Monday, February 28, 2011

Recipe for Disaster

Ingredients:
-Preschool Registration - make sure you are ignorant of the fact that arriving on time will mean being there for over 2 hours.  With both kids.  And other people's kids.
-Promise of homemade graham crackers.  Do not have any real bread-making experience beforehand, though the recipe comes from a bread cookbook.
-Plan to make a meal only your husband has made before.  Do not check the recipe beforehand, lest you realize you're going to be cooking the whole time you're working on those graham crackers.
-time-sensitive tasks that cannot be done while holding a baby or corralling a toddler
-sleep deprivation
-coffee
-a coughing 5-month-old
-a stubborn 3-year-old who never. forgets. anything.

Mix well.  And be sure, at some point (preferably while the baby is screaming and you're on the phone dealing with one of your time-sensitive tasks) to accidentally elbow your firstborn in the head as you throw up your arms in frustration.

Now would be a good time to set the chaos and children mixture aside and crawl in a hole. 

After a few deep breaths and unclenching your jaw, return to work on those screaming human beings you swore you loved this morning.  You want your mixture to be loud, frustrating, and still demanding of random other shit.  Like apple slices.  Even though you're already simultaneously working on those graham crackers and some complicated back beans and rice recipe that isn't cooking as quickly as it should.  Crunchy beans.  Who cares at this point?  Still nutritious!

When your husband walks in the door and you're wearing the baby while stirring a pot of you-forget-what and the child is shrieking and there's flour all over the floor and still some graham crackers left to bake and the first batch is burnt in the oven, extricate yourself from the kitchen.  ASAP.  Just go.  Tell him vaguely where you're at with both recipes and go.

Deeeeeeeep breaths.

Chronic Parenting: Talking to my child about my health

Not necessarily a crunchy hippy post, but my crunchy hippiness is tied so closely to my health concerns and to my parenting style!  What can I say?  My life/personality/perspective are not compartmentalized!

 Bean on the big shoe outside our hospital after just having met his brand new brother for the first time!

How many not-quite-three-year-olds get excited - truly excited - to go to the hospital?  Mine does, and I'm glad for it.

Much like I have given thought to how I will address difficult subjects like sex, prejudice, and death, I have contemplated how to talk to my children about my chronic kidney disease.  I have decided to address it as it comes up, but never to hide from them that, indeed, I am sick.  I am vibrant, active, and I don't look sick.  My illness thankfully has very little impact on my daily life; at this point, the impact (except when I'm pregnant) is that I take a few pills every day, I take my blood pressure a couple times a week, and I get labwork done and see my specialist every one to three months.

With that attitude, and simple logistics, both my kids have accompanied me for labwork and to my doctors' appointments.  Bean is quite familiar with the hospital, where I get my labwork done.

When we arrive in the parking garage, he puts in a request for the color of elevator he'd like to ride in (each floor has the elevator and stair doors painted a different color).  He pushes the buttons on the elevator.  Then we head to registration.  Usually Bean will give my lab orders to the person at the desk.  When we're called up to register, I remind him that the person checking us in is going to tell us when we can go see the fish.

The fish in the lab's waiting area have been Bean's favorite part of our hospital excursions until our last trip.  That time, he was much more interested in the lab work!  He checked out the fish, but was really waiting for them to call us back.  The previous time, he'd realized they were taking blood out of my arm, but he couldn't see it coming out.  So this last time we made sure to ask the tech to move her hand out of the way.  Unfortunately, Bean was too short.  Next time he will sit in my lap.

I should probably state explicitly that this whole process is pretty run-of-the-mill for me.  I can't watch the needle go into my arm, but I don't get upset or squeamish - I talk to Bean and the tech as full vials are switched out for empty ones and they all fill with my blood.  Bean stands right next to me and watches intently.  I wouldn't take him if I was squeamish about it.

When they're done drawing my blood, I head into the bathroom to pee in a cup.  Bean is familiar-enough with this to remind me to put the cup "in the door" when I'm done (just in case I forget what I'm supposed to do!  ha!).  Once, when he was probably 18 months old, he proudly showed me a cup and informed me he had peed in it.  So there are drawbacks to this familiarity and ho-humness!  We have since made it very clear that you should only pee in cups when doctors tell you to!

That is the end of the hospital trip.  I answer any questions he has, or respond to his comments and concerns (like strategizing how we will make sure he gets to see the blood fill the vial next time!) we go run errands or do something fun afterward.

The kidneys came up again this past week.  B was learning about the heart at preschool and told me "the blue blood is dirty.  Your heart cleans it!"  No, I explained, though the blue blood needs the heart to do something to it, it is not dirty.  We talked about how your body is like a team - every part has a job and has to help out so the other parts can do their jobs.  I told him your heart moves your blood so it can get to where it gets cleaned.  The heart doesn't clean your blood - your kidneys and liver do.

This led to me explaining that my kidneys do a really really good job of cleaning my blood, but they also get other stuff out that they should really leave in there (protein). 

He asked how big kidneys are, told me how big he learned his heart is, and that was that.  He asked his dad later, "My kidneys work really well, Dad.  Do you kidneys work really well?"

Aside from that, B knows the phrase "blood pressure," he knows I take it, he knows I take medicine because I'm sick (and that I don't want to take it and neither should he).

I dread my kids being old enough to ask me about the what-ifs of my illness - the questions that might demand answers including words like "kidney failure,"  "dialysis," and "transplant."  Will I answer readily?  Or will I try to delay that conversation with the sugar-coated "we'll cross those bridges when we come to them?"  If I don't answer their questions, I fear they will assume much worse than the truth.  Thus, I anticipate answering fully (considering their age and ability to comprehend) and always end with focusing on how healthy I am in the moment.

I consider this an extension of respecting my kids - I'm respecting that, if they are able to ask a question, then they should get a real answer.  My responsibility is to try and form answers that are comprehensible to them - realistic, true answers that may scare them (there have been times when this has scared the crap out of me, after all), and that I may have to help them gain perspective on.

It seems, though, that now is the time to introduce a lot of this stuff - while the concept of death and of the seriousness of someone being ill is nearly incomprehensible to him.  After all, he spent much of December and January telling family members that they were "going to die soon."  And recently he has been requesting "that dead deer" to reappear (we saw a roadkill deer very close up last spring - we walked very close to it, and Bean was fascinated.)  So he does not understand any of this as something to be afraid of.

My hope is that the toughest what-ifs will never surface - or it will be a very long time from now.  My other hope is that the tough questions won't be asked by my children until they are teenagers (but I think they'll ask sooner).  I was diagnosed at 16.  A flow chart was put in front of me that began with my current state (which hasn't changed much in 14 years) and ended with "DEATH."  It just had arrows from one thing to the next, with all possibilities ending with DEATH.  (This was by a pediatric nephrologist - to this day I cannot understand why something that shocking was placed in front of me at 16, by someone who specialized in caring for children!)  So I feel like, as long as I'm not quite so brutal with honesty, they'll handle the truth just fine.  I also hope that my being matter-of-fact and keeping them updated as much as they can understand throughout the years will mean no dramatic moments or conversations about the subject.

As they work out various aspects of their world, I want this to be simply another part of it.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mint Stick Brownies

It's a crummy picture.  Sorry.

Once again, a healthy baking project with Bean last week...

We shared most of the pan at a playdate.  That makes it better, right?  We're making whole-grain graham crackers tomorrow, so we'll make up for it!  I'm even grinding the flour right before we make it.  Educational value over nutritional or something like that?

This recipe came out of a cookbook The Beast's grandmother put together several years ago, in celebration of her 50th wedding anniversary!  The Beast's grandpa wrote a family history/autobiography to commemorate the occasion.

Every recipe includes a history.  This one informs us that The Beast's uncle used to eat these at his grandparents' house and they were his favorites.

Theses are minty brownies with green mint frosting and a chocolate glaze.  In the future, I'd just make the brownies - they were really easy.  The other aspects required patience (in waiting for things to cool, heat, etc) that should never be requested of a three-year-old.

A few friends with dietary restrictions have asked for this recipe - if you come up with successful substitutions and modifications, please let me know or post in the comments!

Without further ado, here is the recipe and some commentary!

Ingredients:
Brownies:
2 squares unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs, well-beaten
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon peppermint flavoring
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted 
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional - we omitted)
(note: all-purpose flour generally does not need to be sifted.  Also, The Beast poo-pooed the purchase altogether and requests I buy unbleached white flour in the future.  He's a bit of a flour nerd.  And connoisseur...)

Mint Frosting:
2 Tablespoons soft butter 
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespooncream
1/2 teaspoon peppermint flavoring
a few drops of green food coloring
(Room temperature utter or cold butter with a lot of patience for it to fluff during mixing.  I made this mistake two weeks in a row!)

Glaze Topping:
1 square unsweetened chocolate
1 tablespoon butter 

Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Get the chocolate and butter melting in a double boiler over hot water while you grease a 9-inch square pan and get the remaining brownie ingredients together in one bowl.

When the butter and chocolate are melted, mix everything together, pour into the pan, and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Cool.

For the frosting, mix the ingredients together until the mixture is creamy.  Spread over the cooled brownies.

Refrigerate while making the glaze topping.  Melt together the chocolate and butter.  Dribble the glaze over the green icing. 

Coconut Oil vs. the Diaper Rash


Last week, I wrote a guest post on dealing with yeast in cloth diapers over at the The Green Nursery's blog.  One of the commenters suggested treating a yeast rash with coconut oil for its natural antifungal properties.  Brilliant!  Yet another use for the stuff.

Squeak has been suffering with a recurring rash that is not yeast.  I've been to the pediatrician, and she said it is now contact dermatitis, but I can't figure out what is itis-ing his derm (inflaming his skin).  Based on the location, it appears to be his own pee.  Or maybe his pee interacting with our detergent (he's not reacting anywhere else, so it's not a straight-up allergy or sensitivity to the detergent).  Or something.  And sometimes it looks possibly yeast-y.  Which pisses me off because I have treated the whole family for yeast.  Multiple times.

So our solution for the last couple weeks has been to put Squeak in just a prefold with no cover and change the diaper as soon as it was wet.  This has worked to clear up the rash, but then it would return as soon as he was left in a diaper with a cover for a few hours.  Putting him in a wool cover at night (wool is magical, I swear.  It has super powers.  Like being waterproof yet breathable!) has helped with the long overnights in diapers.  We've tried a barrier, but it didn't always prevent the rash.

Friday morning I opened Squeak's diaper to find the rash back and looking painful.  I decided to give the coconut oil a try while I put him in a diaper and cover (we were heading out the door).

Came home a few hours later and changed his diaper - the rash was gone!  We've done this a couple more times since, and I've been able to keep the rash gone if I put the oil on at a few diaper changes -- skip a couple and it comes back.

Squeak just seems to have really sensitive skin.  *sigh*

My plan is to leave him cover-free whenever possible (soon he'll get some diaper-free time as we start using the potty, but more on that in a separate post!) and, whenever I'm putting a cover on him, put some coconut oil on. 

Yet another use for coconut oil!  It has antimicrobial and antifungal properties, plus it's very soothing to the skin. 

I'm now using it for the following:
  • hair product/curl definer
  • diaper rash treatment
  • lip moisturizer (I rub leftovers on my lips whenever I use it in my hair)
  • deodorant component
  • Underarm soother (after I epilate, which I've been doing instead of shaving for about two years)
What other uses are out there?

**I'm not sure yet if coconut oil will need to be stripped out of the diapers.  Stay tuned!

(And, by the way, Scott and Abby over at The Green Nursery are fabulous!  They are knowledgeable, kind, give back to the community in various ways, and are always helpful.  Check them out for all your natural parenting needs!  And they are, in no way, compensating me for saying this.  Unless friendship counts as compensation?)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Update (Progress on the work-in-progress): Deodorant


On Sunday, I finally got around to making my own deodorant.  I started with this recipe and modified it slightly.

I used:
-1/2 cup of coconut oil
-4 tbsp of baking soda
-2 tbsp of corn starch
-2 drops of tea tree essential oil (I figured it would help with antibacterial-ness)
-6 drops grapefruit essential oil (just because I adore the smell of grapefruit, if you haven't picked up on that before!)

I should have cut all that in half - I now have a deodorant container full off the stuff and an 8 oz jar that is half full of the remainder!

In any case, here's exactly what I did:

I had Bean help me melt the coconut oil by putting it in a 16oz jar and putting that in the sink in hot tap water (it melts at about 77 degrees Fahrenheit).  Bean had fun trying to get it to melt faster.  He even suggested "maybe we need to put it on its side."  He was right, since that warmed more of the jar's surface area!  Ultimately, I moved the still-solid oil to an 8oz jar so it would warm up and melt faster.

 Goofy smile.  I even instructed him to open his eyes while he smiled!

 The jar of oil is in there...Bean just got so into playing with this rag.  I can never predict what is going to distract and enthrall him!

Once it was melted, I poured the oil into a bowl and added the baking soda, corn starch, and essential oils.  Originally I tried stirring with a spoon, but a whisk broke up powder clumps and got everything to mix together much faster.  I whisked it for awhile, and then got impatient for it to thicken up.  It was already getting a little thicker, so I grabbed a spatula to keep it moving and plunked it in a cold water bath (this involved shooing Bean from the sink, where he was "swimming a fish" - i.e. dragging a rag around in the water and narrating).  It quickly got to an icing consistency, and I decided that was a good time to mash it into the empty deodorant tube.



Once that was done, and I'd put the leftovers in the jar, I put the deodorant in the fridge to set.

 I'll try it for several days and then give you my verdict!

I have one concern already, and that is that I'm only going to be able to make this stuff in the colder months, unless I'm sitting in front of one of our window a/c units while I mix it and wait for it to solidify!  So perhaps it's a good thing that I made so much of it!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Body Burden

I read a post over at The Wellness Bitch a few months ago that introduced me to the term "body burden."  Essentially, body burden refers to the chemicals found in one's bloodstream.  They come from foods, things we touch, and even through the umbilical cord to a fetus.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) spearheaded a study that tested the cord blood of 10 newborns.  The results and their implications are alarming.

And, sure, you could say that we can't be entirely sure what (if anything) these various chemicals do in our bodies.  Maybe they're not harmful.  But...I can't imagine most of them aren't harmful in some way, and some have already been shown to be carcinogenic, etc.

To get an estimate of your own body burden and what areas you could improve in (and how you might improve), you can take this quiz.

I will continue to try and reduce the chemicals that I consume, slather on my body, and touch regularly.  My overall score on the quiz was 257/794, which it said was low.  I scored above average in the flame retardants category.  I can follow their advice to vacuum more often....but I'm not getting rid of our couches! 

I'm curious to hear your scores and what sort of advice you received to improve your body burden.  Please share!

Monday, February 14, 2011

We made Oreos. Learn from our mistakes.


I've had this recipe from Smitten Kitchen on my list of baking projects to try for awhile.  Recently, I declared that every Monday is Baking Day with Bean, and he chose these from a list of options for today.  I swear some of the options are at least slightly healthier, but the only way to make these babies even a little healthier is to announce to everyone coming for a playdate that there will be homemade Oreos.  So we have to share. 

If ever I make these again, I will make a couple minor modifications.  First off, I will not be giving Bean the option of using the hand mixer instead of the food processor for making the cookie dough.  See, my planning-ahead fizzled at making sure we had all the ingredients.  So the butter was not room temperature.  When we started mixing it in, and Bean got so close so that he could see what was happening, a chunk of butter went through the mixers and shot dry ingredients everywhere.  Including into Bean's face.  It was simultaneously hilarious and pitiful.  It got in his eyes.

So he retreated to his bedroom and played with Duplos for a little while, while I got increasingly frustrated waiting for something to happen.  Finally, I dumped everything from the bowl into the food processor, and it went much faster.

So, the moral of the story is:  if you use cold butter, use the food processor!  Otherwise, at least slightly melt the butter in the microwave or something!

The other issue I had was that I made the cookies way too big.  They're enormous.  Two or three times the size of a real Oreo.  Bean couldn't even eat an entire one!  (Oh....but I could....)  I think I'll use a cookie scoop next time, just to help me make them more uniform in size and get a sense of how big they should really be.


 Really Big Oreos.

Oh - and smashing the cookies was a great task for Bean.  I just had him wash his hands right before, and he enjoyed smushing.

Also, I did find these a bit too sweet, so I think I'll go with the 1/2 cup less sugar.  The filling is pretty much pure confectioner's sugar - so it will still be plenty sweet with less sugar in the cookies!  Oh, and regarding the confectioner's sugar, the original recipe says to sift it.  I sifted one cup and then my impatience got the best of me (oh, and I forgot to sift the second cup because I had a small person running amok in the kitchen and I was sure he was going to eat the cookies any minute!).  Unsifted works just fine...

When I filled the cookies, I just used a ziploc bag - I don't have a pastry bag.  I filled the bag, cut a hole in one corner, and filled the cookies.  And then Bean and I ate the leftover filling with out fingers.  Yum.

And Bean's suggestion was "if you made it chocolate in the icing, that would sound good."  And then he clarified, "put in the chocolate, and mix it all to-gevv-oh."  So maybe I'll try chocolate-filled Oreos next time!

So, here would be my recipe for next time:

Makes 25 to 30 sandwich cookies.  (Or maybe not.)
For the chocolate wafers:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1 large egg

For the filling:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Some Cocoa Powder...I'll have to guesstimate...maybe a half cup?  Maybe replacing some of the confectioner's sugar?
  1. Set two racks in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 375°F.
  2. In a food processor, or bowl of an electric mixer definitely a food processor, thoroughly mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar. While pulsing, add the butter, and then the egg. Continue processing until dough comes together in a mass.
  3. Take rounded teaspoons small cookie scoops of batter and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet approximately two inches apart. With moistened hands, slightly flatten the dough. Bake for 9 minutes, rotating once for even baking. Set baking sheets on a rack to cool.
  4. To make the cream, place butter and shortening in a mixing bowl, and at low speed, gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla. Turn the mixer on high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy.
  5. To assemble the cookies, in a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch, round tip, (or a ziploc bag with a hole cut in one corner) pipe teaspoon-size blobs of cream into the center of one cookie (or, if you make gigantic cookies like I did, make a giant mound...). Place another cookie, equal in size to the first, on top of the cream. (This was another fun thing for Bean - trying to match sizes of cookies!) Lightly press, to work the filling evenly to the outsides of the cookie. Continue this process until all the cookies have been sandwiched with cream. 
And my final lesson was not to give Bean a full glass of milk.  There was milk everywhere, even though he was narrating his actions like this:  "wait for it to stop dripping...be careful.  Don't drip..."

"Do germs have feet?"


I think it was a couple weeks ago at lunch that Bean was regarding a spoon left on the table from breakfast and asked "what does 'dirty' mean?"

I explained to him that it basically meant there was "stuff" on it, and it needed to be washed.  True to form, he responded "why?"  I told him that there were tiny little things - little animals - called "germs" on everything, and we washed things so the germs wouldn't be able to grow so much that they made us sick.  He was so perplexed and curious.  I told him we can't see them, usually, but we could gather them and let them grow and see what a whole lot of them looked like.  He asked, "do they have feet?"  I chuckled and told him no.

That night, as The Beast snuggled him to sleep, he asked again, "Do germs have feet?"  And, of course, The Beast answered "No.  Germs don't have feet." 

And Bean thought for a moment and asked, "then how do they move?" 

The Beast answered, "they kind of.....wiggle."

"Like a snake?"

"Yeah.  Kind of like a snake."

And off to sleep Bean went.

On Friday, we finally started growing our germs!  I started with the "Growing Germs" activity here.  I really like the idea of the first project described there ("How do germs spread?"), but I think that's for another day (probably a day a few years from now).  My goal is to demonstrate the existence of germs - not create a hand-washing mania!

A friend stopped by early in the week and brought us some latex gloves.  That was Bean's favorite part of this activity.  From the very beginning, he kept asking if he could "keep these as a toy."  I'm not really sure how much of the rest of it he understood or even cared about as long as he got to keep the gloves. 

So here's what we did!


I laid out everything we needed:
-1 potato
-4 ziploc bags (these are the same bags we used for the alphabet bags)
-cutting board
-knife (with strict instructions to Bean that he was not to touch it until I could help him!)
-permanent marker
-cooler


I labeled the bags "Hands,"  "Dirt/Snow," "Door knob," and "Control."  This was actually a pretty fun step for Bean, since he's so much into phonics and what letter words start with.  He told me (correctly!) what letter all of the words start with ("Hands,""Dirt," "Snow," "Door," and "Control."  Then I spelled them out loud as I wrote them on the bags.

At that point, we put on our gloves and I quartered the potato (Bean helped, with the instruction that he was not to touch the metal part - only the black handle).  He plunked one quarter directly into the bag marked "Control."

Then I asked him which door knob he wanted to gather germs from and told him to go rub a piece of potato on the one he chose.



He wasn't keen on going outside to put the potato in the dirt and snow, so I did that and plunked the potato in the bag marked "Dirt/Snow."  When I came back, we took off our gloves and he rubbed his hands all over the fourth piece of potato and (surprise) plunked that in the bag marked "Hands."

We put all four bags in a cooler, put that on top of the fridge, and we'll check up on them this week!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Deep-Fried Sunday

When I was pregnant with Squeak, we filled the freezer with various foods so we would have lots of things on hand that I can eat with no guilt (especially since, in the 6 weeks or so following delivery, I'm still considered high-risk for preeclampsia and my blood pressure can still be wacky independently of that - during and immediately after pregnancy, the low sodium diet is even more important than usual).

One of the things The Beast made was bean paste (directly from a recipe in Diana Kennedy's The Art of Medican Cooking).  We had a jar of that and a bunch of corn tortillas (store-bought -- the flour variety are way high in sodium, but corn are fine).  I heated up some oil in a little sauce pan, quartered the tortillas, and plunked them in the pot several quarters at a time.

The red splatter is left over from last night's dinner.  The Beast made chicken with red mole, also from the Kennedy book.  It was yummy!  After dinner, we settled in and watched a movie while Bean was at Parents' Night Out.  The dishes and splatter clean-up can wait!

When the tortillas were crisp, I pulled them out with tongs and put them in a brown paper bag to absorb the oil (and, if I'd wanted, I could have put some seasonings in and given it a good shake).

I warmed up the bean paste, shredded a little cheddar cheese on top, and we ate chips and bean dip.

 Bean is asking "how is it crunchy?"

And, since I was hungry, it became clear that Bean and The Beast were going to be eating the chips, and the oil was already hot, I pulled some falafel batter out of the fridge and fried up a couple batches of that.  


 I've made falafel several times, using Mark Bittman's recipe from How to Cook Everything but only adding half the salt called for.  The batter keeps extremely well in the fridge for at least a few days.  We haven't tried it in the freezer.  We generally make up a whole recipe of the batter, fry only half of it at the original meal, and have the other half for a second meal.  Bean LOVES falafel - I think he partly loves the name (he also like "bonzo beans" on their own - again, I think partly because of the name!).

I usually serve falafel with "dip" (homemade, low sodium ranch dressing) and sliced vegetables (carrots, peppers, cucumber, celery, cherry tomatoes) and have everything over romaine lettuce.  Bean chows down on the falafel, carrots, and sometimes celery all dipped in "dip"  (that's what he calls it).

The Beast and I were discussing how healthy this all is today, since it's being deep fried in vegetable oil (because that's what we have, and it's cheap).  It's probably not great, but it meets my dietary needs in terms of sodium and we rarely do this much deep frying.  I think, though, that we might switch to a different oil when we run out of vegetable.  We need to balance health with cost and are thinking peanut oil is a good candidate.  Any other suggestions or thoughts?

Bean's favorite use of vinegar


A week ago, Bean went to a Parents' Night Out and came home with a Papier-mâché volcano that he proclaimed he had painted "wava" (lava) onto.

Sometime in the next few days, I walked into the kitchen to find Bean and The Beast putting red food coloring in a Pyrex measuring cup of vinegar.

Yep, you guessed it.  They put baking soda in the volcano and then poured in the vinegar and made it erupt.  Over and over.  Until every food coloring had been used and the lava was black.

Bean loved it!

 We are trying to encourage Bean to do more and more things on his own, and he has proven himself pretty good at pouring from one vessel to another without spilling.  He needed a little help using the spout on the measuring cup, though.

 You might be able to tell that Bean is doing the "Asian Squat."  I soooooooo want to be able to do the Asian Squat!  I can do it, but I can't hold it comfortably for very long.  I'm either doing it wrong, or I'm weak/unbalanced.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Quick, Cheap, Good: Pick Two

I've talked a bit about my family's diet in a previous post.  Here is another take on it.


Quick, Cheap, Good:  Pick Two

My husband has, since we met, talked about this phrase as related to the building of houses (he worked in home construction for a summer, just before we met).  It applies to food, too.  You want quick and cheap?  Well it isn't going to be so good for you.  How about quick and healthy (in my case, "healthy" specifically means low sodium)?  Not cheap!

We're left with only one option - cheap, healthy, and time-consuming.  Actually, a lot of what we do isn't time-consuming in standing over a pot, but things do require a little checking-up on throughout the day (bread, for example) or a good bit of advanced planning (cooking beans in advance, for example).  And we plan an entire week's meals on Saturday, do our shopping that day (because we can get a discount on Saturdays), and I head to the co-op for bulk items on whatever day we can get a discount there (it changes every month).  And I go to a third shop for our meat (we plan maybe one meat dish per week)!

Once I embraced this as my life (and have been lucky enough to be able to arrange life around all this), I found that I really enjoyed it.  When other stuff gets in the way, it's awful.  We can be flexible to a point, but it either costs us more money (meals at the co-op, where I can manage my sodium intake pretty well at the salad bar; more money spent on slightly-more-prepared foods) or we eat a bit less healthfully (i.e. we buy more prepared foods or eat fast food on the road).  But on a day like this past Sunday (between The Beast and me, we made peanut butter, yogurt, granola, two poached chickens, chicken stock, beans, rice, tacos, salsa, and...ok, that might be it) when there's nothing else on my agenda but to do stuff around the house, and I have the patience to involve Bean wherever he's willing?  I find it really blissful!

The dishes suck no matter what.  I have yet to figure out where to find joy in doing dishes...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Treating my child with respect

Respecting the choices, emotions, and opinions of someone who demands bandaids in their hair...it ain't easy!

Sometimes I forget that Bean is a person who deserves respect.  It's so easy to think he is just being ridiculous and that the way he is behaving is rude, inconvenient, and disrespectful toward me.

Today he was pulling stuff out of the alphabet bags and spreading the bags and some of the objects out on the kitchen table.  I told him he needed to keep everything on the table, and we'd put everything away when he was done.  He did a great job keeping everything on the table.

I went and changed Squeak's diaper and discovered he has a rash.  Again.  (I'm at a loss as to what to do about these rashes...)  I was immediately in a bad mood. 

I headed back to the kitchen, crossing paths with Bean on the way.  He seemed to be on to some new project, so I asked him if he was done with the letters.  He said yes, so I coaxed him back to the kitchen to pick everything up.

Like I said, I was already cranky.  So I rushed us through picking everything up, and Bean started screaming something as I was putting bags back in the box.  I didn't know what he was saying, I didn't appreciate being screamed at just then, and I just scooped him up and said as I set him in his room and shut the door, "I can't take this right now - you can scream in your room until you are ready to talk."

I finished cleaning up.  He had stopped screaming and crying and I felt a little more calm.  I opened the door and saw him sitting on his bed next to the dog.  He was totally over whatever had had him screaming, and cheerfully informed me "I was just sitting next to Pepper, giving him hugs."

He went to leave the room, but I stopped him and said, "can we talk about what just happened, buddy?"

He said, "um.  I was just sitting next to Pepper....giving him hugs..."  (I love the innocence and how he has very little sense of what things I really want to talk about - petting the dog is as important and interesting as the fact that we just yelled at each other!)

I said, "but what about before that?  I want to talk about what happened in the kitchen.  You can go first.  Why did you get so upset?"

He told me that he wanted to play with the bags.  I said, "so you changed your mind?  Because you told me you were done, and we had said we were cleaning up."

"Yeah.  I changed my mind."

I told him, "Well, you could have told me that you changed your mind, and I would have stopped cleaning up the bags.  But I was doing what I thought you wanted.  I don't like being screamed at!"

He said "ok" and I picked him up, kissed him, and asked, "do you like being screamed at?"

"Noooooooooooo!" he said, playfully.

I started getting his lunch ready and The Beast (who was home due to a snow day) gave me a squeeze and said, "that was really great.  It was so sweet to listen to."

He said he loved that I acknowledged how Bean felt, gave a clear explanation of how he could have gotten just what he wanted, and still was able to say how I felt.

So many times I think I bulldoze over Bean.  He's smaller than me - I can move him physically out of my way!  He doesn't have the experience or the verbal abilities that I do.  There are so many ways that I can simply exert my will over him!

Not doing that is particularly difficult when I'm in a hurry, or I'm annoyed, or I'm tired.  This morning, I shooed him out of my room, and he asked me for his "Bong Tongs"  (they're tongs he picked up on our treasure hunt, but he called them "batons" and it has morphed into "Bong Tongs," which we are all calling them now).  The Bong Tongs were on the bed.  I grabbed them, handed them to him as he stood outside the door, and shut the door quickly.  He started crying.  "I wanted to walk out with my Bong Tongs!"

It was such a simple but seemingly pointless desire.  My getting him out of the bedroom and getting to the kitchen so I could eat my breakfast was so much more important to me.  But, hoping it was just as simple as him walking in and back out holding the stupid Bong Tongs, I opened the door.  He walked in, touched the bed purposefully, and walked back out with a huge grin on his face.

I have no idea why such a simple thing brought him joy, or why he became fixated on it.  Perhaps it was a matter of feeling powerless to my shutting him out of the room?

It's hard being a skinny, 3-foot-tall person.  He doesn't even weigh enough to open the fridge.  He can't pour himself a glass of water.  He relies on us for so much, and sometimes we complain about it.

It's kind of ironic - and downright unfair - that I expect him to keep my feelings in mind sometimes, but I do not always keep his in mind.  Also, I don't always understand his feelings, and yet I am really frustrated when he doesn't understand mine.  Gee, I guess the frustration is mutual!

And I find it interesting, amidst the information about development that says kids don't fully recognize themselves as separate from their parents and environment until they are 3 or even 4, that I am also recognizing him as more and more separate from me as he matures.  He has more and more of his own opinions and interests, and I have to respect that even as I help mold him.

So very tricky, this parenting gig!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I judge you. You judge me.


I judge you.  And try really really hard not to!

You know how they say hate/prejudice are ignorance?  I think it's true.

I never really considered it seriously (or realized I was a party to it) until I recognized that, due to misinformation and misunderstanding, I was making a lot of assumptions and subsequently passing judgment on some behaviors and choices that other mothers make - and that other mothers were doing the same to me and to each other.  And I still do it - I don't think there's any way around it.  There's that bit of distrust, and I think we're all sizing each other up - not necessarily in a competitive way (though what is it with girls and women being each others' worst enemies?!?), as I think sometimes it's deciphering whether we can really trust someone to support us.  My judgments have become less harsh and my opinions much less black and white as I've gotten more and more experience as a mom, but still they persist.

In any case, any time I find myself thinking anything along the lines of "wow.  What a different choice/attitude from mine, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that" (ok, it's often more strongly-worded in my inner dialogue!) I try consciously to give that person (and in this case I guess I'm talking about mothers/parents) the benefit of the doubt.  What might I not know about that person?  What sorts of things might lead me to make that same choice?

Sometimes I don't come up with an answer at all - and recognition that I don't have the answers and could stand to learn something would be fairly literally "open-minded," right?  It seems to be a good way for me to get out of that head space of disagreement or judgment.  I'm an optimist in the sense of believing people are inherently good.  I think this doubly for parents and especially mothers (I keep asking myself here "why especially mothers?"  This seems like a judgment/assumption in itself, but I haven't parsed it out yet...).  What parent doesn't want the absolute best for their child(ren)?  Aside from egregious offenses, I would like to think there is common ground to be had amongst parents, and that we all do the absolute best we can with what we know and what resources are available to us.  And time is a very valuable resource - time to cook, time to deal with a tantrum, time to contemplate our options, time to ourselves, etc.  Sometimes the best choice is the easiest and quickest path, or the one that just happens without effort because we just can't slow down and make a conscious choice right then!


You judge me?

I often think people judge me as judgmental because of the way we live and eat.  Frankly, I'm at times jealous of you who can eat quickly-prepared inexpensive food on a regular basis while we arrange much of our lives around shopping for, preparing, eating, and cleaning up after meals!  Every time someone expresses guilt over the way they eat, I feel a pang of guilt and terror over my personal health risks.

Yes, I end up living a very earthy, healthful, wonderful, creative life.  I have no complaints, generally-speaking.  I'm glad, in a way, that I have been pressed by things out of my control to live like this.

The long and short of it is - I have a double whammy.  My mom died at a very young age (45) of a heart attack (which raises my risk of heart disease/heart attack), and my kidney disease further raises my risk of heart disease (plus all the other fun possibilities with kidneys that may one day give out).

Eating processed foods and not exercising doesn't seem like an option; it is an almost-measurable risk to me because of all my risk factors.  And I've experienced first-hand the devastation of losing a parent much too early.  If there is one thing from my childhood that I do not want for my children, it is to experience that loss and all its aftermath.  If I had to pick one goal for myself, it would be to live to see my children become parents.

So I'm not making my own unsalted and unsweetened peanut butter because I think I'm better than you or because I think store-bought peanut butter is going to kill us all.  On the contrary, I'm making it because your kidneys are better than mine!  And because I'm frugal to a fault.


Is Judging Bad?
The Beast and I talked about whether judging is a bad thing.  We decided that it's not inherently bad - we evaluate options and make choices all the time! - but that, in the case of evaluating other people's parenting decisions in particular (or really even our own, since recommendations/available information are constantly changing and the results of our decisions won't really be obvious for possibly a couple of decades), it is exceedingly difficult to make accurate judgments!

Even in clearer cases where "x is best,"  all our "best" choices have to be weighed against potential costs.

I mean, we eat mostly whole foods, but I like cake.  And enjoyment is a good thing, too!  What would be the point of growing old without enjoying myself?  So I am going to enjoy my cake and bring a little chocolate joy to my life without thinking I'm "bad" for not eating a whole food.  Totally lame example, but it's late and I'm tired.  Suffice it to say that I've gone against what is "best" well beyond a slice of chocolate cake!  But now I really want Boston Cream Pie.  *drool*

Photo Credit:  steakpinball on Flickr

Easy no-bake, no-heat, one-dish, 10-minute treat


I'm trying to bake/cook with Bean every Monday.  I made peanut butter on Sunday so we'd be sure to have enough for this!

He loved rolling this - though he hasn't figured out how to make balls.  Instead, he made logs and patties.

They are quite rich, but tasty and sooooo easy!

Here's the recipe:
1/4 cup confectioners sugar plus extra for covering the balls
1 cup miniature chocolate chips (regular-sized would cause them to fall apart, I think)
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 cup peanut butter

Mix everything in a bowl.  Roll into bite-sized balls and cover with confectioners sugar (helps to keep them from being sticky).
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