Before our youngest child was born, we told our middle child the new baby was going to be his birthday present. He wasn’t particularly impressed. He wanted a bike.
Having two children with birthdays three days apart used to cause a lot of problems. Back when I was arranging their birthday parties, I could never find a way to combine them. When the older one was hosting roller skating parties, the younger was barely walking. When I took the younger one and her friends to a G-rated movie, the older one was only interested in R-rated movies.
Birthday week was a nightmare when they were both in grade school. Not only did I feel obligated to provide 25 cupcakes for each child’s class, there was also baking required for both the family birthday party and the actual kid birthday party.
I would have been fine with serving purchased cakes, but with two kids needing gifts, parties and special dinners, I needed to pinch pennies whenever possible.
I used to love planning a themed birthday party — back when they were young enough to tolerate my ideas. One of the last themed parties we had happened to be for the oldest daughter, who agreed to a beach party in the basement. Her birthday is in February, so it had to be an indoor party. Even then, none of the invitees wore their bathing suits. We drew beach scenes on long pieces of newsprint and hung them around the walls.
I wasn’t quite crazy enough to import sand and water into our partially finished basement, but I did force my husband to help me make “surfboards.” We cut a piece of plywood to a surfboard-like shape and placed it on a piece of PVC pipe so the kids could balance while we played Beach Boys songs. The kids all thought we were crazy.
For the younger two, birthday week always corresponded with the opening day of the city’s Children’s Zoo when we lived near Fort Wayne, Ind., and I took advantage of that.
First, I had to scour the local Hallmark shops for zoo-themed paper goods. Then I used to load up the little red wagon with snacks and drinks and round up four or five of her friends. I got to know that zoo really well over the years.
We always started with the prairie dogs, which looked like the guinea pigs we had in the basement, and we finished with the petting zoo, which meant chasing the goats out of the little red wagon.
Looking back, I’m wondering if maybe I liked the zoo trips more than the kids did. I’m not sure.
It’s been a while since I’ve been in charge of anything except for the family birthday dinner. With the youngest off at college and the middle child living in his own house, the biggest obstacle is scheduling the festivities.
It took an entire morning of texting, emailing and, as a last resort, calling to pin them down to one dinner. Now comes the complicated menu negotiations.
She wants grilled shrimp, he wants barbecued spare ribs. The older sister, who had her own birthday dinner in February, has diet restrictions to factor in. So salad, shrimp and spare ribs. Yum.
By combining the birthdays, I solve the cake issue. I’ll just buy one cake for everyone. It may have to have one white layer and one chocolate layer, I don’t know.
One thing I do know, with all three of them now in their 20s, I know I’m lucky to have them home for birthday dinners every year. I may have to make 50 cupcakes for old times’ sake. Or maybe not.
Before our youngest child was born, we told our middle child the new baby was going to be his birthday present. He wasn’t particularly impressed. He wanted a bike.
Another column originally published in The Weekly Vista
What’s a summer without a family road trip?
Some people might say a summer without a family road trip is a good summer, but not me. I’ve always loved loading the family up and driving somewhere with a cooler full of drinks, a bag of broken chips, some soggy sandwiches and a few car games.
This year I get to do it one more time.
I thought when the kids grew up and moved away, that was the end of family road trips, but I’ve managed to get two of my three children to agree to go with me this summer. So it’s not the entire family, only the female portion.
We’re on our way to a family reunion in Rhode Island, which I figure is about a 24-hour drive. Many people would choose to fly, including both my daughters, but I held out for the car trip.
Driving gives us hours to form close family bonds. It not only gives us a chance to see the country along the way, it also gives us space to bring a bicycle or two. You can’t take your bicycle along if you fly, so that makes driving worthwhile. At least that’s what I told my passengers. I think they might have been willing to sacrifice the bicycles and fly to Rhode Island, but none of us really wanted to spend the money.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about road trips. I know how to pack the cooler and ration out snacks. For example, you want to start out slow with the drinks, so that means limiting the salty snacks. It’s best to start with a couple of small pieces of fruit, like grapes. If the kids don’t want to eat them, they can use them as missiles and pass a few minutes with a food fight.
I’d like to think my daughters are too old for a good old-fashioned food fight, but I’m not so sure. I think putting them in a car together for a few hours may bring out the child in them. If I still had the minivan I used to drive when they were younger, they’d find extra ammunition in the seats. Those grapes must be raisins by now.
Later in the day, chips and soda will calm them down for a few minutes before a bathroom stop. I save the cookies in case I need to use them as a bribe.
When they were younger, we used to bring the old Fisher Price cassette player and listen to books on tape. Back then, the books were often the Berenstain Bears, but in recent years, I’ve discovered grownup books that come on CDs. No one ever wants to listen to my books, but if I put them in anyway, everyone in the family will get interested. There have been times when we actually sat outside the motel room to finish up the end of a chapter.
A portable DVD player has become another trip essential. Television series on DVD work out well. When I travel with my husband, we take turns watching and trade off our driving duties each time an episode ends. That gives us a lot of bathroom stops, which is always a good thing.
The car games have evolved as the years have gone by. I have happy memories of playing the state license plate game as a child. The entire family would be on the lookout for out-of-state plates. My kids were never interested in that. They liked to play the handheld LCD games, which eventually gave way to Game Boys and now smartphones. But even with all the electronics available, I might be able to get them interested in a family sing-along, if the right song comes on the radio or the MP3 player or the iPod.
With only the three of us, it should be easy to find an inexpensive motel room somewhere along the route. I remember when we would only consider a motel that had a pool.
After a day in the car throwing grapes at each other, the motel pool gave the kids a chance to burn off some energy and wash off some fruit juice. Now, a shower should be sufficient, and maybe some cable TV.
When we get to Rhode Island, we have a rented house and extended family waiting. For the first time, my kids won’t be the youngest. My nephew has thoughtfully provided a new generation to take on vacation. Now, he’s the one lugging around a portable crib and diaper bags. I can’t wait to hear his car trip stories!
The change of seasons means a new start and sometimes a welcome change. Kids go off to school, clubs return to regular meetings and closets are rearranged. For me the change of season always means one very important event, the search for the perfect bag is once again resumed.
The perfect bag is something like a purse, but it’s more than that. It’s my personal emergency preparedness plan. It contains the chronicle of my recent social life, and as well as miscellaneous tax records. It contains amusements as well as communications. It’s part of my identity.
My bags have changed over the years. I remember the college back pack days. The big middle section was for books and papers, but the front contained school ID’s, spare change, chap stick and Kleenex. It went with me everywhere and I loved the side compartments where I stuff in a can of soda or a water bottle.
Later. I survived the diaper bag years. I used to complain about the style of diaper bags a lot. I never understood why the bag I carried with me should be covered with cute little elephants or cartoon characters. Besides the diapers, wipes, bottles and changing pad, the diaper bag was also where I kept my wallet. my make up and my sunglasses. But I never complained about the size and the number of compartments. I have always loved compartmentalizing my bags.
When I finally hung up the last diaper bag, I wasn’t ready for a brief case, but I was well past a back pack. I entered into the era of the big purse and I’m still stuck there today.
The size of the purse is key. Although my family may not believe me, I consider some purses just too big. You want one that will hold everything without causing permanent damage to your shoulder or back.
Everything includes shopping lists and coupons, allergy meds and tissues, make up, eye drops, glasses for reading, sunglasses, bifocals for when I really can’t stand my contact lens anymore and a contact lens case,
My husband has never understood why I carry so much stuff around, but then he asks me if I have an Ibuprofen.
The kids have spent years making fun of my big purse, but then they want to borrow my nail file.
I’ve spent my adult life looking for the perfect purse. I want one as lightweight as possible (the stuff in it is heavy enough). It should be washable because it’s only a matter of time until I put it down in the mud or in a spilled drink.
I do like compartments. It’s makes me feel organized to keep the doctor appointment cards and buy-five-get-one free offers in a zippered compartment away from my business cards and work ID.
I like having an outside compartment for my cell phone. It’s so embarrassing to have to dump out a purse full of old receipts and empty gum wrappers to answer a ringing cell phone.
My cell phone has replaced my address book in recent years, and that frees up enough space for my Kindle. You never know when you’ll be stuck in a waiting room and need something to read. My perfect purse would have an easily assessable Kindle-sized pocket with just a little light padding to keep my electronics safe.
And to be really perfect, my bag would need an insulated compartment large enough to fit a diet coke can or – when I’m feeling healthy – a plastic water bottle.
I’ve been searching for my bag for a long time now. Each time the season changes, I renew my quest in the local department stores. Each season my optimism returns and I know that I will find the bag that defines me, my station in life and my possibilities for the future. And fits all my stuff.
So after almost two years, I came back to this blog. In between I’ve written a handful of columns for my new employer, The Weekly Vista, and this is one of them. It’s already a year old! Time flies!
We took a step back in time this summer and suddenly have two children living at home again. Well, they aren’t really children but you would never know that if you could hear them arguing about socks.
Socks have been an issue in our family before. Back when the oldest was still in high school – about ten years ago – I thought I had a solution. I was doing five people’s laundry back then and all five of us had white socks. Lots of white socks.
I used to do all my laundry on the weekend and then pile it up on the middle of my bed to sort and fold on Sunday night. I loved that routine because it meant I could watch Desperate Housewives on the bedroom T.V. with few interruptions. When one of them came looking for me, I simply waved a basket of unfolded laundry and suggested they help. It wasn’t a bad way to spend a Sunday evening except for the socks.
I always left the socks for last and I’d end up with a pile of mateless white socks. But the real problem was that it was almost impossible to tell whose socks were whose.
I remember complaining to a friend of mine who advised me to make sure I purchased a different brand for each member of the family. Her husband, she said, had only Gold Toe Socks while one son had Nikes and another Hanes. I considered her plan but decided against investing the money to buy everyone new socks.
Instead, I purchased a black sharpie and put initials on each and every pair of white socks in my laundry basket.
My family doesn’t always agree on everything, but their response to my sock identification plan was unanimous. Every one of them hated having initials on their white socks. Even my husband, who isn’t very fashion conscious complained when someone in his doctor’s office asked about the letters on the toe of his socks.
As the kids started moving out, my laundry problem became easier. My husband, always a maverick, bought a life time supply of white tube socks on E-Bay. He didn’t care that no one wears white tube socks anymore and it definitely made his socks easy to identify. The youngest daughter became a serious runner and her white socks became easy to pick out because she insisted on buying the really expensive kind that wick away sweat. Then her sister moved back.
Having an adult offspring back in the basement has been an adjustment, especially after she acquired a very large, very active puppy. But we were happy to have her back under our roof and things seemed to be working out until her little sister came home from college.
Now besides squabbling about who is eating whose cereal, and whose puppy chewed up whose shoes, the sock wars have been resumed. Only they fight over those expensive sweat wicking socks.
So I’ve decided to take the only course left open to me. On Sundays when I fold laundry, I throw all the white socks down the basement steps and let the puppy chew them all. I think both girls may be wearing flip flops for the rest of the summer.
I love Beaver Lake on a hot Sunday afternoon. Actually, I love the lake most of the time, but there’s something especially nice about Sundays.
I like to go out in the hottest part of the day and do just a little yard work. With the weather we’ve had around here lately, there really isn’t much yard work to do. We haven’t even mowed the lawn in weeks because it’s been so hot and dry. But there’s always a few weeds to pull, a couple of buckets of water to dump on the compost pile, some stray trash to pick out of mulch in front. I like to get all hot and sweaty and then walk down to the dock by myself.
Sundays are quieter than Saturdays but there’s still stuff to watch on the lake. One of the neighbors is working on a boat. Somebody’s grand kids are swimming in the cove. Out in the main part of the lake, water skiers and tubers are pulled by and there’s always one sail boat somewhere between me and the horizon.
When we go down to the boat on Saturdays, we drag down coolers and carriers, towels and cover-ups. We meet friends and trade side dishes. Going out on a Saturday is production that’s planned days in advance. I love going out on Saturday and cooking elaborate meals on the tiny gas grill. But I also love walking down the path on a Sunday with just a towel and an insulated mug. I love letting down the ladder on the front of the dock and climbing aboard an air mattress.
From my air mattress I can watch the neighbor working on his boat. I can watch him put up his tools and stop to talk to another neighbor checking the dock. I can watch the tubers gliding on the edge of the own private wakes. I can watch a sail boat lazily tacking back to the marina and listen to the kids I may or may not even see as they celebrate the lake and the wonders of summer.
I suspect the neighbors think I’m a little crazy when I saunter past them all alone with a towel and an insulated mug. Sometimes I leave something on the boat on Saturday so I have an excuse to go down there on Sunday, but even when I know they all think I’m crazy, I still go down. I love Beaver Lake on a Sunday.
Note: I had this ready to post before all the bad weather news of the last few weeks. So I feel like I have to say, I know exactly how lucky I am to be safe and dry this spring and able to whine about missing t.v. shows.
I still have two brand new flashlights hidden in my office because of the ice storm warning we had in January or was it December? I kept hearing it over and over on T.V. and I knew I should pretty much ignore the warning and continue with my life, but in the end I gave in and bought flashlights, emergency candles and, for some reason, bread and milk. But I was embarrassed by my gullibility, so I hid the flash lights and candles and put the bread in the freezer. Eventually we threw out the milk. With no kids at home, we use very little milk these days.
Is it just me, or have television weathermen become a little bit hysterical lately? It might be a regional thing, or maybe it’s just the “chief meteorologist” at the station we tend to watch, but we’re getting more and more warnings of more and more weather disasters these days, but I don’t see where the weather has changed much.
This week it’s the tornadoes. I totally understand the devastation caused by tornadoes and I do like knowing when it’s possible for one to come my way, but really, tornadoes are not that common here by Beaver Lake and I’m get a little sick of preparing my safe spot. I don’t understand why I can’t just watch “Gray’s Anatomy” in peace.
I didn’t understand tornadoes when we first moved south. There were many things I didn’t understand when we first moved south, including some of the language, but that’s another whole story. I grew up hearing stories about hurricanes and every now and then we would have a hurricane watch. Hurricanes don’t move that fast and we could watch them coming up the coast and have plenty of time to prepare. Although there was a time or two when people actually reached the taping of the windows phase, in my 20 plus years on the New England coast there were no actual hurricanes. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I was always a little disappointed when the watches were canceled and all we got was a lot of rain.
So we moved to central Kentucky, into a little house that had kind of grown up around a travel trailer, in a little neighborhood where we didn’t know a soul and I started hearing about tornadoes. At first every time there was a tornado watch, I took the dog and went to our safe spot which happened to be a walk in closet. Even I knew that the little house/trailer really had no safe spots if an actual tornado came through, so I used to cover us up with the foam camping mattress and read a book by the light of the big flash light until I thought the watch had lifted. One afternoon I was hiding out in there when there was a knock on my door and I crawled out to find the neighbors kids selling school band candy.
“Don’t you know about the tornado watch?” I asked. They just looked at me blankly, obviously wondering what I had been doing in the closet in the middle of the day. Later I learned the difference between a watch and a warning.
The first time we ever had an actual warning the time when the tornado touched down less than a mile away and destroyed the drive-in theater and all the neighbors rushed to the one house on the street with a basement and rode out the storm there, I was on the telephone. I was talking long distance, completely oblivious to the tornado warning.
Since then, It seems like the difference between a watch and a warning has blurred. Lately, we have a lot more warnings then we have tornadoes and I think that’s a problem. These days our safe spot is much more comfortable. Our basement family room has a big television and a couch, but I still don’t go down for every warning and never for a watch. It’s just not worth it.
Yet, for no reason I can think of, I still get sucked in by the weatherman’s hysteria. I got up and checked my hidden flashlights when they preempted “Gray’s Anatomy” last week and even after I switched to the Joplin channel to avoid the non-stop emergency weather information, I found myself switching back to check every few minutes. Was I even a little bit disappointed when the “softball size hail” never materialized?
Now I’ve lived more of my life in the tornado zone than the hurricane zone and I have never, ever seen a softball size hail stone. I’ve never even seen golf ball size hail. The other night we had about one minute of mothball size hail. It’s not that I want my cute little red car damaged; it’s just that I suspect there’s been some hail inflation by our chief meteorologist lately. How come the big hail is always in the area, but never close enough for me to take one of those pictures of a hail stone and a baseball?
O.K., I understand. I don’t want softball size hail or tornadoes. I don’t devastation or even danger. But I’m getting a little tired of watching weather coverage instead of “Gray’s Anatomy” and I don’t want to have to inventory my emergency supplies every few days. Next time, could we please wait for something to happen before we all get hysterical?
The battle begins anew every year about the time the last of the snow has melted and the first really warm day has arrived. There was a time in my life when that first warm day was spent out in the garden spot, turning over the soil that would provide the vegetables we would eat all summer. In truth, I only had a big vegetable garden for about four years when we lived in Kentucky and didn’t have children, but somehow if felt much longer. It felt like the kind of thing people had always done and would always do, but then we moved to Arkansas and left all that rich, muddy soil behind.
In Arkansas, I put the energy I had used to grow baskets of juicy tomatoes and bushels of squash into the front yard although I don’t know why. Each spring I battle the rocks, the trees, the dogs and the sporadic rains in an effort to have an actual lawn.
When we first bought this house I looked at the front yard and tried to analyze the problem. First, there’s way too much shade. The house faces east and it shades a big section of the yard itself. Then there are the giant oak trees that shade another big section. A battle plan was needed.
So I drafted the husband and the middle child, bought a bunch of mulch and gravel and landscaping timbers and created a planter box and a gravel walk that should have solved the problem of the heavy shade in front of the house. We put down that black screen stuff that’s supposed to keep out weeds and below that I actually laid out chicken wire to keep the dogs from digging up the black screen stuff. Then we added pretty brown gravel and a few flat paving stones leading to the front door. Now the best grass we have in the front yard grows up every summer in that gravel. Every summer, the actual lawn, just inches away beyond the “front walk” is brown and barren, but the walk itself is green and lush. It drives me crazy!
But I have not given up. I will not be defeated by stubborn and untrustworthy grass. Every summer I try again.
I invest in the best grass seed, or the best that I can afford. Grass seed can be really expensive! I usually buy the kind recommended for dense shade but some years in a spirit of experimentation, I try other kinds of grass seed. It doesn’t seem to matter much.
Usually the first warm day of the spring finds me out front with a metal rake, trying to clean up the “thatch” that might be killing my baby grass seeds. All sorts of stuff gets raked up that first day including bits of trash that drifted out from the garage over the winter, gallons of acorns and souvenirs of the two dogs. Then I wrestle with my inner environmentalist about whether to use chemicals to kill the weeds and fertilize the lawn. I can calm my guilty conscience by promising myself that I’ll only do our small front yard. Our large backyard will remain pure of chemicals and very weedy.
One year when I felt especially determined, I bought bags of top soil to put under the grass seed and bales of straw to spread over it. The dogs loved to dig in the straw, so I laid plastic orange fencing on top of the straw and pegged it down with tent stakes. No one could understand why our front lawn was covered with orange fencing, but it worked. The dogs couldn’t get through. The only problem was when I unpegged the fencing and pulled it up, the straw came up too and so did the fuzzy green baby grass. Either I waited too long to pull it up or not long enough. I’ll never know which. The top soil all washed away into the back yard and nourished the weeds.
What is it about a front lawn that suburbanites lust after? We used to laugh about our next neighbor in Indiana who spent his vacations building irrigation systems for his yard. We always knew exactly where our property line was and told the kids they could only play on the sick looking, yellowish grass on our side. Sometimes we’d see them secretly pressing a bare foot over the line into the forbidden soft, green carpet on the other side.
Luckily by June each year my obsession passes. By then I’ve invested in a new sprinkler and forced our water bill up in an effort to turn my expensive grass seed into a soft green carpet. But every year I have to admit defeat and console myself by going down to the lake and jumping in. Ahhhh.