half train trek that it takes to get into the City, each day. She just took an editor’s position at a well known comic book company. She talked about how her family life is being affected by this new venture, how she gets home late and has less time to spend with her kids now.

We do what we have to do, yes. Some of us do it better than others. She, is showing us how to “do it” with grace.

Another one of us took on the daunting task of home-schooling her two children this year. She spoke of the struggles and triumphs she experiences while teaching her children, herself. She inspires awe. She is also the same wise, young mom who reminded me a few years ago that you need to set a good example for your “daughters” by showing them that as a woman, being a mom is awesome but that doesn’t mean you have to give up being an individual who pursues her own interests, hobbies and friendships. The travel writer in our group is on her way to Ghana this week. She has been collecting money for toilets to be built at a school there that doesn’t have any. She is a giving soul whose generous nature and fearless spirit is an example to us all.

Our musician has gone back to school for nursing. She is kind and caring and seems to be able to juggle her music, her part-time job, being a mom and being a student, all while her musician husband is away on tour in Europe, with mind-blowing ease. There is now the adventurer who came for the first time this month. She bought but didn’t read the book. She actually went to Spain and saw Patti Smith perform last month. She shared that fantastic experience with us, along with the tale of riding an airport bus the day after the concert with the cellist who was hired to play for Patti. This woman is unwavering in her dedication as an educator and her commitment to learning for all children. And then there was the one of us whose life is not where she expected it to be right now. She is exploring all of her new, scary, exciting options and drawing strength from each of these women who reassure her efforts and gently point her in directions they think will help her secure the independence she’s seeking.

This month, Book Club began with Patti Smith’s incredible life adventure. From there we went to pets, to jobs, then math, travels, astrological charts and finally, to one of our daughter’s who’s recently been bullied at school. This topic in particular infuriated all of us as we offered empathy and suggestions to our friend.

Hell hath no fury like a mom whose kid is being “messed” with — let alone six of us.

Book Club met this past Monday. It was a round table of support, advice, laughter, good food and good friends.

And although it’s our love for books that brought us together, it’s the encouragement that we continue to receive from each other as we journey on our own quests, to be true to ourselves and the love that we have for one another, that keeps us coming back, month after month, whether we’ve read the book or not.

There. It’s done. We’re OUT-ed.

Tell me, are you in a Book Club and do you love yours as much as I love mine?

Sometimes Boys Just Need To Be Boys And…

February 26, 2011 1 comment

Cedar Falls' Cassy Herkelman, right, and her opponent Joel Northrup, left, of Linn-Mar High, stand at the scorers table.

It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare. ~ Mark Twain

I have a younger brother. We are two and half years apart. We were the best of friends and enemies growing up and did our fair share of fighting, “like cats and dogs”, as my mom used to say. No matter how bad the fight got however, there was always that one golden rule that was never broken: “no hitting girls”. Okay, I admit I took advantage of the fact that I am a girl at times and there’s no doubt, I brought the boy, to the brink more than once or twice but the rule was a steadfast one, in our home, boys did not hit girls.

I’m a huge proponent of equality in education between the sexes, girl power, independence, women being all they can be, couples sharing in the responsibilities of raising families, keeping house and house hold expenses but I’m also realistic. Let’s face it, men and women differ, physically. I am all for women wrestlers, boxers and hockey players but these are very physical sports and quite frankly, I think it’s silly to think our bodies should or could compete equally against each other. We just aren’t “made” the same. Our body parts are different! It’s science yes, but I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure it out. There are certain circumstances where the game calls for girls to play with girls and boys to play with boys. And if there isn’t a playing-field for the girls to play the game on, there should be.

So, “kudos!” to Joel Northrop, the high school, home-schooled, sophomore and stand-out wrestler with a record of 35-4 for Linn-mar High School, for forfeiting an opportunity at the Iowan State Championship, by refusing to wrestle his female opponent, Cassy Herkelman. Herkelman is one of only two girls to make the state tournament in an 85-year history. Hmm.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy and Megan and their accomplishments. However, wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times,” Northrup said. “As a matter of conscience and my faith, I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner.”

Wow! Expressing respect for her accomplishments and having the courage not to succumb to the pressure of liberal correctness.

Now that’s a boy, behaving like a man, if I ever saw one.

Photo Credit: AP

I’m A “Bet-Nee” Wanna-Bee

February 13, 2011 1 comment

A friend of mine is writing a book. It is a labor of love that she has been mulling over in her head now for the better part of 10-years. It also happens to be a fascinating story that is very near and dear to our hearts. She’s finally at a point in her life, where she has the time to focus and can sit down and write. A couple of weeks ago she asked me to go to Pearl River with her to interview a woman I know for her book.

At just over four feet tall and weighing in at about 105 lbs. Betty, is an absolute powerhouse. Her hair is short and a soft golden, auburn color. Her eyes are a sparkling blue. Her smile is slight but constant. At lunch, Betty is all go; non-stop chatter, breaking her beat only long enough to take a sip of her Pinot Grigio with ice. It takes her one-hour to drink one glass of wine and you can count on her drinking at least two, probably three. At 82, Betty is single. She likes her coffee “dark like her men” and is looking for “a rich man, with a bad cough and one foot in the grave.” I sat across from Betty, studying her, marveling at her quick wit and sharp memory.

She talked about her childhood and the various jobs she held at the Industrial Home (orphanage) that she grew up in, during the 1930s, in Ireland. Catholic nuns ran these homes with little love and no money and while thousands of girls, ages five and older were accepted into them, Betty’s case was unique. She was the only infant to be admitted into her “home”.

“I was the pet you know. They (the nuns) called me Bet-Nee.” She told us proudly. “The other girls knew I was the pet so when they wanted something, like to wear long socks or play in the field, they would send me up to ask for it.”

After 3 1/2 hours of being mesmerized by Betty, I finally asked for the check. Upon its arrival and without hesitation, Betty grabbed it from the waiter. Slightly shocked, I watched in awe as my friend, who was sitting next to Betty, tried to wrestle the paper out of the tiny woman’s, tiny hand, unsuccessfully. (“She’s really strong!” my friend later told me.) Betty did not give up the check. My friend and I are a bit old school, and there is no way we would let an 82-year old woman pay for lunch so before she could get to her wallet, I handed the waiter my credit card along with a “look” that required no verbal explanation. He was off and Betty was pissed.

She admonished me, profusely.

I have no desire to upset an 82-year-old woman, so when she insisted we come back to her house for a minute before heading home, there was no back talk. We obliged. Once inside, she took us into a spare room and showed us a beautiful portrait of her parents that she has hanging on the wall. Her mother died shortly after she was born. Her father was too poor to care for her and with the help of his sister, brought Betty and her sister to the Industrial Home. After a few minutes of chatting, Betty disappeared into the hallway. A moment later she popped back into the bedroom carrying a short, pale blue, wool, winter coat.

“Here.” she said gently and handed me the coat, “I never wear it. It should fit you.”

I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do. Puzzled, I looked deep into Betty’s sparkling blue eyes for clarity and in that instant, she gave me, a “look”  that required no verbal explanation. I was humbled.

I took the coat from Betty and thanked her, profusely.

My lesson was learned. Old school or not, I would not disrespect this gesture. I would not say “no” to Betty twice in one day or perhaps, ever again.

In short, Betty’s story about growing up in the Industrial Home was indeed a heartbreaking one to hear but she is not broken and there is no bitterness in her words. “We did the best we could with what we had.” she said. Her attitude is remarkable and so is she. And I can only hope and pray to be like her, one day.

So yeah, I’m a Bet-Nee Wanna-Bee.

Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones But Names…Can Break My Heart!

January 30, 2011 15 comments

“You know Mom, he’s lucky I didn’t squish him like a bug!”

That’s what my 9-year-old daughter came home saying the other day after spending an afternoon at a birthday party. The “he” who is lucky “she”, didn’t, squish him like a bug, is a 10-year old classmate who was also at the party. “He” is her pal, her chum, her friend. He is her partner at school when pairing needs to be done. He is also the boy who tried to hold her hand when the lights went out in a Star Lab dome, but that’s not why she wants to pummel him.

There are some things you just never forget: getting an award, your first sleep-over, punching a fella in the mouth for asking you to marry him (in first grade!), the soft, warm lips of a shy boy’s sweet and gentle kiss during a game of spin-the-bottle and of course, the first time someone embarrasses you in front of a group of friends by calling you a “name“. For me, it was buoy. And in 4th grade, I didn’t have a clue. So in a naive and unsuspecting way, I asked the boy who had just referred to me as a “buoy”, what that was. “You know,” he said, “it’s that round thing that bounces up and down, bobbing in the water, a buoy!” That was followed by what seemed to me, to be a roar of group laughter. Painful. I forced a smile and walked away. I’m sure I could have flattened him but my heart had sunk to my knees and I was too hurt to react. Sadly, I never forgot that feeling.

Like her mom, my girl is made of hardy stock. She is strong, confident and independent. She’s out-going and adventurous. She loves to laugh. Also like her mom however, she happens to be very sensitive.

“He called me fat in front of all my friends at the party” she said. “He embarrassed me. We were laughing about who would make the best Pińata and he said, ‘Hannah would, cause she’s fat!’

My heart immediately sank and broke, for her.

“He’s lucky I didn’t squish him like a bug! And you know I could.” were the next words out of her mouth.

She’s right. She could.

“Well then,” I said, “maybe next time, you should.”

Okay, maybe that was wrong.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but names…..

Honestly, I would have preferred he threw the stone. That wound heals faster.

We spent a long time that evening discussing potential reasons why her friend might have said that about her. Insecurity. Bravado. Maybe he was trying to look “cool” in front of the other boys. Perhaps he didn’t mean it and it was just a poor choice of words. Most likely, he like, likes her. No matter how much we dissected it though, the result was always the same. She could get past the word. She knows she’s bigger and taller than the other kids in her class. She accepts that her body is changing, maturing. It’s the betrayal she is having a hard time reconciling with. He’s her friend.

It was after midnight when she came into my bedroom and crawled into bed with me that night. She snuggled up close and whispered, “Mommy, why did he do that? I thought he was my friend?” Cue the breaking heart again. She slept with me for the first time in years. And it was a big wake-up call to me as a parent and an adult, just how omnipotent words can be. Life is hard enough without us hurting each other with the things we say. And I’m reminded of how critical it is for me to set the example, practice kindness, show compassion and be forgiving.

Words may not be able to break a bone but they sure can break a heart. The flip-side of that is to know that words also have the great power to fill a heart! So in the end, my advice to Hannah was to have, an open heart.

We are after all, only human. We all make mistakes and good friendships are worth keeping. So, when the boy came to school the next day and said, “Hey, I was only kidding. I didn’t mean it that way. I can’t believe you thought I was serious!” That was all she needed to hear to buddy-up again and put it behind her.

Besides, she told him that if he EVER does that to her again, she is going to “SQUISH him– like a bug!”

Photo credit:  Squashed Bug, Broken Heart

Fly on the Wall

January 16, 2011 1 comment

If nothing else, I know with a fair degree of certainty, that three days a week, I am going to smile.  Actually, it’s more likely that I will literally Laugh-Out-Loud, probably several times during each of those three day’s and undoubtedly, I’ll get what I need to tweet something profoundly wise or funny (on another site). Three days a week I am a fly on the wall.

I work in a small, private, progressive school which is in a big, beautiful Victorian house. I am not a teacher. I work in the office, in the “Downstairs” part of the house where the “Downstairs” kids, who roam from room to room, are three and four years of age. Three days a week, I am privileged to be able to peek out and watch the wee ones introduce themselves, to themselves, through the beautifully ornate, floor to ceiling mirror embedded in the wall right outside the office. Even better, I hear things, like their outspoken curiosity, all day long.  I’m the fly on the wall.

A few weeks ago a group of these pre-schoolers crowded around a “mystery” box. They looked at it, touched it, poked it. Finally, a three-year old girl exclaimed:

“Maybe there’s a little serk inside!” When a teacher asked what a serk was, she said, “I don’t know what that is but it’s fun to say!”

Often I overhear them making more sure-footed statements as in this sports commentary between two four-year old boys:

“Sometimes the Jets win and the Redskins tie cause they’re twisted together”, which was countered by, “Well, my favorite sport is …who gets to the finished line first.”

The office is next to a (single) child’s bathroom. No matter who or what gender the occupant is, that door is nearly always open. So when a three-year old girl peered in on a four-year old boy in the midst of peeing, there was this little exchange:

“What’s that?” she asked. “It’s a penis.” he replied matter-of-factly. Then he added just as matter-of-factly, “Only girls have bajamas.”

Priceless!

If it’s not a statement or a query, it’s an apology or an aspiration, like when a four-year old girl saw three older “Upstairs” kids running in the hallway, she remarked:

“Those Upstairs kids are crazy! When I am in the Upstairs here, I’m going to be crazy too!”

Or my new personal favorite, when one four-year old boy looked into the face of another rather astonished four-year old boy and said most sincerely:

“Sorry. I guess I should have asked first if it was okay to lick you.”

The noise level outside the office gets pretty high sometimes but it never bothers me and I never close the door. I love being the “fly on the wall”, listening, laughing and re-tweeting what I hear from the little people. They speak their truth, unabashed and with confidence.

They make me smile which makes it a whole lot easier to take the world on!

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