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!
There are some things I think I’ve never done but can’t say for sure. It’s one of the nice things about having a crappy memory. Riding in the front car of a roller coaster was one. Either way, I knew the girls hadn’t because their roller coaster riding experience is much more recent and I’ve been there for every click, click, click along the way.
So, that’s why we picked this as one of our summer “learn to try” challenges. And, I’m happy to report- SUCCESS- at least for 2 of us.
Here’s what happened.
Dutch Wonderland was the second stop on our week-long family driving vacation, “Tour of Kid-Friendly Spots in the Mid-Atlantic.” (The Travel Channel will probably be covering this exotic locale in an upcoming show very soon.)
2017 is our fourth year going, and we’ve progressively tried more challenging rides each visit. If you’ve ever been there, you might be scratching your head. It’s a tiny, totally adorable, and retro park geared towards little, little kids. There isn’t much there anyone would consider really daring.
However, there is one roller coaster, and we were determined to sit in the front row. Marin, Baya, and I headed over while Brian and Linc tackled the toddler bulldozers.
Unfortunately, Baya was too short—even with her hair puffed up. The teenage ride operator was stern and said “no exceptions to the rule.” Bummer. So, we quickly worked out a scheme for Baya to stay behind on the other side of the gate. (Sugar-filled promises were made.)
One of the great things about Dutch Wonderland is that there are never any lines. So, getting the top spot only required waiting for one spin around the track. Then, we were in!
Little did we know we’d be “in” for a while.
Boarding the car, two Boy Scouts in tie-die got a little jumpy, and one dropped his water bottle on the track. Our rule-following operator wouldn’t reach down and just grab it. Instead, she radioed maintenance per the standard procedure outlined in the manual she’d apparently memorized.
To say maintenance was slow getting there is an understatement. I’m not sure exactly how long it took, but I was bolted down with one nervous kid watching another on the other side of the gate with tears welling up (or looking like a little wacky.)
I should note that a super nice mom volunteered to stay with her until Brian arrived. (He did moments later and took her off to another ride.)
We then waited and waited and waited. It seemed like a long time.
The maintenance guy finally arrived and removed the bottle in less than a second. He then informed the teenager that she’d ruined his day and walked off. Now, I felt bad for her... but quickly got over it when she yelled at me to put my phone away.
Then, off we went! I only caught the first couple moments in this video so I'll just tell you. (Yes, I was afraid of getting in trouble with someone driving on a learner's permit.)
From the front car, the clicks are louder, the hills steeper, and the ride is faster. We screamed and laughed the whole way. Pulling back into the station, Marin said, “I think I left my stomach back there,”- precisely the feeling I was going for.
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!