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Today is National Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day

Crazy, right?

My nearly 10-year old daughter actually laughed out loud when I told her about this upcoming "holiday" and then asked me if I had made it up! NO -- I DID NOT make it up. It’s actually called National Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day! Apparently it was created for those who find themselves up to their eyeballs in zucchini -- and it was especially intended for those zucchini that are too large for anything but zucchini bread or use as weapons against those caught trying to steal tomatoes from your garden!

I'm going to tell you how the holiday really works, and then I am going to tell you how we are going to honor the holiday. You are SUPPOSED to sneak as much overgrown, barely-edible zucchini as possible onto your neighbor's porch under cover of night as you can get away with. And, let me tell you that, staggeringly (because we DO NOT have an abundance!), we've ended up with MORE THAN ONE hugely overgrown zucchini -- our heirloom plant produces bright yellow and pale green zucchini and is especially problematic, as the pale green ones tend to stay hidden amongst the huge zucchini leaves until they are giant! That said, as we have three children who LOVE the idea of this holiday, and cover of darkness comes late in the summer, I decided some modifications were necessary. This was to be a daytime caper. Think door-bell ditching, running children, tires squealing...

Once I started thinking along the lines of modifications, I had to make a few more. Why sneak overgrown, just-fit-for-zucchini bread zucchini onto my neighbors' porches when I could sneak freshly baked Spiced Zucchini Bread loaves?

With that modification, the fun really began -- how many freshly baked loaves of zucchini bread could I produce and which of our neighbors -- and friends -- should be the recipients? Let me tell you -- our children would have had me baking all day... 

I broke out a tried-and-true but not yet Gluten Free recipe and got to work. The awesome thing about this recipe is that it sneaks a vegetable into a super yummy DAIRY FREE treat! AND, what a great way to teach our children about the importance of doing something nice "just because."

Check back later for an update...the "delivery" should be pretty entertaining!

WAIT -- you found yourself the RECIPIENT of a giant overgrown, barely-fit-for-human-consumption zucchini!?!  I can help! Here's my recipe for Spiced Zucchini Bread (don't be afraid of the spices -- they are well-balanced, and my children love this bread!):



1 ½ cups flour

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp. ground nutmeg

½ tsp. allspice

1 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

1 cup sugar

1 cup finely shredded zucchini

1 egg

¼ cup vegetable oil (or, if you are trying to avoid soy, melted butter works -- cooled) 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and sugar loaf pan. (This creates a yummy outer edge on the loaf.) Mix dry ingredients – except the sugar -- together in a mixing bowl. Set aside.  

Grate the zucchini. I love my Cuisinart for this purpose. Once the zucchini is grated, add the sugar, egg and oil. Mix well. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry, mixing well.  Turn batter into the prepared pans.

Bake for approximately 60 minutes. Loaf will be done when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. 






Freezer Pop Mania

So...last week at the Dollar Tree, a store my children ADORE, we came across a HUGE selection of Jel-Sert Freezer Pops. I couldn't tell if they were safe for our oldest daughter, who cannot eat anything that has risk of cross-contamination with peanuts, but, we bought a bunch because I knew we could return them if need be.

This morning I called Jel-Sert and learned that they LABEL FOR CROSS-CONTAMINATION! Gotta love a company that does that! Their Freezer-Pops, which we now own in SEVEN (yes, 7!) varieties are ALL safe for my daughter. In fact, they are FREE OF ALL OF THE BIG EIGHT ALLERGENS, even the Fudge Pops which are made with real Hershey's Cocoa, but are dairy free! They are also safe for me, in that they are also Gluten Free. Wow -- that's a win-win in our house!

NOTE: If you or a loved one food allergies or dietary restrictions, PLEASE REMEMBER TO CHECK EVERY TIME, as labeling policies and manufacturing plants can change. Use my product recommendations and recipes as starting points and guidelines and then check to be sure the products and recipes work for you and/or your loved one.

With flavors WAY beyond the traditional Kool Pops (which actually come in a Tropical pack now, too) like Wyler's Authentic Italian Ice, Mike & Ike, Warheads, Snapple Sorbet Bars, Fudge Pops and Sunny D's, it is hard to go wrong!

Having some Freezer Pop envy? The Dollar Store still has them...

AND...we discovered yesterday that our local Walgreen's has them, too. The deal isn't quite as good for all the varieties as it was at the Dollar Tree, but, they have their own variety of Jel-Sert Freezer Pops -- A & W Soda Pops, Candy Shoppe (this one merits a list of the actual flavors -- Red Licorice, Cotton Candy, Banana Taffy and Bubble Gum!) and Otter Pops in boxes that are the same in size to those from the Dollar Store (10 count boxes) for $1.00 AND Jolly Rancher (Watermelon and Green Apple, which my children assure me are two of the MOST popular flavors), Slush Puppy in 4 great flavors -- Cherry, Cola, Watermelon and Blue Raspberry -- and Fusion Freezerpops, which are a combination of Sweet & Sour in 12-count boxes.

We're looking forward to a near-gluttonous sampling session of these skinny sticks of joy on a hot day.  

I'll be back with favorite flavors...

If you find Jel-Sert freezer pops in another variety, please let me know...we're on a mission to try them all!



Another Mother's Child

This week I was entrusted with two other children. For FIVE days. I took them to a day camp. For FIVE days. (Oh -- Did I say that already?) Anyhow -- at one point, thinking it would be fun, I agreed to take my son and two of his friends to camp -- for THE WEEK.



My son's two friends are very different from him. One boy is quiet, reserved and has a tendency to go into a shell in new situations. He also has a lot of things he does not like, and, when presented with almost anything new, he will say he does not like it or does not want to do it. The other boy's parents are immigrants, and he is accustomed to ALWAYS being with at least one of them. Any situation without a parent leaves him feeling uncertain.

(Setting the stage) MONDAY: 100 degrees, heat index of 104.

A long, hot day with lots of walking and ALL new activites. The day did not start well. Our first activity was fishing. It only took about 5 seconds for me to learn that the first boy did not like to fish (he never had, but, he was sure he would not like it).

At a loss RIGHT OUT OF THE GATE, I let him sit while I helped my son get started. I honestly believed the boy would join us when he saw we were having fun, but, no. He sat. We fished. We fished. He sat. WHAT!?! I was at a loss.

Eventually the boy and one of the counselors joined us. I looked quizically at the counselor, who said, "I have a younger brother." OH. BEAUTIFUL and THANK YOU. But, also ultimately not very helpful for me, as I was raised with three brothers (younger OR older) at all.

The day wore one. We got hotter and hotter and were presented with increasingly difficult activities -- rock wall climbing (NO WAY -- too scary). By lunch time we were all dragging and I was WAY STRESSED because this child-not-of-mine was so clearly NOT having a good time. He was "HOT, tired and bored" (his words, not mine). My son, on the other hand, was over-the-moon thrilled with his day. He had me and all sorts of VERY interesting and challenging things to do. The difference between how the boys were feeling about the day left me sad, and desperately wanting to MAKE IT BETTER.

Can I say it again? I was WAY STRESSED (oh -- and hot and tired). I am a social worker. I want to fix things -- to make them better for people...and that was SO not happening. I was grasping at straws and after lunch (during a break when most boys play tag), I put the boys in my van, blasted the AC and drove out of camp and drove the nearly 5 miles to a gas station. There I offered the marginally cooled off children the choice of a cold drink or ice cream. Options in an imperfect world.

I spent the ENTIRE DAY trying to fix things I really could not control -- the heat, how tired we all were, how overwhelming and scary the new and unfamiliar activities were. I was exhausted and, frankly, wondered how in the world I would be able to do it for another day, let alone a week.

AND, as I considered Tuesday, I wondered what I could possibly do to make it better. I cannot rationally explain why it was so important to me to make things right, good, comfortable, happy, PERFECT for these children who were not my own...except to say that it was. And, it was all that much harder for me to figure it out -- probably precisely because they were not my own children.

Tuesday was more of the same. I went home exhausted and WAY STRESSED. Seriously, something that was supposed to be fun (taking 3 boys who are friends to camp for a week) had become insanely stressful.

As hard as Monday and Tuesday were, Wednesday held a whole NEW set of issues. The camp was held at an an indoor water park. My son is a competent swimmer while the other two children are non-swimmers. One of the boys is uncomfortable around water and the other boy came with a variety of fears and misperceptions about water, including the belief that if he got pool water in his eyes they would fall out (SERIOUSLY!?!).

As we entered the water park, one boy declared, "I don't like water. I'm not doing this." (WHAT?! REALLY!? We are AT A WATER PARK! Why did you come if you do not want to do this!?!) All I could think was -- HOW AM I GOING TO MANAGE THIS? My son was literally quivering with excitement while my other two charges eyed the water with uncertainty and distrust -- at best. Standing there, I knew I had a big problem. While my son, 7, is a competent swimmer, and there were plenty of life guards, I was NOT GOING to let him run around unsupervised. For a minute, all I felt was crushing despair. This was too hard.

And then I made a decision. There are some things in life I can fix -- some things I can control, some things I can make better -- and some things in life that...just are. I know this to be true, but, sometimes I have to remind myself of this. To buy myself some time, I said we needed to go over MY rules (we'd already heard the rules of the facility). As we picked our spot, I was still scrambling for a plan. I will be really honest -- even as I was talking to the three boys about MY rules, I still did not have a plan -- more of a gut feeling -- an acknowledgement, of sorts that there was a part of our situation that I was not going to be able to change (UH -- the W-A-T-E-R), but, I also knew I was going to OFFER OPTIONS (play in the water, watch from afar, watch up close, be bored -- WHATEVER). We were at a water park, for the purpose of playing in water...but, I was NOT going to make either of the boys do anything that made either of them uncomfortable. Options. It was going to be all about choices.


After listening carefully to MY rules, the boy who was uncomfortable around water and who had declared upon entry that he would not be doing anything asked for my iPhone. Um -- NO. Sorry -- not my iPhone at the pool. He whined and complained that he would be bored, but, I stood my ground. The request did give me an idea -- I offered books, which we always have in our van. Uh -- NO. He was about as interested in books as I was in letting him play on my iPhone. OK. At least we were on equal footing. After reviewing options, we agreed that he would sit and watch.

The other boy was uncertain as well, but, cautiously expressed interest in the wave pool (which wasn't actually wavy at the time -- thankfully). It seemed like an easy way to start AND I would be able to keep an eye on the boy who WASN'T in the pool while I was with the other two boys in the pool. It was stressful -- to say the least. 

When, after about 20 minutes, I checked on the boy who did not want to go in the pool, he reluctantly told me that he was ready to go into the wave pool, which had a Lazy River that ran through it. I wanted to jump up and down, but, went for a casual -- "let's get you an inner tube." 

We spent quite a while in the wave pool (always moving to the Lazy River before the waves began)...which was a form of torture for my son, who DESPERATELY wanted to be doing things like the "toilet bowl" (a wild slide that whips you around and around and around a huge cylindrical "bowl" before dumping you down a chute), the inner tube slides and the body slides...OR AT THE VERY LEAST, the WAVES, please, Mom! I could tell my son was itching to be done with the Lazy River because he was doing all sorts of things the reluctant boys termed "dangerous" -- bouncing in and out of the tube in the river and towing my tube around instead of simply riding. 

Eventually I told the boys that it was time to try something new. Picking what I hoped would be the least frightening thing possible, I suggested the splash area. The other boys refused to enter, so, we quickly moved on to Water Basketball. Um...? NO GO.

OK -- new plan (of sorts). Back to the Lazy River. (REALLY -- Did I call that a new plan!?!) After a while, I said we would make three trips around the Lazy River and then I would take my son to do some slides.

I also said that if either of the other boys wanted to slide, they could, too. NO -- THANK YOU. I offered to ride with them -- NO -- THANK YOU. I outlined options: 1) go to the top of the slide with us, 2) wait by the landing pool, 3) wait in our chairs. One boy went to the "launch" with us while the other opted to wait for us at the landing pool. OK. Fine. Everyone was happy. I was honestly committed to accepting the boys where they were...and to NOT pressuring them. 

My son and I did the "toilet bowl" slide and a yellow inner tube slide. The "toilet bowl" slide WAS a bit fast, but, I didn't tell anyone that! The inner tube slide was NOT dark (as predicted to be by the reluctant boys), and, in fact, my son came off it strongly encouraging the boy whose favorite color is yellow, to "try it" -- because it "will be your favorite color the whole way down." Clever, my dear, kind, and compassionate son, but, NO GO.

As the day wore on, we kept taking turns -- Lazy River, slides in some form or another, back to the Lazy River. NO PRESSURE.

I want to be very clear:  I DID NOT try to fix the circumstances of us being at a pool and I also DID NOT pressure either of the reluctant boys to do anything -- I accepted them where they were. I just kept offering options and pointing out to them that they could participate -- or not.

We took turns -- slides in some form and then something the reluctant boys wanted to do. We even visited the "baby slides," so dubbed by one of the reluctant boys. While my son was a bit bored, the other two boys had a great time -- until we were asked to leave. Seems the area is for children 36 inches or less and UNDER the age of 3. No wonder "my" boys were the biggest ones in there! (I honestly did NOT see a sign to that effect.) Oh well -- it was fun while it lasted.

As the day wore on, I sensed a gradually growing interest on the part of the other boys as they quizzed my son about the slides -- wanting assurance that they were "safe" (Um, yes -- OF COURSE -- but, if you don't believe the facility put in safe slides, PLEASE, ask my 7 year old for his certification of their safety!) and "NOT DARK."

I kept offering to ride with either of the reluctant boys until, amazingly, the boy whose favorite color is yellow said he would go down the yellow tube slide with me. Then, the other boy wanted to go...and then we had a new problem -- they BOTH wanted to go at the same time, AND THEY BOTH WANTED TO GO WITH ME.

I took the boy whose favorite color is yellow first. When we emerged from the yellow tube slide, he was THRILLED -- with himself, with the slide, with the water park -- with EVERYTHING. He had a HUGE grin on his face. AMAZING what a single trip down a formerly "scary" slide can do for one's self-concept and self-esteem. As I watched this happy little boy, I was fighting tears -- I was so incredibly proud of him -- and, also, of myself -- for I could see that by accepting him where he was, but offering options, I gave him the opportunity to grow and to learn some amazing things about himself.

Next, I took the other boy, who ALSO loved the slides...and then we really did have a problem -- two boys who BADLY wanted to ride with a making-up-for-lost-time kind of way.

I casually suggested that the boy whose favorite color is yellow ride with my son. He was uncertain -- after all, in his opinion, my son had been risk-taking ALL DAY LONG. He did the crazy "toilet bowl" slide...and EVERYTHING ELSE. My 7-year old son, who has plenty of self-confidence, TONS of energy and more exuberance than most solemly agreed to hold the double inner tube while his friend climbed in the front and then "pilot" it to safety down the yellow tube slide. It was a beautiful moment. Amazing courage, trust, compassion and friendship. I blinked back tears AGAIN as I watched my son carry the double inner tube up the stairs for his friend all by himself. Wow. Beautiful -- for both boys.

As time wore on, both reluctant boys became increasingly confident and talk of returning to the Lazy River ceased. Bubbling over with enthusiasm, I began to hear the two reluctant boys, who had supported each other's hesitancy throughout the day, talk about riding the yellow inner tube slide together(!). And, they did!!! Wow. (And, while they did, my son and I stood at the bottom, waiting to greet interesting twist!)

Acceptance. Patience. Education. Exposure. NO PRESSURE. I did not ever try to convince, beg, bribe or cajole (this is not my style, although I have seen it done). I did not criticize or make subtle remarks about how brave my son was being or how much fun he was having (although I could have).

When allowed to proceed at their own pace, these two boys -- neither of whom would likely describe himself as "brave" or "courageous" -- found strength I doubt they knew they had. And so, in accepting them as they were, I gave them an unintentional gift -- a gift of finding strength in themselves -- something I hope they will remember and build upon for years to come.

This was the MAGIC. This was the MIRACLE. Tremendous growth, insight and understanding.


One NOTE:   While I based this blog on areas for growth in the two children who are not mine, I feel it is important to say that each of my three children have areas for growth as well. My husband and I both have our issues and struggles with each of them...and with each other. There are things I could (and should and do) work on...and things my husband is working on, too. We -- and our children are FAR from perfect.


All About Safety (How to Check for Recalls)

In 1998, Danny Keysar, the son of University of Chicago professors Boaz Keysar and Linda Ginzel died when the portable crib he was in collapsed, entrapping him. He was in a licensed child care facility and no one realized the crib had been recalled.

"Mobilizing their grief into a movement of positive change, Danny’s parents founded KID (Kids in Danger) after they discovered their son’s death was not an accident, as they had originally thought, but a tragedy that occurred as the result of a flawed system."

KID works to improve children's product safety and, in the process, seeks to educate consumers about those products that are known to have risks but have not (yet?) been recalled. They have comprehensive articles and detailed illustrations about products that are considered dangerous. Read more here:

These days, many parents want or need to use hand-me-down or second-hand kid-gear. It is now illegal to sell recalled products, but unsafe items still show up in some second-hand stores and people having yard or garage sales may not know to check the items they are selling. In May of 2012, KID partnered with to build a new mobile recall search function that allows consumers to use their phone or a tablet to check if a product has been recalled. Click here to check out the mobile tool.

If you are a parent or a grandparent or a caregiver and you wish to be informed of recalls as they happen, you can sign up for KID's newsletter:

It takes a village.


Meant to Be

(A story about Sea Glass...
and Life)



We love to wander along the beach. We have pictures of our children playing on beaches from California to Florida to South Carolina to Canada. Over the years we have discovered that every beach -- whether it is freshwater or saltwater -- holds its own unique appeal and treasures.

In South Carolina, on Cherry Grove Beach, it was shark's teeth. Our children -- and most especially our son -- searched (hard) for shark's teeth...and found a few. On Wasaga Beach in Canada, the appeal is not what you can find but the beautiful, clean sand and shallow water -- you can literally walk out as far as you wish.

We are fortunate to have a beach close to home, too. We have several favorite points of access, but, yesterday afternoon our twins decided to find their own way to the beach, which is, in fact, "just" down the bluff from our home.

The weather was beautiful, but, I was a bit hesitant because it was a steep climb down. Frankly, I was more concerned about getting back UP the bluff than I was about getting down it. Not to be deterred, my son explained, "Mom, you just need a good stick to pole your way up." OK. Fair enough. (He always has a solution. And, it is usually a pretty good one.)

Down we went. The lighting was beautiful -- breathtaking, in fact...

And, when we got there, it was so incredibly beautiful and peaceful that I found myself thinking it was worth whatever trouble we might have "poling" our way back up. We discovered a crab's claw that was HUGE -- and had a very interesting discussion about how it might have gotten there...and then turned to our favorite local beach activity -- hunting for sea glass.

Our finds were incredible -- I found several shades of brown that I do not think I have ever seen before and my son and daughter each had truly awesome finds. My daughter found an amazing green heart (!) and our son found one piece each of RED, WHITE and BLUE sea glass. In all of our years of searching, we have only ever found one other red piece...and true blues are very, very rare. Amazing. Satisfying. Thrilling!

But, there is more. When we had finally "poled" our way to the top of the bluff, my son realized that the Ziplock baggie holding his sea glass had not been completely sealed. RED and BLUE were missing! We retraced our steps (YES -- we went BACK DOWN!) as he bravely explained to us that it was OK they were lost because he would always be able to remember that he had found "all the patriotic colors together" in one day. And then he offered his hope that RED and BLUE were lost together because then, when the snow came in the winter, they could be RED, WHITE and BLUE again.

I was proud of him for his attitude, but, my heart was breaking because I could see tears threatening. As we hiked back down the bluff, he was trying so hard to find the missing sea glass AND to make it OK that it was missing all at the same time. We could tell that he was sad, and disappointed...and maybe even a bit angry with himself for not giving me his Ziplock baggie to put in my pocket on the way back up (like his twin sister did).

And then, just when we had very nearly given up (we were, in fact, "poling" our way back up)...I spotted RED. I honestly almost did not believe it. And just to the left of RED was BLUE! Sometimes in life, if you just believe, things work out the way they are supposed to. Not always, of course...but, sometimes they do.

And, in the midst of our crazy, chaotic, sometimes violent and definitely unpredictable world, I am thankful for moments like these.