Time for a Coffee Brake

When I first noticed the twitching, it didn’t alarm me much.  I was sitting in church and glanced down at my left hand, resting on my leg. My left thumb was moving side to side slightly, without me telling it to do so. Weird, I thought, but we all sometimes get unexplainable twitches, twinges or pains that end up never happening again and not amounting to anything, right? I moved my hand and the twitching stopped. But when the twitching happened again the next day, I took more notice.  I remembered Michael J. Fox talking about his early signs of Parkinson’s disease—didn’t he say it began with hand twitching? I consulted the Internet, which is where we all go to get a good scare whenever we need more medical information, and it confirmed my suspicions. Though Fox’s first twitches were in his pinkie finger, when I Googled “thumb twitching” and “symptoms of Parkinson’s”, it all seemed to fit together. “Twitching stops when you apply pressure to the hand”.  Yep, that’s me.  I started visualizing me breaking the news to my family after the diagnosis…I would have never imagined this particular affliction happening to me…I could see my kids being sad at first, then angry and embarrassed at their twitching mom in public…

I told Andy what was going on.  He was concerned, but lifted my spirits a bit by saying, “Oh, I’ve had that happen before—haven’t you? Sometimes that happens to me for two or three days– my thumb will twitch, and then it goes away.”  He figured it was just stress, or nerves…no big deal…guess he hadn’t consulted the great Google. But I moved on, hoping it would truly be no big deal.

The twitching didn’t stop after 2-3 days. It kept going, and got more frequent. What was once only something I’d notice a couple times a day became constant. Whenever my left hand was at rest, that thumb would start moving, wider and more pronounced, like some alien somewhere was pulling a string and moving it side to side. I’d be at a stoplight, or sitting at my desk, or lying in bed, and I could have been playing a thumb drum at the same time.  Even when I would press my thumb into the steering wheel or press it hard into my mattress so that the twitching would stop, I could still feel a pulsating sensation.  It was SO ANNOYING…not to mention making me more and more worried, and Andy, too.  I’d catch it happening and show him, like some freakish party trick.  “Whoa, there it goes—check it out,” I’d say.  But after a week, just when I was about to make a doctor’s appointment, it stopped.   And boy did it feel good.  My whole arm and hand felt liberated.  A couple days later, it started up again. Why???? I vaguely remembered one of the “other things” mentioned online as a possible cause of thumb twitching—“caffeine”.  Is it possible I didn’t have any coffee on those “twitch-free” days? I went back over what I could remember about the previous weekend…it was possible, but…I’ve been drinking coffee for so long, why wouldn’t I have been twitching all along? I dismissed that notion, and went right on drinking coffee and twitching and worrying for another week, too busy and too scared to make a doctor appointment. 

Just when I had had enough and even Allison was asking me to make the call, I imagined going to the doctor and paying for a visit only to have him ask me, “Have you tried cutting out caffeine?” I thought I better make a concerted effort to do that before tapping into our limited health insurance dollars.  Besides, I hadn’t really stuck to giving up anything for Lent yet, and coffee sounded like a good candidate for self-denial.  Something I really enjoyed but didn’t need…

And so, the next morning I didn’t have any of the pot of Starbucks Ground Breakfast Blend that Andy had brewed.  And the twitching stopped.  And the following day, I denied myself my favorite pastime once again, and still, no twitching.  And I mean none. No half-hearted twitches, no pulsating feeling, not even a slight tingle. Nothing. I haven’t had real coffee since mid-March, and I’ve had zero thumb twitching since then as well.  Even after Easter when I started drinking…wince…DECAF (which still includes a tiny amount of caffeine), no twitching!  So, even though Internet info caused me to worry unnecessarily, it also gave me the information I needed to figure out what was really going on. (I read further, and apparently too much caffeine can be the cause of “twitchy eye” as well!)  It’s hard to be a Decaf Drinker now, and hard for Andy, too, because he’s drinking it right along with me.  Did you know at most coffee shops, there’s only ONE flavor choice for decaf? The indignation! And, it’s harder now to “wake up” in the morning, but I’m just going to have to find another way, like GETTING MORE SLEEP…what a concept…

Meanwhile, around the same time I gave up real coffee, my oldest teen started getting “into” it.  (Well, if you consider “frappes” to be “real” coffee…)  Around here, going to Starbucks before or after school, or after a movie, is “the place to see and be seen” for teens, it’s like the “Peach Pit” or “Arnold’s” of the millennial generation… so naturally I guess many teens are developing an affinity for anything served by the java giant…coffee, tea, cake balls, indie music…Recently Allison was so motivated to try to stay more focused and awake in classes, she made me a grocery list of breakfast items that included more high-protein choices, like “spicy chicken biscuits”, and, bottled Starbucks Mocha Frappucino, “a lowfat, creamy blend of Starbucks coffee and milk”.  Hmmm…I read the Nutrition Facts before placing it in my shopping cart…20% RDA for calcium? I went for it, and soon every morning I’d hear the sound of the  blender as I walked into the kitchen, as she made her own frothy “frappe” with crushed ice and half of the bottled coffee mixture, and poured it into a tall glass.  I was so amazed and thrilled this was motivating her to get up earlier in the morning, I didn’t care that it was also starting her down Espresso Road, just like I did as a teen, first starting with the sweet-yet-wimpy General Foods’ International “Café Vienna” and ending up years later with a twitching left thumb and so loving coffee I even re-heat it after it has sat in Andy’s “Dad Can Fix Anything” mug for several days,  just so I can drink it as soon as possible in the morning and won’t have to take time to make a new batch…

But when Emmie grabbed one of the Frappuccinos the other day and happily downed it, I wondered if I, and our society, have truly hit a new low.  “You actually like it?” I asked my 13-year-old.  I mean, underneath all that sugar and milk, there really is coffee, and your tongue definitely notices it, bitter after-taste and all…she nodded yes as she slurped away, then reminded me of the “Reach” auctions that used to take place when she was in elementary school, where, at the end of the year, they got to use their “workles”, or points they’d earned for good behavior/good ideas throughout the year, and bid on items the kids would bring.  Each kid got to bring three items.   It originally was supposed to be items from home that the kids didn’t want any more, you know, kind of a “one person’s trash is another’s treasure” kind of thing, but over the years, the kids started bringing “new” stuff, like candy and soda, which would earn the seller lots more workles than, say, a used Nerf football.  The kids took note of what items brought in the most workles each year, and those items became, for many, the standard thing to bring to the auction.  Some of the highest bids always went to four-packs of…you guessed it…Starbucks Frappucinos.  “I saw lots of kids use their entire year’s worth of workles, like 2,000, to get Starbucks Frappucinos,” Emmie recalled. 

“How young were the kids who’d win them?” I asked.

“Sometimes, fourth grade,” she said.

“One Day On Earth” Premieres Today

Remember the 10-10-10 global film project in which my family and I participated? It was the first-ever simultaneous filming event occurring in every country of the world. Well, today is the worldwide debut of the finished film, entitled “One Day on Earth”. All over the world, the film is being shown at free screening events in theatres, cafes, churches, high school and college auditoriums—click here (or go to onedayonearth.org) for a list of cities/venues/times (make sure to scroll down to see the list).  Unfortunately, none are close to the Dallas area so I’m going to have to wait until it comes out on DVD.  I have no idea if any of our family’s footage made it in the final cut— from all the videographers, over 3,000 hours of video was submitted. 

If anyone recalls, we spent 10-10-10 on Amelia Island, Florida, on a family vacation (including our foreign exchange student).  I submitted footage of a sunrise at the beach, Emmie riding a bike, all the girls hanging out by the pool, a turtle walking slowing into the bushes, and someone high up in the air on a “beach sky bike” (or is it called a parasailing bike?).  After viewing the film’s promotional trailers, one might think my subject matter is trivial compared to the images of soldiers marching in North Korea, a homeless man in France, or the American woman holding her newborn infant, but I felt that anything submitted is just as important as the next.   It ALL happened on the same day, it’s all part of one story, so I would think One Day on Earth would want to include mundane as well as extraordinary things.  It’s mind-blowing to see what was going on at the same time that Emmie was simply showing her mom how she could dive into a swimming pool—many miles away, people were having a barbeque in Mozambique, and a woman was about to be married in Kosovo.  So, content-wise, we may have a chance, but video skills? Well, I don’t think that I and my non-professional Canon camera stand much of a chance(although one of the film’s editors did ask me to mail in all of my original footage after I uploaded some of it to their site).  But at least my footage is part of the vast One Day on Earth archives.  And I think it will be a great learning experience for the kids when they finally get to see the complete film.

If any of you get to see it, let me know what it’s like! Happy Earth Day!

Many Happy Returns: Some Post Tax Day Humor and Ways to Teach Your Kids About Money

Whew- so glad to be done with the taxes! Yep, that’s where I’ve been over the past few days—glued to Turbo Tax and barely coming up for air. I HATE DOING TAXES because I always wait until the last minute.  I used to do them all by myself, but I think Andy was tired of driving to the post office at 11 p.m. on April 15 in a panic (but hey, the postal employees always made it so festive and welcoming and would be standing out there waving signs and holding baskets and you could just drive up and throw in your envelope…) and so a couple years ago we started splitting the tax prep responsibility, so he does half and then hands the file over to me, usually in February or March.  But I’ve always got a million other pressing things to do that keep me from opening that file, and so there I sat on Tax Day, finishing up “under the gun”.  I’m so sick of hearing, “Did you make any progress?” I could scream. (Please God make me do 10 minutes a day of taxes starting Feb. 1 next year!)

But it’s been an interesting tax prep this year.  First off, let me share a laugh with you (and I think everyone needs a laugh after Tax Day, right?) I was sitting here going through “It’s Deductible”, an online service for putting a value on charitable donations, and I was searching for all the stuff we’d donated to Goodwill over the past year…you’re supposed to be able to type in your items, one by one, and it gives you the “value as calculated by ebay” for the “most frequently donated items”.  At first it was a breeze—Girls jeans? It had the value. Women’s sun dress?  Ditto.   Belts?  Yep.  And many other items.  Only it didn’t have flip flops.  (The only thing that came close was “leather sandals”, and we all know flip flops, no matter how blinged up or designer they may be, are not always made of leather.) And, “It’s Deductible” didn’t have tights.  (Hey, ours were in good condition!) And it didn’t have a listing for sheet music.  (Or “piano book”, “fake book” or anything close.)  But it did show a listing for…DANCING HULA GIRL? No, that wasn’t an item I was trying to value, but it kept popping up as a choice every time I typed in the word “Girls”, with a “high value” listed at $7, from the “Automotive” category…huh? Is it some kind of air freshener? I vaguely remembered that it’s one of those bobble heads that sits on a dashboard…or I guess this kind has a “bobble waist”…but who knew there was such a demand to write them off as a charitable donation?!  But a quick online search for “images of dancing dashboard hula girl” came up with a ton of pictures of the wobbly car accessory, with many variations: fat, skinny, with ukelele and without; hula monkeys, turtles, bears, pigs and hippos; skeleton hula dancer; smiley face hula dancer; something that looked like a “Precious Moments” hula dancer; alien hula dancer; and many male versions, including Hula Homer Simpson and one that looked eerily like a certain President… (hmm, I’m thinking any one of those might be the perfect accessory for the aravan, so maybe someday I really will be asking It’s Deductible for the value of my “dashboard hula dancer”!)

Second, it was also a more interesting tax prep this year because we had to deal with, for the first time, a W-2 form from OUR CHILD’s summer job.  Unfortunately for Allison, she didn’t have to declare any of it because it wasn’t much (the threshold for needing to file is $5,800).  But fortunately for her, it got her asking about taxes for the first time and gave me the opportunity to explain why we do this and what some of the tax forms involve.  Sure wish that was still taught in school so that all kids would know what to do (when I was in high school, we did a mock 1040 form as a “Consumer Economics” assignment, so it was very easy and not-scary-at-all the first time I had to fill out a real tax form.  It was a no-brainer, really, at that stage in life.  I felt very prepared, unlike the 20-something intern I once saw crying at one of my past workplaces, because she didn’t like having to do such “grown-up” things like taxes…). 

Once our taxes were finished yesterday (hooray for e-filing!), I did a little web surfing and discovered lots of online resources for teaching kids about, not only taxes, but also how to fill out a W-4, how to write a check and balance a checking account, and how to figure sales tax.  A site called www.moneyinstructor.com even has a worksheet for figuring how to pay taxes—on money earned doing chores!  (And by the way, if you want to access that worksheet, you can do it for free with their “limited membership”—don’t let that “full membership only” sentence fool you.) Any of these resources would be great for kids just starting in the work world or even those who are starting to make more purchases on their own.

For younger kids, I think another good “money teacher” is to give them one of those blank check ledgers that come in a box of checks (I usually always have an extra one or two left in the box when the checks are gone). It’s a good way for kids to keep up with the cash they may be stashing in a box, purse or “piggy bank”, and record how they spend it, not to mention practice math skills.  I recently gave one to Emmie and she reminded me that she did get a little practice in this at Enterprise City, a very cool, 6,000 square-foot mock city sponsored by our school district and housed in our neighborhood elementary school, where 6th grade kids from all over the district (and other districts) get to spend at least one day living, working, and earning “paychecks”, and getting “breaks” to spend their checks at Enterprise City shops (where the kids are the shopkeepers), like the T-shirt shop, the gift shop, the cafe’ and the newspaper.  (At the end of the day, the kids who aren’t in the negative and who have balanced their checkbooks correctly are recognized, as well as the businesses who turn a profit.  Those kids that have overspent? Well, they have to give back that Chinese yo-yo or mood ring they purchased… see Enterprise City in action and read more about it here).

But, I digress—there was a third reason this year’s tax prep was more interesting: TWO extra days! ‘ARE YOU KIDDING ME?’ I thought, when I found out the good news last Friday night. ‘SUH-WEET!’ It was 11 p.m. and I realized I didn’t have to stay up until 3 a.m. that night finishing most of it, like I originally thought!  What a gift! The tax gods must have heard my bleary-eyed cry of “how am I going to do this?”!  Yeah, I know the change of date had to do with April 15th being on a Sunday, and Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C. on Monday—but I’d like to think it was done as a fitting way to end National Procrastination Week. 

Yeah, I know that illustrious week happens each year in early March, but true procrastinators know we don’t celebrate it until mid-April.  

Pinterest & Teens: A “Good Thing”?

I heard a sweet sound in the house over the past weekend I haven’t heard in a long time: the whirr of the sewing machine. A sewing machine, I might add, that I bought on a Black Friday years ago, getting up at four in the morning for a “Door Buster Special”.  Allison was 10 at the time, determined to become a fashion designer and learn how to sew, and I was determined to help foster that creativity…

Ah, my daughters and I were once such a crafty bunch.  I’m reminded of that a lot—in the garden, where stepping stones the kids and I made (out of cement mix and pizza boxes) still mark a path behind a rosemary bush; in the kitchen, where a few “cut-out” photo magnets we made (out of extra photos, glue, and flat, promotional magnets from area businesses) still remain on the fridge; in my closet, where once in awhile I’ll run into the formerly white Keds I had the girls paint all over after the shoes got too dingy to remain white; and in my office, which is still decorated with items from the many “art camps” both girls used to attend (a paper mache’ pig, a framed painting of Saturn)…  looking in the family scrapbooks the other day, I was reminded that Emmie’s 4th birthday party was held at a craft store and Allison’s 9th was at a mosaic shop…there are also a few home décor projects still left around the house that I made on my own…

But sadly, we all got too busy with other interests to make time for our crafty sides.  I did hold out hope that we might get inspired, by keeping small bins of art supplies within easy reach–  beads, fun foam, shells, stickers, fabric scraps, popsicle sticks, construction paper, modeling clay (whew-are we done yet?), a glue gun, markers, chalk, crayons, colored pencils, stencils, paint…but, those supplies have mostly sat untouched, with the exception of being used to make football spirit banners and the occasional science fair display board.

Leave it to Pinterest to awaken the “sleeping craft giant”. The now “third most popular social network in the U.S.” which allows people to share ideas and photos of all sorts of things has become a Mecca for those interested in do-it-yourself projects, and Allison has become, (do I dare say it?) a “Pinhead”.  Just when I thought I was going to face a battle over spring clothes, she has inexpensively transformed and repurposed several items in her closet and created new items with a little fabric, rhinestones, and “mambo yarn”.  And this is one mom who is a lot happier saying “yes” to purchasing a new jar of Mod Podge than a new pair of shoes from Urban Outfitters.  I think I’ve made more trips to Michaels, Hobby Lobby, the Wal Mart fabric aisle and Jo-Ann these past few weeks than I did the last few years…

Is this Arts and Crafts Revival going on in our house just another fleeting teen girl obsession? I hope not.  Because not only has it been good for the budget, it’s a much better way for kids to spend free time than watching reality TV.  Also, I love how Pinterest (and another favorite site of hers called P.S.– I Made This) encourages recycling.  Pinterest can be social, too, and not just in an online way— when Allison recently made a maxi dress (using only a tank top, thread, and two yards of fabric) she invited a friend to come over to the house and make one with her.  And, her completed projects have inspired me toward completing a few of my own “shelved” projects, and caused Emmie to say, “I want to take sewing lessons this summer.”

True, Pinterest can be addictive. It was described on comScore as “exceptionally sticky and keeps its users engaged for long periods of time” and by Washington Post writer Petula Dvorak as “digital crack for women”,  “a black hole time suck” and a place where you “advertise only your hopes and dreams, the Stilton Gold style you aspire to, rather than the Velveeta life you live.” And maybe all that is sad and alarming when it’s adult women who are sucking away their time in that way, wishfully staring at their phone screens.  But for teens that are already hooked into their phones/computers almost 24/7, I’d rather have them looking at Pinterest than Facebook, especially when they get off their butts and actually make something as a result.

There has been some “collateral damage” in our house—there is now a long, noticeable scratch on the dining room’s wood floor (from cutting fabric?) and another on the dining room table, straight pins rattling around in the vacuum cleaner (and still hiding in the carpet) and traces of multicolored micro-glitter showing up all over the house, but, I’d rather be a crafty household than a perfect one. 

Maybe it’s time for me to take on the project of transforming an unused room (that once housed our foreign exchange student) into a sewing/craft room.  I’ll bet I know where I can get some ideas…

Uncool Mom Easter Post Featured at Mamapedia!

Just wanted to let readers know that an “archived” Uncool  Mom post entitled, “Building A Better Easter” was featured in the “blogger spotlight” this past week at Mamapedia, www.mamapedia.com (the direct link to the post is http://www.mamapedia.com/voices/building-a-better-easter). This is the third time an Uncool Mom post has been featured on the site, which is an online “mom community” of over 3.5 million members.  It’s always exciting to be chosen by their editors–  it’s a great way for me to reach more readers, as Mamapedia emails a daily newsletter to its subscribing members and includes a link to the post.  In addition, they add graphics and good photography to really give the post a boost.  And this is a post I particularly like, about how we spent Easter afternoon bike riding around a city lake one year and got to see how another culture celebrates the holiday.

Hope everyone has a good weekend and if you get a chance, stop by the Mamapedia post and leave a comment.  Meanwhile, our family may just get on bikes and head to the lake again—viva Easter!

The Feng Shui of Family Photos

“The realtor has told me to put away any personal photographs,” said Mom the other day.  “Is that right?” I just knew she was going to ask me that.  She’s been asking me a lot of things lately since she just put her house on the market this week– something she’s never had to do before.  At least, not by herself.  But Dad’s been gone for almost nine of the 50+ years she’s been in that house, and the kids all live far away, so it’s been a nerve-wracking and scary process for her.  She phones often.  While I’m no expert, I (and Andy) did sell a house less than six years ago (and shopped for a new one) and last fall, we helped his parents navigate a little bit of their move to “senior living”…

I’m sure my realtor friends would disagree, but I answered her question with a resounding, “NO.”

“Don’t take down any photographs unless you really want to,” I said.  “I think it’s wrong that they always tell people to do that.”  I mean, have a heart, realtors. Home sellers are often already going through an emotional upheaval in giving up such a big part of their life—why make it worse by asking them to put away small, cherished mementos? While realtors may have some kind of data or “realty science” that tells them they need to make a house as generic as possible in order to sell it, I challenge that science.  Because whenever I’m in a house, whether it’s visiting friends or relatives, passing through on a charity “Tour of Homes”, or looking at one to buy, I think the personal photographs that may be on the walls and shelves are just as interesting, if not more, than any granite countertop, walk-in closet, or “hand-scraped hardwood floor”.  And whenever friends or family are visiting our house, I’ve noticed they are drawn to the few photographs we have on display.    

My theory for years has been that personal photographs give a house a certain “spirit”, a certain air of happiness and positive attitude.  They make a house a “home”.  And after doing a little research, I discovered I’m not alone with those thoughts.

Feng Shui practitioner Ken Lauher says on his website that photographs, especially when people are shown happy and smiling, “are a great way to increase the positive chi in your living space and bring your environment into alignment with your true self and your goals.”  Beliefnet Editor Laurie Sue Brockway is quoted in a blog post at beliefnet saying that “images of loved ones and real people add a touch of warmth to a home” and recommends using certain types of photos to enhance certain spaces, such as photos of children to bring good energy to your “creative area”, photos of loved ones and ancestors to help “heal and connect us to the power of our lineage” in the family area, and placing “couple photos”, like a wedding photo, in your bedroom.

Some Native American tribes and several other cultures have believed, ever since the camera was invented, that “photography steals the soul” and because of this belief, they refuse to be photographed.  Well, I don’t think it exactly steals the soul, but good photography can certainly share it.

I just know that I smile and I feel good when I see, within a frame or tacked to a corkboard, images of people acting silly while on vacation, or happily holding children and grandchildren, or posing for a family reunion portrait…I even like to see the sweet progression of those awkward smiling posed school photos.  Surely a family’s photos help a realtor sell a house, creating an atmosphere that stays with the buyer and softly whispers in their ear, “Nice people lived in this house.  Nice people raised a family in this house.  Nice people had good times in this house and took care of this house.  And doesn’t this house seem even nicer because of that?”

True, decorating magazines will tell you that too many personal photographs in a home can look tacky or cluttered, like when they’re piled on a piano or fireplace mantel.  But the more houses I visit where they break that “rule”, the more I disagree with that one, too.  For example, one of my siblings has a gorgeously decorated, uncluttered home, worthy of any Elle Decor or Southern Living cover, yet what’s one of its focal points? The refrigerator, which is covered in small clear plastic “fridge frames” with beautiful photos of family and friends.  Fun to look at, and a great “conversation piece”.  One cannot help but smile when looking it over, and I’m so glad it’s kept “fresh” with new photos.  Definitely adds to the “positive energy” of the house!

I realized recently that I’ve gotten way too lax in my own home when it comes to photos.  No, I’m not talking about scrapbooking again—I’m still several years behind with that.  I’m talking about doing something, anything, with new photos once I create them.  Back in the 35mm film days, I took every roll of finished film to the drugstore to get developed, and an hour or a couple days later, everyone in the immediate family would see each one.  We’d send some to relatives, put some in frames, put some in a photo album…  But for the last decade that I’ve had a digital camera, with a memory card that can store hundreds of images, “if I have the time” I unload the photos to my computer, and then “if I have the time” (and enough ink, and photo paper), I print some with my own printer.  Meanwhile the photos keep piling up in the camera and on the computer, and no one gets to see them.  And a whole lot of picture frames sit empty, inside a cabinet.

Before I catch up in my scrapbooks, I’ve decided to make an effort to get more photos “out and up”.  No, I’m not going to cover my fridge with them (Andy would have a cow) and I just cleared piles of sheet music off the piano so I don’t really want to cover up all that newly clean space with photo frames. But our upstairs walls have pretty much been bare since we moved here, so… I’ve been having fun (and some huge laughs) going through my stored photos, deciding what to print, dusting off my unused digital photo frame (who knew it could be so cool?) and buying mats for those lonely old frames in the cabinet.  It’s time to fill up those walls.

My belief is that as the kids, Andy, and I pass the photos on our way to our rooms each night, we will glance at them and feel good, maybe even smile, maybe even have sweeter dreams.  And when we head out in the morning, we’ll see them and smile again, and maybe start our days a little happier because of it.  And when friends and family see them, they’ll smile, too.