Getting your child through their summer reading assignment

IMG_0726August is almost over and if your family is like mine, you’re making the most of those final carefree summer days by locking your children inside and forcing them to finish their summer reading assignment. It’s time for them to crack open that paper anvil you purchased in June and delve into whatever moral-drenched tome the teacher has chosen to put the wet blanket on your child’s personal picnic. Here’s a few tips to get you from Once Upon A Time to The End without it turning into a Who Done It.

1) Divide the number of pages by the number of days your child has left for a handy pages-per-day goal. Do the same calculation using the total number of days in their entire summer vacation. This provides your child with perspective on just how much their procrastination has cost them. When they complain, remind them. They love it when we do that.

2) Feed strategically and only when page goals are met. In the interim, Neccos are a great source of energy in a handy wafer form and can be doled out in small doses. Manage the water intake–bathroom breaks kill productivity.

3) Say things like “Have you gotten to where…never mind. I won’t spoil it for you.” The key is to sound really excited. No matter where they are, assure them they are almost to the really good part. When they’ve finish and ask you what good part you were referring to, say “You’re done. That’s the good part.”

4) Skim Wikipedia to find the main characters names and ask them which “team” they are on. “You’re reading Brave New World? Are you team Bernard or team John?” Tell them you’re surprised the school chose the title. Promise them it’s sort of “inappropriate.”

5) Don’t bother telling them it’s a great book, that you loved the book, that it’s a classic, or one of the best ever written. My son is reading The Poisonwood Bible. It’s one of my favorite books. It’s beautifully written, poignant and powerful. It’s also 576 freaking pages long and sort of depressing. Summer reading books are always depressing. It prepares them for the school year.

6) Here’s a radical idea. Go to a library. I hear people can read there. Some even have a Starbucks!

7) Play the audiobook in the car and drive until it’s done. I asked the Dude if he wanted to go to Chipotle. I took him to one in Iowa. Hard to execute with more than one child.

8) Quiz them during dinner to make sure they’re internalizing what they’re reading. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the book. That’s what Spark Notes were invented for.

9) Set up a book discussion group with their friends, just like your own book group. Make them actually talk about the book, however. Just like most book groups, a couple of them will have read the thing and will teach the others how to fake it. They can’t drink wine, but you can.

10) Prepare for the all-nighter. Coffee and M&M’s are my standard go-tos. Sometimes I even let the Dude have some. My husband and I join in the fun. We both love reading. My son says he must have been switched at birth and somewhere there is a family at Atlantis begging their kid to put down the book and get in the pool.

Finally, resign yourself to the fact that this will happen again next year, no matter how many times you swear it will be different. No matter what the task is, we all prefer doing what we want to do rather than what we have to do. Speaking of which, I have two loads of dirty laundry to wash and a garden full of weeds. I think I’ll go read a book.

Our tour at Come-here-U

squirrelWelcome future Hedgehogs! My name is Ryan and I’m your tour guide for today. I’m a senior studying Medieval Organizational Strategy, with a minor in walking backwards while dressed like an academic Best Buy salesperson. I congratulate you on your wise choice in considering this wonderful university. After all, we’re the first land-grant medium-large institution in cities beginning with the letter T!

I’ll be showing you the highlights of our beautiful campus. Feel free to ask me any questions along the way. Chatting up the tour guide probably won’t help you get you the fat envelope, but it doesn’t hurt. Some of us have student loans, wink, wink.

Where are you all from? Come on people, this isn’t an AP exam. Wherever you’re from, you’re not alone. We have students from every state in the Union, including Alaska and Hawaii. Our representative from Montana graduates in June, however, so if you’re from Big Sky Country, our admissions office has an extra-large swag basket with your name on it.

Our tour begins here on the Academic oval, or as we call it, “The Beach.” Hel-lo Ladies. How are you doin? I love the smell of Hawaiian Tropic in the morning. Whoa! Watch out for the ongoing hacky sack tourney! One hundred thirty-two days and counting.

We have over 500 clubs here on campus , so there are plenty of diversions from actually studying. We even have a squirrel watching club, Quidditch team, and the autumnal leaf rakers. There’s plenty of grass to go around! The legal kind, of course.

For our more musical students, we have 67 a capella groups. They battle outside of the Union every afternoon.  My personal favorite is the Thelonius Monks—they use cue cards. That way they’re always in tune. Come on you stragglers, get those feet moving!

Our campus covers over 5000 acres. We have a transit system that can take you anywhere you want to go. Just show your student I.D. It’s all free!

Gather round, peeps. This is a statue of our first dean, Millard J. Phillpot. It’s a hedgehog tradition to goose his booty after you’ve graduated. No one leaves campus without a squeeze and a selfie. Don’t try it until you have that sheepskin—legend has it that if you jump the gun, Millard’s ghost will make sure you end up living in your parent’s basement until you’re thirty. Just ask my brother. Let’s roll!

This is the undergraduate library. There are books around here somewhere. At least that’s what I’ve been told. There is, however, a Starbucks and a Chipotle on every floor. Just swipe your student I.D. It’s all free! Guy’s gotta fuel up, know what I mean? But not today, we’re just passing through.

While we walk to McCready Hall, I’ll tell you about our study abroad program. There’s nothing like spending a semester in a foreign land. I myself spent a term in Belize, and my roommate studied French in St. Martin. Welcome to our university, now get out! Just kidding! I know you’re thinking, “what kind of Medieval Organization Strategy did they deploy in Central America?” All kinds! Who knew? Just pack your sunscreen.

Here, let me hold the door. Come on through. This is McCready Hall, home of our humanities department. You can tell by all of the marble busts of writer dudes. The main auditorium holds 600, but don’t worry—our average class size is 15. You’ll only have a large lecture hall for classes that end in a 0 or 1. And sometimes a 2. Or if it’s required for your major.

I hope our dean of admissions told you that we’re a premier research institution. Starting from freshman year our students have the opportunity to work for work for free for someone they aren’t related to. One of my buds got lost on the way to class and ended up on an archeological dig. He sends his laundry home on a weekly basis. The University has a shipping office in every dorm. Just swipe your student I.D. It’s all free!

Speaking of dorms, that’s our next stop!

We offer several housing options. Freshmen are typically placed on South Campus, which we affectionately refer to as Troll Village or The Sauna. The rooms are coed by floor, theoretically, with a communal bathroom. If the showers are full and you’re pressed for time, just flush a toilet. In universal student language, that means “sober up and get out.”

All dorms have wireless access to satisfy even your most avid Call of Duty operative, and we allow any appliance smaller than a convection oven. You can also rent a fridge so you have someplace to store your…mineral water. The building isn’t air conditioned, but every room is equipped with at least one functioning window.

After freshman year, we offer suite-style housing where two units share one bathroom. Each unit houses four students and includes a kitchenette and common area. It’s just like living at home—only Mom doesn’t nag you about the dirty dishes in the sink or the state of your bathroom. Over the summer, the university brings in a hazmat team to ready the rooms for another year of academic exploration.

This is a typical University Dining Hall. As you can see, they offer absolutely anything you can think of. We have a kosher section, vegan section, and the lacto/gluten/peanut-free section. And over there is the Nostalgia section, which serves hot chili fritos and hash seven days a week, and our ever-popular grill, The Freshman Fifteen.

During exams, the snack bar stays open all night for our hardworking students with a hearty supply of Red Bull and Pixie Sticks. Say it with me. Just swipe your student I.D. Yup, you got it. Free!

This is the study lounge. Don’t you love the leather sofas and the stone fireplace? It’s just like Hogwarts without the students. Imagine your son or daughter cozying up with a book around a roaring fire. Go ahead. Imagine it. Denial is healthy.

Each campus has its own recreational facility complete with basketball courts, an inside running track, a climbing wall, unisex hot tub, and 24/7 personal trainers. Just swipe your I.D. That’s right. Free!

Greek life is another option for post-freshman housing. I’m a member of Alpha Got Good Gamma, dedicated to good works, scholarly pursuits and rocking the weekend. We also have a number of students that rent apartments off-campus. Most apartments are furnished. Just sign a lease and move in. Don’t look under the cushions.

This brings us to our final stop—the Placement office. Because that’s what we’re all looking for, am I right? Rest assured, our placement rate is well over 90%, not including those students going on to graduate school.

What’s that? My major again? Medieval Organizational Strategy. Of course I have a job.  In the admissions office.

Thanks again for visiting us, and make sure to fill out the evaluation form in the back of your welcome packet. Good luck with your senior year, and I look forward to reading all of your applications! Go Hedgehogs.

Photograph : Squirrel on Campus by Corey Seeman © 2010 Creative Commons/Flickr

 

The Ten Commandments for Using My Car

tencommandmentsI am the car owner, thy mother, and I have brought you out of my lady parts after eighteen hours and limited access to pain medication into the land of motor vehicles.

1. Thou shalt not drive when your judgment is  impaired in any way. At this rate, you might get to use the car when you’re thirty.

2. Thou shalt keep your hands on the wheel at all times. This includes texting, eating, and fondling your girlfriend or yourself. I know how well you multitask.

3. Your passengers shalt keep their hands off your wheel at all times (if you catch my drift). That only turns out well in the movies. In reality, say hello to the ditch. Not that I have personal experience with that.

4. You shalt not drink Caramel Frappuchinos in the vehicle.  Last week my steering wheel was stickier than a movie theater floor after The Spongebob Movie. This is especially true if you don’t have a Grande Skim Latte for your mother.

5. After picking up food at McDonald’s, thou shalt air out the car and spray with Febreeze (provided in trunk).  The same goes for dining at Chipotle, or after playing basketball in 90 degree heat. No, Axe does not take care of that.

6. Thou shalt not leave the radio turned up to 11 to scare the crap out your mother when she starts the car. If you do, when your friends come over, she will pipe NPR through the household audio system. Upon the second offense, she will rap Snoop Dogg. On the third, look out Beyonce–girl can dance. Or at least she will.

7. Thou shalt not leave discarded chewing gum in the cupholder. The same goes for straw wrappers, sunflower seed shells and used tissues. If you do, I shall instruct the cats to deposit their hairballs on your pillow.

8. Thou shalt not use my trunk as your laundry bin. If I find wet towels in my backseat, you will find your Dad’s dirty underwear in your beach bag.

9. Thou shalt not return the car on fumes. It’s only like leaving an empty Cheez-it box in the pantry, if running out of Cheez-its left you stranded on the shoulder of I-495. You have a gas card. Use it for something other than buying beef jerky from the convenience store.

10. The Golden Rule – Thou shalt treat the Prius as if it was your own, because someday, it may be. Because if this family gets a new car, it’s mine.

Just remember, if you want the keys to the kingdom, they’re in my pocket. My will be done.

Photograph – The Ten Commandments, by John Taylor © 2010 Creative Commons/Flickr

Learn to Love Cooking in 10 Easy Steps

wiskIs the daily grind of meal preparation getting you down?

Dinnertime used to make me want to impale myself with an instant-read thermometer. The heat. The mess. The complaints.
No more. I’ve changed my life, and so can you! Here are some handy tips to get you out of your doldrums and into the kitchen.

1) Drink.  Alcohol is a great stress reducer, and everything looks better after a glass of wine (not unlike dating). By the time the night is over,  you’ll be crowing “Bite this, Ina Garten.”

2) Make sure everyone else is drinking. Lowering one’s own expectations is only half the battle, unless you’re eating alone. This rule does not apply to children. That would be illegal. I looked it up.

3) Cook what you want to eat. You can’t please everyone, so please yourself. Develop a sense of Zen about hot sauce on delicately flavored entrees, selective ingredient-picking and sentences like “it’s not my favorite.” Practice saying “If you don’t like it, feel free to cook tomorrow.” Be prepared to follow through.

4) Just make the Mac and Cheese already. Not the Gruyere/Emmentaler version laced with truffle oil and lobster meant to “expand their palate”.  Kids don’t like anything that isn’t as orange as a stadium full of Dutch soccer fans. Accept this and you will know peace.

5) Get the right gear. Nothing says “I’m a real cook” more than having a potato ricer, a convection oven, and Dean and Deluca smoked sea salt in your kitchen. Even if you never use them.

6) Put on music. Cooking should be fun! It’s even more effective if you sing and dance along. Need an extra booster? Tell your teen son you’re going to “drop it like it’s hot,” or that the dinner recipe includes “Cup a Ace, Cup a Goose, Cup a Cris.” Snap a pic of his horrified face for future inspiration.

7) Get someone more competent to help you. Like playing tennis with an ace, working with a better cook raises one’s game. If you play your cards right, they’ll tell you to ditch the apron and let them take over because you’re totally useless.

8) Get someone less competent to help you. If something goes wrong in the kitchen, ask for help. Make sure to tell your dinner guests that “Bobby was SO helpful.” Put finger quotes around helpful. Non Est Mea Culpa.

9) Add butter. Because everything is better with butter. Cheese sauce, chocolate and sprinkles often work as well.

10) Tell your diners “It’s French.” Even if it’s chicken. Call it poulet. Quote Julia Child. If they look less than impressed, say things like “The French have such a refined palate,” and “Not everyone can appreciate true cuisine.” Poor creatures–fatally limited by their own lack of sophistication.

If the above ten steps don’t work, pull a Spinal Tap-worthy 11 and get take out. Better yet, do step one, then jump all the way to 11. Learn to Love Cooking in Two Easy Steps! As Martha Stewart says, “Now that’s a good thing.”

Photograph “The Instrument” by Sierra Blair © 2005 Creative Commons/Flickr

 

 

 

 

You can have what you choose

moutainpathIndra Nooyi caused quite the ruckus with her comments at the Aspen Ideas Festival. I was glad to hear her finally say the words out loud–You can’t have it all.

I joined the same consulting firm where Ms. Nooyi worked shortly after she left. I have to wonder if she heard the same mantra I did, over and over again–You can have it all, just not at the same time.

At the firm, once a woman ascended into the ranks of management, she was invited to a luncheon where the female partners discussed how they negotiated the demands of career and motherhood. It was meant to be helpful.

It was total bullshit. That was my reaction to it, anyway.

What I heard at the time was, you can have it all, but not at the same time, so give us what we want from you right now, and you can have what you want later, if there’s still time left over. What they were really saying, however, was if this is what you want, this is what is required to make it happen in a real world.

The woman shared what worked for them, what gave them the life they wanted, and if I wanted what they had, it came at a price. The firm would own my now if I wanted to achieve the an equivalent later.

What wasn’t made explicit was the larger question–Was this what I really wanted? My reaction to the presentation should have been a wake up call. The answer was no.

You can’t have it all. You can have what you choose. They’d each found ways to navigate the challenges while encountering the inevitable obstacles, but they couldn’t change reality.

Ms. Nooyi’s remarks have been characterized as negative and pessimistic. I think she’s a realist. When I tried to have it all, I constantly juggled elements of my life, responding to the demands of the universe.  It was tantamount to letting my circumstances make my choices for me. I chafed against my constraints until I decided couldn’t fight anymore.

I chose, knowing that by choosing one outcome, I had to forgo the other.

There is no one right way to live. You can scale a mountain a multitude of ways. Some are harder, some are easier. Some are more treacherous, some are torturous and some take forever. Each has their challenges and their rewards. In the end, however, they all lead to the same place.  The path between is everything.

Making my peace with leaving some paths unexplored is not always easy. I feel regret and envy. I second-guess my decisions, wonder about what might have been, or what I could have avoided. I worry how my path effected those who traveled with me. The best remedy for me is to fully appreciate the path that I’ve chosen in all it’s messy, chaotic beauty.

That is a choice as well, and it is enough.

Photograph : Mountain Path, by Jessie Owen © 2011 Creative Commons/Flickr

Throw out 50 Thoughts #25 – But I’m going to suck at this…

runnersacrificeMy seventh grade Biology teacher also happened to be the cross-country coach. One day in class, he suggested that I join the team. When he did, my classmates laughed. You see, I was the least likely person one would take for a runner. I was heavy. I wore glasses. I was non-athletic. After class, he urged me to ignore my classmates and try. “I saw your sprint times,” he said. “You’re fast. All you need is stamina.”

This is not one of those stories where the protagonist is the fastest kid in the class. I did not leave my detractors in the dust while the soundtrack swelled. I’m not even sure my teacher ever saw my sprint times, because being fast wasn’t the point. I knew exactly what would happen if I came to practice, and I think my teacher knew exactly what would happen, too.  I’d run, fall behind, puke my guts out, cry in the shower and listen to people snicker about how idiotic the idea was in the first place. And the next day, I’d show up at practice and do the same thing all over again.

I said no. I wish I hadn’t.

Let’s face it, we don’t all get our Susan Boyle moment where we make the Simon Cowells of the world eat crow. We will try, and nine times out of ten we will fall short of our desired goals. I won’t call it failure, because failure sounds so final. Failure is only the beginning.

While it might have been nice to have my movie moment, I would have learned so much more through reality. My classmates were right. I would have sucked at cross-country. The next day, however, I would have sucked a little less, and a little less the day after that. I may never have won a race, but it didn’t matter. My victory wouldn’t have been showing people that I could run like the wind, it would have been showing people that they could not define who I was and who I was not.

My son, like many teens, draws himself with thick lines. It’s a wish, I suppose, that if he stays within the boundaries, he’s safe from ridicule. I tell him to embrace suckitude. It’s inevitable, and I say it not as a cynic, but as an optimist, because the point is, SO FREAKING WHAT.

If I’d run cross country, with the expected outcome, who would I have hurt? My suckitude would have been mine and mine alone to do with as I pleased. I could have wrapped it around me like a straightjacket, or I could crumple it into a ball and toss it into the circular file. Kids laugh at others because they are afraid for themselves. Over time, they learn to avoid things they fear rather than staring fear down and telling it to shut the heck up.

My teenage self would be shocked to hear that I run every day, Yes, it’s good exercise, it’s free (except for the shoes and the blister tape and the friction reducing socks), and I get that nice endorphin high at the end. I run because I like knowing that  I can will myself to put one foot in front of the other, again and again, and watch the miles fall behind me.  I run, I fall, I get up. Evaluating my success is up to me. And that’s what I think my teacher was trying to accomplish.

So Mr. Shoemacher, better late than never. And thanks.

Photograph : Marathon Sacrifice by David © 2007 Creative Commons/Flickr