Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Watch Where You Walk

Like my parents and their parents before them, I take any chance I get to point out to my children how easy their childhood is compared to how mine was. For example, my kids don't have to share the only bathroom in the house with their entire family. They don't have to drink powdered milk. They don't have a bunch of older siblings demanding they fetch them bottles of Coke from the refrigerator. However, my kids do endure one hardship I didn't have to experience, even though I grew up on the gritty streets of south Minneapolis and they're being raised in the luxury of the suburbs: they take their lives in their hands every day on their way to school.

They don't like pedestrians where we live. Or cyclists. Really. They've done everything in their power to encourage people to drive everywhere. And by “they,” I mean people in the middle of the twentieth century who fell out of love with the city and in love with the automobile, and decided that walking was no longer a suitable form of transportation. Amenities that might normally be provided for walking, like, say, sidewalks, were deemed unnecessary and therefore abandoned in suburban planning. Which may have been fine back in 1930, when Highway 36 was a dirt road.

Our neighbor, one of our city's founding fathers, loves to recount the days when he would cross-country ski from his house to HarMar Mall. My daughter is excited to follow suit, but what she doesn't understand is that when Bob skied to HarMar, all that stood between him and the mall were fields and a dirt road. Now, the throng of cars on County Road B, each driver clutching coffee in one hand and a smartphone in the other, severely discourages skiing.  And don't even get me started on nearby Snelling Avenue.  It's unsafe to cross Snelling in a Hummer, much less on skis.

Of course, our suburb is not unusual in that it discourages travel on foot, but our situation is particularly frustrating because we live in a prime location for walking errands. We live a quarter of a mile from a major shopping mall. We live three blocks from my children's school. (Well, about three. It's hard to tell out here exactly what constitutes a block.) Restaurants, banks, churches, parks, at least three Starbucks; you name it, it's within shouting distance of our house. In fact, if we wanted to purchase the aforementioned Hummer (and we had a spare 50K to do so), we could just walk the half mile to the Hummer dealership and buy one.  And yet, when people see our family walking or biking around town, they point and stare as if we're riding horses along the street. Recently, a neighbor stopped me on our way to school and said, “I know you're one of those health freaks, but would you guys like a ride?” By “health freak,” I assumed he meant the fact that we were biking to school instead of driving. He couldn't have been referring to what I ate for breakfast, which happened to be cookies and Diet Coke. Since when does biking three blocks to school make a person a health freak? Are you hearing this, Michelle Obama?  

I'm determined to encourage my kids to transcend their pro-auto environs and live an active life.  I will admit, though, when my son first suggested he and his sister bike to school, I balked at the idea because of the heavy traffic we'd encounter on the way. With encouragement from their father, who bikes to work year-round, I eventually decided it was worth the risk. Besides, I figured if anyone would applaud my efforts to teach my children to be active, it would be the school administrators.

Boy, was I wrong.  We ran into the principal on that first day of school, and, unable to find a bike rack, I innocently asked her where we could lock up the bikes. You'd have thought by the tongue lashing I received that I asked her where we could put the bombs we were carrying.  I, the consummate rule follower, had never been reprimanded by a school principal, and I figured that since I was in my 30s, I was now safe from the possibility of that indignity. Not so. Apparently, like the rest of suburbia, the principal is also pro-vehicle, because it's against school policy for kids to ride their bikes to school. After she finished her tirade about "safety," I wanted to respond with my own tirade about "childhood obesity" and "cutbacks to phy ed" and "that unpleasant smell in the lunchroom," but I simply responded "Yes, ma'am," and sheepishly walked away. 

One of the suggestions the principal made as she humiliated me in front of several schoolchildren is that my kids should ride the nice, safe school bus that is provided for them.  And it's true, there is a school bus for the kids in our neighborhood, most of whom could throw a rock from their yard and hit the school that they're being bussed to.  My kids don't want to ride it. And can you blame them?  On the way home the bus zig zags across the city, only to arrive at our house, a mere 3 blocks from the school, 40 minutes later.  By the time the school bus arrives in our neighborhood, my kids are already on Level 19 of Super Mario Bros.

Even though it might seem like we're fighting a losing battle against the car, we're not giving up.  And I have seen some encouraging signs that maybe things are changing in our 'burb. This past summer the city's parks and recreation department mailed fliers encouraging residents to visit local parks, and to get there creatively: “We encourage you to find an active way to 'Discover Your Parks' – walk, bike, or skate to the park!”  And we did. We couldn't find a spot to park our bikes, but we did. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

What I'm Not Thankful For

It's the week of Thanksgiving, and I have so many things to be thankful for! God has blessed me in too many ways to count. Out of all these blessings, I'm especially thankful for my wonderful husband and kids. What I'm not especially thankful for are their limited palates.

I'm contributing a salad to this year's Thanksgiving dinner. A salad that I know my children won't touch and my husband will only make a halfhearted effort to try, just because he knows I made it.  My salad will contain raisins, a food that's on my family's Do Not Serve list.  But because I am bringing it to an extended family celebration, I'm free to make it. If I were serving it only to my immediate family and I expected them to eat it, my salad would not only have to exclude raisins; it would have to contain hot dogs, Kraft macaroni and cheese, or Lucky Charms.

I like to cook; in fact, I love it.  And it's a relatively new endeavor for me.  I really didn't cook at all until I met my husband, someone I actually wanted to cook for. I loved showing my affection for him by making something so personal as a meal. But then I was confronted with the long list of things my husband (who was then my boyfriend) refused to eat: Rice. Pie. Nuts. Raisins. Tomatoes. Olives. Coconut. And most offensive to me as a half-Mexican woman...beans. Pinto beans, either cooked or refried, made up about half my diet. Now I'm cooking for a man who won't eat them? I nearly ended our relationship right there.

There is nothing that I won't eat, and I credit that to my mother, who was, to put it delicately, an unenthusiastic cook. Because I was forced to eat Mom's creamed beef, I can now eat any food that's put in front of me with a smile on my face, knowing that no matter how bad it is, it will be a vast improvement over what I found on my plate growing up.  When I was young, there were no dinner "options", either. If I didn't eat that goulash, then I didn't eat, period. I believe it's now a federal offense to only offer one meal option to your children.  Which is why my kids may never expand their tastes to include anything more exotic than fish sticks.

In order to try to satisfy the finicky members of my family on our one-income budget, I probably spend as much time on meal planning and grocery shopping as General Schwarzkopf did planning Operation Desert Storm. Ideally, I should buy what's cheap, yet healthy, yet palatable to my husband and kids. But I can't, because there is no meal in the world that meets those requirements. So I have to settle for what's cheap, palatable to at least one of them, and has some semblance of nutrition. Two of them like salad; one doesn't. Two like turkey sloppy joes; one doesn't. Two of them love lasagna; one won't eat it. And that's today. On the rare occasion (and I'm talking Halley's-Comet-rare) that I make something all three of them are satisfied with, and I think I finally have a go-to meal for my family, it's guaranteed that one of them will turn his nose up at it the next time I make it.  It's enough to bring me to tears. Or at least enough to bring me to start throwing food.

Because our children have one parent who's particular about food and one who's not, I thought they'd at least have a shot at being open to wide varieties of food. But they aren't. How did they become so picky?  I have a picture of my son when he was little, eating a box of raisins. Suddenly, he stopped eating them a couple of years ago.  My daughter used to like tomatoes, but not anymore. Coincidence?  I don't think so.  I think when my husband takes our kids on bike rides without me, he uses the opportunity to explain to them his disdain for certain foods. I can just seem him now:  "I know you kids like pie, but I don't know how you can eat it!  That crust is so...yucky."  Bam! No more pie for my kids.

I can't remember the last time I sat down to eat dinner with my family and I was able to actually eat.  Almost every night I'm up cooking another "choice" for the one or two or all of them who don't like the enchiladas I made because they're "too spicy" or "too oniony" or just "don't taste good." But I'll keep trying to make meals that my family enjoys, because I love them, I'm thankful for them, and I want to cook for them. Twice each night.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dear Terry Ryan: Advice From a Seasoned GM

Dear Mr. Ryan,

Congratulations on resuming your job as General Manager of the Minnesota Twins!  I realize that you have plenty of experience as GM, but since you haven't served in that role since 2007, you might need a refresher course.  Well, look no further. Over the span of my baseball career, I've served as GM of the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks, and the Angels, so I know what I'm talking about.

Sure, you're the GM of a major league baseball team and I'm a volunteer, unofficial GM in Little League.  So why should you listen to me?  Well, one of us was GM of a team that won its division last season, and one of us was associated with a team that lost 99 games and finished last in the AL Central, not to mention second-to-last in all of Major League Baseball.  Are you following me, Mr. Ryan?  

I can understand why you stepped down four years ago.  I've considered throwing in the towel many times myself.  The GM deals with a lot of pressure; the schedule is grueling, the players don't listen to you, and Minnesota weather isn't conducive to baseball, save for a couple of weeks in July.  Isn't it heartbreaking to see the players cry from the pain of hitting a ball in 35-degree weather?  But, despite the stress, I stick with it, partly because I love the game, but mostly because my husband is the manager and my kids are on the team, so I have no choice.  

So, even though we're dealing with players at different levels of the game, I think you'll find my advice helpful. 

Treat Rookies With Kid Gloves (Literally)
It's fun to get a fresh-faced, enthusiastic newbie on the team, don't you think?  Of course, technically, Tsuyoshi Nishioka has played baseball before, but nevertheless, I think the Twins may have handled him incorrectly.  When I have a player like Nishi, who can neither hit nor field the ball, I start slowly.  I have him try fielding a wiffle ball, and hitting a wiffle ball with an oversized bat. When he's mastered those, I move on to a t-ball bat and a rubber ball, and so on. Talk to Gardy...see what he thinks about that idea.

Successfully Handle Unhappy Players
There are always going to be unhappy players for various reasons.  For you, it might be that a player feels he isn't getting enough playing time, or he feels he's not paid enough.  Or maybe a player feels he's being unfairly criticized for accepting a $184 million contract and then sitting out much of the season, complaining of "leg pain". For me, players are unhappy for other reasons, like they can't find their cap, their jersey doesn't fit, they hate wearing a cup, or they don't want to play right field again.  In our dugout, a little Gatorade and some Swedish fish go a long way toward quelling any discontent; perhaps you could try the same.  (Don't bother with the multicolored Swedish fish though; the players will just squabble over who gets the red ones.)

What to Do When You Run Out of Money
I understand that $112 million doesn't go as far as it used to.  In fact, I wasn't aware of this, but in the big leagues, apparently it doesn't even buy a team that can put up a winning record. So what do you do when you're out of money but your team needs help?  Well, don't despair. Do what we do:  have a bake sale!  Set up shop outside Target Field and I promise, people will come in droves.  You might even make enough to sign that solid pitcher the Twins desperately need.  Or the shortstop. Or maybe a good run-prevention seminar for the fielders. A team psychiatrist? Well, whatever you decide.  

You've got a herculean task ahead of you, Mr, Ryan. But consider yourself lucky; you're actually paid for your job. You don't have to take over for the manager and coaches when one (or all of them) don't show up. Nobody yells at you when you frantically create the lineup five minutes before the game and you inadvertently put two players at second base (but only because while you were writing down the lineup, multiple players and parents were talking to you). You don't have to field phone calls throughout the game because parents can't find the ballpark (perhaps because you sent inaccurate directions). So who has the tougher job?  I guess it's a toss up.

All the best to you and our Minnesota Twins in 2012! Please contact me anytime if you'd like further advice.  

Sincerely, Sara Jane
General Manager, RAYB Dodgers
2011 C League White Division Champions

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Doctor is (Not) In

There's a health care crisis in this country.  We all know it.  And I don't care what your politics are; when you're a wimp like me and you're sick, you want someone to get you some relief now, and you'd like it to cost less than a mortgage payment.  Unfortunately, that's where the trouble starts.

My husband is self-employed, and our insurance is about as expensive and about as useless as it comes.  On top of our exorbitant monthly premiums, we have to pay for every doctor visit (minus, of course, the $12 or so that our insurance company generously covers. It's like a reverse co-pay.). Therefore, we don't go to the doctor unless we've lost a limb, or maybe an eye. Everything else we hope will heal on its own.  We've learned a couple of lessons during this time of self-treatment, which I'll gladly share with you.  

The Body Has a Tremendous Ability to Heal Itself
Take my daughter's recent pimple episode.  No, I'm not talking about a teenage zit. This was a pimple on a six-year-old's eye. Not a stye, mind looked like a large, red pimple on her eyeball.  Now, most mothers would have immediately rushed their daughter to the doctor. But most mothers don't have a) our poor excuse for health insurance and b) a daughter who's as tough as nails. This girl can withstand pain that would bring Schwarzenegger to his knees. I expect that she'll have many children, because for her, childbirth will be like some gas pain that lingers for a few minutes and results in a baby.  

The pimple appeared one morning when my daughter woke up.  Together, my daughter, my eight-year-old son and I debated about what to do.  We determined that she was just fine, and off to school they went.  Now, before you pick up the phone to call Social Services, know that her eye didn't hurt, and the pimple didn't affect her vision.  But that doesn't mean I didn't worry.  Naturally, I hopped on Google, looking for some comforting post about a child with a similar affliction.  But there was nothing. So I worried. I watched.  I waited. I took a picture of the affected eye every morning, hoping there would be some progress, some comparison I could make that showed that the pimple was going away, and that it wasn't some cancer on her eye that was going to cause her to go blind at any moment.  More than once I began to dial our doctor's phone number, but then I'd remember the recent visits for other illnesses in which the doctor politely suggested that we administer ibuprofen and slapped us with a bill for a couple hundred dollars (minus $12).  

After four days, the pimple went away without incident. I'm hoping it's the last pimple we see until she hits puberty. 

The Internet Contains Some Bad Advice
News flash:  don't follow all the advice you read on the Web. I have an ear infection that's lasted for, oh, six months, which would probably qualify it as "chronic."  I've been suffering through a continuous cycle in which the pain improves, then worsens, then improves again. The one thing that hasn't changed throughout the infection is that I can't hear anything out of my right ear. I've grown tired of asking people to repeat themselves, so I'm starting to just guess what people say and then try to respond accordingly.  I had lunch with my sister-in-law yesterday, and I'm pretty sure we discussed Thanksgiving plans, but I'm not positive about the specifics.  I think she told me that she's hosting the dinner and that I'm to bring a salad, but for all I know, she could have said that her grandmother is hosting it and that I'm to bring a pie.  Fortunately, they live close together and they're always happy with whatever anybody brings. 

My research on ear infections from various sites such as WebMD, the Mayo Clinic, and suggested everything from a warm compress to sticking a clove of garlic in my ear, and I've tried it all.  That's the good thing about being at home alone during the day; no one says anything if you walk around with a clove of garlic sticking out of your ear.  (It didn't work, by the way.  Neither did the vinegar or the olive oil.  But at least I have the makings of a great salad dressing.)

Most of what I found online about ear infections applies to children.  Especially children who swim.  I'm an adult who hates swimming, so how I even got an ear infection is a mystery.  I did find some information on  chronic ear infections in adults though, and some of the complications are scary: permanent hearing loss, bone infection, brain inflammation...the only comforting words I found were these: "not life threatening."  

So I continue to suffer.  But I just may have to empty my wallet and go to the doctor, because let's face it:  I'm not nearly as tough as my daughter.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Have Some Cake!

If someone had told me in my twenties that in the next decade, I'd get married, quit my job, and stay home to raise two children, I'd have said she's crazy.  I didn't even like kids, and at the time, I began to doubt that I'd ever get married, either.   

Somehow, my feelings toward children changed; having two of them does that to some people.  There's no one I'd rather be with than my children.  (Other people's children...well, that's a subject for another time.) And, through some miracle, I found a husband who could put up with me.  He's managed to live with me for over a decade now, and therefore should be considered a living saint. 

I mean, really, look what he's endured as part of our marriage:  once the primary breadwinner of the family, after our children were born it became painfully clear that I could no longer serve in that capacity.  I fell in love with my kids and I didn't want to spend a minute away from them. It took three years of misery, of sobbing to friends, family, coworkers, and our financial advisor, but I eventually left my career behind to stay home and raise our kids...leaving my husband with the sole responsibility of supporting a family of four.  (Which he's done beautifully, and without a single complaint.  I told you...sainthood.) He's done such a good job at supporting us that now that the kids are both in school full time, I'm still not returning to a corporate job. Yet.

That's where this blog comes in.  In high school and college, I planned to be a novelist or some other sort of creative writer. But because I was practical and lacked self-confidence, it was easy to convince myself that I'd never make a living as a writer unless I became a journalist or a technical writer.  I exhausted my journalistic ambitions with one too many "journalism camps" in high school, but I was a technical writer for a few years early in my career.  In fact, if you're looking for a good soporific read before bed, I'd be glad to dig out the LifeRate Systems Navigation Guide for you.  

But trust're better off enjoying some Cake.