Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ice Cream Excavation

I hardly ever buy ice cream.

It gives my husband a reason (besides getting the emergency gallon of milk) to venture into the fluorescent isles of the grocery store in his pajamas with cocktail glasses printed all over them.

My ice cream standards:
1. Chocolate and/or coffee is one of the first five ingredients
2. Full fat content
3. No air-fluffed crap marketed as "extra churned"
4. Some sort of crunchy nut content preferred

My husband's ice cream standards:
1. Price
2. Quantity
3. Two for the price of one! sale (price AND quantity)

To me, ice cream is an occasional treat. He would love to eat a giant bowl every night.

I know. Our ice cream standards are mutually exclusive. Sometimes even we wonder why we are married. Despite our ice cream differences, we make it work. The boys adapt as best they can.

Tonight my sweet tooth got the better of me and even though there was only the cheap stuff in the freezer, I had to have a little bowl. I opened the lid to find . . . a crater right down the middle.

Difficult to capture in a photo, this ice cream "swirled and trailed" with rich creamy buttery classic golden and chocolaty items only has those items in the center. Sides are left unadorned. Hence the crater.
You see, the ice cream purchased for its price and quantity properties does not have even distribution of ingredients. My kids know that with this type of ice cream, the caramel and tiny little chocolate-like pieces are only present down the middle of the carton. And who wants the flavorless plain ice cream around the sides? Not the person who last attacked this ice cream.

Well you know what? I don't want the stuff around the sides either. So I carefully continued the crater right down to the bottom of the carton, excavating a small scoop of ice cream with lots of caramel in it. Then I put it back in the freezer.

My oldest son later wandered into the kitchen, opened the freezer, and grabbed the ice cream. He opened it up and groaned. All the good stuff was gone.

Only traces of "thick golden caramel" and "caramel cups sprinkled throughout" remain.  
Just for fun, let's look at how many adjectives on the carton try to convince us this ice cream is exactly like the good stuff. 
Premium (printed all over the lid)
I don't think I could add any more to this list except for maybe "cold." It sounds good but is completely unsatisfying. I guess I just prefer the stuff made with just a few quality ingredients and less copywriting. When we have the good ice cream in the house there is never a crater in it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cross Country: More Lessons

It was my oldest son's third cross country meet. My husband and I got there in time, no heroic driving necessary. The fog was very thick, the visibility low. We parked and found the start in time to position ourselves for maximum viewing. It was a staggered start this time, which means that there are several lines of runners, all arranged by some as-yet mysterious formula. Our son was one of the runners in the front line. The gun went off BOOM and almost immediately, a runner fell. This caused a chain reaction of about eight boys tumbling over each other. BOOM BOOM BOOM. A false start. In cross country, this means a re-do. To make things fair, they had everyone line back up in the same exact positions and start again. BOOM. But is a staggered start really all that fair to begin with? I'm not sure, it seems a huge advantage to be in the front row.

The race was on and the course route was twice around the track and then up a hill, into the fog, and around a course. One clear leader emerged immediately. This race would start as many others around the world do, with a tall thin Ethiopian who looks like he was born running way out in front. My son was in the pack chasing him around the track. We watched them rocket up the muddy hill and out of sight. We decided to go up the hill and find a place to watch the runners come by. We stood near what we were pretty sure was a turn in the course. It was a bit difficult to tell, as ladies in big furry jackets, walking dogs and drinking lattes, were sauntering all over. They barely got out of the way as the Ethiopian came out of the fog and rounded the corner. And chasing him was our son! And chasing our son was the pack. I just about jumped out of my skin to see that my son was clearly in second place and pushing hard to catch up with the kid in front of him. I totally forgot I had a camera around my neck. No pictures.

We rushed down the wet muddy stairs, avoiding the texting woman also running down the stairs, and made our way to a good viewing area at the finish. Soon, out of the fog the runners emerged.
We look. We look again. We strain to see who is coming down the track.

No Ethiopian. No son chasing Ethiopian.


Then they appear, running as fast as they can, in about 30th place. What happened?

Word quickly spreads; the leader and perhaps the first 20 kids went the WRONG WAY.
I was totally unaware this could happen in a race. I wanted to cry. I wanted to find the race organizers and strangle someone.

We hear later that the lead group ran an additional hilly part of the course, misdirected by a bystander.

I couldn't imagine how upset my son was going to be. I couldn't believe how upset I was. I couldn't believe how calm my husband was. He knew something I didn't; the results of this race didn't really "count." Count or not count, I didn't care, someone screwed this whole race up. There were some very upset and sweaty runners wandering around, and a few parents who were fired up but couldn't figure out who to talk to.

The next freshman boys' heat lined up and BOOM they were off. After one lap around the track, they were off. Oops. They were supposed to run two laps around the track. So neither heat ran the race correctly and all the results were seriously messed up.

I created this tshirt for my son. Did you have a son in the race? Buy a shirt here: http://366521.spreadshirt.com
Now comes the truly beautiful thing about cross country: it is a team sport. My son's coaches immediately gathered the freshman boys from his school and took them to cool down and to talk. When it was announced that our school won the meet despite the debacle, an enthusiastic and heart-felt cheer went up, and all was well. They won as a team and that was the important thing. I didn't see a tear or a show of poor sportsmanship. I saw boys supporting each other. I saw all the sophomores, juniors and seniors who had not raced yet desperately trying to decipher the course map, like cramming for a surprise exam that is 50% of your grade.

In talking to other parents, I learned that running off course during a race is not all that uncommon. In a race last year, the leader finished, and five minutes later kids came running out of the woods from all directions to the finish line.

This weekend I learned that not only do you have to be a great runner, you also have to be good at guessing which unmarked path to take and making instant judgements about whether to trust bystanders or not.

Cross country is a whole lot harder than I thought.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Food Math

So if I spend approximately two hours shopping, loading, unloading, prepping, cooking, and serving a meal, and it is consumed in four minutes flat by one teenage boy who had football practice, and in seven minutes by another teenage boy who ran nine miles in 90 degree heat, what is the average bed time less glasses of milk consumed, expressed as a sum of two or more consecutive positive integers?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Athletic Supporter: Cross Country

Maybe it's better to say sports fan rather than athletic supporter.

My oldest is in high school and I've been to two high school athletic events so far. What, you say, is this news? Well yes, in my case it is.

I spent my three high school years (9th grade was part of Jr. High in my school system) trying to avoid PE class and sports by any means possible. When it couldn't be avoided I did my best to melt into the background and steel myself for being the last person picked for a team, every single time. I was fast, when motivated (which rarely happened) but had no hand-eye coordination and no knowledge of how any of the games I was forced to play actually worked. Like I often say, if I knew I would have three athletic boys later in life, I would have paid a lot more attention in PE. I was not a part of an athletic team until college, which is not a usual place to start for most people. Call me a late bloomer.

My high school freshman is on the Cross Country team. I am learning about how this all works as an observer, and I have to admit it is pretty exciting.

Both meets have been over an hour away, which is a long way to go for such a short race. One was over in 17 minutes, 33 seconds (three miles). The second one was over in 12 minutes and 25 seconds (two miles). Or those were my son's times, and he has a medal from both races, coming in 1st for his school, 7th overall in his first race, and 2nd for his school and 2nd overall in the second race. That is part of why it's so exciting. The other part is that his school has dominated both meets. Hanging around, watching my son bonding with such a fast, fit and fiercely competitive group of boys is pretty fun too.

Things I have learned so far about Cross Country meets:
1. Leave early. If you are late you will miss the whole thing. Sometimes this can mean heroic driving.
2. If you are unfamiliar with the course, follow the parents with long-lense cameras running around.
Not all parents with big cameras look like this. She wins most stylish spectator.
3. Wear running shoes. You need them to watch runners.
4. If you are watching someone at the front of the pack, you might see the start and the middle, but they will beat you to the finish. If you want to see the finish you have to go directly from the start to the finish.
This photo is from the Earlybird Invitational in Salinas, taken about mid-way through the race.

First place freshman boy's team at the Earlybird Invitational

Medal winner in his first race
The start of the freshman race at the Lowell Invitational in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park 
The lead pack about half way through the race. I was excited to get this shot, but then I didn't make it to the finish in time!

Medal winner!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


I believe that the term "bullying" is over-used. Often the term is used to describe childhood behaviors that are maybe unpleasant but fleeting and not harmful. Everyone gets teased, and doesn't like it, at some point in their life. Everyone has hurt another's feelings both purposefully and accidentially. In fact, experiencing these kind of situations from both the receiving and the giving side are a part of growing up into an empathetic and socially adept person.

However, when a child causes another to repeatedly experience humiliation, taunting, damages their self-esteem, and disrupts the learning process at school, then it is probably considered bullying.

My boys have never experienced this kind of behavior directed at them, until last year. My youngest son unfortunately had what was a casual friendship turn nasty. And he did everything wrong in trying to handle it on his own. By the time I figured out what was going on, it just couldn't be stopped and all we could do was anxiously await the end of the school year.

What did he do wrong in trying to deal with this verbal bully on his own?
He tried physical retaliation. It worked, sort of, but he got in trouble.
He tried turning the verbal abuse back on to the bully. It didn't work, and he got in a lot of trouble for swearing.
He tried toughing it out. This also didn't work. In refusing to ask for help from an adult, he got in trouble again. And his frustration with the inequity of the situation was so disheartening that he wasn't paying much attention to learning.
My son was being called these words at school on a regular basis. He had to write them down for me because he didn't want to say them out loud. I had to explain some of these words to him. He retaliated with the other bad word he could think of, "bitch," which was a somewhat humorous choice for addressing another boy. That choice almost got him suspended.

It's really hard to figure out what is really going on when you are not witness to the events. And it is even harder to figure out what to do about it. I never made the assumption that my child was completely innocent. But as summer started and he began to recover, I realized it was an experience that deeply affected him.

My son had a fantastic summer, and it was my hope that with some maturity on both sides of the equation, the bullying would go away. Well, it hasn't. But the good news is that my son is handling it so much better that I would consider it to be taunting, rather than bullying.

What is he doing right this time?
Well, first of all he and this other child have minimal time together during the day. That's a good thing.
He is not reacting emotionally to the taunts and is able to reflect an insult back. When told his face looks ugly, he replied with a smile, "Oh don't worry, I'm sure you will go through puberty someday too."
He is able to see the situation with a bit more perspective. And he has the support of some friends. When you are eleven years old that can mean almost as much as the support from your parents.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Today's vocabulary word is
permeate |ˈpərmēˌāt|
spread throughout (something); pervade 
The stench of burned meatballs and tomato sauce permeated the house.

Two of my boys were charged with completing the dinner I had started for them before going to a meeting. Unfortunately when I got back home I was instantly aware that something went ary. The result was obvious but the cause what not as clear. It was something to do with delegation, communication breakdown, and needing to go take a shower.

Personal hygiene, good. Leaving the pot unwatched, bad.

All night long I awoke to the smell. This morning, rather than starting off by yelling at them about what idiots they are, I took another tack.

"So," I asked, "what did you learn about cooking last night's dinner?"
"That it is a bad idea to burn the meatballs."
"Because they taste really bad and they smell horrible."
OK, part one of lesson learned. Now for part two: what a pain it is to clean a pot with burned food. He got it pretty clean after an awful lot of scraping and scrubbing. Now for part three: prevention. We went over how if you are cooking something and need to leave the kitchen, for example to check the score of the baseball game or to cut your toenails, you can turn the stove OFF. Ah ha, they didn't think of that.

Lesson learned. Somehow it was not quite as satisfying as yelling at them for making the entire house smell of incinerated animal flesh. But maybe it won't happen again.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

First Day of Eighth & Sixth

All the boys are back in school now. Whew. So far so good. Homework is getting done, sleep is being had. Carpools are being arranged, and rearranged, and cancelled and arranged again. Orthodontist and optometrist appointments are being shoe-horned in between cross country practice, school, baseball and football practice. And of course we are back to being out of milk because I can't seem to get to the grocery store often enough.