Sunday, October 26, 2014

Home alone

This past weekend, my husband and I did something we’ve never done before – left our teenagers home alone, for a whole, entire night.
What, are we crazy? Wasn’t that just like asking for it?
Why not just hang a sign at the corner with a big arrow pointing at our home: “Parent-free house, next right. Party starts now!”
The girls are old enough to stay home alone for one night, said Rational Mom.
Emotional Mom wasn’t sure. I immediately started imagining worst-case scenarios, ‘80s movie-style.
Remember that party scene in “Sixteen Candles” featuring an elaborate beer can pyramid, drunken haircut and the exchange student passed out on the front lawn?
Or what about “Home Alone” when the Bad Guys break into the house and Macaulay Culkin is forced to terrorize the would-be burglars?
And then there’s “Risky Business.” No words.
Before we left, Rational Mom sat the girls down for a little talk.
Don’t forget to lock the doors and feed the cat, I said.
Call us on our cellphones if you have any questions.
We’ll be back by lunch tomorrow.
Here’s $20 for a pizza.
Emotional Mom had a few other tips:
Don’t let anyone in the house. That may look like Grandma at the door, but ask for ID just in case.
Don’t use the oven, stove or microwave. Best to avoid using any hot water as well. Someone could get scalded.
No boys. NO. BOYS.
Lockdown? Not really. Think of it as more like an opportunity for “sisterly bonding.”
If anyone calls, answer the phone like this: “Sheriff Huffman’s house.” Then yell really loud, “Somebody let the Doberman Pinschers back inside. Time for their dinner!”
Don’t watch any scary movies on TV. I’ve pre-selected some family-friendly videos that you girls used to love to watch such as “101 Dalmatians,” “Lion King” and “Land Before Time.”
If the power goes out, do not light candles. Just sit quietly together until it comes back on. Pretend you’re living in the olden days.
Sensible Mom figured the girls wouldn’t go wild while we were gone. She was also expecting tattletales. Normally, I discourage them. But for this overnight vacation, I was counting on the tattletales to tell all. They won’t be able to resist, I figured.
I thought for sure we’d get at least one or two calls from one sister complaining about another sister hogging the remote or eating all the ice cream. But no.
We didn’t hear a peep, which Emotional Mom was sure meant that they’d fallen comatose due to Radon poisoning or some other lethal gas leak.
We got home the next day to find all Huffman teenagers conscious. No one had fallen, broken an arm or burned herself. The trash can was not filled with empty beer bottles. All pets were accounted for and alive.
How’d it go? I said.
The oldest gave a snort.
You just assumed the worst, she said.
No I didn’t, said Rational Mom.
I did, said Emotional Mom.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Tiny life

Have you seen the TV show “Tiny House Nation”? It’s a show where “less is more” advocates help people move from Large Homes into Tiny Houses.
According to the host of the show, many tiny houses feature no more than 300 square feet of living space, are built on wheels and include a composting toilet.
A composting what?
To this mom, a toilet should whisk away everything the family deposits into it quickly and cleanly. Let that waste go far, far away, leaving only a faint whiff of piƱa colada-scented air freshener behind.
Where does the poop go after using a composting toilet?
The host of “Tiny House Nation” enthusiastically described pouring cupsful of peat moss into the composting toilet. Then you turn a crank to mix the two.
And whose job is it to open the peat moss potty and clean it out? Can you hire a Tiny House Cleaner for that? Because there is no way I’m touching peat-mossed poop. I don’t care how ecologically fabulous the compost is.
One episode featured a family with two teenagers moving into a tiny home with a single bathroom and two small bedroom loft spaces. For some reason the teenagers went along with this idea. Which made me wonder if they were impersonators, because I’ve never met a teenager who willingly downsized.
Their tiny home kitchen featured one dorm-sized fridge. Note to Tiny House builders: The correct mini fridge-to-teen ratio is more like three-to-one. As in, three fridges per each teen.
The tiny home did not include an oven, which made perfect sense. You don’t need a real oven to cook for teens. Their essential appliances are a toaster oven and microwave. Both, along with a 48-pack of Hot Pockets, will keep a teen fed for weeks. Throw in a few cases of Pop Tarts and they’re good to go.
The builders also created a desk for one teen in his new loft area where he was shown “sitting” at the desk “doing homework.” Again, I am suspicious.
Presented with a new desk and well-lit task light, no teen has ever actually used it. Instead, they’ll sit on the couch in the living room, next to the TV, in the dark, and complain that it is too loud in this room and would people please stop talking because I have a Social Studies test worth 85 percent of my grade tomorrow.
Another red flag about this tiny house: The teen loft didn’t have a door. A teenage girl won’t change as much as her socks without a door locked and deadbolted behind her. Those who dare to interrupt the process will be greeted by an ear-splitting: “I’M CHANGING IN HERE!”
A tiny house wouldn’t work for us parents but I have a better idea.
Our teens could move into the tiny house and have it all to themselves, including the composting toilet. I’ll even supply the peat moss.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

You're hired

I love it when teens get jobs. For money.
A teen with a job can buy her own hot lunch. She can buy all the makeup she wants. She can get fake nails. She can go on a spending spree at Forever 21.
A teen with a job means Mom is no longer the bank, and we moms love it when we stop being the bank. Last week I started with $17 in cash in my wallet. At the end of the week, I had $15. It’s amazing how much money you can save when you’re not handing out dollar bills like Kleenex.
The Huffman girls have had a variety of jobs. They’ve worked at toy stores, chocolate shops and gourmet food shops. They’ve walked dogs, babysat kids and houses and watered plants.
One Huffman girl got a job at a cupcake shop. What a cushy job. She doesn’t actually make the cupcakes. Sometimes she cuts little flowers out of fondant and puts them on top of the cupcakes, but she doesn’t stir batter or pull heavy trays in and out of a hot industrial oven. She simply sells cupcakes to tourists who spend a reported “forever” deciding on which $3 morsel to buy. For this, she gets paid more money per hour than I was making in 2004 as a reporter.
Getting a teen a job seems pretty straightforward to us moms: You see a “help wanted” sign at the movie theater/Kohl’s/McDonald’s. You tell the teen. They apply. Hopefully they get the job. Mom, teen, FICA and Social Security are all happy.
But some teens have very particular ideas about which job they think is worthy of them. One Huffman teen once said she didn’t want a job where anyone she knew would see her. Another teen didn’t want to make coffee or fast food.
That’s fine, I said. Next time your car needs gas or we get the cellphone bill, let’s talk about your requirements for an employer to hire you. And yeah, I did say it like that.
Earlier this summer, one Huffman girl went job hunting. She came back an hour later.
I filled out an application, she said, as if she was done for the day.
Keep going, I said. And if anyone asks you about cleaning the bathroom, say yes.
A friend told me story about her teen who, when filling out an online job application for Starbucks, wrote that he would not clean the bathroom.
Add indignant snort here.
Us grownups know very well that when you’re filling out a job application and they ask you about cleaning the bathroom, you say yes. Yes, I can clean. Yes, I can mop. Yes, I can take the trash to the smelly industrial compactor machine. Yes, yes, yes.
I’ve cleaned bathrooms at jobs. I’ve cleaned bathrooms at jobs where my husband owned the business. Teens, at some point in your employment history, you will have to clean a bathroom. If you want that job, you will clean that toilet. Just make sure you wash your hands after you’re done.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Holding tight

It’s been more than three weeks since Napa’s earthquake but I’m still discombobulated. Like most of us, I’m convinced every creak or crack in the house is the next you-know-what. I wake up at night and blame it on imagined — or real — aftershocks.
The books are back on the shelves next to the bed but I still eye them when I go to bed and imagine them toppling during the next quake — and we all know there will be a “next” quake.
We also now know that we happen to live on a newly discovered fault that pretty much runs right through our neighborhood in west Napa. Congratulations, neighbors. We hit the seismic jackpot (three tumbling rocks in a row?) and have the broken dishes to prove it.
Earthquake insurance is looking better and better, isn’t it? From what I know, earthquake insurance usually pays off only when your house pretty much falls into a million pieces. But it might be better than nothing. We’d be covered. For total destruction.
Then again, if there’s total destruction in Napa, I have a feeling that earthquake insurance is going to be the least of our worries.
I’ll cling to anything that gives me a sense of control at this point. California Earthquake Authority — give me a call. We’re all yours.
Last weekend, my husband ordered all sorts of nifty earthquake safety gadgets like TV screen holders, LED flashlights and furniture straps. Why not tether down every piece of furniture we have? Someone should invent people-sized Lego furniture and flooring. Have you ever tried prying apart two tiny Lego pieces? Pretty much impossible. On Aug. 24, throughout Napa, entire kitchens and collections of knickknacks were smashed to smithereens but those Lego Harry Potter castles and Star Wars models? Solid as a rock.
My parents’ kitchen in Napa came with those earthquake-proof cabinet latches that we always fumble to pry open. Pre-quake, I always thought of them as so inconvenient. Today? Genius.
Thanks to those dorky catches, my parents didn’t lose any dishes on Aug. 24. At our kitchen, with cabinets that swing wide open, we lost most of ours.
After seeing the remnants of our kitchen, the day after the quake my mom brought over an extra set of dishes for us to borrow. I looked at them glumly and left them on the dining room table. Why put dishes into cupboards that are obviously so not earthquake-safe?
Then, last week, my in-laws sent us a set of new dishes, an early 25-year wedding anniversary gift.
I almost don’t want to put them away, said my husband. I’m afraid we’d be asking for it.
A few days later, he installed magnetic latches on our kitchen cupboards. Now every time I go to open the cabinet, I feel like I’m in a tug of war with a piece of laminated plywood.
Now let’s unpack the new dishes, my husband said.
We opened the boxes. We put the new plates away.
I’m hoping they’ll last at least 25 years.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

You shook me up

I’m a California native, so I thought I’d be used to earthquakes by now. Nope. Never going to get used to being tossed around in bed in the middle of the night, books flying, glass shattering and dressers bouncing against the walls.
This Sunday’s earthquake was like some psycho wine country version of “Poltergeist.” Mother Nature grabbed hold of us that morning, shook us around like she was really pissed off and then walked away with her middle finger in the air.
I like to think I’m cool in a crisis, but when that quake hit I was screaming like a teenager. So were the girls. By the time I’d gotten to them in the hallway, it was over and all we could do was just clutch at each other.
Put shoes on, yelled my husband.
Shoes, right.
What are those again? My brain was not exactly working at that point.
Back next to the bed, I searched for shoes but a 2-foot pile of books covered them.
College Girl had spent the night at a friend’s house, so the first thing we did was try to call her. Amazingly, the phones worked. She was fine, physically.
Stay put, we told her. I had visions of a traumatized kid trying to drive on buckled roadways around fires and fallen branches.
In the hallway, the girls grabbed a small battery powered emergency light that had been plugged into a wall socket since after the 2000 earthquake. The week before, I’d thought of throwing it away because it’s old and has a pretty feeble light. Sunday morning that little light never looked so good.
Downstairs almost every step cracked as we walked over broken glass. The fish tank broke, said my husband. There was tank gravel and water everywhere. Balsamic vinegar had shattered all over the kitchen floor, mixing with spilled sugar. Actually, I think the sugar conveniently soaked up some of the vinegar.
Think you need to do some spring cleaning of your cabinets? Don’t waste your time. Just wait for an earthquake.
Like a lot of other Napans, we lost most of our dishes. Wine glasses fell into drawers that had been flung open, leaving glass shards inside them. Ceramic pots stored on the top shelves had broken into bits on the floor. I picked up one lid, still intact, to put it away for safekeeping.
Don’t bother, said my husband. The bowl broke.
Making my way to the front door, I peeked outside to see neighbors walking outside with flashlights.
You OK? they called out.
Yep, I answered feebly. I felt like barfing.
The rest of the downstairs was more of the same. Contents of every shelf facing east/west were dumped. Most north/south shelves had held firm.
I braced myself as I opened College Girl’s room, already filled to the brim with the contents of her school apartment.
Looks just like normal in there, I said with a laugh.
A firefighter neighbor came over to turn off the gas and check out our hot water heater. As it slowly started getting lighter outside the sound of broken glass falling into trashcans could be heard. The cleanup had begun.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Shred it

Free community “shred day,” read the ad from a Napa bank this past week.
That got my attention.
Free shredding? Count me in.
Who wants to sit for hours feeding old 401(k) statements three pages at a time into some wimpy home office shredder?
I’m into shredding. If you don’t shred, Identity Stealers can get a hold of your Important Info and then next thing you know you’re trying to convince it wasn’t the real you that bought that plasma TV, fancy sneakers and those $200 headphones.
I imagined the star of free shred day to be some super-sized shredding machine with giant gnashing and cutting jaws, ready to make mincemeat out of my old bank statements and health care EOBs. That’s my kind of shredding. Fast. Effective. Identity Stealer proof.
To get ready for shred day, first I cleaned out two file cabinets in our home office. Then I hit the mother lode in our attic.
Napa Garbage bill from June 1999? Got it.
Sears statement from December 2002? Yup.
I’m sure no one else cares about my Target receipts from November 2003 but I had kept them all just in case the IRS came knocking on my front door. Because no one wants to come up empty-handed when the IRS comes calling.
Hello IRS guys? You need receipts? Come on in! I got your receipts right here. Boxes full, and neatly labeled by year and month.
I hear I can get rid of receipts that are seven years or older, although as I write this, a tiny part of me worries I may be jinxing myself by doing so.
Dear any IRS receipt inspector people reading this: Our receipts are all very boring and uninteresting. Especially the Target ones — unless you need to know how much a mom spends on toilet paper in a month. With three toilets and five people in one home, a lot, I tell you.
On shred day I took a trunkful of my old receipts to the bank where a friendly woman helped me unload my car.
I took the lid off one box to show off my color-coded, organized folders.
Very nice, she nodded, before unceremoniously dumping my carefully filed and archived receipts and bank statements into a large gray garbage toter.
I felt a worrying twinge as I looked down into the bin at the jumble of papers. All those years of archiving, down the toilet.
I had to see the shredder in action. The garbage toter was dispatched across the parking lot to a man with a large white truck. My papers would end up as confetti-sized pieces, the shred man assured me.
Metal arms clamped around the container, hoisting it up into the truck and jettisoning the contents.
A video monitor of the inside of the machine showed the piles of paper being fed into the industrial-sized grinder. The shredding was even better than I imagined.
It was loud.
It was destructive.
It was completely Identity Stealer proof.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Ninja Mom

The Huffmans have “discovered” a new TV show. Well, it’s new to us. The rest of the country has apparently been watching “American Ninja Warrior” for a couple years, but we only just got hooked.
The show is a battle but no one’s getting their throat cut “Game of Thrones”-style on ANW (as we Ninja fans call it). “American Ninja Warrior” is a battle to complete a crazy obstacle course where competitors run, jump, dive, climb and pretty much act like superhuman monkeys.
The ultimate goal for ninjas is to make their way to the top of 70-foot “Mount Midoriyama” and be crowned “THE NEXT AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR!”
It’s a TV show that the whole family can watch. Who doesn’t want to be a ninja? Even better, a ninja warrior?
Would–be ninjas are all super-fit and mostly 20- and 30-somethings, and they know how to put on a show. Some have come up with their own Ninja themes. One guy ran the course wearing a Tarzan loincloth. Another wore something like a “Phantom of the Opera” mask. Another was cloaked in a shiny Superman-style getup including a cape he flung dramatically to the side before dashing across the ninja route.
My favorite Ninja is my new fitness superhero — 24-year-old Kacy Catanzaro. Just 5 feet tall and 100 pounds, Catanzaro was the first woman to climb the 15-foot Warped Wall AND make it to the top of the 25-foot-tall Spider Climb. She even has her own hashtag (#mightykacy). I don’t want to be 24 again, but I wouldn’t mind having Catanzaro’s ninja muscles.
The ninjas make it look so easy, but the ANW obstacles are meant to take out all but the most ninja-iest competitors. Even the obstacle names are intimidating: the Bridge of Blades, the Rumbling Dice and the Devil Steps. Fall off or drop off any of them and you’re out.
Channeling my inner Kacy Catanzaro, I decided to inject some ninja moves into my own life. During my last run, instead of staying on the sidewalk I ran — get this — on a dirt path. Then I jumped over a culvert, parkour-style. I know — radical, right?
I’m not going to stop there. I’ll use ninja moves to elude wayward drivers on the way to Target. I’ll scale shelves to reach the toilet paper on the top shelf at Raley’s. I’ll balance two baskets of laundry while running up steps to the second floor. Walking through downtown at lunchtime I’ll evade wandering tourists with ninja-like steps.
We moms also have mental ninja powers. We can keep track of multiple doctor/dentist appointments, memorize school bell schedules and the Social Security numbers of both our spouse and kids, simultaneously brush our teeth while quizzing a teenager about her curfew and can tell you exactly how many more days that gallon of milk in the fridge will last.
It’s no surprise. After all, it takes an American Ninja Mom to make an American Ninja Warrior.