In this week's "Learn to Try" summer challenge we head to the Rock Creek Park planetarium... and get more than we bargained for. This is a great activity for kids anytime of the year- assuming they're feeling up for it.Read More
Want to create a beautiful flower arrangement? Here's how in 18 simple steps (with wine!) Whether you're looking to build a new skill or for something fun to do with the kids, flower arranging is easy, fun, and has the immediate benefit of a beautiful decoration for your home.Read More
Procurement, manufacturing, pricing, marketing, sales, and customer service are all part of any simple lemonade stand. It’s an enduring, practical, and charming way to introduce kids to the basic concepts of business- if your business is backed by an angel investor who can drive to Giant and reach the sink.
When I pitched the idea as one of the Summer “Learn to Try” challenges, the kids enthusiastically agreed. Looking back, I realize they had no idea what they were signing up for. They heard lemonade (and because I’m ultra-stingy with juice) reflexively shouted “YES!”
Part of the deal was to donate the money raised to A is for Africa. They wanted to do this piece because they hear Grandma and Opa talk about Africa and the school there. The kids were especially interested in funding school lunch because…all kids like lunch.
So, that was the goal with this week’s Summer “Learn to Try” Challenge:
• learn a bit about business and
• fund raise for a good cause.
To start, we reserved the space in front of the Falls Church Community Center. The Center staff offer this fantastic opportunity to any kid with a homemade product raising money for a nonprofit. This space is strategically important because it’s close to the Farmer’s Market. There’s way more foot traffic than we’d get in front of our house.
We then made a trip to Giant for the ingredients and came back home to make a sign.
There was a little social media marketing on Facebook, and our friends in the neighborhood helped spread the word. Our neighbor Nate even offered to help. Yippee! Set up on Saturday morning was simple. Then, we hit the first roadblock.
The kids wanted nothing to do with the actual selling. Drinking the lemonade, playing with the cups, and dumping out the straws took precedence. They hung-out behind the pillars- partly out of shyness and partly out of distraction from the Farmer’s Market activity.
Then, two things happened to change their outlook.
They got their first customers- a family of five. These weren't just any old customer. They were super fun, enthusiastic, and encouraging. When the dad handed over the $5, Marin looked at it for a second before stuffing it into our Ziplock “register.” I actually think a saw something click. Marin later told me that the best part of the day was making the customers happy and getting the money. A win!
Then, their friend Nate arrived, and it became less of chore and more of a game. All of the kids moved out in front of the stand shouting, “Good morning. $1 lemonade!” Baya told me she was scared to speak up the first time but it got easier throughout the morning. Another win! Marketing and selling are most difficult in the beginning. Then, you realize that some people will buy, some won’t, and nothing bad will happen either way.
Nate also immediately improved our process and started pre-pouring cups so there’d be no delay for our next customers. Unfortunately, Linc drank these before anyone else arrived but it was a good idea.
Over the next hour and a half, we had a steady stream of totally awesome people come by- including many friends and neighbors. Each person was there for the kids (ours or theirs), not so much the lemonade. They were upbeat, encouraging, and genuinely interested in hearing about A is for Africa. It made me love our Little City that much more.
They also pretended not to notice the chaos that ensued after simply saying, “one lemonade, please.” There was sloshing and spilling. Some of the shortest members of the staff might have even been screaming and crying, “It’s my turn!” Every. Single. Time.
In retrospect, I should have worked out our order fulfillment process to avoid the confusion about who’s turn it was to pour, dole out stickers, and take the money. I would have also mentioned that most people don’t care to have ice handled directly by the server's grubby, bare hands.
So, I’d say this was another successful week of our Summer “Learn to Try” challenge. The kids raised $86 and got dad to make it an even $100. That’s enough to fund lunch for 900 kids for a day—pretty incredible! I also believe some entrepreneurial seeds were planted, as well as, a small lesson in overcoming your fears.
What’s up next? Come back next week to find out!
So, how’d it go? The “whole foods, nothing processed” for a week thing? Oh, let me tell you.
- Thursday=laying on the kitchen floor crying ‘uncle.’
Last Sunday, we kicked off a week of eating like it was 1947. The goal was nothing processed from bag or box. I wasn’t particularly interested in WWII-era recipes. We just had to make food at home that our grandmothers would recognize.
Why? It was challenge to me as the main food-fixer. My style is semi-homemade. Each meal is a mix of scratch and prepared foods and I thought I could do a little better. It was also a challenge to the family as the main food-eaters. I’d give us a B+ in family eating overall. We only eat out once a week. We even have a garden (that I’m pretty sure is trying to kill me- but that’s a story for a different post.) And, no one is super picky but, again, I thought we could do a little better.
The plan was to make dinner at home each night as we normally do. Only, I was going to sub-in home-made versions of familiar foods that I typically buy pre-made such as meatballs and fish sticks.
I’d also found 3 non-dinner recipes to try for foods we typically buy: bread, breakfast sausage, and cheese crackers.
To help you gauge the level of difficulty for me, I assign a “sweat score” on a 0 (easy) - 10 (crazy hard, never doing this again) scale for each.
Monday: Sweat score = 1.
We started off nice and easy on Monday. All I had to do was open a can of beans, put some brown rice on the stove, and microwave some sweet potatoes. I hate to brag but I could have made this on the back of the van with only a knife, a bottle of Aquafina, and a strong magnifying glass. I’ll concede the point that I should have baked the sweet potatoes but the heat index made it feel like 104 degrees outside. I couldn’t stand the thought of turning on the oven for 45 minutes. With a quick chopped salad and a couple of hard-boiled eggs for Brian and me, we were all set.
Because I have awesome ideas, we also made lemonade. No surprise here. They liked it. And, I’m pretty sure they were eating spoonfuls of sugar when I turned my back. Oh well.
Tuesday: Sweat score = 3.
Taco Tuesday was up next. The recipes weren’t complicated but the circumstances made things a little tricky. We’d planned to go to the pool and eat. That means packing everything up in the cooler. It seems like one extra steps that is actually about 40 extra steps and as many dishes to wash. There were a couple flashes of heat lightning which meant the pool was closed. We were back around the dining room table and eating out of our 40 little Tupperware containers. Part of this menu was corn tortilla chips from scratch. It’s one of those non-recipe recipes where you cut up corn tortillas, fry them, and then put as much salt as as your little heart desires. I typically like these, but I burned almost every single one. The kids ate 1 or two and Brian mercifully ate the rest. Love that guy.
Wednesday: Sweat score = 6.
Wednesday’s spaghetti and meatballs meal should have been easy. Marinara is the first thing I learned to cook in college from my dear friend and cooking mentor, Lianne. I managed to get the basic sauce and meatballs into the pot before I picked up the little kids. Win! And, then UGH. I started to sweat. I felt crunched for time when we got home. Brian had a late meeting, so I was on my own.
All I had to do was make the pasta and shred some zucchini for myself and that suddenly felt really hard. I’d promised the kids a make-up trip to the pool but didn’t want to pack everything up. They were bouncing around as they changed. Little balled up socks and underwear were all over the kitchen. They couldn’t have cared less about eating. Meanwhile, I’m stressing about checking the box on some arbitrary challenge I created for myself and asking myself why.
Thursday, Thursday, Thursday. Sweat score = 43.
I was on my own again because Brian was working late. (I should say for the record that is incredibly rare and should have made me reconsider making this “whole foods” week.) I’d been in back-to-back meetings all day (meaning no time for food prep) and had to pick up all of kids. You’d think being reunited with your children after a long day would be a joy. Well, let me tell you, this “joy” of motherhood get sucked right out when it gathering them up takes an hour+ round-trip in Northern Virginia traffic. So even before things got bad, I’d been doubting myself and my plan for the night.
- 2pm: Consider scrapping the whole thing and just going to Panera. I’d forgotten to take out the fish and the dishwasher was already full of dirty dishes- two seemingly little things that felt insurmountable.
- 2:15: Scold myself for being so weak. “Just stick to the plan, just stick to the plan” is the self-talk in my head while nodding politely to my client across the table talking about her upcoming retreat.
- 3:15: Leave client meeting, running behind schedule. Pick up hot and sweaty kid 1 and hotter and sweatier friend 1. Deliver friend 1 to her house and head home for no more than 10 minutes of email to close out the day.
- 5pm: An hour and 45 minutes later, leave to get kids 2 and 3. Tell them in the car that if they cooperate while I’m making dinner I’ll take them to the concert in the park.
- 6pm: Get home. My bribe backfires. The kids start fighting over camp-made slime while commanding Alexa to play Imagine Dragons 45 times in a row. Linc polishes off 4 packets of applesauce while deploying all of his emergency vehicles. He must have had a feeling some shit was about to go down. The firetruck, police car, and ambulance were around my feet.
Meanwhile, I’m frantically trying to bake salmon and bread fish sticks.
I manage to get those in the oven and then read the tater tot recipe for the first time.
The most ridiculous tater tot recipe in the history of the world starts something like this…
Boil your bazillion potatoes and, then while they’re still hot, peel them, grate them, and form little balls with a bunch of other sticky stuff. Gently place your little balls in 100 gallons of boiling oil and poke them softly with a spoon so they cook evenly while the splatters burn off all of the skin on your hands.
No. Just no. Fuck that. I’m sorry. No fucking way. Nobody even really tater tots (this is a lie.) You're a poor excuse for a spud. I fucking hate you food.com. While I’m cussing out this recipe (in my head, Dad!), my salmon caught fire.
I scream. Then, like magic, the kids stop screaming. They look at me. Blinking. If the floor wasn’t so disgusting, I would have literally laid down. Uncle!
- 6:38pm: Wipe a little tear from my eye and put what I have on the table: scraped salmon, fish sticks, every piece of fruit I could find, and a couple of lonely carrots from the bottom of the fridge. For the first time in their lives, my little people had a dinner with no starch. They nibble politely.
- 6:54pm: Walk out the door. Every dish in the house is dirty. Bits of slime, flour, and an ambulance are on the counter.
- 7:04pm: (I'm now settled on our blanket at the park listening to this adorable polka band while the kids play.) Get frantic call from Brian who’s now home and has seen the mess. He’s sure we’re in the emergency room somewhere. “Nope, honey. I just gave up. See you in a few. Kisses!”
- 8pm: Bring happy and still-hungry kids home to a sparkling clean kitchen. Feed them ice cream for dinner and give them extra squirts of chocolate syrup to help erase their memories.
Friday. Sweat score = -8.
We order pizza by the pool while I drink Chardonnay from a paper cup. Life is back to normal and all is well.
Reflecting on the week, here’s what I learned:
- The kids didn’t miss the chips and pretzels. They were fine.
- I CAN bake! I conquered this overnight bread recipe on the second try (and after getting some yeast that was younger than Linc.) It might have been the best thing I’ve ever made. I’ll work on the breakfast sausage and cheddar crackers later in the summer.
- Semi-homemade works for me. Taking a couple of short-cuts saves the whole meal. If I had to do everything from scratch all the time, I’d ‘cry uncle’ and hit the drive-through way more often. That’s a 2017 advancement I think the grandmothers would approve of.
The experience gave me even more respect for Connie, Frances, Emily, and Jesse- four amazing women, our grandmothers. I can only imagine their “sweat score” feeding 27 kids with less money and less time. By the time I got to know them in their 60s, they seemed pretty chill as they sat back with their white zin with an ice cube in it watching their kids (our parents) sweat it out. Circle of life, I guess.
So, what's on the agenda for our Summer "Learn to Try" Challenge for Week 4?
Ride in the first car of a roller coaster. No sweat!
We’re doing a summer “learn to try” challenge with our family. In the ten weeks between me saying “I can’t believe it’s over” school-year edition and “I can’t believe it’s over” summertime edition, we have one new activity planned.
These mini-stretch goals are supposed to be fun. Brian and I want everyone in our house to learn a process for how to try new things. (The things themselves weren’t as important)
That simple process is:
- Prep- learn what you can via a book or video
- Plan- figure out the first couple of steps to take (OMG, I just wrote “determine your approach” as if I was writing one of my federal project proposals without even thinking-bleh), and
- Do- then, like Nike, just do it.
We’ve also done a little post-challenge analysis to talk about what worked and didn’t and what we’d do differently next time. My hope is that the kids get into the practice of seeing new things not as intimidating and impenetrable but just like everything else- something you can try by breaking it down into a couple of do-able steps.
This was a really long lead-in to the preview of what we’re doing this week. We’re eating whole foods for a week- nothing processed. Another way to think about it is, we’re eating like it’s 1947.
This time 70 years ago, all four of our kid’s great grandmothers had young families. By the time it was all said and done a couple years later, Connie, Frances, Emily, and Jesse would together have 27 children. Among them was MaryAnne, Ricky, Lynda, and Jimmie.
What were these little kids eating? Of course, a lot of whole, unprocessed foods. There are a couple of reasons for this: fewer processed foods existed, money was tight, and all four of them had strong beliefs about right and wrong. Food was just one.
Pretending it’s the summer of 1947, here’s our meal plan for the week.
The idea is to make everything from scratch. Okay, okay. Not everything. Instead, the question I'm asking myself is this: would the kids’ great grandmothers recognize this as food?
With that rule of thumb, here are the exceptions:
- Tortillas. Forgetting the regional differences, Connie in San Diego would have definitely seen these before. I'm buying 'em.
- Pasta. It might not have been popular at the time in Alabama or California, but Emily in New Jersey would have had boxes of dried pasta in her pantry. Jesse, being first generation from Italy, was still be making pasta by hand. We’re going with Emily on this one.
- Other exceptions to the no processed food rule include flour, sugar, peanut butter, jelly, and condiments, of course. Yes, that last one might be cheating, but I want my kids to enjoy this and not completely revolt. If a little hetchup helps me accomplish that goal, it’s in.
You’ll notice it’s just dinners. Luckily, the kids are all in camp or daycare serving breakfast and lunch each day. One of the reasons we love these programs is that they already provide whole foods for each meal. We’ll likely do this challenge again once school starts. Marin brought her lunch each day and what I packed gradually deteriorated into a lunchbox filled with little packages over the course of the year ☹
So, I’ll be thinking about Connie, Frances, Emily, and Jessie this week. From what I remember and what I’ve heard from our parents, these women had many things in common. Like so many of their peer group, they were resourceful, worked really, really hard, and made things special for their families every chance they got.
As we kick-off our Week 3 summer “learn to try” challenge, I’m imagining them sitting together- each with a new pair of these awesome shoes and a glass of iced tea- looking down laughing, critiquing, and cheering us on.
To catch and release a lightning bug was our summer “learn to try” challenge of the week.
Like Week 1’s Do a Cartwheel, I thought this was going to be a gimme. And, I was happy about that. I’m easing myself into this new summer routine and congratulating myself each day everyone makes it where they’re supposed to go (various camps, daycare, work, runs, etc.) by 9 am or so.
So, it’s not that catching a lightning bug is hard. It’s just that I never realized how semi-serendipitous it is. Before I get to the story of our bugs, let me back up…
To prepare for this week, we made a trip to the library. We had to go there anyway because the kids needed more books. Marin and Baya are in a fierce competition to see who can fill out the lines on their summer reading lists first. This race isn’t exactly fair for a couple of reasons, but I’m just the supplier in this case- not judging. We loaded up on books with covers that caught their attention. We then moseyed over to the animal section and picked out a couple on fireflies. Linc insisted on getting one on marsupials because you never know when a kangaroo might hop by while we’re out catching bugs. He wanted to be prepared.
We then had like five nights in a row of being busy doing other things. So, our bug catching had to wait.
Finally, it seemed like a good night so we cracked open the books. I immediately put the first one back into the bag- too many words. Seriously, people, I’m not trying to lay here all night reading. The second was much more what I had in mind.
- Fireflies aren’t flies. They’re beetles. (I’d suspected as much because I don't hate them.)
- They blink to find a mate.
- And, they come out at dusk.
As I read this, I looked out the window. It was entirely dark. Oops. We ran outside and wandered around the yard for a while. Nuthin’
That meant corralling the kids back inside with a promise to try the next night.
On our do-over night, we dutifully sat on the front step and waited. The blinks did come, alas they were across the street. We kept looking and hoping to find one in our yard. Nuthin’
Finally, we decided our neighbors wouldn’t mind and we all headed over to catch one and transplant him (and a friend because you know) to our side of the street.
This week’s challenge had me feeling nostalgic and concerned. Growing up, I remember zillions of them in our backyard in Silver Spring, Maryland. Why weren’t there any fireflies in our yard here in Falls Church?* I don’t know.
- Maybe it’s just bad luck
- Maybe it’s our landscaping. We don’t have any “leaf litter” or many low trees or bushes where they seem to enjoy growing up and hanging out.
- But, maybe it's because we get sprayed for mosquitoes. There are conflicting statements on the web but, sadly, it seems to make sense. This article from the Post outlines the possible contributors- include pesticides. It’s something to consider next year.
Now we can check the box “complete” on Week 2’s summer “learn to try” challenge.
The kids seemed to enjoy the release even more than the catch itself. Our pair of bugs wasn’t in the jar for 2 seconds before the girls were hollering to let them go. So, we did. We’re hoping they like our yard. We’d love for them to settle in and raise a family here. As the second took off from the edge of the jar, Marin said, “Go on, little buggy. If I could fly, I’d be up there too.”
*Maryland friends: Yes, I remember many, many more fireflies growing up in Silver Spring than I see now in Falls Church. Settle down. This anecdotal observation isn’t additional evidence add to your very short list of things that make Maryland better than Virginia. Until you have wine in your grocery stores (ALL OF THEM), Virginia will be the better state. Love you! Blink, blink.
Week 1 of our Summer “Learn to Try” challenge was do a cartwheel- or in my case- attempt to do a cartwheel after spending 20 years hunched over a computer.
When we were brainstorming with the kids, I have to admit that I liked it because it sounded easy. I figured I’d show them a couple of YouTube videos, do one myself for old times' sake, and then they'd be off and 'wheeling. That didn’t happen. Here’s what did and the lesson I didn't see coming on coaching your own kid.
Like every other athletic training program I’ve ever started, we began...by sitting comfortably on the couch doing “research.” By this I mean we watched 45+ minutes of YouTube videos like this one. We actually only needed to see one but they were all so cute. We sort of binge watched, and I decided this was going even easier than I thought.
After doing some wrist stretches (as the 8-year-old in the video's advised), we headed outside. We went straight to the front yard because the grass is literally greener and there is no dog poop to dodge. I was feeling so confident that I didn't even mind that everyone in the neighborhood was going to see what we were up to.
Before I go on, I should tell you that this challenge idea came from my oldest daughter Marin. So, not surprisingly, she was the most interested. Correction: She was the only one interested. Baya and Linc were invited to our after-dinner practice session, but they insisted on goofing off, doing somersaults, and playing hide and seek. Even after I explained the purpose of the summer challenge program AGAIN, they didn’t seem to grasp the opportunity.
Because I have a keen eye for indifference and we had no time to waste, I made the right call and cut them from our fledgling gymnastics team. With confused (and relieved) looks, they went back to hide and seek.
With my focus back on Marin, we picked a soft-looking spot and shot this “before” video.
Then came the moment I’d be dreading: my cartwheel- the first in 20+ years. It was harder than I imagined. Being upside down for that split second just reinforced how utterly weak and inflexible I am.
Feeling incapable and deflated, I reminded myself that this challenge was more for Marin and I didn’t need to participate actively. I could coach from the sidelines.
Then, things got tricky.
We went out to the practice field (corner of the front yard) each night last week. She certainly made progress, but the perfect cartwheel didn’t just “snap” into place as I’d imagined it would. As I stood there trying to offer helpful suggestions, I realized I was at a loss for two reasons:
- Cartwheels aren’t my thing either. I didn’t have any specific tips to offer and found myself repeatedly saying “try to straighten your legs more.” Not helpful.
- This was a self-imposed challenge that was supposed to be fun. How hard should I really be pushing her?
On the second point, I’d always assumed that you couldn’t (or shouldn’t?) teach or coach your own kid. So, I emailed my brother-in-law Kenny, explained the situation, and asked for some advice. You should know that Kenny the middle-aged, bald, white-guy version of Bo Jackson. Kenny knows baseball, basketball, football, and karate. He’s been coaching his four sons since birth, and they’re all outstanding athletes.
When I picked up his call, he barely said hello and launched in with: “3 words: DON’T DO IT.” He was joking but this demonstrates how conflicted he is on the topic. When he got serious, he said:
- Know what you’re talking about- or, at least, really sound like you do. You have to have the physical ability and game experience to offer specific, nuanced advice and direction.
- Know yourself and know your kid. You have to be self-aware about your style and know whether or not that works for your kid. Some parents have a one-to-one style match. Both parent and kid respond well to an aggressive “in your face” approach or both have a softer, more nurturing and encouraging tone. Some family pairs are complete opposites. If you have a match, there is a big opportunity to do a lot of coaching. If you don’t, it’s better for everyone to bring in a third party with a coaching style that matches your kid.
- Be able to turn it off. Kenny is the first to admit that he struggles with this. He realizes that he’s in coaching mode 24/7, 365 days a year. He wishes he could turn off his urge to correct his sons’ technique when they’re just goofing off in the yard with friends.
So, why do it at all?
Kenny- like a lot of parents- is proud of his kids and sees their potential. When they hit a home run over the fence or pitch in a championship game, parents like Kenny can’t help but feel happy about their kids’ accomplishments and their role in getting them there. He added there is a greater sense of control over their sports experience and sees the benefit of the extra hours together.
When I asked my nephew Ben (now a pre-teen) what he liked about being coached by his dad, the answer was simple. “We get to work more at home, and he’s very supportive.” What doesn’t Ben like? “When he’s sometimes hard on me.”
The key, according to Kenny, is to figure out quickly how to push them to do their best-- without damaging the relationship.
So, where does this leave me and my ability to coach Marin on her cartwheels? Well, we're going to keep at it but not on any specific time frame. I mean, seriously self, there's no rush to check this little box. I'm also going to do as many as I suggest she do. Lastly, since I'm clearly not the expert, I'll give her a chance to coach me back.
While our cartwheel challenge was small in the scheme of things, it did provide a window into the world of coaching your kid. It’s an entirely different dynamic than regular parenting.
Overall, this was a fun challenge that wasn’t as easy (or engaging) for all as I’d imagined. However, it got us all playing outside with something specific to do- which, for me, was a bonus.
Catching a firefly is up next. More to come next week!
I've included a couple outtakes from practice below.
If the school year is all about learning reading, writing, and math, summer is supposed to be the opposite, right? Summer is messy, sticky, unstructured, unscheduled, made-up fun. At least, that’s how I remember the 80s. And since everything 80s is awesome, I don’t want to stray too far from that free-spirited approach to summer. But, I will, just a bit, with our 10-week summer “learn to try” challenge.
Here’s the scoop.
Our oldest, Marin, just finished kindergarten. So, for our family, this is our first summer on the school schedule. In previous years, the seasons blended together for our kids in the same way they do for adults. Nothing was really different about our routine except what kind of shoe they were told 487 times to put on so we could leave the house.
All of that changed when she got off the bus last Thursday. The last day of school meant the first day of summer, and I felt ready-ish (which means I made a spreadsheet.) Camps and a vacation were booked for each of the ten weeks. Sun-screen permission slips were signed, carpools arranged, dog-sitters reserved, and new flip flops ordered. We also planned to swim and grill and put a serious dent in the summer reading list.
So, what else? We came up with a weekly summer “learn to try” challenge aimed at learning about how to set a goal and try something new. We hope each will be fun and offer a chance to pick up some less-than-academic (but handy) life skills.
Here’s our family-sourced list:
- Do a cartwheel
- Ride a horse
- Cook and eat whole foods for one week
- Ride in the front car on a rollercoaster
- Host a mega dance party
- Spot constellations in the night sky
- Sleep outside in a tent
- Catch (and release) a firefly
- Pick and arrange a bouquet of flowers
- Have a lemonade stand to raise money for A is for Africa
Each week we’ll pick one. While none are particularly challenging in this "challenge," a few require a bit more planning and logistics, so we’re going to be flexible on what we tackle each week. I’ll document the process and take some pictures to share here on the blog.
Come back each week to check on our progress!