Code Red, she said

734554_10151441014672177_28942575_nNope, I don’t think it’s any coincidence whatsoever that the same week we learn the details of Adam Lanza’s bedroom arsenal, teachers organized a practice “Code Red” drill in my children’s K-5 school.

It’s a damned reminder – we needed more? – that even as the U.S. Congress backs away, quickly and quietly, from bans on assault-weapons and high-capacity magazines, we can’t let them.

My daughter talked about the Code Red casually, at first.

“Mom, we had one at school today.”

“One what?” I ask.

“One Code Red Drill.”

I know what this is, but I play it off like I don’t. I want to hear her most authentic description of what this means, how a Code Red unfolds.

“It’s where we practice being safe if a robber or another kind of bad person comes into our school.”

How sweet and age-appropriate that she thinks one of the worst things that could happen to her school is a “robber.” How very Brothers Grimm of her. How wrong.

I ask her what they do, how they do it. She says they hide in the classroom and lock the door. Teachers remind the kids – in two languages – to be quiet. Then they wait. I think, for my daughter, this is the hardest part.

“Mom, me and my teachers were scared because upstairs,” she pauses here for a moment; she is a verbal child: “We heard people moving.”

I don’t think her teachers were scared. They knew this was practice. But the need to identify must be strong in these situations, especially when you’re young and you’re not with your family and somewhere in the back of your mind you know, as my daughter does, that robbers are not a child’s worst nightmare. She continues to relay the events in her own words.

“Yeah, and somebody, they tried our doorknob. They were checking. But they shouldn’t have done that. Nobody should be walking around during a Code Red.”

“Probably,” I say, “they were just making sure everybody followed all the Code Red safety rules. In a practice Code Red, you have to walk around and make sure all those important safety rules are being followed.”

“But what if it was real, mom?”

I glance in the rear-view window. The boys are in their usual bookworm pose, bent over paperbacks. But her eyes are round and brown, focused on me, waiting for an answer.

“It wasn’t real, Child. These things barely happen. Once every 20 years, maybe. And people, like your teachers, work very hard to keep things as safe as possible.”

I tell her that we practiced fire drills and tornado drills every year of my K-12 life. I never saw either one of them. I do not tell her there have been 31 school shootings in America since 1999.

Things get quiet in the middle row of my minivan. I’m lost in my head. I’ve said too much, she knows too much, I’m terrified, I blew this, my heart’s beating faster, I’m confused. Mostly I’m sad. A second later, it’s clear that my daughter, at least, remains thoughtful and on topic.

“Well mom, I don’t think anyone would do that to our school, because I think people know public schools are very important.”

You know that I did not tell her Sandy Hook Elementary was a public school. That in our home state of Wisconsin, public schools have been defunded to the point of poverty. I would never tell her the nasty, racist, grossly ignorant and inaccurate things people write about me – or anyone in my town – when we write a pro-public school op-ed.

“Right,” and this time my smile is real. “Lots of people know how important all our schools are. But you know that public schools are my favorite.”

In Sandy Hook there was an art teacher, a music room, a gym teacher, classroom teachers and, we know, an incredibly brave, bold and brilliant, fast thinking principal in the building that day. I do not know know what the child to teacher ratio in their school was that day. But it’s clear to us that every adult in that school was an absolute hero, that they all came together to save every single life they could. That they paid with their own lives – six of them.

Sandy Hook sounds like a well-funded public school. Thank God. Every adult in the building was needed that day. Every day. But especially on Dec. 14, 2012.

My kids’ school is not a well-funded school. But it’s vibrant and multicultural and successful. My three kids have never received formal music instruction there. The full-time art teacher was budget-cutted out two years ago. Language, math and writing emphases, and a reputation for one of the strongest and most stable teacher corps in our area are enough to keep us there. Maybe we can find room for music elsewhere in their lives.

My kids’ public school is very important to me. So is gun control. So are the Second Amendment and all the other amendments – some more than others. But 1,000+ rounds in a boy’s bedroom, an arsenal in his Honda Civic, 20 children and six teachers dead, armed guards in every school when states like mine tell us we can’t afford to keep our teachers? That math is not fuzzy, it is devastating.

Carrie Bradshaw on chex mix, cherries, chivda

Tonight at the food co-op it got real. In my attempts to curb a distracting and defeating late-night cookie habit I’ve been turning to dried fruit. Namely, the dried tart cherry. For several weeks now it has ca-chinged at the register @ $16.99/pound. I buy it in quarter-pound increments and drop the glossy, pruny treats into everything from oats to yogurt to my hand.
Tonight they were $18.99/pound. I grabbed a box of cookies — for support — collected myself, decided to keep the peanut-butter-sandwich cremes anyway and found myself a co-op employee.

“Commodities,” he said. “All the prices are going up. We’ve tried to absorb costs as much as we could.”

One of his favorites, the roasted salted peanut, is inching skyward in cost as well.

“Will chex mix be the new caviar?” I tapped into my iPhone like some penny-pinching Carrie Bradshaw.

Reflectively, I drove home with my peanut butter cremes – munching and resigning myself to deleting dried tart cherries from one of my go-to Indian recipes: chivda.

Chivda is this spicy/sweet/sour Maharashtran snack mix. You can make it with rice krispies & corn flakes, jagged and flat rice flakes called poha, or mumra – a puffed rice. There are about as many different recipes for chivda (CHAVE-da) as there are for chex mix, but they’re all better than chex mix. Tempered spices, toasted nuts, dried fruits are the dominant additives. Garlic, coconut, chick peas and other items can play supporting roles. Nobody ever adds M&Ms, but I think pretzels would be okay. Actually, peanut M&Ms might work if the toasted powa/mumra doesn’t melt them first. Golden raisins are preferred, but once you add the turmeric the entire dish glows a toasty yellow-brown and you can’t see them. No fun. Plus golden raisins are a pushover in terms of texture, and they don’t hold up well compared to the dalia (roasted chick peas, I’d use them halved or split – not whole), peanuts and the crack of roasted cornflakes. Curry leaves and green chilies are non-negotiable ingredients. You need oil to heat and pop the mustard seeds, and to adhere the spices that come next to each other and the mumra or poha. Then you’re done.

Cherries have been my signature Wisconsin contribution to chivda since I began blogging for Chutney Challenged the New York Post. Tarter, tougher, redder than raisins they stood up so boldly to everything else chivda has to offer. Until tonight.

Once the kids were in bed, I put on my snoopy flannel pants from T.J. Maxx Manolo Blahnik slippers and Dolce jersey pajamas, busted out my laptop, a box of cornflakes and proceeded to make a budget batch of chivda. If Aidan liked it, I knew it wouldn’t mean much. That guy is a carpenter and he eats anything. But if Big likes my budget chivda…

To quit: Chutney or CrossFit?

Let’s not get into this whole manufactured conversation about how I’ve “been-so-busy-doing [insert thing(s) I have not really been doing here].” I have been fabulous and fabulously busy, but I can’t show you an enviable got-done list to prove it. There was the time I went to the gym. At least six times in 20 days, and this does not even take into account the nine times in 2013 that I have showed up to Cream City CrossFit to humiliate myself alongside — like lying on the floor in a puddle of sweat and “I can’t do this anymore!” — a bunch of 20-year-old CrossFit athletes. They all wear makeup and tattoos and are in badass shape. Also they are nice.

You know how complicated this can make things: Your inferiority + their niceness + their great makeup=bitter mom blogger.


I get chatty at 14:25.

Then there was the time I took three pieces of artwork to the framing gallery to get framed. Another time I wrote a press release one long Sunday afternoon. Ben Affleck won his second Oscar. I wrote a page or three of brochures. My husband went to D.C. twice and California once. I spent a day at the State Capitol.


Reason no. 312 why I’ve been blogging less: “The Michael Jackson Experience.”

So I’ve been making mostly pancakes with sugar, chocolate, maple syrup and real butter for the kids. Plus bacon. Sorry, paleo. It’s you.

But I used to be a quitter. Giving up on things before they got too hard or too boring, or something else captured my fleeting fancy. So, Chutney Challenged readers, I will not quit you. But CrossFit? Maybe.

37 Cupcakes: A Surplus Story

So I still don’t know how exactly to blog. Working on it!


sweet valley high in a nerd-shell

Brew Beat

Covering Brewers greats from Hank Aaron to Eddie Zosky with beat writer Adam McCalvy.

Vampire Cupcakes

Bite it before it bites you.

the other fork in the road

navigating life via acute corners, wrong turns and dead ends.

The Rants of a Stay-at-Home Dad

Designed for experimentation, not expertise.

Frat House Fridays

Writing, Teaching and Tearing Down the House with a Toddler

Just A Small Town Girl...

Just your average 27 year old diagnosed with E.W.S. at birth... AKA Excessive Writing Syndrome :)


four states in four years


1 woman's journey through cancer treatment

The Creative Trust Milwaukee

fostering life-long learning through the arts

Chutney Challenged

Designed for experimentation, not expertise.


Designed for experimentation, not expertise.

still in sirsasana

Designed for experimentation, not expertise.

Farm to Table Wisconsin

– Reviving the bond between community and farmer

Everything Everywhere All of the Time

New and improved obsolete irrelevance.

Namita's Kitchen


Crappy Pictures

Designed for experimentation, not expertise.

Foodie Brooklyn Mom

My obsession with food, living in Brooklyn, and being a mom