Is Feel-Like-A-Princess-Pink A Gender-Neutral Color?

No room in my house will ever look like this. I promise.

No room in my house will ever look like this. I promise.

When I was six months pregnant with my daughter, we painted the nursery blue. People who inquired about the color scheme almost always accused me of keeping a secret—or just lying. “You must know you are having a boy or at least have some sort of hunch. Otherwise, you would be painting the room a more gender neutral color, like green or yellow.”

The truth is, I knew nothing of my baby’s sex even though I had undergone numerous ultrasounds at that point. We didn’t want to know. My husband and I were enjoying the suspense—and loving the fact that not knowing made our less patient friends and family a little crazy. When you can contribute to someone else’s insanity in this way, I say, “Do it!”

We were painting the nursery blue simply because we liked the color. Even if we had known we were having a girl, we wouldn’t have painted the room pink. I’ve never been fond of pink for décor. Pink dress? Sure. Pink flowers? Lovely.  Pink lipstick? I have several shades. Pink walls? Never.

So, our daughter spent the first two years of her life in a blue bedroom with green sheets and lot of other pastel accent pieces. When we moved her to her big girl room, we choose yellow walls, dark blue curtains, and a purple bedspread that were later tied together with a white, blue, purple, pink, and brown floral rug. Eventually, I replaced the ill-fitting navy blue curtains with pink ones. She was delighted with that change.

When her brother was born, we moved him into the blue nursery and used the same green bedding. It was the perfect color scheme for a boy baby—just as it had been the perfect color scheme for a girl.

So, you see, I don’t like to buy into this silly idea of “Pink is for girls and blue is for boys.” Colors are colors. Go with what you like. They are all gender-neutral in my book or so I like to believe.

Recently, however, I found myself conflicted and wrestling with a double standard. Yes, you can give a girl blue anything, but is pink really appropriate for a boy? I mean, I know little girls and grown women who will tell you that blue is their favorite color. I’ve never met a man who is wild about pink. I have a closet full of blue dresses, blue blouses, blue t-shirts and blue shoes, but my husband owns only one pink shirt. When he wears it, he is ribbed about how it takes a very macho guy to pull off such a feminine hue. I’m sure that none of what I have written here is unusual.

So, back to my conflicted mental-wrestling over the gender of colors…

At six and a half, my daughter has finally out-grown her car seat—or more accurately, she now weighed enough to graduate to a booster. The car seat itself is capable of seating a 90-pound person. My daughter probably won’t weigh 90 pounds until she is ready to apply for a beginner’s permit. She’s built like a young me—all leg, very skinny.

So, now that she is, at last, 40 lbs., I bought her a booster seat—the kind her friends have been using for a couple of years now, and decided that we would give her old seat to her brother because it’s bigger and more comfortable-looking than the one he has been using since he was 18-months-old. Besides, it has cup-holders—a feature he has long coveted.

I am well aware of the injustice that occurs in every family with more than one child: The firstborn gets everything new and the subsequent children get hand-me-downs. At $329.99, plus tax and shipping, however, I wasn’t going to buy a new car seat for my son when his sister’s old seat was still in good condition. I would buy him a new car seat cover to make it feel new.

So, I did some on-line shopping and quickly discovered that my daughter’s old car seat—the Britax Frontier 85—has been “retired” and replaced by the Frontier 90. The only cover available for the Frontier 85 is in a color called “Livia” by the designers. I would have called it something more descriptive—like “bright pink.” The marketing blurb describing the cover’s many attributes even started with “Your little one will feel like a princess when she rides in this…” Um, okay, my son has never once expressed the desire to “feel like a princess.” For that matter, neither has my daughter—thankfully.

Of course, the website featured car seat covers in every color for the Frontier 90. Perhaps the Frontier 90 and the Frontier 85 were close enough in shape that I could use a 90 on my 85. And so I called Britax customer service to find out.

“Britax customer service. How may I help you?”

“Hi. I own a Frontier 85, and I was wondering if a cover for a Frontier 90 would fit it.”

“No, ma’am. Only the Frontier 85 cover will fit your Frontier 85 car seat.”

“Okay. Well, I was on your website early, and I noticed that the only Frontier 85 covers you are currently selling are bright pink. Do you have any other colors available that weren’t listed on the website?”

“No, ma’am. That seat cover now comes in the Livia only.”

“That’s too bad. I am buying a seat cover for my son and since he doesn’t want to feel like a princess, I was hoping to find it in another color.”

“I recommend you try Amazon or eBay. You might find someone selling discontinued Britax covers.”

“I’ve already been to those sites, and the only covers I saw were ones people had made at home. They weren’t the Britax products.”

“Oh, don’t buy one of those! We can’t guarantee that they will fit properly. They might present a safety hazard!”

“Yes. I know. That’s why I called you hoping to find an authentic Britax cover that isn’t bright pink.”

“I’m sorry. I can’t help you.”

And the call ended without me going into how asinine I think it is for Britax to only stock bright pink car seat covers for the Frontier 85. I mean, if you are only going to stock one color, why wouldn’t you go with something gender-neutral, such as green or blue? Everyone loves blue. And certainly, I couldn’t be the only person calling them with this concern. Our Frontier 85 doesn’t expire for another four years! A newer one could be around a lot longer. How could I possibly be the only person on the planet with this dilemma?  If you’ve never dealt with car seats, you might not know this: they expire. They have expiration dates printed on them, just like a gallon of milk.

In the end, I muttered, “Screw it,” and I cleaned the existing car seat cover—in a very neutral cow print—the best I could. I removed my son’s old Roundabout from the backseat and replaced it with his sister’s old Frontier 85. I thought, “Poor kid. It’s either 100% hand-me-down or Feel-Like-A-Princess-Pink.”

When he saw it, he yelled, “Mom! You gave me Sissy’s cow seat!”

“What do you think?” I asked holding my breath, expecting him to say something about how he only gets hand-me-downs.

“Cool! It has cup-holders! I’ve  always wanted cup-holders!”

Now, I wonder. Had I bought the feel-like-a-princess-pink car seat cover just so that he would have something new, would he have cared about the color or were the cup-holders all that really mattered? I’m not going to dwell on that for too long. By not buying a new cover, I saved a little money, and to some degree, I feel like I owe my son a brand-new something. Perhaps when he starts riding a two-wheeler, I will buy him one of his own instead of just spray-painting his sister’s old bike.


Word-Quirks and Word-Jerks: A Confession

I'll only say this one more time: These are VEGETABLES...

I’ll only say this one more time: These are VEGETABLES…

Not too long ago, a friend told me that her mother hates the word “passed.” She prefers “dead,” and has told everyone in her family that when she dies, to please refer to her as “dead,” and not “passed.” She feels that “passed” is sugar-coating the truth. Dead is dead. Period. While I think it is a point well taken, it made me wonder what she would say about referring to death as “being called Home” or the long-standing African-American tradition of referring to funerals as “Home-Going Celebrations?”

Personally, I don’t have a problem with passed or dead. I use them both, and I will continue to do so, and if anyone finds that offensive, too bad. As for being called Home, I can see why that phrase might come across as a fluffy, Victorian euphemism, but in accordance with my own beliefs, I see it as accurate. I am certain that Heaven IS our real home and that our earthly existence IS but a brief time in one’s eternal life. And frankly, if we would all start calling funerals “Home-Going Celebrations” that would be fine by me. It’s much happier to celebrate a person’s return to their heavenly home than to mourn their death at a funeral. No one dies thinking, “I want my family and friends to be miserable.” I hope.

and these are VEGGIES. Please, note the difference. Thank you.

and these are VEGGIES. Please, note the difference. Thank you.

Yet, the conversation my friend and I shared about her mom’s disapproval of “passed” had an unexpected, unintended impact on me. It made me think about my own word-quirks. I suspect we all have them—you know, those words or phrases that make you cringe or roll your eyes or question the intelligence of the speaker. No? Is it just me?

Here’s a short list of my word-quirks:

  • Veggies. What’s with the baby-talk? Why is it that otherwise intelligent adults use baby-talk when speaking to other adults? In my book, the only thing more annoying than hearing a grown person refer to vegetables as veggies is seeing the word in print. I once put a jar of spaghetti sauce back on the shelf because the label read, “2 Servings of Veggies in Every Jar!” Now, I make my own sauce. Why? Because it’s easy and I want my sauce to contain VEGETABLES, not veggies.
  • Comfy, Jammies, Hubby, Kindy, etc. All other baby-talk words are almost as bad as veggies, but the fact that I now see veggies in print makes it a little worse. Perhaps because I didn’t get a free lobotomy with the birth of either of my children, I don’t understand why so many women, upon becoming mothers, dumb-down their language. A friend once pointed out that I use the word “panties” when referring to underpants and asked why it isn’t on my anti-baby-talk list. My only explanation is that panties has always been a part of my vocabulary and not something I feel is being forced on me by motherhood. That’s a weak excuse—I know. (And for those of you who don’t have children, kindy rhymes with Cindy and it is short for kindergarten. The first time I saw it in print, I didn’t get it either. I kept saying “Kind-y. Kind-y? You registered your kid for Kind-y? What in the hell is that?”)
  • Mom. Okay, I don’t hate the word “mom.” I just hate to be addressed as “mom” by anyone besides my children. Emails that come to me as a part of group announcements that start with “Hey, Mom!” may go unread. I’m not your mom. I may be your friend, your peer, a member of your club, but I am NOT your mom. Take note.
  • Overwhelmed. People, who use the word overwhelmed, tend to over-use it to the point where I question the size of their vocabularies. I want to stop and ask them to be more specific. Are they excited? Tired? Frightened? Worried? Confused? Surprised? Beaten down? In awe? “I’m so overwhelmed!” Yeah, THAT could mean anything. Anything!
  • Anxious. People say “anxious,” but they mean “eager.” You are eager to meet a friend for lunch. Sharing tuna salad with your friend should not make you anxious—unless you are sleeping with her husband. You are eager, not anxious, to start your new job—unless you will be reporting to the person you fired at your last job. You can see how I have a little fun whenever I hear the word “anxious.” The imagined situational comedy is endless.

Yep, that’s my short list, and if you are guilty of using any of these words, you are probably

resolving to never, ever speak to me again, and I don’t blame you. Why? Because I am being a judgmental word-jerk. I’m not listening to what you say, but how you say it. I’m valuing style over content—and that is just wrong!

Really, when someone tells me, “I was in my comfy jammies when I realized my hubby had a boo-boo on his bum-bum,” shouldn’t I ask about his injured butt instead of concerning myself with the idiolect of the pajama-clad speaker? Certainly!

So, let me beg your forgiveness and promise to work on putting my word-quirks aside. Let me assure you that I have never believed anyone’s worth as a human being rests on what words they choose. What we say IS infinitely more important than how we say it, and we should all listen/read for meaning. You see, that whole conversation about passed and dead has reminded me that other people are paying attention to the words I use and are judging me according to their own word-quirks. I even judge myself. God knows, if I read this piece a year from now, I will want to take a red pen to the bad grammar and change a few words or phrases. It’s rare that I reread anything I write without wanting to tweak it.

Yeah, I know someone out there just read “tweak” and thought, “I hate that word!”





Free. Free Movie. Free Lunch. Free Childcare. Free Air-Conditioning.

My children proudly sporting the haircuts that depleted our fun funds.

My children proudly sporting the haircuts that depleted our fun funds.

Haircuts. That’s what broke the bank—and inspired me to go in search of free stuff.

You see, we are on a cash budget this summer. This means that every two weeks, I withdraw a large sum of money and divide it into envelopes. Each envelope is labeled with its intended use. One such envelope is marked “Kids” and it is from this envelope that I buy stuff for my children—not big things like camp registrations, bicycles, or back-to-school clothes—but little expenses that pop up, fun stuff. Lunches out, matinee tickets, a round of miniature golf—these are the types of expenses that are paid for with the cash from their envelope. And so far, it’s proven to be a great teaching tool for managing money and thinking about purchasing choices.

Haircuts? Should haircut money come from this envelope of what I like to use as mad-money, fun-money, make-our-summer-great-money? Well, technically, yes. When my husband and I first discussed our cash-only summer, we decided that the money we allocated for our children would be used for maintenance, too. Not unlike the money we have allotted for gas—we envisioned an overage that would accumulate and be used for maintenance. In the case of our car, the overage in the gas envelope could be used for oil changes, and in the case of children, overage in the kid envelope could be used for haircuts.

The problem? So far, we’ve never had an overage in the Kids envelope. In fact, I usually end up taking a little cash from the Childcare envelope or the Grocery envelope or my envelope to supplement the Kids’ cash. Clearly, we need to rethink the allotment amount for certain areas of our spending or we need to work harder at coming in under-budget.

So, there we were in the grocery store parking lot when my daughter yelled, “I want a haircut!” while pointing to the Hair Cuttery on the other side of the strip mall.

“Me, too!” my son responded.

Really? For a couple of weeks, I had been casually mentioning haircuts to them and generating no interest. Within reason, haircuts aren’t the battle I’m going to choose. I’ll let my kids get a little shaggy.

But they were open to it in that moment and so, of course, I said, “Let’s do it!”

Thirty minutes later, we left the Hair Cuttery with two fresh, new summer-dos, two lolly-pops, and a balance of $1 in the envelope marked “Kids.” It was worth it.

The next day, however, I decided that I needed to come up with some ideas on how we might spend our time without spending money. I told myself that the world is full of such opportunities if you simply look. Free outdoor fun, free indoor fun, free admission, free lunch…I just have to look for it.

That’s when I came up with a plan for Tuesday. Temperatures would be in the 90s and the pool would be closed for cleaning. Kids were out of cash for another week and a half.

We would start with a free movie. The local theater has free movies for kids every Tuesday morning. They aren’t first run. They are flicks you’ve seen a gazillion times, but so what? Admission is free, and you get that big-screen experience that is just missing when you view a movie at home.

We attend the free movie almost every week in the summer, and I’m always surprised that it isn’t the mob-scene one expects with free anything. I credit the management with using good crowd-control techniques and keeping the theater well-staffed, and I think that some people do shy away from anything advertised as free for fear that there will be some gimmick—like being required to sit through a time-share presentation. Or perhaps they think it will be too crowded and noisy because all of us free-loaders will be there. Perhaps they don’t mingle with our sort.

It’s not teeming with toddlers, moms, babysitters, and daycare groups like one might imagine. The only long, unpleasant lines of crying children and flustered care-givers are in the ladies’ restroom after the movie. If you don’t desperately need to pee immediately after the movie, you won’t feel like it is too crowded. I promise.

Then, I figured we would head to the shopping mall for free air-conditioning, free lunch, and free child-care. Free. Free. Free.

When they signed up for the library’s summer reading program, my kids were given a bag of worksheets, flyers, and coupons. One of the coupons was for a free meal at Chick-Fila. So, that’s the free meal. The mall provides a Kid-Care service. It’s supposed to give the parents a break so they will relax and spend more money, but really, it’s an activity for the kids, too—different toys, games, and friends than what they have at home. A win-win.

“And there you go! A free day. Free movie. Free lunch. Free child-care. Free air-conditioning,” I told myself and we headed out the door.

To be fair, I live in an area with an abundance of free fun for those who make an effort. With a little planning, an early start, and motivation, we could make the mountains or the beach a day-trip. We could go into the city—DC or Baltimore—and spend the day there. We’ve done all those things and we will do them again. Today, however, we would stay relatively close to home.

So, how did my day of free fun go?

The movie was great. Epic was showing. It’s one of those kid-movies that our family has seen, but since we don’t own it, we haven’t seen it repeatedly.

Was it truly free, however? No. For me, it never is. I bought the kids popcorn and soft-drinks—or “soda” as my half-Yankee children call it. The snacks aren’t a requirement for attending the free movies, but I always buy them because as I see it, these free movies are a public service that the theater doesn’t have to provide. It costs them money to be open at a time when they would otherwise be closed. The purchase of popcorn and the kiddie-size drinks is my way of saying “thank you.” This is the only place I ever buy them sodas, and I made it my treat—truly. I paid for the snacks out of my envelope.

Lunch was, um, less great. We went to the food court in the mall where they used their Chick-Fila coupons for the 4-piece nugget meals. I bought a salad for myself because I needed to eat, too. Restaurants count on that—an adult WILL accompany the children with the coupons and buy something for herself.

Oh, but what can I say about the mall food court dining experience? It IS crowded and noisy. My son covered his ears and said he couldn’t eat because it was too noisy. Is he really my child? Noise never keeps me from food. I don’t even see a connection, but apparently, for him, the noise was killing the ambiance.

And the food court Chick-Fila lacks certain things that I took for granted at its free-standing counterpart. Sure, I wasn’t expecting an in-door playground, but no trays? No helpful old lady handing out placemats and extra ketchup packets? No employees carrying my tray for me? We go to the mall so seldom that I apparently forgot these things—or maybe I never knew them. When I asked the Chick-Fila guy for a tray, he went into a long-winded explanation of why the mall was having a tray shortage. Not now, buddy. Not now. I’ve got to get drinks, kids, and food across the crowded food court IMMEDIATELY because I spy an empty table that looks almost-clean, and someone else will snatch it up if I don’t hurry!

My luck with the free childcare wasn’t any better. In the time since I last used the Kid Care service, it has gone from being free to charging $7 per child, but since I had said we were going to do this, I figured I would use the cash in the envelope marked “Childcare.” As we approached the Kid Care playroom, however, my son came to a dead stop. “I don’t want to do this,” he said.


“I don’t want to go to Kid Care.”

We talked. He really didn’t have a good reason for not wanting to go, and I didn’t have a good reason for making him. His sister seemed indifferent to the entire situation. So, we left the mall and went to an open-air farmer’s market where we bought okra, tomatoes, corn, bell peppers, squash and a watermelon using money from the Grocery envelope.

Then, we went home and made ice cream.

So, my day of free movie, free food, free childcare, and free air-conditioning didn’t turn out as I planned. I spent money, but none of it was from the Kids envelope, and no, it wasn’t a carefree, unadulterated day of out-of-the-house fun.

However, it wasn’t a failure either. I learned certain things—like the movie theater handles large groups of people much better than the mall food court, and Kid Care is no longer free. My house stayed relatively clean because we weren’t home to make a mess. I wasn’t tempted to surf the Internet while letting kids watch back-to-back Scooby-Doo episodes. We had great conversations during our car-time. So, by my low standards, it was a success.

I should write about what happens when we stay home without a plan.




How A Screen-Free Week Became A Limited-Screen Summer

Remember when televisions looked like this? We got plenty of exercise back then. We had to get up and walk across the room to change the channel.

Remember when televisions looked like this? We got plenty of exercise back then. We had to get up and walk across the room to change the channel.

“No TV,” I said. “No computer. No videos. No LeapPad. We are going to have a screen-free week.”

“Hooray!” my daughter shouted. “I love that idea! Can we start today?”

And no, she wasn’t being sarcastic. She was genuinely excited about having a screen-free week—so much so that enthusiastically shared this news with anyone who would listen and suggested that we make it two weeks, not just one.

Her reaction surprised me. A lot. You see, she was one of the main reasons I decided we needed a little break from the screen. She is the kid who always wants to watch something or play video games. Recently, we went to a nature fair, and at every tent, we stopped to learn more about animals and their habitats. At every tent, my daughter engaged the naturalist in conversation by spouting off what she had learned from Wild Kratts and Animal Planet.

I felt a little embarrassed. I was certain the naturalists were all looking at me and thinking, “Lady, your kid watches way too much TV.” Their judgment was probably all in my head, but I always feel a little judged when in the presence of people who are crunchier than I am. I wanted to defend myself against the imagined accusations. I wanted to yell, “But at least it’s not junk TV! My kid isn’t watching all the usual kid-crap! She watches educational stuff! PBS!” And I wanted to tell them that I read that the average child spends about eight hours in front of a television every day. Mine don’t. My kids watch far less than the average—and it’s still too much.

I admit that the imaginary judgment I feel come from my own convictions and persnicketiness. I believe the most boring people in the world are those who talk about what they have seen on TV. I don’t want my daughter to be a boring person.

You know who else is boring? People who write about television—like I am doing right now. And that brings me to the second person in our household who really needed a screen-free week—ME.

I don’t watch much TV. I watch Downton Abbey for the eight short weeks that it is on, and I occasionally tune into Sister Wives or My Five Wives. So, it’s high-brow British, period drama or low-brow American reality shows for me. Nothin’ inbetween! And I never see these shows when they air. I watch them late at night on-demand while I am folding clothes. In fact, my cable carrier dropped Sister Wives from their on-demand selection, and now, I am behind by several episodes. And I don’t care. That’s how little the boob-tube means to me.

No, my vice isn’t television. It’s Internet. And yes, I see the irony in every on-line, anti-Internet opinion piece I read, and yet, what am I doing? Using the Internet to post my own rant. I get it.

Unless I make a conscientious effort to stay away from the Internet, I will get sucked in. I’ll post a status on Facebook–or perhaps a picture. Then, I have to return to it a dozen times to see if anyone has “liked” my one-liner or photograph. Did they comment on it? Should I comment back to the commenter or just “like” the comment? And while I’m here, let me “like” this picture of a grumpy cat, a new recipe for salsa, and all these vacation photos my friends are posting. Bible verses, inspirational quotes, and memes that make fun of people who are as addicted to Facebook as I am. Oh, what’s this? Let me click on this blog about archaeology. Maybe I will share it.

I’ll purposefully avoid anything political or otherwise controversial because if Facebook has taught me anything, it’s that Americans believe in Freedom of Speech—provided they agree with the speaker. No one posts anything with the intention of stimulating meaningful conversation. We all just want the calming reassurance of being “liked.” I think that’s called “agreement” in face-to-face interactions.

The point here is that I get sucked in, and Facebook isn’t my only on-line time vacuum. I’ll read celebrity “news” and poorly edited articles about horrific crimes. If I comment on these, I then will return to the comments to see if my comment generated any comments. The desire to read the comments about my comment is an ego-thing. I really don’t like that about myself. And I am painfully aware that I’ve used the word “comment” a lot. That’s what too much Internet will do for you–reduce your vocabulary.

I’ll go to the Community Board of Baby Center and chat with a group of women I befriended on-line when my daughter was a newborn. We’ve “talked” almost daily for almost seven years, and I love these gals. I don’t consider my interaction with them to be a waste of time since we are scattered all around the country and don’t have the opportunity to get together in person. However, once I’ve posted on our forum, I tend to log in again and again to see if anyone else has posted. Doing that—the checking of one website 16 times in one day—is a waste of time.

Recently, I discovered blogs about Sister Wives and a couple of forums on reality shows. No, I’m not watching Sister Wives this season because I can’t get it on-demand, but that hasn’t stopped me from reading about their antics. Yeah, that’s an excellent little time-waster. As my on-line friends might say, “Klassy.”

Yep, I’m wasting time, getting fat, and setting a lousy example for my children. When I spend hours staring at a screen, I am not living my own convictions. I feel guilty about that. And so, it’s got to change. I’ve got to change.

And so, I announced our family’s week-long no-screen commitment. My daughter was on-board 100%. My son isn’t much of a screen-addict and if his sister isn’t staring at a television or a computer, then, neither is he. My husband only watches old movies in the wee-hours when he can’t sleep. So, it should have been easy, right?

When I shared my intentions with my friends, I told them that I was going to have to unearth a phone book. I don’t know when I last flipped through yellow pages of advertisements and small print to find a number or an address. And directions? When is the last time I had to look at a map? Still, I know how to use a phonebook and I know how to read a map. And it’s only for one week. One week.

The real complication comes from the need to communicate with others who aren’t having a screen-free week. Sure, I can put an out-going message on my email telling people to call me because I’m not answering email, and I can do something similar on other message boards, but will anyone listen?

And I have agreed to host some club events. Those events have to be posted on a website.

Girl Scout registration? On-line.

Library book reservations? On-line.

Vacation-planning? On-line.

Blood-test results? On-line.

Summer camp-information? On-line.

Clearly, for me to be truly screen-free for an entire week, it’s going to take a little more planning than what I had first considered. And it’s not going to happen this week because I’m ill-prepared. And now, instead of a screen-free week, I think I might prefer a limited-screen summer. Monitoring the time I have in front of a computer and keeping my children too busy to watch much television may be more productive than going cold-turkey for just one week. I’m not ruling out the cold-turkey approach. I’m just saying it won’t happen right now, and in the meantime, we will be prudent with our limited screen-time.

My first challenge will be to post this blog entry and NOT come back to see how many hits I received. Yeah, who am I kidding? If you leave a comment, I WILL be back to read it.


The Highly Experimental Nature of Life: Polygamy, Yoga Pants & Money

Brady Williams and his Five Wives. If you are Mormon, please forgive me for watching this show. Or better yet, feel free to mention Southern Charm to me. It has that same cringe-worthy quality AND it takes place in my hometown.

Brady Williams and his Five Wives. If you are Mormon, please forgive me for watching this show. Or better yet, feel free to mention Southern Charm to me. It has that same cringe-worthy quality AND it takes place in my hometown.

So, have you seen this show My Five Wives? No? Let me fill you in. They were Fundamentalist Mormons, but then, they left their church, and so, now, they are just polygamists with no religious affiliation. One man. Five women. And their 24 children. One big happy household—only they don’t seem all that happy to me, but that’s beside the point.

I watched an entire season hoping they—the Williams Family–would reveal the reason they left their church. I wanted the dirt, but even in that end-of-season tell-all, they only touched on it—by their account, they are socially more progressive than their former church. That’s it. I find that a little anti-climactic—and pretty normal, don’t you?

People frequently leave the churches they grew up in because they discover the church is either too liberal or too conservative for their taste. It happens all the time. What’s interesting to me about this particular family is that they changed their collective mind—or collectively changed their minds—about their church, but now what? Where do they go from here? Can they end a 20 year marriage just because they are no longer a part of a church that condones and encourages polygamy? And what about all those kids? “Sorry, kids. You are only here because we used to believe that polygamy leads to Salvation and birth control leads to Hell. We’ve decided that ain’t true after all.” Actually, I’m sure they don’t feel that way. I’m sure they love all their children, and that’s what makes everything about their situation even harder.

The dilemma of the Williams family has me thinking a lot about the highly experimental nature of life. You try something, and if it works for you, you keep it. If not, you move on. Of course, this works better with experiments that require less of a commitment than five marriage and 24 children. I was thinking more along the lines of buying a different brand of dish soap because it is on sale. You try it and if you like it, it replaces your old brand. If you don’t like it, you just don’t buy it again.

I am currently engaged in some experiments that lie somewhere between polygamy and dish soap. Okay, everything—EVERYTHING—I might try is closer to dish soap than polygamy. Everything.

And I am sure the Williames didn’t think of polygamy as an experiment when they committed to it. Still, jumping from their situation to my own is simply how my mind works. I don’t really consider anyone’s religious beliefs to be an experiment—even if they are subject to change.

The first of my experiments involves work-out clothes and a theory. Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of women wearing what I consider gym-clothes while running errands. Target. Grocery stores. Gas stations. Doctors’ offices. And maybe—just maybe—they are on their way to or from the gym, but I have a theory based on the appearance of these women. They all seem to have great posture—like they are standing up a little straighter and are more conscious of their movements. And they all seem a little more energetic than the general population. I think that wearing gym-clothes makes people feel healthier and so they behave healthier. I have no scientific proof to back that up—it’s just a general observation.

And it’s an interesting observation coming from me because it’s well documented that I hate exercise: Here. And here. And I have a tendency to compartmentalize my wardrobe. My going-out clothes are reserved for going out. My church clothes go to church only. And that black dress I wore to my mother-in-law’s funeral? It’s hanging in my closet and will likely remain there until I go to another funeral.

If you see me wearing sneakers, yoga pants, and a sports bra, I am exercising. Expect me to start running laps or break into an aerobics routine. I know. I’m not very creative when it comes to fashion, but that’s just me. Since forming this theory, however, I’ve spent entire days in my gym clothes, and I was right. I stood taller, moved faster, and ate less.

At one point, I thought I might want to wear nothing but gym clothes for an entire month, but vanity and fear of complacency got the best of me. I don’t have a lot of cute, trendy workout clothes. I have old cross-trainers that need replacing; faded, black yoga capris; and sports bras that I wear under t-shirts. I look a little sloppy in this outfit. Sure, I really did feel healthier and more athletic when wearing it—until I passed a mirror. Even if I had a lot of cute, new exercise clothes, I’m not sure that I will ever be the woman who can pull it off.

As for the fear of complacency, I know myself well enough to realize that the novelty would wear off and eventually, I wouldn’t get that bounce from the clothes if I wore them every day. I’d do better to make a smaller commitment—maybe twice a week. Around the house.

My next experiment is all about money. My husband and I have gone to an all-cash budget for the summer, but we used May as a test. Basically, I get a lump sum every two weeks and I divide it into envelopes—Groceries, Gas, Kids, Household Misc., Childcare, and Me. If I run out of cash in any one envelope, that’s just too bad. There’s no whipping out a credit card or going to an ATM. We just have to wait until the next payday.

I am surprised that I like this system, but I really, really do. Why?

  • We are talking about money for the first time. Here’s the thing I have noticed about couples—they either talk about money OR they don’t. They either fight about money OR they don’t. We were a don’t-talk-about-it and don’t-fight-about-it couple for the first eight years of our marriage. I think we both feared that talking about it would lead to fighting. Since starting our all-cash budget, we are talking AND keeping those conversations about money up-beat. It feels like we are a team and we are tackling the same problem, and since we are being pro-active, the general mood of the money-talks is hopeful and optimistic, not combative.

  • I have Me money. Since becoming a stay-at-home-mom, I’ve felt self-conscious about spending money on myself. I know that not every stay-at-home-mom feels that way and spouses are entitled to each other’s paychecks, but put yourself in my shoes. I was 40-years-old when my first child was born. I spent a lot of time in the work-force and I was used to having my own paycheck. I’m allowed to feel a little awkward about spending the money that doesn’t have my name on it.With the all-cash budget, I have an envelope with my name on it. So, if I want something for me, I go into the envelope and get the cash without thinking, “Oh, gee, I can’t spend money on myself.”

  • The all-cash system is a very visual way to teach kids about money. The other day, my daughter asked me to take her to get her hair cut because if she could get 1/32 of an inch trimmed from her hair weekly, she would. I pulled out the envelope marked Kids, showed her the contents, and said, “Okay, this is ALL the money you have until next month. If I take you to get your hair cut today, it will cost this much,” and I removed a $20 from the stack. “Do you still want a haircut?” And ta-da! The lightbulb went on! She understood that money is a finite resource.

  • This budget is experimental. We’ve committed to it through the summer. At the end of August, we will revise it as needed or move onto something else.And there will be revisions! I’ve already discovered some flaws in the plan. For example, I don’t have an envelope for gifts. We were invited to a birthday party, and I had this big internal debate about which envelope to use for purchasing a water-bazooka for the birthday boy. I made an unconventional choice—Groceries. Why? Because I had plenty of overage in that envelope and they would be feeding us at the party. So, we were exchanging a toy for food? No, not really, but the Kids envelope was getting kind of thin.

The third experiment is something I am still contemplating: A screen-less week. That’s right. No computer, no Internet, no television, no LeapPad for a full seven days. Will our family of four survive such a week?

I don’t watch much TV—only Downton Abbey and reality shows about polygamy—and so I would not go into television withdrawal. I’m not so sure that the rest of the family would fare so well. If I can get my husband to go along with this plan, he will likely do more reading. The children will likely do more home-demolition—‘cuz I don’t watch TV, but I do use it as a babysitter. Just ask me about the PBS morning line-up.

The Internet? Ew. That’s trickier.

I post on Facebook almost daily, and I have a group of friends from Baby I chat more with them than I do with people I see in person. Still, I’m sure I could go a week or longer without that interaction. After all, I have given up social networks for Lent successfully.

No Internet at all, however? Geez. When is the last time I used a phone book to find a number or an address? Do I even know where my phonebook is? And e-mail! Mostly, my email in-box is filled with ads—everything from preservation organization memberships to Viagra—but sometimes, occasionally, someone sends me something worth reading or seeing, and just sometimes, those messages warrant a response. I guess the thing to do is to tell everyone I know that if they need to get in touch with me, they should pick up a phone and call. An out-going email message stating that I’m taking a little break from the screen is probably a good idea, too.

So, it’s do-able and it might be interesting to see what I learn about myself and my family. And really that’s what all this experimentation is about for me—learning.

Hmmm…it has nothing to do with polygamy after all.











Culinary Crush

Admit it, if this guy showed up at your house and said, "I'm here to cook for you, you would not turn him away. Rest in Peace, my wonderful Mr. Lee Bailey.

Admit it, if this guy showed up at your house and said, “I’m here to cook for you, you would not turn him away. Rest in Peace, my wonderful Mr. Lee Bailey.

“Last night, I dreamt that Lee Bailey asked me to be his apprentice. So, I was going to travel the world with him and work on his next cookbook. You can’t believe how disappointed I was when I woke up. I have such a culinary crush on that man.” I made that confession to a co-worker in the early 1990s.

The co-worker laughed. “You don’t stand a chance with him, Honey! First of all, he is old enough to be your grandfather. Secondly, he is gay.”

Um, yeah, I said I wanted to cook with him, not marry him. Big difference.

Now, when I mention Lee Bailey to almost anyone, I get one of two responses: They ask, “You mean, F. Lee Bailey?” And I say, “No. Not the attorney. Just Lee Bailey with no F. He was a chef, food journalist, and cookbook author.” Or they tell me he is dead. Yep, I know. He died back in 2003. RIP my wonderful Mr. Bailey.

I have all of his cookbooks. This is a pretty big deal to me because I try not to collect stuff and I can’t think of anything else that I have all of. Furthermore, when I read them—and I have read all of them from cover to cover like other people read novels—I hear his voice in my head. It’s similar to the voice I hear when I read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, but with a southern accent, not a British one.

He might say, “Now, slowly pour the batter into the pan.” Or he might reminisce about family and friends. “This blueberry pie reminds me of my great aunt Gladys. I have many fond memories of picking blueberries while visiting her and Uncle Alvin. She’d make the sweetest pies, and we would all sit on the front porch enjoying a slice and watching the fireflies come out after dark.” And he was very forgiving. “If you accidently leave this cake in the oven too long, it will be too dry to slice. If that happens, just crumble it and serve it on top of ice cream.” And he understood how we all really live. “If you are too busy to press your own pasta, just use the dried kind and follow the directions on the package.”

His vibe was that cooking for other people should be fun, not stressful—and when you do cook for someone, you create a connection with them. You create memories, not of food but of people. See? If you cook, how can you not have a crush on this guy?

And now, I have my second culinary crush, but it’s less about personality and more about what I might learn: Mark Bittman.

Mark Bittman. Mark Bittman. Mark Bittman. What can I say about Mark Bittman? Very little. I don’t know much about him. I haven’t looked up any bio info on him on Wikipedia and his cookbooks aren’t filled with folksy wisdom or stories of his past. I can’t tell you where Mark Bittman is from, when he was born, or if he has any pets. Because I’m not much of a TV-watcher, I can’t tell you if he has his own cooking show or does interviews.

Here is what I do know: I used to be a member of a mail-order book “club.” Club is in quotes because I don’t want to confuse it with the kind of club that has everyone reading the same book so they can later discuss it. This “club” was really a sales-deal-thingy. I filled out a form telling them my literary interest and every month they would select and send me a book—and the bill for that book—unless I specifically requested that they not send it. Usually, I requested that they not send. Occasionally, I would forget and they would send. I would write “Return to Sender” on the un-opened package. On even rarer occasions, I would keep the book and send a payment.

I’m pretty sure this is how I ended up with a paperback edition of Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything. The name intrigued me. Everything? Really? Everything. Almost.

It became my go-to guide for basics. It’s thanks to this one cookbook that I can make the best pizza crust. We almost never order out any more. Pancakes from scratch? Yep. Why, oh, why did I ever use Bisquik? Quiche? I’ve always made quiche, but his recipe made my quiche better. And he is solely responsible for my ability to pan-fry a steak without over-cooking it.

Back in November, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my family. So it was my husband, our children, his mom, and my cousin Delaine—and of course, me. I had How To Cook Everything open when Delaine arrived. I was probably checking it to see how long Mark Bittman lets his turkey sit before carving it. I opened a bottle of wine and Delaine hung out in the kitchen while I finished cooking whatever needed finishing. I told her that I checked my own culinary knowledge against How To Cook Everything a lot. At what temperature does he roast a chicken? Does he add milk to his French toast batter? How much olive oil does he use when sautéing green beans? I know how I make all these dishes, but why not ask someone else how he makes his, right?

That’s when Delaine told me she wanted to learn to cook.

Let me tell you about my cousin. She is talented! If it’s broken, she can fix it. When it comes to home-repair, she is the go-to-girl! I let her take a sledgehammer to my bathroom floor with no regrets. That’s how confident I am in her abilities.

She’s also kind, intelligent, and funny. My children love her so much that I tell people that my house doubles as the headquarters for “The Aunt Delaine Fan Club.” But she can’t cook. She’s never really tried. So, hearing her say that she wanted to learn to cook meant one thing—“For Christmas, I must get Delaine her own Mark Bittman How To Cook Everything!”

A week later, I drove to Barnes & Noble and went directly to the cookbook section. I found the up-dated version of How To Cook Everything, and then I realized, if you aren’t already cooking, this book is intimidating. It’s at least two inches thick and no pictures. I imaged handing my six-year-old daughter War and Peace because she is learning to read. Maybe this wasn’t the greatest gift. Maybe I could do better without leaving the cookbook aisle.

Then, I found it! Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything: The Basics. It has over a thousand pictures and he starts with how to boil an egg. When I look back on Christmas, this was my favorite gift I gave. I ever-so-gingerly thumbed through it thinking, “I kinda want this for me.”

I found it at the library—for me. I checked it out and renewed it about a dozen times before downloading a Barnes & Noble coupon on Mother’s Day and buying it.

I have a lot of cookbooks, and buying another one seems counter to my clutter-reduction plan. Also, I know how to boil an egg. Why was I so hot for this book?

When I first saw it, it occurred to me that I am a good cook, but if I had The Basics, I could follow the directions of each recipe from cover-to-cover and study how Mark Bittman puts a dish together—his techniques, his know-how. And if I did this over the course of a year or so, I would immerge from the experience a much better cook. And don’t I want to be a better cook? Sure!

So, that’s what I am doing. When I open The Basics, I empty my mind of all that I know or think I know about cooking and I’m following his directions. This is a real departure for me. Whether it is in cooking or any other activity, I tend to treat directions as suggestions. Speed limit. Homework. Evacuation plans. All are mere suggestions. Nothing is mandated. Yeah, you might not want to sit next to me on a plane.

I’ve only followed three recipes so far, and as I suspected, Mark Bittman’s oatmeal, smoothies, and hot-buttered popcorn are all better than mine. See? I am not joking when I said that this is the See-Dick-Run of cookbooks. Is there anything more basic than oatmeal?

I’ve also discovered that there is a certain humility and grace that comes from doing something someone else’s way, instead of always insisting that I know best. I guess I’ve always known this, and what I have found in my current culinary crush is a reminder to let someone else lead—even if it is just around the kitchen.

On Mother’s Day, I Ran Away.

You know she's thinking, "I really need to get to the mall. I think Macy's has sandals on sale."

You know she’s thinking, “I really need to get to the mall. I think Macy’s has sandals on sale.”

“Mom! Mom! Mom! MOM!” my son yelled from the top of the stairs. I had just poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down to write in my journal. I only have two desires in the morning—coffee and journaling. If I don’t get both before kids wake, I don’t get them at all. Plus, I haven’t been sleeping well. Typically, I wake feeling over-heated and dehydrated at least twice a night. I’m sure it is hormonal.

“Yes?” I answered.

“Come here, please!”

“What do you need from me?”

“I need YOU! I NEED you!”

And up the stairs I went. When I got to the top of the stairs, I asked again, “What do you need from me?”

“Nothing. I just want you to carry me downstairs.”

And thus began my Mother’s Day. No flowers. I’m fine with that. I’d rather get them on a non-holiday for no reason at all. No breakfast in bed. I’m cool with that, too. Eating in bed is very unappealing to me. But damn, how I had wanted a morning in which I would be a little less needed.

When I was growing up, Mother’s Day was always celebrated the same. We went to church where the sermon always had something to do with motherhood. Maybe it was about how the Virgin Mary experienced all the usual joys and frustrations of motherhood. Maybe it was about how mothers (and fathers) are charged with the responsibility of living their faith. Mothers and grandmothers all wore corsages to church on Mother’s Day. White flowers—especially white orchids—were worn by women whose own mothers were dead. Then, after church, we ate at the country club. I don’t remember the food. I do remember drinking Shirley Temples.

We could have had an up-dated version of the Mother’s Day of my childhood. My nephew graduated from college on Saturday. We went to the ceremony and to the party that followed. My sister-in-law had invited us to spend the night. We could have gone to church with her family. We could have gone to brunch with them—at their country club. I could have even ordered a Shirley Temple—or a Bloody Mary.

We opted not to take her up on her generous offer. Why? College kids party into the wee-hours, don’t they? At least, that’s what I remember from my own college days. I wanted to be in bed before 4 am.

Besides, I knew that my husband had big Mother’s Day plans for me. I knew he had purchased two vintage plant-holders that he and our children were painting. Several times during the week, I had been warned by my daughter not to go into the basement, and when I had to venture down there, she said, “If you see anything old and wooden, just ignore them. They aren’t for you.” Yeah, that’s not the least bit suspicious.

I also knew my guy was planning to cook dinner for me. On Friday, he had gone fishing and returned with a 35 lb. striped bass. Let’s put this into perspective—that fish weighed more than our son. I’m not a huge fan of bass, but I am a fan of someone else doing the cooking, and so, I was looking forward to that—a nice, low-key Mother’s Day with just the four of us.

That delusion didn’t last long. My son needed me to carry him down the stairs. Then, he needed me to cook him breakfast. Then, my daughter woke. She needed me to help her find her hair brush. I kept trying to hand over some of the parenting to my husband, but my children wanted mom and only mom. I guess I should have been flattered, but I wasn’t. And please spare me the lecture on how I will one day miss being needed. I’m sure that you are right, but for now, I don’t want to hear about it.

And please understand, my husband is an awesome father. He’s very involved, and our children do go to him with their needs. They see him as a problem-solver, a teacher, a confidant, a disciplinarian, a comforter, a champion, and all those other things parents are called to be—provided I am not around. I suspect this is a dynamic you find in most households with children. If Mom is available, why settle for Dad?

So, after kids were dressed and fed, they followed my guy outside to work on that mysterious Mother’s Day surprise, and I went up-stairs to my bedroom thinking, “NOW, I will write!”

And within a few minutes of making that announcement, my paint-splattered children ran back into the house carrying a toad they had caught. Hmmm…children + paint + toad + running through the house? How does this equation ever not end in a mess?

Now, if you know me in real life, or even if you just follow my blog, you know that I am the type of parent who encourages outdoor play, paint-splattering, and toad-catching—provided the toad doesn’t get hurt. I hate messes, but I’m not afraid of them. I see a mess as a byproduct of life. However, cleaning up a kid-paint-toad mess is NOT how I wanted to spend Mother’s Day—especially since I was operating on very little sleep and no journal-writing time.

That’s when I made the decision to leave. To run away. On Mother’s Day. I showered, dressed, and informed my family that I would be back in time for dinner. Then, I left.

Sadly, without a plan, I ended up at the mall. I’m pretty sure Hell is a 24-hour mall with no exits. I’m just not a shopper, and I really don’t know why I would go to a mall other than I was struck by the urge to spend money on myself. Having recently changed over my wardrobe to make the warm-weather wear more accessible, I knew I wanted to replace certain items, such as sandals. I really wanted new sandals.

And I had been promising myself a cookbook—Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything: The Basics—since first seeing it in December when I bought it for my cousin. A cookbook is a great Mother’s Day gift—to myself.

So, that is what I did on Mother’s Day. I abandoned my family and went shopping for sandals and a book. I feel no guilt over this.

When I returned home, that fabulous Mother’s Day surprise still wasn’t finished, but my husband was cooking the bass. I kissed him. I thanked him. I showed him my new sandals and cookbook, and I felt very celebrated. More than anything else, I felt good that I had not stayed home feeling frustrated by the lack of writing time. Had I done so, I might be calling this blog entry “The Worst Mother’s Day Ever.”