August 20, 2012

THINGS TO DO WITH TEENS: Family volunteering

Truckee River Cleanup DayThere's a great opportunity coming up at the end of September for teens and parents to spend the day doing something great for their community and have fun at the same time.

September 29 is Truckee River Cleanup Day, a 15-year tradition in Washoe County to make sure the river running through Reno and Sparks is free of trash and invasive weeds.

The cleanup is organized by Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful (full disclosure: This is where I work), and it brings together the city and county governments, fishermen, kayakers, tubers and families across all demographics who want to make sure our drinking water (the Truckee River) and recreation areas are as clean as possible.

Cleanups like this go on all across the country as well, so if you aren't in the Reno/Sparks area, check in with Keep America Beautiful or your local city/county governments to find out what's going on in your area.

July 18, 2012

NOTE FOR MOMS: Watch Where Do We Go Now?

If you are lucky enough to live in an area with a theater showing Where Do We Go Now? -- the new movie from Lebanese director Nadine Labaki -- go now.

Yes, there are subtitles. But these mothers, their bickering and admonishing, what they go through to keep their village together, will be so hilariously, heartbreakingly familiar, language is hardly a barrier.

The story is centered on the women (most not professional actors) of a Middle Eastern village -- half Muslim, half Christian -- who start the movie with little sabotages to keep the men from finding out that the two religious factions are fighting in neighboring villages. The sabotage grows in scale, and for good reason. As a visitor to the village says on a trip through the cemetery, "There are more dead here than alive."

Labaki wrote the movie after the birth of her son, and stars as the Christian widowed mother of a young son, who -- with much teasing from the older woman in the village -- is in love with a Muslim man. Though there are very funny moments, it's obvious Labaki is trying to lighten the mood on a very bleak and scary situation. It's a situation she's very familiar with (from her director's statement): "Most of our days were spent in confinement behind sacks of sand. There were times when it was too dangerous to even leave our homes. We couldn’t go to school, we couldn’t go outside to play, and we couldn’t practice what normal childhood was."

The women's subtle sabotage becomes more hilarious and then hysterical as the story progresses, from burning newspapers, to baking hashish into appetizers, to pretending to switch religions to show their husbands how stupid they are being. The village priest and imam even join in, trusting that the bigger picture of peace will override the small deceptions to keep it.

The need for peace reaches a fevered pitch when one more son is lost on a trip outside the village, and these women do everything they can -- things we all wish we could do, especially when the fight is over religion, which is meant to unify us, but more often tears us apart in horrific, unnecessary ways. You'll laugh and cry and go home to hug your children, and be glad they don't have to live with war on their doorstep every day. And remember those mothers who do.

"WHERE DO WE GO NOW? became our cry for help. Our hope for change. My message to my son. To all our sons." -- Nadine Labaki

July 10, 2012

THINGS TO DO WITH TEENS: Take a walk (or ride or paddle)

Now that the heat wave has broken somewhat, take the kids for a walk, ride or paddle, around Gray's Lake. Gray's Lake is one of those gems that keeps Des Moines winning its "best places to live" awards. Just south of downtown, the lake is connected to bike paths, offers a new view of the Capitol, and is just across Fleur from Water Works Park.

The walking path is almost two miles around, and there are various boat and bike rentals. Parks and Rec also offers some basic sailing classes, and I can say from experience they are fun. There's a youth class offered as well. The summer highlight for many residents and visitors is free weekly yoga classes for all ages given by a different area teacher each Saturday.

If you're not in Des Moines, try an internet search with the name of your city followed by "Parks and Rec", or the name of your county and "conservation" to see what's offered in your area. If you are in Des Moines, but want something a little more off the beaten path, Polk County Conservation has some great programs for young adults.

May 20, 2012


I got Jamie Oliver's Meals in Minutes for Mother's Day (the library copy is back now, so you can check it out), and below you can see my first try. This is a great/different book because the idea is to cook a whole dinner and have all the dishes ready at the same time -- something I've never been good at making happen.

This book is made for people who don't think they know how, or have the time, to cook, but it works for people who already know how and love to cook too. One thing: I'm really glad I knew how to size these down for 1-2 people; if you don't, you'll be stuck with a ton of food. I also don't feel the need to get these done in the 30 minutes promised, since cooking is the best part of my day, but the steps are laid out really nicely, especially for kids and teens who might be helping. Plus, some of us got a little distracted by Danno, who also showed up for Mother's Day.

April 26, 2012

Recipes for Success - From Inspiring Women

I had the incredible pleasure the last nine months to work on ISED's Recipes For Success cookbook/journal featuring inspiring women business and community leaders in Des Moines and the surrounding area. Iowa is unique compared with other places I've lived in that women are not only actively encouraged in business here, but successful women leaders are always on the lookout for women just starting out to mentor and help along the way. It's wonderful to be a part of, and I made some lasting friendships working on this project. Plus, the food is delicious!

You can order a copy through ISED's website, or look through it at Sticks and Kitchen Collage. Below are some of the portraits I was lucky enough to take for this book.

April 3, 2012

If you didn't read to your teens as kids, starting now might be awkward, but both my kids still love it when I read to them. In fact, The Boy is pretty exclusively an audiobook reader. He had such a hard start in school with constantly changing/bad reading curriculum, I love anything that gets him excited about books. We listen together in the car too.

Reading the same book together is a great way to share reading if you didn't read aloud as a kid, or if your kids have grown out of the activity. My daughter is only home at school breaks, so it's a great way for us to keep in touch -- like a book club of two. And she usually recommends the books.

I hate the phrase "teachable moment" because I feel like puts way to much pressure on parents and takes away from that amazing feeling you get when you can actually talk to your teens in an adult-ish way about your feelings and beliefs.

But books really open up those kind of fun conversations in our house, and I'm a firm believer in giving kids as much of a chance as possible to form their opinions in a safe space so they understand how to stand up for themselves and others as civilly as possible. I don't understand shutting kids off from other viewpoints; the more kids hear their parents offering defense of their own beliefs, the stronger they become and the more able kids are to form their own strong opinions.

Here are some great titles if you're looking for a place to start*:

Freak the Mighty
Chances are, and especially with bullying being such a problem in schools, your kids are reading Freak the Mighty in school. The movie is good too, as is a similar bit of 80s awesomeness My Bodyguard (Firefly/Chuck fans, you can see where this mom started crushing on Adam Baldwin -- scroll down for trailer filled with all your favorites 30 years younger).

House of the Scorpion
Cloning, genetics, personal freedom, immigration, drugs, utopian/dystopian societies -- this book deals with it all plus excellent story and characters. This was a recommendation from The Girl, our whole family loved it, and I've recommended it to teens and adults. This month in book club we're reading The Adoration of Jenna Fox, which deals with similar issues of cloning and personal freedom versus government control, but the scope is much smaller.

The Bloody Jack series
I was afraid my son would not be interested in Bloody Jack, but he took to it more than I did, which I love because equality issues can be explored without anything heavy handed. A teenaged Mary decides her life as an orphan on the streets of 1790s England would be much improved if she changes her name to Jack and poses as a shipsboy. Author L.A. Meyer handles the mechanics of hiding gender realistically but not graphically, especially heartbreaking when -- and moms will see this coming as she starts getting regular meals and starts putting on weight -- Jacky, as she is called, gets her period and thinks she's dying, but can't go to the ship's doctor without revealing her secret. Even though my son watched The Movie in sixth grade, I did have to tell him what was going on.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer
I admit I picked this one up because the title made me laugh, and all the chapters are similarly based on song names, so that will appeal to other moms my age, give or take. The story is mostly very fun, and a cut above the usual monster stuff that shelves are overrun with right now, and it has a lot to say about friendship, which is always important.

*Your kids are likely reading Hunger Games in school, and since my daughter didn't like this series, I didn't read it until recently when we did it for teen book club. I didn't like it either, but I know I'm in the minority, and there is definitely a lot to talk about in it. My son liked it though, and I find it's similar to a lot of the books/series he likes: it involves levels like a video game. I feel like it's basically the same thing happening over and over with detail variations. And, as a parent, I couldn't get past the basic premise that a central government would be able to come and get people children for 70 years and there wouldn't have been a major revolt, like, immediately. There was something inherently false about the Lord of the Flies atmosphere. Of course, I felt that about Lord of the Flies too.

January 4, 2012

Anyone caucus with their teens?

(Migrated from WordPress)

I moved here as a journalist, and was a born-and-raised Westerner before that, so caucusing was something I only saw in photos. But I know some people here caucus with their kids like people back home drag them to Burning Man.

Anyone caucus with their teens? Tips? Stories?

January 3, 2012

Things to do with teens: Channel your inner Willy Wonka

(Migrated from WordPress)

Full disclosure: I run teen programs at the East Side Library, so I know lots about what teens can do every Tuesday at 4 p.m. (and at other branches at other times). Today, we're making candy.

You can easily do this activity at home, and it's great in that you can make it as easy or complicated as you want. We have specialty molds and candy discs for our activity, but melted chocolate, wax paper and a kid's paint brush would work at home.

If you are interested in the after-school programs at East Side Library, we generally follow a schedule: first Tuesday is a food program, second Tuesday is a craft, third is book club, and the fourth Tuesday is Wii games. If you are in another part of town, all the other branches have teen programs too and you can search for them at

I've been participating in some amazing national teen programming calls with other libraries as well, so I know these sorts of programs are taking place all over the country; just check your local library!

January 2, 2012


(Migrated from WordPress, with what I hope are all the typos fixed. Good grief.)

Welcome! I meant to welcome you yesterday, but my pre-New Year's resolution was to get absolutely everything crossed off that perpetual to-do list, most of which had been lingering all last year, and I wasn't quite done. So welcome to the second day of 2012. I can already tell this year is going to be better because this year is so much easier to say.

I'm starting this blog for moms with teenaged kids, who need things to do with them. If you're like me, you're a little frustrated at all the blogs/forum/sites/magazines/excited chat for moms with babies/toddlers/kids, and you feel a little left out. The accepted wisdom is teens don't want to hang out with their parents anymore, so why bother?

Being blessed with two teens -- The Girl is 18, The Boy is 13 -- who still like to hang with mom*, I know there's plenty out there to do, it's just a little harder to find, and since I've never had a lot of money to spend, I also have to get a little creative.

Admittedly, it's difficult to get any of us off the couch, especially if Glee is in the DVD player, but once we're going, I've found my kids to be go anywhere, try anything (except maybe The Boy with food, but that's changing -- see Cooking) types who are more than happy to try something new. That's the great thing about more grown-up kids.

Giving back to the community has always been exceedingly important to me, and my kids will testify to being dragged on all kinds of volunteering outings over the years. But now they both see the rewards, and seek out opportunities on their own. The praise they receive for their efforts doesn't hurt either. Many of our "things to do" will involve volunteer opportunities; they're cheap, fun and incredibly important in myriad ways.

And many of these "things to do" won't be DSM (or surrounding areas -- we LOVE Road Trips) specific. If you're not in the Des Moines area, and are looking for something like I mention here, but aren't having any luck, leave a comment.

*I was excited the other day when I heard The Boy say from the back seat "Uh, mom, this is a little embarrassing." What? I'd finally managed to embarrass one of my kids? I'd actually TRIED before; I mean, isn't that the fun of being a parent? But how to accomplish when they listen to the same music, wear the same clothes as I did in high school? "What's embarrassing?" I asked. "The windows down and you blasting the 80s music," (ok, admittedly "the other day" must have been months ago). I immediately turned the music up and added loud singing as he scrunched down in his seat. When I relayed the story to a friend, I couldn't remember the exact song, but The Boy seemed to think it was The Warrior, which is perhaps one of the most awful/hilarious examples of the genre.