Friday Freebie: Suspenseful Summer Reading

Texas author Mark Shaver has written another mystery novel, and his publicist is offering Uncool Mom readers a free copy! Entitled, “A Critical Loss of Balance,” it’s about Cliff Elliott, a father whose daughter is kidnapped, and just when he thinks he’s experienced his worst nightmare, the circumstances surrounding her return are far worse.  His life is thrown “irreparably out of balance”. (I wish I could say I’ve read it and can offer up a review, but my reading “wait list” is piled high at present!) For more information on the book, check out Mark’s very nice website at where you can read excerpts from A Critical Loss of Balance as well as his other works. 

Just drop me a line at by midnight on Monday, August 1st if you’d like a paperback copy, and I’ll put you in a drawing.

Mark’s books can be purchased at as well as on his website and at select bookstores.

Teens and Interpersonal Communication: Not Very Personal Anymore

I’ve been thinking lately about the “lost arts of communication” that are becoming almost extinct among our nation’s youth. 

The most obvious, that has been going downhill for many years, is handwriting of course, both print and cursive, as our kids are asked to turn in school papers almost exclusively printed by a computer once they get into middle school/junior high.  They don’t write letters to cousins or “pen pals” anymore– a Facebook message will do just fine, and even summer camps have computers now.  E-cards have replaced birthday cards, e-vites have replaced invitations…so when they do get the chance to use their handwriting, it doesn’t look that great– most elementary schools these days find little room in their curriculum for perfecting printing or cursive.  (I actually took Allison to a couple of private handwriting classes when she was in 6th grade, I was so concerned at what I was seeing– it helped a little.)

Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow recently wrote about the dying art of handwriting and shared some eye-opening information–  the recently released Beloit College Mindset List, an annual tradition for over a decade that lets college professors get a better understanding of America’s incoming freshman class (born in 1992), had at the top of this year’s list (a list which also included “Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess”): 1. Few in the class know how to write in cursive.  And Blow has discovered that not only do today’s teens have a hard time writing in cursive, they can’t read it, either.  He writes, “Those of us who write in cursive may be a dying breed, but we’re not dead yet.  And it sure seems important for young people to be able to read the cursive in a teacher’s whiteboard notes, a boss’s instructions or grandmother’s letter.” 

And it’s still important for them to be able to write in both print and cursive.  Those kids who don’t seem to need handwriting anymore will fill out applications for jobs, colleges, drivers licenses, and sign all sorts of other important documents as well– and not all are on computer.  Allison recently had to fill out several of the aforementioned documents and I winced a little when I looked them over…guess her printing might still have been more readable than other applicants, as she still got the job…

The other lost “art” that has recently been on my mind is verbal phone skill.  Since kids text more than they talk via phone, this latter skill is really getting weak, I think.  And not only do kids prefer, probably 10 to 1, texting over talking, if they do have to make a call, it can ONLY be to another person’s cell phone.  Heaven forbid if they have to call a land line– it just won’t happen.  I used to think that was just my teen’s hangup, being shy about things, but recently I found out differently. 

See, Allison had her phone taken away by Andy a couple weeks ago for disciplinary reasons, for several days.  And during that time she was completely incommunicado with her friends. She was bored out of her mind, and wanted to call them to see if they wanted to see a movie, etc., but “couldn’t” call them from our home phone since their cell phone numbers were stored on her cell phone.  And she refused to call their home phone numbers. “No way,” she said.  “What if their parents answered?”
(Ummm…..what ever happened to, “May I please speak to ______?”
“I don’t know their home numbers anyway!” she said.  I told her about several places she could look, like that ancient relic The Phone Book, and also the church directory, and the school directory, all easy to access in our home…and of course the Internet’s phone number database.  It didn’t matter.   She preferred to suffer “in silence”.

She was sure she was going to have tons of messages on her phone when she got it back— “Everyone’s probably wondering where I am!!” she lamented. I doubted that, as I figured if they wanted to reach her bad enough they would call our land line.  Surely she was the only kid who refused to “phone home”.  I was wrong.  A few days into her phone-less life, the doorbell rang unexpectedly one afternoon and two of her friends stood outside.  They looked apprehensive.

“Hi, is Allison here? Is she okay?” they asked.
“She hasn’t been answering her phone for days so we were worried about her,” one said. 
“Or we thought she was ignoring us,” said the other. 
“We want to see if she wants to go with us to get snow cones.”

Allison was delighted to see them, and happy to be getting out of the house. As she ran upstairs to get ready, I talked to her friends as they waited.  I explained that Allison hadn’t had her phone for a few days.  “Why didn’t you call her on the home phone?” I asked.  They said they didn’t know the number.  I told them about that ancient relic, The Phone Book, and since they both attend our church, I mentioned the church directory, as well as the school phone directory. A “lightbulb” moment happened for them.  “Wow, we never thought of that!” they said.

We talked on. I said it was nice that they had surprised her like this.
“Is that okay to do?” one of them asked.  “I mean, people just don’t drop in on each other any more so we were kinda worried if we were being rude…”

Not at all, I said.  “I think it’s nice to be surprised by unexpected guests now and then, and so it’s okay to just knock on the door to see if your friend is home– if they’re not, it’s no big deal… and if they’re there but busy, they can just tell you…”  I generally love surprise visits and think it adds fun to an otherwise routine day.  And it also adds a measure of caring–  I think Allison felt extra special because her friends cared enough to drive out of their way to come and see her.

So I guess that adds two more methods of communication that are becoming extinct: surprise visits, and even simply knocking on a door, having to talk to whoever opens it.  Because most of the time when Allison or Emmie have friends coming by to pick them up, it’s all planned well in advance by text.  And when the friends arrive, they usually text “We’re here”…and Allison and Emmie walk out to the car.

Fruity Friday Freebie: Cold Drinks to Beat the Heat!

Isn’t the summer heat wave getting “old”? Enough of this already!!! Well, maybe it’s not so bad if you’re on the Pacific Coast, especially from Carmel, CA up to Seattle, WA– I saw yesterday on the weather map that that’s the place to be right now to escape!  But here in North Texas, I’ve actually been getting excited if the sun goes behind a cloud for even a few seconds– you know it’s been too hot for too long when you start feeling like that! So I was glad when Tampico Beverages sent me 10 coupons to give away, each good for a free 20 oz. bottle of a Tampico fruit drink. I figured some, if not all of you, might welcome the refreshment. Tampico has traditionally been sold “family size”, in 32 oz. and gallon size jugs, so the new 20-oz. individual size is perfect for putting on a bike, in a backpack or into a car’s drink holder.  It’s available in Mango, Citrus, and Tropical and with this freebie you can choose any flavor.  Tampico is in wide distribution (sometimes it’s in the fruit juice aisle; sometimes it’s in the cold case); click here to see where it’s sold in your area.  Email me at if you’d like me to send you a coupon! I’ll send them out as long as the supply lasts!

Also, if you have a college-bound teen who badly wants a laptop, check this out: To celebrate the new drink size, Tampico launched an online photo contest this summer called “Unique Like You”, where entrants can submit photos of themselves, customize the photos with fun add-ons and ask their friends to vote for their photos.  The grand prize is a “Digital Rock Star Kit” including a laptop computer, so if your teen is on Facebook (contest is open to those ages 18 and up), you might want to forward this link to him/her:  The contest runs until 8/21/11.

The Texas Teen Driver Written Test: Could You Pass?

My 16-year-old finally got her learner’s permit the other day, taking over six months to finally complete the 6 hours of required online reading she had to do before applying (remember, we’re doing “parent taught”).  Based on the guidelines from the course we purchased, and the TX Dept. of Public Safety’s online instructions for getting a driver’s license, I told her she wouldn’t have to take a written test until she actually applied for a license, and a driving test then, too. Luckily, two days before we were to go in to apply for the permit, I found out, from another mom, that I was wrong. The written test was required for the permit.  “But it probably won’t be a big deal,” I told her. I couldn’t imagine they’d make it hard on someone who is just getting started learning to drive, who hasn’t even been allowed to get behind the wheel with their parents. Wrong again. A 30-question test awaited her, with most questions pulled straight from the 120 sample questions in the back of the Texas Driver’s Handbook. You can only miss eight.  (See the kind of stuff we first-time parent driving teachers are in the dark about??)  Needless to say, she didn’t pass. I wouldn’t have either.

Here are a dozen questions from the handbook, some of which were on her test– I’ll put the answers below them. Reply back and let me know how you did! (Facebook readers may have to go outside of Facebook in order to comment directly on the blog.)  (Oh, and by the way, she passed the test last Wednesday, which was especially great because on Tuesday, she found out she’d just been hired at her first paying job.  So let the driving practice begin!)

1.) When are you legally required to turn on your headlights? a.) At sunset  b.) 30 minutes before sunset  c.) 30 minutes after sunset d.) none of the above
2.) What is the maximum fine for a first-time DWI? a.) $2,000  b.) $4,000  c.) $10,000  d.) none of the above
3.) What results in a mandatory suspension of your driver’s license? a.) causing a serious accident b.) using a fake or altered ID/license c.) not following the restrictions on your driver’s license  d.) fleeing from a police officer
4.) When walking down the street, on what side of the road should you walk? a.) on the side where you are walking in the same direction as the traffic in the lane closest to you  b.) on the side with traffic going in the opposite direction in the lane closest to you  c.) Either side, it doesn’t matter
5.) What direction should you turn your front wheels if you are parked uphill next to a curb? a.)toward the curb b.) away from the curb
6.) What word on a road sign indicates a short state highway in a city or urban area?
7.) Within how many feet of a crosswalk may you park, when parking near a corner? a.) 10 feet b.) 20 feet  c.) 40 feet  d.) 100 feet
8.) What do you do when approaching an intersection if you see a steady yellow light? a.) Stop before the intersection  b.) Stop before the intersection if it’s safe to do so and if not, proceed with caution  c.) Proceed into the intersection with caution, stop and wait if you’re making a left turn  d.) all of the above
9.) When parked parallel, your curb side wheels must be no more than how many inches from the curb? a.) 6   b.) 9  c.) 12  d.) 18
10.) What is the minimum distance from a fireplug that a vehicle may lawfully park? a.) 5 feet  b.) 10 feet  c.) 15 feet  d.) 20 feet
11.) If a school bus is stopped and alternately flashing its red lights, what other cars must stop? a.) those approaching the bus from behind  b.) those approaching the bus from the front  c.) both a. and b. d.) None. You only stop if they flip out their “Stop” sign.
12.) When are accident reports required? a.) If there is $1,000 damage or more to a vehicle  b.) when a hit and run accident has occured  c.) If a vehicle is disabled  d.) all of the above

1.c (Huh?)
2.a  (but it could be c if there is a passenger under age 15)
3. b. (all the others are a possible suspension)
4. b
5. b (it’s “a” when there is no curb)
6. “Loop”
7. b
8. b
9.  d
10. c
11. c
12. d

Pottermania: What a Fun Ticket to Ride It’s Been

We all have “I remember when” things we can say, that vary depending on our age, when it comes to historical events that we’ve experienced.  The day Kennedy was shot, the first moon walk, personal computers become a household item, 9/11…history-making events and milestones are happening all the time.  But not every generation can say they grew up amidst the worldwide excitement and hysteria over something creatively great, as it’s being created.  For example, lots of people will continue to love the music of The Beatles, but only some can say they grew up looking forward to every Beatles record release or being one of the first in line at the record store to buy those releases, or saw the Beatles in person, “live in concert”.  And many people will continue to love J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books and watch the movies on DVD, but only some will be able to say they were at the book store the day (or week) one of those books was released, and only some can say they got to look forward to, and experience, a new Harry Potter movie release almost every year.  I’m so thankful my kids can count themselves in this latter group, and so glad to be a parent who has experienced it right along with them.

I mean, think about it—does phenomenal, ground-breaking creativity with massive appeal like this happen all that often? Yeah, in addition to the Beatles, there was Elvis, and there was Michael Jackson—but did any of their work cross generations (at the time) like Pottermania has? While kids grooved to the Fab Four, “The King of Rock ‘n Roll”, and Jacko, parents were not exactly thrilled…and though Star Trek and Star Wars has its following, I see more males into them than females, and more parents of boys than parents of girls.

But this is different.  More adults and children, parents and grandparents, males and females, are Potter fans, often together enjoying the books and movies.  (Yes, non-fans, they’re that good!) While our family is not what I’d call “fanatical”, we are fans.  Emmie once dressed as Hermione for Halloween, and when she was 8 years old, she carefully wrote a letter to Emma Watson in England (who portrays Hermione in the movies), and heard back from her about six months later (the letter included two autographed photos!).   Allison read every book, and introduced us to “Potter Puppet Pals” and “A Very Potter Musical” on YouTube.  We’ve all enjoyed family outings to see the movies when they’re released.  And we will never forget our day at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Florida last fall, where all of us, including our exchange student, tasted “butter beer” (it’s like cream soda, Dr. Pepper and whipped cream mixed together) and walked the halls of Hogwarts. (“Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey”, a “ride” inside the castle, is hands-down the best theme park attraction I’ve ever experienced—talk about overwhelming, profound joy!  And I’m usually a wimp when it comes to rides!)

Allison is attending her first (and unfortunately, the last)
midnight Harry Potter premiere tomorrow night and has been deep in thought lately, trying to figure out a costume to wear.  While I’ll be passing on that experience, I know it will be electric to get that first glimpse among so many die-hard fans.  “I think I’m going to cry when the credits roll at the end,” says Allison.  I can understand.  But again, I can also thank God my kids had the privilege of being kids during the era of Potter.  What fun!!! What great stories they can tell their own children some day!! There may be more dangers in the world now than when John, Paul, George and Ringo hit the stage, but maybe this generation will be inspired to eliminate those dangers thanks to the courage, ethics and love shown by Harry, Hermione and Ron.

Friday Freebie: Safe Sunscreen

Wait, isn’t that redundant? Aren’t all sunscreens “safe”? Oh, I know, only those with high SPFs are safe, right? Wait, you mean even those aren’t safe either?

If you’re like me, you like to keep up with the latest in consumer safety news to keep yourself and your family as healthy as possible…what toys are being recalled, what foods are dangerous (have you heard the latest about diet sodas????), what natural gas drilling company or power plant is releasing toxins and where, what’s going on with plastic water bottles and cell phones, which cars have accelerators that stick, which body and hair care products are unsafe, what’s the deal about Styrofoam—to those not into this kind of thing, it sounds like an exhausting amount of worrying and checking, but it’s really not. When I have time to read the newspaper or online news, which isn’t a lot, I read up on this kind of stuff, sometimes do a little online research, and simply make a decision each time something new comes along. I don’t sit around and bite my nails over it, it’s just matter-of-fact: if something’s unsafe, we won’t have it around anymore. Too many times in the past I’ve waited to take action, only to find out the initial findings were correct.  To not keep as up-to-date and informed as possible in this chemical, cancer-laden world (and to believe that free enterprise automatically equals safety and benevolence) is like living with blinders on, in denial, I think.  So I definitely sat up in my desk chair when my friends at Fort Worth-based eco boutique The Greener Good ( sent me a few statistics last month about sunscreen safety, from The Environmental Working Group’s latest sunscreen report.

The EWG ( tests sunscreens (and many other things) annually and just released its latest report on June 23rd.  I decided to check it out myself, and it’s pretty interesting (their whole website looks pretty interesting).  According to their latest research, only about one in five sunscreens on the market today meet the EWG criteria for protection and safety, and in a lot of cases the higher the SPF, the more dangerous they are. If you’d like more info on the study and the list of which brand offerings passed and which didn’t, click here or head to

I’ve also got some info below on what to look for on labels, but for now, let’s get to the freebie/giveaway from The Greener Good: one reader will receive a full–size box  of “Dr. T’s Supergoop Everyday Sun Protection” swipes (retail value $34), which is mineral based, chemical free, and made EWG’s list of “best beach and sport sunscreens”. (Liz Johnston, owner of The Greener Good, says the swipes are a huge hit with moms, as you don’t have to worry about rubbing in cream on squirmy kids. Liz has two young daughters and says one swipe covers her along with both of her girls.)  Just drop me a line at if you’d like to be included in the drawing and I’ll let you know if you’re the winner. Write to me by midnight on Monday, July11th. Also, the Greener Good currently has a coupon on their Facebook page for “buy one full size, get a travel size free”. (

Here’s more info on sunscreen safety from Liz, and the EWG:  


WHAT TO STAY AWAY FROM (Check the labels!):

  • Avoid Parabens and Oxybenzone. 
    • These are found in over 41% of sunscreens–
      • Parabens are preservatives used to increase shelf life. They can mimic the hormone estrogen, which is known to play a role in the development of breast cancer. They’ve also been known to adversely affect the functions of the male reproductive system.
      • Oxybenzone is another hormone-disrupting compound in 60% of the 500 beach and sport sunscreens. It penetrates the skin and is absorbed into the bloodstream.
  • Avoid Retinol or Retinyl Palmitate, which is a form of Vitamin A.
    • Found in 30% of all sunscreens, this ingredient is often promoted to slow skin’s aging – however recent studies have shown that this may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions.

Why High SPF numbers are NOT safer.

    • Most high SPF sunscreens don’t adequately protect from UVA rays, which is the primary cause of sunburn, and bind directly to DNA causing cancerous mutations.
    • High SPF sunscreens also contain higher amounts of sun-blocking c
      hemicals than low SPF sunscreens which may pose health risks as they break down and get absorbed into the skin.
    • High SPF gets its ranking due to testing on volunteers where they apply the appropriate amount of sunscreen to the skin being tested. The average consumer uses 1/4 of the recommended amount which exponentially reduces the effectiveness and ranking of the advertised SPF. (Example: SPF 30 drops down to SPF 2.3 and SPF 100 drops down to 3.2.)



 Look for Zinc and Titanium Dioxide in the ingredients list.

    • They are naturally occurring ingredients that are not absorbed into the skin and bloodstream. 
    • They provide a boundary against UVA and UVB rays and are stable in sunlight.

“Good for the child” is not always good for the group

Emmie spent every afternoon last week at a girls’ science and engineering camp at Southern Methodist University (probably the best bargain on that campus—only $50 for the whole week, and two days included lunch!).  She really enjoyed rubbing elbows with professional female engineers, learning more about the different types of engineering, working on projects, and making friends with girls from all over the Dallas area and even from as far away as Houston, ranging in age from 12-18.  The only thing she didn’t like about it, which she complained to me about every day, were the girls who talked all the time to each other and didn’t pay attention, making it hard for the few that wanted to pay attention. And unfortunately, there were only a few who really wanted to pay attention. Emmie says that on the first day, when the facilitator asked each girl to tell the group why she was there, many answered with some version of “Because my mom made me.”  And of course, those were the ones who made it hard on the rest of the group every day thereafter.  Emmie was shocked that there were so many who didn’t care, because to be at this camp, she had received a recommendation from her math teacher, and she was honored and excited to be there. (“Mom, one of those girls wore a T-shirt that said, ‘I May Be Bad, But I’m Perfectly Good At It’!” she related in disgust.)

I know that parents have good intentions when they force their children to do certain group activities (“I don’t want my child to be a couch potato”,”This will be good for her”, “He needs to make new friends”,  etc., etc.) but do they ever think how their child might act once there?  Do they ever realize how much life is sucked out of a group when a child doesn’t want to be a part?

I told Emmie I could totally relate to what she was saying. I’ve been a Girl Scout volunteer and troop leader for over 10 years, and the girls who don’t pay attention most often, have the most behavior problems and cause others to misbehave are usually the ones who are being forced to be there.  When I was a kid, I remember the kids at summer camp who “rained on everyone’s parade” were the ones not there of their own free will; in college, the most messed-up students I knew had their college choice (and their major) forced upon them by their parents.

I know I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I think it’s okay to require kids to do certain extracurriculars like music lessons in exchange for letting them do something else they like, but music lessons, sports skill-building, and other private lessons are often one-on-one, child and adult, not affecting other learners—and if it was a group lesson instead, I’d definitely think twice about forcing a child to participate, especially if the child wasn’t practicing his instrument (or tennis serve, or script lines) in between lessons.  Yes, sometimes a kid can come around, and suddenly “get into it” and be glad he’s part of the group, but I think if that magic doesn’t happen quickly, it’s time to change plans, especially with older children. Unfortunately, however, with brief activities like week-long summer camps, there’s not enough time to find out if your child will “come around”, and there’s not usually an “I made the wrong parenting decision” clause in the refund policy.

Maybe summer camps and other group activity applications should include an extra line that asks, “Are you enrolling your child because he/she really wants to be a part of this, or because you want them to be?” Not necessarily with the expectation that parents would answer honestly, but simply because it would make them think.  And if they did answer honestly, it sure would help teachers/counselors plan ahead…

A Tale of Two Phones

Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today???

More than we heard, “Are we there yet?” on our recent road trips, the question/pleading/mantra/broken record of “Can I get my phone today?” has been heard daily around our house, and in stereo, since Cleo went back to France on Monday.  We were able to get a new, free phone from our cell phone plan when Cleo arrived last summer (she paid us monthly for calls/texting), and both Emmie and Allison were hoping it might become theirs when she left.  Emmie has never had her own phone but was told she could get one when she entered Jr. High this fall; Allison threw her own phone in anger a few months ago (it shattered) and she’s gone without ever since.

Even though Allison had purchased her phone with her own money when she was Emmie’s age, I think somehow they’d both forgotten that fact, and had come to believe that having a phone was their God-given right as teenage (and soon to be teenage) girls, rather than being a privilege to be earned–  so they were surprised later this week when Andy and I made the announcement that, though we wouldn’t charge them monthly for phone service, it would cost them each $60 if they wanted a phone.  We told them that the first one to pay us would get Cleo’s phone, and the next would get a new, similar version.  Luckily for Emmie, she’d been carefully saving for awhile, earning allowance and doing odd jobs (including a killer job of washing the aravan last week), so she was able to purchase Cleo’s phone last night. We figured perennially cash-strapped Allison would have to a.) do weeks of jobs around the house and earning allowance in order to pay for anything or b.) get one of the retail jobs for which she’s been turning in applications– but darn it if she didn’t “slide by” once again…Thanks to Target’s generous “no receipts needed” and no-questions-asked return policy, she decided she could take back a few things recently purchased there to come up with most of the money.

Should I celebrate the fact that my prodigal daughter is a creative thinker? Maybe, but what she didn’t figure into the equation is that she needs transportation to get to Target to do those returns, and she’d been with Andy when she’d made her recent purchases there and they’d been put on his credit card, so…

The yard sure is looking overgrown these days…and Andy says he sure could use some mowing help since he injured his knee playing softball a few nights ago…and it sure is a big yard…