Monday, September 22, 2014

Sorry Kids, There's a Dress Code - Get Used to It

Imagine you walked into your doctor's office and he had on gym shorts and a tank top. You may all the sudden feel well after all and cancel your appointment.  On your way to work, you stop by the bank and the teller has 15 earrings in various holes in her head, a sheer blouse with a red polka-dot bra underneath and a leather mini-skirt. You might wonder if your cashed check was coming back to you in a stack of ones. When you get to work, the receptionist is wearing a bandana around his bicep and a t-shirt with questionable language printed in big letters. By now, you will be screaming "what the heck is going on?"

Why? Because, in society, everyone is expected to conform to a certain standard of dress. It may change with the time, place, occasion, and season - but there are some expectations that your clothes reflects the purpose at that time.

So, when our kids show up for school, they should look like they are about learning, not heading to a teen (or adult) nightclub, hanging out at the pool, or getting ready to get in the bed. Most schools that I know of, have a dress code - a list of clothing items that are and are not allowed to be worn in school. That's the rule. You can't wear see-thru, mid-riff tops, short shorts, bandanas and hats to school. No one's trying to oppress anyone or take away some inalianable right to be inappropriately dressed. It's a rule of that institution. We all have to live with them. At your job, at your church, in restaurants, even on the golf course. And in school.

I had this discussion several mornings with my daughters, with school starting before the end of summer when it still feels like summer. Sorry, the navel bearing t-shirt that we let you get away with at the beach doesn't go to school. The flip-flops you patted around all summer, nope sorry, don't go to math class. The baseball hat you bought on vacation can be donned after the school bell. There's an appropriate place and time.

I laugh whenever I read an article on kids who are protesting the dress code. Sorry kids, can't really support you. I'll be over here, with a stack of long t-shirts you can borrow and wear to class, though. 

And to the common girls’ complaint that dress codes are sexist because they ban specific female items (bra straps, mid-riff tops, etc.)?  Nope, can’t go along with that either, because certain dress is distracting not only to the boys, but to everybody, as well as just inappropriate for school. Period. Boys, girls, teachers, everybody is looking at that girl with everything on display wondering what the heck was she thinking when she got dressed this morning? We've got to teach our girls to dress in a way that demonstrates a level of self-respect.  We can't let them continue with this fallacy of "people shouldn't worry about what I'm wearing if I like it." Come on, please.

As much as we may not want to admit it, we judge people by their clothes. We all do it. The girl with the tight, short skirt. The boy with the pants hanging below his butt.  The girl with the purple hair. The boy with the tattoo around his neck. They could be the Einstein of their generation, but their presentation will close many doors.  I know, terrible, but true.

When kids go to school, we want them to project “I’m here to learn.”  Not, “don’t you think I’m the cutest girl in the class?”  Not, “My extra-curricular activity is hanging on the corner.”  Sorry, kids.  Put on a shirt that covers that navel-ring, pants that cover that booty, and leave the bandana at home.  There’s a dress code.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Creativity, Curiosity & Compassion at the KID Museum

When was the last time your son asked about the opening date for a new museum?  That was my son’s response as we wound our way through the MakerFaire in Silver Spring, hosted by the soon-to-open KID Museum.

Let me tell you about my son, first. My son is that kid who spends hours reconstructing and imagining cardboard boxes as box cars or forts or boats, starting with shoeboxes when he was a toddler to packing boxes now.  He likes things that light up and buzz and whistle, especially if they also fly around or roll away. Give him a piece of paper and he will fold it into a box or a multi-sectioned circle or a crane that flies.  We’ve given him, as a birthday gift, a box with a box in it, along with glue, tape, and scissors – he was thrilled.

So this is the kid who I knew would love the MakerFaire and, eventually, the KID Museum.

As they prepared for the Faire, I had the opportunity to take a peek at the space which will eventually be the KID Museum and talk with Founder and Executive Director, Cara Lesser.  That day, the space was filled with a floor-to-ceiling cardboard robot sculpture, boxes of Legos and wooden building pieces that connect to each other with a 3-D printer made thing-a-ma-jig, rolls and rolls of cardboard, and various piles of electronic pieces, wires, and batteries.  Those were for the Faire, but exemplify the electronic, “Outside the Box Building,” and digital media activities that will be in the museum.
Maker Faire - Silver Spring MD
One thing I loved about the Faire, and I anticipate in the Museum, there were no instructions. No one told the kids “here’s step 1 and then do this.” In the cardboard constructing area at the Faire, there were piles of cardboard, scissors, staple guns, and some cool little connector things and kids walked away with a knight’s suit of (cardboard) armor, a huge spider, robots, crowns, and … stuff. Perfect. Sometimes kids need a break from being told what to do and discover what's in their own heads.

Surprisingly, sitting in the middle of the museum space-to-be, was a Singer sewing machine. And not the new fangled, electronic programmed sewing machine. An old foot-petal to turn the wheel kind of Singer sewing machine, the kind your grandmother (or maybe mother) had.  One section of the museum will be dedicated to the Fabric Arts. What a great mix of the hard electronics and the soft textiles.

Tying this all together, an aspect that I think makes this space unique, is the exploration of world cultures and social responsibility.  There will be a rotating cultural display, the first planned is Kites and Flying Machines from around the world.  The KID Museum will also provide opportunities for students to participate in service activities in the museum space each weekend.  A few of the Advisory Board members and staff are from the MIT Museum, a science space that we happened to visit this past summer on vacation.  We had such a good time there and somewhere in the fun, I believe we all learned a little bit more about science – even me! Having MIT folks as advisors I think will ensure a wonderful level of creativity and science.

To answer my son’s question, the KID Museum opens in October in 7500 square feet in the lower level of the Davis Library in Bethesda, MD.  The exhibits will be geared to elementary and middle school-aged children and be open primarily when they are out of school – weekends and holidays – as well as be available for school field trips.  It fills a need for a creative science space in this area, the closest family science center being in Baltimore.

And the all important parent question -  do I have to go through the museum with my child or can I sit, drink my coffee and read a book while he goes through it without me? Yes. You can do either.  The museum is an open space with a little nook for tables and chairs, so you can explore with your child or sit on the sidelines and let him figure it out by himself, but still keep an eye on him.
Our take-home project - a Drawbot kit.

So until October, let the kids cut and glue cardboard and play with light up stuff at home. Then in October, pack them up and head on over to the KID Museum and enjoy a few hours of scientific fun.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Crockpot Cooking Without a Recipe

I've said it before, I'll say it again - my crockpot is one of my most used and favorite kitchen appliances.  Between running around with the kids and scattering to my own community and personal activities, we barely have time to eat - even less time to cook a decent meal.  So getting dinner cooked while I'm not even home is a masterful idea.

The wonderful part about crockpot cooking is that - although there are plenty plenty recipes and cookbooks out there - you really don't need a cookbook or a recipe, if you understand some basic requirements.
  • Liquid - there's got to be some liquid in the crockpot. It could be stock, juice, water, sauce, the fat cooking off the meat - but there has to be some liquid to keep the food from drying out.
  • Seasoning - the food is being slow-cooked, so there's time for the seasoning to melt into the food. Season generously, but not too heavy-handed.
  • Time - obviously, the whole point is cooking for the hours and hours you will be away.  There are times, too, when you will want to use it to keep food and beverages warm for serving, like for hot chocolate for a cookie party!
From there - be creative.

Meats of course are favorites for the crockpot.  Whatever you cook will become so tender and juicy. You can serve as is, straight from the pot, or continue to prepare the meat once cooked.  Chicken, whole or in pieces, is an easy meat to cook. Roast beef or pork is also easy; you can eat as is, or chop it after cooking for sandwich or taco filling.  I like to cook pork loin and then chop it up for bar-be-que.  A very convenient fact? It doesn't even have to be defrosted! Yes, you can throw frozen meat into the crockpot, turn it on low and come back hours later to a fork tender meal.

Grains, beans, and pastas can be cooked on their own or with your meat choice. These especially need enough liquid since they require a lot to cook to tender. Spaghetti is easier than you think and lasagna works well in the crockpot, too - the tomato sauce is your liquid. I've yet to cook overnight oatmeal, but have tasted it and that's really good.  I need a smaller crockpot, since my son and I are the only ones who like oatmeal.

Vegetables can also be cooked alone or thrown in with everything else. I've made some very tender collard greens in the crockpot.  You probably should reserve this for veggies that can withstand the long hours of cooking, nothing too tender.

You can cook all of these separately or throw everything in the pot together for an easy clean-up, easy serve one-pot meal.  A can or two of diced tomatoes or stock and you've got the base for a good stew. Pick up a loaf of Italian bread and a salad on your way home and voila! Dinner is served.

For the chicken meal pictured above: a pack of drumsticks (frozen!); salt, pepper, basil, paprika to season; 2 cans diced tomatoes in sauce + 6 hours in the crockpot while we were at church, a science fair, sorority meeting, and a basketball game.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Run, walk, skip in the Miracle Marathon for Children

The Miracle Marathon is a unique charity event to benefit a Children's Miracle Network hospital.  For my participation, I've selected the Children's Hospital in Washington DC.  I've been blessed to have not needed the services of Children's yet, with my 4 children, but have heard of the good work that they do.  I've also participated in other events that have benefited the hospital, including Ben's Run in memory of a young boy who was treated there before he passed away from an infection related to his leukemia.

Aside from the charitable aspect, this is probably going to be pretty much my one shot at doing a marathon. I've worked up to 5ks, a mere 3.1 miles, and that's a fair challenge. I even have a sprint triathlon and a swim/run duathlon in my race record. But marathon?  26 miles all at once? I've established my "marathon a month" as an exercise milestone, with the goal of running 26 miles over the course of a month, every month. It generally takes me 12-13 days, all totaled, and I admit, I don't always complete it.  So this is a great push for my own personal goals. Win, win for everybody.

So, what is it? Twenty-seven days to finish a marathon - plus an extra mile for all the kids that it benefits. Walk, run, skip, hop, swim, somersault a mile each, whatever works for you, and then on the last day, Oct. 12 , join with everybody else participating for the final mile, finishing at 2:27 pm (EST).

Join me in supporting this cause to benefit children all over the country. You can join my team, Piddlin' for Miles, or make a donation. I've set a fundraising goal at $270, so I'd appreciate - and so would the hospitals - your support.  Thank you!

My Miracle Marathon kit!  Including a pedometer to track my miles

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What's the Closet-Life of a Dress?

As we start heading towards fall, it’s about that time to start moving sundresses and tank tops aside and pulling the sleeved-shirts and pants to the front of the closet.  This transition time is also the perfect time to do some closet purging, as you notice, but maybe don’t really want to admit, that you did not wear that linen skirt all summer. Nor last summer either. And truth be told, you’re not sure you even really like the color so much anymore.  So you fold it up, put it aside with everything else, just in case you might like it next summer.

Let’s admit it – cleaning out the closet isn’t just a physical process of taking clothes out that have exhausted their usefulness.  There’s a couple mental obstacles in the way of moving clothes into piles so that they can live another life in someone else’s closet.

When has a dress has passed it’s useful closet-life and it’s time to let it go?

It is not flattering, now or ever will be again.  I really like empire waist dresses, you know, the ones where the waistband hits the bottom of your bra. Its comfortable and breezy in the summer, and yes, hides all those scoops of ice cream.  Or so I thought!  Someone took a picture of me in one of my favorite dresses and I realized that I look like I’m in my second trimester!  But I thought it was a fluke (bad lighting, camera phone, bad angle) and kept wearing them. Until I took another picture in another dress and surprise – same thing, me and my second trimester self.  I’ve piled all my empire waist dresses aside.  Some are destined for some woman who needs the flowy-ness, the rest are now restricted to wearing around the house or walking to the busstop when there is no danger of being photographed.  (Sorry, I couldn’t truly truly give them all up.)

There was a different President in office when you purchased the dress.  You know that dress that you recall the exact event you bought it for?  And that event was long time ago?  I have a few dresses that I did the math and calculated five, six – or more - years ago.  I’ve kept it because, on a good day, it still fits. But even when it does – it was six years ago.  I can get away with a classic fit dress, a black skirt, a navy dress, but anything else – it either looks too young for me or dated by style.  Even the color is wrong.

It never fit right anyway.  You buy the dress, maybe it was on sale, maybe it looked great on the mannequin and you are sure that once it shakes out, once you put on some Spanks, lose a couple pounds, wear a different bra, its going to fit perfectly.  But it just never does.  Let it go.  That goes for those shoes, too.  Even the cute ones. They always did hurt your feet, anyway.

You have no idea where you will ever wear it to.  I have tops and dresses that require a much more active night-life than I have, which right now is pretty much dominated by PTA meetings and kids sporting events.  I have a really cute one-shoulder zebra print silk blouse.  Perhaps someone else has the right party to go to.

Shorts that have lasted through more than one summer.  Don’t take this as a disposable clothes idea, it’s just that regardless of whether I actually still wear that size or not, shorts never seem to fit right after one summer.  Maybe the ice cream reshapes my behind and thighs, same weight, different shaping. Like sand.

Anything two sizes too big or two sizes too small.  I’m letting a larger or smaller woman enjoy my shopping.  I don’t want to return to the too-big size and by the time I get back to the too-small size, the clothes will be out of style.  Okay, even that skirt I really like, it looks crazy slipping down my hips.  And the other one, well, who knows when was the last time it fit to know how it looks.

And to top off the pile?  Anything you just don’t like anymore. The why the heck did I buy this, the what was I thinking, the it used to be cute outfits. Why are these so hard to let go?

Now, when all those are gone…. Hey – I need to go shopping, I haven’t got anything to wear!  

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Study Shows Home-Cooked Meals Cause Mother Stress

A new study suggests that cooking meals is a stress factor for mothers, particularly in the list of things good mothers do.

It took a team of researchers a 1 ½ years to figure that out.  They could’ve spent a week in my house and went on to use the rest of the 77 weeks making ground-breaking discoveries such as getting children out of the house for school in the morning is stressful, transporting kids to after-school activities requires a lot of family time juggling, and getting curly-haired girls to sit down to get their hair down is the cause for many many adult and child-sized tears.  But back to this study.

Some of the mothers they talked to were working poor, trying to prepare home-cooked meals in a cockroach-infested hotel bathroom or a trailer being taken over by ants, or without reliable transportation to the grocery store to buy fresh fruit.  Yes, I would believe that a home-cooked meal is a source of worry for these moms. But the bigger stressor seems to be having a decent home.  I’m sure a lot of things cause you gray hairs when you are in such financial dire straits.

The middle-class mothers also reported that this notion of feeding the family is a burden because they have to plan meals that meet each family’s members personal tastes. Really?  Where is that written in the mom-handbook?  Catering to each person’s preference is a (modern) mom-made stressor, myself included. Even making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches requires referring to my mental notes of preferences – one PB & strawberry jelly, one PB & grape jelly, one PB only, on strawberry jelly only. Sheesh!  But when it comes to the more complicated stuff, like dinner? It’s pretty much take it or get yourself a bowl of cereal.  We do our kids some kind of disservice letting them think that the home kitchen is their own personal restaurant.  Sure, they may hide the peas under the mashed potatoes every now and then, but isn’t that better (for the mom) than making a serving of peas, another serving of broccoli, a spinach salad, and a pot of collard greens just to make everybody happy?  Kids need to learn that they don’t get their way all the time and figure out solutions to deal with that reality, even if it does mean sneaking a brussel sprout into a napkin every now and then.

Additionally, our busy lives makes the idea of going grocery shopping, bringing it all home, cooking something delicious, and serving it on one table to the entire family at one time an exercise in breaking the time continuum.  (How many researchers did this take to figure that out?)  In fact, my latest mom-freak out was looking at my son’s swim schedule this season and realizing that swim practice is at 6 o’clock pm (the proper dinner time) four days a week.  This, after I loaded to our calendar the girls’ tennis and basketball schedules.  And my PTA and sorority meetings. And dad’s work travel schedule.  We’re never going to eat dinner at the table as a family for the next year.

The researchers of the study gave some recommendations for solutions that have yet to be available (to-go dinners provided by the schools) or that seem financially unfeasible, like eating from food trucks (because surely someone who is living in a buggy hotel has the funds to eat out every night - not).

In my research, which has taken about 15 years and involved my circle of friends, here’s a few solutions that the busy mom might find helpful to relieve some of the stress of feeding the household.  I don’t do them all, all the time, but when I have, I found they help.
  • Plan meals for the week in relation to the family schedule. Include breakfast, lunch, and a plan to make use of leftovers.
  • Make a grocery list to support the meal plan and use coupons.  I’m not the super-couponer, but saving even a few dollars each trip helps.
  • Make use of the crockpot. This is a busy family’s magic food cooker – put a bunch of stuff in it in the morning, with a little liquid of some sort, turn it on and voila – dinner.  I’ve posted my Crockpot Spaghetti and Asian Chicken recipes, to give you a few ideas.
  • Use some pre-cooked or pre-prepared ingredients. Pick up a bag of salad, a rotisserie chicken, and make some pasta when you get home.
  • Teach the children to cook.  You can be doing laundry or something if you let the kids boil the spaghetti or batter the chicken. Do not, however, feel compelled to cook with your children because this can cause even greater stress.
  • Cook for tomorrow.  After everyone’s gone to bed and you’re piddlin’ around the house, put a chicken or a roast in the oven, cook the pasta for tomorrow’s dinner.  Nothing says you have to cook at 5 pm.
  • Do plan every now and then for the meal out. Because sometimes you just are not home to even cook the home-cooked meal.

And moms, one thing to really relieve some stress?  
Realize that everything does not have to be ready for Cooking Channel and Pinterest. You do not have to have garnish and a perfectly plated meal. You do not have to cut all your vegetables to look like a beautiful sunrise to entice the kids to eat it. The real point of the family meal is the gathering of family to break bread together. Yes, you hovering over the hot stove all day is a nice, housewife-y touch, but isn’t really a requirement.  Make it healthy, make it something at least some of the people like, and be proud of yourself that you made it through another day.

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