Frustration Free Packaging!

(Photo stolen from Amazon's website)

3 years ago, I posted a rant about my frustration with toy packaging. I'm happy to report that Amazon is trying to help us and the environment with their new "frustration free packaging". They are working with certain toy manufacturers to have the toys packaged as simply as possible inside a plain cardboard box that is sturdy enough for the toy to be shipped in. If you want Amazon to gift wrap it, they will. The receiver will only have to tear a tape seal, open the plain box, and maybe open a couple of baggies of small parts inside and be ready to play with the toy. No more plastic that you can't cut through or endless twist ties. You get to the goods much faster and, best of all, the minimal and mostly cardboard packaging is much more environmentally friendly.

Now, the CO2 emissions from shipping the toy across the country, the resources used to manufacture the toy in the first place, and the materials some of the toys are made of that ultimately need to be disposed of when the toy's life cycle is over are still not environmentally friendly. But it's a small step in the right direction. And because Amazon is leading the way, with their gigantic volume they have some weight to throw around in terms of pressuring toy manufacturers to get on board with this. My overly ambitious hope is that we'll see these plain boxes show up next at our local toy retailers...

So, if you must buy new toys for the holidays this year, please consider looking on Amazon for the ones with frustration free packaging. And if you want to do better than that, buy, swap, or hand-me down used toys which have no packaging at all, don't need to be shipped across the country, probably have a lot of life left in them, and the kids will enjoy them just as much!



"Girls Can't Do It"

Team sports don't do much for me. I've always been more of an X-Games kind of girl. I was a skater in another lifetime, am into street and dirtbikes, still love to rollerskate (quads only!), and recently took up BMX along with my son. Two years ago, I fought a lot of anxiety and self-doubt to even make it around the track for the first time. After much practice, I gained confidence, got smooth, and then started to get fast. It was so awesome the last few times we went because in choosing to work on speed, I ended up inadvertently catching air for the first time and finally "got" what that was all about.

I've always fantasized about being able to do air tricks on a bike or dirtbike and practically blew out the clutch on my XR250L trying over and over to do wheelies down suburban streets years ago. The best of which felt like I was going to fall over backwards but probably looked like my tire popped up about an inch off the pavement. Backtire automatically does huge ones by just thinking about it and has tried to explain the physics and mechanics of getting that front tire off the ground to me dozens of times (you get where the nickname comes from now). But although I understand it scientifically, I've never been able to feel what I need to feel to actually do it. I've tried really hard to no avail.

It turns out that trying was going to get me nowhere. Speed was what I needed and the bike just lifted itself up magically! or scientifically! but I certainly didn't feel in control of it. Now I know that if I get to the right speed I can get a little air on the top of any jump that I want and I can feel how with more speed and the right twitch here and there, I could get bigger and bigger air.

Then there's the steep drop ins. Although I eventually learned years ago how to drop into a small skateboard ramp and I've gone down steep hills on dirtbikes and mountain bikes and skis, and I know that how gravity and friction work and that the bike will be fine going down and all I have to do is calmly stay on it, when I roll the BMX bike up to a steep drop in, I always chicken out. Well, here's the new motivator- my 4 year old. He has been following daddy down the steep drop ins the last few times while I take another route (chicken sounds here). Screw that! Today I just started pedaling behind them before my head could get a chance to stop me and of course I was fine.

Then we headed over to the big bowl, part of the track I've never even considered riding and after Backtire went through it, Turtle asked if I would and I said "hmmm, I don't know, I never have" (more chicken sounds here) to which he replied "Well, girls can't do it." Screw that, too! Talk about double motivation. No way am I going to let my son believe that "girls can't do it" about anything! So, off I went. Right down the ultra steep drop in and up the other side without eating it. Whoo hoo! Who woulda thought?! And now I'm eyeing some of the bigger jumps and thinking about how I can work my skills up to the point of attempting them... what was fear to even try has become passion to get better. I'm hooked! In fact, where I used to begrudgingly accompany them to the track, I was the one who suggested going today because I really wanted to ride.

It took me two years to get to this point. That's longer than I believe I've ever stuck with something that I wasn't learning very fast. I've always tended to quit that which I couldn't get wired right away or at least make great gains in rapidly. Especially anything vaguely in the realm of sports. But now I'm growing - at the BMX track and in my approach to learning new things- and maybe I actually WILL catch that fantasy big air one day...

Not Me- I Wish!
(Photo Credit: http://www.future10.com/v2/blog/?m=200805)


Front Yard Sorbet

For the past two years, I've enjoyed the deep red foliage and gorgeous white-pink blossoms of the plum tree in our front yard while merely stepping over the sticky stain blobs of the tiny plums it drops on the sidewalk. Never having an edible fruit tree before, I think we subconsciously assumed the plums were sour, toxic, or bad in some way. But this summer, since we've been in the rhythm of checking our garden for harvest-ready peas and tomatoes each day, I finally looked at the plum tree and really SAW the plums before they made it to the sidewalk and it dawned on me that we had no reason to believe the fruits were bad and had never even tested them.

I plucked just one off a branch, ate it, and waited around for a few hours ready to dial 911 if I started feeling poisoned or something. It was really juicy and sweet and I didn't die, so I commenced with Googling and unofficially identified that we are the owners of a "cherry plum" tree. Several websites dismissed these trees warning that cherry plums are not worth harvesting as they aren't much bigger than a cherry and their fruit clings to the pits. But I couldn't pass up the chance to pick and eat fruit with Turtle in our very own yard!

We got out the 6 foot ladder and took turns climbing up to reach the plums that we could. Unfortunately, many of them were still beyond my reach, so I would need some serious equipment if I ever really wanted to harvest them all. And many of them were already half eaten or fermented, bursting apart as we touched them. But eventually we had 20 or so good ones that we kept.

Since they were all pretty ripe and wouldn't last long and we didn't want to eat 20 plums that day, I decided we should make something out of them. Sorbet seemed summery and easy enough, so we looked at a few online recipes, rinsed the plums, and started to de-pit them.

Perhaps there exists some awesome technique or tool used for pitting cherry plums neatly. If so, please let me know. I just kind of ended up hacking them open with knives and then they'd nearly explode into a pulpy mess all over the cutting board. There was a lot of skin and juice all over the place and not much "meat" and it was really hard to get the meat off the pit. After trying a few different things, the easiest was to just hold a plum over a bowl and use my fingernails to kind of pull the pit out and just drop whatever was left behind into the bowl as juice dribbled down my arms. Very messy business and I was starting to understand the websites that said cherry plums aren't worth putting your energy into!

Here you can see what pitting 20 cherry plums gave us- less than a cup of juice and skins. I can't imagine how much work and mess it would have been to try to make a true quantity of sorbet.
Then we remembered that we had some leftover watermelon in the fridge, so we chopped that up and added it to bulk up our mixture. That went into a blender and then was strained to get the skins and seeds out. After straining, you can see that we only ended up with a little over a cup of stuff.

Meanwhile, I prepared a 1:1 sugar to water syrup on the stove. 1 cup sugar dissolved into 1 cup water allowed to boil for 30 seconds together. We added that directly to the fruit mixture. So, it ended up being 1 cup syrup to 1 cup fruit. Then a squirt of lemon juice, stirred it up, and put it in a container in the freezer. I have never made sorbet before. I have no idea if we needed the lemon juice, but most sorbet recipes had it. I have no idea if my ratio of syrup to fruit was right, because all of the recipes dealt with much larger quantities of fruit, used different ratios than each other, or said add syrup to taste. I had no idea if mixing watermelon and plum was a good idea and if our sorbet would taste any good at all, but we had fun making it, so I was happy with the experience.

The next day, we took out our nearly frozen solid chunk of sorbet and broke it up with a fork to make it fluffy, then put it back in the freezer for a couple hours. It looked gorgeous when we took it out after dinner:

Now, I'm no gourmet. It probably had too many ice crystals and maybe the sugar ratio wasn't quite right and so on and so forth. But it was really really yummy. Seriously yummy! Everyone loved it!

It was a lot of work and mess for a tiny bit of dessert, but it was even sweeter because we had used the fruits from our own tree and made it ourselves!


How My Garden Made Me Sick

Yesterday, I learned what bolting is.

Bolting: What my stomach contents wanted to do all afternoon and last night after eating a big salad for lunch made from the romaine I've been growing the backyard this summer.

We planted 4 each of romaine and red leaf lettuce from seedlings this spring for the first time and they both did beautifully, continuously producing scrumptuously crisp and tasty leaves for us to eat for the past month or so. Having no real experience with lettuce, I wasn't sure if I should cut a whole head and bring it in to the kitchen- would that kill the plant, would it resprout? So, I would just keep tearing only the leaves I needed for the day off the bottom of the head in the hopes that the center would continue producing. That plan seemed to work and I had fresh lettuce for sandwiches and salad every day for a long time. I signed up for the green salad at all the potlucks and we couldn't even begin to consume all of the lettuce we were producing with our little family of 3, one of whom won't eat lettuce.

Then a couple weeks ago I noticed that the romaine was suddenly growing tall instead of just bushy. It shot up a long stem between each set of leaves and kept stretching out its height. I had no idea what that meant but figured it signaled that the lettuce was moving on to some new phase of life and maybe wouldn't produce much longer. But I kept eating it and it tasted fine. Then the red leaf shot up flowers and when I mentioned it to friends they said "yeah, you can't let the lettuce go to seed". But no one could actually tell me why when I asked. So, I chopped off the flower stalk in the hopes that I could force the lettuce to keep producing leaves and kept eating it.

Yesterday I was thinking about how the lettuce plants were probably ready to reproduce and would soon stop making new leaves and would die, so I should enjoy them while I can, so I made this big salad for lunch from the romaine, which looked closer to death than the red leaf. AFTER I enjoyed my salad, I decided to finally look this up and try to understand more about growing lettuce. It was only after some searching and many more unexplained "you shouldn't let the lettuce go to seed" statements, that I finally found out what was going on.

It turns out that my lettuce has been bolting- that's the name for when it shoots up and puts out flowers to make seed. It's like it's trying to "leave" your garden. And that lettuce will naturally bolt after some time and you can't stop or reverse it, maybe just slow it down a little by cutting off its flowers like I did. And, more importantly, that as it bolts, it will start producing bitter compounds in the leaves and becomes inedible. And that sometimes it will bolt early if it's under stress- if it becomes too hot, too dry, too crowded. And that if you let it go to seed, you'll end up with seeds that you wouldn't want to plant because they have a tendency to bolt early or you'll end up with seeds scattered in your soil that will become lettuce weeds in other areas of your garden plot. And you shouldn't put the seeds in your compost for the same reason. And that people spend a lot of energy cultivating and taking care of strains of lettuce that last as long as possible before bolting and those are the best seeds to buy.

Well, it was nice to learn about how to garden lettuce after I had already gardened it. And really good to know about the bitter compounds after I had that big salad because then when an hour or so later I started feeling nauseated and that went on all day and all night, at least I knew why! I'm pretty sure I toxified myself slightly yesterday with my homegrown bolted romaine lettuce. But that's what I call hands-on learning!

We unceremoniously pulled all the lettuce up last night and plopped it in the compost pile. Moving on to other garden adventures...


The Sheer Ridiculousness of our Response to Environmental Disaster

This is really funny and really sad and really clever and really tragic and I just don't even know how to feel about it! I love the video and hate the reality. I'm having a hard time even facing what's going on with the bp spill.

I wish I didn't know what I do about the importance of wetlands, about marine ecosystems, about the persistence of crude oil, about how the effects of Valdez still aren't over and that this is potentially thousands of times worse, about all of the ramifications of our dependence on oil and the plastics, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and other petrochemicals made from it, about how volunteers washing birds with dishsoap makes for nice news but is pointless because their habitat is gone or toxic enough to impact generations of their population, about how toxins biomagnify and move up the food chain, about how we don't even hear of the hundreds of marine mammals who've been killed, about how we cannot even begin to predict what all of the fallout will be from this spill in terms of lives cost, biodiversity losses, marine fishery collapse, impacts on food supply, the economy, the aesthetics of the region, the health impacts of rescue workers exposing themselves to toxic oil and its vapors for weeks on end...

It's CRUSHINGLY depressing. I have to not pay attention or my outrage and feelings of hopelessness will consume me. I have to just keep thinking about what I can do to play my part in creating the world I want to live in and I want my son to live in, moving forward from here...


Living the Dad's Life

This is a hilarious reminder that it's not just us moms that have our lives and identities swallowed whole. I'm sure Backtire has his share of "Spare Mindy" moments, too!


Just Starting the 15-Year Trough

Here's the most validating graph I've seen in a while from my latest issue of Science News. WB stands for well-being, so the higher up the dot on the graph, the happier the people feel at that age. Hundreds of thousands of people were surveyed in this piece of research to show that we all start getting progressively less happy as our 30's wear on and don't recover until after we turn 50. My main two reactions to the graph were:

Oh, good, it's not just me!

Ha! Duh! Those are the years that we raise our kids!* ; )

But seriously, the youthful enthusiasm and raw ambition of my teens and 20's has given way to the realization that all of my dreams might not come true, the burden of the giant mortgage, the whirlwind of being a working mom, the appearance of spider veins and cellulite and more and more gray hair, the loss of my physical energy, professional burnout...OMG, I think I'm having a mid-life crisis! Send me a red convertible corvette, stat!

And what's the next step? Turtle as a tween and teen (ugh!), caring for aging parents, increasing responsibilities, less personal freedom and time...I can see how this dip lasts 10-15 years before you can get your head above water and look around after 50 with a whole new attitude.

The cool part is that the end of the graph is so hopeful! We end up even happier than we ever were in the beginning! Or perhaps we just finally learn to really really really lower our standards? Either way, who cares, we feel better! I'm looking forward to that...

*Speaking for those of us who entered parenting in our mid-30's...


Have it Your Way

So we're stooping to McDonald's take-out for dinner tonight and Daddy asked Turtle what he wanted to order and Turtle said:

"I want a cheeseburger with no cheese."


What the beep?!

(Photo credit: http://www.powerpath.com/images/products/lg_jaaudioscreening.jpg)

For his 4 year check-up, Turtle did his first auditory screening. The nurse told him to put on the headphones and raise his hand every time he heard a "beep". Facing him away from her, she began the test, pushing buttons to ring different tones in his headphones at random intervals. We sat nervously watching her push the buttons and watching him not respond at all.


She took the headphones off of him and tested them on herself to make sure they were working and then gave us a quizzical look as they were working just fine.

I thought for a moment, then turned to Turtle and said "She wants you to raise your hand any time that you hear anything at all. Not just beeps."

The test resumed and he raised his hand for every tone she sounded. Whew.

That's our boy- taking his instructions very literally. The tones didn't sound like "beeps" to him- beeps are high pitched short sounds- so he didn't raise his hand. The kid thought he had to discern between beeps and non-beeps and was very proud that he was doing just so.

And a lesson to the nurse, us as parents, me as a teacher, and to caregivers and educators working with children everywhere...you have to really think about what you are asking someone to do and who your audience is and be very explicit with your instructions as they are easily misunderstood. If we hadn't been in the room and I didn't know my son so well, he would have been red flagged for hearing difficulties all due to a miscommunication.


St. Patrick's Day...More Than Meets The Eye

Turtle this morning: "Mom, all of us have to wear green today or else the decepticons will pinch us!"

Hmmm...whole new mental picture of St. Patty's Day:

Ouch! Really don't want to be pinched by them!