Sunday, November 29, 2009

Remembering on Thanksgiving

It was a bittersweet Thanksgiving for us as we feasted with Rob's family in Marietta for the first time since losing Rob's mother and grandfather. On the way to our Thanksgiving dinner, Will and Owen and Rob and I talked about all the things we are thankful for -- including "Nana and Grandpa in heaven."

Will drew a picture of Nana and Grandpa (really his great grandpa) in flowers in heaven at preschool a couple weeks ago. Grandpa, who was seated in his armchair for most of the times Will saw him, is sitting in his armchair within his flower. Beneath them is someone crying. Will said it could be anyone in our family.

Will and Rob and I recently finished a draft of our Nana Memory Book, which we may continue to add to. For now it is 24 pages of photographs, reflections and memories from family and friends that will help Will and Owen know their Nana as they grow older. We plan to look through it on her birthday each year.

Thank you to everyone who sent us photos and memories.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Listen and be grateful

Happy Thanksgiving.

Here is Will’s depiction of an early Thanksgiving celebrant, with loincloth slightly displaced, using fish to fertilize the soil and preparing to harvest some corn.

As long as you're pausing to feel real gratitude for your loved ones today, why not preserve some of their stories, their voices, their personalities, their quirks this weekend. Tomorrow is the “National Day of Listening,” a StoryCorps project that encourages people across the country to set aside an hour to record a conversation with someone important to them. You can go to the web site to participate officially and get guidance in generating questions if you choose.

So while you’re with friends and family, take a moment to break out a recording device and record some stories from older family members or some singing and talking by the children in the family who will one day marvel at their own little voice from long ago. I'm hoping to capture Owen singing Baby Beluga and Will singing the chorus from "Wagon Wheel," as they are both so often inclined to do. Maybe they'll tell me a story too.

Here's a sweet audio treasure, recorded in advance of the National Day of Listening, by NPR's Scott Simon as he talks with his 6-year-old adopted daughter about the story of her adoption and the making of their family. It's a story they tell together often, he says, and it grows richer as his two adopted daughters grow older.

If you’re reading this late, no matter. Shouldn't every day be a day of listening?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Offering choices

About a month ago, I saw a book, “Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility” by Foster Cline and Jim Fay, on display atop a library shelf and grabbed it impulsively. I think of myself as a love and logic parent, but I’ve never actually read a “love and logic” book on the subject.
And it proved useful to me to pick up some specific strategies for working with Will and Owen, and even with my preschool students. There are many scripted scenarios in the book in which the parents’ actual words strike me as rather corny and contrived and there are plenty of scenarios where I wouldn't choose to impose the same "logical consequences" the book suggests, but many of the book's basic principles make good sense.

I’ve always known that it’s wise to offer young kids, who love to have some power, choices. But I hadn’t really recognized how easy it is to almost always offer children at least two choices you can live with even if the choices you present make the best path pretty obvious for them. Lately instead of barking orders or voicing my frustration when problems or conflicts arise with the boys, I’ve been asking them these kinds of questions:

“Do you think you can play together nicely and gently or do you think you should go to separate rooms?” (They almost always opt to stop hitting, pushing or whatever. I also avoid going into a room and asking this question until things get so heated that I’ve been called to the scene. Even then, I often start with the question: “Do you think you can work this one out for yourselves?” )

“Would you like to walk to the potty or the changing table or do you want me to carry you there?”

“Do you want to wash your hands by yourself or do you want me to help you?”

“Would you like to calm down now and speak nicely or go to your room until you’re feeling calmer and ready to be with us?” (If they don’t answer and keep fussing, they’ve made a choice to settle down in their room. But I give them a choice about leaving the door open or closed and tell them they can come out as soon as they’re feeling calm.)

“Should we clean up now or in 10 minutes?” (The choice is always 10 minutes, so I ask this in advance of the real clean-up time) And then…. “Do you want to clean up the blocks or the Legos first?”

None of these are direct from the book; they’re just my attempts to stay even-keeled and calm as a mom and offer my children choices that get them thinking instead of fighting as we get through everything from their stormiest moments to simply completing mundane chores.

Here a couple quotes on the subject from the book:

“Love and Logic parents avoid the helicopter and drill sergeant mentalities by using a consultant style of parenting as early as possible in the child’s life. They ask their children questions and offer choices. Instead of telling their children what to do, they put the burden of decision making on their kids’ shoulders. They establish options within limits. Thus by the time the children become teens, they are used to making good decisions.”

“…When we issue such commands we are calling our kids to battle, and in many cases these are battles we cannot win. Why not bypass these hassles and make our words ones that cannot be fought? Why not steer away from commands? Limits can be set much more effectively when we’re not fighting with our kids. It has been clinically proven that kids who are thinking cannot fight us at the same time.”

Love and Logic parents make statements with enforceable thinking words telling their kids what we will allow, what we will do. what we will provide (I’ll be glad to read you a story as soon as you finish your bath.) Our kids have little chance to fight these statements. They’re too busy thinking about the choices they have been given and the consequences that may result from their choice.”
For further reading, here’s the Love and Logic website.

What strategies do you use for helping your children through the inevitable little conflicts and power struggles that arise as you navigate family life together? Or what resources have you found useful?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pumpkin Soup for every meal

Here’s a link to a recipe for an incredibly simple but yummy Southwestern Pumpkin soup appropriate for the season, courtesy of I had been planning to try a curried pumpkin soup, but this one seemed to get better reviews online, so I made it for a potluck yesterday. Will and Owen gobbled it up then and Owen has been wanting it for every meal since (I made him hold out until lunch today when he requested pumpkin soup for breakfast). I doubled the recipe and increased the pumpkin (used 3 cans of it for a doubled recipe) to make the soup thicker, after reading some advice to that effect in the comments. I also made the soup a day ahead to give the flavors time to linger. I'm sure this would be delicious with fresh pumpkin, for those of you more motivated than me.

For yourself, don’t skip the fresh cilantro as garnish (For the boys I just do the cheddar as garnish, since they are not yet cilantro fans). Next time I have a bowl I think I'll also throw in some roasted pumpkin seeds (which we've also discovered make a great salad topper).

Here's the recipe with some minor modifications:

3 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
1 cup whipping cream
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin (I used 1 1/2 cans -- actually 3 cans since I doubled the recipe)
3 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar (I used 2 Tablespoons. You might even want less, so add slowly and taste.)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup (packed) grated sharp cheddar cheese
Chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Bring chicken stock and whipping cream to boil in heavy medium pot. Whisk in canned pumpkin, brown sugar, cumin, chili powder, coriander and nutmeg. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until soup thickens slightly and flavors blend, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Soup can be prepared up to 1 day ahead. Cool. Cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium-low heat, whisking occasionally.) Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish each serving with cheddar cheese and cilantro and serve.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thanksgiving mantlepieces

We’ve started a little tradition I like to call the “holiday mantle” in our house this year, in which we pin or tape up lots of random pieces of kid-created holiday-themed artwork for the next upcoming holiday. We had a Halloween mantle that looked just as “ghetto” (as Rob likes to point out) as this Thanksgiving mantle.

But I am quite content to have things looking hodge-podge and scribbly if it inspires the kids. For this mantle (I didn’t get the whole view but you get the idea) we’ve got a lot of preschool art projects combined with drawings that Will colored and cut out at home for the express purpose of decorating the mantle: a couple loin-clothed Indians, a pumpkin, an ear of corn, a deer with a huge rack of antlers. Owen did some scribblings and cut them into sections for the mantle, so we call that Thanksgiving art too and give it its rightful place among the masterpieces. I’m not sure if we’ll find room for a Christmas mantle between the stockings – but we’ll find some other place to string up art and then return to the mantle for Valentine’s Day and Easter.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

In the woods

Before we had kids, Rob and I enjoyed backpacking together. But now that we have two young boys, one of whom is still wearing diapers, the prospect of a family backpacking trip has always seemed like a logistical nightmare. So this past weekend, we figured we were being brave enough attempting a car camping trip at FDR State Park with the boys and the dog. When we learned, after a phone call from home, that every site in the campground had been reserved for Friday night, we decided we'd try a half-mile backpack instead.

We looked a little ridiculous with Rob and I trying to cart in all the essentials and non-essentials (we each made one extra trip that wound up being a nice excuse to hike alone), but in the end getting the woods completely to ourself was more than worth it. I'm sold on short-distance backpacking from here forward. (At least until the boys are carrying their weight and we can shift to longer-distance backpacking instead). For this trip we carried Owen in a backpack and Will toted only his carefully selected toys and light-weight books.

The boys had a beautiful time -- we all did, even if I didn't sleep so well once Owen got cold at 4 a.m., asked for his crib and wound up sharing a sleeping bag with me instead. That took the "sleeping" right out of the bag for me.

Here are some highlights from our time in the woods, where Will led the way on many explorations:

tree climbing
brook crossingfire building

fire play

between trees

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Puppy training - and an update on Greg Mortenson

Today's Ledger-Enquirer includes a column I wrote about the experience of taking our hyper puppy Harvey to pet training classes, which became a sort of support group for me as we worked through our many issues with Harvey, whose "graduation" I half-jokingly attribute to social promotion. We love our puppy, but he is a handful and a half.

Also, for those of you who had been planning to hear Greg Mortenson speak, he sent out an e-mail to school and news contacts here explaining what happened. He was hospitalizied with an inflammation of the lining of the heart, which physicians say will take 2 to 8 weeks to heal. He hopes to make it to Columbus in early 2010.

Here is his letter:

To the community of Columbus and surrounding areas,

Today, I was supposed to join your community to meet with students, teachers and the public in a series of talks and events. I had been looking forward to this for weeks, and also eager to meet many of the students who had sent me inspiring letters, and also excited to meet with soldiers from Ft. Benning, who I have had the honor to communicate with recently, and have profound admiration and respect for.

Unfortunately, at the last minute, I was hospitalized in our local hospital with viral cardititis (inflammation of the lining of the heart) with perhaps something I had picked up on my recent trip to Afghanistan, which gives me an oxygen saturation around 85% on room air (most people its around 99%). The physicians told me it would take 2-8 weeks to heal and additional tests are being done.

A few people expressed concern over the explanation of the cancellation of my event due to 'unfore-seen' circumstances, so I want to make sure that you are appraised of the exact circumstances. I am sorry for any inconvenience I may have caused, especially with your children in anticipation of the event. I have two children myself, and I know how devastating it is when something they are looking forward to does not happen, so I especially apologize to them.
We will make up the event as soon as possible, and look forward to seeing you in the near future. My new book, Stones Into Schools (Viking 2009), will be released on December 1st, which discusses Afghanistan in more detail, about the dedication of our military, and also the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. Unfortunately, the release of the new book puts me on a 21 day in a row book tour, so I may not be able to make it to Columbus by the end of the year, but we will do our best to get there by early 2010.

Thank you to all the students, teachers, civic groups, Ft. Benning soldiers and families, Brookstone School, Columbus State University, Chattahoochee Valley Libraries.GMC Columbus, veterans, places of worship, doctors and nurses, health care professionals, AAUW, local businesses, the Ledger Enquirer, newspaper, radio, TV stations and more.
More information about our nonprofit organization is on, dedicated to support girls education in rural Afghanistan and Pakistan, and our children's program

Thanks for your understanding, and may God's blessings of peace be with you.
Greg Mortenson

PS: We had over 24" of snow yesterday in Bozeman, Montana, in the last day, but we had already made arrangements so I would not be stuck in Montana - and I heard you had a similiar dump of rain in Georgia.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Greg Mortenson talk postponed

In case you were planning to attend the Greg Mortenson talk that I plugged in a post (and in the newspaper) a week and a half ago, hold on to your ticket but make other plans for tonight. I was about to head out to Brookstone School to cover his visit there for the paper, when I got the word that due to "unforeseen circumstances" Mortenson had to postpone his trip to Columbus. Please help spread the word. Four thousand people had picked up free tickets to see Mortenson at CSU's Lumpkin Center tonight, and I'm hoping we can keep as many of them as possible from making a wasted drive.

Here's the Columbus Public Library's notification:

Due to unforeseen circumstances, tonight’s appearance by Greg Mortenson has been postponed.We are working with Mr. Mortenson to re-schedule his appearance. If anyone has tickets, they should hold onto them. More information will be posted on the Library website as future details are confirmed.Mr. Mortenson extends his sincerest apologies and he looks forward to coming to Columbus in the near future.Thank you for your help in getting this information out to our volunteers.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A forest for dinner

The other day, as I was flipping through Mollie Katzen's "The Enchanted Broccoli Forest" cookbook in search of some other recipe, I noticed the recipe for the enchanted forest itself, which I've never actually made. It sounded like a fun project for Will since it involves planting a little edible forest in a bed of brown rice casserole. And Will jumped at the chance to participate.

Until recently, I have armed Will with nothing but safe, and totally ineffective, table knives for any cooking projects and we would chop vegetables side by side, with him sort of playing beside me and accomplishing nothing. But since I've recently begun allowing Will to chop vegetables, under my very close supervision, with a regular steak knife, it's added a new zest to Will's love of cooking.
For this recipe, Will stirred our sauteeing onions and garlic, broke all the broccoli into trees as he saw fit, cracked one of the eggs into a bowl for beating (we had to fish out quite a few little pieces of shell, but oh well) and planted the entire forest himself in the enchanted rice bed. As we were about to put the forest in the oven, he said he didn't want to eat it. "It's too beautiful," he said. In the end, though we all had a hearty serving of enchanted forest -- and we all cleaned our plates. Owen and Will had seconds.

Here's the recipe:

The Enchanted Broccoli Forrest

(From Mollie Katzen’s Cookbook of that name)

serves 6

1 1-lb. bunch of broccoli

2 cups brown rice

3 cups water

1 Tbsp butter

1 cup chopped onion

1 clove garlic, crushed

½ tsp salt

½ tsp dill weed

Lots of black pepper
¼ tsp dried mint

cayenne pepper, to taste

3 eggs

¼ cup freshly minced parsley

1 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped

1½ cups cheddar or swiss cheese

Lemon butter: Juice from one lemon mixed with 2 Tbsp melted butter

Place rice and water in saucepan. Bring to the boil, lower heat and cover. Cook til just done – about 20-30 minutes. Fluff with a fork.Cut bottom several inches off broccoli stalk and cut into spears (these will be the trees). Steam broccoli until bright green and just tender.

Meanwhile sauté onion, garlic, salt, dill weekd, pepper, mint and cayenne pepper in 1 Tbsp butter over medium heat, stirring til onions are soft and translucent (8-10 minutes). Add to rice. Beat together eggs, cheese and parsely and add to rice mixture.

Spread rice mixture into a greased 10 x 6 inch pan and smooth out. Plant broccoli trees upright in rice mixture and drizzle trees with lemon butter.
Cover with foil gently but firmly and bake 30 minutes at 325.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

More sleep, less praise -- and air those arguments

Check out this interview with Po Bronson, co-author of “Nurture Shock: New Thinking about Children” from NPR’s “Fresh Air.” In the interview Bronson covers three interesting topics, all of which have applications for our house:

The first is his argument that if you begin an argument in front of your kids, the best thing to do is to work toward a resolution while still in their presence. When Rob and I start to bicker about trivial things with the kids looking on, I tend to want to stop in my tracks and say, “Look, we’ll just talk about it later.” Spare the kids the agony of witnessing tension between their parents. Now I like this new challenge: Bicker and get to a peaceful resolution all in front of the children. I think we just might be able to do it (perhaps more quickly than we could without the kids as neutral third-party observers) – and I can definitely see how the kids could learn from our ability to have an authentic disagreement and work toward a peaceful resolution without hitting, pushing or biting. Of course, Bronson doesn’ t suggest that we intentionally do all our arguing in front of our kids – just that we finish what we start if an argument does arise in their presence.

Bronson also talks about the shortcomings of many “progressive dads.” He says “these are the modern fathers who are co-parenting, who can change a diaper one-handed and pop up the port-a-crib in 30 seconds and know how to, you know, feed the baby and put the baby to bed and are very actively involved in their children's lives.” Bronson, who self-identifies as a progressive dad, says progressive dads often experiment with discipline strategies and feel unsure about how to best go about disciplining their kids. I may not be a dad, but I’m guilty of falling into that murky progressive parenting trap where I felt unsure about how to best react to my boys' misbehavior. I’m just now getting comfortable with my approach to discipline as a mom, and for me it hasn’t been about finding a formula and applying it lock-step, it’s been about discovering that place in myself that can shove frustration and emotion aside; remain patient, firm, and consistent; refrain from engaging in futile arguments; and apply fairly logical consequences for my kids’ offensive behaviors. I believe in talking through the whys of discipline – we do this because, this hurts other people’s feelings because, we can’t return to this activity until… But I’ve finally, after four years of not getting it, learned that you cannot “discuss” things with a crying-mad kid. Give it ten minutes, though, and that same kid is ready to offer his own solution.

In the last third of the interview, Bronson discusses research that suggests that even 15 minutes of sleep deprivation can lead to dramatic differences in school performance – more reasons to push that bedtime earlier.

And perhaps most fascinating of all to me, was the excerpt from the first chapter of “Nurture Shock,” which isn’t really touched on in the interview, but which is presented in full on the Fresh Air website. In it, Bronson reviews a bunch of research about the dangers of over-praising kids – especially offering them the kind of empty “You’re so smart” praise that makes them anxious to appear smart without offering them any real tools for increasing their brainpower. When we feel compelled to praise, we should focus on praising effort and specific behaviors, Bronson says. He recounts how more and more studies are showing that kids who’ve been told their smart over and over (or even just once) tend to avoid challenge, underperform on tests etc, etc… There’s too much intricate research to summarize here, but this chapter is definitely worth a read.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Playdate for a dog

I never fully comprehended when I agreed to bring a puppy into our home this summer, how much it would be like having a third kid. Another body to be potty-trained, disciplined, played with, fed, walked to the park and cleaned up after.

And now I’m arranging play-dates for Harvey, to assuage my guilt about the fact that he spends so much boring solo time in our little backyard since he can't come remotely close to behaving himself indoors. When Will went to his friend Creight’s house for a playdate today, I got greedy and asked if Harvey, Owen and I could come join the fun for the last half hour. Harvey met his barking beagle friends through the fence, submitted to some sniffing and then they chased each other around the yard like mad while I looked on wishing I could arrange a Harvey playdate every day – without necessarily having to strap him into the car to make it happen.

Here’s Harvey riding shotgun to his playdate.

Action shot – chase around the jungle gym.

Kid and dog play merges – and Harvey takes a breather.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Building schools, building peace

A couple weeks ago I spent more than an hour talking on the phone with Greg Mortenson, 2009 Nobel Peace prize nominee and co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Central Asia Institute, which builds schools, primarily for girls, in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson is co-author of the bestselling book “Three Cups of Tea,” which chronicles his journey from mountaineer, trying and just failing to summit K2 in Pakistan, to humanitarian, working to build schools and peace. The Central Asia Institute has to date built 131 secular schools in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan where physical isolation and religious extremism left populations illiterate and uneducated before. I wrote a feature in today’s Ledger-Enquirer about Mortenson and his school and peace-building mission, including his recent efforts as an outside advisor to military leaders. He will come to Columbus to share his story on Nov. 12.

One quote got cut from that story for lack of space. But I wanted to include it here -- in part because I know was curious about Mortenson's take on the McChrystal report. It came at the end of the piece when Mortenson was talking about how impressed he's been with the military's efforts over the past couple years to understand and work with the people of Afghanistan as they carry out their mission:

“General (Stanley) McChrystal and General (David) McKiernan before him, have met with dozens -- probably hundreds now – of tribal elders from pretty remote communities. The military’s actually sitting down and listening to them… The McChrystal report that was sent to Obama and Congress contains a lot of the learning that they’ve done from listening to the elders.”

As I listen each day to the news from Afghanistan and Pakistan, I think about Mortenson’s work. He believes that by educating children, and especially girls, the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan can begin to build a peaceful nation from the ground up. With the Taliban targeting illiterate, uneducated children in their recruiting efforts -- and with mothers acting as gatekeepers to terrorism (it is customary for boys to seek their mother’s permission before going on violent jihad, and educated mothers are far less likely to give their approval), educating the future mothers of both countries seems essential to building lasting peace.

Having read his story and spoken with Mortenson at length, this is one of those moments where I’ll take what I’ve learned as a journalist and apply it to my life as a mom and teacher too. Mortenson is also founder of a Pennies for Peace program, designed to help kids in the developed world learn about Pakistan and Afghanistan and support the education of children there. Cindy Sparks, the servant leadership director at Brookstone School who helped bring Mortenson to Columbus, sent me a copy of “Listen to The Wind” – the story of Three Cups of Tea retold through beautiful collage illustrations for children, with photographs to bring it all to life at the end. Will is fascinated by the book and we are going to begin collecting Pennies for Peace in our home and perhaps at our preschool. Check out the Pennies for Peace program if you are a mom or teacher, and consider buying a copy of “Listen to the Wind” or the young reader’s edition of “Three Cups of Tea” for your kids.
Mortenson points out that a penny, which buys nothing in the U.S. these days, will buy a pencil in Afghanistan – and that young Americans, by collecting even the smallest of sums, will begin to develop a mind for thinking globally and a heart for serving others. The Pennies for Peace Web site also offers in-depth, grade-appropriate curriculum so that children of all ages can learn more about Afghanistan and Pakistan and about their own place in the world. The Web site features videos you can download that help kids see what life is like for children in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with subjects ranging from food, religion, and geography, to home life, school and play.

If you live nearby and want to hear Greg Mortenson speak at 7 p.m. Nov. 12 at the CSU Lumpkin Center, be sure to pick up a free ticket at one of the one of the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries branches soon. Organizers have already given away more than 2,000 of 4,000 available tickets -- and they may run out.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tricks for those treats

The other day I stumbled upon this mamapedia site with suggestions for how to handle the haul of candy that your children bring in on Halloween night. I half considered letting them pick out several pieces to keep and eat through the week, and then letting them trade the rest in for a little book or toy of their choosing. (Some moms had instituted a tradition of letting their kids leave the candy for “the Great Pumpkin” in exchange for a toy or money.)

But yesterday, the day after Halloween, with their Jac-o-lanterns’ perched up on a cabinet, they never thought to ask for their candy, so we just had a candy-free day. When they do ask, I’ll probably suggest that we count and organize the treats, pick out seven favorites and save the rest for our road trip treat stash or for decorating a holiday gingerbread house.

Am I Halloween grinch? Do you let your kids indulge in heaps of candy – or do you have tricks for happily limiting sweet consumption too.