Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

For Parents: One foot in front of the other

December 23, 2008

Candle lightI don’t believe in Santa, but I do think it’s worthwhile to perform good deeds whenever you can… especially this time of year. And just in case someone is watching to see if I’ve been bad or good, I try, at the very least, to avoid missteps.

Some missteps can be corrected before it’s too late. Like when you choose a pot for making applesauce and after cutting up and tossing in four apples any fool can see that the other 7 apples and 3 pears on the counter will never fit. So you simply dump everything into a larger pot and carry on. Misstep unstepped. That assumes, of course, that a certain someone who already told you the first pot was too small isn’t standing right there watching. If he is and you two have been keeping score about such things, then timely self-correction becomes more challenging. But it’s still a viable option.

Some missteps, on the other hand, can’t be undone. Like making that off-hand comment (just as a joke) when you knew that the subject of the sentence was probably not going to fully appreciate the humor in it. Then you’re stuck having to apologize plus deal with your own disappointment in yourself. You’re also left wondering why the hell you haven’t yet learned that everything that pops into your head a) isn’t as funny as you think it is and/or b) isn’t worth saying.

T’is the season of spreading light in the darkness… and goodwill. So I light candles and look for opportunities to take steps in the right direction. And I got one this afternoon! As David and I walked to the post office we passed a neighbor standing in front of her house. She was wearing a thin dress, bedroom slippers and an agitated expression. She said something to us, but since the guy across the street was running his leaf blower, I couldn’t make out what it was.

Just so you know, this neighbor is… how can I put this… a bit erratic. Over the years we’ve heard her screaming at passing cars (“SLOW DOWN!!”) and at us (“DID YOU SEE THAT? JUST LETS THE DOG RUN AROUND! NO LEASH! NO SENSE!”) Because you never know what you’ll get from her, I was a little apprehensive. At that moment I could easily have begged off by pantomiming something like: “Sorry, I can’t hear you because the leaf blower is too loud. So I’ll just shrug and smile and wave and keep on walking by.”

But that felt like a misstep. And I knew that the campus rep from Karma College was taking notes… so I crossed the street and went up to her.

LADY: Did you see the mailman up the street? Has he come down the hill yet?

ANNIE: I didn’t see him, but we already got our mail.

LADY (frowning): So did I. But I wonder if he’s passed by yet.

ANNIE: Yeah. I think he’s gone for the day.

She looked upset as she stood there. It was cold and her feet were kinda bluish in those flimsy slippers.

ANNIE: Was there something you wanted to mail? Because we’re going to the post office.

Magic words! She lit up and ran into the house. I was just hoping she wouldn’t come out lugging a fifty pound box and hand me some stamps.

But no. She emerged a moment later waving a white envelope… Christmas card size.

LADY: It’s for a man in a nursing home. You’ll take it to the post office for me?

Sure thing.

Misstep unstepped. Right foot forward.

Filed under: Holidays,Parenting — Tags: — Annie @ 10:20 pm

For Parents: When life gives you lemons

December 15, 2008

Lemon bars for everyone!

Lemon bars for everyone!

Last spring I extolled the virtues of my lemon tree… particularly its knack for living out all the chapters of its life simultaneously. Can you imagine having to deal with the mishigas of your own childhood, adolescence, sexual prime, pregnancy, middle age, decline and death all at once?! And yet, when it’s April in Lemon Land, it’s all happening and it’s all good.

But now it’s December. Different story. Here in planting Zone 8b, the entire tree is synched up to its “Pick me NOW!!” mode.

I love living off the land. Like most backyard gardeners, there are times we eat our homegrown tomatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We praise Demeter and offer tomato-scented incense in her name. And at the end of the summer we’re grateful to swim in peaches and apples too. But keeping pace with a bumper crop of lemons is just not that easy.

It’s true that lemons have tons of non-eating uses like: bringing out your hair’s blond highlights, polishing chrome, keeping guacomole green, and providing your garbage disposal with a refreshing chaser after you’ve stuffed it with moldy onions. But let’s face it, lemons are food. And when it comes to stuff that I’ve grown, I really hate wasting it.

So, yesterday, when we got word that David’s band concert was rained out, Ezra and Sarah, Mr. Trombone and I decided to have some fun while seriously reducing our lemon footprint. Because we’re foodies, we agreed that it was perfect baking weather. An online visit to Food Network yielded this recipe for lemon bars. Not only has it received an average rating of 5 out of 5 stars from 110 people, it calls for a whole cup of lemon juice! In case you’re wondering, we had to sacrifice 13 large lemons to the cause. The worms in my bin got the peels and if they turn into blonds, I’ll know why.

So there we were, cozy in the kitchen, happily grating, measuring, pouring, scraping and rolling. We also cooperated, speculated, communicated, brain-stormed, problem-solved, and laughed. And yes, later on we ate.

This recipe gets a solid 5 stars for taste. 5 stars for an excellent use of lots of otherwise purposeless lemons. And (most important) 5 stars for providing us with a blueprint for a fun time together.

So what did we learn? Couple of things, actually. When you’re faced with a thick-skinned problem, instead of complaining, minimizing, wishing it would just go away or pretending that it is so not a problem for you, just get in that sucker’s face. Peel it down to its essence. Squeeze the life out of it. Then add a bunch of sugar and enjoy.

Pretty sweet stuff!

Clearly, the Lemon Law applies to anything you may view as a problem, present time or upcoming. Take the upcoming Winter Break. This one is longer than most as school doesn’t resume until January 5th. Maybe you’re starting to think of those days upon days of family time as a problem… or is it? Here’s a free suggestion, meaning that you’re free to ignore it: Have a family meeting in advance of the holidays. Turn off cell phones and open the floor to suggestions of how the family might spend some of that free time. Stay at the table until you’ve all agreed on at least two fun things to do together during the holidays – maybe one traditional activity that everyone enjoys plus one off-the-wall new idea.

Having more unstructured stress-free time together is good for families. It’s also what we wish we had more of during the school year, right? Well, now’s your chance to orchestrate some fun.

Good luck and let me know how it went.


Filed under: Holidays,Parenting,Tips — Tags: , , , — Annie @ 5:17 pm

For Parents: A tale of two kids

December 8, 2008

Not the brave loving goat, but a close proximity

Not Goat the Brave, but probably a cousin

Saturday I strolled alone through a golden vineyard. Let me tell you, if you’ve got a nice sunny day going for you this time of year, get out in it! I mean really out in it. The more natural the environment the better. Drag your family along too. 

In the short term, the quietude will re-center you. In the long-term it might keep you saner when you’re locked in traffic, cooped up inside, or stuck anywhere you’d rather not be. Enjoying the bounties of nature (even in winter) might also keep you safer. Because let’s face it, trolling malls can be scary dangerous. Just last week a bunch of Long Island bargain hunters trampled a store employee! Yes, they actually killed a guy who stood between them and 30% off of such gotta-haves as a pair of Hulk Smash Hands. Nothing like that ever happens in vineyards, even when grapes with attitude are still on the vine. Of course, I wasn’t hunting for anything on Saturday, which is probably why finding the goats was so cool. 

There were 15 of them in a spacious, grassy fenced-in area. It looked like a perfect home for goats. I’m just assuming, of course. But really, they all seemed pretty happy. OK, I don’t know that for sure, but I can verify that none actively complained. Except for this one goat. He looked at me with what could only be called longing.  Like he suddenly realized that his goat-life was not complete. Maybe the others felt it too, but they just stood and stared. Goat the Brave, on the other hand, trotted right over to the fence. He looked up at me and said, “I need some love. Can you help?”

Naturally I reached through the railing and petted him. He tilted his head and smiled. “Ahh, that’s great. Now how about behind my left ear, if you don’t mind?” I didn’t mind. I was into it. As we bonded by the fence for the next few minutes the world went away.  Then I happened to look over his head into another galaxy where the rest of the herd stood frozen, watching G the B get all that hands-on love and special attention. Their collective desire to be patted and cooed at was palpable and yet, they didn’t have whatever courage it took to step right up and say, “Me too!”   

After five, ten minutes max, I left the goats and headed back to the tasting room where the guests sipped their Chardonnay and Merlot, downed salami and cheese, and enjoyed the music of The Pellegrini Band comprised of select members of the Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District Non-Marching Band (aka The Sewer Band) and the Corte Madera Town Band.

Between sets I read on a bench in the late afternoon sun. A 5 year old girl (aka Little Spunky) spotted me and like the brave goat, also wanted attention. But because she’s human, she was naturally more coy in her approach. She ducked behind my bench and sang quietly to herself but not all that quietly. When I turned to her, Little Spunky lowered her voice and pretended to pick flowers. Two can play this game! I turned back to my book, but faked her out and immediately shot her another glance.  Ha! I caught her looking at me! But this time she didn’t look away. Instead, she smiled knowingly and simply said, “Santa’s coming!” The message was clear… “Don’t miss it, lady!” Then she climbed out of the flower bed and ran into the tasting room.

I followed. And within seconds, the band started “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and there was Santa. And who do you think was the first to talk to the fat man, receive a kindly pat and a candy cane? You guessed it. Way to go, Little Spunky. Way to go, Goat the Brave. You know how the world works.  You want love?  You want attention? Speak up.

Filed under: Holidays,Parenting — Tags: , , — Annie @ 3:53 pm

For Parents: It’s beginning to feel…

December 2, 2008

Corte Madera Town Band

Corte Madera Town Band

The Sunday after Thanksgiving isn’t supposed to look like … April. Not even in the San Francisco Bay Area. Most likely it’s global weirding. And while there’s absolutely nothing in that inconvenient truth to lift my spirits, it’s hard to get too worked up when it’s 60 and sunny and I’m sipping Earl Grey and watching chilled out families in their t-shirts and flip-flops.

In addition to the first rate people-watching opps here at Corte Madera Town Center, I’m also listening to David play trombone along with the 49 other members of the Corte Madera Town Band. This is the annual outdoor concert where they all wearing Santa hats and serenade the shoppers. Sure, I’ve heard them play these same tunes at least twen… ‘Scuse me, had to quit typing for a minute to lead the applause for “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire…” or whatever that song is actually called. But charred chestnuts aside, the Sunday crowd is loving this and so am I.

The music radiates vibes of peace and love, and also apparently the urgent need for a deli sandwich and a cold drink. The familiar melodies permeate the mammalian brain where they joggle good time memories and turn off the urge to put one foot in front of the other. So people stop and stand in friendly knots, smiling to themselves and to their kids and to total strangers who are standing, singing along and smiling to their kids. Eveyone is, for the moment, bobbing, swaying, tapping and connecting without digital technology to something pretty cool. A surprising gift, unfolding, in real time, right here.

Like all emotions, togetherness is fleeting… as evidenced by the folks who park and unpark in the two empty seats beside me and my laptop.

Blonde Mom#1 with her little boy. The kid is really into his chocolate cupcake. Doesn’t seem like he has any spare brain cells to take in the Christmas hit parade. But clearly I misjudge his ability to multi-task because when Mom says, “Let’s go now,” he pipes up, “One more song!” Mom’s not thrilled, but they strike a compromise. She lets him sit through “Winter Wonderland” (sleigh bells and all) while she scrubs the chocolate off of his mouth, chin, nose, cheeks and ears.

Very old woman… a walking ad for the importance of sunscreen… lights up when she spots the empty chair. But as soon as she eases herself in, she pops up again and tries to move it. I’m all for getting what you want in life, but furniture arranging during a concert… maybe not the best idea. Especially when we’re talking about a wrought-iron chair amongst other closely placed wrought–iron chairs standing on uneven cobblestones. Tough going. I was about to offer to help, when she starts looking around with a worried expression. Maybe she’s picturing the chair police swooping down on her. Though I’m thinking it’s more likely that she’s looking for Grandpa, who she left at the Apple store without mentioning that she was going to hang out by the band. A minute later she’s gone.

A couple of gay guys, both carrying ultra-cool cell phones, stop by.

Gay guy#1 (flashing a warm smile and touching my hand): May we sit here?

Annie (smiling back): Sure thing!

Gay guy#1 (squeezing my hand): Cool!

Gay guy#2 (enthusiastically clapping along with “Let it Snow”): This is such a surprise!

Gay guy#1: Yeah. Very Cool! 

Indian mom with her daughter.

Little Girl: (looking at me): Mom, why is that lady writing?

Annie: (to LG) Because I’m a writer. I’m watching all these people and writing down what I see… it’s how I get ideas for stories. (Actually I knew this would turn into a blog, but I thought the story concept would be easier for the kid to understand. And really, it’s all a story, right?)

Annie: Do you like to write stories?

LG: (shaking her head)

Annie: But I’ll bet you like to READ stories, don’t you?

LG (lighting up): Yes!

Annie (thinking): Well, where do you think stories come from? From people like me who take notes while talking to people like you.

Blonde Mom#2 (carrying Little Blondie, her 11 month old daughter): Is someone sitting here?

Annie: You are.

Little Blondie: (bopping along to “It’s Beginning to Look A lot Like Christmas): Yah, yah! Yah!

Annie: She seems to like music.

Mom: She LOVES it! My husband is a professional musician. We’re trying to figure out what instrument we should start her on.

Annie (thinking) Maybe she should learn to walk and talk first.

After the band played Feliz Navidad (throughout which the grandpa across the way crooned into the ear of his little grandson) Little Blondie’s face fell.

LB (little clouds gathering on her brow): MFPLR?

Mom: (to Annie): She wants more music.

Annie: Ah.

Phew! Good thing the musical Santas launched into “My Favorite Things or little Blondie was heading for a meltdown. As long as the band played on, it looked like Mom would have a challenge getting on with her day, but when she was ready…

Mom (matter of factly):Time to leave after this next song.

Mom (picking up LB after the song ended): Time to leave. Say bye bye.

Super Nanny would have been impressed.

Annie: Bye bye.

The band was saying bye bye too. It’s the end of a long holiday weekend and people are acting like it’s been a good one. And it has… even if the weather is totally weird.

Filed under: Holidays,Parenting — Tags: , — Annie @ 9:11 pm
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