Snow Reverie

Two days ago it snowed, a light fluffy, non sticky snow, the stuff of bitter cold weather and bright clear skies.  Yesterday it blew, and the crisp edges of the driveway were blurred into little duney drifts.  Around town, those stretches of road with no windbreaks were heaped up with snow.  It was just the like snow on the stretch of County A starting just in front of my parents’ old house and heading east. It was a Bermuda Triangle-esque stretch of country road, where any bit of wind would sweep the snow off of the flat, plowed fields and send it racing across the prairie, to be caught and heaped up on the roadway.  We kids always thought that those swirling eddies of snow across the two lane road looked like the action of hockey players, racing and jostling across the ice.  Every winter, people heading east out of Janesville would be caught unawares by the treacherous stretch of windswept road just past the farmhouse, and they’d end up in the ditch.  Ours was the nearest house, and the drivers would inevitably end up at our back door, asking to use the phone, back in the day when cell phones weren’t a thing.  The kitchen phone was wall-mounted with a curly white cord that cold easily stretch into the unheated “back room” as we called it;  I know because perched on the washing machine was the only place that anyone could have a private conversation in the house. If mom was home alone with us kids, she’d make any single men make the call from the back room, with the door shut firmly between us and them, the white coil of cord mashed in the door jamb.  If there was a woman or kids however, a spot was generally cleared for them at the kitchen table.  One time, dad even gave the mom and kids donuts.  But that was a time that the mom was crying because she’d hit a farm dog in the road further up the way, not because of snow.

 

That swirly, windy, country snow would sometimes appear pink, as the debris from the silos filled with drying soybeans at the farm across the road would dust the top layers of it pink.  One winter the snow heaped up dirty  brown on the bottom, clean white next, and a pinkish layer on the top that looked for all the world like a cross section of the Neopolitan ice cream in the half-gallon box container in the freezer compartment of the house on County A.

A Clean Slate

By the end of the Christmas season, I’m itching to get back to normal.  And by get back to normal, I mean put all of the crap away and revel in a few empty horizontal surfaces.  You might not suspect this of me, given that I currently own 17 bins of Christmas decorations and put up 7–count ’em, 7–trees in my house.  I LOVE decorating for Christmas!  And I love putting it all away even more.  And after flipping the calendar, it can’t happen soon enough.

My mother always lived by the rule that the Christmas season extends to Epiphany, a full 12 days after Christmas.  To be fair, this is an excellent rule for teachers, which she was.  They have so little time to prepare for things in the run up to the holidays.  The shift of the celebratory block into January and away from the creep toward Thanksgiving makes perfect sense for that population.  Mom took full advantage of this loophole for many years and sent Epiphany cards rather than Christmas cards.  This bought her until January 7 in time and an easy theme to follow in that her cards, for many years, featured the three wise men.  Clever, Sister Janice, clever.

Christmas 2017

My God it was charming while it lasted (photo and S&P shakers courtesy of Pat Bier)

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But I’m so glad it’s over.

I can’t slog through that long, though.  There’s my own holiday excess to blame. Then there’s Jimmy’s toy model train situation, which involves a span of two rooms and multiple villages.  Realistically, our holiday displays reduce our usable living space by about half.  So there’s that.  Then there’s the fact that the decorations start to look a little off.  The train tracks are separating.  The ornaments are drooping.  The one live tree has more needles on the ground than on.  The batteries are expired on 50% of things.  There’s glitter in places that it just shouldn’t be.  I can make it through the new year, but once those kids are back in school, it’s time to get serious.  This, thank you sweet Jesus, happened today.  Save for Jimmy’s disassembled trains awaiting storage, it is DONE.

The other exciting thing?  Putting away Christmas means it’s also time to Konmari the crap out of the house.  What is this weird verb I mention, you ask?  Have you heard of this quirky little book that was popular a couple years back, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up?  It’s basically a book about how to get rid of stuff and put it away neatly.  The book is interesting for a number of reasons.  First, it’s like a little virtual homestay with an unmarried young woman living in Japan.  There are all sorts of references that so clearly don’t apply to me, but are quite interesting.  (e.g., how long good luck charms picked up at Shinto shrines are “good” for).

Second, her approach to tidying is quite useful.  In a nutshell, she recommends sorting things by item rather than location–that is, don’t go through your coat closet and clothes closet separately.  Instead, make a big pile of all your coats from wherever they reside and deal with them all at once.  This forces you to be honest about what you really have (in most of our cases, too much).  You think you don’t have too many pens?  Pile ’em up on the kitchen table and then get back to me.  The other interesting thing about her approach is that she has you decide what to keep rather than what to throw away.  This sounds like no big difference, but it works.  She wants you accomplish these decisions by holding every object and determining whether it brings you joy.  This is corny, so instead I look at every object and decide whether, if it was the only one left in the drawer / shelf / closet I’d still use it.  For example, the third string underwear.  Does it really need to stay?  When I get that deep in the bench, I’m doing laundry ASAP.

Third, she has some ways of folding things that have produced an inordinate amount of pleasure in my life.

Finally, the book has allowed me to reintroduce the word tidy into my daily vocabulary.

I won’t bore you by forcing you to participate in the daily rehashing of my Konmari extravaganza, but trust me when I report that my Konmari plan will be happening big time.  The purge produces a thrilling amount of things that leave the house.  When I’m on pace, there’s usually at least a bag that leaves per day.  This almost balances out the daily deliveries e at our house thanks to Jimmy’s Amazon Prime addiction.

So, stay at school a bit longer, children, and don’t pay attention if I blame the dog when a few “precious” items go missing (decorative but useless erasers, those damn Shopkins, every Valentine you’ve ever received).  Mama’s ready to wipe the slate clean.  Christmas is put away, and mysterious shelf over the refrigerator?  I’m coming for you . . .

My brother, the spritely curmudgeon

I got up at 4:35 a.m. this morning to drive my youngest brother, Pat, to the airport after a week’s visit to Wisconsin.  He was already up, dressed, and had neatly made the guest bed.  The trip to the airport is only 15 minutes door to door, and I assumed we’d complete it largely in not-yet-caffeinated silence.  I was completely wrong, and the random string of topics discussed deserves its own post.

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Pat in his natural state…

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…and what he wishes were his natural state.  These were both taken from his Facebook profile and, therefore, are the best way to determine the way in which he self-identifies.

Pat is a bit of a conundrum.  He’s this odd combination of ridiculously coddled youngest brother / son and curmudgeonly old man.  For evidence, I cite some of the commentary that issued forth from the passenger’s seat from 4:45-5:00 en route to General Mitchell Airport:

 

Young man:  [on Jimmy’s life quest for a perfect credit score]  “What is Jimmy even going to do with that high credit score?  Better to use it now and get some joy out of it.  Whaddya gonna do?  Carve it on your tombstone?”

Old man:  “You know what I really hate?  Seeing the sunrise.  That just means I got out of bed too early.  Who needs that crap?”

Young man:  “I don’t like to be cold, but I also don’t want a puffy coat.  Yeah, you look pretty comfortable over there in that knee length number, but I only have to walk three blocks to the subway.”  Every day.  In sub-zero weather.

Old man:  And speaking of sleep . . . “I don’t know about those people who claim to enjoy getting up early to exercise.  Me?  I need as much sleep as I can get.  Around 9-10 hours a night.”

Young man:  “I also don’t like hats, and I only have only ever liked one pair of earmuffs, and I’m pretty sure Louise lost them.”

Old man:  “Google?  Who needs it?  I just text my sisters when I need answers to questions.” (e.g., What season will it be when we’re in Germany?  What time does the DMV open?  What does mom want for Christmas?)

Young man:  “No, I’m pretty sure they’ll let me check these hand weights and 15# geology text that I brought from mom and dad’s.  [2 hours later…via text….]  Yeah, I’m carrying a geology textbook in my arms through the airport because *apparently* my bag was over weight.”  [to be fair, this was actually from a previous trip to the airport.]

I hope that some of his friends / associates might read this and contribute other ways in which he’s a hopeless mix of naivete and old man crustiness.  It was great having you home, Pat!!!

Shame Shelf

I’m going to tell you about something that, until a few years ago, I didn’t even have crystallized as an actual concept.  I’ve only discussed it with a few people, most notably my therapist.  Are you not in therapy yet?  You really should be.  It’s the best.  It’s like meeting up with a friend to chat, but no one will judge you / accidentally tell your mutual friend / look bored / require you to stop talking at any point to give them a turn.  And if your therapist is especially good–which mine is–you end up feeling completed gutted but with a brand new concept or understanding.  Why we’re all not just assigned a therapist at birth is beyond me.

I’ve known for years that I have a specific cache of memories that create palpable discomfort.  They usually involve me embarrassing myself.  The earliest one occurred outside a Walgreens in Janesville.  I must have been maybe 6, it was summer.  I had just climbed out of the passenger side of the van and mom was busy getting someone out of the car seat, and I was jabbering about how strange the car next to us looked.  She frantically attempted to mime “shut up!” to me as I went on and on about what I remember as a rusty sedan that was somehow fuzzy.  Only as she came around the hood with one of my infant siblings did I look up and see the driver and his family in the car.  With the windows rolled down.  Looking at me.  I can still feel the rush of heat that immediately enveloped me–even hotter than the hot, humid, sticky day.  We walked into the air conditioned drug store and  I didn’t ever want to leave.  I wanted to be absolutely certain that they’d driven away.

This is but a small sample–an amuse bouche if you will–if the vast array of memories that I have available at a moment’s notice to really solidify and dig into a crappy feeling.  Worrying over a disagreement during the day?  Why not drift off to sleep with a special memory of similar embarrassment, just to gild the proverbial lily.  My therapist pointed out that the unifying link of these memories (and so many of my other issues) is SHAME.  A complex concept that I best sum up by remembering the mantra:  “Should is a shame word.”  Are you worried that something you do or have done will be externally judged by what should or shouldn’t be true?  It’s shame.

So, I christened my collection of memories The Shame Shelf.  Perhaps you, too, have a Shame Shelf.  It is full of precious little baubles that can be periodically lifted down, stroked, polished and admired, conjuring up all sorts of awkwardness.  It doesn’t matter how remote the event–the Shame Shelf has an eternal freshness guarantee.  It’s practically impossible to remove and or smash up anything from the Shame Shelf.  They’re hardy little baubles.

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My shelf is a little bit more linear, but this is a pretty close approximation of the mixed bag of items displayed therein.

Here’s the most recent incident that sent me back for a perusal of my Shelf.

I practiced some piano accompaniment songs this morning.  I’m playing for the middle school choir concert on Wednesday.  Whenever I practice accompaniment music I pull off a trophy from the Shame Shelf that still holds some significant toxic memories for me.  It has to do with my brief foray as a music student as Lawrence.  That short time did more to drive down my confidence than anything I’ve ever experienced.  I didn’t know how unprepared I really was, but I did know that I could accompany.  It’s what I still enjoy best.

Freshman year, a fellow student who played cello asked me to accompany her for a master class performance.  As near as I can remember, we rehearsed together a couple of times, and I think I played for her at a cello lesson.  Then we performed at the master class, and I remember that the visiting professor who was there to give cello instruction actually gave me some constructive criticism on my playing.  This was mortifying, as accompaniment always keeps me nicely in the background.  What’d I do that warranted attention?  On a stage full of people?!?!  You mean I wasn’t perfect?  Ugh.  Then I went to a piano lesson the following week and learned that I’m not allowed to just go wandering about playing in public that I should (see that word there?) to inform and prepare with my studio teacher.  Now, my logical brain says that this made absolute sense.  However. The thing I was good at became a source of shame.  Pretty ridiculous, huh?  Even more ridiculous, I spent the last 3 1/3  years of my college career slinking around attempting to avoid eye contact with the woman who was my studio teacher for those first two semesters before I basically stopped playing for 3 years.  

I started playing for choir and soloists a few years ago, and turns out I’m OK for the local scene, so it all worked out.  And yet…the embroidered sampler of that memory is apparently still there, collecting dust on the Shelf.

So, now you know.  I have a Shame Shelf.  It’s kind of funny to talk about.  I’m sure everyone has some stories that continue to cause discomfort.  But I wonder, has anyone else invested in a complete Shame Shelf????

It Has Happened

I’m pretty sure that I officially crossed over a divide this past weekend.  I think I’m officially on the “older” side of divide.  Now, as has been previously addressed, I’ve always secretly (or not so secretly?) been an old soul.  However.  That didn’t necessarily translate into a complete outward manifestation of this fact.  As difficult as it will someday be for my children to believe, I was young once.

I was chatting over dinner with my sister and her husband (who, interestingly, had just finished inquiring as to whether my sister had always been 90.  Apparently this “old soul” thing is somewhat familial).  He mentioned that the next day he was thinking of going to see Thor Ragnarok.  And I asked whether that was a friend of his.

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What he really meant when he said “Thor Ragnarok”

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What I was thinking when he said “Thor Ragnarok”

As soon as I said it a little voice in the back of my head was screaming “movie!  character!  stop!”;  but it was too late.  We all had a good laugh about the mix-up, but I mentally acknowledged the fact that It Had Happened.  I’d seen the signs for awhile.  Here’s a few that I’ve noticed:

  1.  I’ve started shopping from Land’s End.  A lot.  This catalog has been around forever, but the practical, timeless comfort never appealed before.  Now all of the sudden I’m all about supima blends, practical down vests, and more turtlenecks than I could wear in a week.  I’d like to think that these pieces are still subtly blended into my wardrobe.  When I start layering my turtlenecks underneath appliqued sweatshirts we have a real problem.
  2. I rarely wear heels over 2 inches anymore.  Ever.  I remember waltzing into the NICU during a residency rotation in pointy-toed slingback heels and laughing breezily at the nurses’ astonishment at my wardrobe choice.  I’ll never be that painfully practical, I thought.  Well, let me just say one thing:  orthotics.
  3. I’ve started sighing and saying “well, whatcha gonna do?”  Also “golly.”
  4. I make a lot of noise when I get out of bed in the morning.  Between my intentional and automatic joint cracking, it sounds like I’m attempting to break free of a graphite prison.  Jimmy is much the same, although he’ll deny it.  The bonus is that the first person up always wakes up the other,  and we now spend some pleasant time alone over coffee every morning.
  5. I don’t spend too much time about how I look anymore.   No matter where we’re going, it’s highly unlikely that any strangers will spare more than a passing glance on my appearance.  I’m in the “older lady” category, and am valuable mostly for my droll wit, wicked dance moves, and open bar tab.  I don’t mean this to be a sad meditation on the state of female ageing.  To my mind, it’s totally understandable and definitely a relief.
  6. That being said, I spend a lot of time on how I look.  The number of skin care products on my bathroom counter is amazing.  I have my roots touched up every 6-8 weeks.  I have multiple types of foundation and concealer that are applied with an artist’s precision.  All of this to avoid being asked “what happened?” “are you tired?” or “were you on call last night?”
  7. In those magazine articles where it’s “hairstyles (or whatever) for every age, I have to flip ahead a few pages.  You know the ones.  There will be a section for 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and then 50+.
  8. And speaking of magazines, who on earth is that?  When I’m at the hair stylist every 6-8 weeks, I will indulge in a trashy magazine, and I really don’t know who most of these young starlets are.  And the really funny thing is–I don’t WANT to know.  As long as I’m not the “youth ringer” on the trivia team, it’s not my problem.
  9. I’m hoping that technology just stops.  I actually wish progress would have stopped about 10 years ago because I just can’t learn anymore.  When my grandfather died a couple of years ago, I was amazed to look back and realize that he’d been born in a house without running water or electricity, and when he died he was posting on Facebook and emailing his family.  This will NOT be me.  Luckily I have a technology obsessed husband.  However, if he goes before me, I’m pulling my old Palm Pilot back out and reverting to 2002.

So, It Has Happened.  But, whatcha gonna do?  And, while I’m thinking about it, if anyone wants to see Ladybird with me, let me know.  I’ve always been a huge LBJ fan.

Mad Libs: Kid Car Version

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My kids like to to Mad Libs in the car.  I’m sure you remember Mad Libs–someone asks for random parts of speech, and they’re transcribed blindly into a story, the results of which are invariably hilarious to anyone under the age of 12.  I think my kids are learning something from Mad Libs.  For example, I’m fairly certain that they both know what a noun is by now, and that an adverb usually ends in -ly.  And I’m glad that they’re doing something somewhat creative in the car and not just staring at a screen or bickering with each other.  And it usually keeps me in relative peace and quiet.

Generally they start by trying to involve me in the Mad Libs activity, but after a few words I’m generally deemed unworthy and my turn is routinely skipped.  You see, I always break the rules of Juvenile Car Mad Libs, which are specific, predictable, and unvarying:

  1.  All nouns will be something immediately visible out the window.  So, “tree” “mailbox” and “WalMart” are all fine.  Intangibles such as “happiness” or “sanity” are not and rapidly disqualify one.
  2.  All verbs will be dramatic actions such as “jump,” “run,” and “punch-in-the-face.”  Quieter, intransitive (like that, mom?) verbs such as “become” are frowned upon.
  3.  All adjectives will come from the usual descriptor set for an ogre.  Examples would be “hairy,” “stinky,” or “gross.”
  4.  All adverbs will be similarly disgusting
  5.  If the category “part of the body” comes up, you will dither dramatically for about 15 seconds before answering “butt.”  Alternatives are acceptable only if butt has been used two or more times already, and must be another potentially stinky body part.

Resulting Mad Libs are as follows: (taken from the kids’ book, but typed for legibility purposes.  This one is apparently a short dialogue.)

Actor #1: Why did we have to come to this warty old castle?  This place sends shivers up and down my butt.

Actor #2: We had no choice.  You know all the windows in town were filled because of the tree convention.

Actor #1: I’d have been happy to stay in a smooth motel.  (mom was included at this point but summarily dismissed after this answer.)

Actor #2:  Relax.  Here comes the bellboy for our stopsigns.

Actor #1:  Hilltop!  Look, he’s all bent over and has a big PetCo riding on his butt.  He looks just like Natalie from that horror flick.

Actor #2:  No.  I think he’s my old buttocks teacher.  (“What’s buttocks?”  “It’s what those tea drinking people (the British) call a butt”).

Actor#1:  I’m putting my armpit down!  I”m not staying in this ridiculous place.  I’d rather fart in the car!

Actor #2:  You’re worrying stupidly.

Actor #1:  Really?  Look at the bellboy.  He has my traffic in one hand and your Toyota Camry in the other, and his third hand . . . His third hand . . . Ahhh!

 

This was read with gales of uncontrolled laughter, pure comedy gold, and the whole “farting in the car” thing rapidly crossed the line into nonfiction.  Gotta love a Kid Car Mad Lib.

 

 

Halloween Do’s and Don’ts

I love Halloween.  It’s the beginning of that frantic roller coaster ride that starts mid-October-ish with the need to turn on the furnace and burn apple spice scented things and continues through January 1.  While there are plenty of lists out there about how to make Halloween safer / more nutritious / more crafty / less sexy-costumified, I’m going to focus on how to do Trick or Treating right.  (This is a completely subjective list.  I’m married to someone whose idea of the right way to Trick or Treat involves getting back with the kids ASAP and changing into sweats to watch football).

  • DO yield to your children’s wishes in terms of costume complexity.  Did I really want to make a “tree” costume two weeks before my due date with the second child?  Absolutely not.  Did I do it?  Yes, because Halloween should be associated with fatigue, hot glue gun burns, and insanely cute pictures–not guilt.
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    You want to be a tree you say?  No problem.

    Now, the following year she wanted a $9.99 costume from Walgreens and I had to bite my tongue and let it happen.  The kid gets to drive the boat on the costume issue.  Here are a couple more of my greatest hits:

     

    Where did this ridiculous standard come from?  As with most things (at least according to my therapist) the blame lies squarely and wholly on my mother’s shoulders.  While I can sew straight lines from a pattern reasonable well, she can just make stuff up and it comes out looking great.  Mom would routinely wait until a couple of days before Halloween and begin taking requests from the five of us–and she delivered on ANYTHING. Between her mountains of scrap fabric, the refrigerator box housing previous years’ dance and Halloween costumes, and sheer ingenuity she created costumes including:  Minnie Mouse including padded shoe covers, Robin Hood, The Man in Black, Little Bo Peep, and Pepe Le Pew in addition to scores of witches, vampires and ghosts.  So whenever people suggest that I’m creative with costumes, I just roll my eyes.

  • DO dress your infant to toddler age child as a doll.  The caveat to the “kids drive the costume boat” rule outlined above is that this only applies once they are able to form really good full sentences.  Before that–they’re yours!  And kids as dolls are just too cute to pass up.  Their cheeks are so round and translucent for such a short period, that highlighting the fact through a well-timed doll costume is just too deliciously irresistible. 

    Like my mother, I went for Raggedy Ann.  Unlike my mother, I did NOT handmake my own yard wig in the days before You-tube tutorials were a thing.  Guys, she MADE UP her OWN version of a yarn wig.  I remember that she used leftover denim scraps for the underside skeleton of that red yarn wig I’m wearing above.  The woman is a technical genius.

  • If the baby is bald, DO take advantage of this with a costume highlighting the baldness.  We chose Shaolin Monk. 

    There are plenty of options however.  How about a Bruce Willis baby?  Mr. Clean?  Larry David?  Steve Harvey?  Rough time in her life Britney Spears?

  • DO NOT let Wisconsin weather be an excuse for staying inside.  Layer, layer, layer, and make sure that the headpiece at least gives a clue to the costume because chances are good that the rest won’t be seen at all.2011 November 035
  • DO let them trick or treat for as long as they want to.  This applies both to the day (a rule I find easier to apply since Jimmy is inevitably the one traversing the neighborhood in Wisconsin Halloweens) and over the years.  I will give out candy to anyone as long as they say “trick or treat” and are willing to let me identify their costume as “disaffected teenager.”
  • DO encourage a healthy sense of competition by opening a trading floor for the neighborhood children after trick or treating.

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    Cordani House Trading Floor after the opening bell, Halloween 2017

  • DO NOT insert yourself into this floor.  Despite the fact that my children will literally bicker about anything (example from today’s backseat:  does the “beginning of time” mean the beginning of the universe or when humans started keeping track of time?  Because this affects the argument about “most awesome since the beginning of time.), they will manage to both create and enforce their own set of rules and norms in this bartering system.  DO NOT be tempted to suggest that their trade of 6 fun size Butterfingers for a full size Hershey is dumb because nobody really likes Hershey.  You will be met with a look of utter disdain and exasperation.  Stay upstairs with the adult beverages.
  • DO dress up yourself.  DO NOT worry about how silly you look.  I find great delight in dressing up for Halloween, and  I think I come by this honestly, given my family history.  Check out this snapshot of my Grandma on the right from 1946:
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    Ann (Recchia) Yench, Philip Yench, Nell (Yench) Cousin, a.k.a., “Grandma”

    I’m fairly certain that whatever is happening to her right is completely inappropriate by modern standards, but it certainly lends a certain devil-may-care attitude to the whole scene.  My mother also still enjoys dressing up, and 10 points for whoever can name her spirit-animal as whom she dresses every Halloween.  Hint:  she is a teacher, and it’s a book character…

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    For those curious, yes, I believe she made this yarn wig too.  If you could see her stockings, they’re striped…

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Grandma and the girls before getting lost on the way to the school Fall Festival and having to wait for help outside the car in this getup.

  • DO NOT let work keep you from dressing up.  Now, as pediatrician, it was perhaps somewhat easier for me to justify wearing a full costume to work.  However, I did not let concern for my patients’ literary fears affect my choices, as evidenced as two favorites that, yes, I wore to work:  Evil Queen and Dolores Umbridge.

 

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The year that I was senior resident during Halloween and “encouraged” the team to dress up as characters from Grease.  I can’t figure out why the reviews from my students were never higher…

  • DO let them eat the candy til they puke on Trick or Treat night.  It’s one night a year and provides a real sensory lesson on the notion of gluttony.   That whole consume-til-you-puke phenomenon is why I can no longer partake of either banana chips or Bailey’s.

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    Natalie, Halloween 2007.  FYI, no evidence of candy desensitization as of yet