Monday, August 05, 2013

Mixing things up

Hello, longtime friend. If you're back checking up on this blog after such a long hiatus, I applaud your persistence and loyalty and would like to acknowledge and reward it by sending you over to where I've just relaunched an exciting new direction for the decade-old humor column: Suburban Diva Dishes.

Hopefully, I'll bring you the same old nonsense but pair it with a recipe that you'll enjoy. Comic cuisine with a side of snark.

Not sure where this little blog will go from here, but for right now, let's cook up something fun together.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I'm too sore to come up with a title anyway

Once a person reaches a certain age milestone in her life, “going to the gym” means something entirely different than it did a mere decade before.

In my twenties, when my metabolism was working as biologically intended, a swift walk upstairs would be enough to burn off 9000 calories and go into negative numbers in pant sizes at Benetton. At that time, “working out” was an aerobics class once a month that would be sufficient to justify the membership and the Olivia Newton John leg warmers.

Today, not in my twenties or thirties, it’s a little different.

First off, there is no way on earth I’m spending any sort of money on clothing designed to hurt me. Spandex only looks good on the after photos of the gym experience, not the before or during. If I wanted to be wrapped in synthetic fabric that made me sweat, I’d hug an IRS agent.

Clad in my ill-fitting T-shirts and yoga pants, I’d have been happy just to spend the mornings of my Golden Years on the treadmill, endlessly cycling through segments of Live with Kelly and Michael subtitled, but my friend workout partner convinced me we need to step things up and attend a “body sculpt” class. I failed to mention aloud that although I am indeed in the beginning stages of osteoporosis, I don’t think human bone is sculpt-able material, but I acquiesced and prepared to be molded.

In body sculpting, chisels are about the only tools not used. The first ten minutes of the class are spent on a scavenger hunt through the YMCA to find all of the various items needed for people over 35 to lose 16 ounces. There is the mat, the step, giant inflatable balls, half giant inflatable balls, weights--both light and heavy depending on the sadism of the instructor--and finally, the bands.

The bands.

And although they resemble jump ropes, the bands are entirely different as there is no jumping; only the bandaging of the hyper-extended limbs that occur on every single exercise.

It’s curious that they feel the need to utilize all of these various and sundry apparatuses as with the exercise floor so crowded, someone is sure to trip and break a hip. And no one would even hear their cries of pain over the overly-loud Motown music from the 60’s on 6 satellite radio channel.

This was all going through my mind as I stumbled awkwardly through the first few refrains of “What’s going on,” wondering the same exact thing. The instructor then barked out a series of instructions that ended with the band being precariously wrapped around our feet, arms and necks resembling a room filled with human slingshots. Very unsteady slingshots. Made from brittle limbs from a tree with Dutch Elm disease. And readers.

It wasn’t exactly the body sculpture I had imagined.

I resisted both the temptation and gravity not to launch myself toward the instructor, and from the bit lips and tenuous arthritic grips on the handles around the room, I was not alone. But we all somehow managed to make it through the class without impaling ourselves on a ballet bar. Ensure smoothies at Urban Juicer awaited.

I can’t say it got any easier in the following classes, but my definition of “success” has mellowed as have I.

And certainly the definition of “sculpt” has as well.

So for now, I think I’ll skip the bands and weights, keep the Band Aids and waiting for the treadmill.

We Dutch Elms look better whittled anyway.

©2013 Tracey Henry

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Potty talk

Today I was a guest on to talk about potty training. Although I'm a couple of years removed (THANK GOD) I did pass along a few brief tips on the subject which should air on Sunday, March 10 at 8 p.m.

This is the article I wrote for the Tampa Bay Times on how exactly I suggest.

Carry on.

While I am by no means one of those self-proclaimed parenting gurus, there is one parental challenge that I have now successfully completed four times which pretty much makes me an expert in the field. 

At least the septic field.

Potty training.

With the exception of my mother in-law who claims to have six children who miraculously trained themselves by nine months, I do have a few helpful insights for the rest of us who find this task just a bit daunting.

Again, this is based on my personal experience with four children, so please feel free to spend hundreds of dollars on videos, how-to books and advice from people who have never had children if you still feel the need. But I say forget the expensive gimmicks, all you need to stock up on is plenty of sheets, clothes, paper towel, exaggerated cheerfulness and patience.
  1. Timing. Despite what some folks (and mother in-laws) say, there is no magic age designating instant bladder control. I have found that this generally happens between ages 2-3, but it could be a little earlier or a little later. You’ll know when they are ready when they begin to show an interest or the moment they retrieve the wipes, diapers and hand sanitizer from the child-locked cabinet in the bathroom. But don’t push it if they aren’t ready--it will only take longer to complete.
2. Planning. Once ready, you need to figure out the optimal time in which to start. Pick a relatively free week where you or the child’s caregiver can devote the proper time and attention to this. Know going in that you will have about a week (but probably less) of a lot of laundry, changing sheets and mad sprints to the bathroom. This can be a messy business now, but only to ensure that it won’t be later.
3. Cold turkey. I know these are fightin’ words to parents of toddlers, but alas, the truth hurts sometimes. There is no difference between a diaper and a pull-up diaper when you are three, except that your parents sigh a lot harder when they try to change one over the other. You can’t expect a two year-old’s mind or bladder to differentiate between a.m. and p.m, so do everyone a favor and don’t switch back and forth because it only confuses things.

4. Now that you know what not to wear, let your child pick out their new fancy pants. Does he love Spiderman? Get it. In an Elmo state of mind? Get that pair too. No matter who you choose, buy a lot of packages so you can change them often that first week.

5. I’m a big fan of praise, praise, and more praise as its own reward, but hey, if you think a treat jar will be an effective tool in your family, then go for it. Try it without it first, though, I bet you’ll be surprised. 

  6.  I have friends who have had success with the “diaper fairy,” --a one time visitor that takes away the diapers one night and leaves a small token in its place. I like this concept a bit more than the treat jar because it’s just once and doesn’t require a dentist.

7. The Real Thing. Potty chairs don’t seem to work for me, again, because it just seems to add an extra step. The big deterrent is that they don’t really flush, which takes all the fun out of it for a kid, and certainly takes all the fun out of it for me since taking advantage of modern plumbing is why we do this in the first place. A stool by the big potty and sink works well.

8. Around night three, you’re going to be sick of changing sheets and want to succumb to the diaper just this once, BUT DON’T GO TO THE DARK SIDE, LUKE! You will be thankful that you didn’t when you are not making excuses at their first sleepover. It’s all about consistency. And laundry.

9. Accidents happen. But if you are fully-committed to this, they will happen far less frequently.

10. Anticipate. Help your little one at every step by anticipating when nature is going to call. Make a habit of going first thing in the morning and right before bed. If you’re going out, try going before you leave. That may seem like obvious advice, but teaching your child that they have control over this process is important, and it’s the one time we as parents are allowed to give them the answers on their homework.
And finally, celebrate the triumphs, forget the failures. Really, it’s a week or less of hassle for such a big step in your child’s life. Before you know it they’ll be standing in lines at rock concerts and sporting events without an issue and you’ll be bragging to your mother in-law that you potty-trained in three days.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The way the cookie crumbles

A simple Google search could have answered the question before it was even asked, as well as predicted the eventual tragic outcome.

Had my new neighbors used a simple search engine the answer to, “Would you like to be the Girl Scout Cookie Mom this year?” would have come screaming loud and clear across the Interwebs with a resounding “VERY BAD IDEA.”

But they didn’t. And I stunned the world by saying, “Sure, how hard could it be?”

As it turns out, pretty freaking hard. Or rather, not suited for a laid-back, disorganized, encroaching-hermit type of mother like me.

This painful reality became abundantly clear to both Troop 1297 and myself after the first 96 hours of online training courses I was required to complete. There were many poorly-produced videos on things like the history of the Savannah Smile and the use of sustainable palm oil, but not a word about whether a Merlot or Cab paired better with a Thin Mint. But I waded through (sober) and got my certificate of completion and a serious case of eyestrain nonetheless. 

Thinking I was thoroughly prepared for all things cookie, I was then surprised to find that I still had to attend the in-person training course which was held conveniently at 7:00 am on a Saturday morning. I don’t know if it was convenient, but it was certainly ironic since the woman running the seminar hadn’t slept the night before in preparation of our meeting, and I was still sleeping through it. She spoke in a quick clip for the next five hours about cookies, cookies and more cookies. I assume. I couldn’t really hear well over the caffeine buzz over the other mothers who had come equipped with Samoa-scented pens for taking notes and sales figures from the last seven years on their iPhones apps.

Since I was frantically writing my notes with a broken restaurant crayon on the back of my Publix receipt, I couldn’t help but feel as though perhaps I was ill-suited for this job.

Perhaps it was because I had never been a Girl Scout. I guess we couldn’t afford the fancy Brownie uniform so my mom enrolled us into the lesser-known, knock-off Campfire Girls. Instead of selling the famous cookie, our fundraiser came in the form of kindling and matches. It wasn’t nearly as successful, especially in the dry season. But that was back in the wild 70’s when our palm oil wasn’t sustainable.

So while I didn’t have experience to get me through the coming month serving as the troop Cookie Mom, I certainly had enough training. And emails.

Email. Lots of it. It was the one technological advance in the process since the advent of the quarter in 1796. Dozens of emails a day from several different levels of the organization all automatically-generated followed by at least three more from actual people explaining the previous email with a just enough passive-aggressiveness to hint at the drama below.

The amount of electronic notifications was in stark contrast from the actual website I was instructed to use to record, order and track our sales which was the most antiquated, confusing, and glitch-prone site I’d ever seen. I’ve been on the Internet since you had to plug in a land line into Tommy Lee Jones and Al Gore’s dorm room, but this one eluded me completely. It put the Wait? Why? What the? in www. I’ve had tic-tac-toe boards make more sense than those spreadsheets.

This use of Tripod sites and Hotmail addresses makes this process that much more difficult for a mother with the organizational skills of a crowd control usher for floor seating at a Beiber concert. In a middle school gym. Of an all-girls school. On the set of a Disney Channel sitcom. During a taping with Taylor Swift as the special guest star.

Frankly, I’m just not that intense about my baked goods.

But I am about my daughter. And a program that teaches, inspires and empowers young girls. 

So I will meet unrealistic deadlines, answer and send 4000 emails and tout the benefits of sustainable palm oil. I will glitter glue signs and set up card tables in front of grocery stores and humbly peddle cookies without counsel from a wine steward. And I will forget all about these many hours when I do it all over again next year.

Let’s just hope that no one on Council earns their Google savvy badge in the meantime.

©2013 Tracey Henry

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sunrise, Sunset

Change. There’s been a lot of it around here lately, but some changes are harder than others.

While I hadn’t been active on Whoa Momma in quite some time, I still held my eventual return to the Tampa Bay Times parenting site as a sooner rather than later event. As I was planning posts in my mind, I got word that the newspaper was shutting down the feature as part as their revamp. While the news wasn’t unexpected, it certainly wasn’t welcome as my experience with that paper and the journalists there is one that I am so extremely grateful. I met amazing women, learned a ton about the industry as well as myself as a writer, and developed a lot tougher skin. They have invited me to submit features and pitch ideas in the future--which I certainly will--but I will always have a soft spot for our trendsetting site in the world. 

As that door closed, others opened as the pithy saying goes. The National Wildlife group, Be Out There, has become active once again, and as part of their Board of Founding Mothers, I have renewed my commitment to them. I’m not sure what kinds of activities we will be involved in the coming years, but as one leader put it, “You can’t protect what you don’t know and love,” so I will do my part to get us all to love and know the outdoors.

And so suddenly, and this blog will get more of my attention. Twitter gets my hockey and 140 character wisdom @SubDiva and  Facebook gets my friends and family updates and I’ve updated my reading list with a star rating system here as well.

So stay tuned. Again. Who knows what’s coming next?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What's on the menu? No, really?

Every time I hear the phrase, “Grow old gracefully,” I think one of two things: the person speaking is in their early twenties with no power of observation or they live on the international space station where the laws of gravity don’t apply. And while I know certain aspects of the aging process are inevitable, there are some that I feel are completely manmade or at the very least, exacerbated by a cruel echelon of the restaurant industry.

And it’s got nothing to do with what’s on the menu, but everything to do with how it’s printed.

I’m no stranger to visual impairments. I have worn glasses since the fourth grade, got my first pair of contacts when I was sixteen, and have “CORRECTED LENSES” branded on my driver’s license. After years of deteriorating eyesight, I now stick a pair of contact lenses in my eyes the diameter of an espresso saucer. The number for the prescription strength on the box reads like the daily low temperature in Nome in January. I use enough saline solution in the morning to brine a barrel of anchovies. If I do want to wear my glasses I have wait for the requisition request from the planetarium to be approved. So believe me when I say I know vision problems.

But lately, even with my extensive prosthetics I can’t read a simple menu at a restaurant. I thought it was just me until I realized that every one of my friends suddenly has new reading glasses perched on the end of their noses. We hold our menus at an arm’s length away. We ask one another what they are ordering--not out of polite curiosity, but because we’re hoping someone in our group can read some selections aloud.

Because we are obviously still adjusting to this new phenomenon, often most of us never remember to bring our new readers. Or we’ve misplaced them--usually right on our heads. But that’s okay because women share reading glasses liberally--prescription strength is moot since we all self-diagnosed our purple tortoise shell frames with the matching case from the grocery store checkout anyway.

I’m not sure what restaurateurs have to gain by printing their menus in .00047 point font, for surely they’ve noticed that tables with diners over the age of 40 take twice as long to order as any other age bracket. We must seem terribly rude as well since as soon as we sit down and the menus are produced we immediately power up our cell phones. Not to text or make a call mind you, but to get some sort of focused light so we can read the wine list. Perhaps they do this purposely since inevitably I now always order the special because the waiter can recite it out loud and I’m spared the embarrassing struggle of trying to decipher the appetizers. 

Over dinner, we sometimes speak of improved sight options. Some have had surgery, others have trifocals. Just the thought of this gives me vertigo and I can’t help but wonder what happens in a stiff wind? Instead of the thousands of lives I’d put in danger if while driving I looked down a millimeter and blew through a stop sign because I was looking through the wrong lens plane, why can’t restaurants just forgo the ecru ink?

So please, I beg of you Emeril, Wolfgang, Bausch and Lomb, please help an aging, but still hungry, diner out. Taking a cue from the luggage carousel, once we retrieve our credit cards from the pile on the table by the multi-colored ribbons we’ve attached, I assume we are good tippers.

And at the very least, those waiters are going to have to repeatedly shout those specials of tapioca and prune juice at us soon enough.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Great Shopping Survey Experiment

My usual response is a mumbled “Thanks,” as I stuff the store receipt into my purse. The survey that the cashier has helpfully highlighted in pink remains unanswered as well as all of my chances to a sweepstakes for a gift card if I simply “go online and complete a brief questionnaire about my shopping experience.” 

What started out as a mandatory salutation from bored salespeople coupled with an offer for their store credit card at a handful of stores has become part of nearly every transaction at retail and restaurant chains across the country. It seems as though everyone wants your opinion and is willing to give you certain shopping perks in exchange for it.

I decided to host an experiment to see just how much my opinion mattered to those cash register receipts.

For a period of about a month, I decided to complete every survey from everywhere I shopped or dined that offered one. I answered each one honestly and independently from one another and recorded the time it took to complete, the ease of the process and what the promised payoff to me was.

Not much, was the resounding answer.

The Good:

Of the 15 surveys I completed only two from retail stores and two from restaurants offered something tangible. Dick’s Sporting Goods emailed me a $10 off coupon immediately after completing their six minute survey, and Off Broadway Shoes gave me an instant $5 off my purchase at the register if I texted a number they provided. I appreciated that instaneous savings. 

And of the two out of three restaurants I tried, Sticky Fingers Smokehouse and Outback Steakhouse gave me a code for a free dessert and an appetizer respectively.

The Not Bad:

JCpenney is offering a button after a purchase at their store. You go on the website, enter in the code from the back of the button, and you are instantly notified if you’re a winner. 

I didn’t win, but by this point, I was used to it.

The big, bad waste of time:

Every other retail store I sampled entered me into a sweepstakes of varying prizes. Best Buy and Home Depot were the most generous with a chance at a $5,000 shopping spree, while Joann Fabric and Craft Center offered a mere $25 gift card. None of this mattered since to date, I haven’t won a dime.

The average time it took to complete a survey was about 7 minutes, but Toys R Us took a whopping 13 minutes. But if you’ve ever stood in line at this chronically understaffed store during the holidays, anything under an hour seems like a bonus. Pier 1 Imports was the only one I chose to answer by phone, and I think this added considerably to the time devoted to a $7 clearance floral stem.

So after a couple of hours of visiting store websites and placing numerical values to whether signs printed in Spanish enhanced my shopping experience, I can’t say that it was worth the investment. To be fair, I am not a particularly lucky person nor am I particularly patient. The nebulous sweepstakes offers seem awfully shallow when stores are asking customers to invest additional time to advance their consumer research. While the store got my time, age, and annual income, all I got in return was a receipt eight inches longer than necessary, strange 800 numbers calling during dinner and a Blooming Onion.