Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Boy and His Shovel

 A version of this essay appears in the online collection of NPR's This I Believe essays. 

We meet our friends at the beach every Tuesday at 10:00 am. Tuesday is our beach day. We pack a lunch and make a day of it. We really don't have that many Tuesdays each summer by the time school gets out in June to before it's back in session early September. So, we make our Tuesday beach days a priority. It doesn't even have to be sunny or particularly warm. As long as a shovel is within reach for the boys, the weather, or anything else for that matter, is hardly a concern.

The beach has a huge toy bin that houses anything from dump trucks to buckets to flotation devices. People bring their toys and leave them in the bin for their return visits or for others to enjoy. I also have a bag of beach toys that I carry in my trunk. It doesn't matter how many creative, ingenious new toys are stacked in my bag or in the toy bin, none can evoke the sheer giddiness of a plain, old shovel. Put a shovel in a boy's hands and he is transformed to a secret world of his own making.

My friend has two boys the exact same ages as mine so the four of them have countless hours of fun on our Tuesday outings. They laugh and play and swim and run, but the most fun they have, hands down, is with a shovel. We marvel at their ability to spend hours digging. They dig and dig and dig. They add water. They dig some more. They add more water. They make rivers that chart undiscovered territories, dams to thwart invasion attempts by mean pirates and innovative paths to outsmart the bad guys. A vivid imagination is a beautiful tool and the shovel its best collaborator.

I am amazed at the quality of play each boy has on our Tuesday jaunts. From morning until afternoon, with a break in between for lunch, the boys are doing what boys do best...conquering. Their feelings of supreme power and strength are evident on each sun-kissed face. As the big shovel gets passed from boy to boy the smiles and smirks and sneers give us a peek into his prowess. With a shovel in hand, anything is possible.

I don't know of any television show, video game, structured day camp, or classroom that can provide the kind of creative, resourceful education the boys dig up each Tuesday. In some form or another each boy is figuring out what his role is in their games of make-believe. Sometimes he wins, sometimes he loses. Sometimes his plans go through without a hitch, sometimes they don't. Sometimes he has to stop and consider the others feelings, sometimes he doesn't. But, most of the time, he is just having fun.

Isn't that what summer, and being a kid, is all about?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I recently bought a Vita-Mix machine and can I just say it is absolutely awesome? Is it possible to really love a machine? It is and I do.

I looked for about a year at the Vita-Mix at various home shows, websites, magazines and such. I had a friend who owned a Vita-Mix and told me she used it daily. I would live vicariously through her stories of how she made homemade applesauce, smoothies and Butternut Squash soup. I wanted one really, really bad but I just couldn't justify the cost. They are super-duper expensive. However, after a year of salivating over this amazing, turbo-charged blender, I finally broke down and bought one at our local Costco for about $100 less than the website retail price. I could justify a savings of $100 even if it meant spending several more!

I have since made the most delicious sorbets, ice cream, smoothies and whole fruit and vegetable juices. How do I love the Vita-Mix? Let me count the ways.
  1. My kids are learning about whole foods, eating nutritiously and avoiding added sugar. After making a delicious Strawberry Banana Coconut smoothie one morning, the boys and I had a lively discussion about how great food in its natural form tastes. We talk about why on earth companies add extra sugar or high-fructose corn syrup to juice or applesauce when fruit is already naturally sweet? Now, we just puree our own fruits for juices or apples for applesauce and call it a day.

  2. When I ask the kids what they want for breakfast they say, "can I have a Vita-Mix?" Apparently it doesn't matter what I make in the Vita-Mix, they just want some pretty, colorful concoction that comes from it. One morning it was Strawberry/Grape Juice, the next it was Orange/Apple/Carrot juice. Their favorite drink so far is an Apple/Banana/Sweet Potato cooler. They don't even know their favorite drink includes sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes for breakfast...imagine that!

  3. We are adding way more fruits and vegetables to our daily menu than I ever thought possible. I can add spinach to just about anything. It doesn't alter the taste and we get a serving or more of a powerhouse vegetable. One day I made pineapple juice and added spinach. Nicholas wanted to know what I put in his pineapple juice because, as he pointed out to me, pineapple juice isn't green, but I just told him I added a super-secret, muscle-building ingredient. He just shrugged his shoulders and downed the juice no questions asked. Yummy.

  4. My husband now eats breakfast. I make enough of "whatever" to give him a glass on his way out the door.

  5. Cleaning the Vita Mix couldn't be easier. I add a little liquid soap, fill the container with water, turn it on High and run it for about a minute. Presto. Cleaned. Done.

  6. The Vita-Mix has more than paid for itself. If I were to buy a smoothie for all of us, every day, at the grocery or health-food store, it would cost me a small fortune. I will be using this machine for years and have already realized my investment.

  7. I use it daily. Every single day. Sometimes twice a day. I love this machine.

We are now trying things in our drinks that we might never have thought to try. I used to pass right by the Kale and beets and mangoes in the grocery store. Now we have a reason to throw in a new fruit or vegetable or two just to see what it tastes like.

Some concoctions have not worked very well, but we keep trying. If all else fails, add a banana. It makes everything taste better!


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