Lessons With Instant Oatmeal

My husband bought instant oatmeal for the kid’s breakfast, the kind that you empty the packet into a bowl, add some water, and microwave it.  Presto! Easy, kinda-nutritious breakfast.  It’s an easy breakfast that I thought my kids could make themselves that’s not cold cereal.

My 8-year old son is usually the first one up and the first words out of his mouth are usually “Mom… what’s for breakfast?” Whereupon I list out his choices that he can have: there’s waffles in the freezer, you can have some toast and yogurt, I was going to make myself some eggs do you want me to make you one?  All of these he just shook his head, none of them would do for this connoisseur of breakfast foods.

“There’s that oatmeal that Dad bought the other day, why don’t you have that?”

He really liked that idea and went to the pantry, opened the door and pushed aside the Cheerios and tortilla chips to get the instant oatmeal.  He brought the packet to me as I was sitting at the kitchen table enjoying my morning tea.  “No, I’m not making this for you.  You can do it yourself” I told him, handing the packet back to him.

“Look,” I said, “Here are the directions, go ahead and read them.  What’s the first thing we have to do?”

My son is resistant to read aloud something that’s new.  He doesn’t know what some of the words are so he prefers not to do it at all.  My high school students do the same thing.  He whined a little (high school students also do this) about reading the directions of the packet but I wouldn’t let this learning opportunity pass him by.  Poor kid, his mother teaches high school math.

“What does it say?” I asked again after he was done with his pouting.  I brought the packet closer to him and pointed to each word in step number one as he read it aloud in a halting mumble.

“Empty packet into…” he said.

“Sound it out… ‘mi-cro-wave'” as I pointed to each syllable.

“Microwave safe bowl.  What does that even mean?”  He whined.  I may as well have asked him to solve a quadratic equation.

“That means you empty your packet into a bowl that’s safe to put into the microwave” I said as I shook the packet to show him what a packet was.  “So, go get a bowl.”

My son left the dining room and walked around to the kitchen to get a bowl.  He opened the cabinet where they were kept and looked up.  He couldn’t reach them.  “Will you get down a bowl for me?”

“No, you can do it yourself”  I replied from my chair at the kitchen table as I took a drink from my tea.

My son heaved another sigh and went to get a chair to stand on to reach the bowls.  He brought the chair back and stood on it to select a bowl for himself.  After making his selection of a bowl he brought it back to me and I walked him through the remaining two steps.

He read the last two steps to me and I helped him understand what 2/3 cup meant and what it means to microwave on high 1-2 minutes.  You always want to microwave it the smaller time because you can always add time if you need too.  He put the bowl in the microwave above the stove by using the chair to stand on and pressed the button to microwave it on high for one minute.  When the microwave dinged, I helped him take it down, and he stirred the oatmeal.

He carefully carried it to the dining room table where he stirred it again and ate it.  He enjoyed it so much that he made himself another packet, this time completely on his own.

Mission accomplished!  One more task that he can do by himself.  We’re raising kids to be independent adults around here!  Then, it was my daughter’s turn to make her own instant oatmeal.

My daughter is 10 years old and can read directions just fine.  She did everything that the instant oatmeal packet told her to do which was why she came to me practically in tears showing me her exploded bowl of oatmeal that she was holding between two pot holders.

“What happened?!” I asked her, peering at her mess of an oatmeal bowl.  “Did you follow the directions?”

“Yes!” She replied, voice quavering with emotion and holding back the tears.

“Did you microwave it for a minute?”  I pursued.

“Yes!” She responded, incredulous that the directions would betray her, and looking at her messy oatmeal in disbelief.  The directions have always worked for her before.  I’ve seen the same look on high-achieving freshmen who didn’t get the correct answer.

“I did it for a minute and then stirred it just like it said and it wasn’t done, so I microwaved it again for another minute” she insisted.

“Wasn’t done?  Logan microwaved it for a minute and his was done.”

“It wasn’t done, Mom!”  She exclaimed.

Then it hit me.  The oatmeal packet told her to put in 2/3 cup of water in the bowl and it came out too runny for her.

“Okay, we can fix this, don’t worry.  Put the bowl on the counter and we’ll pour it into a larger bowl and try this again.”  I said.

I explained to her that the packet asked for too much water for thick oatmeal and that next time she should pour only about a half-cup of water into her oatmeal bowl.  I had her open another packet and she poured it into the new bowl and had her stir it up with her spoon.

“Okay, now we just added another packet to this bowl so that means we should add more water.  Two-thirds is too much for you, right?”  My daughter nodded.  “So let’s just pour a little at a time until the mixture is as thick as you want it.”

Ah, ratios and proportions, I thought, almost as fun as the quadratic equation.

 

Pavlov’s Dogs and Candy Dishes

I rewarded myself for finishing my essay by opening my autumn-themed candy dish at my desk.  I carefully lifted the lid to reveal the assortment of See’s hard candy inside. I took the hard candy out and carefully, very carefully, placed the lid back on the candy dish.  It made a slight clinking sound.

Both my children materialized from the other side of the house at the minute sound of the lid returning to the candy dish.  I’m going to have to share my candy. Like Pavlov’s dogs my kids salivate at the sound of the lid clinking against the dish and come running to my desk and say “Can I have some candy?”

It’s not that I mind sharing.  I have enough candy for all but it’s my candy, special stuff that I buy specifically for my candy dish.  Their extra candy is kept in the glass family candy dish near the DVD player and is filled with DumDums, Jolly Ranchers, and Now and Laters.  My children are not candy snobs and like any type of candy that happens to be in the dish. They turn into Pavlov’s dogs at the sound of the family candy dish’s lid being opened and closed too.  I despair of enjoying a piece of any kind of candy without having the pack of Pavlov’s dogs racing toward the clink of the candy dish lid being returned to its base.

My mom kept extra candy in a family candy dish only when she had extra candies left from the holidays.  Extra candy from the Christmas stockings and Easter baskets found its way into the candy dish. After I ate all my own candy I would get into the family candy dish, carefully open the lid, select the candy, and then carefully close the lid afterwards, just in case I wasn’t allowed to have any candy.  That dish always made a slight clang no matter how carefully I tried to return the lid. My sister remedied the problem when she “accidentally” broke the lid in half when she dropped it on the floor while dusting it. It made getting into the candy dish easier because there was no lid to quietly open and return and leftover candy from Christmas and Easter didn’t last long after that.

We had our own “accident” here in our household.  My son plugged in the cord for the DVD player with the candy dish nearby.  The cord tangled around the dish and pulled the dish right onto the floor where the lid smashed into a million pieces.  My son looked at me and I looked at him. It was an accident, I told him, it’s okay. You’re okay? You’re not cut by the glass?  I cleaned up the glass and put the lidless candy dish back to its place, far away from the tangled cords. If it was a planned “accident” it was well planned.  Now our family candy dish doesn’t have a lid on it which will make getting into it much easier.

Short of breaking the lid on my favorite candy dish, which I don’t want to do, I haven’t found a way to cure Pavlov’s dogs from that sound.  Then I got a marvelous idea from my Aunt on a recent family gathering. She said she kept her special candy in the freezer hidden inside an empty frozen vegetable bag.  Genius. Her kids, my cousins, never knew it was there because all they saw were frozen peas.

I had an empty coffee can and put my candy inside.  My candy-filled coffee can was placed in the freezer next to the can of decaf coffee, they’ll never know what’s really inside, I happily told myself.  When I wanted one of my special candies, I opened the freezer and took one from the camouflaged candy can. I unwrapped the candy, popped it into my mouth, and enjoyed having a special piece of my candy alone.  My solitude ended after a few moments when my son rushed into the kitchen, he must have heard the sound of my unwrapping the candy.

“What are you eating Mom?  Can I have some too?”

My camouflaged candy can worked, but my children are conditioned to the sound of candy wrappers too.  I have to wait until they are in bed or out of the house to enjoy a piece of candy alone. That’s too much to ask of myself because when I want a candy, I want one now, so I get one, and usually share some with my kids.

What to See in Joshua Tree National Park

My kids and I scrambled up the boulders that form Mastodon Peak on a family hike in the Cottonwood Springs area in Joshua Tree National Park.  It was fun but it was steep. “You’re not allowed to fall!” I told my kids from the back of the line we made as we scrambled up the large boulders that made up the mountain.  “If you fall, fall into the mountain.”

The bouldering was enough that it made me feel I accomplished something once I reached the top.  A couple of women were sitting down and eating sandwiches, looking at the view that went on for miles.  A group of hikers were sitting further down the peak speaking French to each other as they took pictures and selfies.

“This is a great place to eat a sandwich” I said to the women who were eating their peanut butter and jelly as we passed them to find our own perch on this rocky mountain.  Both women agreed with me with enthusiasm and went back to appreciating the view. I opened my backpack and give my kids a couple of brownie-filled cookies as our own Mastodon Peak treat.  We sat down nearby the women to enjoy our cookies and take in the panorama of distant snowy mountains, blue hills, and desert.

One woman mentioned to the other that she should put on sunscreen and dug some out of her backpack leaning on a nearby rock.  She squirted some into her palm and then rubbed her legs and arms. I chat more with the two women. They are from Colorado and are only at Joshua Tree National Park for a couple of days.  They didn’t realize how big it was. I agreed, I’ve been to Joshua Tree a bazillion times and I’m still seeing new things. This was the first time I’ve been up here, on Mastodon Peak.

“What would you suggest we see while we’re here?” Asked one as she put her sunblock away in her backpack.

I shared with them my favorites:

  • Key’s View:  It’s super easy to get to and the view is outstanding.  You can see the Salton Sea over a 100 miles away on a clear day.
  • Hidden Valley Loop:  A short hiking loop through a valley that horse rustlers utilized back when people used to rustle horses.  Across the parking area from the Hidden Valley trailhead are picnic tables and if you wander around the large boulders nearby you’ll come across some “caves” formed by one giant wall of rock placed just a few feet from another.  My kids love running through the passages, their laughter and footsteps echoing off the enormous rock walls.
  • The Cholla Cactus Garden:  It is impressive to see hundreds and hundreds of these large golden-spiked cactus with their dark trunks.  I’ve always wondered about the people who came through the Cholla Garden before there were roads. Did they see all the cholla and turn around, not daring to hack through the forest of the large and daunting cactus?
  • The Forty-Nine Palms Oasis:  Like in the movies, the Forty-Nine Palms Oasis rises out of the desert landscape with its palm trees visible in the distance.  It’s a moderate 1.5 mile there and back hike to the palm trees with actual water pooled at their base. Once you get there, it’s easy to find a shady spot and enjoy your lunch as you watch the birds flitter past to the water below and hear the palm trees rustle in the breeze.

 

The two women opened a map of the park and began to plan their next move armed with my information.  “I’m not sure where we are,” said one woman to her friend “The Rockies aren’t here to guide me!”

Chutes and Ladders

Our Chutes and Ladders game has seen lots of use.  The spinner has long broken apart and the cheap card board playing pieces have torn in half from multiple instances of small hands grasping their middle and counting the squares off, hopping in each square as they are counted.  The game board had to be reinforced with packing tape because it almost tore in two.

Rather than toss this game in the trash, we’ve made it work.  Instead of the spinner with six sections we’re using a die which must land on the game board when tossed.  The cheap cardboard figures have been replaced with small game pieces of choice. Lego mini-figures are our preferred game pieces but any small figure will do.  It has made the game more personalized by far and it is fun to see an armed Star Wars Storm Trooper, a Lego Lady, and a Pokemon march up the ladders and slide down the slides.  What rejoicing when we land on a ladder and what lamentations when we land on a slide.

This is likely why my daughter doesn’t like the game very much.  She is devastated even when her Pokemon lands on the smallest slide.  If she lands on more than two or three slides during the same game, tears of frustration fall down her cheeks and she needs to be encouraged to continue to stay in the game.  My son remains optimistic after he encounters the slides and looks forward to the possibility of landing on a large ladder. The Storm Trooper adjusts his grip on his gun and waits for the next roll of the die confident he’ll land on a ladder eventually.

Chutes and Ladders is a counting game in which there are 100 spaces that need to be crossed before you land in the winner space in box 100.  Along the way are perils in the forms of slides. If you land in a box that a slide begins, you must slide all the way down. Some slides are very long and drop you down several rows down the board and some are short, just taking you back a few spaces.  The beginning of the slide always shows a child being naughty in some way and the base of the slide shows their consequence. The longest slide is for the child who reached high to sneak cookies. His consequence was falling to the ground and a broken cookie jar.  The smallest slide was for the child who went outside and walked through the rain with their shoes off. The result is a cold and three spaces back. The message: sneaking cookies is much worse than going outside with your shoes off.

The game designers placed two slides in boxes 48  and 49 where I succumb to the temptation of skating on thin ice or eating too many cookies (bad things happen with cookies in this game).  The other dangerous row is the last row. From boxes 91 to 100 there are 3 small slides that tempt you just before you get to the winners box.  We always hold our breath as we roll the die, hoping we avoid writing on walls, breaking windows with a baseball bat, or pulling a cat’s tail.

As there are equal slides and ladders, the fun part is when you get a ladder.  The bigger the better as it gets you closer to the finish in box 100. Happiness abounds when you help the cat out of the tree and go up from the 20s row all the way to the 80s row. The best ladder is when you land in the 80 box and shoot directly up two rows to the winners box.  Shouts of joy and happy dances occur when that happens.

The game takes only about 15 minutes to play and we get a lot of bang for our buck.  It lets my kids practice their counting and teaches perseverance. Character is built when the Storm Trooper and Pokemon have to go down a long slide and choose to stay in the game.  There’s nothing like instant cause and effect to illustrate what Stephen Covey says about our actions: “We are free to choose our actions… but we are not free to choose the consequences of these actions.” Sneaking cookies? You will fall down and have a broken cookie jar.  Help a cat out of the tree? You’ll have cat loving you, rubbing your legs, and go up 60 spaces. All in the time frame of 15 minutes and a die.

Needing Silly

I couldn’t find my black flats.  They would go with my skirt and red blouse and I was running late for work.  I went around the house looking in all the usual places where I kick off my shoes.  No, they’re not by my bedroom chair. Not by the couch and they’re not by the front door.  Where are they? I have to be leaving to work right now. Well, when in doubt, look where they belong.  I went back to my bedroom and looked in my closet where my shoes are supposed to be kept when I’m not wearing them.  Not there.

My eyes fell on my pair of skull shoes set on the top shelf of the shoe rack.  They were black, like my missing flats, but unlike my missing flats they had bright colored skulls all over them like the skulls for Dia de los Muertos.  I caught myself smiling at the idea of wearing these bright casual shoes with my professional teacher outfit. I needed to wear these shoes today. I needed silly.

The previous Saturday afternoon, scrolling through Facebook, I saw a post from my principal sharing news that one of my students in my second period class passed away.  I stared at my phone in disbelief. I gave him a hard time Friday morning in class for not doing his assignment and copying off of a neighboring student. He gave me his slow grin and started working on his assignment like he was supposed to.  Monday morning I had his paper to return to use for his quiz and he wasn’t there. I see his name on my student withdrawal list on my grading program whenever I log on to complete my class attendance.

My second period was boisterous and quick to laugh but now they are quiet and subdued.  I dreaded my second period class Monday morning because I didn’t want to see the empty desk that I knew would be there.  The school offered grief counselors that morning and I spoke to one, seeking advice on how to address my class after a death of one of their own.  I’m running class as usual now, but I know my students are hurting.

I found a pair of no-show socks to wear with the skull shoes and put them on.  I looked at myself in the mirror. Not something I usually wear with a skirt and blouse but I liked that it was silly.  I took myself to the living room to say goodbye to my kids before I left for work.

“What do you think?”  I asked, modeling my outfit before them.

The kids barely glanced at me from the couch and returned to watching their Pokemon cartoons.

“Wow, tough crowd!” I said.  I tried again, striking a different pose, “What do you think?”

My daughter tore her attention from her cartoon and looked me up and down.

“Your shoes don’t match.” She said and gazed back at the television.

“Yeah, they’re a little different” I said.  I went over to my kids and kissed each of them, telling both that I loved them and to have a good day at school.

At work a couple of hours later, in second period, one of my quieter students happened to look down and see my skull shoes.

“I like your shoes Mrs. Adams” he said “They’re cool.”

The Pale Purse

“Be content!” my 10-year old daughter told me.  She peeked over my shoulder to see what I was doing on my iPhone and saw that I was browsing through purses.  I asked her to remind me to be content when she saw me looking at purses online. She took this request to heart and never failed to do what I asked when she caught me.  I closed the window of the browser on my phone and looked at her.

“You’re right,”  I said, “But, they’re so pretty!”

Purses were a special weakness of mine that I allowed myself to indulge in.  I loved the feel of soft leather, the smell, the sound of a good zipper opening, and the organization potential of a new purse.  

I saw a beautiful pale purse when I walked through Marshalls.  There was a glowing aura around it that guided me to it. I took it off the rack it was hanging from and took a closer look.  It was made of buttery soft leather and there were metal decorative studs in front with slip pockets on either side. It had great organization potential.  I unzipped the main zipper. Oh heaven, the zipper was smooth and purposeful. The new-purse smell engulfed me. There was an inner wall zipper and pockets to put a cell phone and a pen slot.  It was a smaller purse but had all sorts of nooks and crannies to put away necessities and it was pretty. So pretty. The glow around the pale purse was getting brighter and my resolve to be content grew weaker.  

“Be content, Mom!”  I told myself.

I tried to remember that I don’t need another purse and that I am content with what I had and I had a lot of purses.  I pulled my purses from the disorganized shelf in my closet and laid them all out on my bed a few days ago. Dark leather and quilted fabric purses made up most of my collection.  I don’t have a pale purse. It would be perfect for the upcoming spring.

No!  I told myself.  I don’t need it.  I’ll walk away and do my errand at Walmart.  If I’m still thinking about the pale purse afterward I’ll go back to Marshalls.  Guilty pleasure crept in when I thought about owning the pale purse.

Forty-five minutes later I was back at Marshalls and followed the siren song to the hand bag section where I found the pale purse still glowing bright on the rack.

Oh, I was weakening.  I knew I didn’t need it but it was so gorgeous.  I should call someone for reinforcements. My husband?  No, he would tell me no. My sister? No, she would tell me yes.  What to do?

I decided to give the pale purse a test drive.  I pulled out my phone from my small black leather handbag to see how it would fit in the pale purse.  I slipped the phone into the phone slot inside the pale purse and zipped it closed. That’s such a nice zipper!  I opened the pale purse again and gave the pen slot a try. I slid my trusty Bic pen into the slot and closed the wonderful zipper.  The zipper would not zip over the pen. The pale purse’s siren song quieted. I shoved the pen down more. The zipper closed over it that time but there was a small bump where the zipper went over the pen.

The aura around the pale purse flickered, faded, and then went out.  I came to my senses when the siren song was silenced. I require a functional pen slot in my purses if they come equipped with one.  It was a deal-breaker.

I returned the pale purse back to the rack, satisfied with myself that I didn’t buy it.

Earrings on the Wall

I can’t leave my house without a pair of earrings in my ears.  Even if I am lazing about the house, with nowhere to go, I laze with a pair of earrings on.  So when my husband nailed my earring holders to the wall in our closet, displaying all my earrings at eye-level, I was very happy.  He’s made it so easy to see which pair I want to wear because they are right next to my clothes and the bright closet light shows the earrings clearly.  It has made getting ready for work in the morning less of a hassle because now I can see all the choices I have for earrings. And I have a lot of choices:  studs, dangly, hoops, gold, sterling silver, leather, and gemstones.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier.  Before my husband nailed my earrings on the wall I had some earrings in my jewelry box, and some on my dresser, and some others were in a drawer.  I was wearing the same earrings over and over because I didn’t realize what I had.

For Christmas my sister bought me three pairs of fun leather statement earrings.  They are big, colorful, and lightweight. Earrings like those must be worn and not put into a drawer where they will be forgotten. The trouble was that I had no place to put them.  I had three different places where earrings were stored and all of them were a disorganized wreck. I finally had enough and decided to do something about it.

I took all my earrings from all three locations and laid them out in front of me on the carpet on my bedroom floor.  My favorites were in one pile organized by color, type, and size. Another pile was for all the earrings that I haven’t worn in years.  Some of those earrings dated back to high school days: costume jewelry that I wore for high school dances and studs that were so small that you’d hardly notice they were there.  I wanted to blend in in high school and not stand out.

What to do with all my newly organized earrings?  This is when I had a wonderful idea: if I could have them hanging up on the wall I could see them easily.  I asked my husband if he would be able to mount my earring holders on our closet wall just by the door. Would they be in the way?  Would you mind having my earrings on the wall? No problem, he said, I could do that.

He immediately went to work.  I left him alone to work his magic.  About 15 minutes later he said “Come take a look.”

The next morning getting ready for work was delightful.  Walking into my closet and seeing all my earrings in one place in a well-lit space made picking out earrings down right fun.  I was so happy to have my earrings displayed like that and felt so blessed that I had so many nice earrings that I wrote my husband a thank you letter.  I wrote it early that morning, before I went to work, and hung it with a magnet on the refrigerator door for him to find when he woke up later that morning.