Monthly Archives: September 2015

Think B4 You Eat


The other night I was waiting for a friend to finish an evening class at the high school. There was nowhere to sit, so I strolled the halls a bit while I was waiting, perusing the various things posted on the walls. Among the homecoming and National Honor Society signs, there were several Think B4 You Eat posters. Each poster contained a comparison of two foods…one healthy choice, and one not so healthy choice. Each picture was accompanied by the number of calories in each food, and the amount of time doing a certain physical activity it would take to burn off those calories. I learned a lot that night.

My thoughts first turned to what a typical high-schooler might think of these posters. The healthy foods pictured looked appealing, so I figure some might choose to go healthier next time they are faced with a choice of what to eat. The difference in the amount of exercise required to burn off the calories was striking, so that may make an impression on some. I started to think that these lovely posters might be somewhat effective, but then it dawned on me that the choices in the vending machine that was just around the corner from these posters likely did not contain those healthy 2 cups of popcorn, but rather the bag of chips that took 20 times the exercise to work off.

Kids don’t always have healthy choices available, and the unhealthy foods that are available to them are also usually cheaper and quicker than the healthier choices. You can get a burger at the drive-thru, but making a nice turkey sandwich with fresh lettuce, tomato and whole grain bread will take you longer and cost more in the long run. So, maybe the posters might not be quite so effective.

As for me, I had to chuckle. As I studied the first poster, I learned that if I ate that bag of chips, it would take me 2 and a half hours of stair climbing to work off those 900 calories. But if I chose the 2 cups of popcorn, it would only take me 7 minutes of stair climbing. What made me chuckle was that I’m in such bad shape that I’d never even make the 7 minute climb! Heck, just climbing the stairs once to go to bed sometimes seems to take 7 minutes! I also learned I’m doomed!

The next poster compared fried chicken strips to 3 bites of grilled chicken with 3 small pepper rings and a sprinkle of parsley. The fried option would require 1 hour and 15 minutes of swimming to work off the 585 calories. The little grilled bits would only take 20 minutes of swimming to do away with the 160 calories, but there’s also the fact that a basket of chicken strips is way more food than 3 bites of chicken with some garnish. I’m not sure 3 bites of chicken is going to fill me up, and it certainly wouldn’t fill up a teenager. And, again, for me, I don’t even know if I could swim the 20 minutes for the healthy choice. And that 20 minute swim doesn’t include the rest of the food you ate all day! Definitely doomed!


Quit Bugging Me!


Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a real fan of bugs. Sure, there are some good bugs, and some that are even beautiful. You’ve got your butterflies, dragonflies, ladybugs…they do their thing, and they let you do yours. They’re attractive and graceful. They have a good reputation, and are loved by most. Even I like the little buggers. But then you have your nasty and scary bugs. I’m talking cockroaches, spiders, wasps, centipedes, and any others of those that fall into the creepy category. You know…the ones they make into those B movies where the giant, nasty, scary bugs take over New York City or something. As I’ve aged, I’ve moved from total panic and unnatural phobia to a more manageable panic and strategic planning.

When I was very young, I had a couple of encounters with those nasty and scary bugs that shaped my mindset about bugs. Once when I was around 4 or 5, leaning against the kitchen doorway, I felt a tickle on my neck. My dad said, “Hold still a minute,” and swatted at my neck with the newspaper he was reading. As it turns out, the cockroach had been doing the rhumba on my shoulder, and Daddy saved me from a terrible fate. I’m not sure how long I cried, hyperventilated, or screamed, but it’s a crystal clear memory to this day. Then, when I was around 8 or 9, I was headed out the door, put my hand on the door frame, and out of the corner of my eye, caught a glimpse of a centipede sitting on the door frame, centimeters from my hand. The vision of that skittering creeper is etched in my memory. Again, it was Daddy to the rescue.

During much of my childhood, I was completely incapable of eradicating any of these horrible creatures that may have wandered into my territory. I actually would call for someone else to take care of the bugs that came into my life. The thought of squishing these bugs was unbearable. Most of the real creeper bugs have a hard shell and some meat to them. Feeling them crunch and squish would just be too much for me, even with a shoe between me and the bug. And then there’s the idea of getting close enough to the bug in order to smash it. You run the risk of the bug running up your leg or arm, as soon as it gets wise to your plan to pulverize it. And what if, despite your super vigilant squishing, it lives through the ordeal, and when you peek into the paper towel, or look at the bottom of your shoe, it suddenly springs back to life, and comes after you with a newfound vengeance? Once I lived on my own, and was forced to deal with these tragic encounters independently, I gradually worked up to the spraying, drowning, and even swatting with something long methods of creeper destruction. Then you don’t have to touch them, or feel their bodies imploding at your hand. I sometimes would use the vacuum cleaner to assist in the takedown, but then I developed the irrational fear that IF that bug didn’t completely die before I sucked it up, it could and would surely come crawling back out of the vacuum after I turned it off, and that would never do.

But eventually, you get to the point where it’s you or the bug. You mature to where you can muster up the courage to conquer the creepers on your own. You develop the skills needed to think and act quickly. Time is of the essence, especially with a super speedy variety like the aforementioned cockroach. If you hesitate a moment too long, and miss your window of opportunity, that roach is gone in a flash, only to reappear somewhere else within your personal space at a later time. And the not knowing where it is lurking, or when it will pounce will get you every time. If you plan poorly, and use the wrong equipment or approach, you will also miss your opportunity, no matter how fast you are. You have to do a bit of mental jockeying to convince yourself that you will conquer the creeper, and not the other way around.

So, my most recent encounter with a creeper was on my vacation last week. I was reading in bed, and felt that tickle on the back of my neck. My thoughts rushed back to that awful day when my Daddy saved me from the big, bad cockroach creeper. I jumped out of bed, pulled the pillows away, and there it was. A slim little thing unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It was sort of like a cross between a cockroach and a moth and a walking stick. But I could see right away that it had the potential to be a skitterer, and I knew that if I let it get away, I would never be able to sleep in that cabin, not knowing where it was. I knew I had only one quick shot. I also didn’t really want to totally squish this creeper all over my pillow, so my strategy was to do a grab-sweep-squish move and hope for the best. I got a paper towel (aka sword and shield) and took a second to do the mental jockeying I mentioned earlier. Me or the bug. Me or the bug. I grabbed, swiped, and squished, and kept squishing until I got to the toilet, where I made my deposit. I had to watch for a while to be sure he didn’t come flying out of the toilet, having survived my attack after all. Nothing. And just to be sure, adding insult to injury, I peed on him, and flushed him down. I was mighty proud that I could get back to my reading, and didn’t even have any creeper nightmares.

Relaxing With Toddlers


I just returned from a very relaxing, quiet vacation at a cabin in the north woods of Minnesota. This gem of a historic log cabin resort is the perfect place for peace, solitude, and communing with nature. It’s quite the fishing mecca, as well, but that’s not why I went there. There’s also a nice beach, and I’m sure in the heat of the summer it’s a great family spot for splashing about. There are also options for hiking, kayaking, canoeing, and viewing great sunsets and the night sky, full of a bazillion stars.

This particular vacation was a solo affair…some time alone, away from the computer, the car, and work, but there are times it’s also fun to vacation with others…a spouse, friends, family. I do remember some fun family vacations as a kid, and as a grownup human, I can appreciate my parents’ patience and diligence in taking us places. But I feel it’s important to think about the location of your vacations, and the age-appropriateness of your decision to bring along the kids.

I can see that this resort would be a great place for school-age kids. Kids who are able to walk on their own, understand the basics of safety around water, fire, and in the woods, and are eager to explore nature. Kids who want to find birds in the woods, and who might appreciate watching quietly as those two deer come out of the woods, right into the resort in the early mornings or evenings. Kids who love s’mores, but understand that fire is hot, and it’s the marshmallow that needs to get melted, and not their sneakers. Kids who are ready to take a boat ride and learn to fish, able to sit down in the boat, wearing a life jacket while whooshing about the lake. Kids who want to try new things, like baiting a hook, eating new foods at the lodge, or using binoculars.

But…I’m sure you know where this next part is going. In my four days at the lake, I saw a total of four families who brought along babies and toddlers. As I said, I’m all for family vacations, but I had to wonder what made them choose this place, and to bring along the tiny kiddos this time. As I watched these families navigating the up north vacation with tiny ones, many reasons came to mind why this would not be the best place to bring the babies.

I’ll try to sum it up briefly, and spare you the lengthy whining and complaining from this childless old fart. Just because you put the life jacket on the 2 year old while she’s in the boat does not mean it’s safe to take it off as soon as you set her on the dock for her to toddle on her way. And just because you like to take a solo trip in the boat, and leave the kiddos with mom for a bit, don’t assume that your toddlers will enjoy seeing you pull away without them, and wave goodbye quietly. Observation: if a kid screams in a cabin, and daddy isn’t there to hear it, it still sounds like a kid screaming its head off.

Just because the lemonade you ordered for your one and a half year old came in a cute kid’s cup with a bendy straw doesn’t mean he knows how to drink out of it. Tipping a cup upside down, as if it were a sippy cup, when it’s not will only end in a small child, his high chair, and the dining room floor covered in sticky lemonade. And you paying no attention to this delightful behavior, and saying to your in-laws when they alert you to the situation, “I’m not going to say anything because he will just keep doing it,” is not going to make him any less sticky when you get him out of that high chair.

Just because you think the soup will be something your baby will eat does not mean you should allow him to eat it with his hands. Soup does not stay in a baby’s hand for long.

Just because you said to your toddler, “Come this way, Jimmy!” does not mean that he will do what you asked when there is a cool lake and beach toys tempting him to do the opposite. And turning your back on him and walking away, when he is 40 feet from you, and inches from the water, will not prevent him from drowning in the 4 minutes that you decided to depend on a 2 year old to make the right decision.

And finally, just because you have learned to tolerate the whining and crying that your baby seems to do in response to everything, which sounds like a loud sheep who is very unhappy, does not mean that those staying in nearby cabins will come to accept the sound of your adorable toddler as part of their quiet vacation getaway.

Maybe I need to find a no kids resort next time.

Puzzling Behavior


I’ve always loved the challenge of a puzzle. Crossword, sudoku, word find, mind benders, memory games, jigsaws…you name it, I’m up for it. But I go absolutely NUTS when someone “cheats” at such puzzles. I take my puzzles very seriously…the very definition of a puzzle is a challenge. If someone looks at the solution, tells someone else the answer, or gives someone so many clues they give away the answer, they’ve just gone down a few notches on my internal scale of character. I mean, where’s the fun in that?! It’s a PUZZLE!

I’m pretty radical about it. When I open a jigsaw puzzle and find a few pieces connected, I quickly pull them apart, trying not to look too closely, so I’ll have no chance of remembering what I saw. If there’s one of those upside down solutions under the puzzle in the newspaper, I will physically cover it or fold it under so there’s no chance of me seeing any part of the solution.

When I was teaching, and I’d give the kids a puzzle, their impatience was disheartening. They didn’t share my excitement for the challenge. They just wanted me to give them the solution. When they’d ask for the answers, my reply was always, “That’s why they call it a PUZZLE!” I’d hate it when someone would blurt out the answer for all to hear. I would have them try it alone for the first five minutes, and then I’d let them work with a partner if they wanted to. But even then, I had to teach them how to give each other clues without just telling each other the answers. There’s a skill to giving clues. I stuck to my puzzle morals, but I’m sure my students thought I was the cruelest teacher when it came to puzzles.

Recently, however, my puzzle standards were put to the test. I attempted a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. I did my usual routine – make sure all the pieces are detached, and I had no advantage. I noticed it was one of those super-difficult puzzles with oddly shaped pieces. You know, the puzzles that have pieces that look like straight edges, but aren’t quite straight at all. Well, after an hour and a half trying to find the straight edges and corners, let alone connect any of them, I gave up. I came to the conclusion that a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle would more likely fall into the category of a lifetime achievement, rather than a fun challenge for a 4-day vacation in a dimly lit cabin. In this case, I’d have gladly left those few pieces attached, taken whatever advantage that gave me, and just never have admitted it to anyone. Puzzle morals be damned!

The Lists Have Taken Over Again


I know I’ve talked before about how compulsive I can be about making lists. But recently, I’ve been able to give up some of my list-making, which is quite contrary to my usual obsession with the small sheets of paper loaded with bulleted items. I’ve found that I can do without the weekly chores going on a list…the ones that you repeat every week, like laundry, cleaning, etc. I was pretty proud of myself for getting to this point, and it actually lowered my stress level about getting things done. Imagine! Less stress! YAY, me!

But I’m getting ready to go on a short vacation. Just a few days at a cabin up north. Pretty simple planning…no planes or trains…just an automobile. No fancy clothing needed, and just me, getting in the car and driving up there to relax for a few days. Easy, eh? Well, not so much.

It started with the list of things I needed to do before I go. Then the list of things I wanted to bring along to do…puzzles, books, writing materials, camera, coloring materials, etc. Then the foodstuffs for cooking in the cabin. And I couldn’t neglect a clothing list. Then I had to create a list for my house/pet sitter, because I’m sure she couldn’t find the cat food on her own, without my detailed directions, right? Oh, and speaking of directions, there’s the sketch I had to make of the route to the cabin, even though I have a smartphone that can guide me right to the door! Hey, I can’t help it if I’m a visual person.

And I’ve already revised these lists several times, as I change my mind about things, remember something, or if I’m not quite happy with the organization of the lists. And each time I add something to one of the lists, it causes me to adjust at least one of the other lists in some fashion.

Yes, I’m totally hooked on the list making again. And how much stuff does one person need for just a few days? Why can’t I just toss a few things in a bag, get in the car and go? What would that even be like? Are there people that can do that?