S’mores! To burn or not to burn

Some foods speak to me. In the summer it’s s’mores. It may be because I was deprived for the first ten years of my life. I was told it was longer than that. Either way, we found each other and it’s been 30 ish years of true love.

As a kid, our Cape neighbors invited me over for dinner. Or I invited myself, but somehow I was there. They asked me if I wanted s’mores. I’d never even HEARD of s’mores.

It was a split second decision. Do I claim I know what it’s all about or admit the truth? I eyeball the accoutrement. This doesn’t look like a fake it til you make it situation. I relent,

“I’ve never had them.”

The kids swarm around me,

“YOU’VE NEVER HAD S’MORES?!?!?!?!?”

“No?”

“You’re going to LOVE them!”

I’m not even sure if I’d ever roasted marshmallows before. Maybe I had and on their own they were unremarkable.

I don’t remember the exact ratio of marshmallows to chocolate to graham cracker that I had, but it was FANTASTIC!

I rushed home to inform my family of the food group they’d been missing.

“They’re called s’mores!!!”

“Never liked them.”

“WHAT?!”

I overcame my family’s failing and have eaten them ever since.

I’ll make them over a fire, the grill, the stovetop, a hand-held lighter and in a desperate pinch I’ve tried the microwave, which is by far the poorest option.

Imagine my joy when a few book clubs ago the host put out a spread including s’mores. My least favorite part of the process is fishing all the ingredients out of the cupboard. She’d done the dirty work for us.

I settled in for some roasting. All of sudden everyone is screaming and yelling at me,

“They’re burning! Your marshmallows are burning!”

I’m confused. Of course they’re burning. That’s how it’s done.

Everyone is appalled. They’re appalled I’m obliterating my marshmallows and I’m appalled this is a thing. I had no idea I was in the minority of s’mores makers.

Then I was at a party and the adults handed out s’mores to the kids. How does this end well?

BB is a lot of different things, but careful and clean are not two of them. She and s’mores will end in a house fire or with marshmallow in her hair.

I step back. I’m the last person who should come between her and this experience.

They hand her one marshmallow and a couple squares of chocolate. It dawns on me that my ratios are not the only way to do it either.

I prefer 6 squares of Hershey’s milk chocolate. I tried dark chocolate once. It’s a no go. And I like 3 marshmallows. It sounds like a lot and it IS messy, but extra delicious.

If I’m going to go to the trouble of digging all that stuff out of the pantry, might as well make the most of it.

BB had success and loves them too. She did not want to burn her marshmallows. I’ll give her the freedom to live with that for now. It’s probably safer.

And this answers the life question I’ve been pondering:

“Do I have enough to say about s’mores to fill a whole blog post?”

Burning s’mores? No problem. I’m professionally trained to fight fires. For real.

Forties are looking bright despite my looming mortality

I’m officially 40! My Cape Cod and Alaska celebrations are in the rearview and middle age is stretching out ahead of me.

Wikipedia defines middle age as 45 – 65, so maybe I can delude myself for another few years.

All of a sudden I’m thinking about menopause, but wikipedia also mentions that I will now be beginning my cognitive decline, so maybe I’ll forget about it.

I’ve always had irritable mood swings with my period. I’m happy to warn Captain about them ahead of time, but beware the person who asks about it mid-PMS.

As much as my irritableness is unjustified, it is very hard to come to terms with that in the moment. That is what alarms me about menopause. How much of an emotional roller coaster will I be on and how long will it be until I feel like myself?

I understand that I might have another eight years before I need to worry about this, but it makes me even more nervous that no one is talking about it.

I feel like I was blindsided when I had my first baby and I don’t intend to be blindsided again if I can help it.

I’ve taken to crowdsourcing the topic at the beach. I’ve heard some interesting takes on it, including some people with no irritableness. Must be nice.

I jut my finger into Captain,

“What’s coming for him?”

Several beach buddies pipe up:

“Nothing.”

“A belly.”

Nothing or maybe nothing with a belly. Grrrumph.

The talk turns to how popular botox has become. If I had some extra money to throw around, the first thing I’d do is get some hair lasered. Maybe that’s next year’s birthday present.

As I contemplate my inevitable decline, I wake up with my right eye swollen shut. A stye one day before my birthday. One day before I’m trying to look forty and fabulous at a fancy dinner. I’m beside myself.

Every spare moment I had was spent hanging over the sink with a warm washcloth pressed against my eyeball. And every spare thought willing it to go away.

Sunglasses and a tiara did wonders to disguise it at the beach.

By dinner time it was much better and makeup took care of the rest. I’ve never been happier to return to my status quo.

Bring it on middle age. I’ll take what I’ve got, minus the mood swings, stye and chin hair.

Yes I really wore my tiara to the beach.

Alaska and the gear that made it possible

We’re home! We traveled around Alaska for 2 weeks, changing towns every couple days. We vacationed by plane, train, bus, boat, bike, zipline, raft, tram, hike, helicopter, dog sled, truck, van and some of us in a backpack carrier.

It was a dream come true. In part thanks to RB’s brand-new iPad. I understand people traveled with children before there were personal devices, but thanks to the iPad, I never felt compelled to dose her with my stash of drowsy drugs.

It all felt a little miraculous. RB is a notorious screamer, clinger, avoider of dogs. One of my biggest pre-trip fears was that she would ruin our dog-sled ride. I bought all the dog-sled books. I thought about buying the helicopter books too, but she likes her vehicles.

There were smiles on the helicopter. No desire to pet the dogs, but no complaining. Then she sat on the very front of the dog sled, snow slamming into her face and not a peep.

I swear she wasn’t drugged.

Also BB and I were on a different dog sled than her, so either way we were guaranteed a good time.

I planned a bunch of “summer activities.” Hikes that in the summer would not require snow gear. May is considered the shoulder season for summer tourism in Alaska. I knew that, but didn’t understand that that meant a week before we arrived in Denali National Park they still had 7 feet of snow.

Now if you say the word “hike,” RB responds,

“Snow?!”

It didn’t stop us, just slowed Captain down. That and 33 pounds of toddler on his back.

The rafting trip was touted as a ride gentle enough for babies and 100 year olds. It was. There was very little white water and when there was white water, RB shouted,

“Again! Again!” Then both kids went back to general complaining. BB wanted to stand like RB, refusing to admit that her center of gravity was way higher and that falling overboard into the 40 degree water was a surefire way to ruin my trip.

Next time we need class III rapids or an iPad on the raft.

After the iPad, my second most favorite trip purchase was Cosco’s Scenera NEXT 7 pound, $60 carseat. I’m not being paid anything for this post and I paid full price for the car seat. Although if anyone is tempted to pay me, I’d be happy to dedicate a whole post to the Scenera.

It fits on top of a rolling carry-on suitcase. At first we tied it down with a bungee cord, but it actually just stays there with nothing.

You might be thinking, ‘Jess, did you really need a carseat?’

Aside from one week with a rental truck, we didn’t really need one. BUT I cannot say enough good things about having a 5-point harness.

BB is the type of kid who at 18 months wouldn’t get out of her toddler bed until an adult came in the room and told her she could.

RB is the type of kid who will be in a crib until further notice. The 5-point harness was made for her.

We used the car seat EVERYWHERE. She slept in it and I carried her in it into restaurants, hotels, national parks. It probably made her less safe on the train, but it made me more sane, so it’s a delicate balance.

It contained her, but it made her feet reach the airplane seat in front of her during our red-eye flight home. Yes I booked a red-eye. No I’m not totally insane. We saved a lot of money on those tickets. Hopefully enough money to book another red-eye someday.

At 1:00am, RB was happy, awake, watching her iPad and operating the in-seat airplane entertainment screen with her bare feet. Much to the detriment of the man in front of her.

So as far as I can tell, that’s the only downside of a carseat on a plane.

As we slogged through airport security, the suitcase with the girls’ stuff was flagged. TSA demands,

“Is there a machine in here?”

“A what?!”

“A machine!”

“Oh. There’s a baby music player.”

“All machines need to come out. We told you that.”

Maybe there needs to be some fine print about what qualifies as a machine.

Going back through security to return home, the “machine” did not come out and wasn’t flagged for extra screening. Although our to-go salad was. Maybe there was a questionable amount of salad dressing.

Last but not least I need to give a huge shout-out to vanilla ice cream.

iPad, carseat and vanilla ice cream. They saw us through. BB managed a somewhat varied diet of everything you can imagine on a kid’s menu. RB existed on ice cream, some fries, some chips, some crackers, some granola bars, some cookies, a fair amount of juice, but mainly vanilla ice cream.

And we never saw nighttime. The sun set around midnight and rose around 3am. Our rooms were dark enough and we were tired enough it didn’t stop us from sleeping, but any sense of what time it was was lost.

That feeling that it might be dinner time or bedtime didn’t hit us until 9pm. Then it was way too late to care about anything besides getting everyone in bed or their crib. The travel crib is the fourth MVP of the trip.

Last night BB asked me,

“Why didn’t we floss in Alaska?”

“We’re lucky we brushed our teeth.”

At 10pm, on the evening of our return, I sat in Seattle’s airport playroom, entrenched in the smell of old feet. I studied a sign instructing children to remove their shoes. BIG MISTAKE.

On our way TO Alaska we spent 3 hours in Minneapolis’ airport playground. It’s a winner. It’s well-ventilated, has big play structures and everyone is encouraged to keep their shoes on.

As my children ran around like lunatics, crashing into several other Boston bound lunatics, I overheard the parents discussing what drugs to give them on the plane. Foot smell aside, contentment washed over me. What a fabulous trip it was and great to be headed home with like-minded people.

Both kids in the crib for the win.

An eighteen hour travel day and two littles, Alaska here we come!

My moment of truth is almost here. We leave for Alaska in 4 days and I’ve been trying to come to peace with the packing for months now.

I traveled around the world carry-on only. I’m very happy to wear the same shirt everyday until the weather changes or it wears out. Yes I washed it. Things can dry overnight, or when it was hot enough, things dried right on my body.

Turns out when I returned home a couple years later, I didn’t smell great, but that was news to me.

Now we’re headed to Alaska and in addition to our carry-on allotment we have a giant checked bag and a carseat.

I’ve been whittling away at our packing. BB was desperate to take a skort. I nixed that. That’s two items of clothing functioning as one and it might not even be warm enough to wear it.

Then there are the non-negotiable items: the giant, crib-music player that RB turns on multiple times a night. It’s a necessity. Anything related to sleep takes top priority. But it gives me the heebie jeebies. I’m devoting suitcase space to a 3d lullaby machine, that could’ve been used for a gazillion skorts or just less stuff.

BB has 2 security bunnies and her large fleece security blanket. Who gets attached to a large fleece blanket? Another non-travel friendly, sleep necessity.

We’re moving towns every few nights, so the less we have, the easier it’ll be. In theory.

Our biggest item is the travel crib. I’ve gone in circles about this. A few of the places I really want to stay don’t provide cribs. So there were several options: stay somewhere else, RB sleeps in a bed or on the floor or take a crib.

If we’re doing this, I’m staying at my top places. I contemplate a free-range RB and a sun setting at 11pm. It sounds disastrous.

They sell black-out shades that cover an entire pack ‘n play, like you’d cover a bird in a cage. GOODNIGHT!

I’m sold. The travel crib fits in our biggest roller, with room for snacks.

I got the last room at one of my top picks, a place that hangs out over Seward Harbour. The woman who runs the place and I are on a texting basis. That’s how small some of these places are I guess?

She says,

“I only have a second floor room, but I don’t like to put kids up there.”

“Why not?”

“I was sitting in my office and I saw feet dangling. A kid was hanging off of the balcony and when I went up there, the parents kind of just shrugged and said they knew.”

I assure her my children will not be hanging off of the balcony. THIS IS WHY I NEED A CRIB.

Years ago I met families backpacking with their kids and that’s always been my dream. Someday I thought, maybe I’d have a family I could do that with.

Now I have my family and we’re taking six backpacks, three rolling carry-ons, one large checked roller, one car seat and one umbrella stroller.

Happy 40th Birthday adventure to me!

I’ll be back in two weeks. Stay tuned.

Sorry Goofy, no room for you on this trip.

The state of my teeth after a brief moment of rage

I started writing this several days ago, before the leak, before confirmation that our abortion rights are indeed going down the drain.

I’m rageful and heartbroken, but I don’t have a blog post for that, so I’m moving forward about my choppers.

Teeth. Can’t live without them. Or you can for awhile, just ask my dead grandfather.

My dentist has me coming in for a cleaning every three months in an attempt to keep me away from the periodontist.

I don’t know how the state of my mouth compares to other middle-aged people. It feels like it might be worse than average.

I made it through childhood without any cavities, just a massive amount of orthodontia and one oral cyst.

After college I hit the road and when I returned to the country I had cavities. I added a few more since then. My front tooth chipped and everyone offers to do something about it, but I’m not interested.

My main issue seems to be gum disease. I brush twice a day. I floss. I use mouthwash. I say a prayer to the tooth fairy.

My hygienist shakes her head,

“I don’t understand. You’re doing a good job keeping them clean.”

“Ank ooo.”

“Do you drink coffee?”

No one is coming for my coffee.

“Yes.” I say with a tone that implies this is the end of the conversation.

“How many cups?”

Does the number really make a difference to my teeth?

“Two or three.”

“Over the course of the day?”

“No, in the morning.”

“You might want to try an electric toothbrush.”

I might. I might not. Captain hears the same thing. We get ourselves electric toothbrushes for Christmas.

Among the electric toothbrush’s many capabilities, it times how long you brush for. The gold standard being two minutes.

So here I am, almost 40 years old and if you had asked me six months ago if I brushed for two minutes, I would’ve said.

“Probably.”

I used my electric toothbrush for the first time and it is now safe to say I have NEVER brushed for two minutes until this past December.

Two minutes is a LONG time.

I have time to contemplate my whole life and that only takes the first minute.

The other thing my electric toothbrush has going for her, is that she has a wide range of emotions.

She smiles at me when I turn her on. She frowns if I turn her off before a minute. She gives my a half-hearted smile if I make it into the second minute. She smiles if I make it the full two minutes and if I consistently make it the full two minutes several days in a row, she gives me star eyes.

The pull of the star eyes is strong. I want my toothbrush’s approval. I want it so badly that when I’m sick of brushing and refuse to make it to the two minute mark, I’ll let her run on the side of the sink.

I’m not starting or ending my day on anything less than star eyes.

A couple months ago she prompted me to change the brush head.

That’s not a cheap proposition and she’s got a lot of nerve asking me to do it after 3 months of not brushing for two minutes.

She reminds me again. And again. She hasn’t reminded me in awhile. Maybe she’s given up.

I’m heading in for a cleaning next week. I’m sure they’ll have something to say about a tooth I broke a couple months ago. It’s not painful, so it didn’t feel urgent. I hope my dentist agrees. Or at least takes into consideration how happy my toothbrush is with me.

This is how she feels about plaque and our beleaguered abortion rights.

Market Basket and their delicious dog food, don’t take my word for it

I’m enjoying our new Market Basket. If you don’t have one in your town, you could consider driving to ours. That seems to be what everyone else is doing.

I have never given my grocery-shopping strategy so much thought. I’ve never even used the words “grocery-shopping strategy” before.

The left side of the store has produce, bread, frozen foods. The right side of the store has all the refrigerated items: milk, butter, eggs, yogurt, smoked herring, hot dogs. The necessities.

So from a stacking-the-cart strategy, it would make sense to start on the right with the gallons of milk and end with the produce and bread. Although good luck with the eggs.

But there’s no moving quick in that store, so that would mean by the time I got home, my milk would be on its way to room temperature.

Starting from the left keeps the milk cold, but then I’m left rearranging the bread the whole time so it doesn’t get crushed. It can’t go in the baby seat because RB is taking up prime shopping-cart real estate.

And starting on the left means circling back for ice cream. I guess I could circle back for bread and ice cream.

The store seems designed to make people start from both sides. Is that better for traffic flow? I can’t tell. It’s constant dodge-a-cart out there.

It doesn’t help that RB’s new favorite question is,

“What are you doing?”

We’re in the car. She asks,

“What are you doing?”

“I’m driving to the grocery store.”

Two seconds later,

“What are you doing?”

“I’m driving.”

Two seconds later,

“What are you doing?”

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?”

“I’m right here.”

Great. So you can imagine how helpful this line of questioning is in the store. I turn down the bread aisle,

“What are you doing?”

“Getting bread.” I get the bread.

“What are you doing?”

“Putting the bread in the cart.”

Bread falls over, risking being crushed by the frozen pizza. I try to rearrange,

“Why are you doing that?”

I don’t know. I just don’t know. Is there a better way? Please feel free to tell me your Market Basket strategies.

I head for the number one check-out lane. It is a phenomenal lane. It’s open on one side so there’s no risk of RB grabbing several candy bars and a People magazine while she’s waiting.

The new brand of beef jerky I’ve been enjoying for the last few weeks slides down the conveyor belt. The bagger asks,

“What kind of dog do you have?”

“I don’t have any dogs. I thought those were for people.”

It’s one of those brief moments that lasts forever and I’m able to question all my life choices:

‘The beef jerky is organic, so I had assumed that that puts it in the realm of people food, but in retrospect I’m sure there’s a big market for organic dog food.’

‘I’ve eaten dog and dog food before, so not the end of the world.’

‘The smell DID remind me of dog treats.’

‘But they were in the people-food aisle, not the dog-food aisle.’

I smile at the bagger and remark,

“Well either way, they’re delicious!”

Having reconvinced myself that they’re people food, I march myself home and relay the story to Captain,

“Isn’t that funny?”

“Wait, so are you eating dog food?”

“I don’t think so?”

RB returns to pester me,

“What are you doing?”

“Putting away groceries.”

“What are you doing?”

“Putting away groceries.”

“What are you doing?”

“EATING DOG FOOD!”

“What?”

Vietnam is the place if you want to try dog

Do you know how to breathe? MAYBE. But maybe not

Did you know you’re breathing wrong? Or at least 70% of you are. I had NO idea.

I finally got around to reading Breath by James Nestor. It’s been top of the stack since November, which is a tough time for any book to move up to the “currently reading” status.

I have strong feelings about many things and it’s not unheard of for me to read something, have strong feelings about it and then a few months later I have a hard time telling you the name of the book.

I could be wrong, but this one will be hard to forget. I’ve talked about it so much BB is walking around reminding me to close my mouth.

I even taped my mouth shut to sleep the other night. Effective in making me breathe through my nose, ineffective in that one of my security blanket’s most important qualities is how she feels on my lips.

BB asked me to close her mouth when I check on her at night. That’s what some Native American parents used to do for their babies.

I’m not going to do this topic justice. I’d recommend reading the book if you wonder what the heck the difference is.

The amount of health benefits associated with nose breathing versus mouth breathing is almost enough to make me tape my mouth shut during the day. Almost.

This week I attempted zumba with my mouth shut. I thought maybe I’ve done it with my mouth shut before and I didn’t realize it? OH NO.

I don’t know if I’ve ever exercised with my mouth shut. It was HARD. But also amazing. I had substantially increased stamina over just last week.

I was sitting in the library last weekend. I had just started reading the Breath book. A woman exclaimed,

“I LOVE that book! It changed my life! It’s amazing.”

I thought,

‘Whoa. She’s coming on strong. This is what I get for reading in the children’s section where people can talk at whatever volume they want.’

I question her,

“Really?”

“YES! It’s all about nose breathing.”

OKAY.

Well I hope I see that woman again and we can exclaim together, while breathing through our noses.