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.

Meatless Monday – Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges with Jalapeno Aioli

As Teen gets older I am acutely aware that our time with him under our roof nears an end. We have a year and a half until high school graduation, and though the first year and a half of his life seemed almost interminable (exhaustion, diapers, crying – from both baby and mommy, mind-numbing boredom involved with entertaining an infant… Oh, and completely smitten obsessive love, that too), time goes faster as we all get older. If I sneeze too hard, will he be packed up and ready to hit the college dorms?

So we make the most of the time we have, or of the time he allows us to have. Nah, seriously, he’s a good kid and we make family fun time a regular priority.

One rainy Winter Break day we tried a new activity: indoor archery. We’d done it once before at a family summer camp, but the kids were younger and less able. This time? Awesome family fun! We’ll definitely go back sooner than later.
FullSizeRender (71) FullSizeRender (72)

Since we played through lunchtime, we stopped for a bite on our way home. Hungry, we ordered an appetizer: sweet potato tater tots with jalapeno aioli. Who doesn’t like tater tots? And we’d never had sweet potato tater tots, but the big hit was the aioli. Once we demolished the tots, Tween used his fingers to lick residual sauce from the ramekin.

That kind of enthusiasm sends me searching for recipes, and without too much effort I found one. Well, three, because this is an easy three-step process.

First, make the Cajun seasoning. I fill an old spice jar and use it often – always on sweet potatoes, in tuna salad, on other grilled veggies. It’s perfect as is, but you could play with proportions to make it more or less spicy.

Prep the potatoes. Try to cut slices the same approximate size. My sweet potatoes were long so I also cut them in half to make shorter fries. Line the roasting pan with aluminum foil and sprinkle seasoning as gently or liberally as you like (go for liberally!). Potatoes cook down quite a bit, so you can cram more on the tray than I did.SPF 1SPF 2

While potatoes roast, make the aioli. It’s awesome, and you’re going to want more so just double the batch from the get-go. You can use it in a wrap, on a burger bun, you could even thin it with a little water or more citrus juice and use it as a salad dressing. If you have a gas stove, you can roast the jalapeno over a burner. That’s the longest step in the sauce process, and it’s optional.SPF 3SPF 4

I almost didn’t get this plated as Teen and I ate wedges off the roasting pan as soon as they cooled enough to bite. Delish!

Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges

3-5 sweet potatoes
Cajun seasoning

Preheat oven to 400. Scrub sweet potatoes and dry thoroughly. Do not peel. Cut off ends, then cut lengthwise in half, then again and again to create 6-8 wedges per potato of approximately the same width and length. Line a roasting pan with aluminum foil and arrange sweet potatoes in a single layer. Sprinkle Cajun seasoning on sweet potatoes. Roast for 25 minutes, tossing halfway through.

Jalapeno Aioli

1 jalapeno
¾ c vegan mayo
½ c firmly packed cilantro
2-4 garlic cloves (to taste – I always opt for more)
¾ lime, juiced
¾ tsp cumin
¼ tsp salt

If you have a gas stove, stick a long fork into the stem end of the jalapeno and roast over open flame until it blisters. Put the jalapeno in a paper bag to sweat while you add other ingredients in a food processor or blender. Hold the jalapeno stem and use a sharp knife to skin the charred bits, then stem and remove ribs and seeds. Add to food processor and pulse to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed (I added a smidge more cilantro and lime at this stage).

Tell the Truth

stress

A few nights ago, just as I realized I had an unforeseen free evening ahead of me, my neighbor popped over to spontaneously invite me to a panel on teen stress at a nearby high school. I said yes.

An hour later I fought back tears as a well-dressed dad pointed to a picture of his teenage son on the big screen, a good-looking kid who committed suicide three years ago. That tragedy spurred the dad and other parents to begin a Wellness Committee aimed at addressing stress among adolescents. Ultimately, they want to change culture – students, parents, schools, teachers, systems, and society – the perfect storm as we all play a role in the overwhelming stress our students experience.

For the Committee’s first public event, they began with stress, which may lead to depression, which may lead to dangerous behaviors and, worst case, suicide. The Committee will do important work, but it won’t matter a whit if the rest of us don’t jump on board.

Teen’s pediatrician happened to be one of the speakers. A wise, well-grounded man, he received several rounds of interruptive applause for speaking truth. Things like, why do final exams come after winter break? In other words, why can’t “break” be a true break, with no finals, no homework hanging over kids’ heads? How about reduced homework, or a later start time since older teens need more sleep?

Other good exhortations:
Just because our kids are older, we are NOT life consultants but more like President of the Board to our kids; they get more responsibility, yes, but we don’t take a hands-off advisory role. We still have levers to pull, and it’s our responsibility to pull them as necessary.

Eat dinner together as a family – friends, we can spare fifteen minutes to be face-to-face with one another!

According to a recent survey, high school students in our district get less than 7 hours of sleep per night. They need more (they should average 9.5 hours/night), so parents and kids can work together to make that change.

Though teens act a convincing part that they do not want to spend time with family, family fun time is important, one of the levers we employ to keep kids healthy. Take a vacation or even a day trip to do something together.

Help kids focus on who they are becoming more than what they are doing. Just like adults, their identity is not wrapped up in performance, in their GPA or home runs; their identity is Who They Are, at their core, when all their accomplishments have been stripped away – as they will be once they have to “start over” in college or the work force.

Technology addiction has become a huge issue, and it’s not healthy that our young people are “on stage” through social media 24/7. Most of us give in to the positive stimulus response, parents may be equally addicted, and we all need to unplug more regularly. Tough love, perhaps, but Teen’s pediatrician thinks cell phones should be off by 8pm, internet by 9pm, and kids in bed by 10pm (my Teen said, “Uh, yah…No Way.” Not sure I’ll pull that particular lever, but we are going to have another conversation about a healthy bedtime routine).

That recent survey revealed that as many as 46% of local high school kids have had or currently have depression, feeling unrelenting sadness for two weeks or more such that it interferes with their ability to perform daily tasks. Staggering! Maintaining the status quo may be easier, but it’s killing our kids. How can we ignore the truth that our kids are drowning while we stand by, cheering them on?

As adults, we have to model better behavior. We can’t mentor kids in stress-free living if we’re workaholics who don’t stop to enjoy life, if we don’t make time to listen to them. We have to talk about stress. We have to put our phones away and sit face-to-face with our kids and admit our own struggles, our own mistakes.

Life is hard. Parenting is hard, and parenting adolescents can be downright crazy-making. What’s the point in pretense when talking about it helps? Every family, geez, every human!, struggles in some way or other. Talk to your spouse, your kids, teachers and coaches, friends, and neighbors. Talk to anyone who will listen compassionately. Find your safe people if you don’t already know who they are. We’re in this thing together whether we like it or not, so we might as well get on the same team and admit our weaknesses so we can build on our strengths.

Glennon Melton of Momastery wrote, “I’ve never made a friend by bragging about my strengths, but I’ve made countless by sharing my weakness, my emptiness.” Fear and shame keep us from vulnerability, but vulnerability is exactly what we need to combat loneliness. We need one another. Tragedy strikes the one who feels unnecessary and can’t talk about it. Let’s all tell the truth so we can offer one another hope.

If you need someone to talk to and don’t know where to turn, the National Lifeline has trained counselors ready to listen anytime, day or night. It’s free and confidential. Please call: 800-273-TALK.