Category Archives: Celebrating Holidays

Craving “Constants”

As the oldest child approaches senior year of high school and the youngest breezes through junior high not far behind, a mom can get pretty sentimental, y’ know? It used to be that even when the older child went through big changes, I still felt connected to the “younger child years”, because my kids are four years apart in age.  For example, when Allison became “too mature” to enjoy going to the neighborhood pool every day in the summer, I’d still get to sit at that pool on summer mornings, with other moms of young kids, as Emmie took yearly swim lessons.  When Allison and her friends were old enough to go to the mall by themselves, I’d still accompany Emmie on shopping trips.  I had one foot in kid-land and one foot in teen-land.  But this summer I am acutely aware that I have both feet pretty well planted in teen-land now, and it’s kinda sad. They don’t need me as much.  My oldest had an internship at a local theatre from 10-5:30 every day and used public transportation to get there, and is now in New York City for two weeks taking part in a pre-college program for high school students (yes, I did want to bawl my eyes out after helping set up her dorm room, telling her good-bye, and walking away on the streets of NYC alone, but I also was so excited for her, I held it together).  My youngest has been spending a lot of time away from home by babysitting and being on a swim team, and spending her own money at the mall…without mom in tow.  She recently spent a week in Joplin, Missouri, helping her church youth group repair tornado damage.   Whenever either girl is home and has free time, she usually wants to make plans with friends. 

Some may think I should be doing cartwheels of happiness over their growing independence, and I’ll admit there have definitely been days when I do (well, mental cartwheels at least…I’m a lousy gymnast) but at the same time, summer has called up powerful memories of time spent together, and of me coming up with all sorts of camps and activities for them to do, and there’s an underlying sadness that we’ve passed through a certain point of no return (underscore that with the fact that as this summer began for me, so did hot flashes…)

So with all this change happening, I find myself noticing and taking comfort in “constants”—any place or thing or event or ritual that has been around since the kids were born.  Things that have remained pretty much unchanged over the past 13-17 years.  Which have been hard to find, when I put my mind to it.  We don’t live in the same house…most of the girls’ old clothes and toys and games have been given away (with some exceptions—see my last post)…their first pets have gone to pet heaven… birthdays aren’t celebrated with parties as much anymore (“Mom, I’d rather have the cash instead”) and Christmas and Easter celebrations seem to change every year.  Our annual trips to Grandma’s house in Iowa end this summer, as she’s moving to a retirement community not far from our house here in Texas…heck, even Spongebob has “left the building”, replaced by Tivo’ed episodes of “Dance Moms”. Yes, my husband and I have raised our kids in only one community, but a lot has changed within it as well.  So much of what was a part of our family’s early years has either gone out of business or moved away: Paint ‘n Party; Discovery Zone; favorite restaurants; the shaved ice stand; the neighborhood grocery store, where Allison once fell out of a shopping cart (on Andy’s watch, I might add) and where we knew all the checkers’ names… the neighborhood parks are still there, but the play equipment has been updated with newer, safer, plastic versions, or not replaced at all (no more merry-go-rounds, “jungle gyms”, or rocket ship slides)… I used to find comfort in the fact that the city rec center where Emmie still takes a gymnastic class is the same rec center I took the girls to the splash playground and to “Mommy and Me” classes when they were preschoolers…but the wrecking crews recently set up shop in the parking lot and the facility will soon will be torn down, moved and re-built. 

Geez, isn’t there anything that’s remained the same? I did manage to come up with a few stand-outs, listed here in no particular order:

  1. Luby’s Cafeteria.  Still in the same location, still serving up LuAnn platters. And there are those rolling high-chairs lined up in the corner, just like I remember…
  2. Broadway shows and music.  So glad I introduced Allison to this at around age 2 or 3 in an attempt to expose her to music that both parent and child could enjoy together.  Rock was too adult for toddler ears, Barney was too toddler for adult ears, but selections from “Cats”, “Oliver” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” were the perfect fit.  When little sis came along, she couldn’t help liking them, too.  We still all enjoy going to shows together and listening to the music, and both girls have been in community and/or high school versions of Broadway shows as well. I am so thankful that both high school and community theatre is still thriving in North Texas.
  3. The city library…still there, along with the same librarian and her turtle puppet that still entertains children at “Lapsit” storytime…and there’s still a wonderful  Santa’s Village that’s set up outside the library every holiday season.
  4. Our minivan, still running at almost 214,000 miles.  Purchased before Emmie was born.  And no doubt somewhere in a forgotten crack in that van lurks cookie crumbs from a long ago Happy Meal…
  5. Our church–  though new additions have been built and some staff has changed, many  “constants” remain, like the fall pumpkin patch, Vacation Bible School for kids, Sunday morning pancake breakfasts, and lots of people who have watched the girls grow up.
  6. The 4th of July—Every year we celebrate the 4th of July in the same way: driving to watch a morning parade in the Lakewood neighborhood of Dallas, in the front yard of longtime family friends, and afterwards heading to the park where the parade ends, to endulge in a free snow cone, bottle of water, or cup of beer, depending on preference (and age!) and watch a guy dressed like Uncle Sam hand out awards for the best parade entries.  After that, it’s back to our friends’ home for brisket and a potluck of sides and desserts, alongside many of their other friends and family members.  All their lives, every Independence Day, our kids have sat on the same curb and caught candy thrown from the floats (with the exception of the two times when they were a part of the parade), gathered in the same dining room for lunch, and posed in the same yard for photos.   The same yard where Andy and I sat when we were dating, the same yard where Andy’s late grandmother chuckled as she wore a white straw hat with balloons on top, the same yard where baby Allison and I once wore matching bandana-print dresses.

Yes, amidst all the changes, I’m so glad that some things stay the same.  I don’t know what the experts would say about the value of raising your kids in one to
wn, or keeping the same die-hard car, but plenty has been written and discussed about the importance of traditions, and how if you don’t have any, you should start some.  Traditions “enhance children’s emotional well-being by helping to create feelings of security, continuity and identity,” writes Leah Davies, M.Ed., former Child Development instructor at Auburn University, at her website kellybear.com.  I couldn’t agree more. But I would expand that to say that traditions are important to everyone’s well-being…especially menopausal moms of teens.

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!

Cirque du Spring Break



Well, I always say a parent’s real vacation happens after Spring Break ends, once the kids are back in school, but mine began early this time—two nights ago, the nice people at Endicott PR provided me with tickets to see my first-ever Cirque du Soleil performance, called “Quidam”.  Neither of my kids could go (too busy with homework, cheerleading workshops and theatre and band rehearsals) so it was a rare Girls Night Out for a friend and me.  And all I have to say is—WOW.  (Well, of course I can say a bit more.  If you’re interested, check out my review at http://neighborsgo.com/stories/80760)


But in this space, I’ll share with you that the Cirque performers’ feats of strength, balance, and agility (and those performers were not all in their teens and 20s) has inspired me to keep up the good work I’ve accomplished in my weekly (sometimes twice-weekly) stretching and muscle toning classes. Excuse me a minute while I go get my giant exercise ball to sit on instead of this desk chair…


There.  Much better. (Seriously, remember the post about the dangers of sitting? I really did get an exercise ball to sit on instead of my desk chair, thanks to my fellow exercise classmate Maxie. While you sit, it gives you a thigh/balance workout, not to mention you can “roll out” and get great back stretches over the ball when you need a break.)


No, I don’t expect to be able to do one-armed handstands while balancing that hand on another person’s head, or hang upside down from a scarf attached to the ceiling, as I saw Wednesday.  But surely the increased strength and agility I do have can help me better manage a houseful of kids over the next week, and the cabin fever that may arise. (Yes, I can already hear the whines of  “Mom, I’m bored” echoing in my head.)


Quidam inspired me in another way.  Its theme of “getting in touch with your inner child” also inspired me to try to have more fun.  I’ve always blogged about the need to get away from desk work and housework and spend some fun time every day with myself, my husband and/or my kids, but that usually hasn’t happened much.  And sadly, if I were more available to have fun with my kids, they’re busier now than ever before. However, Spring Break should definitely give us a chance to have some fun, with NO HOMEWORK (at least that I know of) lingering over their heads, no early wake-ups, no athletic practices, and no music or drama rehearsals.


Woo-hoo! This minivan mom is ready.  Will we soar like Cirque’s  “Aerial Hoops” or free fall like “The Spanish Web”? Stay tuned!  Happy Spring Break!

Who Spiked the Punctuation? Why Most Holiday Cards Need A Ride Home From The Party


Okay, okay, I know…who am I to criticize holiday cards when I haven’t sent any out in… hmmm…a couple years? But I’ve been wanting to say something about them for a long time.  No, not about how good friends I haven’t seen in ages expect me to read the long letters they’ve composed but don’t even bother to personalize it by signing their name at the bottom, let alone write me one or two lines. And no, not about how some families spend tons of money and time on getting that perfect holiday card portrait taken by a professional photographer when sadly most of those gorgeous cards just end up in the trash…but my biggest beef with holiday cards is with the use of the apostrophe. Or, I should say, misuse.  I know most adults have long forgotten many punctuation and grammar rules they learned in school, but I think most remember the simple stuff—like capitalizing the first letter of a sentence, putting a period at the end of one… so why can’t they remember the rules for the apostrophe? There are only TWO— it’s used when showing possession, or replacing missing letters. Not when making a noun plural.  Is that so hard to remember? Guess it is, since no one seems to know it anymore. I see apostrophe errors on expensive billboards, on corporate websites, even in letters sent home from school principals and teachers (yes, Microsoft Word Spell Check is not always right!).  You’d think at least printers and engravers would be astute enough to correct our sloppy English, but even they don’t care anymore, either.  Because there it is, every year, embossed in gold at the bottom of John Doe’s card—Merry Christmas from The Doe’s.  “THE DOE’S WHAT??” I always want to scream.  Yes, as a writer who loves words and loves putting them together, and who has had to follow correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation rules as part of every writing job or college writing assignment I’ve ever had,  this is like fingernails on a blackboard to me.  And then another similar card arrives, and another.  Why do families insist on throwing an apostrophe in their last name when they add an “s” to the end?  If Fred and Wilma send out a Christmas card (er, in their case I guess it might be a Christmas rock), they should engrave it “Merry Christmas from the Flintstones”, not “Merry Christmas from the Flintstone’s”.  And even if they put “From The Flintstone’s House”, that actually would be incorrect as well…the correct way would be “The Flintstones’ House”.  (Click here for a great explanation of that.)


I’m not the only one who’s ho-ho-horrified about apostrophe use.  The Apostrophe Protection Society (http://www.apostrophe.org.uk/), founded in 2001 by a retired British journalist, has had over one and a half million visits to its website, and its founder has received letters of support from all over the world.  The Facebook page, “Apostrophe Preservation Society” has photos and comments about idiotic apostrophe use (one memorable one: a college brochure touting the “Honor’s Program”).  There’s “Apostrophen-Katastrophen”, a German website, and “The Dreaded Apostrophe”, a website that tries to explain the proper use of the “most misunderstood and misused piece of punctuation in the language” by combining its two rules into one.  But there are naysayers as well, who think the apostrophe should be abolished—like killtheapostrophe.com;  many texting addicts; and the now-defunct  rock band R.E.M., who purposely left out the apostrophe in their album “Lifes Rich Pageant” because “they hate apostrophes”. 


Some say the mark is misused so much, we should take it out of the language completely so that no one has to look like they don’t know what they’re doing.  Which is probably what I’d look like today if I sent out a card and put, correctly, “The Allbees”, at the bottom.  So for now, I guess I’ll just avoid the confusion by saying


Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to All My Blog Readers,


From Uncool Mom and Family


(and wishing you peace on Earth and goodwill to every apostrophe…).

Jim Bob, John-Boy, and Me

If you’re familiar with The Duggars of Arkansas, the family with “19 kids and counting”, you may have looked at them like they’re crazy.  I know I have.  Packing up the family for a road trip must not be too easy, y’ know? And cooking for that many must take all day.  But…I bet their holidays are a blast…

For some reason this holiday season, I’m feeling “big family envy” more than ever.  Maybe it’s because it’s the first year my mom, who is 87 and lives 13 hours away, is choosing not to spend Christmas with us or any of her children.  (“I’m 87 years old,” she said, “and I don’t want to travel in winter weather, and I don’t want to worry about anyone else traveling to see me.”)  Maybe I’m missing Cleo, our French exchange student who lived with us from August 2010 to June 2011. Last Christmas was extra special with her here.  Or maybe it’s because we just hosted 18 of Andy’s extended family for Thanksgiving and I really enjoyed it, but they’re all doing different things for Christmas…

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for big families (definition: any family over 4 or 5 members), which I’ve written about briefly before.  I’m sure that admiration comes from the fact that I was raised as practically an only child (both my siblings are at least 10 years older and one has lived abroad for many years). And, I lived in a neighborhood containing hardly any other kids.  Some of my most cherished childhood memories come from the times I’d get to spend a week at my cousins’ house, or a few nights at my friend Ann’s house, 16 miles away from mine.  Ann was a girl I’d met at summer camp who lived in a really tiny town and was part of a big Catholic family with six kids, and when I was at her house, I felt like I’d walked right into both of my favorite TV shows, The Brady Bunch and The Waltons.  Her dad was the town milkman, and their garage was filled with, among other dairy items, ice cream bars and popsicles.  I ate dinner with her family, went to church with them, walked the few blocks to downtown, played games…it was heaven.  There was always something to do, always somebody sticking their head in Ann’s room to crack a joke or make a face. 

Freshman year of college was like that for me, too–  living on a dorm floor with 15 other girls from different backgrounds who didn’t know eachother previously, and becoming friends, walking in and out of eachother’s rooms to talk at all hours, eating dinner together in the cafeteria, playing cards, sharing one bathroom…heaven, I tell you.  And, bonus! My roommate came from a large, Italian Catholic family of EIGHT kids, with great names like Vera, Vito and Vince—very fun for me to go home with her on weekends!!!

So why didn’t Andy and I create our own big brood when we had the chance? Well, economics, for one.  And age, for another (we were both in our early 30s when we started).  And nerves, too.  I could barely keep my head on straight with two young children while working from home, and I could only imagine things completely falling apart if I had more to manage.  And so, we stopped at two.

Thank goodness my brother had three, two who have married and had children– and many of his bunch don’t live too far away.  So, often my bunch has gotten together with his bunch for a day or two over the holidays.  17 people (and 5 dogs) under one roof!!  Once again, heaven, even when everyone is doing different things.  Sometimes I’ll just catch my breath for a minute and soak it all in, that my family of origin has grown to this.  Some might be playing computer games or watching a movie, some are playing guitars, some are cooking, someone else is outside walking a dog or riding a bike, someone else is reading, someone else is snoring, someone else is singing in the tub…and then the laughter and talking when we all come together to eat.  It’s the rhythm of a big family, and it’s music to my ears. 

This year things are going to be different, with part of his bunch needing to spend the holiday with in-laws, Grandma going solo, and vacation times not all coinciding, but we’re trying to work out at least a day during the break when some of us can get together.  I hope we can.  Because if not, I may have to resign myself to popping some kettle corn, lighting a fire in the fireplace, and cozying up with my two teens in front of what they consider to be their favorite TV show, “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”.  The Kardashians may be far, far from Walton’s Mountain in many ways, but I’ll take my big families where I can get them.  

A Thanksgiving Full of Turkeys

Whenever I used to be on the verge of making a decision that Andy didn’t think was a good idea, to try to remind me of a past bad “I told you so” decision, he would say two words– “Bill Hicks”.  That was in reference to a time when I played a comedy album (on cassette) of that late profane comedian for my parents, who were visiting from out of town.  “I wouldn’t do that,” he warned.  “It’s pretty blue.” I insisted on playing it anyway, telling him I’d play side one only, that the stuff he was thinking about was on side two. “I think you’re wrong,” he warned again. He was right. It was more than blue, and my face was more than red to be listening to it in my parents’ presence.  But now I finally have two simple words that I can say to him to remind him of when I was right: “propane tank”.

See, we hosted 18 people for Thanksgiving a few days ago, the first time I think we’ve ever played host on that holiday, and Andy and I decided a few days ago to have a “turkey-off”, a little friendly informal competition to see who could cook the best-tasting bird.  He wanted to smoke a turkey indirectly on a gas grill; I wanted to bake one in the oven.  The oven would be more of a sure thing, I felt, since I’d done that before on Christmas awhile ago, and it was fine.  I planned to just follow the directions on the bag like I did before.  Keep it simple, I thought, since that was kind of the theme of our Thanksgiving this year– we were providing the meat and everyone else was bringing side dishes.  Besides, why would I want to try something new with 18 guests coming? Besides, with three family birthday celebrations all happening this month as well, keeping things simple was a necessity.

But…that was hard for me to do when the newspaper, every day, was showing new and tasty ways to prepare Thanksgiving food.  At every checkout line, Rachel Ray, Martha Stewart and Paula Deen were yelling at me from the magazine covers…and then Andy started buying his supplies, and they were showing up on the kitchen counter. A bag of wood chips. A new digital meat thermometer… and celery, onions, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.  “I’m doing what’s called the Simon and Garfunkel method,” he proudly proclaimed.  And all I was planning to do was follow directions from the bag of a Wal-Mart turkey? What’s that, the Hank Williams, Jr. method?

I started asking friends how they were planning to fix their turkey, and got a few more ideas.  When my friend Shannon mentioned how she used the Alton Brown method, and that even her husband, who is a chef, was impressed, I decided to look it up.  Alton is a Food Network star and I quickly found it at bonappetit.com.  It involved brining, or soaking the bird overnight in a salt and vegetable broth solution, then cooking it at a very high heat for 30 minutes to crisp up the skin and lock in the juices, and turning down the oven to 350 for the rest of the cook time.  Interesting. I mentioned the method to Andy. “I’m brining mine, too,” he said, and explained that’s why he’d been washing out our coolers. Well, that decided it for me.  If  he could “brine”, then I could, too.

He let me choose the cooler I wanted to use and I started buying my supplies.  We discussed our plans further.  “What are you going to do if the grill’s propane tank runs out while you’re cooking?” I asked him.  “Shouldn’t you have a spare ready just in case?” (As longtime Uncool Mom readers may remember, I’m usually the grillmeister at our house and indirect gas grilling is my cooking method of choice…) I told him that better yet, if he didn’t want to buy another tank, he could cook it a day ahead of time to make sure stores would be open if he needed to run out to get ours refilled (or traded in for another).  From past experience, I’ve had propane tanks run out “mid-steak” several times…but in the true “I’ll take risks” way of life that cause men’s insurance rates to be higher than women’s, he chose to go forward with only the propane tank on hand, and cook it a few hours before he planned to serve it.

Thanksgiving Day dawned later than usual for me– I’d been up til 3 a.m. the night before, setting tables, cleaning house, and preparing the brining solution (I’d spent much of Wednesday helping Allison celebrate her 17th birthday) and when I saw 8:20 a.m. on the alarm clock, I thought my bird had really been cooked, if you know what I mean. My turkey was supposed to already be in the oven– and I still needed to get dressed and walk the dogs, not to mention rinse the turkey, pat it dry, stuff the cavity, make a “foil snake” for the bottom of the roasting pan, and “cover every digit of the hands with butter and massage the skin”… I ran downstairs in my pajamas and simply let the dogs out in the backyard, not caring if the neighbors saw me.  A nice apple wood smoke smell filled the air as well as the music of John Hyatt and Bruce Springsteen– Andy had moved a speaker out on the patio so he could hum along and cook at the same time…and he was by the grill, cleaning up. “Everything’s going fine,” he said.  “It’s been cooking for about a half hour and the grill temperature’s perfect.”

Well, la dee freakin’ da.  I rolled up my long flannel pajama sleeves, hauled the round cooler out of the fridge and started pouring off the brining solution into the sink. Of course I spilled some (I swear that cooler has a crack somewhere), and had to wipe up the mess with old towels.  As I was patting down the bird with paper towels after rinsing it, Andy came into the kitchen about 8:45 looking panicked and announced that the propane had just run out.  “What do I do?” he asked. I could have said “I told you so” but all I could think of was that my bird wasn’t even in the oven yet and we might be feeding our guests popcorn and toast a la “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”… I figured there had to be some place open on Thanksgiving that sold propane.  “Don’t some gas stations sell it?” I asked.  He called Wal Mart to see if they were open and they were, but the closest location is not that close to our house.  He unhooked the tank from the grill, jumped in the car with it and headed out.  His bird remained on the grill, waiting…meanwhile, Emmie had woken up and needed attention.  She felt awful and had plopped down on a sofa in the living room, and wanted me to take her temperature and bring her some medicine.  I went into nurse mode while my bird waited, too…

Luckily Emmie had no fever (just a bad cold) and after giving her a couple extra-strength Tylenol and bringing her some orange juice, I told her to watch the parade on TV and stay out of the kitchen…Miraculously my bird went in the oven around 9:10 a.m.  If Alton Brown’s calculations were correct, it would still be done by the time guests started arriving at 12:45; but if the online reader comments were correct, it would take a lot longer…

At 9:15, as I was cleaning up the kitchen, the phone rang. It was Andy, calling from Wal Mart. “They can’t find the keys to open up the %$#@! outdoor propane cage!!” he said.  Now I really wanted to say I told you so, but now was not the time.  I told him to wait a few minutes longer to see if they could find them and then go to another Wal Mart if they couldn’t. But surely they would find them…don’t all the propane-loving ranchers and cowboys of the world shop at Wal Mart? I thought about his bird, still waiting on the grill…

My bird came through the 30-minute, 500-degree phase with flying colors– a gorge
ous golden-brown color to be exact.  I turned down the heat, put the “protective foil shield” on the breast meat and inserted my new meat thermometer into “the deepest part” of that breast meat (I’d bought an even fancier thermometer than Andy– one with a cord that reaches outside the oven and magnets a digital reader to the outside of the oven, so the door never has to be opened– SWEET!). By 9:45 Andy was still not home, and I couldn’t reach him by phone. What if he’d had to drive to another store? And what if they didn’t have propane? He walked in the door about 10 minutes later, new propane tank in hand. “They never did find the keys,” he said, so he indeed had to drive to another Wal Mart. “Do you think the turkey meat is bad now?” he asked.  I told him to keep going, that time-wise it probably hadn’t been long enough to reach the danger zone…

Amazingly, both our birds cooked at the same rate all morning, hitting the same internal temperatures at about the same time and at the right pace.  They were both done before the guests arrived and we got to show them off before carving.  The verdict from all was that they were both good, in different ways.  Mine was juicier, his was smokier, of course, but still pretty juicy.  All in all, it was a perfect Thanksgiving– well…except for the fact that one of my family heirloom stoneware platters got broken and Luke nipped one of our guests on the leg…but luckily I found a replacement for the platter on ebay later that night for only $15, and Luke did not break the skin…and, no one got sick later because that smoked turkey had sat on an “off” grill for an hour, just as Uncool Mom (or should I say “the Bridge Over Troubled Water”) had suspected…

The Super Bowl is in Town…Should I Be Excited? Plus: A Unique Snack for Gringo Super Bowl Parties

My metropolitan area is experiencing two Big Firsts this week. It’s the first time since anyone can remember that all area school districts have been closed for four days straight due to snow and ice, and the first time our fair metroplex has hosted a Super Bowl. Super Bowl XLV, comin’ to a domed stadium about 45 minutes from me.   The most-watched sporting event in the U.S. …Amidst rolling power outages, dwindling food in the fridge, squirrels (or is it mice?) taking refuge in our garage, kids who’d rather not be holed up together for four days straight, and a flat tire on the aravan when I finally did get out to drive on the ice—do I care?

Maybe if the Super Bowl Half Time entertainers, The Black Eyed Peas, had come along in their limo when I needed a ride home from my flat-tired car…  I guess the only thing that Super Bowl XLV has done for me is it’s brought some good humor along with it—writers like the Dallas Morning News’ Jacquielynn Floyd have been dishing out some funny
commentary about how the world is preparing for a Dallas Super Bowl (Blowing up inflatable cacti to put next to their TV screens? Really?) and local businesses are trying to cash in with some pretty corny advertising (“Get Your Game Face On” implored the ad in today’s paper from a store’s cosmetics department—“Score a touchdown with a touchup! Discover the secrets to playmaking lashes! Kick off with our spring color collection!”).  And, I am looking forward to the annual Super Bowl party we attend, where we’ll see friends we haven’t seen since Super Bowl 44. 

But other than that, the Super Bowl’s nearby presence  is really not affecting me that much.  That is, unless the legions of fans and celebrities in town seek out local blogs for information– since the words “Super Bowl” are in the title of this post, they just might find Uncool Mom, stop by for a visit, click on my ads, and help me greatly increase my revenue.  Then I would be forever grateful to Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys and impresario of Cowboys Stadium.

Sooooo, with that in mind, I’d like to offer up my recommendation to any out-of-towners that may be reading this: before you leave town, buy some Takis. You know how regions of the country have certain packaged foods you can’t get anywhere else? For example, in Southeast Iowa they have Sterzing’s Potato Chips.  And my east coast friends crave Tastykakes, a Dolly Madison/Hostess type of confection found in stores “back home”.  Well, for a taste of North Texas that might not be readily accessible back home, Packers and Steelers fans should put a few bags of Takis in their suitcase before they leave.  “Taki” is a take-off on the word “taquito”, i.e. a tightly rolled-up corn tortilla stuffed with meat and then fried, a staple at area Tex-Mex restaurants. The Takis bagged snacks are basically a taquito minus the stuffing, and rolled in various yummy seasonings.  They are made in Mexico by a company called Barcel and distributed in the U.S. by Bimbo.  My youngest child first found out about them earlier this year at the school lunch table, when a Hispanic student pulled them out of her lunch bag and shared.  Emmie and the rest of us have been hooked ever since.  We’ve been able to find them at area gas station convenience stores and at the Hispanic grocery chain, Fiesta (and upon calling Bimbo, I found out they are also available at some Wal Marts, and online at www.mexgrocer.com).  I’m not a big champion of snack foods, but I must say, Takis are REALLY GOOD and from looking at the nutrition facts, a bit better for you than the average potato chip. They come in five flavors (Guacamole is my favorite—Fuego and Nitro are so hot they make spicy food fans cry) and luckily we bought all five before the storm hit—when Emmie and her friends come inside after playing in the snow, I’ve been hearing a lot of “Can we have some Takis and hot chocolate?”  Yes, definitely a unique way to warm up… 

Unfortunately, I won’t be taking a bag to our friends’ Super Bowl party.  I’ve been assigned to bring vegetables—“either hot or cold or both” the note said.  But hey—since guacamole is made with avocados, maybe I will sneak a few guac Takis on that veggie tray…

“Valen-tinies” No More: Cards With A Heart

Gee, I never realized how many “lasts” happen when it’s the last year of elementary school for the youngest child in the family.  I already posted about the “last” parent preview film for Human Growth and Development.  Lately it’s hit me that coming up is the last Science Fair (Yippeeee!!) and the last class Valentine’s Day party.

Amazing…over a decade of buying valentines for my kids to stuff in their classmates’ “valentine mailboxes”.  Somehow it all seems a little pointless compared to when I was a kid.  I remember going over every valentine later in the day…they came in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes people made theirs, sometimes they bought them, but kids carefully picked out which ones they wanted to send to which friends, depending on the verse.  We girls would be thrilled if we got one with an especially nice verse from a boy (I once got one that said, “Valentine, it may be cold outside, but inside my heart is warm” …I stuck it in my diary and cherished it for at least a year…) Sometimes candy was taped to the valentines.  It was a fun day—I felt sorry for the Jehovah’s Witness kids whose parents would pick them up and make them miss the party…

Fast forward to today, when there’s not much to valentines anymore.  Literally.  For those of you who may not know, most kid valentines now are about 2” x 2” (when opened!), and usually decorated with something from pop culture, like Buzz Lightyear or Hannah Montana, with barely enough room for even the words Happy Valentine’s Day.  They almost seem like miniature ads.  I call them “valen-tinies”.  We’re all expected to go out and buy a box, have our child sign each one on what little space is left, and take them to school on the big day.  By the time they get home from school toting a sack of the valentinies they’ve received, all they care about is eating whatever candy is left, and the valentinies are all thrown away.  Seems like a ridiculous waste of money, to me.  And gas, and time, if you think about the parents who have to drive to a 24-hour drugstore to buy a box of whatever’s left, the night before the party… (been there, done that! )

I used to try hard to help my child give something a little more memorable when my older daughter was in elementary school.  One year I found inexpensive, pink and red flat heart-shaped “fun foam” goggles that fit nicely in an envelope.  When she got into upper elementary, we started a tradition of making music CDs for everyone in her class, with 4-5 of her favorite songs to share, complete with custom-made, heart-themed CD labels. (Now that’s something people kept…well, most did…)

With Emmie, I was tapped out of new ideas, so she languished in the world of valentinies until last year, when we saw actress Julianne Moore on a TV talk show promoting Save the Children valentines, a set of valentines designed by children. They were pricier than the box of tinies (a box of 24 cost $25), but the money went toward a good cause: fighting childhood poverty around the world.  Emmie loved the idea and we ordered a set.

I’d forgotten all about it until this year, when we got a catalog in the mail showing valentines designed by children at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.  A box of 32 is only $5, and they are precious.  I just checked online, and Save the Children is still offering a set of Valentines, too, this year including cards designed by children and celebrities including Jordin Sparks and Corbin Bleu. We haven’t decided which we’ll choose, but we’re definitely going to pick one of them, and we’re going to have to put our order in ASAP in order for them to arrive by the big day.

So, here’s hoping my readers with young children might also like to choose this unique way to share some love at the class Valentines Day parties. Here are the links:

http://savethechildren.org/valentines and www.childrensart.org.  Let me know if you know of any other charitable valentines!

The Thought That Counts

As some of you already know, my kids have the ability to earn a set amount of allowance each week, but come “pay day”, it may not all get paid to them, depending on infractions during the week.  For example, $1 off if you leave your plate on the table, $1 off if you leave shoes in the living room, $1 off if you don’t do your chore-of the-day—we keep a white board on the side of the refrigerator to keep track.  My youngest child does pretty well with this and carefully saves her allowance each week in a plastic bank with a combination lock; my oldest child rarely earns much allowance and quickly spends anything she manages to get. There is also a list of “paid jobs” posted on the refrigerator, extra tasks like yard work, and she doesn’t usually do those, either.  For a long time, I’ve been wondering, “Why do I do this allowance system at all?” for her, since I put more effort into keeping track of infractions than she puts into helping out. But Love and Logic thought keeps going through my head: the natural consequences will teach her a life lesson.  In other words, when she really needs money, she’ll be sorry that she didn’t earn and save, and maybe she will do things differently in the future. 


 


It hasn’t quite worked out that way.  Because whenever she’s gotten to the point of really needing money, somehow she always manages to get by.  A friend pays her admission to a show; a grandparent’s birthday card, with cash inside, arrives in the mail; a lucrative babysitting job comes along…She once sold her American Girl doll—to her sister—in order to finance a shopping spree. ‘Drats! Foiled Again!’ I think to myself, like some cartoon character. 


 


Finally, a week ago, it didn’t look like things were going to go her way. She was flat broke, but really wanted to buy Christmas gifts for everyone.  “So you really won’t buy gifts for me to give, like you did a couple years ago?” she asked. “No way,” I said, reminding her she’d had plenty of opportunities to earn allowance, and added that I didn’t know why she was concerned, that we’d celebrated all the family birthdays this year without presents from her and she hadn’t seemed to mind. “But this is Christmas, “she said.  “Everyone else has put gifts under the tree, and there are gifts for me.  That would be bad if there’s nothing there from me,” she said.


“Well, maybe you can plan better for next year,” I said.


 


Not to be stymied, she announced she was going to tackle The Paid Jobs List.  With a week off school before Christmas and unseasonably warm weather in North Texas, working in the yard didn’t seem so far-fetched.  She had it all planned out. “I’ll do a few things each day and by Thursday afternoon, I’ll have enough money to get something for everyone,” she said. While I don’t like her habit of waiting until the last minute to accomplish things, I did like the thought of having that yard work done before Christmas visitors came…and the fact that she wanted to earn money to buy gifts for others.


 


Unfortunately, her teenage habit of staying up late and sleeping late kicked into high gear once the holiday break began, making productive daylight hours slim to none.  Raking leaves and scrubbing the bottom of her bathtub were deemed too difficult by her and were left half done; the only thing she’d finished by Thursday was to spread a bag of bark mulch on a small flower bed.  “How about if I wake up early tomorrow morning and get everything else done?” she asked on Thursday evening.  “Can someone take me shopping then?”
 
“It depends on if someone is available,” I replied, reminding her that stores closed early on Christmas Eve and that in order to go out anywhere, her bedroom also had to be clean.  So, as it turned out, she decided to watch movies and TV with Cleo (our foreign exchange student) until the wee hours of the morning, then decided to clean her room. By the time daylight came on Christmas Eve day, her room was spotless, she was sleeping soundly, the weather had turned cold, and rain was imminent. “I think you’re going to have to scale back your Christmas list,” I told her several hours later when she woke up,  “but it’s the thought that counts.  Just get everyone something small.” 


 


She would have nothing of that idea.  Still determined to earn enough money to buy what she wanted, she headed out around lunchtime in the cold rain, shovel in hand, to dig weeds in our vacant vegetable garden and trim down Lantana bushes. She wore a hooded sweatsuit, but no raincoat and no gloves.  (Was she trying to earn more by getting the sympathy vote?)  I reminded her again, as I left to run my own last-minute shopping errands, that no one may be available to take her anywhere even if she got everything done.


 


When I returned, I was surprised to see her still working in her soaked sweatsuit. The bushes looked great, and the garden was almost all dug up.  The leaf piles had been put into bags.  By 2:45 p.m. as I headed to the grocery store, she was finished, and managed to talk her dad (amidst his protests) into taking her out to shop, just before the stores closed.  (She also managed to badger him into kicking in an extra $15…)

Yes, she did do some needed work, she did earn money, and she was happy to have presents under the tree for everyone in the family…but were any “lessons” really learned, or values instilled?


 


I’m not sure…my head is spinning from the cartoon thought bubbles trying to crowd their way inside…

Mare E Kriz Muss

Several years ago for a newspaper story, I interviewed a Dallas mom named Sue about the great lengths she and her family go to every year to come up with a crazy family photo for their Christmas card—often complete with costumes, props, and backdrops. In one memorable photo, her family is seen atop a fake “snowcovered roof” dressed as Santa and other holiday characters.  The youngest child, a baby, is wailing mightily, one of the dogs is sliding off the roof, and Sue is laughing.  Obviously things didn’t go quite like they’d planned, but Sue told me the card was a huge hit, and “friends of friends” began asking to get on their card address list.  At the time of the interview, it numbered around 250… I think a lot of people liked that card not only because it was funny, but because Sue’s family had the guts to do what many don’t —show off (and celebrate) their real family.  In addition to “Happy Holidays”, it sent an underlying message that not being perfect is okay.  If only we could all chill out and remember that, especially during the holidays. 


 


Because there’s a lot of striving for perfection that goes on this month, whether it’s having perfectly wrapped presents, or a perfectly decorated tree, or perfectly iced cookies…I remember so well when my kids were younger, worrying that they’d goof up or do something embarrassing in the church Christmas pageant, and I noticed young parents fretting about the same last week.  But—what was the absolute best part of this year’s pageant? The smorgasbord of mishaps, from Joseph not wanting to hold Mary’s hand as they plodded along the carpeted “streets of Bethlehem”, to lots of “sheep” wandering away from their “shepherds”, to kids singing at the wrong time—even an angel who burst into tears and had to be carried out right as the show was beginning.  It was beautiful, it was wonderful, and it was kids being kids.  I can’t remember if we gave them a standing ovation or not, but they deserved one.


 


The sweetest notes played at the “Beginning Band Winter Concert” last week were the sour ones; the best-dressed kid at the 6th grade class holiday party yesterday was the one with ice cream on his face; and the best gift we can give our family, our friends and ourselves this season, or any season, is grace.


 


Just please remind me of that when the high school 1st semester final grades come out next week…