Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dump Trucks and Princesses

“MAMA! STOP!” These were the words spoken by my then one-and-half-year-old son, Wyatt when we were driving home one day. My heart about stopped. I thought I had just run over a squirrel, or ran a stop sign, or did something horrible because the shriek in his voice was so urgent that you would have thought Wyatt was going to die if I didn’t stop. I quickly realized that nothing terribly wrong had happened; we merely drove by a construction site. Nonetheless if we didn’t stop and take a look at all the big machines driving around in the mud, Wyatt was going to start WW III with a world-class temper-tantrum.

I pulled the car over, got Wyatt out of his car seat, and in the rain (it’s always raining in Hood River, OR), we walked over to the fence line to see dirty – rusty – loud machines backing up, “beep, beep, beep, beep.” Going forward. Backing up, “beep, beep, beep, beep.” Leveling dirt. Backing up, “beep, beep, beep, beep…” I rolled my eyes – boring. Surely Wyatt felt the same, but when I looked down at Wyatt: his eyes, his face, his open-mouth-with-drool-coming-out look said it all – he had never seen anything so cool in his life. Dump trucks, skid steer loaders, forklifts, crane trucks – Christmas had come early! The site was a one-year-old gold mine!

Wyatt tugged on my shirt, insistent I sit down so he could curl up in my lamp and watch the amazing spectacle before him. Wyatt didn’t move and this was unheard of. He’s normally bouncing off the walls. If I’d let him, he would have sat still for hours watching these machines.

Visiting the construction site became part of our daily routine and I started getting into it. Wyatt would get his “big machine” fix while he sat in my lap so transfixed and so subdued that you would have thought I’d drugged him, and I would have about 15 minutes to check my email and social/media news sites on my phone – win-win for both of us.

Soon our house was FULL of toy construction equipment: the books we read, the music we listened to (Truck Tunes – check it out, “Forklift Boogie” is my personal favorite), Wyatt’s clothes – everything had a dump truck on it. And I didn’t think twice, I embraced the construction toddler obsession phase with open arms.

That is until one day at the construction site one of the workers came over to talk to us. Wyatt started quivering with excitement – you would have thought this guy was Santa Claus. I was going to have to get him to autograph our copy of Good Night Construction Site. Our conversation went like this:

            “I see you guys here every day,” the big construction worker said.
            “Yes, my son thinks you and your machines are the coolest thing ever.” Wyatt is still in my lap trembling with excitement.
            “Well, tell your son to stay in school so he doesn’t end up like me,” and the big construction worker turned around and walked away.

Wyatt, not really understanding the English language, merely kept watching. I on the other hand sat rather dumb founded. My initial reaction was: that was really harsh, I doubt he’ll sign Wyatt’s picture book. But as I sat there, I started to agree with him. If I could choose my son’s career, a dump truck driver was not in the top ten. Mind you, I believe machine workers have a legitimate career. They are the backbone of our society – they build our roads, our schools, our firehouses… But, its grueling work that probably takes a heavy toll on one’s body. We packed up and drove home.

Since that interaction I’ve often thought about Wyatt’s true obsession with dump trucks. He created this obsession. I did not. Dump trucks were one of the very first things he ever cared about. If his plastic dump truck was comfortable, he would use it as a pillow. And yes, I encouraged it by our daily visits to the construction sites and purchases of dump truck toys galore. But his obsession with big machines was all him. Which got me thinking about what I was obsessed with as a toddler.

I didn’t have to think long: princesses! When I was Wyatt’s age I wanted to be a princess. And believe me, my Mom did NOT embrace this obsession, or encourage, or create it. My Mom was a gym teacher, an original supporter of Title IX, and a proud tomboy. She cried with joy when I didn’t make the cheerleading squad in 6th grade – trust me – she hated everything pink and princessy.

And despite my mother’s beliefs, I claim that my princess obsession (present tense, I still have it) is healthy. As a girl, when I was a pretending to be a Princess, I wasn’t just prancing around in a pretty dress – I was kicking butt and taking names as well! From my top bunk while wearing my rhinestone tiara, I was leading the free world! I was giving speeches that made grown men quake because I was going to take over the world and make it a better place! What were these speeches about? I don’t know – but that rhinestone tiara I wore made me believe my words were powerful and bold and were going to inspire millions to fight with me to save the world and then some. And as a adult, It has inspired me to worship amazing leaders, who whether or not they have a Princess title, are royal: Princess Diana (with grace and poise required by her British Royal Title, hugged children and adults infected with HIV at a time when most wouldn’t be in the same room with an infected human. She got in the mud and helped unarm numerous landmines littered across Angola), Michele Obama (regardless of one’s political beliefs, is an amazing leader who is using her title and power to attack childhood obesity), Sylvia Earle (A true queen of the oceans nicknamed, “Her Deepness,” has used her powers to accomplish numerous environmental achievements) – the list of outstanding royal women is endless.

And yes I agree with my mother, these obsessions can quickly become unhealthy – buying everything “princess” Disney makes is not good, and buying everything “dump truck” that Amazon sells is also unhealthy. Peggy Orenstein, an amazing writer, does an excellent job documenting how toxic the princess world can be. Please click here to see her blog. And she’s right, so many  “princess” toys are awful. But as mothers, we have the choice not to buy that stuff. We have the choice to guide our daughters’ princess obsessions to real princesses who are amazing. Just like I have the choice to guide my son’s dump truck obsession, by refusing to buy him every dump truck toy he sees.

The point of this post is: toddler obsessions are crazy. I have no idea why my son loves dump trucks, but he does and no matter what I do when we drive by a construction site he is going to scream to stop, and sometimes we stop and sometimes we don’t. And when I was a toddler, regardless of my mom’s persistent desire for me not to be a princess, I wanted to be a princess and rule the world.

A lot of girls want to be princesses, and a lot of boys want to be dump truck drivers, and is that so wrong? I don’t think so. I’m a proud adult that still wants to be a princess so I can use that title to save the world. And as an author, I write about an amazing eleven-year-old princess who, I hope, will inspire other young kids to become world leaders that fight for our dear planet.

So this Halloween I ask you not to roll your eye at every girl dressed as a princess. One of theses little girls you see with a tiara on her head might one day stand in a beautiful suit in front of Congress giving a speech that will for generations be thought of as some of the most powerful words ever spoken. But if you can’t help yourself, and you truly hate the princess obsession, then I ask you to only be fair and also roll your eyes at all the little boys who would be dressed up as a dump truck if their mom’s could figure out how to make such a costume.

Happy Halloween Everyone!

Big Smile,

To view Sarah's middle grade fiction book click here: Paperback and Kindle 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Burger Tour – Columbia Gorge 2012

I wish it was a book tour, maybe someday. But yes, you read it right: Burger Tour, as in a lump of ground beef, two white flour buns on either side with a lot of ketchup, and if I feel adventurous a wedge of pickle. After all, I am conducting this tour with the Pickle Princess herself – Tonia Farman of the Farman Pickles. Few people realize that Tonia is from a pickle dynasty. She is more famous for her creation of Athletes 4 Cancer, an inspirational non-profit that helps cancer survivors rebuild their lives, but on food tours she’s the Pickle Princess in my mind. Let’s be real, I can’t conduct a food tour without a Princess in tow.

Let me give you a background. The first food tour I ever took part in was with the Pickle Princess herself in La Ventana, Mexico - a tiny tiny town that sits on the Sea of Cortez on the Baja Peninsula. Down there when the sky gets dark – I mean really dark – there are no city lights to dull the black nights, these little hot-dog carts roll out of nowhere and set up shop on random corners throughout town. They hang a glaring light bulb that dangles over the hot-dogs and precious toppings. With five gorgeous babes and one Pickle Princess at the wheel of a suburban that would never pass a state inspection as its missing at least one door, a few windows, and probably never had seat belts, I experienced my first food tour – the La Ventana Hot-Dog Tour.

Since neither the Pickle Princess nor I is heading down to La Ventana this year we are brining the Food Tour to the Columbia Gorge and we have chosen to tour the burger joints. If you don’t like meat – stay tune – our next tour will be chocolate deserts!

First stop, McDonalds. Well let me clarify – I just drove by. Their parking lot is not even worthy of the Pickle Princess, and I’m not ruining my palate with make-believe beef. But, I have to at least acknowledge that there is a McDs in the Columbia Gorge.

Second stop Trout Lake, WA Chevron Gas Station:

There is not much in Trout Lake, WA with a population of 848 people, but as you drive into the little town with big Mt Adams towering over there is a Chevron gas station. Attached and just around the back is a little restaurant with no name and a big wooden door with a crack at the bottom that oozes smells of burgers, bacon, and grease. I’m sure the place has a name, but the Pickle Princess and I couldn’t find the sign. Inside there are about four tables and bar with another six stools for seating. The walls are lined with license plates and old pictures of the White Slalom River flooding the town.

We went there on a random Wednesday night and the place was packed! Well, packed for Trout Lake – there was about ten people in there, the Pickle Princess and I rounded the count up to 12. Seating was slim pickings and with everyone staring at us we wedged ourselves into a little corner table. I’m undecided if the stares were friendly. Since I was with the Royal Pickle Princess they could have just been staring at her in awe that she was gracing their presence, but I’m thinking they were just a little shocked to see two girls with pony tails dressed in cute jeans and colorful tops invading their little-one-restaurant town. Nonetheless, people quickly returned their attention back to the burgers and the waiter brought us some menus with a nice smile on her face.

It’s important to note that there are different categories of burgers: gourmet, classic, and grease. And on this occasion we were most definitely exploring the grease category. Prior to even ordering you could feel the film of grease soaking into your skin – YUM!

I had the vision of asking where the meat was from, but the Pickle Princess made a good point, do we want to know? Alas, we never asked the questions. Instead, armed with numerous napkins we dug into the greasiest, juiciest burgers ever. I seriously went through ten napkins and washed it down with a huge chocolate milkshake! And yes, a pickle came on the side and I nibbled on it in between bites.

Without further ado our results are as follows:

Tonia – the Royal Pickle Princess’s Results:

Atmosphere: Priceless! Okay, scale of 1-10, I give it a 7.
Service: 4 - We were not exactly "welcomed" warmly; got the drinks after the burgers.
Burger (grease category): 8 - Temperature good, patty covered almost the entire bun, bacon was crispy & quality, cheese was a good cheddar, great bun, good green leaf lettuce and tomato was quality, just a little too much juice -- or was it grease-- dripping from it?
Fries: 3 - Too chewy and a bit thin for my liking for how chewy they were.
Extras: Chocolate Milkshake gets a 10!!

Sarah’s Results:

Atmosphere: 9 – I loved it! I’m a total sucker for the country store feel where there is barely enough room to turn around.
Service: 4 – I’m with the Pickle Princess on this one. To their credit, however, the place was packed and we got there 40 minutes before they closed.
Burgers (grease category): 9 – I wasn’t over exaggerating, I went through at least ten napkins. Grease was dripping from my fingers, covering my lips, and coating my taste buds! It will be interesting to see if any other burger in the Columbia Gorge can beat these guys in the grease category. And I agree with the Pickle Princess – good leaf of green lettuce.
Fries: 2 – I didn’t finish them and if I don’t finish my plate of fries you know they are not good because I always finish my fries. They were the skinny kind and just didn’t have that salty, crisp goodness.
Extras:  10 - Chocolate Milkshake was AMAZING! The best one I’ve ever had – seriously – AMAZING! Pickle was very good too: crisp and crunchy with just the right amount of dill. (You might be wondering why the Pickle Princess didn’t rate the pickle – it’s too much of a conflict of interest for her. Being from a pickle dynasty, she understandably cannot be an impartial judge of a pickle.)

Stay tune for Burger Food Tour number 3! Location is top secret but it has been decided! 

To view Sarah's middle grade fiction book click here: Paperback and Kindle