Friday, September 28, 2007

And on this farm he had a twisty slide, EIEIO

Yesterday Will enjoyed his first ever field trip, with Owen and I accompanying. His field trip shirt was so big it looked like an oversized dress – with hem below the knees and a head hole nearly big enough to slide off his shoulders. That’s what you get when you’re 10th percentile on the 3-year-old stature chart (although most of his classmates were pretty near drowning in their shirts too).

Pre-school field trips can be pretty simple. We went to a park, played on a playground and fed some geese, then stopped by McDonald’s for lunch and more McDonald’s-style playground time before going home. Luckily Owen slept for nearly the whole hot time.

At the playground, Will’s teacher gathers all the kids for a photo. Only Will is missing – playing in a tunnel slide, where he is having too much fun to stop for photos. So I abandon sleeping Owen and go to the slide to try to convince Will that he needs to come out for the photo while he yells out “No!” defiantly and climbs up the slide – surely against the rules. He comes back down and I capture stubborn boy and carry him for the photo, his legs just beginning to do a little protest flutter kick against me as I prepare for one of his tantrums to ensue. Luckily there’s a spot for him right next to his good friend Creight, so his legs go still and he sits down quite content.
The whole little scene made me nearly shaky – silly how wrapped up my own ego gets in Will’s public behavior. I start thinking he’s a walking-talking example of why I’m a bad parent. (And who knows, maybe he is.)

Of course it was the stop at McDonald’s, where we almost never go, that was the most exotic part of the fieldtrip for Will. He gobbled up his chicken nuggets and French fries (I stole as many as I could to keep him from consuming the whole bag) and then complained of a tummy ache on the way home. Sally Fallon (of yesterday’s post) wouldn’t have called that fried lunch “good fat” -- but so it goes.

This is how Will began the long summary of his adventures for Rob when he got home:
“I went to the park and I gone to Old McDonald’s to eat some lunch, and there was a big ol’ twisty slide, and you have to duck your head under there and you slide down.” Since he first learned the name behind the golden arches it’s been Old McDonald’s to Will (although I’ve actually never pointed out the arches since I’d rather be able to drive past various franchises without Will even noticing their existence). It’s not exactly eating on the farm but at least it makes the place sound a little more charming than it actually is.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Healthy fats?

My column in today’s Ledger-Enquirer features an interview with Sally Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation and author of "Nourushing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats." I tracked her down after reading several articles on the Weston Web site (which advocates consuming “nutrient-dense whole foods and the vital fat-soluble activators found exclusively in animal fats”) that left me wondering whether I was making bad choices with my skim milk/lowfat yogurt/margarine consumption -- which I inflict upon the entire family. The Weston A. Price Foundation (a D.C.-based nonprofit organization named for a Cleveland dentist who in the 1930s studied the traditional diets of native groups from various corners of the globe) advocates drinking raw milk and eating lots of butter, eggs, animal fat and other “good” saturated fats like coconut oil.

It’s advice that runs counter to the low-fat mantras of most nutrition experts but as I read the science and the ideas behind it, much of it seemed to make sense. Some of it even seemed to apply to me. I was a vegetarian for a few years a while back and I still go somewhat light on meat and eggs and margarines. And I’m often a little light-headed and have to eat throughout the day. So I wondered if this criticism on the Weston Web site of one of the many pieces of advice that comes from mainstream nutritionists (Fallon calls it “politically correct nutrition”) was describing me: "Limit fat consumption to 30 percent of calories." Thirty percent calories as fat is too low for most people, leading to low blood sugar and fatigue. Traditional diets contained 30 percent to 80 percent of calories as healthy fats, mostly of animal origin.” Of course I don’t count calories and have no clue what percentage of my calorie consumption is fat – but I imagine it’s way too low.

As I read the Weston explanations of how our bodies process various kinds of fats, how things like pasteurization and hydrogenation alter fats and why saturated fat is actually quite beneficial, I was further intrigued.

I’m a chronic skeptic, though, and I’m still sorting out what to believe. I ran the Q&A with Sally Fallon by my pediatrician via e-mail and, although I caught him on a busy day, he was able to tell me: “Briefly I don’t see anything bad that is recommended. Most of us can take in about anything in moderation.” Carolyn Bentley, a dietitian and lactation consultant who used to lead a nursing mother’s group I frequented with Will, weighed in too (her comments didn't make the online edition of the story so I'll post them below, along with information about the seminar she's giving this weekend in Auburn).

As for what I'll be doing when it comes to consuming fats in our house, for now, I’m going to hedge things a bit and ride the fence. I’ll make some changes that make sense to me without flinging myself full force into a purist Weston A. Price-style diet (largely because I’m too lazy and to do it right but also because part of me is still playing the skeptic -- and I just can’t imagine consuming 32 ounces of milk and two eggs every day).

Here’s what I will do differently for now:

*Switch from Country Crock to real butter
*Switch from skim milk (we often wound up with the ultra-pasteurized Horizon variety) to just plain pasteurized organic whole milk (I’ve noticed the Publix brand is not ultra-pasteurized)
*Become a better label reader and try to limit our consumption of processed foods and products with partially hydrogenated oils more than I have been in the past. And try to cut the trans fats out entirely.
*Cook with whole chickens more often. And save the stock and actually use it. Plan a couple or three nights’ worth of dinners around one chicken.
*Stop buying the lean ground turkey, which Rob hates anyway, and get the cheaper fattier stuff (I do this half the time as it is, but now I’ll do it guilt-free)
*Switch to organic whole milk yogurt (Will is a yogurt fiend) and maybe try to start using the yogurt maker my mother gave me again
*Return to making my own salad dressings and cookies from scratch (I did this pretty consistently before Will’s birth but once I had kids I got lazy-busy). Now that Will loves to bake alongside me, being too busy is no longer an excuse. I also just noticed that the first two ingredients in our Ken's Steakhouse "Red Wine Vinegar & Olive Oil" salad dressing (a recent buy-one-get-one-free impulse purchase) are water and soybean oil. They must have known that "Watered Down Soybean Oil" salad dressing just doesn't sound quite as enticing.
*Throw some more meat-containing meals into the dinner rotation (I’m still loving my new vegetarian cookbooks and planning to use them plenty too)
*Keep thinking and reading without obsessing… Who knows, maybe by next month I’ll be moving on to raw milk or switching back to skim. I need more convincing either way. Please leave a comment if you’ve got anything persuasive – or otherwise – to say.

For your viewing pleasure, here’s the Weston A. Price Foundatoin dietary guidelines for nursing mothers (with parenthetical notes about how I violate almost all of them on a daily basis – poor Owen...). For those of you non-pregger/non-nursers out there, I’ll throw in their guidelines for the general population as well. After all, even those of us who are nursing have to feed the rest of our families too.

Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers

Cod Liver Oil to supply 20,000 IU vitamin A and 2000 IU vitamin D per day (NEVER HAD IT)
1 quart (or 32 ounces) whole milk daily, preferably raw and from pasture-fed cows (learn more about raw milk on our website, A Campaign for Real Milk, (I’M PROBABLY DOING ABOUT 12 OUNCES OF WHOLE PASTEURIZED MILK NOW – ALTHOUGH I’M NOT A MEASURER AND I’M NOT CONSISTENT)
4 tablespoons
butter daily, preferably from pasture-fed cows (HMMM. MAYBE 2 TABLESPOONS MAX, BUT THE BUTTER THING JUST STARTED THIS WEEK)
2 or more eggs daily, preferably from
Additional egg yolks daily, added to smoothies, salad dressings, scrambled eggs, etc. (NOPE. I’M STILL SCARED OF RAW EGGS.)
3-4 ounces fresh liver, once or twice per week (If you have been told to avoid liver for fear of getting "too much Vitamin A," be sure to read
Fresh seafood, 2-4 times per week, particularly wild salmon, shellfish and fish eggs (NOPE. WILL AND ROB DON’T LIKE IT SO WE DO FISH WAY TOO RARELY. I NEED TO FORCE IT ON THEM MORE OFTEN)
beef or lamb daily, always consumed with the fat (NOPE. ROB HAS A BIZARRE RED MEAT ALLERGY SO WE KEEP OFF THE STUFF. I’M NOT SURE I’VE EVER HAD LAMB.)
Oily fish or
2 tablespoons
coconut oil daily, used in cooking or smoothies, etc. (NOPE, BUT I MAY START USING IT MORE)
Lacto-fermented condiments and beverages (NOPE. MAYBE I’LL GET SOME SAUERKRAUT.) Bone broths used in soups, stews and sauces (NOPE, BUT I MAY TRY THIS MORE)
Fresh vegetables and fruits (FINALLY! I PASS THIS ONE)
Trans fatty acids (e.g., hydrogenated oils)
Junk foods
Commercial fried foods
White flour
Soft drinks
Drugs (even prescription drugs)

Here’s the promised general guidelines, with no interference from me:

Dietary Guidelines

Eat whole, natural foods.
Eat only foods that will spoil, but eat them before they do.
Eat naturally raised meat including fish, seafood, poultry, beef, lamb, game, organ meats and eggs.
Eat whole, naturally produced milk products from pasture-fed cows, preferably raw and/or fermented, such as whole yogurt, cultured butter, whole cheeses and fresh and sour cream.
Use only traditional fats and oils including butter and other animal fats, extra virgin olive oil, expeller expressed sesame and flax oil and the tropical oils—coconut and palm.
Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably organic, in salads and soups, or lightly steamed.
Use whole grains and nuts that have been prepared by soaking, sprouting or sour leavening to neutralize phytic acid and other anti-nutrients.
Include enzyme-enhanced lacto-fermented vegetables, fruits, beverages and condiments in your diet on a regular basis.
Prepare homemade meat stocks from the bones of chicken, beef, lamb or fish and use liberally in soups and sauces.
Use herb teas and coffee substitutes in moderation.
Use filtered water for cooking and drinking.
Use unrefined Celtic seasalt and a variety of herbs and spices for food interest and appetite stimulation.
Make your own salad dressing using raw vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and expeller expressed flax oil.
Use natural sweeteners in moderation, such as raw honey, maple syrup, dehydrated cane sugar juice and stevia powder.
Use only unpasteurized wine or beer in strict moderation with meals.
Cook only in stainless steel, cast iron, glass or good quality enamel.
Use only natural supplements.
Get plenty of sleep, exercise and natural light.
Think positive thoughts and minimize stress.
Practice forgiveness.

Here's what Carolyn Bentley, a licensed dietitian and international board certified lactation consultant, had to say about Fallon’s recommendations:

“We know that a whole egg is a complete protein; it’s the best protein out there. And I do think that there’s good research toward the use of butter in moderation, and we do know that fats are essential in a healthy diet but anything in extreme is potentially hazardous. There are concerns with the use of unpasteurized milk especially since most of our dairies are not small family-run dairies. A milk that’s collected from a cow in the backyard where you control the pasture, you control the sanitation would be different. But without those controls I think it’s dangerous. Anyone who is looking to make these types of changes should consult with a registered or licensed dietitian so that healthy adjustments can be made. Overall I think some of the thoughts are really good, but you have to take into account that we’re living in the 21st century and I think it could be dangerous unless you invest in some type of co-op or family farm that’s using organic means of farming and pasture renewal.”

If you go
What: Seminar on Healthy Diets with Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions and president of The Weston A. Price Foundation
When: Friday evening, 6-10 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Where: Auburn Church of Christ, 712 South College Street, Auburn, Ala.
Cost: Friday evening: $10; Saturday seminar, including lunch: $45. Friday and Saturday: $50.
Details: Talks include “The Oiling of America,” “The Basics of Healthy Diets,” “All About Fats and Oils,” “How to Change your Diet for the Better.”
More information: Call 334-821-8063
Learn more about the Weston A. Price Foundation at

There are loads of articles on nutrition and so-called “nutrition myths,” as well as some recipes, at the Weston web site: Take a look (and let me know what you think).

Napping on the run?

Most of the reason that Owen is such a good sleeper compared to Will is that he came to us that way. I’m convinced of that. But it also helps that this time around I found a book that helped me, not to put Owen on a sleep schedule, but to respect his rhythms. Back to “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” Marc Weissbluth’s survey of sleep research suggests that babies until 3 or 4 months have a one- to two-hour awake window. That means no matter when they nap, once they’ve been up for an hour you start watching for sleepy signs and soothe them back to sleep sometime before two hours has passed since they were last asleep. I recognize now that I kept Will up too much, and let him get overtired and wired.

And now when I lose track of Owen’s sleep and miss a nap window, I can expect a certain wide-open-eyes-surrounded-by-a-hint-of-red look that means it won’t be so easy to get him back down. We’re at 10 weeks now and the establishment of the morning nap is looming (just this week he seems to already be sleeping for long stretches beginning around 9 a.m.) And I’m wondering about how and whether to follow Weissbluth’s advice about respecting babies' naptimes and generally having them nap in the same stationary place. I can foresee myself letting Owen have his morning nap in the car seat three mornings a week, after he falls asleep on the ride to drop Will of at school (he tends to wake up when he gets moved from car seat to bassinet). And on the days when Will doesn’t go to school, I know I’ll often be tempted to take Will and poor upright-napping Owen on a walk to the park in the mammoth double stroller. Hopefully Owen will be flexible enough to catch his zzzs on the run without getting his whole sleep schedule messed up.

How have you more experienced mothers of 2 (and 3 and 4 and 5) managed naptimes with multiple kids and multiple agendas?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Play by yourself, kid

Here’s an interesting article about why overly conscientious middle-class parents with too much time on their hands maybe don’t need to be doing so much sitting on the floor and playing with their young kids in the hopes of teaching them more. I was such mom for a good year and a half with Will. Played with him and read to him all the time. I thought I was teaching him. Really I was probably just over-stimulating him and interfering with his innate creativity and inquisitiveness. I remember back before Will could talk I’d find myself commenting on his play with the idea that I was helping him with language development etc. I’d even harass Rob and tell him to interact more with Will, a bit of advice we’ve both come to regret.

Then I wised up and realized that my work was housework and writing and such, and that Will’s work was his independent play and I think we both got a lot happier at home together. I really believe that children are their own best teachers. Will still often says he “needs” me to help him put together a puzzle or to draw a whale for him or build a city out of blocks, but lo and behold if I persuade him to do it himself, he invariably can – and he learns more that way. I still allow and invite Will to accompany me and to participate in his own way with many of my household chores (like cooking and laundry) and I still read to him and listen to his stories and ask questions, but other than some occasional ball-tossing I’ve pretty well weaned myself of the block-building, puzzle-doing, car-pushing thing. Now Rob still struggles to not become the after-work playmate since Will has missed him all day and since Rob actually enjoys some of the play. (They made a very snazzy tractor with Tinkertoys the other day – but in a way it was a great case in point. Now Will thinks he NEEDS Rob in order to make cool Tinkertoy creations.)

We also still haven’t figured out how to deal with the fact that anyone who comes over is, in Will’s eyes, a permanent playmate. I need to work harder to help Will understand that adults need to talk to one another too, without constant Will stories and interjections and requests for play (however cheerful and endearing they might be). It’s my next project: helping our poor relatives and visitors evade Will’s persistent “play with me” traps -- at least some of the time.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Whale watching

Today, while Aunt Alicia babysat Owen at her home in Atlanta, Rob and Will and I made our first-ever trip to the the Georgia Aquarium.

The highlight of the morning was a long session of beluga whale-watching. Will and I crouched on the floor, noses nearly touching the glass enclosing the giant tank, and watched the sea mammals for a good 15 minutes. It was my first encounter with belugas and I was mesmerized. They employ a range of facial expressions but look as if they are smiling much of the time -- and they are the only whale with a flexible neck, so they seem to be nodding at you pleasantly as they swoop by, their albino bodies so magestic in an ocean where white is a rarity. Several times they headed directly for Will and me, until we were separated by nothing but a few inches of tank and water.

I learned that mama belugas do more to care for their calves both in utero and after birth than most human mothers these days. After a 12- to 14-month gestation period a mama beluga nurses her newborn calf for about two years. (How I would love to witness the art of nursing while swimming...)

There were no calves in the tank (I borrowed this photo from the Shedd Aquarium Web site): just the resident male, Nico, and three females on longterm loan from the New York Aquarium. One of the ladies, Maris, has excited the mating instincts of Nico. So we got to see a bit of gentle whale bumping.
And although only one of the females was a seasoned mother (Maris’ mother in fact), they all seemed so maternal, so wise, so beautiful as they swept around in the water. Rob thought their smiling faces resembled Owen’s somehow. A combination of the bald head and his general sweetness perhaps? I got almost misty-eyed watching those beautiful warm-blooded, warm-hearted creatures and thinking about Owen, separated from me now, and his big brother beside me – captivated as I was as we communed with the whales.
Postscript: Nothing like shameless marketing to cap a mystical encounter with marine animals. The Georgia Aquarium forces visitors to exit through the gift shop (so as toddlers like Will shout “I want that penguin," their non-indulging parents -- like Rob and I -- have to hustle toward the outdoors and look for big building distractions, while the more obliging variety have to wait in an extraodarily long checkout line to purchase yet another overpriced toy they don't need). Once in a while, can’t we buy an experience without a little stuffed memento to accompany it?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Oblivious mom

On an evening walk around the park yesterday, Will spotted a black dog walking in the opposite direction with its owner. I was talking to Rob and didn’t even notice the dog.

“Mom, did you see that black dog? Did you see that dog, mommy and daddy?” Will asked.
I admitted I hadn’t. Sometimes I start talking or thinking about something, and I’m oblivious to what’s going on around me, I explained to Will.

“Oblivious pretty much describes your mom, Will,” Rob half-joked.

Will was interested in this new word oblivious. So I gave him a few examples of ways you might become oblivious and fail to notice someone or something.

Today, there must have been five or six different moments when Will was trying to get my attention (he wants to show me things and tell me things all day long these days) and I didn’t respond immediately.

“Mom, you’re oblivious,” he’d say.

And every time he was right. Caught with my head in the clouds again.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sleeplessness, poop explosions and all the awful things

That’s what I get for writing all niceties and pleasantries yesterday: horror today.

First, there was Will’s wake-up time: 5:50. He was wide awake, raring to go and determined to eat some breakfast. We knew he’d be exhausted later but there was no getting him back to sleep.

Then there was the public poop explosion. Little Owen (who once produced little poops, about 12 of them a day but has now evolved to two or three mighty blow-outs) decided to save one of the big ones for the checkout lane at Publix. He was in the front pack, I felt sticky warmth on my hand, saw it on the floor and…. Enough to say that the clean-up crew had to be called while I, always the under-prepared mother, bolted to the car with groceries and poopiness, because I’d forgotten to bring along an emergency change of clothes. So Owen sat on a spare grocery sack in his car seat until we got home, cleaned up and regained our sanity.

Later Will woke up an hour into his afternoon nap, which often stretches two hours after an early rising and a morning at school. He was too tired to get up and too tired to go back to sleep so he just cried inconsolably for 40 minutes. Didn’t want to be held, didn’t want to be left alone, didn’t want to be talked to, didn’t want silence. Owen, who was just beginning to get drowsy, decided to cry alongside Will rather than going to sleep himself. We were all overtired.

I had looked up the remedy for early wake-up times in our sleep bible, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child,” (the very title of which seemed to be screaming in my face: “Horrible mother!” as I confronted the cover wearily tonight). Counter-intuitive though it may seem, sleep guru Marc Weissbluth says the cure for an early wake-up time is an earlier bed time (try 20 minutes earlier, he suggests, but stick with the same routine). So we try it, but for the first time in weeks Will decides to try to change up the routine, requesting more books read by mama after he got his quota from dad. When we gently explain that we’re sticking with the ritual (consistency seems to be the only hope for Will), he cries. And cries and cries. Until 20-minutes-earlier-than-usual-bedtime turns into 20 minutes later.

As the crying persisted, I snuck into the bathroom to give Owen his nightly bath (which is pure joy for him). As I was sliding a washcloth under his chin he let out a little series of honest to goodness laughs – his first ever. And his little moment of giddiness was more than enough to make me laugh at the whole sorry day myself.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Potatoes, butter knives and all the simple things

I spent today alone with the boys (no preschool, no playdates, no errands, no scheduled anything) and we were all so happy. It’s a reminder to me of why I keep Will at home at least a couple days a week so he has plenty of time to discover his own fun (camping in sheet-tents in our bedroom, reading books to himself in his bedroom, sorting playing cards in the living room, “ice-skating,” running and purposefully falling throughout the house, and of course inventing stories with Ally and Puff as central characters).

On our daily walk with the gargantuan double stroller Will and I talked all the way to the park --- about the birds, cats, construction site, and mail man we passed, about life, about Fresh Burger. And for the first time, Owen stayed awake for the whole 20-minute journey, which until now has always lulled him to sleep at some point. He was enjoying our first semi-cool morning outdoors so much that he also stayed happily awake while Will ran around at the playground.
Back at home Will and I cooked up a barley/kale/carrot/potato/kidney bean stew for dinner (which Will would later devour, once we extracted the kale from his serving) and Will discovered that he loves cutting potato wedges with a kid-sized butter knife. We decided we were putting on a cooking show for Owen – and we were careful to try to elicit coos and smiles, which are more exuberant and expressive than ever, from him as we worked. (I’m pretty certain that there’s something biologically rigged about those baby “social smiles” that forces us as parents to engage with our little helpless infants as much as possible. Owen’s smiles are so intoxicatingly full of happiness that you can’t help but do silly songs and dances and speeches to illicit more of them. And so sweet baby Owen, who might otherwise get ignored for little lapses of time, keeps learning from us.)

Owen was also thoughtful enough to go to sleep in time for Will and I to enjoy lunch and naptime reading, just the two of us. And then miracle of miracles, both boys napped in unison for an hour and a half.

Who could ask for more?

For the thrifty shopper in you: I also found a book at the Just 4 Kidz Consignments sale that made Will laugh and laugh. If you're a Columbus area-mom you might want to check out their Saturday sale for lots of half-price bargains.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Partially hydrogenated pantry

I know it’s old news that partially hydrogenated oils are bad news for good health. But I’ve been using margarine and buying certain packaged products without bothering to read labels much nonetheless. I get lazy and thrifty, and I’m really not quite the health nut that I sometimes like to pretend that I am.

But my cousin April is currently obsessed with nutrition and the September 11 post on her blog about the kinds of fats that are good for us and the dangers of hydrogenated oils got me rethinking they way I blindly purchase products like margarine and crackers without attending enough to the labels. So now I’m going to do some more research and consider a switch to real butter and whole milk – if I’m persuaded by what I read.

Two things I do look out for when I’m buying food for Will are artificial colors and flavors. A recent article in the British medical journal The Lancet provides some convincing evidence that this is a good practice. You can read the Lancet article here or the layman’s interpretation of it in this news article. Researchers found (in a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study) that artificial colors or a sodium benzoate preservative (or both) in the diet result in increased hyperactivity in 3-year-olds and 8/9-year-old children. Since Will is plenty hyperactive with his natural toddler energy I’ll continue avoiding those foods when possible.

A quick label-reading journey through the cupboards in my own kitchen revealed three problem products that Will often indulges in. One, Publix-brand graham crackers, contains both artificial flavor (hadn’t read the label to discover that one until now) and partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Some Whole Wheat Ritz crackers (I use the “whole wheat” to pretend as if they’re acceptable for Will’s consumption) contains partially hydrogenated soybean oil. And some Publix brand pretzels (which I munch on plenty myself) contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil. I also found an unopened box of fruit roll-ups, complete with artificial flavors – a relic of our bribing-Will-to-pee-with-his-teachers-at-school potty training phase.

When I was pregnant my midwife advised me to shop around the edges of the store: Get your fruits, vegetables, dairies and meats and skip all that packaged stuff in the middle aisles, she said. Of course I’m an edge-shopper too, but I may finally try to take her advice to heart and cut out some of my boxed-up-in-the-heart-of-the-grocery-store purchases even if it means I need to become a little more creative and a little less lazy come snack time.

What healthy snack items do your kids devour? Or is life too short and time too precious for meticulous label reading in your house?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Revolution in the kitchen?

About a week ago, Rob tells me out of the blue he’s thinking about reclaiming our once-upon-a-time vegetarianism. Or at least cutting most of the meat out of his diet. I’d already been feeling a bit short on inspiration in the kitchen as Will has grown a bit more finicky with age (although he’ll still devour twice the amount and variety of food as your average toddler). Now here comes Rob – who’s never really been a big fan of bean-based meals or fish of any sort and who has a bizarre red meat allergy – telling me go ahead and make your chicken casseroles, I’ll just pick out the meat. Nothing like preparing a meal so that not only your toddler, but also your husband, can pick out half of the ingredients in distaste.

So tonight I told Rob we needed to sit down and come up with a whole new repertoire of meals. There’s going to be a revolution in the Addington kitchen. I armed myself with two great vegetarian cookbooks borrowed from a friend (somehow the meals in my own cookbooks were seeming either tired or overly complicated). And Rob and I paged through them writing down recipes we want to try. I leafed through my recipe box and wrote down some old tried and true favorites we’ll stick with and I looked through a couple of my own cookbooks as well.

Now I have about 30 recipes that I’m going to write down in a rotation that looks reasonable. The inspired cooks among you will probably say: “What a dull way to cook.” And I agree that the most inspired cooking probably happens when you get in-season produce at a market or from a natural food co-op and then invent recipes based on the ingredients that nature and your own whimsical shopping have set before you. But I haven’t yet managed to make that work. And as my mom has been trying to tell me since I first started cooking for myself, half the stress in trying to prepare meals is simply deciding what to make. She writes out a dinner menu for a month and then knows she’s getting variety in her diet and is prepared to grocery shop for exactly what she needs. I won’t necessarily do a dinner a day (part of my domestic survival strategy since I started cooking for myself has involved eating on a casserole for a couple days). But I’ll have a list to guide me when it’s time to cook – and to push me beyond all the old, tattered recipes that I’ve grown weary of after so much preparing and eating. And yes, there will be meat in some of them for Rob to either pick out or eat as he chooses.

I’ll let you know how it goes. (The cookbooks I borrowed and will soon be buying my own copies of are “Vegetarian Planet: 350 Big-Flavor Recipes for Out-of-This-World Food Every Day” and “Fields of Greens: New Vegetarian Recipes from the Celebrated Greens Restaurant”) If you have any cookbooks or specific recipes to nominate for my little dinner revolution please post.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Background noise (TV time, take two)

Since I’m always obsessing about how to handle television in our house now that we have kids, I found this article interesting. It’s an interview with journalist Lisa Guernsey, about her new book, "Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children From Birth to Age Five.”

The whole article’s worth a read, but these things got me thinking about our own TV/radio time:
Background noise: Guernsey talks about the ill-effects of background television, which some research shows affects the way children play (they're less focused in their play, going from one toy to another rather than spending more time exploring each toy); the way parents interact with their children (this is a no-brainer; it’s easy to forget to engage with your kids when you get sucked into some show you love); and children’s language development (since studies of infants and toddlers show that they have a hard time hearing the words in speech when they have background noise to compete with).

We don’t do much TV in the house (except when Rob’s watching a small dose of sports on the weekends or some nighttime TV after Will’s in bed), but we do listen to some NPR. And it’s interesting to me to wonder about radio and children’s language development. Sometimes I”ll have NPR on while Will’s eating breakfast and he’ll shout out “California! They said California. That’s where Uncle Graham lives.” Or “ocean! They said ocean!” etc. Maybe this as a good exercise in word recognition? Or maybe it’s just a bunch of adult-level interference in Will’s natural thought processes? For Owen’s sake, anyway, I think I’ll start turning the radio off during those times when I’m really not attending to it anyway and it has just become background noise for me as well as for the boys.

The need for completion: Guernsey talks about how toddlers “want to see how a show ends, and they'll become very upset if you try to turn off 'Dora the Explorer' in the middle of the show. They can get that Dora is on a journey to a place, or she's trying to solve a puzzle, and they need to see what happens next.”

Of course this isn’t just a toddler thing; no adult wants to watch only the first half of a sitcom or TV drama. But I was foolish enough to try to do it with Will as a way to give him a tad bit of television. It’s been a month or so since we caved and instituted 15 minutes a day TV viewing for Will. It worked okay for a couple weeks, but I’ve been recognizing more and more the idiocy of that plan. Since no video or children’s program on the planet is only 15 minutes in length, of course we wind up having to cut Will off mid-story. And he’s at an age where he hates that. Since we succumbed to TV in the first place, we need to go ahead and respect the integrity of a story and his desperate toddler need to see something through to the finish. (He got to where he never chose 15 minutes of Muzzy, continuing with the next segment the next morning – and instead always opted for a short 20-minute Winnie the Pooh video, probably because we tend to let him watch the whole thing.) So now I’m planning to go looking for the shortest videos out there, because I still don’t feel like letting him get sucked in for more than 30 minutes a day. I predicted we’d be doubling the limit soon, and here we are…

When to watch: Guernsey recommends having an encapsulated time for television viewing (assuming you’re doing some TV with your kids). Will always likes to get his fix immediately after breakfast and we’ve found that works well. Since that’s the only time he ever watches a show or video we don’t have many battles at other times of the day about wanting to watch more.

Well-made shows?
Guernsey mentions “Blues Clues” as a “really well made” show that helps children “have more flexible thinking.” Since I’ll be prowling at the library for shortest-ever videos, let me know if you have other recommendations of shows that seem well designed for children. And what do you think of repeat viewing of videos vs. watching shows on TV?

Friday, September 14, 2007

The raccoon made me do it

The classic recommendation for giving toddlers some feeling of control over their lives is to offer two choices, both of which you as parents can live with. So lately we have been offering Will a choice: Play a little longer and shower with Rob (since Rob-and-Will showers take about two minutes max) or clean up slightly earlier and take a bath (with all the bath toys and dawdling that that choice involves).

Lesson to us: these sorts of choices, which wind up having ramifications that last minutes beyond the initial decision are no good for Will. He’s a toddler, so he chooses immediate gratification (play longer, take a shower) and then regrets it (Aaaaahhhh!! Should have chosen the bath). “I changed my mind!” he yells. For two nights running he’s had a short little tantrum (including tears all through the shower) about not getting to take a bath.

Tonight as I was drying off his still barely sobbing body, I asked him if he thought it would work better if we had set shower nights and bath nights and daddy would tell him which night it was. That way he wouldn’t have to worry about “changing his mind.” “Tell Daddy,” Will said. And he proceeded to tell him himself: “We’ll have shower nights and bath nights. Won’t that be a good plan?” Then he added, unsolicited from us: “I’m going to use my words. I’m not going to do any of these tantrums anymore.” Déjà vu from two nights ago when he said he’d outgrown the big T-storms.

As we walked into his bedroom he said, “Something is making me do these tantrums. Something is making me do these tantrums. I wonder what is making me do these tantrums,” as if he truly felt it was something out of his control. And then he stumbled upon the possible agent: “Maybe it’s a raccoon making me do these tantrums – but raccoons don’t fight. Oh yeah raccoons DO fight.” (Just yesterday on a walk to the park we had seen one raccoon aggressively pushing his way into a hollowed tree, right on the heels of a raccoon that went before him -- and Will had wondered if they were fighting. So fighting raccoons are fresh in his mind.) “I think it’s a raccoon making me fight,” he said.

Minutes later as I told him we’d reached our quota for nighttime books, he was just beginning to cry in protest, when I grabbed him tight and said into his ear “Don’t let those raccoons get you.” And suddenly, magically he stopped, happy I guess that I’d bought into his crazy logic and content to read just one book.

I’d love to think I could just pull out that phrase and shoo away the tantums from now on, but I’m under no delusions. We’ll probably be fighting rabid raccoons for a while to come.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hair comfort

Naptime in our house since the advent of Owen has been surprisingly easy. But that’s only because I surrendered and told nap-resistant Will I’d lie down with him for the beginning of naps and let him play with my hair. Because it’s really my hair that he loves to lie with. I lie facing away from him so he can run his fingers through my hair for a few minutes until he works himself to a cozy, drowsy state and falls asleep. It’s an exclusively naptime treat (do this at night and he’d be up wanting more every hour).

If Owen’s up, I’m either nursing him or letting him suck on the trusty pacifier, which I’m still trying not to overuse, on the other side of me. And behind me lies, Will, eyes closed, fingers moving gently in my hair.

What is it about hair anyway?

I remember watching a friend, back in my pre-mama days, as she lay on the floor of our house, hair stretched out above her head so her 2-year-old son could “play” in it. What a quirky little habit, I thought. Turns out mom’s hair is a universal comfort object. I have a friend in Austin who recently cut up a wig and put some of it in her 19-month-old’s crib to wean him from her hair.

Even when Will can’t get his hands on my hair, he’s taken to twirling his finger in his own hair. One time he got a lock of it so tightly wrapped around his index finger that it started cutting off his circulation. Will was in tears and Rob had to resort to scissors because he’d wrapped that hair so tight it wouldn’t come loose. But that didn’t break the habit.

As I watched Will twirling his hair on the drive back from a dinner out tonight, I asked him why he likes hair.

He looked at me like the answer was obvious: “Cause I love hair SOOO much. And I like to play with it,” he said.

It's not just a tactile thing either. Lately Will has also discovered he enjoys smelling Owen's hair -- what little there is of it. "It smells good," he says.

And I kind of like hair too. Mostly I like to have my own hair played with. I used to ask Rob to run his hands through my hair as part of my pre-labor "relaxation exercises." And now, when I’m lying sandwiched between three-year-old Will and baby Owen for those first several minutes of naptime, with Will’s fingers running through my hair, I feel perfectly content. Unless Will decides to tug too hard.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Welcome to Fresh Burger

Owen has been battling a post-vaccine fever that’s been hovering just over 101 – high enough that the nurse told us we needed to make a return visit to the doctor’s office to make sure hot baby was not undergoing excessive complications from the shots. So we enjoyed morning number two in the doctor’s office (where I always wonder what sick germs the boys are contracting as we get shuffled from room to room) and canceled a planned walk to the park with Will’s good friend and his mom. That, of course, frustrated Will, but he went along surprisingly patiently with the change in plans.

Then as he was eating lunch, he reflected on his morning. “Mom, I didn’t have a tantrum,” he said. We talked together about how as he’s getting older he’s beginning to get better at talking about his frustration and avoiding those screaming, tearful blow-ups that make us all miserable. Of course, I’m thinking all the while about the afternoon of successive tantrums we barely survived two days ago as Will readjusted to life without water sports and constant attention from his grandparents and Aunt Leash.

But that’s old news too Will. He matured so much in two days. He says, “When I was young I used to have tantrums too.”

And for now I’m happy to play along with the fantasy that those days are over.

Speaking of fantasies, here’s an update on “Ally and Puff and all my other friends,” which make daily and sometimes hourly appearances in our home. “All my other friends” have lately acquired names. Yesterday Rob and I listened to the adventures of Wake-we, Suey and Upkine Baby over breakfast, in which Wake-we, Suey and Upkine Baby all went looking for Ally and Puff who, it turned out, were hiding in the mud. Then Wake-we started climbing all over houses and whales and things: “Wakewe used to come upside the house and downside the house and he’d tumble down the stairs, but I didn’t watch him because I was making a hot dog with Ally And Puff. And then he jumped off a whale and I didn’t look because I was making a hot dog with Ally and Puff but then he just tumbled off and fell right in my arms.”

For weeks now, Ally, Puff, Will and “all my other friends” have been living in the town of “Fresh Burger.” We finally learned where that was when Will pointed it out on his placemat map. Turns out they’re living smack dab in the middle of the Caspian Sea (that’s just north of Iran, in case you’re a geography fool like me). To get there, they enlist a pilot, who first drives a car, then flies a plane, and for the final leg of the journey, drives a truck into Fresh Burger. As Will explains, “It’s a big long way.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Vaccines and intellectual failures

Today we had dual well visits: 2 months for Owen, 3 years for Will. I could dwell on how it felt to hold down little Owen’s arms as he got two shots in one leg, two shots in the other while I looked into his big, horrified eyes that said so obviously, “How could you do this to me???” and as I wondered, as I always do, about the wisdom of vaccines even as I follow the flock in having them all administered to my kids because I’m scared not to.

But I won’t.

Instead we’ll focus on Will’s intellectual shortcomings. We had to fill out a questionnaire to measure his fine motor, verbal and general intellectual skills as a 3-year-old. He had to draw horizontal and vertical lines and circles, pull zippers up and down on command, jump forward 6 inches and repeat a short series of numbers back to me, among other tasks. He would have passed the thing with flying colors if it hadn’t been for a scribbled half-stick man that Will was supposed to be able to identify as somehow human even though it was missing some key body parts.

My scripted question was: “What is that?” Correct answers included “snowman,” “mommy,” “daddy” and the like. But Will said, with full confidence: “a duck.”

WRONG ANSWER… And especially troubling when we consider that just this morning Will announced that he still had baby ducks in his tummy, even though a few weeks ago he said they’d come out. Perhaps it’s just Will’s postpartum confusion, but I may hang on to this duck misidentification thing as ammunition for that fateful day two years from now when Rob and I are arguing about whether we should (a) send Will, with his borderline August 31 birthday, along with his mostly older peers to face kindergarten and the following 12 years of his life as the physical and emotional runt of his class or (b) hold Will back and doom him to an extra year of life with his boring parents as well as a potentially larger-than-normal dose of intellectual boredom at school. “Remember,” I will say to Rob, who is already pretty convinced that we should send young, short Will full-steam ahead, “always remember the duck.”

Monday, September 10, 2007

Weekend photo album from Lake Rabun

Will enjoys his fourth birthday party in one week (if you count the cupcakes at preschool) with Nana, Papa and “Aunt Leash.” Yes it's getting ridiculous, but he had to share this one with his mama, who’s beginning to sprout little wiry white hairs at age 32.

This is called “water skiing in the inner tube.” Suggest Will’s not yet big enough to water ski and he protests loudly. This IS water skiing.

Rob and the boys and I take a half mile hike through tunnels of rhododendron beside Joe Creek. Only it’s not your average Joe creek. Lengthy, if not exactly roaring, waterfalls cascade down steep rock faces at hike’s end. Will does the ascent on his own steam, then splashes around with his tennis shoes at the foot of the waterfall and gets a ride on daddy’s shoulders for most of the trip back. We enjoy his erratic toddler pace – first low gear as he stops every yard to pick up more baby pine cones or green acorns for his pocket collection, then high gear as we run, hand in hand to avoid tumbling over tree roots, laughing as we go.

Papa grills pineapple brushed with brown sugar and beer butt chicken (that’s a whole chicken basted in barbecue sauce with a can of Budweiser thrust up its hollowed innards). Then the younger generations come to pose for the annual grilling photo – as if they were of any help…

Will enjoys his first – and second -- canoe ride…

while Owen sleeps and sleeps on Nana. And then sleeps some more.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Rethinking discipline with Alfie Kohn

Go here to read my column in Saturday's Ledger-Enquirer, which features a Q&A interview with parenting and education expert Alfie Kohn, whose book “Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason,” made me reconsider how I was using praise, and occasionally rewards, with Will.

Here’s a few extra questions and answers that didn't make it into the paper but are interesting nonetheless:

Do you have a favorite example of how you managed one of your own children’s less than exemplary behavior?

When my daughter Abigail was in preschool she took forever to get ready in the morning and I wasn’t pleased with this or with my own nagging. So in such cases, what do you do? Well I certainly didn’t threaten her with the loss of a privilege or promise her some goody when she got ready on time. I’m raising a child here, I’m not house-training a dog. But what I did was I sat down with her one evening when we were in a good mood and had plenty of time and laid out the problem for her after inviting her to imitate the way I sounded in the morning … and then put the question to her. She was 4 years old. “What do you think we can do to speed things up in the morning?” And she eventually decided that she took a lot of time each morning getting dressed so she should just wear her clothes to bed. And I said, “Why not?” and she continued to do that for years and it really helped. But what was more important than the solution she came up with was the fact that I asked her to participate. It was her solution, as opposed to what almost all discipline books are about, which is: ‘Here’s what you can do unilaterally to your children to make them comply.’ And when kids feel listened to, when they feel that their input matters, that helps them feel competent and confident in a way that all the patronizing pats on the head and ‘Good jobs’ can never do.

You say in your book “Unconditional Parenting”: “The dominant problem with parenting in our society isn’t permissiveness but the fear of permissiveness.” Can you talk about your view that we are micromanaging children?

It’s a fiction that the main problem in our society is lax discipline and permissive parents. I mean a trip to a shopping mall on Saturday is enough to convince us, if we’re honest, that everywhere we look we see parents who are bullying and threatening their children, overly restricting them and so on. I’m not advocating permissiveness either – fortunately we don’t have to choose between traditional punitive discipline on the one hand and anything-goes permissiveness on the other. The whole notion that permissiveness is the only other option is a lie perpetrated by the folks who would like to see us become even more controlling than we already are.

I’m sure there are many educators out there who scoff at your notion that it’s possible to manage a classroom without rewards and punishments and without a focus on grades as completely unrealistic. What do you say to them?

People who say you can’t do this without traditional reward-and-punishment type control are merely confessing their own lack of familiarity with the many places where it’s done successfully every day. That’s why somebody who’s appropriately humble would say, ‘Wow that’s fascinating, please tell me more. How does it work? What does the research say? Where are some examples? As opposed to folks who are tenaciously clinging to their own practices, unwilling to reconsider them and simply saying I don’t know how to do this, therefore it can’t work. But in classrooms as in families you have to start dealing with much larger issues rather than just looking for a new technique for “managing” children – a word that makes me uneasy. So for example when I was visiting classrooms all over the country specifically to see how terrific teachers dealt with obnoxious behavior, what I discovered again and again in these classrooms was there wasn’t much obnoxious behavior to observe. My first reaction was, ‘Darn! I came on the wrong day again,’ until it finally dawned on me that these teachers were doing something so there were fewer problems to have to deal with. So I went back to my notes to see what these teachers were doing and the first thing that I noticed was they weren’t making a fetish of classroom management. They weren’t thinking about how to control kids. What they were doing had a very specific pattern to it. First they were creating warm, loving relationships with each child, unconditionally supportive, as I would later put it. Second they were working hard on creating a caring community in the classroom so the kids really came to feel a sense of belonging and concern about one another. That in turn required not only doing some things but refraining from doing the things that kill community -- for example having contests in the classroom, which destroy any sense of concern children might have about one another. Third, these terrific teachers were bringing kids in on making decisions individually and collectively on a daily basis so many of the things that most teachers decide on their own -- like what goes up on the bulletin board, what book we’ll read next, where we’ll take our field trip, how the furniture will be arranged, how we’ll assess the learning from this last unit -- were typically decisions made by the kids and teachers together. And the fourth thing I noticed was that such teachers had a truly engaging meaningful curriculum where the kids were not memorizing forgettable facts for a quiz or practicing skills on worksheets; they were tackling problems and projects that really mattered to the kids themselves. When that happens you don’t get much acting out. If your classroom is basically just an extended period of standardized test preparation then you’re going to have a lot of behavior problems and be desperate for some management program to deal with the problem that your curriculum created.

My original question about rewards (the second question of the interview) included using sticker charts for potty training as one example, partly because it was a strategy I tried on Will with no long-term success. Here’s what Kohn said about that:

I would not put potty training at the top of my list of practices where rewards are particularly damaging because I don’t have a commitment to wanting to see kids develop a lifelong love of defecation. However, I happen to want kids to become generous people, which is why I get a lot more upset when people say “Good job!” when kids share. And I want kids to become lifelong readers, which is why reading incentive programs are so powerfully counterproductive. In other words the more you want kids to want to do something the more you should should avoid offering them goodies to make them do it.

Do you have experience as a classroom teacher. What led you down this career path?

I did teach for a number of years but it was a while ago and I’ve learned most of what I now know from watching teachers who are far more talented than I was in the classroom as well as from reading a bunch of research and the works of a lot of other very wise people…

Read more:

Here’s a list of some of Alfie Kohn’s books. Visit for more information and to read numerous articles he has written on education and parenting.

Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason; Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community; Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes; The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing; What Does it Mean to be Well Educated? And More Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies; The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools; The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and "Tougher Standards"; What to look for in a classroom... And Other Essays;

(He also recommends “Learning to Trust: Transforming Difficult Elementary Classrooms Through Developmental Discipline,” by Marilyn Watson, who spent two years advising a teacher in an inner city about moving beyond punishments and rewards.)

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Childproof? Not in my house

Go here to read my column in today’s Ledger-Enquirer – it’s a lighter take on childproofing ideas including a list of the major spills and minor tragedies that have befallen Will during his three hazardous years in our house. You can get more tips from real experts if you read the accompanying story.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Birthday zoo

Here’s a recipe for a madhouse:

1 tiny 1,750-square-foot home
1 afternoon birthday party
1 steamy-hot, mosquito-infested backyard that forces all activities inside
3 infants, 10 weeks old and younger
2 barely 1 year-olds and a 9-month old too
8 running, yelping toddlers, ages 2 to 4
And their parents, mostly moms and a heroic dad or two

I tried to keep Will’s birthday party small but by the time I’d invited all his dear friends (and told him no he couldn’t invite his entire preschool class; we’d just do a cupcake party at school) we still had the makings for insanity. We did a few of our owl-themed activities – pin the feather on the owl, an owl song with the oldest most willing participants, owl birthday cake consumption and some take-home bags with the ingredients for owl puppet-making. But most of the time was spent in general joyful kids’ chaos – toys everywhere, kids running and hitting balloons and lining up toy after toy in very tight quarters.
And by the end of it all I thought, well this was good messy fun, but I also could feel a slight headache creeping on. And I wondered how many of my saner parental invitees walked to their cars thinking: “At least we don’t have to visit that crazy Addington birthday jungle for another year.”

Here are some photos:

And a classic embarrassing moment: With the party barely started, I discover Will and one of his good buddies sitting on our bed (where we were stowing birthday gifts away) opening up gift bags. Mom goes quizzing parents, trying to match gifts with gift bags. Luckily Will and his co-conspirator were stopped at two…

And an owl song we never got to (too complex to teach a gang of toddlers at a party but you might have fun with it one-on-one at home):
Wide Eye Owl
There's a wide eye owl (make fingers in large circles and cup over eyes)
With a pointed nose (use fingers to make a triangle & point out for nose)
2 pointed ears (use fingers for ears)
and claws for toes (wiggle fingers like toes)
he lives way up in the tree (point up to tree top)
and when he looks at you (point at kids)
he flaps his wings (use arms for wings, and flap)
and says whooo whooo (continue flapping wings)

And a question: How do you manage an in-house birthday party these days? Or is it outdoors or out-of-house or forget-the-party for you?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The icing on the cake

I may be a mom but I’m no Martha Stewart. I can prepare a passable meal some of the time, but take me to a potluck and I’ll probably rank every other dish ahead of my own offering. And I’m not sure I’ve ever baked a cake from scratch – lots of frit pies and cookies in the years before kids but poor Rob’s birthday cakes have tended to be of the box mix variety with the container of ready-to-spread frosting to match.

So when I woke up this morning with cake baking and decorating on the agenda, there was a little trickle of dread in my throat. And it was the decorating that scared me most. I’d borrowed a little cake decorating kit (which contained far more tips than I knew what to do with) and a book from a friend. Didn’t consult the book until I was mid-project this morning but it saved me from adding way too much color, and from generally screwing up icing dispenser assembly. Tricky thing was I had an icing recipe that gave no specific amount for the main ingredient, powdered sugar. I’d been told it worked best if this icing was pretty thick, but soon I was wondering how you define “pretty thick” when it comes to homemade icing. My first attempt with the brown looked like it was melting away (turned out it hardened right up just fine) so by the time I got to mixing up the yellow I made it rock hard – so rock hard in fact that as I was squeezing the bag the icing started bursting out the seams instead of through the mini-star tip I’d put on it. Soon I found myself impatiently sculpting the yellow on with my hands and deciding well this might be a fun excuse to make a very three-dimensional solid looking beak.

It was a long little art-and-cooking project that turned out pretty mediocre but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Owen was a patient assistant, cooing up at me from his bouncy seat when he wasn’t napping. And I got to thinking that sometime a few years in the future, when Will and later Owen have a few more fine motor skills and less determination to NOT follow instructions, it might be fun to make a ritual of letting one brother decorate the other’s birthday cake with me each year. It might look even messier than my messy owl, but what fun to create a sweet edible surprise for your birthday brother.

Still it was just time-consuming and messy enough (picture powdered sugar and icing residue over every counter of the kitchen) that when Rob’s October birthday comes around he’ll probably be facing another Betty Crocker cake, with mono-color store-bought icing spread over it in 20 seconds flat.

One of Will’s good friends has a severe milk allergy, so I made a dairy free cake using her mother’s recipe. Here it is, in case you’re ever hosting someone with food allergies. I know it tastes good when other moms make it. We’ll see if I managed to do any major goof-ups when we actually try the thing at tomorrow's little party.

Yellow Cake (with dairy-free modifications)

1 cup shortening (Use Smart Balance - it has to be the kind that comes with two 8 oz tubs together and says Smart Balance Regular now with flax. On the front of the carton it has a small "U" with the word Parve on it.)

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

3 cups flour

2.5 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup milk (use rice milk)

2 tsp vanilla extract

Grease (with Smart Balance) and wax paper line cake pans. Cream Smart Balance and sugar, beat well. Add eggs one at a time. Add flour, baking powder and salt and rice milk. Add vanilla. Mix well. Pour into cake pans. Bake 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then move to wire racks.


1 cup Smart Balance

Confectioners sugar (I used more than 4 cups of it)

1 tsp vanilla extract

add cocoa powder for chocolate

Monday, September 3, 2007

Eating machine

This weekend we enjoyed a short but wonderful visit from our old college friend Sean and his wife, Priya, who live much too far away in Seattle. After a day at Callaway Gardens and a dinner in downtown Columbus, Priya got a taste of Will’s desperate passion for moon-watching.

Here’s the scene driving home, with Will moon searching from the back seat and me explaining away our inability to spot that soft magical night light:
I can’t see the moon. Where is the moon?

I don’t know Will. These tall buildings may be blocking our view of it.

I’m going to eat up all the buildings so I can see the moon.

That would be something to watch you eat up all the buildings. But it might also be that we can’t see the moon because it’s a cloudy night and the clouds are blocking our view of it.

I’m going to kick all those clouds into the road and eat up all the buildings so I can see the moon.

Soon after, as we gave goodbye hugs to Sean and Priya before Will went to bed (they had an early morning flight to catch), Will threatened quite sweetly to eat them up so that they could stay with us too.

But they got away undigested and the moon stayed tucked behind the clouds and we're all feeling a little sad about it now. (There is still hope, however, that we won't go years between our visits with Sean and Priya this time. Will, who sort of enslaved Priya and Sean as his playmates this weekend, is currently devising a little scheme in which he and Ally hop on their motorcycle and go and retrieve both of them from their "far, far away" home.)

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Big-money formula industry has its sway

Check out this article from Friday’s Washington Post about how the big-money formula industry worked behind the scenes to dramatically alter a Health and Human Services Department ad campaign originally designed to vividly illustrate the increased risks for infants who are not breastfed. Those television ads would have reached mothers less likely to be reading about the benefits of breastfeeding, and the less informative ads that replaced them were predicted by advertising agents to have little impact on the decision to breastfeed . And so far the watered-down ads, which aired from 2003 to 2005, seem to have made little difference. Sad to think that industry big-wigs and lobbyists and their government cronies are willing to bury the truth even when the victims of their subtle dishonesty are our very smallest, most vulnerable children. There are plenty of disturbing details in the article, so take a look…