Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Good Ship Lollipop

"These taste real!"

I made watermelon-flavored lollipops with the kids today. I followed the directions exactly, and used my candy thermometer, and added the ingredients at precisely the correct times and temperatures.
I lightly greased the molds and inserted the sticks I'd bought.
When the time came to pour the molten candy into the trays, I was surprised to watch the lollipop sticks melt upon contact with the hot lollipop mixture.
I'd bought the wrong kind of sticks!
I had bought the kind that one would use with chocolate candies!
So I will buy the proper sticks for the next batch, and let the kids enjoy these, with all the unintentional phthalates.

Latrobe Teen Put M-80 Between Thighs To Muffle Explosion

17 Year Old Puts M-80 Between Thighs

"The boy kept lighting and extinguishing the fuse and then when it wouldn't go out, police said he put the firework between his thighs and covered it with his right hand in hopes of muffling the explosion."

He blew off his right hand, his right leg, and possibly a little more.
Watch for this one on the Darwinian Awards, because even though he survived, one can safely assume he removed himself from the gene pool.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Compost Doesn't Work That Way

Months ago, my daughter wanted a pet, and I told her that if she could keep a houseplant alive for one year, I'd consider a small pet.

We went to the store and picked out a plant that died shortly after being placed in her room. This summer, she set the pot (dead plant and all) out on the deck and the plant came back, and bloomed beautifully. And then promptly died again!

Ever hopeful, my daughter brought the dead plant in before the frost and put it by the window, but this time it seems determined to remain dead.
I have allowed the plant to stay in my dining room, because I, too, am hopeful it's just dormant.

My daughter was cleaning out the fridge recently and tossed out a bunch of produce that was well past its prime. I assumed it was tossed over the hill, or fed to the rats, but apparently she decided to compost it, in an unusual fashion- she dumped it in the flowerpot that contains her dead plant!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ron Channels the Church Lady

Between us, Ron and I have a fairly extensive music collection.
My love of the oldies (50's and 60's), plus all my pop, disco, alternative, punk, folk, movie soundtracks, and country combined well with Ron's enormous classic rock collection as well as artists I'd never heard before, like Hazel O'Connor, Joan Armatrading, and David Sanborn. He showed me The Wall, Tommy, and Heavy Metal. (Strangely, I already owned the soundtrack to Heavy Metal. I'd received it as a birthday gift, but had never seen the movie.)
I opened his eyes to Prince's funk, and the 'folk and blues' sounds of Tracy Chapman. I also helped him learn to appreciate familiar artists he'd never given a second thought to, such as Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, and Meatloaf.

Suggestive lyrics were part and parcel of the whole music appreciation experience. Prince, AC/DC, Aerosmith... hell, even George Michael released songs that made some people nervous.
In the early years, we must have listened to The Doors version of Gloria a thousand times.

So imagine my shock when Ron came home from work the other day and announced,
"On the way home, there was a Nickelback song on the radio, and those lyrics were just filthy!"

Where is my husband?
And why am I suddenly married to a Dana Carvey character?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My Very Eccentric Mother Just... What?!

When I was growing up, there were nine planets- Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.

We were taught to remember them with this mnemonic:
"My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets."

But now Pluto has been kicked out of the planet club, and that leaves us teaching the kids, "My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine .... ?"
Which makes the very educated mother look rather stupid.
We needed to change it, but to what?

So the homeschool moms were discussing this at Playgroup today, and Grace quipped,
"My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Up Naked."

As awesome as that was, we took it a step further:

"My Very Eccentric Mother Just Showed Up Naked."

Just one of the many services we provide. You can thank us later.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Slacker Homeschooler Dreams

Each year around this time, I have dreams that they find out about me.
They find out I'm just a slacker mom, and that my kitchen floor is sticky, and my toilet bowls are not springtime-fresh, and that my kids are not getting the recommended 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day.

They find out that my kids watch more Simpsons than Savage Earth... more Futurama than Frontline... more Malcolm in the Middle than Modern Marvels.

I dream that they come into my house, take lots of notes, and sequester the children in an undisclosed location to be tested, evaluated, and interrogated, to prove once and for all that I am irreparably damaging them with my slacker ways and I need to be fired.
In these dreams, I always try to point out that they are good kids, healthy, clean and well-fed. That they are compassionate and basically well-behaved. That their self esteem is intact. That they are self-confident. That they volunteer in the community. That they would never taunt or throw objects at zoo animals.
They always answer with "MmmmHmmm... We're going to need to see your lesson plans."

"Gah! Not that!... Just put me down as 'failed'."

I wake up in a cold sweat, heart racing. And in the hours before dawn, I always promise to start a unit study in the morning.

Of course, in the morning, they are too busy to start a unit study, because they have spent the early morning hours creating a Rube Goldberg machine that stretches across an entire bedroom. This machine, when it actually works, will turn the light on. Much to Ron's perpetual dismay, they have yet to create anything that will turn a light off.

Paper towel tubes, duct tape, embroidery floss, the funnel from my long-forgotten breast pump, two empty cereal boxes, the sofa cushions, the spinner from the Twister game, a few lincoln logs, half a pound of pony beads, and 20,000 rubber bands are arranged in a fashion that will, half the time, turn the light on.

Was this in the lesson plan? Did I assign this? Will I grade this?


Will I even photograph this?

Probably not.
Now that all the kids have their own cameras, there are already countless photos of every stage of its construction, as well as many exciting minutes of video, already uploaded onto the computer, and posted to their Facebook pages.

What I will do is leave them to their light-switching machine and get myself a cup of coffee. Later, when I want to sit on the sofa, I'll demand that my sofa cushions be brought back in and reinstalled under my lazy butt.

My eldest daughter decided to go to school part-time last year and was at first intimidated by the idea that all the other kids she would be in classes with had been going to school for ten (or eleven, if you count kindergarten) years, where she had never sat in a classroom in her life. She could have taken honors classes, but remained cautious and insisted on being placed in the regular classes.
The next year, she requested honors classes for most of her subjects, and has all A's.
Is she a genius?
Not by my standards. What she does bring to the table is an enthusiasm for learning, and a willingness to complete a project. (Also, the fear that if she doesn't do well in school, I may decide to homeschool her again!)
She is also the type who will do an extra credit assignment, such as bring in an old cool whip bowl with a few pill bugs in it.
Several times last year, one of her teachers requested these, and each time, my daughter was the only one who did it. How hard would it be to flip over a rock and gather a few of these up, on the way to the bus? A couple times, I'm sure she even delegated this job to a younger sibling, and probably paid them a nickel a bug.

So even though I can see that my unorthodox methods are working for my kids, I still get these dreams, every year around this time. In last night's episode, it was my mother-in-law (a retired public school teacher) who had called the big, scary They. I know that my mother-in-law does not understand or approve my methods, but one thing she does do is remain silent to me about it. Now that my eldest is doing so well, even if my relatives cannot agree that my methods have merit, they must at least admit that they have done no harm.
At this point, it will have to be enough.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Party Injury

When you say a party begins at 6pm, it never fails that some guests will arrive at 5:30, maybe even 5pm. If enough guests do this, your party is actually starting at 5pm.

Note- it will not end an hour earlier; you just have less time than you think to get that shower you've been putting off.

And so that's what happened. More than an hour before the party, guests began arriving. At 5pm, I ignored the party guests and jumped in the shower. I dried my hair, got halfway dressed, and began putting on my make-up. I don't usually wear much make-up anymore, but since lots of people would be taking pictures, I figured make-up was a good idea.
While applying mascara to one side, I heard my 10 yr old daughter let out a loud, long scream. I paused... I listened. Another scream, as loud and long as the first. Mascara wand frozen in mid-air, I listened. Another scream. Yup, she's hurt.

I replaced the mascara wand, grabbed a shirt and headed upstairs. The kids had been playing the "Door Game", where some kids go into a room, and the younger sibling tries to come in, and the older kids slam the door in their faces. Or, in my daughter's case, they slam the door on her finger. Hard. By the time I got to her, the nail was already deeply bruised underneath, and she was icing it. She was crying so hard I thought she might vomit.
I was well aware that to calm her down properly was going to take a while, and it was already 5:40pm.
In 20 minutes, the rest of the guests would be arriving.
And I only had half my face done!

So I told my daughter to pick up her ice and follow me. I told her the best place to calm down would be on my bed.

As she cried tears and snot all over Ron's pillow, I finished my make-up.
After getting her breathing under control, I told her to tell me about a happy time she remembered, the happiest. She told about going to Sarasota and feeling the sun on her skin, and going to Siesta Key Beach and Connor digging the biggest hole in the sand she'd ever seen. She told me how he'd had to reach farther and farther into the hole to make it bigger.
"He dug for hours and hours!"
As I was blotting my lipstick, I had a calm and happy daughter, and party guests were arriving. My daughter's friend came in and sat on the bed with her, and told her lots of "It could be worse!" stories. And the day was fine, after all.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Court Jester Hat Cake- The Joke Is On Me!

I have a reputation among my children as a "Taker-Overer". Whatever plans they come up with, I tend to hijack them, and make them bigger, faster, better than they ever thought possible.
So when my 12 yr old daughter was having her Crazy Hat Party, she had the idea for me to make a cake in the shape of a court jester's hat. I immediately began sketching my plans for this amazing cake, complete with edible bells.

My 13 yr old daughter muttered under her breath, "She's taking over again..."

Realizing I was, I turned to the Birthday Girl, "Okay, what did you have in mind?"
I promised to follow her directions as closely as I could, and everyone else laughed their heads off.

Now determined to
prove to my kids that I could do something for them without going crazy with it, I took my daughter to the store and we bought the items she suggested to make this cake- waffle cones, blow-pops, gold dust.... I did very well to keep my mouth shut and follow her lead.
Back home, the baking, assembling, and decorating of the cake went surprisingly well. The finished product actually looked enough like a court jester hat that I was proud of my daughter for coming up with it, and even more proud of myself for not taking over this time.

Overnight, the cake changed. Gravity and moisture in the air took over.
It drooped, it sagged, and the blow-pops fell out.

In the morning light, the cake looked completely different, and entirely inappropriate for a child's birthday party.
The three waffle-cone shapes now looked very phallic, even with their fringe.

I'm dying to perform surgery on this cake and make it a court jester beanie, before any party guests arrive.

But that would be taking over, and I'm unwilling to lose this one.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Candy Thermometer

In all the candy recipes in my many cookbooks, there are specific directions to use an item called a candy thermometer. These directions leave little room for error, such as
"As soon as the mixture reaches 300, remove from heat immediately, allow to cool to exactly 275, and pour into molds."

I did not have a candy thermometer.
I have a regular kitchen thermometer. I also have an oral thermometer (which you can't even buy anymore), a rectal thermometer (!) , and an ear-scan thermometer (in this house called the Ear-O-Meter), but no candy thermometer.
Most of the directions give an alternative method to their oh-so-precise candy thermometer method, which usually reads,
"If you do not have a candy thermometer and still want to attempt this recipe, periodically drip the liquid into a coffee cup of cold water and make a guess. It will probably end in disaster, with candy no one will want to eat, and your kitchen will be a sticky mess for nothing. Why don't you just go buy a candy thermometer?"
And so in the past, I would flip right past those recipes and just make brownies (bake at 350 for 55 minutes, or until they smell so good you just have to take them out and eat them now), instead.

I've recently decided I'd like to try my hand at making lollipops, hard tack candy, and Jolly Rancher- type goodies. So, the first thing I did was head out to the local kitchen gadget store to buy an official candy thermometer.
I foolishly assumed I'd find one or two types hanging on a rack, in between the garlic presses and lemon zesters.
When I asked the friendly sales person where I would find a candy thermometer, he very helpfully guided me to the cooking thermometer aisle, then to the section that comprised the actual candy thermometers.
Then the friendly sales person asked me if I was looking for a digital candy thermometer, or a candy and jelly thermometer, perhaps a glass deluxe candy thermometer, a tempering thermometer, a remote thermometer, a professional grade thermometer, a beeping thermometer, a digital oil and candy thermometer...
I felt like a guy in the feminine hygiene aisle. I quickly went into a brain-lock.
I stammered, "Um... I just want to make lollipops."
My Thermometer Sherpa took my stammering as an invitation to explicate the differences and gimmicks of each thermometer.
"This one is digital, very accurate. This one takes into account the humidity of the room you are cooking in, this one has a unit that clips to your apron and allows you to attend other things and keep an eye on the temperature at the same time... "

My eyes glazed over and I interrupted him to ask the most relevant question of all:
"Which one is the cheapest?"

He looked aghast, as if I had just suggested that none of those features were important to me and I was just wanting a cheap, plain candy thermometer to make lollipops.
Which I was.
He gave a deep sigh and said, "You don't want the cheapest. Here, you want this one, it lists the different stages of sugar as it cooks. It also has an adjustable clip to attach it to the pan and keep it off the bottom."

I took the thermometer from him and walked to the register. Fifteen dollars later, I was the proud owner of a lower-middle-range candy thermometer.

I brought it home and showed it to Ron.

"Look, it lists the stages... 'Hard Ball'... 'Soft Crack'... 'Hard Crack'..."

"What, no 'Meth' setting?"

"No... just 'crack' settings. I didn't get the expensive one."

"That's probably why meth labs blow up... cheap thermometers."

It's 1 Degree Fahrenheit. I Think Mick Sums it Up Best

She's so cold she's so cold
She's so cold cold cold
Like a tombstone
She's so cold, she's so cold
She's so cold cold cold like an ice cream cone
She's so cold she's so cold
And when I touch her my hand just froze...

She's so cold, she's so cold, cold, she's so c-c-c-old
But she's beautiful, though

Yeah, she's so cold

She's so cold, she's so cold
She was born in an arctic zone
She's so cold she's so cold, cold, cold
And when I touch her my hand just froze

She's so cold, she's so goddamn cold
She's so
cold cold cold
She's so cold

Who would believe you were a beauty indeed
When the days get shorter and the nights get long
Lie awake when the rain comes
Nobody will know, when you're old
When you're old, nobody will know
that you was a beauty, a sweet sweet beauty
A sweet sweet booty, but stone stone cold
You're so cold, you're so cold, cold, cold
You're so cold, you're so cold

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cool Songs to Play at a Wake

I was listening to Melissa Etheridge and Joan Osborne's duet of Bring Me Some Water recently and the wacky thought, "This would make a cool song to play at a wake!" popped into my head.
I decided to post that on my Facebook page and invited others to suggest songs that they would want at a wake (either their own or someone else's).
The responses were broad and interesting:

Sara, a 40 yr old cellist wrote, "I want the song, "Who Wants to Live Forever?" from the movie "Highlander" at my funeral.
Seriously, I played the Bach "Air on a G String" at a funeral and it was lovely. I've also always wanted "Por Una Cabeza" (it was in "True Lies", "Scent of a Woman", and one other movie...) at my funeral. It's a tango arrangement my string quartet has and I still love it every time I play it. Oh, one more - "Ashokan Farewell", I think it was used in a Civil War series that was on TV. It brings tears to my eyes to this day. (Do you want tears? I do...)"

Bob, a 45 yr old liberal heathen chemist wrote, "Hah! I've already thought about this! Oingo Boingo: No One Lives Forever and Goodbye, Goodbye. Janet Jackson: Together Again. Depeche Mode: Enjoy the Silence."

Melinda, a 40 yr old homeschooling mom and Cha-Cha Guide wrote,
"Upbeat: Annie Lennox - Little Bird
Dark & twisted (but oh so much fun!): Rob Zombie - Living Dead Girl
Sad & depressing: Mad World - Gary Jules"

Elizabeth, 18 yr old student and Target slave wrote, "Some Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. Zombie - Cranberries. Everybody Dance Now.. by I don't know who."

Dana, 38 yr old mom and nurse wrote, "Blue Oyster Cult's Don't Fear the Reaper, Rush's Fly By Night, BOC's Burning For You, Golden Earring's Twilight Zone, Rob Zombie's Dragula!!! and for fun, Enter the Haggis- Donald, Where's Your Troosers. That's fit for any wake!"

Paige and Arden, 13 and 12 yr old homeschooled teens wrote, "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead, from Wizard of Oz. Ha-Ha You're Dead, by Green Day. Highway to Hell, by AC/DC. Simple, by Katy Perry. Eleanor Rigby, by the Beatles."

Ron, 42 yr old project manager wrote, "Anthem, by Rush."

...Which is actually appropriate, because I always told him the only way he could play Geddy Lee's screechy voice around me was over my dead body.

Unnatural Selection

As a Doula and childbirth educator, one of my beliefs is that pregnancy is a natural state of being, and not a medical condition.

I tell women, "Your body already knows how to do this. Your job is to support it with plenty of good food, clean water, and exercise."

I tell women that nature designed their bodies for pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding.

I explain to them that they come from a long line of birthing women; their mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, etc all had what it took to grow and birth a baby (or twelve).

In the past, if a woman had diabetes, a heart condition, mental retardation, skeletal deformity, her father had hemophilia, or what-have-you, midwives and doctors understood the risks and advised these women to not have children.
This advice, when followed, had two-fold benefits; it protected the woman from dying during pregnancy / birth, and it prevented a second generation of people with these types of health problems.

Not so, today.
Through modern medicine, practically any woman can have a baby!
With drugs, c-sections, and micro-management, women who previously could not (or who would have been advised to not) have babies are having them.

In addition, women who have had babies with severe genetic defects are rarely discouraged from having more. Medicine will just fix those kids, too!

What that means for me is that a woman with very poorly-controlled diabetes gets pregnant and wants a homebirth.
"But, my body was designed to do this. It will be fine!" she chirps.

If I refuse to attend her birth, and she cannot find a midwife willing to work with her, she may attempt an unassisted birth, without any skilled attendants, possibly with a disastrous outcome.

The woman who lost her mother and an aunt to breast cancer and battled it herself along-side her sister is thrilled to learn the chemo did not make her sterile. She is expecting a little girl in June.

A woman who has three children, all with moderate-to-severe genetic 'challenges' proudly shows off her pregnant belly.

A woman whose first two children are plagued with such severe food allergies to wheat, eggs, dairy, peanuts, and several fruits that they cannot eat any outside food (lest they go into anaphylactic shock), and have to have each meal specially prepared for them, squeals with delight that they finally conceived number three.