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.

Join the conversation on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances

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. 
Evernote helps you remember everything and get organized effortlessly. Download Evernote.

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.


Join the conversation on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances

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!

Join the conversation on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances

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.

Join the conversation on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Summer Camp Should Be Running, Swimming & Crafts Not Movie Tickets

One of the fun things about summer - the $1 movie.  Granted, it's at 10 am, so there's no sleeping in and still a rush to get there on time, but to get me and my four into the movie for $5? It's a pretty good compromise.  So that's what we did today, went to go see Despicable Me 2.

The theatre was full of summer campers - rows and rows of little kids in matching tee-shirts.  And when I say "little" kids, I do mean little - they were like 2-3 years old.  Aside from the camp leaders who spent half the movie walking through the aisles distributing popcorn and juice and "whispering" loudly to the children, totally oblivious to the rest of us trying to get our $1 worth, as a parent, I was wondering if the kids' parents really approved of their kids spending their camp time sitting in a movie theatre.  Time when they could be getting some sun, playing with the other campers, or even learning their alphabet.

I know, I know - you're thinking "but you were there with your kids!" and it sounds a bit hypocritical to say that summer camps shouldn't take kids to the movies. But in my defense, here are my points:
1 - They are MY kids. If I want them to spend their summer morning at the movies, that's the choice I get to make.

2 - If/when I send my kids to camp, I pay for them to have a better, more active experience than I would give them at home. The camp checks are written so kids can run, jump, swim, hit balls, ride horses, build popsicle stick picture frames, and eat messy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We can plop them down in front of a screen for free at home - or for our own $1.

I've actually been pretty annoyed when one of my kids came home from camp and reported that their activities included taking a "field trip" to the nearby fast food establishment for lunch.  Really? If you're going to put my kid on a bus, then do something educational or at least entertainingly worthwhile. Take them to the park or to the zoo. Or even a field trip to the library for reading time or a puppet show.  Even when they've done after-school activities and come back to tell me that they played on the computer with their friends, I feel that's a waste. One thing my kids (and most kids) don't need is more time to goof off playing games on the computer.  When I send my kids to an activity, I expect them to get more out of it then that time spent with me at my direction.  Yes, when I pay for an activity, I expect the service providers to be, for those few hours, a better parent than I am. That's money well spent.

What do you think? Does it matter to you what your kids are doing in summer camp?

Join the conversation on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances