The Rockwood Files: How I failed at donuts

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By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

One of the great things about being young and broke is that it forces you into new situations. After my second year of college, I decided I was old enough to get my own apartment and stay in my college town instead of going home for the summer. My parents agreed. They also thought that, given my grown-up decision-making ability, I was also grown-up enough to get a summer job and pay my own grown-up rent.

So I filled out applications and one of the first places to call me for an interview was a newly opened Wal-Mart Supercenter. Back then, the Supercenter had a few workers who sped around the store on roller skates to make fetching items quicker. I wanted to be one of those “skaters,” since my years of going to the roller rink on weekends had given me the exact skill-set I needed for such a job. But all the skater positions were taken so I ended up making donuts in the store’s bakery.

My main responsibility was to fry the donuts. After pouring batter into a funnel-shaped machine that hovered over a huge vat of liquid grease, I was taught to pull the machine’s lever so that it would squirt out an exact amount of batter into a perfect circle. Then I’d shift the funnel over and deposit another circle of donut with sprinklesbatter next to it where it would float, sizzle and sputter in the hot grease. My boss, a cranky woman who used far too much black hair dye, was specific about putting six donuts in each row, and I followed her directions closely — for a while.

After I’d been making donuts for a few weeks, I figured out that, if I was fast with the lever and precise in my placement, I could fit not six but seven donuts into a row. Proud of how I’d figured out a quicker, more efficient way to make the donuts, I didn’t mention it to the cranky boss because I was a humble girl. Didn’t want to brag. I worked all night and finished frying donuts earlier than usual, thanks to my more efficient system. I moved over to the donut decorating table to start the next task.

That’s when my boss showed up and asked why the donuts I’d just made had bumps on them.

“Bumps?” I asked.

“Yes, bumps. Did you put too many donuts in a row?”

“Well, I put seven donuts in each row, but they fit in there perfectly.”

“They only fit perfectly when they’re still batter. When they plump up, they crowd into each other and fuse together and then they have these bumps on the side,” she said and held up one of the offending donuts. “I told you to put six donuts per row, didn’t I?”

There was no point arguing with the bumpy evidence. I’d screwed up, and I doubted that offering to eat the mistakes was going to help my case. I apologized and said I’d do it exactly the way she instructed from that point on. And I did, partly because she was a scary boss and mostly because I wanted to make pretty donuts.

In the end, it turned out to be a good lesson about art, work and life. Even though we live in a fast-paced world where “more” seems to be “better,” there are still times when restraint and patience are exactly what we need. There’s still a market for craftsmanship and beauty, and sometimes those things can’t be rushed or forced or outsmarted. Sometimes we need to let time “plump up” our projects until they become exactly what they’re destined to be.

gwen headshot 2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Why I Don’t Like January

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By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Even though there’s something comforting about getting back into a normal routine after a hectic holiday period, I don’t like January. It’s the one month of the year that puts me on edge and gives me performance anxiety.

My mother once gave me some valuable advice about carpet that also applies nicely to the month of January. She said, “Never buy white carpet.” When I was younger, I liked the idea of white or cream-colored carpet, mostly because it was so different than the dark brown color I’d grown up with. White carpet made rooms look bright and expansive. Fancy luxury hotels had white carpet, and magazine layouts of million-dollar rooms feature white carpet, so why shouldn’t I want white carpet, too?

Then I got married and moved into a house with white carpet. And I figured out exactly why my mother had spent so many years on an anti-white carpet crusade. White carpet makes you crazy. It dares you to make a mistake. And if you do, a glaring stain reminds you of your failure every time you walk in the room.

That’s exactly how January is, too. The New Year stretches out in front of you like a big swath of pure white carpet. You stand at the doorway, admiring how perfectly clean and unblemished that white rug is, and you tell yourself you’re going to do everything in your power to keep it spotless all year long. “This is the year I’ll do it all,” you chant internally. “This will be the Best Year Ever!”

white carpetThen a little thing called reality comes along and hands you an overly full glass of Cherry Kool-Aid and tells you to walk, run, hop, skip, jump and dance your way across the white room while you hold that glass in your hand. Reality says, “Good luck with that,” and then slaps you on the back and sends you on your way, ready or not.

All the resolutions and willpower in the world will not get you across that white rug without at least a drop or two sloshing over the rim and onto that sea of white. It’s inevitable. Motivation can’t make you immune from real life. Sooner or later, something has got to give. And that, according to my mother, is why you need “flecks.”

Mom has always been a big fan of a carpet with “a nice fleck in it.” The fleck is a darker color mixed into a neutral background — just small bits of color mixed throughout the rug to give it texture and depth. It grew in popularity because a fleck is so forgiving. A fleck understands you’re a mere mortal who will sometimes stumble, fall and make a mess of things. A flecked rug will allow you to clean up your mess as best you can, and then it’ll camouflage your screw-ups among its own dark spots. So when you look back on it, you can’t quite tell if it was a spill or a just a fleck. Who knows? So you pick up your glass of Cherry Kool-Aid and keep on going.

That’s why I’m looking forward to February. January makes me feel like I’m tip-toeing across someone’s fancy white rug with no room for error. But February is full of flecks. By then, we’ve all realized that goals and resolutions are good and worthy of pursuit, but the pursuit itself will not be perfect. It can’t be. So we have to forgive ourselves and keep on going.

You were right all along, Mom. White carpet is crazy. Flecks are friends.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

Life with Ladybug: 7 strategies to keep you from twisting your t(w)eenager’s head off

By Shannon Magsam, Ladybug’s mama

That headline is a joke, of course. I’d never hurt my kid – and neither would you — but sometimes my preshus snowflake can give me a certain look or say just the most crazy (ungrateful) things …

If you’re like me, you might find yourself in need of some, shall we say, strategies to help make it through those moments.

Here are some strategies I’ve used (sometimes daily, let’s be honest) to remain sane in the midst of a teen/mom confrontation:

ladybug in frameLook at old baby pictures. Stare about those round rosy cheeks, those sweet rosebud lips. Place a few of your favorites around the house strategically so you can gaze intently at them while channeling Mother Theresa. The nostalgia should be enough to pull you through those few seconds/minutes/hours of outrage.

I hung some of my daughter’s baby pictures in the hallway right outside her bedroom. There’s also one in the living room from when she was about four years old. Wasn’t that baby girl so sweet back then? She’s still in there. The contents may have shifted, but she’s still in there.

Breathe in and out while thinking: hormones. As the Jewish Proverb reminds us: “A mother understands what a child does not say.”

Sometimes the hormones and the stress of life can make them a little crazy. Be assured that your kids are kind and considerate to others, while saving the crazy for you. Because you’re a soft place to land. (Think: Mommy Mattress.)

Think back to how you acted when you were his/her age and ponder this word: payback. Your own mother will likely not gloat openly, but you can bet there’s a small part of her (inside) that’s snickering.

But seriously, this is a phase.

You did/said/acted some of these same way. And admit it: you were worse.

Find something to laugh about. For me, it’s usually the pets who throw me a bone when I need to focus on something funny. Our big poodle, two cats and two chickens are typically acting ridiculous, so they serve as a helpful distraction. Laughing can bring a hostility down a few notches.

IGNORE. Seriously, I sometimes pretend not to see an eye roll, hear a growl or feel the woosh of a door as it closes very, very fast. We can’t react to every single thing.

It’s ok to let them blow off steam a little. Moms do it, too. Where do you think they learned it?

Don’t worst-case-scenario things. Just because you have a little parent/kid dust-up doesn’t mean your relationship is crap and things will never be the same. Repeat after me: She will soon come out of her room, act as if nothing happened, and will ask what’s for dinner. This is normal.

Teens sometimes have a force field around themselves (when it comes to their parents) because they’re trying to separate from us. We eventually want them to leave the nest and be productive citizens, so this is a good thing. Even if it really, really feels awful sometimes.

Listen. With a closed mouth. This one may be the hardest one to do, but it will help you stay sane because it might actually lead to your kid talking it out (instead of reacting negatively to your reaction). If your kid talks it out, you might actually have a good conversation and you’ll get a peek inside your kid’s brain.

You might even be able to help them with a problem. Which will make both of you feel better.

None of these will work every time (don’t I know it), but maybe one of the seven strategies will cross your mind the next time your t(w)eenager really pushes your buttons.

Peace out, mamas.

Shannon close up, peachShannon Magsam is co-founder of and She’s married to an awesome newspaper guy and they have a fun-loving, artsy tween who loves watching tv with them and drawing cats. If you have a question for Shannon, send it to or leave a comment here.

The Rockwood Files: South meets North

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

It pains me to say this, but it’s true: The people who live up North are tougher. There, I said it.

It’s hard to admit because my husband Tom grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, and I was born and raised in the South. And we Southerners aren’t wimps. Not at all. I grew up in Southern Arkansas where mosquitoes are roughly the size of single engine planes. They travel in swarms, flashing gang colors and building empires in flooded rice fields.

Until recently, I assumed Southerners and Northerners were equally tough. But I’ve just returned from two separate trips up North, and the evidence is overwhelming. Our first trip took us to Fargo for a family wedding. It was my first visit, and I was anxious to see if the stories about the intense cold were true.

When we landed at the Fargo airport, I looked out and thought, “This place doesn’t look that much different than our town.” I was almost disappointed that I wasn’t going to get the full Fargo experience.

But then we stepped outside the sliding airport doors and the frigid Fargo wind sliced right through me. I sucked in my breath at the shock of it. I might as well have been standing there in my underwear because temperatures in the teens combined with a fierce wind cut through my fleecy layers and jacket as if they were tissue paper.

cold person“Wow!” was all I could choke out as Tom hailed a cab.

“We’re not in Arkansas anymore,” he said.

Our cab driver didn’t even have on a coat. He put our bags in the trunk as the wind whipped up his shirttails and the whole time he chatted with us casually, as if he couldn’t even feel his insides turning to ice the way mine were. The people in Fargo have a saying: “40 below…It keeps out the riffraff.” I think they’re on to something.

Just yesterday, we returned home from a post-Christmas trip to Minneapolis to see my in-laws. We love our trips to Minneapolis, but I always forget just how demanding the cold can be. When we went snow tubing, the kids and I only lasted an hour or so before we got whiny and needed to thaw out in the lodge. Tom handled it far better because his Northern roots came back to him, the same way your feet automatically know how to pedal when you sit on a bike.

That’s the thing about Northerners. They don’t complain. They almost revel in their ability to not only survive but thrive in these crazy conditions. They will not be daunted. They laugh in the face of single-digit temperatures. They rev up their snow blowers in the morning the same way we Southerners walk outside to pick up the newspaper.

They don’t even seem to notice that their middle-of-the-night toilet seat temperature feels like sitting on the Arctic Circle. And they walk right out onto a frozen parking lot, sure-footed and confident, whereas I tip-toed around with my arms out like a teeth-chattering tightrope walker.

So yes, they’re tougher than we are. But they don’t know everything. I bet they can’t spot a funnel cloud as easily as we do. And if you try to order grits in one of their restaurants, they’ll stare at you blankly and hand you a bad glass of unsweetened tea. (Their fried cheese curds, however, are delicious.)

Now that I’m back home and my brain has thawed out a bit, I’ve realized there’s a reason why we’ve worked so hard to build roads crisscrossing the nation. There’s a reason why planes take off all day every day heading North, South, East and West. It’s good to see what you’re missing. And it’s also good to return home, where the tea is sweet and the middle-of-the-night potty seat temperature is a balmy 72 degrees.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

The Rockwood Files: A look back in time

Note: Mamas, I ran across this old column and it made me smile, especially the pic of my baby girl climbing up on my desk. And it also made me remember that there are probably thousands of you out there who are dealing with a little climber of your own right now. And if you are, you could probably use a laugh or two. So this one is for all the mamas chasing daredevil toddlers and holding your breath until they’re old enough to stop giving you a heart attack several times a day. Hang in there. It gets easier. The little girl in the picture is now 7 and she’s still a gymnast but she doesn’t climb the walls at home anymore. :-)

By Gwen Rockwood, columnist and mama of 3

Our third child is a wonderful baby girl who has just turned 1 ½ years old this month. She has golden, wavy hair, deep blue eyes and the sweetest smile I’ve ever seen. And, if I didn’t know otherwise, I would swear she was fathered by Spiderman himself.kate-climb1.JPG

To say that she likes to climb is like saying Michael Jordan likes to play a little basketball or Lance Armstrong likes an occasional bike ride. She doesn’t just like it. She loves it. She needs it. She’s compelled by a force bigger than both of us to do it – all the time. If there’s a chair, she will stand on it. If there’s a sofa, she will scramble to the very top of it and stand on one foot smiling at the danger below. If there’s an unguarded staircase, she’ll be at the top of it before you can say “Does anyone know where Kate went?” (See the picture? This is Kate about to climb on top of my computer keyboard and do a back flip off of it.)

Sure, her two older brothers did a little climbing at this age, too. I remember it well. But Kate’s lightning quick agility combined with her fierce determination to scale everything in the house makes her brothers’ efforts seem tame in comparison. At least a couple times each day, I round the corner and find her scrambling her way to the top of something I would have sworn was impossible to climb. Then I audibly suck all the air out of the room, sprint toward her with outstretched hands and yell “No! No climbing!” Then I sit down in the floor with her, catch my breath and try to figure out how I’ll avoid having an anxiety-induced stroke before I’m 40.

Let me answer the question I know you’re asking. “Haven’t you heard of childproofing?” The answer is yes, of course. My middle name could be “childproofing” because I’m a firm believer that it’s the only way to safely co-exist with toddlers. When we moved into our two-story home three years ago, I even hired a professional childproofing service to come over and assess the danger zones and install industrial strength gates on the stairway. But unless we move every piece of furniture out of the house and install six-inch deep foam on the floor and walls, there’s no way to completely safeguard the house for our diaper-clad spawn of Spiderman.

Childproofing is especially tricky when there are older siblings in the house. How do you lock the toilet when your 4-year-old will invariably race toward it in a last-minute emergency and have no time to figure out how to disable the child-lock device? How do you keep a toddler from using the stepping stool to climb up into the sink when your older kids need to stand there to reach the water faucet? If you’ve got solutions, I’m all ears. The only “fix” we’ve found so far is to lock the bathroom door. We taught our boys how to jimmy it open with an old credit card. And, yes, it does bother me a little that we’ve given our 6 and 4-year-olds all the necessary skills to perform a breaking and entering. Not my proudest parenting moment.

But back to the issue at hand – the climber. After locking the bathroom door and hiding as many of the ladder-back chairs as possible, I did the only thing I could think of that might satisfy her need to climb as well as my need to protect her (and my sanity). We enrolled in a Gymboree class where there’s a padded room full of things for toddlers to climb. I could hardly wait to watch her squeal with delight while navigating a toddler-friendly obstacle course where moms don’t have to yell “No!”

Then she did the most aggravating thing. She paused, looked up at me, held my hand and – for the first time in her waking life – stood still. She didn’t want to climb. What? You’ve got to be kidding me. Doesn’t want to climb? Impossible. If this was a steaming volcano spewing razor-sharp knives, she’d climb it faster than I could yell “No!” So I bent down and got eye-to-eye with her baby blues and golden pigtails and said, in a sweet-yet-totally-serious mommy voice, “Honey, you ARE going to climb every single thing in this room and you are going to love it. Get movin’.”

Perhaps she sensed the tension in my voice because she began tentatively scoping out the room and climbed a few of the ramps and stair steps. We’re going to our second class this week and I’m hoping she’ll soon learn that this is the place where she’s supposed to exercise her daredevil tendencies. Because if she keeps climbing stuff at home, I may just lose my mind. Then I’ll be the one spending time in the padded room.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

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