Monday, April 21, 2014

Tips the Parenting Magazines Won't Tell You: Hi Folks! It's Book Club!

Hi folks! Sorry about the hiatus. Now that everyone is over the stomach bug, I thought I’d send out this month’s book choice. Sonia Sotomayor’s My Beloved World. Happy face-it’s in paperback!

A few of you wrote to say that after Travels in Siberia you did not want a book that was a) long b) not funny and c) long. So I apologize to any of you who put the book on reserve at the library. We will not be reading about the Supreme Court Justice. This month, we are reading Bossypants by Tina Fey.

Hi folks. I forgot to mention that my house is being fumigated again because of fleas. I thought we’d meet at the community room at Panera or the library.

Quick weather update-It looks like we are having a monsoon next week, so might have to reschedule.

Scratch that—it’s not a monsoon. My five year old changed my "" profile. But we might have a hailstorm followed by a blizzard—somewhere between 3 and 17 inches. Still tracking the radar.

My power is back. Rough week. I did manage to read the first three chapters by candlelight until those ran out and I had to dip into our summer supply of citronella. While the Orkin man did a great job, I think the citronella is actually helping with the fleas! A tree fell in our driveway and my minivan is totaled, but if the sidewalks aren’t too icy, I think I can ride my daughter’s scooter to book club. Remember, Panera at 8 sharp.

Because of unforeseen circumstances, Panera will not be available. Some sort of team training for new bread-bowl bakers. I would suggest my house, but after the fumigation we have had a minor infestation of bed bugs. Not to panic. I’m not contagious. I’m wondering if the library is still available.

Hi folks, it looks like the library is not available. There is a knitting circle and I was told they do not like conversations about books. I told them we were a book club, so it was unlikely we’d be talking about the book, but they were not flexible.

Hi folks, anyone have an extra copy of Bossypants? My husband accidentally put it in the book return at my daughter’s elementary school. I do have a copy of Nancy Clancy Super Sleuth. Happy to discuss if anyone else is reading it.

Just a reminder that our book club will meet next Friday. As some of you know, I sprained my ankle. My fault. I was trying to balance too many bags of groceries and hold the dog leash and overestimated my sense of balance on my daughter’s scooter. Good news, it’s my left foot! The windshield is almost fixed on my car and once they replace the brake lights, I’m good to go!

A few of you were kind enough to remind me that we never selected a location for the book club meeting this Friday. I am looking into it.

Wine bar.

Nobody read the book.

I need a ride.

This is part of Tips the Parenting Magazines Won't Tell You, a series of occasional satires. Inspired by true enough events and the winter of 2014.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Yoga with Ace: Was this guy Fred Astaire, Frank Underwood, or Chuck Yeager?

It was six-fifty in the morning and my mother and I stood by the water cooler at the gym, talking, as one is supposed to do by water coolers. We were on vacation but had woken up early to do yoga so we could relax. Sure, that doesn’t make sense, but that’s never stopped me.

An elderly gentleman, not much taller than I am, with white hair and wearing a sharp looking polo shirt and nylon sweats came over and introduced himself. He said his name was Lloyd and he asked if we were there for the yoga class.

 “Indeed we were,” I said.

 “Well good,” he responded. He was the teacher.

The spinning class soon wrapped up and Lloyd led us into the studio, taking his spot in front of the mirrors.

I’ve been doing yoga for about sixteen years and have never sat before a teacher who looked like an old Fred Astaire and sounded like Kevin Spacey in "House of Cards".

Lloyd had his regulars, whom he greeted with sincere pleasantries. The yoga class, and the health club of which it was a part, served not only our vacation suite, but the residents of the community. Most of the folks were retirees but, as I learned, these folks were fit.

Lloyd led us through deceptively challenging movements, his version of “Hatha” he explained. He never put his foot over his shoulder or stood on his head, but he was the real deal.

As the class neared an end, he sat cross-legged and read from a book.

“Circumstances, “ he read, “are largely determined by the discipline we employ, the friends we keep and the rules we choose to follow.” Namaste.

Then he invited my mother and me to attend the seven AM cardio dance class he taught the following morning.

I was game. So the next day I once again woke up early and headed to Lloyd’s class at the gym. I noticed a different group of regulars this time, but loyal students all the same. Lloyd put in a CD of upbeat music, a generic remix of tunes from the 90’s that kept our heart rates up. He led us through the grapevine, some basketball shuffles, jumping jacks, and more dance moves. We never shook our hips, but this older southern man in the well- pressed clothing could move.

The second part of class was floor work with weights. I hate weights. But I did what Lloyd asked. How could I not?

It was time to say good-bye, finally, and I explained that we’d be heading back home soon to New Jersey.

“Y’all come back and see us,” he said.

I left the studio and headed straight to the water cooler.

“Excuse me,” I said to one woman who’d been in class with me, “but I was just wondering if you knew anything about Lloyd. He seems so versatile.”

He was also charming, broke every stereotype I didn’t realize I carried, and was an example of how to age.

“Well,” the woman said, “I don’t know much. But he’s retired Air Force.”

Turns out Lloyd used to be a fighter pilot.


Thank you for reading Lunch Box Mom. I invite you to join my Facebook page, subscribe via email, follow me on Twitter or hop over to The Educated Mom. I'm exhausted just saying that....

Sunday, March 16, 2014

We Serve No Wine Before It's...

The weather in Tuscany was mild and dry in the spring of 1997, suggesting the vintage would be one of the best years. When my husband and I arrived in the fall of 2002 on our honeymoon, we bought a few bottles of this promising year and shipped them back to Boston. The Chianti bottles were put in a box labeled “Olive Oil” and arrived unbroken, ready to be admired, but never opened.

We took the bottles with us when we moved to an apartment in Connecticut, to an apartment in New Jersey, to our first house in New Jersey and finally to our second house in New Jersey.

A decade went by and I bought my husband a few more from the same vineyard, this time picked out at a liquor store near a mall instead of in the halls of the Italian estate.  Nothing beautiful about Joe Canal's liquor store, but the familiar label connected us to a place and time we missed.

Last Sunday, to celebrate my 40th birthday, my husband made dinner and the girls and I set the table. It was still light out, thanks to the time change, and something about the late afternoon seemed quiet and calm, the opposite of the agitated anticipation I’d had leading up to the day.

“I thought we’d have the wine,” my husband said, taking a bottle out of the refrigerator where he’d placed it earlier in the day. I caught a glimpse of the label. Badia a Coltibuono. Probably the one I’d given him for our tenth anniversary from the liquor store. Special, but not, too special. Not one we’d picked out when we were twenty-eight and and didn’t have much to worry about except how much bubble wrap it took to protect a bottle of wine disguised as olive oil.

He took the cork out of the wine to let it breathe. A few minutes later, he got me a glass.

“1997?” I yelled, looking at the date on the bottle.

He poured the wine into my glass. I stared at it a while. No going back now.

I sipped.

How do I describe it?

It was uniquely still. Simply happy with what it had become. I don't think that's a perfect metaphor for my own process of aging, but perhaps I can hope.

A New York Times article from 1998, “Wine Talk; Italy's 1997 Vintage: Poised for Greatness” quotes an owner of Badia a Coltibuono, Emanuela Stucchi-Prunetti discussing the wine’s prospects when it was still all conjecture: ''It was certainly a good year,'' she said, ''but high sugars and consequent high acid levels can cause problems in the cellars.''

What would Ms. Stucchi-Prunetti say now, sipping this wine of high expectations?

Had the high sugars caused a problem? Was it somehow dusty?

For us, it didn’t matter. We’d waited. I am not even sure what for--the birth of a child, the birth of a second child, fifth wedding anniversary, tenth wedding anniversary, minor triumphs, major ones.

Was there ever the right time?

“Let’s wait," I'd have said, if my husband had asked me.

But I'm glad he didn't.

As always, thanks for reading. Join me at my day job over at The Educated Mom....

Friday, March 7, 2014

This is 40. (more tips the parenting magazines won't tell you)

This Sunday, I’m going to a Happy Hips workshop at the cozy yoga studio down the street. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to go to Lowes afterwards and check out the wall ovens.

And I’ll turn 40.

So I am a little worried about the wall oven. Every time I burn the sweet potato fries I blame it on my current one, which must be twenty years old, and, now that I think about it, half my age, but, you know, in terms of home appliances—old.

The Happy Hips, well, I suppose I do carry tension. I’m working on the multiplication tables. If it weren’t for six times seven, I think I’d be a whole lot less stressed. But what can you do? Numbers are so sequential. (That’s what I tell my 8 year old, the reason I’m revisiting the times tables, by the way.)

Speaking of numbers, 40 doesn’t bother me. In fact, I’ve felt forty for the last fifteen years. I only started looking this age, though, after I had kids. I’m not sure how that happens but it must have something to do with them sucking the life out of you.

Or maybe collagen.

So, no midlife crisis for me. I have started doing yoga at 5:45 in the morning, and I’m back to getting Rolfed, a process that feels a bit like someone taking a rolling pin to your connective tissue, but my posture’s really improved. And that’s important when I’m at ballet--waiting for my kids. That’s right, no crisis in identity; I still drive a minivan.

As for goals, the great thing is that the ones I made last year haven’t been met so I don’t even need to make a new list. That’s one of the benefits of a school year in which the kids haven’t actually gone to school much because of the polar vortex. I haven’t procrastinated; I’ve been trapped in my home with munchkins who drink Swiss Miss.

Turning forty is a blessing, I know that. And in many ways I feel I’m finally getting started. But 1974—the year the universal bar code was first used on a pack of chewing gum—seems like a fuzzy Polaroid photo away. As the distance between then and now grows each year, I can't help but feel the gap between the world I was born into and the one I live in now. And in that sense, this is 40.

I miss you all at Lunch Box Mom. Hop over the my new weekly blog if you have the inclination, The Educated Mom. Or add your name here and get the blog sent to your inbox.

Tips the Parenting Magazines Won't Tell You is an occasional series, made more occasional by my new schedule. Read more in the series here.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Have I Retired?

Have I retired?

That was the question a reader (ok, a relative) asked me recently. Lunch Box Mom has not retired but I’ve been on a hiatus, putting my time into writing a play. I also write a blog for Mindprint Learning called The Educated Mom, and between the two, I don’t have much left to write LBM.

It’s not about having time. No parent has enough time. It’s about the capacity to think of something appropriate to write. This blog has usually been a place for me to write about what’s on my mind. When I began, I wrote about the agonizing period of sleep-deprivation we were going through with our youngest child. That showed me the power of a blog: strangers gave me useful advice. The blog ran in the NY Times, making something that was personal suddenly very public.

But anything on the Internet is public. Any blog, but especially a “mom blog” constantly confuses that particular relationship. We write about familiar topics or things that relate to the most intimate connections we have: our children, our function as parents, our day-to-day routines. But we send those thoughts out for all to read.

For a time, I became interested in how the non-personal became personal: contaminated children’s Tylenol, gender-stereotypes in toys, cadmium in toys, junk food for kids, the HPV vaccine.

At other times, I needed to express the absurdity of it all, and wrote  Tips the Parenting Magazines Won’t Tell You, still some of my favorites.

I’ve taken two “long breaks” from the blog, but otherwise, I was pretty consistent about posting each week. The experience of writing nearly every day in preparation for the posts made me a better writer, I believe, as doing anything over and over may improve one’s skills.

So, I changed. But now, so have my kids. They are older. It doesn’t feel right to write about them as I did before. Perhaps a college admissions officer will one day read that Ava was a terrible sleeper when she was 2.5 years old, but henceforth her digital trail will be monitored, not created, by me.

And the other things on my mind: yoga, meditation, writing a play, working for a start-up, are things that don’t fit so neatly into the blog. And yet, I’m not ready to give it up. The thing I miss most on these breaks is hearing from other people. Readers. Friends. Relatives.

Over the years, a few readers, mostly moms, have asked if I ever publish guest posts. I always said no. If the blog was going to bore, offend, or delight people, I wanted the blame. But now, while I finish my play (which I cant’ talk about) and do yoga (hard to type in downward dog) and maintain my children’s privacy (it’s the least I can do), I am changing my views.

I’ve already learned how to use Blogger, and you’ve already subscribed to this blog. Why not make it interesting? I hope to return to writing posts, at the very least offer some Tips The Parenting Magazines Won’t Tell You, but in the meantime, a few friends in my writing group (which I’ve attended once) have some essays on parenthood.

When I’m not meditating, I may just get around to posting them. Drop me a line, if you have one, too. 


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mad Men and Crayons

A child coloring quietly, possessed by a creative focus. Just a box of crayons, a piece of paper and a limitless stream of ideas.

You know this didn’t happen in my house recently. We’re still in the bumpy transition into summer made glorious agony by cold rainy weather.

The quiet scene happened in a commercial for Crayola crayons from the 1960’s that I saw a few days ago while visiting the Crayola “Experience” in Easton, Pennsylvania.

The “Experience”, once called “Factory”, was a good rainy day outing for my two girls. They designed their own labels and affixed them to fresh crayons, they watched a magic marker become filled with ink, and we sat through a twenty minute performance starring two animated crayons and an actual human who explained how non-toxic crayons are made of paraffin wax and pigment. It was before this show started that we sat captive watching old commercials.

The commercials from the 60’s seemed to be of a series, each with the same tone and intensity. The camera moves in from behind or close to the shoulder of a child, as if we’ve been invited into the inner monologue of the young person who is living out a fantasy through his or her work. We hear the voices of the children, or in other cases the voice of a male actor--slightly smug, cool, and not very salesman-like.

At the end, there’s a memorable line, setting the crayon apart from other toys or fads.

Fifty years ago the Mad Men were playing on parents' desires to give children something valuable and a box of crayons was presented as the alternative to gimmicky, battery-powered distractions. If the influx of those toys was swelling then, now it feels the wave has exploded into an overwhelming ocean of electronics. And in some ways, we are on the other side of the threat implied in the ads. Watching the old commercials, I realized not many ads or products today so overtly suggest that our children's own creativity is enough. I am more aware of the push to augment their talent, or take it to levels that would not be found within them alone.

I don’t know if it was nostalgia, brilliant advertising, or honest sentiment, but I spent a lot in the gift shop on crayons.

This commercial on YouTube was not the best of the ones I saw in Easton, but it’s a good example of the tone.

This week on The Educated Mom, we continue our summer series, asking: what's the best use of summer if your child has been diagnosed with a learning difference?

Photo credit for the box of 64 crayons to Kurt Baty, Wikimedia Commons. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Just Shred It

I recently bought a shredder, and the rest is history. Or should I say my history is shredded.

The papers that are now gone, testaments to an age before digital, were filed neatly in storage folders that I hauled around without thought. Eventually, after more than a decade of accumulation, the important documents had reached an age of no importance.

It was time to let go.

Did I need a rental agreement from 1998? My name wasn't even on the lease. 

Probably safe to shred.

Perhaps the lease didn’t need to be so thoroughly pulverized, but I’d reduced the process of cleaning to two choices: keep or shred.

Those duplicate checks the bank sent by mistake? Shred.

My husband’s taxes from a year before I met him? Shred.

Taxes for both of us for several years after we met? Shred.

Pay stubs, bank accounts statements, receipts, old insurance cards, documents about our first house.

Shred. Shred. Shred. Shred. Shred.

I’ve had my identity stolen, and the initial impetus for shredding these papers was to lessen the likelihood of it happening again. But the process of revisiting the papers was emotional.

I felt that the person who kept such meticulous files had changed, at least in a literal sense. I no longer have the time or inclination to save a receipt from Kinko’s, file it, and lug it to three states and five dwellings.

That temperament and those papers were from a bygone era; one that needed paper and possession.

That thought struck me most when I found a small folder designed to hold business cards. These cards were once valuable--the information was not easily found online, you would not be scanning the card into a computer, or receiving contact information from an email, and the best way to reach someone was still through calling them on an actual telephone on a number not everybody had.

I am not sure when the year 2000 started to feel like ancient history. But the more papers I had to look at, the more the time appeared remote and unconnected.

This week on The Educated Mom we look at our first question for our Summer Series: When can a child walk to a friend's house alone?