Sunday, September 28, 2014

Would you like mustard with that?

In the mom blogging world you sometimes get offers for bowling shoes. My readers, the company said, might be interested. Ham and Swiss cheese have also come knocking, and frankly, they’d make a good sandwich. But I said no. I don’t typically do reviews or give-aways.

But then came the weinervention.

Yes, I just said that and I’m not talking about a mayoral race in New York City folks, Anthony Weiner notwithstanding.

I’m talking about the email I got from Applegate Farms offering me hot dogs and buns to stage a weinervention and stop the madness. My friends are eating bad hot dogs and somebody’s got to step in.

I was already a fan of Applegate, turning to their nitrate-free meat and hot dogs the day I stopped being a vegetarian. And it just so happened that my family had recently made its annual pilgrimage to the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin.

I was sitting on a lot of mustard.

“Sure,” I told the Applegate Farms representative via email, “I’d take some hot dogs.”

Applegate would be the “Meatiator” they said. I was to expect a kit containing the franks, two packages of Rudi’s buns, Annie’s organic ketchup and mustard, Rick’s Pick’s relish, an apron, grilling tools, mini cooler, a frisbee and Susty paper straws and napkins. The box would be marked “perishable” and I’d need to put the hot dogs in the fridge ASAP.

This weinervention was getting serious. I needed to tell my husband. He was the grill master.

He was confused, as you might expect, but agreed to help. We decided the best place to stage our cookout coup would be at the swimming pool we belonged to in town. We figured there’d be plenty of grills and hungry folks. Would the parents there already know that Applegate dogs had beef, water, salt, and spices, and no sodium phosphate or sodium nitrate? I hoped so because I didn’t want to say the word “weinervention” in public.

We arrived at the pool around 4pm on a sunny day in late August. A birthday party was just wrapping up and the grills would be ours. Our timing was perfect.  I hadn’t accounted for the fact that the water was freezing and no one else was there. 

"All this relish," I thought, "and no one to relish it."

Except the lifeguards.

Certainly, they’d be hungry.

Avoiding the word weinervention, I told the college-aged lifeguards that we had a lot of food we'd like to share with them.

“Really good hot dogs,” I told them when they saw the spread.

They seemed impressed.

It might have just been the idea of free food, but they came back for more. Somehow it seemed fitting the the young people who helped my youngest pass her swim test and who blew the whistle anytime her walk accelerated into a run would be the ones to share our bounty. 

When they headed back to school, would they remember Applegate or the mustard or the relish or the really cute paper hot dog baskets, I wondered?

Probably they'd just remember the crazy lady whose husband was walking around in a Weinervention apron and who brought lots of mustard to the pool.

Those folks at Applegate are geniuses.

Thanks for reading. Hop over to my post on The Educated Mom, Are You (as a woman) Ready for Some Football? And join me on Twitter.

Monday, September 15, 2014

When they hatch, count them

I don’t count my chickens until they hatch, a habit that’s gotten me into trouble, as it did when my figurative chicken hatched three weeks early and I almost delivered her in an elevator. But it’s also saved me heartache, with several, “I never thought it would happen anyway” predictions I’d rather have been wrong about.

Still, I’ve always known, for a fact, that the calendar would eventually arrive at the second of September 2014. And for several months, I’ve known that on that day, despite my superstitious doubts, both kids would finally attend the same school. No more preschool: they’d be in together in elementary school.

One school. One drive. One calendar. One parents’ association. One place to focus our commitment to their learning.

Did I say one drive?

For the past three years, I’ve been doing what folks around here call the Bermuda Triangle. The towns aren’t that far away: twenty minutes here, twenty minutes there, a bit of traffic at the expected times.  Everyone knows the drill. It’s a triangle, but you feel that you’re just driving in circles. And it’s added an extra hour and a half each day for what on paper seems to be only a few miles.

I don’t think most parents look for sympathy when they admit to hating a part of their routine that is of their own making. But can I share an unexpected moment of happiness?

It snuck up on me like a jolt of giddiness at 4pm the day before school started: an honest smile that wouldn’t leave. My husband said I was glowing. It wasn’t a compliment. He was reading a book and looked up because of the glare.

How we’d gotten into the Bermuda Triangle rut, as with most things in life, was due to a haphazard collection of choices. We found jobs, a home, an elementary school, a preschool, and bam—we were in the Bermuda Triangle.

The time-sucking danger zone wasn’t just on the literal road, it was in other things: school schedules that didn’t overlap which was a real shuffle when I was teaching full time and we had three schedules to remember. And friendships, not for my children, but for me. In some ways, I could say I doubled my connections. But to be honest, I was pulled. I was always in a rush to get to the other school and not able to commit to the things that build relationships beyond a pleasant “hello”.

These woes were all small beans in the context of larger problems, but over time, minor burdens take their toll, ones you may not appreciate fully until they’re lifted.

And that’s what happened.

While my girls took one last jump in the town pool they’ve played in all summer, my husband and I sat in the late afternoon sun, and I realized, that at long last, I could finally count my chickens.

Thank you for reading Lunch Box Mom. I invite you to hop over to my blog focused on education and parenting, The Educated Mom, to see my new post on the JoltSensor, a concussion tracking device invented by a recent MIT grad. It may change the way you watch from the sidelines. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Back to the Routine: one "No" at a time

I established the first rule before we’d even left North Carolina, the last of our visits in a month of visits on the road.

“No more Sprite,” I said emphatically to my nine-year-old.

“And you,” I said making eye contact with the littler one who’d developed a Pavlovian drool near rest-stops.

“It’s over. M&M’s from the vending machines are a thing of the past.”

Vacation was coming to an end and we were going cold turkey. No more soft drinks. No more candy because it’s “11am somewhere.” No more watching Scooby Doo in the back seat for 8 hours a day. When we pulled into our driveway at home the next day we were going to be a lean, mean, post-vacation machine.

But I had a lot of laundry to do. And the dog forgot he was potty trained. And there was that super moon.

Things were pretty much a mess when we got home after thirty days away from our routine. Rules are made to be broken, unless you’re the one whose sanity depends on them.

The dog was probably the easiest to retrain.

“I don’t care if they let you pee wherever you wanted at Camp Bow Wow,” I told our one-year-old spaniel.  “We don’t have concrete floors.”

The milk bones were my most effective tactic with him.

And the crate.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t use either of those incentives with my human children, and I had to resort to phrases I’d used when they were toddlers.

“Whining won’t work.”

“I’m in charge.”


Looking back, there’d been a surprising absence of that two-letter word on our vacation, and it took some time to relearn the meaning of it.

Again, the dog surpassed his sisters in this.  But my tone with him was more emphatic. The threat of dog poop on the floor is just that much more intolerable than the prospect of the kids watching another episode of Guy Fieri’s Grocery Games.

It was a long process of detoxing from some very bad habits: TV as if it was an inalienable right; dessert as if it was more vital than oxygen; and bedtime, which lost all definition and meaning and became just a quaint word they heard me say from time to time, like “whom” and “post office”.

It’s been about three weeks now and things have finally settled down. In fact, the dog is fantastic.

The kids are ok, too. A regular bedtime. No expectation of Sprite with breakfast or a feature film every time I merge onto the highway.

“We’re only going five miles,” I still catch myself saying from time to time. “Nobody needs a snack!”

I am once again the alpha dog—with the dog, I mean. And we have finally re-established a very good routine for bedtime.

That should last for about ten days until school starts.

At least the dog hasn’t started Pre-K, yet.

Thanks for reading. Please follow on Twitter. I follow back, unless you're selling Sprite and M&M's to my children for breakfast. 

This week on The Educated Mom, I write about the Common App Essay for college, and a private consultant who helps guide students in an era of sensational "over-sharing". 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Other People's Children at the Hotel Pool: Lessons in Hypocrisy

You can’t really expect the whirlpool at a hotel to rival the rejuvenating powers of the likes of Franzensbad, but on the second-to-last day of a month on the road, I’d hoped for something akin to relaxation.

The seven-year-old girl with the bobbed hair had something else in mind. While her parents swam in the deep end of the adjacent pool, this little sprite sat curled up on the steps of the hot oasis a few feet away from me.

At first it was just a trickle of water I felt dance across my nose. I turned, and she smiled at me, swirling her hand in the water.

Kids will be kids, I thought just as her older sister hurled a soggy hockey sock at us, the ball landing with a plop in the water.

I looked for the parents, who were engaged in some sort of tickle fest in the deep end. Maybe they had just finished a long drive and were trying to ignore their children. I was doing the same thing, of course, but my children were swimming laps with olympic form, nary a splash from their toes.

Eventually, the hockey sock flew past me in the other direction. I closed my eyes.

A few seconds later, water again on my face and dripping from my hair. This was no mistake.

“I do not want to get wet,” I said with a smile to the child in my irritated-patient voice, fully aware that most of my body was submerged in water. Surely the kid understood the subtleties of what I meant: I was wearing a pony-tail.

I glanced back at the parents. The mother was occupied in a snorkel-like float on her belly, but there were no tropical fish in this pool. She knew what was up.

I sighed and watched my girls.

An older couple got in the whirlpool, sipping from cold drinks. They probably thought they were going to get to relax.

Two other kids hoped in. I took a quick scan at the rules posted by the steps. You can’t use the facilities if you’re drunk or using drugs, but being under the age of 8 is apparently just fine.

Trickle, trickle. Water from the fountain of youth once again. I closed my eyes, deciding to take a cue from the mom and ignore the child. It was probably now time to get out. I was fully cooked, sweating, actually, in the way you do when you’re in 104-degree water, but there was no way I was leaving the whirlpool before the kid.

The next attack was not really a trickle; it was a full force assault. Water, scooped with her tiny hands and tossed right at me. It had all the deliberate force of a snowball fight.

No more Miss Manners.

“When I tell you I don’t want to get wet,” I said, looking the child in the eyes, “why do you still throw water on me?”

The kid didn’t say anything, consistent with her ways.

The other kids began tossing an inflatable ball around. I gave it another minute or two and then got out, wrapped myself up in a towel and sat in a chair, still hot from the soak.

The sound of screams, splashes and some laughs as the balls and hockey socks were thrown around the tiny indoor pool in the underbelly of the historic hotel in the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson.

We'd be going to dinner in a few hours, and if the karma of parenthood held, we'd become the subject of another parent's gripe you read about it in a blog somewhere.

With this road trip and soon summer coming to an end, I hope to return to writing LBM more frequently. Thanks to all my kind and loyal readers. And to those who have joined me over at the additional blog I write, The Educated Mom. Education--it's not just for parents!

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....