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 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, (the direct link to the post is 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.

Paper Bag Popcorn

It’s time to share another of my really GREAT no-brainer recipes. (Remember, to pass my test for greatness, a recipe must have minimal ingredients, not a lot of prep work, and so easy you can memorize it, yet it still also tastes good.)  This one passes all those marks and is healthy to boot.  I first learned it from Martha Stewart many years ago, then tweaked it to make a Good Thing better. 

Who needs Orville Redenbacher to decide how much fat and salt goes on your microwave popcorn? And who needs the extra appliance of an air popper when this popcorn turns out just as healthy, fragrant and fluffy? Try this for your next at-home movie night, which for us will hopefully be tonight, as we try to finish up our Netflix copy of “Evita”…

Paper Bag Popcorn

1/4 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
1 paper lunch sack (standard, brown paper lunch sack, self-standing, flat bottomed, about 5 1/8″ x 3 1/8′ x 10 5/8″)

Put kernels in bottom of sack.  Fold top of bag over to create a 1-inch flap (pinch and crease it so that it stays in place). Place bag flap-side down in microwave oven. Set microwave on High for 1 1/2 minutes and listen for popping to slow down as your signal to stop the oven, adding more time if necessary (in our 800-watt oven, it takes about 2:15 to get it just right).  Eat it plain out of the bag or pour on melted butter.  (We like using “butter spray” like I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter or Safeway’s Butterlicious.)  Add other seasonings like salt, parmesan cheese, dried herbs, or make it kettle style by sprinkling on a salt and sugar (or stevia) mixture. Enjoy!  (Makes about 6 cups of popped popcorn per bag.)
This is fun for kids to make, with adult supervision of course!

“Spending Quality Time With A Teen” is Not an Oxymoron– When You’re Volunteering Together

When my kids were much younger, I was asked by a friend if I’d like to join The Junior League in our suburban town.  I was flattered she would consider me, but after looking at the membership requirements (i.e. time commitment)  I almost laughed in her face.  Going crazy trying to squeeze in freelance writing work and keep my house managed with two kids under the age of six, I couldn’t imagine also having the pressure of performing  a certain amount of required service hours and getting kicked out if I didn’t.  How did my friend do it with two young children herself? (Um, on second thought, I think having a nanny and housekeeper probably helped her a lot…)

Fast forward about eight years, and another friend is asking if Allison and I might want to join her chapter of National Charities League Inc., a nationwide organization that involves mothers and daughters (in grades 7-12) working side-by-side doing philanthropic work in the community and also being involved in cultural and social activities together as well.  I had balked when we’d been asked a year earlier—there was that phrase “required hours” again, in the membership information, and our schedule seemed busier than ever before.  But this time when we were asked, Allison really wanted to do it, and so I said yes. Not just for the social activities that I knew she wanted to be a part of, but also because she and I had seen organizations on the NCL list of philanthropies for which she had already been interested in volunteering, such as Special Olympics, and so I thought it would be a great way for her to do this, and a learning opportunity.   Oh, I knew I’d learn something, too, and help those in need—I’ve been a volunteer in every community I’ve ever lived in, since I was a teen.  But I had no idea it would provide me with some rare opportunities to spend “sass-free” time with my daughter, really fun quality time, without the usual parent/child tug-of-war.  And now that I’ve got two teen daughters in the organization, I see the benefits of volunteering alongside them even more.

See, doing volunteer work with your child helps each of you see each other in a different light, in different ways.   For example, I knew Emmie had a heart for animals, but to hug and hold a shaking dog who’d just arrived at the animal shelter and talk to him sweetly for an hour until he quit shaking—who knew? And I knew that Allison was interested in helping the disabled, but to actually have a knack for it, to work with all ages and be able to interpret what someone with severe speech impediments was saying when no one else could—who knew?

And, when you volunteer together, while you and your kids are waiting to high-five a Special Olympics runner when he crosses the finish line or while you’re organizing craft supplies to help kids make hats at a local arts festival, you talk. While you’re driving around delivering Meals on Wheels to senior citizens, you talk some more.   And after you’ve stuffed  school supply bags for children from abusive homes or sorted books at a hospital “children’s library”, you go to lunch at that new burger joint you’ve always wanted to try.  Or get some frozen yogurt.   And you talk some more.  And when you get back home and things get back to the routine of “mom’s uncool and unreasonable”, you know that all hope is not lost.

I highly encourage parents to set up regular community volunteer work with their children, either through an organization like NCL (for moms and sons, the equivalent is Young Men’s Service League), or Scouts, or church, or simply on your own or with a group of friends.  Several organizations have volunteering opportunities for kids under 13 and the opportunities expand as kids get older.  And if possible, find an organization that holds you accountable for contributing a certain amount of your time.  Huh? Me endorsing “required hours” for busy parents? Yep, especially when you’re working with teens.   I mean, think about it (and a lot of parents would probably agree): If a parent sets up a volunteer opportunity on their own, it might be pretty tough to get their teen to actually wake up on a Saturday to go and work at a shelter, charity 5k, etc.— especially if it’s with a PARENT.  It could turn into a nag-fest.  And if the teen was asked to set up the volunteer opportunity on their own to have more “skin in the game”, many would not take the first step.  But there is something very motivating about having to check in online and report hours to an Hours Committee, who, in our group, are usually moms we know.  And it’s motivating to commit to a volunteer job by signing up online through our chapter’s web calendar, a calendar that all members can view. For some volunteer work within our chapter, several moms and daughters are needed at one time, and for those jobs, we know that others are expecting us to be there and help out.  They’re helping to hold my teens and me accountable. 

But, not everyone lives in a community with groups like this.  If you do set up something on your own and need a motivator for your child, possibly tying service work to allowance might be good (must do chores and an hour of volunteer work with you every two weeks to receive full allowance?), or certain “extra” privileges at home could be granted for community service work—staying up later on weekends, extra hour of computer time, etc. (but never punishments for not being charitable—you want them to be excited about helping others). Of course, in time, the hope is that the good feeling they will get from helping others (not to mention the fun spent with Mom or Dad) will be inspiration enough to turn them into lifelong volunteers.

As they approach college, there is one more motivator: getting to list community service on college and scholarship applications.  Many older teens scramble to find ways to volunteer and “beef up that resume”.  But parents shouldn’t get lost in the rush– take advantage of this new-found motivation and spend some quality time with a kid who’s leaving home soon.  Try to work side by side with them as they put in these hours.  Don’t look at volunteer work, as I’ve seen some parents approach it, as a way to keep kids busy and “out of the way” so you can concentrate on doing other things.   Yes, I know as well as anybody that being around a teen for any length of time can be an emotional drain and a downer, but if you never volunteer alongside that teen, you’re missing the chance to have an “up” experience with them.  Yes, there have been times when I’ve still had to nag, and yes, there have been times when my oldest has wanted to quit after doing this for almost four years, but she stays with it, probably because she remembers that every experience we’ve had volunteering together has been positive, even when we’ve driven 15 miles in the rain to find that an event was canceled. 

Because when that happened, we still got to talk during the long drive. And since we’d already set aside three hours in our schedules that day, we still ended up spending the time together—at the mall.

Creative Consequences for Teen Behavior: More Independence

Well, you can bet that when I don’t write for over a week that I must have a pretty good excuse. And I sure wish it was a glamorous one like “I was at the Grammys” or “I got invited to the White House”.  It’s not even a dramatic reason like, “I was in the hospital all week.” Nope, usually when you don’t hear from me it’s because I’m wiped out from dealing with kid problems, and that is a mild way to describe what we’ve been going through.

I can never usually write about things in as few words as possible but I’m going to try really hard—maybe if I start by summarizing things in list form it will help:

1.)    Oldest teen gave all sorts of attitude and sass to Mom while riding home from school one day.

2.)    Mom tells teen if that kind of attitude happens again on the ride home tomorrow, teen can get their own transportation back to school at 6 for the school production teen was in (just  a background part, by the way, and several of these dancers have had to miss at least one show so if she’d missed it, the world wouldn’t have come to an end). 

3.)    Teen sasses Mom big time on the way home from school the next day, before the car is even out of the parking lot.

4.)    Mom takes teen home and says she’s not taking teen to school for the show and goes for a walk, but makes sure that the aravan is behind the “teen car” so teen can’t stupidly try to drive that car because she doesn’t have a driver’s license yet.  She could call friends for a ride, walk, or ride her bike.

5.)    When Mom (and Dad) return, they discover teen has miraculously backed the car out of the garage, around the aravan and has driven it to school.  (Later they learn she also went through the Whataburger drive-thru before she got to school.)  After retrieving the car from the school parking lot and bringing it home, Mom and Dad discover that the front end of the car is damaged, the back end, as well as the side of their backyard fence, and that other things have been damaged in daughter’s haste to back out the car, items that were “in the way”.

While it ran through our heads to have the school security guard yank her offstage, Andy chose to be waiting for her in the lobby at the end of the show to deliver the news of her consequences.  Many people thought we should have called the police and had them “pull her over”, but we chose not to go that route.  We chose to make it as close to a jail at home as we possibly could. In-room grounding (even meals eaten in room), cell phone service cut off, iPod taken away, computer on lockdown.  Driving class suspended indefinitely, at least a month, and the online part of the course is about to expire so she’ll have to pay to reinstate it.  Volunteer work in the community and extra jobs around the house; once getting her license, she’ll have to have paid for the damages to the car (and fence) or she won’t be driving it.

And how do you think she took these consequences? Contritely, with head down and profuse apologies? Remember, we have a defiant kid here, and things have not been pretty.  So as a result, we pulled a couple extracurriculars, and things got worse. “I can do whatever I want, whenever I want!!” has been the mantra coming from her. She doesn’t think what she did was that much of a “big deal”.

Just when we were about to give up and throw our hands up in the air from all the turmoil, I had an “ah-hah” moment.  It suddenly occurred to me that if this kid is “bucking the system” so hard, she must want some independence.  So let’s give it to her, I told Andy.  “You don’t like it when we take your extracurriculars away?” we asked her. “Okay, you can have all of them back.  But anything that’s not required for a grade or any part of an activity not required, we’re not going to support, not financially or with transportation.  You get to own them from now on. You have that freedom now.”   

Andy felt like we’d still given up, that she was getting everything handed to her on a plate, but I said, just wait.  If we stick to this, she’ll either get more responsible or get even angrier, and I’m ready for either one.

So far, we’ve seen a mixture of both.   She’s still mad because she’s still not going to be able to enter an upcoming solo and duet dance competition, and she still doesn’t see that what she did was that big of a deal. But I heard her make a phone call on THE LAND LINE for I think the first time ever the other day, as she arranged for transportation to the Sunday performance of the school show.  She stopped demanding that I go buy her supplies to add to her stage makeup because she knew I wouldn’t do it.  She packed her own sack dinner because I refused to “make a special trip to bring takeout dinner to her dressing room “like all the other parents do”.  And for the first time, yesterday she got herself up early enough to actually come in and wake us up, as Andy had told her she needed to do if she wanted a ride to school.

I may be a fool, but I’m not foolish enough to think this new parenting stance is instantly going to make things better.  But at least it is giving us hope.  And it sure feels good to unburden ourselves of some tasks and give them to her, which probably should have been done a long time ago. 

A Scary Lesson in Door-to-Door Sales

NO SOLICITORS. Those are two words my Girl Scout troop doesn’t like to see when they go door-to-door selling cookies, but I’m finally going to print them out on my label maker and post them by my own doorbell today, and hope that in the future, the football players, Scouts, Campfire Girls and other well-meaning kids will simply email me, as some already do, when they want to sell me something.  Because there’s just been too many not-so-well meaning door-to-door salespeople in our area lately, and I’ve had enough.

You’d think I’d have had enough long ago, since I’ve hung up on probably thousands of telemarketers (or fought with them– remember the Gay Marriage telemarketer?) and I’ve had every nut in the candy dish knock on my door since I’ve been a work-at-home mom for almost 15 years.  One memorable snaggle-toothed saleswoman slurped her bottle of miracle cleaning product in front of me after she demonstrated it on my front door handle, to prove to me that the product was non-toxic; another salesperson told me that I, pregnant with Emmie, was abusing my unborn child if I didn’t buy his water purifying system.  And even though I think I’m a savvy consumer and can easily say no after all this practice, several times my heartstrings have been tugged and I’ve been “suckered” into buying something I don’t really need, especially when it’s an older teen or twentysomething who says they are in the area raising funds for college, “and just need to close two more sales to get that scholarship”.  But really, it’s time to say “no more”, for our family’s safety as well as to teach our kids the right thing to do in the future when they are on their own.

I should have had the “No Solicitors” sign out a couple months ago, after two muscular guys came to our door saying they were raising funds for a select LaCrosse team.  These were not teens or college students, these guys looked like they were in their late 20s or early 30s. They didn’t have anything that made them look official, I don’t even think they had a clipboard.  (Of course I never open a door to a stranger– I talk to them through the glass/screen door or even a window, and my kids have seen that and we’ve talked about that.)  I said I couldn’t donate anything at this time and wished them well.  But I was definitely suspicious.  Things didn’t add up. Why would older guys need to go door to door for a sports team? If they’re working adults playing a sport on the side, what would they need to raise funds for, anyway? I concluded they were casing the neighborhood, trying to find out who was home and who wasn’t, so they could go around back and break in, and I let Karl, our neighborhood crime watch captain (and the police) know about them, and Karl alerted our neighbors.

This past Saturday afternoon, the dogs started barking as a large, tall, 20-something young man began walking up our front walk.  Andy was out back doing yardwork and as I watched the young man approach, I asked Emmie to please go lock the front door, as she was closer to it.  I failed to tell her “screen door” and as he got to the doorstep, she proceeded to look at him and shut the main door in his face. Not wanting her to be THAT rude, I was apologetic when I went to see what he wanted, talking to him through the glass.  Not a good way to start.  Fifteen minutes later, I had purchased a $40 magazine subscription.  His soft-spoken spiel about growing up in a tough New Jersey neighborhood and how he had only been in Texas a couple days and was part of an organization trying to help kids stay on the right track– well, it got to me. I wanted to help him.  He said he got extra points because I chose to donate the magazine subscription to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.  When we were finished with the transaction, he asked if he could buy a bottle of water from me, that he was thirsty, and (with the door still locked of course and him on the front porch) I brought him one, but didn’t charge him anything for it.  Emmie stood next to me and witnessed the whole thing.  As he walked away, I had a feeling, that even if I’d helped him out in some small way, that most of that money was probably going to a not-so-great organization, and that the Boys and Girls Clubs of America would never see those magazines… 

The next day, with receipt in hand, I checked out the organization’s website and Googled to find its other websites and mentions as well.  All of the websites were poorly put together and half-finished, but from what I could tell, it’s an “entertainment” company based in Detroit, that brings in kids from tough neighborhoods with the promise they are going to give them an opportunity in the rap music and film/TV industries, build their self esteem, and give them a chance to turn their lives around.  It says nothing about how these kids will be brought to other cities to sell magazines…when I clicked on one of the workable links to see the company’s “music videos”, there was one finished video, called something like (I’m not kidding) “Ax Murderer”, featuring two black rappers and showing a fat guy in a welder’s suit and mask tying up young white women and acting like he was attacking them with an ax, and also attacking a young white couple sitting in a car.  Gulp.

I don’t know how he knew, but…last night, Andy asked me if I’d bought a magazine subscription from a door-to-door salesman over the weekend. “Yes,” I admitted, and before I could tell him about my folly, he showed me breaking news online from a local TV station– a resident of a nice neighborhood about 8 miles away from us had been stabbed in the face when he refused to buy magazines from a door-to-door salesman “who said he was with an organization”, and around the same time, a door-to-door saleswoman named Tontanisha was arrested for threatening a homeowner in the same neighborhood when they also refused to buy magazines.   I made sure to tell Emmie, and Allison, and I’m alerting Captain Karl, once again.  

Like Andy says, door-to-door sales wouldn’t exist if people would just quit buying in that way, just like panhandling for booze money will stop if people quit enabling.  But because there’s always a soft heart and a fool around every corner, it all continues… apparently at a frenzied pace now that spring has sprung and north Texas is in the midst of a narrow window of decent weather…

Just this morning, I heard the young, married, bright, mother-of-two manager of a local coffee shop excitedly tell a customer about the vacuum cleaner she had just bought from a door-to-door salesperson.  “My husband didn’t want to listen to the presentation, but I talked him into it,” she said.  “When the salesman vacuumed our mattress and we saw all the dust and crud that came off of it, my husband and I were amazed, and so we bought one,” she said.  The customer’s jaw dropped as she told him the price.  “We had to take out a loan in order to afford it,” the manager continued, “but at least it will last a lifetime.”

Friday Freebie: Cheese!

Today’s freebie is easier than entering a drawing—at least if you live in Texas, or are here for Spring Break.  Just head to your nearest supermarket and some really nice people from Tillamook are likely to be handing out free cheese (three kinds!) plus dollar-off coupons and yummy recipes.  They’re driving all over the country in the cutest “mini-bus” you’ve ever seen, called the Baby Loaf bus, taking photos of their adventures and the people they meet.  Check out the video on the left sidebar of this blog to see the bus in action (or head to and you’ll also see Luke and Dale, two of the folks who are handing out samples.

While Allison and I were out shopping on Wednesday, we stopped by a nearby Kroger to check out the above-mentioned cheese and its famous car.  While not quite as iconic (or larger than life) as the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, it definitely deserves a spot in a list of “top ten best advertising vehicles” …’cause it’s just sooooo cute, like something you might see in Dr. Seuss’ ‘Whoville’! If only I could get one painted to look like the Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine…

Can you tell it’s tiny? I’m only 5’2″ tall if that helps you get perspective…
and it’s taking up only the middle of the parking space!

But enough about the car.  We didn’t get to meet Luke and Dale from the video but we did get to meet two very nice gals who seem to be having a ball spending spring break handing out cheese.  Al and I tried two kinds of cheddar and some pepper jack and they were all tasty, and I was pleased to learn that Tillamook cheese is rbst-free (no growth hormones injected into the cows that made it).

Tillamook and its fleet of loaves-on-wheels will be all over Texas throughout the spring and in other states beginning in June.
Go to 
to see the complete schedule!

A College (Re)Visit

This past weekend, we took  Allison (and Emmie) on our first “official college visit” as a family.  Allison had already been on another, with her aunt, but this was the first “taking a child to see a college in which they’re interested” for the rest of us.  I thought I would feel really old but at first it didn’t seem like that—a lot of things brought back memories of our own college days for Andy and me and it really did seem like it was yesterday.  It was fun remembering and answering the questions both girls peppered us with as we walked from point to point on our group tour. But we were reminded several times that it really wasn’t yesterday, and I’m surprised the girls would even consider us as a source of reliable college information. 

For example, when Emmie asked me, “What do students do about having  a TV?” I said, “Well, most students don’t bring a TV because there’s not room for one in their dorm room, and if they do bring one, they have to use a “rabbit ears” antenna, like I had to do, because there are no cable hookups.”   Wrong-o.  A few minutes later, Emmie pointed to a line in a brochure – cable TV hookups in every room.  I should have known. And those dorm residents probably bring hi-def flat screen versions with a Blu-ray player to boot.   I mean, a lot has changed in 30 years.  (Dang, has it been that long??) Laptops are an essential school supply of today’s college student and WiFi is everywhere.  Some textbooks are “downloadable”.  The cafeteria has a “vegan bar”.  The students use pre-loaded money cards to pay for laundry (no fishing for quarters—imagine!) and they do not have to share a bathroom with a dozen or more of their peers.   Some dorm rooms even had kitchenettes!  And (shock) they ALL had carpet!!!

But even though I ended up feeling like a dinosaur, the tour was still enjoyable.  I love seeing the “mini-worlds”, the self-contained “bubbles”, created by a college campus. The on-campus stores; the hidden bowling alleys, the bulletin boards everywhere listing nonstop concerts, lectures, and midnight movies ; the green spaces, chapels, and monuments;  the study lounges, rec centers, coffee shops, and cafeterias; the library, career center and clinic. I love thinking about all the possibilities and pathways that can be explored while there.  And I remember how excited I was to be a part of it long ago.

True, people can debate the merits of a college degree. Some of our most successful business leaders in America had little to no college.  But there’s something about college life that to me is nothing but positives.  Even working at a college is energizing—I once worked at a community college for nine years and found it to be a fantastic work environment.   There was always something going on to feed your brain, your body or your soul, from lobby fashion shows from the clothing design students to six-course lunches and dinners prepared by our chef students to even theatre productions that anyone, even non-students, could try out for. (I finally did once, and got a pretty good part!)  

Even if someone never attends college and/or never works at one, if they simply live and work in a “college town”– I wonder if they enjoy the proximity to higher learning.  Surely they do.  In an article by Nancy Smith of CBS MoneyWatch last week called “The Ten Best Places to Retire”, seven of the ten were college towns.  “Retired Americans are flocking to the culture and arts scenes and state-of-the-art medical facilities offered by college campuses,” stated The Huffington Post in Dec. 2011. And college campuses are reaching out to better include the older crowd, according to a a report by the Associated Press.

I sure hope my kids get to experience college life someday.  And I think I want to go back for seconds.

If your kids think you're cool, you must be doing something wrong…