Thursday, June 12, 2014

Debbie Downer Donner Party

We are planning a cross country trip with the kids for this summer.  We have talked about doing this for years. My husband's family and we live on opposite coasts.  Airfare times five is quite expensive, plus we have to rent a vehicle once we get there. A family wedding forced us to revisit this idea of driving. We discussed it at length, and decided to make a go of it this summer.  My husband has enough vacation time.  I'm not working or going to school this summer. The kids are big enough to amuse themselves with electronics.  We bought a newer minivan, with just 30,000 miles, as opposed to the old one that had 130,000 miles on it. We kind of feel like it is now or never.

We have done longer trips with our kids, but this would certainly be the longest yet.  We drove to Virginia when they were infants, and we managed.  On that trip, we had to actually stop and take them out of their car seats to feed them rather than just throw apples and goldfish into the back seat.  (Though having kids in diapers may cut down on bathroom stops, or would if I had any bladder control left after giving birth to twins.)

There are those that think we are crazy, and maybe we are a little bit. My mother keeps trying to talk us out of it.  She offered to take my kids on the plane with her while my husband and I drove out. She obviously wasn't getting the point about family togetherness and creating memories.  She offered to stay home, missing the wedding herself, and let me and my husband fly, failing to consider the fact that their other set of grandparents may actually want to see my kids.

I think that she thinks it is 1846, and that we may all die of dysentery as we make the trek westward.  I know stuff happens, but armed with cell phones and AAA, I think we can handle most things that come up.

She warned of it being tornado season in the midwest.   I reminded her of the fact that a tornado touched down a couple of weeks ago not 30 miles from where we lived.  The fickle finger of fate may just as likely land a tornado on my minivan as I drive my kids to Little League than when we traverse the Great Plains.

She warned of entire areas of the country with no people, and no where to stop, and no cell reception, and no gas.  Didn't you see Tremors?!

I had to promise her I would call or text every hour or so.  I just hope that snake monsters don't snap the axle on our new mivan.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

I’m…Movin’ Out

“Mama, if that’s moving up then I’m…movin' out.”

I guess Billy Joel is right about me on at least one count; I am moving out. But I’ve also moved up, moved down, back, forth, in, out, and out again. Now that I’ve…one…two…three…four…five……..tabulated all my glorious residences, I’ve come up with a number. I’ve moved SIXTEEN TIMES in my life and I’m really not that old. It averages out to be about once every two years.

I’ve been through it all. Passive aggressive landlords, cockroaches, lacrosse team neighbors and their parties that never ended, leaky everything–pipes, floors, ceilings, roofs, walls, basements. And of course there was one notorious Pink House. It could be the subject of a whole novel, but I’ll just say “creepy” and call it a day.

Instead of packing boxes, purging, and organizing like I should be, I’ve decided to mentally prepare for M-Day by reaching out to some of the other “experts” out there. I was hoping to get some good advice (so I can do it right for once) and compile some of the tales that are funnier than mine. And don’t worry; I’ve included some of my own “horror stories” as well:    

Dogs and skunks are never a good combination, especially the night before moving day. No amount of tomato juice makes that smell go away. We ended up throwing away a lot of stuff that couldn’t be washed and had to go through extreme measures to cleanse the air in TWO homes. Poor Schuyler-dog (may she rest in peace). She got sprayed right in the face and on a damp or humid day, there were still hints of the odor even years later. –Alicia, Massachusetts

Best advice. Hire movers. Worth every penny. –Daniel, Arizona

Your [Alicia] first Boston apartment on Beacon St. when the elevator puked parts! –Andrea, New York

Ah, Boston. Yes, make sure the elevator works when you’re moving into the fifth story of an apartment building or your moving buddies will never let you hear the end of it. And every time the story gets retold, it gets more and more outrageous. It was 98 degrees…300 percent humidity…and there was a hurricane looming on the horizon…and then a flock of flying monkeys started hurling overripe bananas at our heads… Alicia, Massachusetts

My move outta Brooklyn was a beauty! 95 degrees with a major hangover! 3rd floor walk up to the apartment. No help and crates full of albums and couches! I saw a homeless guy pushing a shopping cart down the block! I hired him, told him I would murder him if he stole anything! Promised him $40! He did such a great job I paid him $80 and gave him my bicycle! Guy saved my a$$! Mike, New York

Oh dear. So many to choose from. The time I bought a couch specifically so I wouldn't have to lug it to my 3rd floor apartment, and the delivery guys left it outside. We had to rig a pulley system to get it up over the balcony. When we left we redid the pulley, but gravity took over at 9.80 m/s2. Or the time the mattress fell off the roof on I-787. Or the time the new boyfriend was helping me move, and found not one but several condom wrappers in a couch that had been in storage. –Carissa, New York

I was going to include the I-787 one from my perspective because I almost died that day! It was windy and raining and rather than drive through town, my sister [Carissa] decided to take the “faster” route, the highway, which by miles was a longer distance. Unfortunately, my father’s [Steve] roof rack wasn’t meant to hold a mattress, in the wind, going 55 mph…and it snapped off and the mattress went with it. Good thing my boyfriend, now husband, had the skills and reflexes of a NASCAR driver. –Alicia, Massachusetts

Yeah, good thing. You’re ’89 Camry would have been done!  –Greg, Massachusetts

Then there was the POD incident. They couldn't get it into our driveway because the tree hangs too low. The put it in our backyard, but the driver rolled over the corner of our neighbor’s property, leaving tracks. I wasn't the one driving the truck and at that point I was not even really sure where the line was. That didn't stop the guy from banging on my back door and screaming at me when I was home alone with my 2 year old. It was terrifying. Nice way to welcome the neighbors.  –Carissa, New York

Oh, there was the time the ex and I had to move an entire apartment in a utility van because U-haul screwed up our reservation. We got the van at 6pm on a Friday and had to have it back by noon Saturday (the next day). We worked through the night, stopping to get 2 hours of sleep. We got the van back to Enterprise with 5 minutes to spare before they closed.  Alex, Rhode Island

When you’re moving out of cockroach pit, they say to leave your furniture outside for at least 24 hours. But just make sure it’s not raining the next day.  For us, it was, and the moving van got stuck in the mud. By the following day, there was literally an inch of mud on the floor. We needed something close to a chisel to get it off! –Jeanne, New York

Make sure you have a backup plan when you arrive at your new place, especially when you have children with you. There was one time the previous tenant, a royal SOB, wouldn’t leave the premises until his lease was “officially” over. He planned on being there until 11:59 pm on the last day. With a sick kid in the car, his wife finally convinced him to let us in, but it was still after ten o’clock at night. The same guy tried to sue us for the cost of the heating oil he left in the tank, nearly full, of course.  –Steve, New York 

If you move a washing machine make sure you have it roped to the dolly. The bottom is hollow and the insides plastic. If you use movers, definitely get a referral and hear stories about them. –Paul, Georgia

I once helped some friends move and had to help carry what seemed like hundreds of large Rubbermaid boxes packed with old textbooks out of their basement.  –Phil, New York

Those "friends" must be jerks! –Greg, Massachusetts

Sorry, Phil, [not really] chemistry and physics haven’t changed that much in fifty years and I was still teaching at the time.  –Alicia, Massachusetts

Your father [Steve] once helped your Uncle John move me from Saratoga, NY to Long Island in a snow storm with a record 150 car pile up on the Northway. What a day. Thankfully while we have moved several times, we have gained knowledge and advice from many on how to do it right! –Andrea, Virginia

Well, there you have it folks! Advice from the “experts.” It’s hard to believe I have to go through it all again in a few days, but the complete life upheaval should be worth it in the end. Because the next house is for keeps... 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Gluten Free Favorites

I have been eating gluten free for over a year now.  I've learned a lot along the way.  I decided to put together a list of my favorite things.  Some of these tend towards the more "processed" foods. We try to do whole foods and naturally GF stuff more than the replacements. Every once in a while though, a girl needs to eat a cookie, or just open a can of soup for a quick meal.

Disclaimer- I have not been paid by any of these companies, it is all stuff I have actually eaten and liked.

Udi's Gluten Free Snickerdoodles - These are quite possibly the best cookies that I have ever eaten in my life, with or without flour.  They are thick and chewy and just all around wonderful.

Herb Ox Bouillon Cubes and Packets - So many soups and gravy mixes contain flour. These babies are great to start a gravy.  I use them with Minute Rice as a quick side dish that isn't "just rice". The packets are great to make dip with.

Boar's Head Cold Cuts - If you go to their page they say "We were gluten free long before you thought to ask."  I love that.

GF Bisquick - This stuff is magical.  I have used it to make pancakes and to bread fish.  I also mixed cornmeal with it to make a great corn bread.  This is another pantry staple.

Perdue Chicken Tenders - These are a great convenience food.  It is rare to find "breaded" foods that are safe to eat.  These are in regular rotation around here for busy evenings.

Ore Ida Potato Crowns - These are naturally GF, and another great thing to just throw in the oven quickly for dinners on nights where we run from dance to scouts to Little League.

Schar White Bread - So far this is the best national brand bread that I have tried. There are a couple of local bakeries around that do more artisanal bread and rolls, but this one is good toasted, and makes a nice grilled cheese.

Robert's Pirate Booty - We ate this all the time, even before making the change to be GF.  It is a great low calorie snack, and perfect to sate carby cravings.

Cape Cod Potato Chips - Potato chips should be GF, but depending on the flavorings, you have to be careful.  All of Cape Cod's are, and they are not cooked in peanut oil, as Utz's are.

Amy's Lentil Soup - This is a terrific, nutritionally dense soup, and great for an easy lunch. Also, it is quite portable, so I tend to keep a can on hand to bring places where there may not be food for me.

Amy's Frozen Dinners - My husband's favorite is the tortilla bowl, and he can appreciate the tamales, even if they aren't his mother's. I myself love the cheese enchiladas and the Mac n cheese. I wouldn't recommend the Cheez version however, unless you have really bad dairy issues or tend towards the vegan.  GF, Dairy free Mac n' cheese is pushing the boundaries a bit.

Progresso Clam Chowder - A great soup that is naturally GF, and is found in the regular old aisles of the grocery store.

Progresso French Onion - I usually use this soup as a base in recipes.  I used to use Lipton's dry soup in a lot of things, and this is an acceptable GF substitution.

Annie's Gluten Free Mac n' Cheese - I love that there is a boxed version that we can still eat.

Sam Mills Pastas - GF pastas generally have come a long way.  Major brands are offering their own, but I still like this one, as it comes in 16 oz. packages for just slightly more than regular pasta costs (other brands reduce the package size, and so I have to make 2 boxes for the family).  It is corn based, and perhaps less healthy than some of the brown rice versions, but it is the closest to regular pasta that you can get.

Pillsbury Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough - I was very excited when I heard about this product. There is just nothing quite like a warm chocolate chip cookie.  Of course I can make my own, but I love the option of making these quickly on cold winter days to warm up the house.  It's also a good thing to keep on hand to bring to a party, so you will have something sweet to eat.

Plated - This is a more of a service and not a product. They put together all the ingredients for a meal for you, and mail it right to your door. Their recipes are based on whole foods, and well over half are naturally GF. The recipes tend towards gourmet,  but are simple enough that even my husband (a non-cook) can make them.  If you want to give them a try, click here for a good deal.

What are your favorites?  What should I add to my list?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Early Childhood and Video Games

     I was talking to a friend of my mother's recently.  She directed some questions to my 5 year old son, and he started chattering on about Minecraft, his latest obsession. I had to explain all that is Minecraft to luddite. The second she heard the words "video game" an audible tsk tsk escaped her lips. I don't think she understands the world of video games today. However, she is not alone as quite a few of my mommy friends don't let their kids have video games of any kind (which is a shame because I could hook them up with my connections). I respect their choices, but I hope that they don't judge me for my choices.    
     As a disclaimer, my husband makes video games for a living.  I personally would consider myself a hardcore-casual gamer, as in when I get into a game that I like, I will generally play to completion. My kids were exposed to video games from a very young age.

     When my eldest was 18 months old, she discovered the wonder of the GameBoy, as did we on a 6 hour cross country flight.  Shortly thereafter, the iPhone debuted, in all of it's toddler amusing glory.  My friends watched with awe as she flipped between aps, showing her favorites, and then showing off pictures, and even took pictures of them.  
     Now, a half dozen years later, my kids are big into video games. They do spend a lot of time playing games, but much less time watching television.  I actually prefer they play games, where they are an active participant, rather than sit passively and watch TV or a movie.  I think most parents and educators would be pretty amazed at some of the learning that takes place during game play.  

      Minecraft is the game of the moment at our house.  It is like Legos in the virtual world (and you don't ever step on them!).  You can build things, dig in the dirt, raise animals, plant trees, all in a virtual world. There are a couple of different modes in this game. In Survival mode, you start with nothing, and have to craft pick axes and armour and build houses.  Then somewhere along the way, they discovered Creative mode, where all possible objects are at your disposal from the get go (no more mining for hours looking for one lousy diamond).  My kids had played for several months in Survival mode before they discovered Creative mode.  They were all like, how did we not know about this sooner?!  Now they build all kinds of crazy huge structures, stores that sell vegetables and lumber, waterfalls from the clouds, lava filled tubs, and huge roller coasters. The level of imagination they display is incredible.  There is a magenta carpet path that connects their houses. This game allows for 2 players. When they stray away from each other, they use their maps to find one another. They make up little stories about their villagers.  All in all, I feel it is time well spent.  

     Skylanders will forever be an all time favorite in our house.  One of my favorite parts of this game, as a mother and an educator is how they speak the text, and highlight the words as they are spoken.  For emerging and struggling readers, this is a fabulous way to support their reading skills. In the most recent iteration with the addition of the Swap Force characters, my kids are learning about combinations and permutations. There are 16 guys, each with 2 pieces, and a total possible 256 combinations.  There is a chart in the menu that shows what combinations you have used.  My kids have made it their mission to try to get all 256 combinations.  

    Scribblenauts is yet another great game that game that allows for spontaneous learning.  In this game you let your imagination run wild, and insert whatever random object pops into your head into the scene. The trick is, you have to know how to spell the word.  After a dozen "Mom how do you spell. . ." I got wise.  Sound it out.  If they get close, autocorrect with in the game will do the rest and make suggestions.  They are all gaining confidence as spellers and as readers by playing this game.  

     Those are just our 3 favorite games of the moment.  Otherwise there are so many skills that are implicitly taught in the video games that they play.  For example, you need 50 whatevers to open said area.  My son learned to subtract at the ripe old age of 4 because he knew he had 39 whatevers, and needed 11 more to get to 50.  Physics is another biggy.  Your roller coaster can't make it up the second hill, try making the first hill taller. Can the motorcycle make it through the loop? No? Try going faster.  They may not know the terms momentum centripetal force yet, but they get concepts.

    In this era, there is so much great stuff out there.  It's not all like Grand Theft Auto (but don't get me wrong, I have played GTA and loved it, though my kids have not yet experienced it). Learning and playing are not mutually exclusive as any Kindergarten teacher will tell you.