Respect the Rumble: Teaching Kids About Storm Safety

With the start of summer 2011, storms are definitely on my brain these days, from the tornadoes that ravaged Joplin and other cities across the U.S., to the severe storms that set off the emergency sirens in the Dallas area last week, to Hurricane Katrina—though it’s been almost six years since that tragedy, I was thinking about it this past weekend as our family took a vacation to New Orleans.  It was interesting to hear about the stories of people who had the means to evacuate but chose not to.  My friend who lives there told me that many people had weathered many hurricanes before, and felt like they could do the same again, and didn’t expect things to be as bad as they were.  But isn’t Mother Nature often full of surprises? A resident of Joplin was interviewed after their recent storms.  He said he’d heard the sirens going off, but when he went out of his garage to see if he could see anything bad, and didn’t see anything, he went about doing whatever he was doing.  When the sirens went off again, he finally decided to get everyone in his house to safety, but didn’t have enough time…  Andy often has the same attitude when weather sirens go off in our neighborhood.  Last week when that happened, the girls, dogs and I, plus a few pillows, all crowded into our downstairs bathroom. Andy stayed at his desk, working, and listening to the TV, saying that if there had been a tornado  in our area that we’d have heard about it from the TV news, and the sirens must have been meant for other areas of our large county.  Huh? Can’t tornadoes come up suddenly before the TV even knows about it? If I recall, TV weathercasters give the news about sirens going off after they’ve happened, as in “we have reports that sirens are going off in such and such a place”—doesn’t that indicate that they aren’t on top of everything? (and the choice by one prominent station to continue showing Dancing With the Stars while nearby roofs were getting ripped off buildings should also be a good indicator of TV’s level of concern over weather preparedness…)  The county was already under a tornado warning, which has always meant to me, “Get to a very safe place immediately”, and this was only underscored by the sirens.  But, nothing major happened outside our house that night, and Andy felt vindicated.  I think my kids were confused at the mixed messages we were sending…

Maybe when our travels take us through Joplin in a few weeks they will learn more about tornadoes.  In the meantime, hopefully they will at least remember the mantra  I’ve tried to teach them for many years about lightning:  “If you hear it, fear it, if you see it, flee it.”  A longtime friend passed that on to me.  She knows a lot about lightning.   Back in the late 90s, her husband was playing golf in Florida with his boss and another co-worker when a thunderstorm blew in. Her husband took refuge in the golf cart while his friends stood a few feet away under a tree, holding an umbrella, drinking a beer and joking about their predicament.  A few minutes later and one crackling flash, and my friend’s husband instantly lost two friends, two wives became widows, and three young children lost fathers.  My friend had the heartbreaking job of accompanying the police to inform the families back here in Texas of what had happened. 

A few years later, our next-door-neighbor’s house was hit by lightning, and about seven years later, the very first day Andy ventured into our newly-purchased home to move in some stuff from a storage unit, lightning struck our house. It burnt out the garage door opener, blew out a circuit, and frazzled other electrical wiring, and as Andy says, almost knocked him out of his shoes. I’m so glad he wasn’t operating any power tools at the time and that we hadn’t moved in yet!

So I’ve known someone who’s witnessed death by lightning, another person whose house was struck by it, and my own house has been struck.  Overturning the odds that a lightning encounter is about as rare as winning the lottery? My friend hates that lottery cliché and says that if conditions are right, a strike is much more likely.

For example, you’re at a greater risk of getting hit if you encounter a storm in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia, and Colorado (information courtesy of NOAA). If you’re near a tree or water when lightning’s around (this includes being in the shower), or outside in wide open spaces, or talking on a corded phone or touching something metal, you’re at an increased risk as well.  Ditto if you can count to 30 or less between seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder, says the National Weather Service.  If that 30 means 30 miles away, that’s not surprising, since lightning has been known to reach that far and in some cases has reached lengths of 80 to over 100 miles.  A “bolt from the blue” can hit you even if there are no clouds and rain in your immediate area.  I’ll never forget a home video I once saw on television of a young girl playing catcher in a softball tournament.  Though there’s a storm in the distance, it’s a sunny day at the softball fields, and as her Dad proudly rolls tape, lightning strikes this precious child.  If I remember correctly, she was brain injured and paralyzed. 

Lightning’s long reach is why weather experts say that at the first glimpse of lightning or hint of distant thunder, that people should take shelter (in the most substantial building they can, or a car with a metal roof and the windows rolled up, or, if nothing else, making yourself as small as possible) and to stay sheltered for 30 minutes after the last rumble. “Typically, people go out and resume activity too quickly and end up getting hit,” said Stephen Hodanish, a senior meteorologist and lightning expert with the National Weather Service in Pueblo, Colorado, when interviewed by nationalgeographic.com.

Little League and other sports organizations nationwide have been taking great pains in getting this word out to coaches and officials so that they will not wait too long to halt games and empty the stands.  (Little League uses a variation of my friend’s mantra: “ If you see if flee it, if you hear it, clear it”.)   I’ve noticed area lifeguards are instructed to clear out pools using the same guidelines, and though sometimes it seems like they are just looking for an excuse to take a break (“Mom, it’s not fair– t
here’s not a cloud in the sky!!!!”), the more I read about lightning strikes, the more I’m glad they do.

Taking weather safety precautions is not about being a worry wort, not about living life in fear, not about crippling society due to too much litigation– it’s just about being smart and recognizing the awesome power of nature, the way things work—the “ways of the universe”.  Is it annoying and inconvenient at times? Yeah, and so were seat belts and bike helmets, but we got used to those and don’t even think twice anymore.  Does it mean you sometimes have to seek shelter with strangers? Yeah, but you just might make some friends in the process, or at least get a good laugh.  I’ll never forget the time I was at a water park with my brother and his family when a storm hit and all park guests were forced to take cover in the gift shop, restaurant, anywhere we could. Yes, we were wet, and yes, it was crowded, and yes, we had to wait awhile, but it was an adventure, and we lived to tell the tale and go to many more water parks.

Really, my greatest fear during bad weather is not the weather itself, but apathy, skepticism and indifference.  As Little League so eloquently puts it in one of their brochures, “People cannot use their lifetime of experience in storms as a gauge for their safety.  Just because you have never been struck does not mean you cannot be.”

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

The TV show Cheers was a hit with audiences not only because of its great writing and acting, but we were also attracted to the basic premise of the setting– a hang-out “where everybody knows your name”—and for a lot of us who don’t frequent a neighborhood bar, we secretly wished we could find that kind of camaraderie and familiarity someplace.  Or, at least live in a town where all the clerks know your name—like the town of Mayberry (from “The Andy Griffith Show”), another TV setting we Baby Boomers loved.  At least, I did.  Even though I was from a town of only 28,000, I always envied kids I knew from much smaller towns, and loved to visit them for a weekend.  You’d think that when I moved to friendly Texas, it wouldn’t be hard to experience a small town feeling no matter where I lived—but it really hasn’t happened for me.  Well, except for church.  Andy and I chose a small church so we wouldn’t feel like a number, and we haven’t been disappointed.  And, our kids did attend the smallest public elementary school in town—at times, there was only one class per grade! But Mayberry in suburban Dallas? I keep hoping to find it.

Maybe I haven’t yet because I’m more introverted than extroverted.  My Houston sister-in-law, who is one of the friendliest, most outgoing and nicest persons around, is known by all the clerks and stores that she frequents.  Clothing stores, restaurants…they know what she needs before she says a word. They know her name and she knows theirs.  And I’ll bet she knows if they have kids, and their kids’ names, too. 

Maybe I don’t feel that small town vibe around here because there’s nowhere that I frequent that much…well, I do go to the gas station every week, but I pump my own…I do go to the grocery store usually once or twice a day…but at Tom Thumb, there’s rarely the same checker each time, and now, to make things even more impersonal, they’ve added several self check-out stands.  At Sprouts…was that a glimmer of recognition I saw on a clerk’s face last week? Maybe, but…everywhere I go, I feel that everyone in line behind me is rushed and busy, like me, and they don’t want to wait any longer than they have to from people yakking…and so I usually opt for as few words as possible.

Which is why a highlight of our city’s recent music festival happened, for me, as Emmie, Andy, and I were walking out of the festival late last Saturday night—we were recognized by one of the managers of a local restaurant that I guess we really do frequent—Freebirds World Burrito.  “Hey!” he said, smiling, waving and walking over to us.  We waved, too.  “You know us!!!!” I said.  “You recognize us!” 
“Of course I do,” he said.  I almost kissed his feet.  I turned to Andy and said excitedly, “See, this means we’ve gone to Freebirds so much that he recognizes us—isn’t that cool?!!! WOW!!!!” Before I could do a Steve Martin happy dance, the manager said, “Well, I just want you to know that it’s been a pleasure rolling your burritos all these months.  My last day is tomorrow.”
WHAT? I finally find someone from a community business who knows us, and he’s LEAVING? 
“ I just finished college last week,” he said, “ and I’m going back home to live.” 

We wished him well.  Too bad we never knew his name, and he didn’t know ours, either…

Ode to the Crock Pot

One of the best wedding gifts my husband and I received 19 years ago this month was our Crock Pot. Still going strong (even though it’s stained a bit on the outside and the plastic knob broke off of the switch several years ago), I wanted to give a shout out for this amazing appliance in the hopes that busy, stressed-out people might start using a slow cooker (if they don’t already) and realize how great it is, too.  Finding good recipes to prepare in it has been a challenge over the years (with one cookbook I tried, every recipe seemed to turn out like mush) but I’ve had a ton of success with Homemade Gourmet recipes and products (there are currently 206 slow cooker recipes at http://recipes.homemadegourmet.com/ ) and once in awhile I’ll also find a winner in a magazine or newspaper. In my opinion, a good slow cooker recipe is one in which not only the outcome is yummy, but also, the preparation should be very easy.  Forget all those recipes where you have to broil meat first or chop 10 different vegetables—that much prep defeats the purpose of this appliance! If I can’t throw a few things in the pot, stir and then turn the switch on, fuh-getta-bout it. Yep, a truly good slow cooker recipe is like gold—hard to find, but worth hunting down.

Why is a slow cooker so great? Let me count the ways:

1. Your main course is ready and waiting for you at the end of a long day. And if you’ll be away from home a little longer than it takes to cook, or need to leave the house a little bit before it needs to start, you can buy a timer, plug the slow cooker into that, and let the timer turn it on and off.

2. Your breakfast is ready for you when you wake up (Did you know that you can slow-cook oatmeal all night while you sleep, and wake up to a hot breakfast in the morning? I will share the recipe in the comments section if anyone wants it).

3. Having a slow cooker on all day (or night) makes your house smell good.

4. Even if you’re a non-cook, if you stick to the definition of “easy recipe” I mention above, you can be a cook. And even if you forget to prepare it or are too busy to prepare it when you’ve planned, there’s always the “High” setting for just about everything. (In my house, the high setting has saved the day many times…) On High, your meal is done in 3-4 hours.

5. It warms your kitchen. Yeah, and so does an oven, but it’s still another bonus in the winter. And I know, now that summer’s coming, who needs that…but I like mine so much, maybe I’ll just plug it in on the patio this year. For summer, the slow cooker is good for side dishes to go with grilled meat, and grilling is another very quick and EASY cooking method you should perfect if you haven’t already (see my post on indirect gas grilling from June 2010 by clicking here or copying and pasting  uncoolmom.com/2010/06/09/where-theres-a-will-theres-a-grill.aspx ).

6. It’s good for your well-being, your family’s and your marriage’s.   I don’t know about you, but I feel my best during the day and my worst around 5 p.m.  Aren’t we all that way? I mean, I’ve heard statistics before that say early evening is the most stressful time for marriages and families.  I think it’s true! Kids are hungry and cranky, adults are, too, and stressed out from a long day—who wants to add “cooking dinner” on top of all that? I think I even move slower then, and sometimes it seems to take forever to get dinner on the table. No wonder so many people grab fast food.  But with a slow cooker, you fix the main part of the meal at a better time of day, taking one factor out of the daily stress equation (or you can throw the ingredients into a freezer bag over the weekend—there are even bags that can go from freezer right into the Crock Pot, so the clean-up is minimal—you just have to add a little more cook time if you don’t thaw it first).

7. It’s the next best thing to having a live-in cook.  Well, not exactly, but…take today for example (author’s note: this post was written a couple weeks ago). I spent most of my day driving to schools, hauling kids to doctor’s appointments and music lessons, walking dogs, and going to the grocery store.  It’s 5 p.m., and I haven’t had time to do any writing at all or take any “me” time, and if I was having to cook dinner, that “me” time would be vanishing. But, thanks to about 10 minutes I was able to find in mid-afternoon, I used that time to throw some meat, spices and water in the Crock Pot. And now, I am almost giddy with happiness that I can sit here and write this while the lovely smell of Beef Stroganoff wafts through the air.  It’s like Alice from the Brady Bunch is in my kitchen right now…

Bon Anniversaire, my Crock Pot!

From Setbacks to Comebacks: Helping Teens Deal With Disappointment

All over town this past couple of weeks, you could almost hear the cries, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes staggered. Cries of joy and cries of pain, as teens from area high schools looked at posted “results”  and found out if they made it into next year’s school teams/groups/leadership positions—cheerleading squads, “elite” bands, the co-ed western dance team… drum majors, drill team officers, club presidents…and the cries weren’t just from the kids.  Parents cried, too. “When we found out she didn’t make it, we both boo-hooed together,” said one mom.  “I’d put so much effort into driving her to extra practices, and doing whatever else she needed me to do to help, that I felt like I’d lost, too.”  I could relate.  When I found out Allison wasn’t on a particular list (while using the browser on my phone in the grocery store check-out line) I almost dropped my bag of green beans and wailed at the checker.  She’d wanted this since she was in 1st grade.  She’d tried so hard.  WE’d tried so hard… how would she handle this setback?  What could I do to help her now? What should any parent do?


I guess grief and loss of anything follows a similar pattern.  First comes shock, disbelief, and complete puddle-of-tears anguish.  My husband and I both offered lots of empathy—thank goodness we’d both experienced setbacks in high school and could remember what they felt like.  Most “experts” (and I found a lot of advice online) say that’s the first and most important reaction for parents—let kids grieve, and offer understanding. Trying to gloss over things and telling them to “blow it off” and act like it’s no big deal is totally denying their feelings.  It’s good for kids to experience setbacks, no matter how painful it is for parents to watch, because it helps them build empathy for others and good coping skills for when they’re adults.

Facebook and texting have both helped and hurt the healing.  Comforting notes of support from friends can come your child’s way instantly, while at the same time they have to endure a lot of photos of celebration that are posted and shared by the “winners”.  Ouch—like salt on a wound.

After sadness comes anger.  Parents are angry—some are wanting to challenge the rules, write letters…and of course, kids get angry, too.  “I’m dropping out”, or “I’m quitting the team”, or “I hate everyone”, or “I’m moving to another school” might be the responses.  I heard all of that from my own child, and more.
 

I chose to stay in empathy mode, actually going over with her the other schools that are available, why we can’t instantly sell our house and move, how she might be able to live with a relative if she wanted to move out of the district…she didn’t like any of the alternatives (which is what I predicted), and I think the empathy and information I provided helped her focus on the next and what I think is the most important stage of loss: re-grouping.

This is the part where parents hold their breath, because we all know that teens often have a hard time with this.  They can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel and want to stop the pain as fast as possible.  They were looking for a change when they tried out for whatever—a change in status, a change in activities, perhaps the chance to belong to a group, and when they don’t succeed, they often try to feel better by creating their own change.  Which can be good or bad.  We all probably know of people who, after a setback during their teen years, turned to drugs and alcohol, and/or changed their group of friends to “the wrong crowd”, and/or altered their looks in a shocking way.  Sadly, we’ve all heard about teens who choose to end their life after a setback.

When a door closes, God opens another, I believe, and as parents, it’s our job to help our kids see that door.   But sometimes that can take awhile, so I think in the meantime parents can help their kids make other, quicker positive changes to help them get by.  Have they been talking about wanting to get in shape, get a new haircut, a new outfit?  Do they want to get a job? Maybe you can help them think of places to apply. Can you help them improve their sports skills or studying skills or whatever they need to do to reach their try-out goal in the future? Or maybe help them focus on a different  talent?  It might be fun to craft a “battle plan” with them.   Is it time for them to nurture some old friendships, maybe throw a party? Or, dive into community service together—there’s nothing like helping others to help you forget about your own challenges, not to mention help you feel appreciated, while making a difference in the world at the same time. (One of our favorite organizations is Special Olympics-if your teen is a finish line greeter at a Special Olympics track meet, I guarantee he/she will get instant appreciation!) (Special Olympics has year-round volunteer opportunities—Google your state’s Special Olympics website.  In Texas, it’s www.SOTX.org).


The experts say that parents should model good coping skills when faced with their own disappointments, and if there’s one thing I think my teen knows about me, it’s that I generally put one foot in front of the other and keep moving on.  I’d like to think that somehow that knowledge helped her.  Because within a couple days of getting the bad news, she was crafting a “comeback”, on her own.   She plans to try out for an officer position again next year, and made a list of everything she needs to do to reach her goal.  In the meantime, she’s hoping she can be elected to a committee position within the same group (tryouts are today).

And I’m just hoping to be able to exhale—at least, for a little while.

Friday Freebie: Great Green Bean Giveaway!

GreenLine Foods, Inc., the largest grower of green beans in the U.S. from May to October, is promoting its line of packaged, fresh green beans through a “Great Green Bean Giveaway”, and recently sent me a coupon to try a 12 oz. bag for free.  They are yummy, pre-trimmed and washed, and super easy to prepare (takes 4 minutes to steam them in the microwave, right in the bag).  We ate them as a side dish along with some Chicken Marsala I fixed for dinner tonight– the bag says 4 servings but I’d say it’s more like 5 or 6!  And we each got a lot!  If you’d like to try a bag of GreenLine beans, I have TEN more “free bag” coupons to give away, so drop me a line at patricia@uncoolmom.com with your name and address (or if I already know your address, just ask for a coupon in the Comments section below).  The coupon may be used for a free 12 oz. bag of GreenLine Green Beans, or for a 12 oz. bag of GreenLine’s Beans and Carrots.

GreenLine Products can be found in the produce section of the following stores: Safeway, Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, Publix, A & P, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Albertsons, and most regional supermarkets like Randalls, Kings, Ralph’s, Tom Thumb and Jewel.  But there are more, so if you don’t see a store that’s convenient to you, let me know.  Happy eating!

A Bang-Up Time at Westminster Abbey

What an experience it was. As I sat in my seat at Westminster Abbey, I almost pinched myself. I can’t believe I’m sitting here. I knew I’d probably be sitting there for awhile, so I tried to drink it all in and memorize every detail…the soaring architecture, the sculptures, the paintings.  Was that Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, sitting next to me? No, turns out it was a young advertising exec from north of London that looked very much like her—but she was friendly, and we struck up a conversation. I wondered where my husband was sitting and wondered if we would be able to find each other when this was all over…we’d gotten separated when I took too long staring at Elizabeth…

No, I didn’t get to attend the latest Royal Wedding, but watching the news and seeing them inside Westminster Abbey reminded me of the last (and only) time I was there. Yes, right there, sitting in the spot where…hmmm, was it the place where Elton John sat on Friday or Posh Spice? Not sure.  Maybe they felt my leftover vibes.  If they did, they were a bit frightened vibes.  You see, I was once required to sit for awhile inside Westminster Abbey due to a bomb threat.

In the summer of 1993, Andy and I, married one year and not yet parents (by the way, today is our 19th anniversary), decided to take a trip to England to visit my sister, who’s lived there since the late 80’s with her husband and son.  We’d spent a few days in my sister’s town of Chester and were wrapping up our trip with a whirlwind three days in London, trying to pack in as much as we could see, in case we were never fortunate enough to be able to return.  If I remember correctly, on our last day there, we’d visited The Tower of London, Parliament, the Churchill War Rooms, snapped a photo of Big Ben and finished up the afternoon by walking to Westminster Abbey.  I’d studied up on British history on the plane ride over and was fascinated with all the people who were buried inside there—yep, did you know that Kate and William’s guests also included hundreds of famous dead people?  Just about every historic church in England is also a sort of “mausoleum”, and Westminster Abbey is no exception.  Sir Isaac Newton is inside there, and so is Charles Dickens.  George Frederic Handel’s final resting place was Westminster Abbey and Queen Elizabeth I’s tomb (along with her sister, Mary) is in a far corner. It was there I lingered awhile, marveling at its black and gold artistry and remembering facts about the Red Queen, a daughter of Henry VIII. It was almost closing time, and Andy, who was ready to leave, said, “I’ll meet you outside the front doors in 15 minutes.”  After 15 minutes, I was still in the Elizabeth corner and realized I needed to practically bolt out of there in order to make my way across the broad expanse of marble floor and out the door in order to not be too late.  But as I approached the doors, I was told, like masses of other people, that we could not leave, that a possible bomb had been found outside, and that the doors would be closed until further notice. Yikes! Where was Andy? And how were we ever going to make it to our next stop on time, a planned pub tour south of the Thames? So it was that I began my “sit-a-thon” with the Fergie look-alike (unfortunately, they didn’t let us spend our time looking around the Abbey some more). Since this occurred before the age of cell phones, I definitely had something to sit there and worry about, in terms of finding Andy when it was all over. Was he even outside, and would he be moved several blocks away? (Yes, in fact, to both questions.)  Would those of us inside be let out the doors where he and I were originally going to meet? (No, in fact, we weren’t— after what I remember to be about an hour, we were ushered out a different set of doors, not exactly close to the other ones.)  What if the bomb went off anyway? (It didn’t, but if it had, I reasoned, it would be a grand place to die, with some pretty famous company to boot). 

Upon exiting, I headed to our planned meet-up spot and after waiting a few minutes, finally spotted my husband.  We left Westminster Abbey, happy to have found each other and that our “adventure” there was over—similar to William and Kate’s sentiments a few days ago! Only they left in a horse-drawn carriage for an 8-tiered cake at the palace, and we left on foot for a “shandy” (ahem, that would be beer mixed with 7-Up) at The George Inn.