Do We Really Need Poison Oak on This Planet?

Wow!  I had no idea how unpleasant an encounter with poison oak could be.

Two of our kids (our son and one of the twins) somehow contracted poison oak from a local park where our son attended a summer camp.  We had never dealt with poison oak before, so it took us more than a week to even recognize it, let alone treat it.  Poor T and S– they are still healing, a month later!  We read information online, of course, and from everything we could find it seemed that they should recover on their own in a few days with regular applications of calamine lotion, but it continued to fester with both of them.  After two weeks of suffering we finally took them to the doctor for prescriptions of steroids and antibiotics (to prevent infection).  Sheets had been changed, but I washed all bedding (including stuffed animals) to ensure that they weren’t getting new exposure.  We washed all the laundry in hot water for the past several weeks (and will continue that for a while yet) to make sure we get all of the poison oak oil out of all clothing.  Since we don’t know exactly when the exposure happened, we don’t know what they were wearing.

While they generally all played together at the park at pick-up time, it is interesting that only two of the kids were exposed.  Of course, I’m grateful for that, but it makes it harder to know how to prevent future exposure.   We got back from a camping trip last week, and there was a lot of poison oak throughout the campsite.  We were there with a good friend who recognized it easily (and there was a large sign at the entrance of the campground, warning campers about it); she pointed out where it was to all the kids and explained to them that they mustn’t touch it or even brush up against it.  The fact that you can get it on your clothing, and then inadvertently touch it and spread it to various parts of your body makes it so insidious.

Of course, with four kids in a campground with lots of poison oak I expected that we would face it again– and I was right, unfortunately.  Somehow V must have brushed up against some on the last day.  As soon as we got back from camping I had them strip off their clothes as they went into the guest house and go right to the shower, using special soap for poison oak.  We washed all the clothes from the trip in hot water.  Even still, poison oak appeared on V’s leg a day later, and has since spread.  Either she somehow got the oil on something in the house (God knows what)  or it is spreading from her sores, but we keep finding new itchy spots.  So awful!  I hate it, I hate it, I hate it . . . Why does this stuff need to even exist?  Can’t we somehow rid the planet (or at least popular parks) of this nasty plant?  And while we are at it, how about also getting rid of mosquitoes?

Summer Burnout

This is our last week of summer camp, then a few days’ camping trip and we are done with summer!  The kids start school in a week and I can hardly wait to have them back in their normal routine.

We took two family trips in May, so we ended up not doing any traveling this summer. Instead, I booked the kids very heavily with a variety of summer camps.  Manly Guy works on our property (his office is in the guest house), and while summer camps can be pretty expensive, they are *not* as expensive as a husband who is unable to get his work done.  The end result is that I have spent the last ten weeks with a different schedule every Monday, with as many as four different drop-offs/pick-ups each day, rushing to prepare breakfast and pack lunches each morning and trying to ensure that everyone had everything that they needed for the day.  (“S– are your soccer shoes in your backpack?” “T– did you refill your water bottle?” “V– be sure to bring home your hoodie!”)

Since late May there have been swim lessons, Science camp, preschool summer school for our littlest, YMCA camp, older kids’ camp, sleep-away camp, gymnastics camp, Lego animation camp, camps at the Sonoma State University (our son was taking classes, the girls in a camp of summer activities), French camp, art camp and soccer camp.  We hosted our son’s best friend for a week.  We have had quite a few friends visit us, many staying in the guest house.  Keeping it all straight has been challenging, and mornings in particular have been rather frantic at times.  While school brings its own set of demands, at least we will get into a familiar routine and be in it for a while, which is sounding quite nice!

Skin Cancer . . . Again?!

Let me start off assuring family and friends that this is nothing to worry about.  It is the relatively harmless (but still annoying) basal cell kind, not the melanoma (dangerous) kind of skin cancer.

Last week I had Mohs surgery on my lip for the second time (the first time was about a year ago).  The day of the surgery, Joe was traveling, so I had to go pick up the kids from camp with my lip still bandaged. Kids are utterly unable to *not* stare when they see something unusual, and seeing a mom with her lip bandaged up drew many wide-eyed stares as we left.  I tried to not feel self-conscious (I need to be a good example to the kids and all), but inside I was cringing.

The next day the swelling went down, and I was able to go out without any bandages.  My lip still drew weird looks, but it was about the equivalent of a bad cold sore.  With a friend, I mentioned that I had had skin cancer surgery– “No, it’s not a cold sore”– but I’m not sure which is worse.  She put a concerned look on her face and asked about it.  I ended up explaining a bit about my family history, and that this type of skin cancer is more annoying than scary, but I realized that this was more information than most people want to hear.  She was sweet to listen to me, and I felt badly that my explanation took longer than it should have.

My family heritage is Irish/English/Scottish, and I have very fair skin as a result.   Being born and raised in California with lots of sunshine, we are very susceptible to skin cancer.  The fact that my dad had a ski boat when we were growing up, and that I had terrible sunburns every summer, means that I had a lifetime’s worth of sun damage by the time I hit adulthood.  I have been great about using sunscreen for a long time, but so much damage was already done that I have known it was only a matter of time before skin cancer appeared.  My brother had it before I did (on his neck first, then his forehead).  My dad has had several growths removed.  My grandmother had many cases of it.  Thankfully, no one in our family has gotten melanoma, but we all need to be vigilant with skin check-ups twice a year.

“Cancer” is a scary word, one that no one wants to hear.  We all know people who have fought brave battles with cancer, and most of us know someone who has lost that battle.  It feels strange to use that word to describe annoying little skin growths that need to be removed.  I will probably get these skin growths throughout the rest of my life, but I try to remind myself to be thankful that while I hate having minor surgery on my face (mainly because of vanity), I am lucky that this is the worst health issue that I currently face.

Eyelash Extensions– To Touch Up or To Let Them Fall Out?

Okay– let me be very upfront about it.  This is going to be a rather frivolous post.

Until a few months ago, I didn’t know what eyelash extensions even *were*, let alone had tried them.  I suspect that many of my female friends and acquaintances had tried them or at least knew about them long before I considered this silly little beauty service.  When I heard about them, I thought “wouldn’t that be fun to have around our anniversary?”  We celebrate our anniversary (in June) with several nights out over a week or so, and this year we went to an opera, a symphony concert, and a fabulous dinner out.  Of course, having several big nights out in a short time span meant that getting eyelash extensions was easier to justify than it would be normally.

So, what are the downsides, you ask?  First of all, eyelash extensions are expensive.  The initial set and the touch-up appointments are pricy, and they need to be maintained regularly if you don’t want them to fall out.  Since the process is gluing fake eyelashes on your eyelids, there are some inherent risks (such as eye infection); the release form that I had to sign was a bit scary!  And if one’s eyes are a bit sensitive (like mine seem to be), they can be somewhat irritating to wear.  Not terribly, but in a low-grade annoying sort of way.

Then why get them?  Because they are fun and sexy.  You get to *wake up* with lovely eyelashes!  My eyelashes have always been fine, light and thin, and it hasn’t improved as I have gotten older.  It has been a nice treat to have dark, pretty, noticeable eyelashes, even when I’m not “made up”.


Unfortunately, my practical side is likely to win out.  I am scheduled for an eyelash extension touch up this week, and I’m pretty sure I’m canceling.  I’m a bit tired of not being able to rub my eyes, needing to specially clean my eyelashes every morning, and not being able to put my face toward the shower head.  Going forward I might get eyelash extensions twice a year (anniversary and Christmas), but not get any touch ups.  That way I get to have fun with big lashes, but I don’t have them for so long that they really start to bug me.

How Many Personas Do You Have?

The most interesting men and women I know have multiple personas that they draw from in their interactions with the world at large.  It’s like wearing a costume, except that these are exaggerated personality traits turned into a simplified version of the person.  I have witnessed my dear friend Victoria in a few different personas: Sweet Southern Gal, Proper English Wife, Bitch-on-Wheels American (quite handy for business meetings).  I’m sure that she has several more in her arsenal.  She has joked about which persona would be the best for a particular occasion, and I love the fact that she can put them on and take them off quite easily.

Over the years I have developed Scotch-drinking Demure Wench (from my dancing days at the Renaissance Faire, which I did for several seasons), Colonial Raver Marine (during my party and Burning Man days), Educated/Well-traveled Career Girl, Outdoorsy Adventurer (I dabbled with quite a few pursuits, including hiking, rock climbing, mountaineering, scuba diving, mountain biking, snowboarding).  Since getting married and having a family I added Domestic Goddess (culinary and craft projects), Perky Mother of Four (school stuff), and Trophy Wife (for cultural events such as symphony and opera performances).  None of these personas represent the “real” me, but all of them together make up a big part of me.  Humans are complicated creatures, and we usually interact with a wide array of other individuals.  Most people out there aren’t interested in knowing me *that* well, except for a handful of close friends and a few family members.  These personas provide a shortcut to me and my acquaintances to interact easily without a lot of fuss.

Apparently not everyone is happy that society uses archetypes.  Last week I read an article written by a twenty-something woman, bemoaning the fact that men view women in a superficial way, relying on archetypical characters as a viewing lens.  The author’s first main point was that men grow up to star in their own story, and women grow up to be a supporting role.   She used the descriptor “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” as an example of a current archetypical character in books and movies that portray women in an unrealistic way. While I can see her perspective, the article (which was a bit of a feminist diatribe) got me thinking more about how my views about interaction between men and women have changed as I have gotten older, rather than the injustice that women are subjected to by society at large.  I have a vague recollection of being annoyed in my twenties whenever people treated me impersonally, but now I appreciate that there is no way everyone that I meet can know and appreciate me as an individual.

Archetypes have existed for millennia, and for good reason.  We carry stories with us throughout our lives, and they tend to be populated with characters we learn to love or hate, but we know them well.  Since they are out there anyway, why not use them as tools?

Flying Usually Means the Family Gets Sick

For nearly three weeks, at least one person in the house was sick . . . all because of a trip we took to Cincinnati for Memorial Day weekend!  Overall it was a good weekend getaway, and it was for a family wedding, so we *had* to do it, but I am getting to the point that I dread all of us getting on an airplane.  An individual might catch a bug on a trip (all that recycled air means we share germs with everyone on the plane), but put six people on an airplane and your chances of bringing a virus or other bug home is multiplied . . . by six!

Of course, we weren’t able to get a direct flight (there are few of those between San Francisco and Cincinnati), so we had to stop in Chicago and change planes.  On the second flight there was an 18-month-old in front of us who coughed over us the entire time.  I remember thinking “I hope no one gets that!” during the flight.  Sure enough, Sunday morning (the day of the wedding, of course), one of the twins woke up with a fever of 102 degrees.  I ran out to the drug store and bought some kids’ Tylenol, had her sleep until we had to leave for the wedding, and hoped for the best.  What else can you do?  We can’t leave her at the hotel.  And we flew quite a distance to be there.  We kept her quiet and away from others as much as we could and left a little early.

The day after we returned to California the other twin came down with it.  Manly Guy caught the bug a couple of days after that, and he was sick for a solid week, followed by a week of diminished productivity and no working out (which makes him pretty grumpy).  Then I got the bug, which turned into bronchitis, making me miss the girls’ annual ballet shows.  As I recovered, our littlest caught it and was sick most of last week.  The only family member who didn’t get sick was our son.

I’m sure that there is *something* that the airlines can do to make it less likely that you will get sick after flying.  I’d be happy to don a medical mask if everyone else did it, and I bet that they could filter the air to reduce the germ circulation.    Obviously they wouldn’t be able to make guarantees, but if an airline could demonstrate that they had improved air quality significantly, I’d be willing to spend a little more for each ticket.  The lost productivity of the last three weeks is worth a lot!

All Four Kids in the “Honeymoon Years”

May 10, 2013

Yesterday our youngest turned five, which is a big milestone.  It means that we are officially done with toddlerhood!  Not only that, it means that all four kids are in the “honeymoon years” (or so we’ve heard from other parents), the years between the ages of 5 and 12, the most fun years of raising kids.  Before age five there are all the trials that toddlers/preschoolers present to their parents, and at thirteen of course, adolescence rears its ugly head with all the challenges associated with raising teenagers.

Since there is six years between our oldest and youngest, we will only have two years when *all four* are in those special years, so I plan on savoring this time, really taking it all in.  So many parents with older kids have warned us that these special years go too quickly.  It is easy to be too busy to notice how great the kids really are right now.  I need to remind myself regularly to stop, look, and enjoy it.

Training for a Half-Marathon Is Much More Reasonable Than Training for a Marathon

Here I am, alternating feet in an ice bucket.  Today I ran 10.5 miles in 1 hour, forty-three minutes.  I’m not fast, but I am consistent.  It was warm this morning (75 degrees in the shade by the time I finished and much hotter in the sun), so I struggled a bit.  But I was able to average less than 10 minutes per mile, so I was satisfied.

I’ll be running my second half-marathon in just over two weeks.  I ran my first one last May,  and it was the start of a very long summer of running.  Last year the half-marathon was really a training run for a full marathon in August.  During the summer I did one long run per week, gradually building up my miles: 3 X 13 miles, 3 X 16 miles, 2 X 18 miles, 1 X 19 miles, and 1 X 21 miles.

Running, which is usually a favorite part of my week, became drudgery.  I started to dread my Fridays, and I would have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach on those mornings before I hit the trail.  I’d be completely wiped out for the rest of the day instead of bouncing back after a couple hours of rest.  Toenails dropped off.  After my 19-mile run, my left knee started hurting.  I had to visit an orthopedic surgeon to make sure I could even attempt the marathon.  He gave me the go-ahead, but suggested that I only try it once, as my joints were starting to show signs of wear.

I completed the marathon in August, much to my relief (it had been a goal for years), but the week after the race I developed plantar fasciitis in my right heel.  I walked with a limp for a few weeks, and couldn’t run for three months.  By November I was able to speedwalk on the trail, but I really didn’t get back to my normal running routine until January.

So now I’m more careful.  I’m trying to stretch more, use a big roller on the legs daily, “listen” to my body, do yoga at least twice a week.  My goal is to do two half-marathons per year for at least the next decade, and that means I need to do all I can to avoid injuries.

There are people out there that run further and run faster.  (There are also those crazy people who do ultra marathons, like our friend, Charles, who run marathon distances several times per month.)  As I get older, I am more comfortable with just doing my best and not worrying about my race times.  After all, I’m a middle-aged woman with four kids and a busy life, and I’m happy to just do it.


Last week, as I headed out for a 12-mile run.


Last week, after my 12-mile run.

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We are really lucky to live two blocks from a fantastic trail, which goes six miles in one direction.

Extending the Celebration (for Birthdays, Holidays) Beyond a Day or Two

I used to think that it was really important to get special days *right*.  I wanted Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to be perfect.  And birthdays, especially birthdays, needed to be *just so*.

What I’ve found is that you are likely to set yourself up for disappointment if you load up everything into one day.  Something is bound to go wrong, or at least go differently than planned.  Packages are late.  People must cancel plans.  Stuff happens.

Now we extend celebrating out over several days.  We have “birthday week” instead of celebrating on one day.  If a package is late, it doesn’t matter, because we are still celebrating when it arrives (usually).  Christmas is a two-week-long holiday.

We even ended up extending out Easter this year by two weeks.  We had rain on Easter, and then it rained for several days after.  This really put a damper on our Easter egg hunt, which we usually set up in the yard.  Then we were busy the following weekend, and before we knew it two weeks had passed and we still had eggs full of candy to hide.

Manly Guy put together a note from the Easter Bunny, explaining the tardiness of the egg hunt.  It was really cute!  Needless to say, the kids didn’t mind at all.  They happily looked for eggs on a sunny Monday afternoon, and it had been long enough since they had binged on candy that they were excited to do it again.

I’ll never claim to be mellow (it just isn’t in my nature), but I must admit that celebrations are more enjoyable now that there is less pressure to have the “perfect day”.


Manly Guy’s note to the kids (as the Easter Bunny)


Differences in Risk Tolerance Means Our Kids Don’t Play with the Neighbor Kids Very Much

Last week I had a really awkward interaction with a couple of the neighbor kids.  My youngest called to them, so they came into our back yard– and after the kids said “hello” I ended up telling the two boys that our kids couldn’t play outside anymore and bringing the girls inside.

Many of the kids in our neighborhood have parents who have a much higher risk tolerance than we do.  They are from a different culture (the parents are from Mexico), and clearly they are okay with letting their kids play in the street unsupervised.  The children, ranging in age from under 2 to maybe 7, are outside on their own nearly every day when the weather is good.  I rarely see the parents come outside.  I’ve seen a little girl, less than two, play on our street with only her five-year-old brother to accompany her.

I could never let my small children do that.  Let’s face it– I’m one of those paranoid parents who wants to mitigate as much risk as is reasonably possible without keeping my kids strapped in chairs.  I encourage lots of activities, but our kids are supervised all the time.  Yes, it was different when I was a kid (when packs of kids roamed neighborhoods on their own until dinner), but that really isn’t considered acceptable parenting these days.  At least not for most families that we know. As parents, we pick up the kids from school, fill in afternoons with a variety of after-school activities and we keep the kids very busy.  It is a lot of work to keep it all going.

Like so many of my generation, my parents were divorced, and my brother and I were latchkey kids.  We walked home from school, let ourselves in the house, and entertained ourselves until our mother got home from work.  We fought, we got into scrapes, we made messes that got us into trouble, but we also became pretty self-sufficient early on.  I do understand that it wasn’t all bad.

When we lived in India, it was common to see families at construction sites.  It was very normal to see a child (aged 5 or 6) carrying an infant or toddler sibling, caring for the younger sibling while both parents worked.  These construction sites had plenty of opportunity for injury (or worse), yet somehow most of those kids seemed to do okay in what I would consider unacceptable conditions for keeping children safe.  I can acknowledge that in many societies, children are given a lot more freedom than I am willing to give my kids.

And here is where the awkwardness comes in: I’m not willing to babysit the other kids on the street.  If I let them come into our back yard to play, they will do it everyday.  Our play structure and swings are a big draw.  Then I would be responsible for these kids every afternoon, and I’d feel compelled to bring out snacks, and we’d become the place where all the kids on our street hang out.  There could be liability issues if someone got hurt on the play structure.   But the biggest issue is my not wanting to take care of anyone else.  I have four kids, which feels like a lot, and I have no interest in being the caregiver for the neighborhood.

I know it sounds selfish.  I’m not proud to admit it.  But I have enough on my plate.  So I end up limiting our kids’ playtime with the neighbor kids to when my husband is in the front yard, working in the garden.  When he can supervise them, I’m happy to have our kids in the street, playing with the neighbor kids.  I’m happy to bring out snacks for everyone.  I’m just not willing to do it all the time.