Friday, July 25, 2014

Travel to Charlotte & Become a NASCAR Fan

If I had a not-bucket-list, one of the places on it would be the NASCAR Hall of Fame.  Actually, it probably wouldn’t be on it, because it’s not even been in my radar that it existed. But now, I’m convinced, it is a don’t-miss museum if you’re every Charlotte. And you don’t even have to like racing cars.

I was in Charlotte for my sorority’s national conference with two of my friends who are as equally prissy, not-race-car fans as I am. With a couple hours to kill between events, we decided to check out the Hall of Fame, particularly because we heard there were racing car simulators in there.  The website advised that visitors should allot two hours; we figured we’d be in and out in an hour. We were there for almost three.

Tickets are $20 for adults, plus an additional $5 for the simulator drive.  The visit begins with a movie about the history of NASCAR. Did you know that the sport of racing cars began with moonshiners trying to outrun police back in the days of Prohibition?

There’s an exhibit of historical race-cars and information about the many racetracks across the country along Glory Road, a slanting and upwardly sloping path around the lobby, taking you to the second floor.  On the road is the actual Hudson Hornet (exciting in a mom of a Cars! fan kindof way!) On the next floor are exhibits about famous drivers and the stages of getting the race-car ready for race-day.  I’m going to admit that car maintenance is not at all part of my skill set and these info stations may have raised my level of respect for guys in the pit crew. Tire pressure, weather forecasts, measurements, plastics vs. metal, weight, mechanics – it’s a lot to know and understand. And that’s before the driver even gets in the car.
Driving practice
Many of the exhibits have a hands-on activity in which you earn points for how well you complete the tasks.  And here’s where I learned something about my friends – I knew they liked to be really good at what they do (and in their professional lives, they both are) but I never knew how competitive they were until we examined each other’s scores after each activity. 

Two of our favorites were the driving practice and the pit crew simulation.  The driving practice was much like an arcade video game, but with a clutch, brakes and gears, as well as the steering wheel.  In the pit crew, there were three tasks – jack up the car, change the tire, and refuel – to be done as the clock ticks, because in a race, every second counts.  This was much more fun than girls in skirts and pearls could imagine.

The Pink & Green Pit Crew
We were there until the “we are closing in fifteen-minutes” warning and then rushed around to see the last of the exhibits and to check our scorecards.  And I can proudly say, I ranked as the #3 visitor in points scored.  If I had more time, who knows, I think I could’ve been number one. Not that it’s a race or anything.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sports Lessons for Life

"I think I made the HighPoint for the team this season," my son said to me the day before the swim team awards picnic.

Jay started swimming on a team because he saw other kids practicing with a team coach while he was still learning to blow bubbles. He watched them and told me he wanted to do what they were doing.  "Then you've got to put your face in the water. All the way in the water," I told him.

And he eventually did get over his fear of submerging his face and the rest of his body into 4 feet of water, because he wanted to do what the other kids were doing.  Once he learned to swim across the length of the pool, he told me he was ready to join a team.  I had no idea what joining a swim team or being a competitive swimmer entailed, other than the few tales of water-obsessed parents, but they didn't sound any crazier than the soccer-moms and basketball-dads that I already knew.  Just a different and wetter crazy, but on the same level.

That was four years ago and Jay has been swimming ever since.  He's won, tied, come in last, been disqualified, cheered, cried, set goals, tried harder, tried again.  He's learned to take pride in his accomplishments and set new goals to do even better. He encourages his team-mates and celebrates their wins or commiserates over their losses. He's pulled his sister into swimming with him and encourages her.  He knows when he's been goofing off and when he's really put in some work.  He appreciates the coaches who invest their efforts and is learning (still learning) not to waste their time by not putting in his own hard work.  He's learned so much more than just how to properly churn his arms and kick his legs to execute the perfect butterfly.

And this year, he did win that High Point award - the swimmer who has earned the most wins and points for his team this season.  And he's learned to be proud, yet still humble.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

PSA: Don't Leave Your Kid in the Hot Car

Let me take a break from piddlin’ to get to something serious.

I know, I get it. It’s tempting. You’re just going to run in to [the store, your friend’s house, the office, the nail salon, the job interview, whatever] for just a minute and you’ll be right out. And the baby’s sleep. And you had the air condition on so it’s still kinda cool, especially if you park over there in the shade. And you’ll be so much faster if you go it alone.  It’ll just be a minute.  And then there’s a really long line in the store because the lady up ahead doesn’t understand what “Express Lane 10 Items or Less” means and forgot her credit card, but not her coupons, and is paying in nickels.  Or your friend has just one more thing to tell you, this is a good one, and then she’ll let you go because she knows you left the baby outside, but it won’t take long.  And while you’re in the office, can you help fix the copier because no-one else has that special fix-it touch like you do. In the meantime, your baby’s out there in her own private, glass-enclosed sauna.  And if you are lucky, she’s just sweating and screaming at the top of her little vocal chords when you rush back and let a hot breeze into the car.

I know. I get it. I’ve got four kids and there were so many times I thought, “oh, but this will go so much quicker if I don’t have to unbuckle them and juggle a sleeping baby, my purse, my coffee, and shopping bags.”  In fact, the other day, I went to the grocery store and as I parked my 9-year old informed me that she didn’t have any pants to wear (we were coming from swimming practice.)  Ugh. Leave her in the car alone with the window open, let her walk around the grocery store in a bathing suit, or go home and come back later?  I just needed to pick up a couple things, it wouldn’t take more than a few minutes. I ended up going home, no eggs, no milk.  So, yes, I get it.

Recently, people have made various suggestions on how not to forget your kid in the car, since that seems to be a problem, too. And I get that one, too. Kinda. Because I've been there, too.  I've been in the grocery store, looked down into the empty plastic seat in the cart, and panicked, "Where's my kid?" Wondered if I left her in the car or if someone stole her out the cart while I was checking out the tomatoes, but then remembered that she was home with her dad.  And maybe because I do have this terrible fear that I will be the mom who leaves her kid at a rest-stop or home sleeping, I do check that my kid is somewhere near me when I go out.  I don't know how to advise you not to forget your kid.  Just really really try hard not to.  Put your shoes in the carseat when you're driving somewhere, tie a bungy chord across the door frame tied to the carseat, tie a bell to your kid's arm, post a picture of your kid on your car window, set a reminder on your phone. I don't know what will work for you, but do think of something so that you will never ever  forget your kid.  Note - this is in no way saying that I'm the perfect mom, but pretty lucky thus far.

As for that dad in Georgia who left his 22-month old to die?  He’s guilty. Yes, I’m sayin’ it, as a member of the jury of public opinion. And, I’m even thinking, bring that mom in, too.  I know some folks will be all “but he deserves his day in court” and “it was a mistake.”  Let’s set aside the “how-to” Google-ing about sweltering in a car, the question about insurance money, the debt, or even the sexting while at work.  Let’s just look at the parenting part.  An infant sits backwards in a carseat, the parent really has no visual contact with the baby, and when they aren’t screaming, babies are somewhat quiet.  Maybe, maybe on a really hectic, unfocused day you could forget he’s back there. Maybe.  Not a 22-month old.  They face forward.  They will see you get out of the car and most likely become alarmed if you slam the door and do not take them with you.  Which, it would be kinda hard not to see the person right behind you, staring you in the face.  Or hear them, because 22-month olds are babblers. They talk about everything – the bird over there, the sky, the song they learned at daycare, their feet. They are not very quiet creatures.  But let’s say somehow, a parent leaves a babbling, looking you in your face kid in the backseat.  Then said parent comes back to the car hours later at lunch break.  You don’t notice your sweaty, maybe crying, maybe sleep, maybe passed out kid in the backseat?  Tell me, you can go to your car, reach in for something and not notice a person in there, even a little one.  Then you slam the door and leave that little person again.  And when the daycare notifies the other parent that the kid didn’t make it to daycare, that parent’s response is “oh, dad must’ve left him in the car.”  Really?  Not, “hmm, what happened?” No, “that’s odd, I didn’t think it was take-your-kid-to-work day.”  Not even, “oh my gracious, my husband has run off and kidnapped my kid!”  It’s “he must’ve left him in the hot-a** car all day.”  Get them both, Mr. & Mrs.

In the meantime, don’t leave your baby in the car.  Stay safe and enjoy your summer.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Mom's Going Away To-Do List

Before going away from home for a few days, I've got a pretty lengthy checklist. Before my last trip, I -
  • Baked a blueberry coffee cake for breakfast (and added eggs to the grocery list)  
  • Did about 5 loads of laundry, mostly towels, mostly picked up off the floor or pulled from swim bags
  • Washed all the cups we own and half the dishes, piled up from the day before
  • Washed and braided my daughter's hair and crossed my fingers that it would look like something when I got back  
  • Started packing for my trip
  • Fixed lunch for the kids 
  • Gave the dog her flea & tick medicine
  • Checked swim meet entries for the meet I'd miss while gone
  • Printed the calendar of activities the kids had while I would be gone  
  • Did another load of laundry when I realized no one had enough underwear to last until I came back
  • Walked the dog
  • Packed yarn & needles for my current knitting project and convention stuff I needed for my trip  
  • Folded a load of laundry, but didn't put it away (that's a lot to ask for) 
  • Finished packing, surely forgotting something  
  • Got in the car and left
My husband also had a business trip at about the same time. Before his trip, he -
  • Packed his clothes and work bag  
  • Got in his car and left. 
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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

In a (Home-Made) Pickle

I’m that friend who asks you for the pickle you have left untouched on your sandwich plate.  And my children are the ones who try to sneak the pickle off of my sandwich plate.  Perhaps its genetic, but one thing we all agree on in our family is that we really like pickles.  So, my son and I decided we’d figure out how to make our own.

And we discovered that it’s not so hard, once you’ve got the basics.
For 2 pounds of cucumbers:
1 cup vinegar
1 cup water
1 ½ TBS salt

Our first batch was with the pickling cucumbers (the short ones) from the grocery store.  When we bought more for the next batch, we realized that you have to make the pickles within days of buying the cucumbers because they mold quickly; we ended up throwing them all out.  We also bought fatter cucumbers from a farm market and they lasted for days on the counter without deteriorating at all.  For the summer months, I think we’ll continue with the fresh market cucumbers.

We experimented using plain white vinegar and apple vinegar for taste-testing.  The white vinegar was more vinegar-y, more of a “pickle” taste, whereas the apple was a slight sourness, with a bit more sweetness.  Our preference is the white vinegar.  We used sea salt, for no particular reason, over regular table salt.

After that, it’s a matter of figuring out your spices. We’ve made minced garlic a staple to our recipe and then we’re experimenting with red pepper flakes, dill seed, and fennel seed.  About a teaspoon – tablespoon of each, depending on your tastes and preferences.  Hint – check your favorite commercial pickles for ideas (although we realized the amount of preservatives and artificial flavors used in some by checking the labels.)

I keep recycled jars around – mostly used pickled jars - and a small supply of mason jars for canning. When re-using jars for anything, I like to wash pickle jars or any other strong smelling food jars in the dishwasher because that’s the best way to get the food smell out.  If using something like a jelly jar, you can wash in hot water.  For a couple pounds of cucumbers, you may need several jars, depending on their size.

Depending on the size of the cucumbers vs. the jar and your personal preference, the cucumbers can be used whole, cut lengthwise into halves of quarters, or sliced into “coins”.  They can also be chopped for relish, which is on our list to try.

Once you've decided on whole or sliced - you're ready to go.
  • Put the cucumbers in the jar, packing them in as tightly as possible.
  • Sprinkle in the spices of your choice.
  • Pour the vinegar/water/salt mixture over to fill the jar.  As we learned, there is very little capillary action in cucumbers, so if you do not have enough to fill the jar, you will need to turn it over after a few days and store it upside down to pickle the other half of the cucumbers.
  • Put the top on tightly and store in your refrigerator for about 5 days.

According to what I’ve read about pickling in the fridge, these should last you a few months.  However, I cannot verify that, as ours were gone within a week, and that was mainly because the kids paced themselves until we could get another batch going so there would be no lull in the pickle inventory.  If you have more cucumbers and want them to last longer, you may want to opt for a canning process (boiling the cucumber-filled jars) to make them last longer and to not take up all your refrigerator space.


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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Are You Involved at Your Child's School?

I recently participated in a focus group about school-parent communication.  It was an interesting discussion, with participants that ranged from parents, like me, teachers, and school administrators.  I’m a strong advocate for parents being involved in their children’s schools and being an important part of the education process.

To expand the range of answers, I’d like to pose a few questions to you, my readers.  Please take a moment and reply in the comments to one or both of the following questions.
  • What does it take to motivate you to advocate or take action on an educational issue (local, state, and/or national)?
  • How would you improve communication channels between parents and teachers/administrators at your child’s school? 
Thank you!

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Make Your Own College Tour

On our summer to-do list was “find the turtles and dairy at College Park.”  It sounds like some environmental adventure, but it’s not.  My kids, specifically my oldest daughter, Elle, had decided that they wanted to go on their own scavenger hunt across the UM College Park campus, in search of the Terrapin (“Terp”) painted statues across the campus and get a scoop of ice cream.  You’ve seen these painted statues, often a public works/arts/public fundraising project in various cities – an animal decorated in all kinds of themes and scattered through the streets.  Wandering through DC, you may spot a multi-color panda, donkey, or elephant on the street.

The flagship campus has their school mascot, a terrapin, painted and waving at passers-by around the university.  We had no map and the kids basically relied on their memory of where they thought they had seen them on previous trips to campus (basketball games, school trips, and alum activities with my husband, the proud Terp) and where it seemed reasonable (to my kids) that they should be.  We wandered fromm the Comcast Center to the main library, looking for these decorated turtles.
My favorite terp was the Kermit the Frog, in honor of UM alum, Jim Henson
Maryland also makes it’s own ice cream in the creamery operated by the College of Agriculture.  Somehow, we’ve missed getting a scoop on other visits, except Breeze who had some during a summer camp.  The Dairy's ice cream was really good – just sweet enough, full of mix-in ingredients – you know, the s’mores ice cream had lots of chocolate, graham, and marshmallow; the birthday cake flavor had good chunks of cake with frosting blended in.  I had “Fear the Turtle” – vanilla ice cream with white chocolate, pecans, caramel, crème de cacao, and triple sec.  We each had one scoop, which I have to say, was more than the normal commercial scoop – and about half the price.  A pretty good deal.

While in the student union, we came upon a small art installation which attracted the kids with its headphones hanging below video screens.  The exhibit was "Juke" by the artist Jefferson Pinder, a series of videos of African-American persons lip-syncing to a song not typically sang by an African-American person.  According to the accompanying placard, the exhibit "questions the perceived racial categories in music and asks...'is there black music?'"  One art exhibit, the kids can handle that.

We generally wait until kids are ready to fill out college applications before taking them on a college tour, but these mini-towns can be a fun place to wander around even when the kids are younger.  Of course, we first think of the sports teams and their games, but also consider all the majors and their related buildings and exhibits – music performances, art exhibits, farms, libraries, chapels, and athletic facilities.  And if there’s an agriculture college – ice cream or other agriculture products. My alma mater, UDelaware sells Blue Hen wool yarn, shorn from the sheep on the farm.  Many of these buildings and exhibits are open to the public and offer affordable options for a family outing.  And shhh… don’t let the kids in on this part – they might even learn something along the way.

So for your next close to home day out, check out your local university.

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