Meatless Monday – Berry Muffins

Once a month I teach the preschool Sunday school class. Yesterday’s lesson was about being fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image, which means we are smart, and helpful, and creative (among other things).

We focused on the “creative” part and gave the kids lots of time to paint with watercolors, or color, or make paper airplanes. Some kids chose to create with play dough, while others created tree houses from blocks or created scenarios to act out with toy cars. We let the kids have a lot of free play while we noticed aloud their various creative efforts and how great it is that God made us all creative and unique.

I came home floating on cute kids’ creativity and decided I needed to express some creativity of my own. One of my favorite forms of creativity? Making delicious food for the people I love. Just the evening previous, I had come across a recipe for berry muffins that I knew I could vegan-ize, and I had some over-ripe bananas practically begging to become banana bread.

Muffins are a family fav because they make a quick breakfast, an easy lunch bag option, or a tasty after school snack. I’d wrongly anticipated this batch of 18 muffins would last most of the week, but today was a no-school day and the kids plowed through them with only a few leftover. Good thing they haven’t yet discovered the banana bread!

Berry Muffins

1 1/2 c white whole wheat flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/4 c organic sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 flax egg (1 Tbsp flaxmeal + 3 Tbsp water, set aside 5 min)
1 c non-dairy milk
2 Tbsp agave
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1 c fresh or frozen berries
cinnamon sugar, optional

Preheat over to 350. Grease or line with paper 18 muffins cups. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine flax egg, milk, agave, and applesauce in a small bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just combined. Gently stir in berries. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. If desired, lightly sprinkle cinnamon sugar on each muffin before baking (the recipe itself isn’t very sweet). Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

Talking with Teens

My sons have temperaments on opposite ends of the spectrum. One wears his heart on his sleeve. He’ll tell me anything (sometimes more than I want to know). The other holds his cards close, and I have to pay special attention for the times when he might feel more talkative.

Still, over their lifetimes we’ve cultivated an openness as a family. We talk about what’s going on in each of our lives–our joys and hurts, our successes and failures–so that no topic will be off the table. Our kids know that nothing they do or say will ever change our love for them, though some actions may result in consequences. They know they–and their friends–will always be welcome and safe with us, warts and all.

Recently I watched a sitcom in which two parents lamented that their teenage children had started to pull away from them. The idea arose to “date” their kids, to intentionally spend time with their kids doing things their kids liked (good idea), and to treat their children like “friends” rather than their children (bad idea).

Mom went on a shopping/lunch date with her teen daughter; Dad went with his son to hear his favorite motivational speaker. Misfires and mishaps were meant to be funny, but they made me sad.

I get it. Families are funny, and the teen years are hard on everyone. It can be terrifying to realize that the tiny you birthed and held and fed and doted on every minute is now independently in charge of their own sleep and feeding and transportation.

Teenagers change. It’s in their job description, but it’s in the parental job description to be available to help them through the changes.

I paused the TV and went to the kitchen for a cup of tea, where Q14 was reheating leftovers. I asked if he thought parents and kids truly had that much trouble communicating. He rattled off a bunch of his friends and their parents and how easily they engage, which makes me grateful that my kid knows a bunch of well-adjusted families.

Parents, please don’t wait until your kids have become teenagers to try to have  important conversations! Talk to them all the time. Listen to them, hear their fears and insecurities, help them deal with their smallness in a big and broken world. Ask them questions every chance you get. Listen without an agenda, and don’t freak out if they confide in you something you didn’t want to know. They will face situations you wish they didn’t have to (think back to when you were a teenager). Thank them for sharing. Help them find appropriate and healthy boundaries and escape routes when necessary.

Some questions to get you going:

What are you looking forward to today (tomorrow, this week or month)?
Who did you sit with at lunch? How did you choose that person/group?
What one piece of information stood out to you today?
What is going on with your friends?
What do you like about your friends?
What made you laugh today?
Which class/teacher/lesson was your favorite (or least favorite) today?
What are you grateful for?
Did anything make you sad or uncomfortable today, and if so, what and why?
What makes you glad to be you?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would you change and why?
What scares you?
If anyone ever put you in a situation that made you feel uncomfortable, how might you handle it?
What do you imagine your life might be like in five years? Ten years? 20?
How can I help you take another step toward fulfilling your dreams?
Is there anything you’d like to tell me?

Google “questions to ask kids” and you’ll find so many more options. You probably already have a quiver filled with your own favorites. Just get talking. Those conversations might be life-changing for both of you.

Found It!

Most visitors to Año Nuevo State Park this time of year are looking for elephant seals. Our family went in search of a snake. The San Francisco Garter Snake, to be exact, an endangered species that makes its home in that area. C20 has been desperate to find one.

We decided to make this President’s Day holiday a family day which, for us, almost always involves a trip to the beach. Facebook memories showed me a picture from our last trip to Año Nuevo, years ago, and that influenced our destination.

We couldn’t have ordered a more beautiful day. First stop: Santa Cruz, where we picked up lunch at Pizza My Heart to eat on the West Cliff Drive seaside bluffs. From there, we drove to Natural Bridges State Beach, hoping to see wintering Monarch Butterflies; we only saw a few flitting on the breeze and not the thousands that sometimes shelter in the eucalyptus groves.

Back in the car, we took Highway 1 to Año Nuevo, with ocean views to one side and fields of fluorescent yellow mustard and sour grass flowers on the other. On our way home, we stopped to take a picture in one of those fields and sank ankle-deep in mud. Wet and smelly, but I couldn’t stop laughing.

As we paid our park entrance fee, the ranger asked if we had a reservation for a guided seal walk, the only way you can access the seal breeding ground area. We said no, we were looking for a snake. She cocked her head in amusement and explained that snakes don’t often come out on chilly days, but that they’d be near the pond if anywhere.

Walking the path towards the pond, I muttered to Guy, “Wouldn’t it be funny if I was the one to find a snake?”

Guess what? I did!

I stopped to look at a vine with a distinctly violet hue–I’ve never seen a naturally purplish thorn bush before. As I leaned forward for a better look, I saw a tail slither away. I shrieked in surprise, which brought Guy and C running.

The shriek shook my Cool Mom I’m-so-good-with-snakes vibe, but I honestly did not expect to find the snake. I didn’t even expect that C would find one, though if anyone could find an endangered and elusive wild snake in the thorn bushes along a pond, it would be him.

The rest of us went to the beach while he just about crawled along the path. We saw a number of sleeping elephant seals, and someone did tricky aerial maneuvers in a biplane–disruptive to the beach-calm, but cool nonetheless.

When we had walked the length of the beach in both directions, photographed the log-like seals and some beautiful pebbles, and breathed in deep the salt air, Q14 came down the stairs to wave us back up.

Because he’d done it: C20 had found–and caught–a San Francisco Garter Snake.

Two surprises: 1) the snake is far more stunning than I could have believed, and 2) the snake appeared super chill that this strange dude was holding him and showing him off to passersby. C said the snake knew he wasn’t a threat, and it sure looked like the truth.

The snake may have been calm, but my kid buzzed with happiness. To all the detractors who think I’m nuts because I encourage his passion for creepy-crawlies, we do a lot of things that might seem crazy for the sake of love. And today we got a crazy-fun family day out of it.

P.S. No snakes were harmed in the making of this story, and we left snakey-poo right where he’d been before.

Surprise!

Parenting can be So Fun!

For example, today, when I told Q14 I would pick him up mid-school day but didn’t explain why. And he didn’t remember or figure out that TODAY is the day he gets his braces off! And I got to surprise him with one of the best surprises an adolescent can receive.

I texted him to meet me outside the band room after class and, as he got in the car, I smiled and handed him his toothbrush. Confused, he accepted it and looked at me for further explanation.

Despite the fact that the only times I’ve taken him out of school this year have been for orthodontic appointments. Despite the fact that, at his last appointment, they told him he’d get his braces off at the next appointment. In February. He still didn’t get it.

I laughed and explained, and he laughed in relief that Mom’s odd behavior didn’t signal something scary. Right, because I’m such a scary mommy…

It’s raining and our house was being cleaned, so I stayed in the car with the dogs while the almost two-hour process took place. He did let me take a before picture…

I raced to the upstairs office when they were done for a quick chat with the doctor and to confirm next week’s retainer appointment. Oh, let’s be real: I raced upstairs to see my kid’s sweet smile.

He tried to play it so cool, I’m sure processing this seismic shift in self-image through the pervasive fog of adolescent insecurity, but inside I know he has to be as excited as his mom who simply can’t stop ridiculously beaming at his pearly whites. He indulged me with an after picture…

We picked up Guy from work and hit Chipotle, our regular post-ortho appointment lunch spot, for a congratulatory burrito before dropping him back off at school for his last class of the day.

The only thing that makes me a little sad? I won’t have a built-in to the schedule excuse for playing hooky with my kiddo. Still, I think now and then I might just pull him out of school anyway. Time together, especially in these critical teen years, is way more important than a PE class on a rainy day.

Adventures in Parenting: Snake on the Loose

Spoiler alert for the squeamish: all snakes are back in secure cages.

Yes, you read that right. All snakes, because we (intentionally) have several. Five, to be exact.

C20 thought he wanted to be a herpetologist (reptile expert), but turns out, that college major involves way more math than he wants to do. Meanwhile, it’s his passion and his gift.

So, five snakes, as well as two leopard geckos, a tortoise and a rabbit, three cats and two dogs…quite the menagerie. The first snake, a red tail boa, was the most difficult for me to agree to. He promised it would stay “snake sized,” as he held his little hands to the width of his slender shoulders. I decided I loved my son more than I feared snakes, but that darn thing now measures over six feet, longer than he is.

Having said yes to one–and seeing how he cared for it and followed my careful guidelines–saying yes again was less of an issue. In fact, I suggested Snake #4 as incentive to get his college application essay written. Obviously, he wrote about reptiles.

Snakes #2-5 are ball pythons ranging in length from about four feet to about eighteen inches. They look smaller because they curl up in balls, hence the name. Bred for  coloration, each looks different, which makes them fun for him to “collect.”

The week after C20 brought home #5, he and his dad refurbished an old media cabinet, adding a mesh top and glass doors, transforming it into a condo for the Big Snake. Without reminder, he added a sturdy lock, my Top Priority. Impressed with their creativity and elbow grease, I posted a picture online of the finished result and, predictably, friends commented on how small the lock was in comparison with the snake.IMG_3172

I didn’t realize that the new snake did not have a lock on her cage. He figured she was so small she couldn’t get out. When the neighbor brought her children over to see the snake in condo, Guy thought he’d show them Baby Snake in comparison. He opened the lid, reached in, and found…nothing.

The first time a snake got loose in our house, C had been holding her on his lap while he played a new video game. She slithered away without him noticing. When I discovered kid and dad taking apart our couch in search of snake, I promptly took myself shopping and returned when they’d found her, hours later, across the living room inside the warm printer.

I didn’t panic this time. In fact, I almost wished Snake #1 had gotten out instead of #5; stuff of nightmares, but he’d be easier to find. C did a thorough cleaning of his room, then got his brother to do the same. Online research suggested putting plastic grocery bags on the floor so you can hear the snake, or flour so you can see a trail (I nixed that one). Everyone said to leave the lid off her cage; he moved her cage from its spot on a closet shelf to the floor.

Days later, still no snake. When I commented that we’d probably seen the last of her, he quipped, “Nah, Mom. I predict you’ll be putting on a shoe and find her…”

Finally, he put a heating pad on the floor with her hide on it, thinking she’d come back for warmth and security. He also moved her cage back to its shelf since that idea hadn’t worked, though he left the top off. He went to bed Sunday night feeling hopeful.

First thing Monday, he checked the heating pad. No snake. He heard something, and was shocked to discover she had returned to her cage (hallelujah!). But we all can attest that the shelf had been empty… Snakes aren’t like geckos, able to stick to and climb straight up. How she managed to return to her cage is a mystery. We’re flabbergasted.

C names his snakes for ancient mythological characters. I suggested he change her name from Aurora to Loki or Anansi, the tricksters. But then I realized: she reappeared at dawn, and Aurora means dawn. So, aptly named after all. And now there’s a great big, heavy book weighing down the top of her cage. No more unintentional adventures for this snake.

Happy Thanksgiving 2018

What are you facing this week? Traveling or family coming in? Stay-cation with lots of local activities? Business/work as usual? Cooking, eating at another’s table, dining out?

Little about this week has been our family’s version of usual. Q14 got an unexpected day off school, closed due to unhealthy air quality from the Camp Fire in Butte County, CA, hours from here but close enough to make our air quality the worst in the world. A good call on the district’s part, but an anticlimactic way to begin ten days of vacation. Often we travel or have family travel to us, but this year we’re staying put. Guy’s brother will join us, the only one who doesn’t eat at our table at least once a week. And I’m still working, albeit remotely. The gross air outside keeps us all indoors, so we’re not even enjoying local day-trips. Cleaning out closets may be productive, but less fun.

Still, we’re looking forward to a day of cooking (we all like to cook) and lots and lots of veggie goodness. Plus lots of family time and thanks-giving. To that end, I turned to Ted for ideas…

10 Questions to Ask Around the Dinner Table

What are you grateful for?
What are you proudest of?
What has been the happiest moment of your life so far?
What has been the hardest moment of your life, and how did you get through it?
What important life lessons have you learned so far?
How would you describe yourself as a child? Were you happy?
Who has been kindest to you?
How do you want to be remembered?
If you could share any wisdom with your great-great-grandchildren years from now, what would you want them to know?
If you could honor one person in your life, living or dead, by listening to their story, who would that be? What would you ask them, and why?

And here’s a super-short Ted talk on the importance of giving and receiving thanks.

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Be Prepared

PSA: Check your fire extinguisher.

Over the last few weeks the Bay Area has had several warm and windy days. Guy hates wind, and each time he remarks: “It smells like fire weather.”

Good point, since last October the Tubbs Fire, the most destructive fire in California history, burned Santa Rosa to the ground.

This past weekend Q14 attended his first semi-formal dance with a group of friends. Not realizing the date conflict, Guy planned a fly fishing trip for the same weekend and C19 went along. Which left me on solo parent duty. And Q decided to host the after-party.

Our hot tub is on the fritz so he announced they would enjoy a fire in our backyard fire pit. Since my mind seems determined to hang on to its image of my youngest as also “too young,” I thought that sounded ludicrous. Until C and Guy both reminded me that Q is also an experienced, fire certified Boy Scout.

Together Q and I cleaned the house, shopped, and prepped snacks. He set up the fire pit and put out the beach chairs. He showered and put on his nice clothes and didn’t complain (much) about letting Mom take pictures.

The evening became a progressive party. The group convened at one home for pictures, then traveled to another home for dinner, where the adults stayed while the kids went to the dance. I picked kids up after two hours, at which point everyone moved to our house, kids outside and adults inside.

With Guy’s confidence ringing in my ears and guests in my kitchen, I didn’t watch Q start the fire. I also didn’t notice when he came inside for sweatshirts and bug spray. I did hop to when he made a mad dash for the fire extinguisher–which failed–and then shouted for water. I ran out with him and cranked the faucet while he aimed the hose.

Crisis averted, we discovered that someone had knocked the bug spray under the fire pit, where it got too hot and caught fire. A dramatic end to their evening around the fire pit became an excuse for getting up close and personal with our pet menagerie, not a bad trade off.

We learned we hadn’t been as prepared as we thought (adding a new extinguisher to the list of errands), and yet Q handled the situation well. One more hands-on learning experience, one more story to share.