• Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Meta

  • Advertisements

Dreaded Phrases

My friend’s Facebook post prompted many comments and stories. Mary Jo wrote, ‘Some dreaded phrases,’ and she listed a few. ‘Easy to assemble. Dry clean only. This won’t hurt a bit. Hold for the next available line.’

I immediately thought of Christmas gifts labeled easy to assemble and parents who never held a screwdriver until all the little ones were tucked in bed on Christmas Eve. I’ve heard stories of bicycles and dollhouses completed minutes before children jumped out of bed Christmas morning. Or not completed and Santa leaving a note saying, “Your dad and mom will finish this. I had to travel around the world tonight. Love, Santa.”

‘This won’t hurt a bit’ goes hand-in-hand with a phrase I don’t like: it’s minor surgery. Maybe it’s simple and insignificant to the surgeon, but when I’m the patient lying on a back leather table and the doctor holds a knife, it’s not minor. It’s major to me, physically and emotionally.

‘Hold for the next available agent’ inspired similar phrases: please hold while I transfer your call and please hold because your call is important to us and the many instructions beginning with the word Press.  Does anyone else become frustrated hearing computer-generated instructions? Press 1 for store hours. Press 2 for the store address. Press 3 to inquire about your order. Press 4 to speak with someone in billing. Press 5 to speak with someone in repair. Only a few times, have I been patient enough to hear, “Press 0 to speak to a store representative.”

Oh, for the days when a person answered business calls and then answered questions. I don’t like being placed on hold, but I do appreciate the opportunity to leave my phone number with the promise of a return call because most calls have been returned in a short time.

Other dreaded phrases relate to driving: one lane for the next 49 miles and road construction ahead. But I have to throw in some road signs I don’t like to see, but make me chuckle. Slow People Working. Danger Men Working.

And there are preambles we don’t want to hear. I hope I don’t make you mad, but ____. You don’t want to hear this, but ____. Those make me think of a day when Son, then age 16, came home one summer afternoon and said, “Mom, I gotta’ tell you something you won’t like.” Parents of teenagers know my sick feeling when my heart hit my stomach. He talked about the recent non-stop rain and flooding and heavy winds and I envisioned a wrecked car. When he finally said that the huge oak tree outside my school classroom window had uprooted and lay on the ground, I was sad, greatly relieved, and mostly touched that he knew how I loved watching that tree through the seasons.

Mary Jo, thanks for letting me use your post as a column springboard. It took me on a mind journey.

####

Advertisements

It’s Pumpkin Time!

Now that fall has arrived, pumpkins are everywhere. Porches are decorated with all sizes and not just traditional orange pumpkins. Shades of orange range from muted tangerine to vibrant red-orange. Green pumpkins are colored deep forest hues and soft mellow sea green. And some are creamy white and bright eye opening white.

I remember when I was a kid, Dad and I carried pale-colored pumpkins from the garden that were either carved into simple jack-o-lanterns or cooked for Thanksgiving pies. But what’s most surprising today is the many recipes for foods and beverages made from pumpkins. When Mom roasted the seeds, we thought we’d eaten all things pumpkin.

While turning the pages in a magazine that featured the savory side of pumpkins, it occurred to me that I could serve pumpkin for breakfast, lunch, and supper, and offer pumpkin snacks in between. Then searching online, I discovered enough recipes for pumpkin menus for a week, and never repeat, but that might be pumpkin overload.

A quote from Country Living magazine states, “The only thing better than fall mornings are fall mornings with pumpkins.” I’ll start the day with pumpkin spice flavored coffee and serve eggs baked in a mini pumpkin with bacon and roasted squash. I’ll bake maple pumpkin scones and offer pumpkin bread, to replace boring banana bread, for those who would turn up their noses at scones. And pumpkin butter will up the flavor when spread on scones and bread.

For a mid-morning energy boost, how about a pumpkin protein shake topped with spiced pumpkin whipped cream and cinnamon?

Soup, the savory side of pumpkin, for lunch. In less than fifteen minutes, I can make traditional pumpkin soup with chicken broth, onion, and garlic. Two other recipes are tempting: Pumpkin Chili and Coconut Curry Creamy Pumpkin Soup made with coconut milk.   What’s better than cornbread with soup? How about pumpkin cornbread?

Afternoon snacks have to be roasted pumpkin seeds. Just like Mom made with the pulp wiped off the seeds, but not washed. Seasoned with butter and kosher salt and roasted about 25 minutes. But I’m tempted to try Rosemary-Parmesan Pumpkin Seeds or Taco-Lime Pumpkin Seeds.

            Husband likes pasta so I’ve narrowed the dinner choices to ravioli or fettuccine or lasagna. Pumpkin Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter or Pumpkin Goat Cheese Fettuccine Alfredo or Cheesy Pumpkin Lasagna. All can be served with Roasted Pumpkin-and-Baby Kale Salad and Pumpkin Butter Brie Pull-Apart Bread.

The recipes for pumpkin desserts are limitless. Cakes, tortes, cookies, bars, rolls, cobbler, crème brulee, mousse. But I really like plain pumpkin pie, like Mom made using a recipe she tore from the wrapper of a can of evaporated milk sometime in the 1950s.

So many pumpkins. So many recipes. But I have an orange one and a couple of white ones on my porch, and I really won’t serve or eat pumpkin all day long. But I’ll venture beyond roasted seeds and pie. There are just so many choices.

####

Struck by the Love Bug

We all know someone who’s been struck by the love bug. Someone shamelessly happy and in love with another special someone. I’ve always smiled with warm, fuzzy feelings when I heard the words love bug. But after a brief encounter with a flying insect, just hearing love bug makes me duck my head and frown.

            As Husband and I drove home from a Gulf beach, we stopped at an Alabama rest stop. You know the routine of a road trip stop. Park away from the buildings so you have to walk more than a few steps. After visiting the bathrooms, take the long way around to your car and stretch your body before settling for the next two hours of driving. Toe raises. Calf stretches. Hands and arms above your head. Shoulder shrugs. And finally, back in your car.

But I wish Husband had parked next to the rest stop building that day. Before we opened the car door, I saw a man walking and wondered why he was waving both arms in front of his face. I stepped on the sidewalk and flying black insects flew inches from my face. I slapped at them, waving my arms, too.

Close to a garbage barrel, these pests swarmed. Husband and I walked quickly making a wide circle past the barrel, and I ducked to avoid flies from hitting my face. I wondered what they were and if they would light on me. Would they sting or bite?

I stood inside the rest stop building and dreaded going back outside to face the half-inch long insects. “Those are love bugs,” an Alabama resident told me. “No, they won’t sting or bite. But they are annoying.”

“Love bugs?” I said. “That’s a strange name.”   Mr. Alabama smiled and nodded and went on his way.

I later learned from the University of Florida Extension website, that these slow-moving insects are called love bugs because they often attach to their mates. They are harmless, but very annoying, to humans. They originated from Central America, and made their way to Texas, Louisiana, Florida and further north.

Love bugs are attracted to decomposing plant debris, but may confuse these odors with chemicals in exhaust fumes. They are most active when the temperature is above 84º F between 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., and their peak mating times are four weeks in May and September. So if Husband and I had set out to see love bugs mating, we’d picked the perfect place and time.

We ducked our chins and speed-walked toward our car. The front of our white car was spotted black with dead love bugs and live love bugs lined the perimeter of the car windows. We jerked the car doors open and got inside as fast as possible. The windshield was splattered with love bug guts. What a mess!

I like learning and new experiences, but I wish I’d never met black, flying, annoying love bugs. Struck by the love bug now has a whole new meaning.

####

FUN In the SAND

Version 2I expected comfortable weather at a Florida gulf beach last week, but 95° degrees and 80% humidity are miserably hot. I sat under a beach umbrella and thought I’d be complaining if I’d been sentenced to endure such heat.

I wiped sweat from my face and reminded myself that I was on vacation to have fun with Daughter’s family. I watched my Grands who played separately. Elaine, age 7, used her hand as a shovel. “What’s so fun about digging a deep hole in the sand?” I asked.

“The sand is cool, Gran. Dig deep,” she said. My Grand stuck her arm, past her elbow, in a hole. “Ah, that feels good.” I dug with my heels, making deep ruts. An inch below the surface, the sand was cooler. I rubbed my feet back and forth through the sand giving them a mini-pedicure while Elaine covered her body with sand. I declined her offer to be buried in cool sand and, instead, moved close to Jesse.

My four-year-old Grand lay face down near the water’s edge. Using one finger he drew a plate-size circle, poked two holes inside it, and drew a semi-circle under the holes. “Look, Gran, a man! Watch this!” He stood and tidewater swamped his drawing and smoothed the sand. “It’s erased!” Jesse said. He lay on his belly and wiggled his chest, his knees, his shoulders, his elbows into the sand, then stood and laughed when water washed away his body’s impression. “Look, Gran. I’m gone!”

Jesse scraped dry sand into a pile and then carried handfuls more, dumped it, and patted the pile into a teepee. Then he ran a few feet away, turned, ran toward the teepee, and kicked. Sand sprayed and my Grand laughed. I dodged flying sand. “Did you see that, Gran?” he asked. For young boys, the reason to build anything is to knock it down.

Ruth, age 9, sat in the middle of pit, a foot deep and three feet wide. Holding her hands close together she dug sand and threw it outside the hole. A small metal shovel and toy plastic ones lay out of my Grand’s reach. “Ruth, I’ll get you a shovel. It’ll be easier to dig,” I said.

“No, Gran. I don’t want one. I can feel what I’m doing and get a lot more sand with my hands,” she said. She had dug a small deep hole about a foot away and now she was digging a tunnel between it and the one she sat in. After connecting two other smaller holes by tunnels, she declared that was enough. “Now I’m going to make a crocodile,” she said and mounded sand. When the croc’s nose was too short and too round, he became the head of a hippopotamus complete with tiny ears.

As the sun began to set, I make a sand pile with wet dripping sand near the shoreline. My Grands dug deep enough in dry sand to discover wells of water. I was still hot, but very happy.

####

What’s for Supper?

cutlery-297617__480Who cooks supper meals? Remember meat-and-three-meals? Pork chops, fried chicken, beef roast, or meatloaf and three sides. Vegetables such as potatoes, green beans, corn, peas, cole slaw, and carrots. Mom cooked like that. And sometimes she served homemade soup with hot cornbread or spaghetti topped with her special tomato sauce and meatballs. That’s the suppers I ate as a child and I learned to cook at Mom’s elbow.

When friends reminisce about the first meals they ate as newlyweds, they tell funny stories because the wives didn’t know how to cook. My newlywed story is different. A few months after Husband and I married, I remember him telling me, “We really don’t have to have a big supper with meat and vegetables every night.”  I took him at his word.

I’ve always like cooking – like to chop, dice, bread, measure, mix, knead, sauté, brown and bake. But planning and shopping are chores. If someone would just tell me what to cook and buy the groceries, I’ll cook. I’ve been in a slump and I looked for other meal options.

Anyone else tried mail order meals? I ordered by email and UPS delivered a box of food packed on ice on my doorstep. Inside was everything needed, with directions, for two meals for Husband and me.   Everything for Crispy Rice Chicken Katsu with roasted Chinese broccoli. Everything. Including a liquid egg, ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, and 2 fluid ounces Tonkastu Sauce. The meal was delicious, easy to prepare, and I loved that I didn’t have to buy a large amount of an ingredient that I rarely use. One box included 2 teaspoons of Chicken Demi-Glace and 3 thyme springs and 1 red fresno chili.

To avoid planning and for easy shopping, there are fresh ready-to-cook meals available in the grocery stores. Sweet chili chicken, mild Italian sausage with sweet peppers and onions, flank steak stuffed with spinach and provolone. All ready for the oven or microwave. Even taco soup for my crockpot. And salads are bagged with cut lettuce and carrots, dressing, and croutons. All I have to do is open the plastic bags and dinner is ready.

Frozen meals have come a long way. Remember TV dinners in the 1950s? Meat drowned in bland brown gravy and tasteless mashed potatoes and diced soggy carrots weren’t acceptable on Mom’s table. But oh, the frozen meals choices today. Beef Lo Mein, Alfredo Chicken, Three Cheese Lasagna, Chicken Pai Thai, Chicken Pot Pie. And there are kids’ meals with chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, and broccoli.

And delicious prepared meals are available from local caterers. Take the food home, heat it, and serve. Nothing could be easier. Voila! Dinner is served!

I’ve tried mail order meals, meals in a box, meals in plastic bags, catered meals. Some passed the test – as good as Mom’s. Most didn’t. Time to make this week’s menu and shopping list, including what I call ‘find-it, eat-it’ meals. Husband is good with that.

School Recess is Needed Playtime

Last week I wrote about the need for children to play at home. But I’m still pondering the American Academy of Pediatrics report, ‘The Power of Play,’ because it also stresses the need for play at school. It encourages educators, pediatricians, and families to advocate for and protect unstructured playtime in preschools and schools. That’s a bandwagon I can jump on.

Elementary age school children watch the clock for recess time. When I taught 4th graders, some struggled to tell time on an analog clock, a round clock with hands that hung in every classroom. But all students knew exactly where the hour and minute hands pointed when it was time for recess and named that time as 1:40 or 20 minutes before 2. When I randomly asked how much longer until recess, students quickly counted forward, using the same skills that were so difficult during a math lesson to determine elapsed time.

Students ran to the playground. Ran. Just for fun and as if they hadn’t played on the swings and slide and merry-go-round and jungle gym the day before. And a pick-up ball game began quickly. Some children played four-square on the painted court on the blacktop. A few, especially girls, wandered off in small groups and walked and talked.

And students played in the dirt. Young children played house and pretended that large exposed tree roots created a home with rooms. Sticks became people and leaves were furniture. Those same roots were racetracks for Matchbox cars that boys brought from home.

Thinking back to the days I played on a school playground, my friends and I had an ongoing game of hopscotch. Using chalk from our classroom, we drew an eight-block court on the blacktop, pulled our best flat rocks out of our pockets, and continued the game from the day before. We also jumped rope. Does anyone else remember jump rope rhymes?   One began, “Cinderella, dressed in yellow,” and ended with all the girls counting aloud, screaming, the number of kisses Cinderella got from her fella.

During my teaching years, recess got a bad rap. The emphasis on standardized testing led some states to shorten or eliminate recess to allow more instruction time. An article defending recess in Time Magazine, October 2017, states, “There is substantial evidence that physical activity can help improve academic achievement, including grades and standardized test scores.” A 2016 study found that young boys who spent more time sitting and less time playing didn’t progress as quickly in reading and math. A 2009 study found that 8- and 9-year-old children who had at least one daily recess period of more than 15 minutes had better classroom behavior.

The Tennessee Board of Education recognizes the need for both teacher-led physical education classes and recess. Elementary students should have 130 minutes physical activity per week, including at least 15 minutes of daily recess. Putnam County teachers and administrators have assured me recess and physical education classes are part every student’s schedule.

Recess – time to exercise, to socialize, to break from work, to play. Children need it.

Let the Children Play

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 1.04.17 PMWhen I read a recent news story stating that doctors should prescribe ‘Play’ for children, I did a double take. Surely, everyone knows children need to play. Surely.

A report, “The Power of Play,” was endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Michael Yogman, lead author of the report, stated that play often gets a bad rap as being a waste of time. He said, “Play is really brain building because it has all kinds of effects on brain structure and function. Executive function skills, learning to persist on a task, learning to solve problems, learning to be flexible about how they are learning things. It’s how we learn, not what we learn.”

As a retired elementary school teacher and grandmother of eight, I agree. Children need time to play. Free play. Inside and outside. Time to explore and pretend. Playtime alone, with friends, with siblings, with parents.

I think of when I was a kid and played in the barn loft and struggled to move the heavy hay bales to make a house and a maze. I didn’t know I was learning to plan and carry out a task.

When my childhood friend Elizabeth and I squished mud to make mud pies, we had fun and we learned. How much water was needed to hold the mud together? Where would the mud pies dry fastest? How long did it take them to dry?

I hope every child climbs trees. Obviously, it’s good physical exercise, but it requires decision making and problem solving.   Which limbs are strong enough to climb and which limb can be reached next?

I was probably eight years old when I sat in the top of my family’s cherry tree and thought I couldn’t get down. I was scared. I was allowed to climb any tree, as high as I wanted, as long as I could get myself back on the ground. My hands trembled. I eased down much more slowly that I’d climbed up. No one watched, unless they watched from inside the house. When I finally jumped to the ground, I felt a sense of accomplishment and success. I didn’t know I was building self-confidence.

Last week, I watched 4 year-old Jesse line up about twenty-five matchbox and other small cars and trucks in order. Big to little. Three red cars together. My Grand was learning classification and organization. When Fisher Price little people (two-inch toys) were stuck inside a small plastic playhouse, he turned the house upside down and shook it, but the people didn’t fall out. Then he looked through a small opening to see the stuck people and pushed them with one finger. After several minutes, he got the people out. I resisted offering help. This was Jesse’s problem.

“We’re recommending that doctors write a prescription for play, because it’s so important,” said Dr. Yogman. And he stated that the most powerful way children learn isn’t only in classrooms or libraries, but rather on playgrounds and in playrooms. I agree.

####