Thanksgiving Research

Last night after Thanksgiving dinner, my aunt offered me a turnip from a bag she had in the trunk of her car. At first, I said no, but then I changed my mind and decided to take one. After all, she had extra, I like turnip, and I am currently working with a limited diet. I took one and stashed it in the trunk of my own car. The cool nights, I figured, would keep it fresh until I could cook it this weekend.

This afternoon, I took my children to a local shop that we enjoy visiting. The shop has all kinds of fun toys, games, gadgets, greeting cards, decorations, etc. We did a little holiday shopping, and I came away with a bag of goodies. We decided we would walk the main shopping district of this small town, but I wanted to put my bag in the car first. I opened the back, not even thinking.

C’s brow wrinkled in surprise. “What’s that?” he pointed to the corner of the trunk, and I immediately remembered that I had placed the turnip in that spot last night.

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I laughed. “That’s a turnip. Looks like jicama, doesn’t it?” I asked him. When my aunt had given it to me last night, I realized the similar appearances between the two roots. I think C, who has recently discovered jicama, was hopeful that I had purchased (and hidden) this in my car trunk.

The similarities did prompt me to do some quick research on whether jicama and turnip are related. I was surprised to learn that jicama is actually a legume, and the root is the only edible part of the plant; the rest, it seems, is poisonous, and contains a chemical used in pesticides. Turnip, on the other hand, is a root vegetable, and even the greens are edible. Despite the similar appearance, these two roots are not related.

The things you can learn when you think your car is a good place to store a turnip for a day or two…. And now you know, too!

Sarcasm

The other day when I was cooking dinner, I decided to listen to some music from my younger days. I played a Styx “Classic” album as I prepared the meal. I was even remembering most of the words, though I will admit there were a couple songs I didn’t know. The boys were in the living room finishing homework, and J was still at school, attending a theater meeting or some such activity.

Dinner was nearly ready when she walked in the door. “What are you listening to?” were the first words out of her mouth when the song hit her. She wrinkled her nose and her tone was one of disgust. It was a tone a parent might use when asking a teenager what she was listening to.

I feigned shock. “What? You don’t like it? This is my 80s head-banging music!” I made a head-banging motion; in response, she rolled her eyes as she slipped off her shoes and headed for the living room.

It was a few minutes before I called all three kids to the kitchen to help set the table so we could eat. My voice no doubt fully pulled the boys from their activity. “Mom,” C ventured. “What are you listening to?” It was the exact same tone his sister had used only a few minutes before. J laughed when I proudly responded “It’s my 80s head-banging music!”

She came into the kitchen. “Mom, what’s the chance we could turn off the 80s grunge?”

I was looking for a little nostalgia while I cooked dinner, and look what I got: teenage sarcasm with a side of humor! In my house, who would expect anything else?

Roadblocks

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Last week, my son was chosen to attend a conference at a local university. While he was happy to be chosen and excited about attending the conference (and missing school), this was the first time that he would have to navigate an unknown route on his own.

His concern began the week before. “I need to know how to get to the university,” he told me. (My children do not have smart phones or a GPS. We rely on old fashioned maps in our house. Actually, that’s not completely true. Mapquest is my navigation system of choice in most instances).

“I can tell you how to get there,” I told him. “Or you can look it up.”

“How do I do that?” he asked, triggering a twang of annoyance in my head. I cannot even begin to tell you how much this question irks me.

“Really?” I responded. “You can spend hours on the Internet, and you don’t know how to find directions?” I sighed as I realized he has not needed directions before now. I had a brief memory of my father’s irritation with me when, at 18, I didn’t know my way to a venue over an hour from our home. It was a place we visited every summer, but the drive through farmland, over twisty back roads always induced an intense case of day-dreamy-ness in me. Because I wasn’t driving, I didn’t have to pay attention to the route. “I’ll help you find the directions, but I’m not going to do it for you. It’ll be a good exercise.” And that was the end of the discussion and the immediate effort, but not of his worries.

The day before the event, he once again expressed his concern that he did not know the way. “I’ll Google it and show you,” I told him, but I had a scheduled meeting, and he didn’t want to move from the activity of the moment. So I closed my computer and left for my meeting.

When I returned, he was packing up his gear for the next day. “Can you help me with the directions?” He looked up and smiled a sheepish smile.

“I tried to show you before I left. Go pull it up on the computer, and I’ll go over it with you.” And so it was that he was finally able to get directions. We scanned the map together, and I pointed out the route, the trouble spots, and gave him tips for navigating the morning rush hour traffic. He printed out the directions and a map of the area, tucking them into the bag he would bring with him.

The next morning, he left on schedule. He had allowed twice the time it would take for the drive. Fifteen minutes after he left, my phone rang. It was him. “What’s up?” I answered.

“So… River Road is closed.”

“What do you mean ‘closed’? Is there a detour?”

“I don’t think so. There’s just a barricade and a guy telling people not to go that way.”

“Where are you now?” I asked him as I sat down at my computer. “Give me a minute to bring up a map.”

“I’m pulled over on the side of the road.” He paused. “From the map, it looks like I can get there if I take School Street all the way out.”

I surveyed the map on my screen. “I think that will work,” I told him. “Can you get to School Street from where you are?”

“I should be able to. There are several roads that lead over there.” He hung up, and in another fifteen minutes, he sent me a text to let me know that he had reached his destination.

He thought he was prepared for the day when he left home, but there are things we don’t plan for on our journey. Sometimes, unexpected things come up—detours, roadblocks, wrong turns. All we can do is prepare the best we possibly can and be flexible. Because he had printed out the map and tucked it into his bag, he was able to recalculate his route and make it to his destination with time to spare.

Mistakes

Writing 101, Day 13: Play with word count….

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This evening, in an effort to get to bed earlier, I made the mistake of asking my children to start their own lunches for tomorrow. If they don’t have time to eat the lunches I make, they will definitely not have time to eat the lunches they made.

It was an experiment that became the mistake I am not likely to repeat….

Snacks (2)

It is a rare occasion when I arrive home from work and have both the time and the motivation to make a real meal for dinner. I am good at whipping up something quick—spaghetti, chicken parmesan, tacos, etc. But making a full, more complicated dinner takes time and energy that I don’t usually have when I get home from work.

So last week, I planned ahead. I made pasta salad on Sunday for a potluck, and I doubled the recipe so we could have it for dinner on Monday, the most hectic day of our week. Pasta salad, ham, and broccoli—a simple, quick dinner.

As we sat down to eat, C looked at the food. “This is what I had for lunch.”

“This is what I had for a snack,” J piped up.

“You had this for a snack?” I asked. Then I looked at C. “I packed you a sandwich for lunch,” I responded. “You didn’t have pasta salad.”

“Yes I did,” he retorted. “You packed me a snack. I eat lunch when I get home from school.”

“What?” I studied his face. He was serious. “Wait… you eat a full meal when you get home from school?”

“Yeah, Mom. We eat so early at school, that’s just my snack. I eat lunch when I get home.”

“Every day?” I asked him.

“Yeah, pretty much.”

Well, that might explain where all the food has been disappearing to….

Writing Space

Written in response to Writing 101, Day 6: The space to write….

My children were very young when I became a single mother—my youngest was 14 months old—but I have never stopped writing. I have “paused” every now and again when life becomes overwhelming, but I have written, at least a bit, through each stage of their lives. Because I also took on an online teaching position, I became accustomed to working with much distraction.

When the children were young, I would work and write while they played—sometimes in the other room, and sometimes right near me. Often, the children would have their various craft projects or drawings-in-progress splayed across the kitchen table; I would squeeze myself in, claiming a tiny little spot of table real estate, just big enough for my laptop. Crayons, markers, clay, googly eyes and cast-off drawings inched nearer with every movement they made. When they were quietly engaged in their own activities, I could write without a problem. However, I developed tactics to deal with noise and distraction.

On one particularly memorable day, I was sitting at the kitchen table working, and W was sitting across from me, bent over some project or another. He might have been about eight at the time. The other two were in the living room, and they were not being quiet, by any stretch of the imagination. I was working, but to keep my focus, I was dictating to myself as I typed.

I saw W look up from his project, so I watched him as I typed. He looked at me, cocked his head and narrowed his eyes as he studied me, pondering what to say. I stared back without pausing in my typing or my dictating. “Mum, can you type silently?” he asked me.

I raised my eyebrows in question and halted my dictation and hence, my typing. “Do you hear your brother and sister?” As if on cue, one of them squealed, and they both giggled. W nodded. “That is why I can’t type silently.” He held my gaze for a long moment before he sighed and turned back to his work.

Since then, I always try to type silently. But sometimes, when the distractions are just too much to handle, I have to type out loud.

Talk-to-Text

Writing 101, Day 7: Let social media inspire you. In this case, texting rather than tweeting.

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On Friday night, my boyfriend discovered the talk-to-text feature on my phone. He was texting my daughter who had just finished her evening performance of “Our Town,” and I needed to let her know we were on our way to pick her up. “Oh look, I can say something!” he announced as he pushed the microphone button and recorded his message. Because he had been privy to J’s iMessage voice recordings to her step-sister on her iPad, he thought he was familiar with this feature. I believe he thought it would send a recorded message that J could listen to.

Instead, it translated his recording into a text message, one that made little sense. He read the first to me. “Hello just seen we are on our way the by.” I glanced over just as he hit “send.”

“Did you just send that message?” I asked, watching his reaction while trying to keep my eye on the road ahead. He looked at me sheepishly and nodded.

“It’s fine,” he said. “It’ll be fine.”

I turned back to the road, shaking my head. “She doesn’t know you’re with me, so she won’t know why I am texting,” I said. The thought was meant for him, but it was pretty clear I was speaking to myself. In my peripheral vision, I could see him playing with the microphone button, holding the phone near his mouth again.

He was like a kid with a new toy. He recorded a long message, then read it back. “Is a new place not called our house call to you or town whilst turn it I am actually talking English probably my accent I’m not sure goodbye a deal spot lab what’s in.” And as soon as he finished reading, he hit send again.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING??” I laughed. I wanted to take my phone back, but I was actually somewhat amused. By this point, I knew that J would realize it wasn’t me texting, so I was exonerated of all responsibility. He recorded another message and sent it, then another. “Are those messages even making any sense?” I asked. He had stopped reading them to me before he sent them.

“Not much. She’ll figure it out.” Yeah… I doubt anyone would figure out those messages!

When we pulled up in front of the high school, the last few drama students were out in front waiting for their rides. It was a beautiful night, unseasonably warm. I rolled down my window. J was holding her phone. “Guess who discovered talk-to text?” I asked, and we all burst out laughing.

A Single Image

Going back to Writing 101, Day 4: A story in a single image…

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Image is not mine but from Unsplash.com

When I was in college, I took several photography courses as part of a self-designed minor of study. One weekend during my senior year, I got the idea to go to the top of a mountain and photograph the sunrise. It was October, and around here, you never know whether October will be the back end of summer or the front end of winter. I remember getting up very early and piling on layers of clothing. While the forecast was for seasonal temperatures in the valley, the mountain was a different story. Two shirts, a sweater, winter jacket, hat, gloves… I was prepared.

It was still dark as my car crested the mountain and pulled into the small parking lot near the lodge. There was no sign of other people, though a couple of cars sat empty in the lot. The lodge was dark. I turned off my headlights and got out of the car. Stars blinked in the night, but the sky was just taking on a faint grey cast. I picked my way over the rocks to find myself a perch at the top of the eastern slope. I sat in silence; the only sound was the cold wind which swiped at the top of the mountain as if to blow it clean. I shivered, and I remember wondering if I would make it to daylight without breaking down and seeking shelter my heated car.

It didn’t get warmer, but slowly, the sky brightened. The first rays of morning sunlight winked over the distant horizon, and a layer of white fog blanketed the valley. The mountains, in varying shades of blue-grey, touched the sky tainted pink with the promise of a new day. In time, the color faded to a pale blue.

That morning, as I sat on the rock and watch the landscape change from night to day, I realized that there are some things that we truly must experience. I could take pictures to show to family and friends, but being on that mountain, exposed to the elements and taking in the splendor of the scenery as the day dawned was a moment that is meant to be captured by the eye and the brain and the senses, by being present and in the moment. It was a moment that created an image that will forever remain in the accessible archives of my brain.

Social Media

This post was written for Writing 101, Day 5: Respond to a quote…

Just as we teach our children how to ride a bike, we need to teach them how to navigate social media and make the right moves that will help them. The physical world is similar to the virtual world in many cases. It’s about being aware. We can prevent many debacles if we’re educated.”     —Amy Jo Martin

 

The great thing about social media is that it is (for the most part) public. We can see what others are posting, saying, doing, thinking. Social media allows us to navigate a different world—to create a persona, if you will, of how we see ourselves or would like to be seen. Because it is so public, it provides great lessons for parents who are willing to trot out their ‘friends’ as examples, both good and bad.

A few years back, a young acquaintance of ours made an impulsive tweet in a moment of adolescent thoughtlessness. Hundreds of miles away, his tweet was picked up by people paid by our federal government to monitor such things, and he ended up squarely in the center of their radar. By the time he arrived at his first class of the school day, the local police were there to meet him. His parents were called, and ultimately, he was asked to quietly withdraw himself from the school—a private institution—and finish his senior year elsewhere.

What parent wouldn’t use this incident as an example for his or her children? Granted, this is an extreme example, but nothing that ends up on the Internet is private. Or unmonitored. Or irretrievable. If SnapChat postings actually did “disappear,” the terms and conditions wouldn’t ask users to agree to allow them to store all posts forever. But who reads the terms and conditions, right?

Every now and then, I see things on the Facebook sites or blog posts of the adult crowd. “I don’t think she should have shared that,” I grumble to my children. “Her children might not be on Facebook, but their friends and their friends’ parents are….” I wonder sometimes if people consider the ramifications of the things they post.

As C prepares for college, he is going out into a different world—his own world, away my watchful eye, where he has to make his own decisions and create his own identity and purpose. What I don’t want is for him to suddenly find that his Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, or whatever are under scrutiny and not be prepared for that. This is the world in which we live, Friends. If you are putting yourself on the Internet for people to see, you very well may fall under scrutiny. That scrutiny may mean that you are held as an example within the private world of your “friends,” or it may have much bigger implications.

This lesson is one that each of us—teen or adult—will benefit from keeping in the forefront of our minds as we venture ever further into the virtual world.

Abundance

Posted in response to Writing 101 Day : One word inspiration.

A few years back, when I was young and athletic and fit, I would go out for a run to find inspiration for writing. I used running as a way to move through moments (and sometimes hours) of writer’s block. I found running to be a particularly effective way to generate new stories and to deal with ideas that wouldn’t flow.

Yesterday, I happened upon an article on running and what runners think about while they are running. It was based on a study in which ten long distance runners were wired with microphones during their runs, and they were asked to narrate their thought processes.

Ha! I thought. Wouldn’t that have been a fun study to be part of? Then I reconsidered when I realized that had I been chosen as a subject, I probably would have been sent to the loony bin before the study was over. As a creative person, my mind can string some strange thoughts together, like beads on a necklace that will attract some inquisitive remarks, but will never be the sort of thing that’s in style.

In some instances, there is no doubt that my thought process was similar to that of the subjects—Come on! You can do it! Keep going—just a little farther…. But in other ways, I would have to say my ‘train of running thoughts’ strayed far from the beaten path.

While my feet were pounding out the rhythm of my run, my head was spinning tales from the things I saw by the side of the road, the events of my day, thoughts halted before spoken, and the struggles my head was working through. My running mind tended to weave these things together in ways that might be considered unconventional.

One day when I was running, I noticed a discarded ATM receipt along the side of the road. At first, I didn’t think anything of it, other than the fact that people really should properly discard their trash. Not far away, I passed a discarded Styrofoam coffee cup. Probably the same person, I thought. Took some money out of the bank and bought a cup of coffee on the way home. I kept running.

Down the road a bit was the most unusual piece of the puzzle; a pair of men’s black dress pants was strewn along the roadway. And now it seemed that the person had not only withdrawn some money from the bank, he had withdrawn all of his money from the bank. He bought a cup of coffee, and while he pondered his situation, he decided to quit his job and create a new life, one that was less restrictive and didn’t have the office trappings. No more business attire for him!

Oh my! I can just imagine what those researchers would have thought had they been listening to me narrate these thoughts while I was running. But a great story was hatching. And running was always a means to access abundant inspiration.

May you always have an abundance of inspiration to fuel your journey.