Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pretend Baking

I made Bean a little pretend baking area outside.  For his birthday, we got him measuring cups and spoons.  I had saved a spice container, and soon will have an empty bottle of imitation vanilla extract to add to this.  Also included is a wooden scoop, and some old stainless steel containers formerly used for rice and flour and the like.  And his grandparents gave him a mini muffin tin for his birthday, so that's out there right now.  Just add a bag of play sand and he's set

The major skills I was hoping he would practice (and he did!) were filling and leveling the measuring spoons and cups without spilling a whole lot. 

He's had a good time with this, and so did a friend's kids when they visited from out of state for a few days.  I wish we had  real sand box, because Bean has trouble remembering to keep the sand in the various bowls and containers I give him and I think that's mostly because they are too small.  But whatever.  It's just sand.  Sweep it away!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Fruit Bars recipe (Lara Bar knock-offs)


I plan to bake/cook with Bean every Monday.  We have made so many sugary treats recently that I decided we needed to get back to basics.  Bean loves desserts, but they don't need to be unhealthy - just something sweet that we have reserved as a dessert-y treat.  He has been known to eat dried cranberries for dessert.  (He calls it "zert.")  And his idea of a treat when we go grocery shopping is dried mango (the unsweetened, nothing-but-mango variety - if you've never had it, it is soooooo good!). 

Anyhow, a few weeks ago I got a couple Lara Bars to try thinking we'd make them ourselves if he liked them.  He did not like the chocolate one we got, but he wolfed down the banana bread variety!  So, of course, that's what I started with when we did attempt our own.

We made banana and almond bars, so I first dehydrated some banana slices (incidentally, those are really freaking tasty on their own and everyone has enjoyed them).


The ingredients:
1/2 cup dried dates
1/2 cup dried banana slices
2/3 cup raw almonds

To make the bars:
1) Lay out four pieces of plastic wrap (I did six, because I wanted smaller bars for Bean but this recipe would make four bars about the size of Lara Bars).

2) Process the dates and bananas until you have a smooth paste (a minute or two).  Set aside in a mixing bowl.

3) Without cleaning the bowl of the food processor, pulse the almonds until finely chopped.

4) Add the nuts to the fruit paste and mash it together with your hands* (you'd think this would be the best part for a 3-year-old, but he was done with the process after pushing the buttons on the food processor).

5) Divide the mixture between your pieces of plastic wrap.  Wrap, and squish the mixture into whatever shape you want!

You can store them in the fridge - everything is dehydrated, so they will last quite awhile....if you don't eat them immediately like we did!

These were a huge success.  Bean and I made six small bars after lunch and they were gone by dinner time (I ate three and Bean ate three!  I will have to make them again and experiment with different fruits and nuts!

I started out looking around online for basic proportions to try.  The two sites (here and here) that I referenced were in agreement, so the very basic recipe is this (to produce four bars):

1/2 c. dried dates
1/2 c. other dried fruit
2/3 c. nuts

Variations I have tried (I will update this as I go!):

Dark Chocolate-Cranberry (makes 4 bars):  Your "other" dried fruit will be cranberries.  After you've made your fruit paste and set it aside, add 1/4 cup dark chocolate to your food processor and pulse until it's very finely chopped - it's fine if some of it is melty.  Scrape what you can into the paste.  Then pulse 2/3 c. peanuts until it is very finely chopped and scrape the bowl really well (the peanuts will help the fruit paste and the melty chocolate unstick).  These taste like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich - oddly, they end up tasting like raspberry jelly.  Realllllly good.

Apricots and Almonds:  Just use dried apricots as your "other" fruit and almonds as your nuts.  These are The Beast's favorite so far, which is no surprise.  I kept waiting for someone to point out that these bars all look like turds, and it finally happened with this flavor.  Bean opened one up and asked "is this poop?"  HA!  Even the real Lara Bars look somewhat poop-like.  They use pictures of the ingredients and the packaging in their marketing - the bars alone would be a definite turn-off!


*At this point, I realized I had added a full cup of nuts instead of 2/3 cup.  It just made for very nutty bars and it was a little difficult to incorporate all the nuts into the fruit mixture.  It wasn't bad, but it was a little too nutty for my taste.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Flight: What a Drag!


 The most difficult of the four forces of flight for Bean to understand has been drag.  I got in touch with an aeronautical engineer in the family who also happens to have a young son to see if he had any suggestions for demonstrating drag to a 3-year-old.  He suggested using water as a stand-in for air, so I set up the "experiment" pictured above.

It was a complete failure for demonstrating drag, but I think it might be successful with some changes.

Essentially, the goal was let Bean pull and push various objects (including his own hands) through water, seeing whether it was easier or more difficult to move different shapes/proportions in the water.  Obviously, more aerodynamic  ("aquadynamic" in this case?) objects will be movable with less effort.

FAILURE!
My set-up was not good, though.  There needs to be more space and possibly more depth to the water.  I think I might set it up in the bath tub at some point.

He did end up deciding to re-create the "cake experiment" from one of his flight videos by throwing a cup full of water off the porch repeatedly and shouting lines from the video.  And he stayed cool while wearing his dad's 1983 long-sleeved velour shirt and underwear on a warm day.

SUCCESS!
We did eventually end up with an impromptu and successful demonstration of drag for Bean.  We rolled down the windows in the car and told him to put his hand out.  From his car seat, he can barely reach, but he can feel drag and get a sense of how it changes with the speed of the car and position of his hand!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Flight: The Gravity of the Situation


One of the aspects of airplanes and flight that Bean has tried to understand here and there is the four forces involved in flight (thrust, drag, gravity, and lift).  The first he clearly had any grasp on was gravity.  One of his videos says, "gravity is the force that pulls everything to the ground."  In the beginning, he was just quoting that and we didn't think he understood it much at all.

After a heavy rain, we have lots of water running through our yard.  After one such rain, Bean and The Beast went for a walk upstream to find out where it was coming from.  Watching the water run down the hill toward our house, Bean asked what made the water go that way.  The Beast asked him what he thought and he said, "I think it's cuz of gravity."  From that, we gathered he understood a bit better than we'd originally thought!!

Anyhow, I was interested in him getting to explore gravity a little further, and a Google search turned up this activity at Preschool Rock.  (How did parents survive before Google and YouTube?  I suppose I would have been making daily trips to the library!)

I went out and bought pipe cleaners specifically for this project, pulled the marble out of his "m" alphabet bag, and we made our own marble track.  Well, I made it.  He hasn't figured out how to use pipe cleaners yet, so he's not making his own.  We'll play with the pipe cleaners and he'll eventually try them out, I'm sure - for now, he doesn't even want to try to shape them.  He'll hardly touch them!  Also, he's still a little young to really make an experiment out of it, but he had a lot of fun and was very focused while rolling the marble down the track over and over and over!

Squeak happily looked on.
Wider shot of the marble track - you can see I made a little corral for it.  We didn't have to chase the marble around the kitchen a whole lot!
I made this to Bean's specifications:  the fuselage has a nose and a fin.  There are winglets and four jet engines.

Airplanes: The Basics

These days, Bean often sleeps with a plane he has built, or with one of his toy planes!

Bean is obsessed with airplanes, and he has been since flying to see his grandparents for Christmas.  He has asked endless questions and devoured books and videos on all things aviation.

I'm learning and coming up with things as we go - I have never known and/or understood so much about flight and airplanes as I do now!  So here are some of the activities and resources we've utilized in our following of Bean's lead.  I'll have a couple separate posts with some more specific activities, too. 

Building airplanes:
Bean started off building airplanes out of anything on hand - mostly Duplos but occasionally paper, pieces of masking tape, straws, pipe cleaners, even arranging coins on a table in a vaguely airplane shape!  I'll pictures of some of his creations at the end of the post (admittedly, mostly to brag!), but I think the first thing he asked about and became obsessed with incorporating was winglets.  He originally called them "stabby parts," and we had to do a little research to figure out what their real name was and what their purpose was!


One of Bean's earliest passenger jets, with winglets made of masking tape
He has built increasingly-complicated airplanes out of Duplos, he has tried to learn to make paper airplanes (his paper-folding skills need work).  He has learned the various parts and types of airplanes. He talks about APUs, winglets, outer starboard engines, pathways, fins, delta wings, seaplanes, racing planes, fighter jets, ailerons, airfoils, turbines, etc etc etc... and he incorporates these things into his building and into his play.

Books:
We've read a lot of books about airplanes, as that seems the best starting point with any topic!  We have so many more to read from our wonderful public library.  The Mega Book of Aircraft is the only one that springs immediately to mind, but I can certainly make a more extensive book list upon request!

Videos:
Videos have been a really great resource, since Bean really wants to see planes in action, and he's also gotten to watch some basic science experiments done that he is too young for me to do with him (not because they're necessarily dangerous, but because I know things like a hair dryer and a ping pong ball would erupt into a power struggle over where the hair dryer is being aimed, when we need to shut it off, whether he's allowed to pull it out and plug it in without adult supervision, etc.  I'd like to continue with him not realizing there is even such a thing in the house for as long as possible!).

Anyhow, he has some definite favorite videos:
-Cleared for Takeoff - this is all about the experience of being a passenger on a passenger jet and some of the inner workings of an airport.  It's not technical about flight at all, but Bean has gotten some very cool pretend play out of it.  He sat down at a typewriter in a 1960's-styled home at a local museum and said he was flying a plane, then picked up the rotary phone next to the typewriter and said, "flight attendants, prepare for landing!"

-The Magic of Flight - Oh man...there is a lot in this one for Bean to get hooked on.  First off, there is the "Harrier Dump Jet."  The Beast once said the harrier looked like it was jumping, and Bean mistook "jump" for "dump" - the name has stuck.  At the beginning of the section on the harrier, Bean became obsessed with the music and would for awhile just start it over and over and over.  And, you know, the harrier itself is very cool!  As Bean likes to quote from the video, in which the harrier is compared to a bird, "the only thing it can't do is flap its wings."
    In any case, from this video, Bean has learned about how the pilots of the Blue Angels train, and has watched them be catapulted off of aircraft carriers (we still need to find better footage of this, because he really wants to understand what is happening and there is not good footage of the actual catapulting mechanism).  He has gotten a little taste of the kinds of maneuvers these planes are able to do, the rigorous training the pilots go through, and the ways the pilots' safety is ensured.

-Physical Science for Children: All About Flight and Flight: Physical Science in Action - I can't keep these two straight (Bean can, I'm sure).  In one of them, the hostess throws a cake off a balcony to demonstrate gravity, and the fact that there must be something special about airplanes since they weigh so much more than a cake and cakes obviously can't fly.  These are a little cheesy, but ultimately likeable and very informative.  They include experiments to help kids understand the four forces of flight (thrust, drag, lift, and gravity), as well as a look at the history of flight and various ways to fly and their benefits and drawbacks.  Some of the books we have also discuss the forces of flight, but seeing the experiments has been such a help for Bean in trying to understand them.

And, of course, YouTube has been valuable since Bean sometimes puts in requests for certain types of planes (especially Boeing 747s and Airbus A380s since he has little toy replicas of those) doing certain things (usually "driving and then taking off").

Some of Bean's fleet:
One of his earlier models.  I think this is a sea plane (hence no wheels, but "toons" - which is what he called pontoons).

 
Boeing 747 bread.  (He called them "Boeing forty-forty-sevens" until just last week!)  Bean was a consultant on this project.  The Beast was the engineer.

It's difficult to tell in this picture, but this plane is about two feet long.  Bean was desperately honing his skills at keeping large models from falling apart under their own weight (hence the square black block holding the wings together and the green square block holding the engines, which I assume he put back behind the wings because they were causing the wings to fall off otherwise.  This plane also has an APU ("auxiliary power unit" - an extra engine in the tail fin).
 
I believe this is the first of Bean's planes to have safety features and also his first to have a pilot!  If you can't spot the safety features off the bat, that is because they are rather unconventional.  He informed me that it had two sets of wheels so that if one (the tractor chassis it is sitting on in this picture) fell off, the others were still there.  This plane also has winglets.
The size of this one was impressive.  It's bending under its own weight!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Octopussy



Bean had a bath toy - a blue plastic octopus that he named Octopussy (that makes me chuckle every time!).  I was throwing away all of these bath toys as they turned up (from being strewn all over the house and rarely anywhere near the bath tub) because they are at least 2.5 years old and I've seen signs there is mold in them.

Bean saw the octopus in the trash (I really need to get better at throwing things away so he doesn't catch me - he wouldn't even miss things like Octopussy!) and he was pretty angry.  So I told him I'd make him  new one.

It took me 5 minutes with a toilet paper roll, a pair of scissors, and an extra-fine point Sharpie, and voila - an Octopussy he destroyed in 10 minutes, but I didn't care (these days, this is an important characteristic for stuff I make for him to have!).  I think I'm supposed to make him another one.

Toilet Paper Octopussy had 8 legs and each had a numeral and corresponding number of dots.  Bean loves to count, so I thought I would appeal to a joy while replacing a cheap plastic toy with an even cheaper re-used paper one!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Today I asked for help

I called a friend today, sobbing because I was struggling to parent Bean and feeling caught between a rock and a hard place.  I wasn't sure how the rest of the day would go and feared my temper would get the best of me, as I was drawing from empty reservoirs of patience and my preschooler seemed hell-bent on negotiating and/or controlling evvvvvvvvvverything.  He even took it upon himself to invite someone to our house to play and then tell them they could stay for lunch.  I was spent.  I wasn't feeling like a guide through life, I was feeling like a servant.  I actually cried to The Beast earlier in the day that I was feeling like Bean's hostage today - what a horrible, horrible way to feel about a person I love so much, and a relationship I value so greatly!

I learned today that I can definitely count on my friend A (A, you can out yourself if you want, but I didn't want to impose on you even more!).  I took Bean to her house, she and I told him to go play, and she hugged me while I failed miserably at composing myself (we're not talking "oh, can you take him for a few hours?"  We're talking sniffling, red-eyed, sobbing, wet eyelashes, and an implied "I don't know what the hell I'm doing and I don't know when I'll be back for him.")  She hugged me and told me I'm an awesome mom, and that I'm so strong, and it will all be ok.

I came home and got a text from The Beast saying I had done the right thing - "good job."

I snuggled and nursed Squeak to sleep and then sat next to him and journalled about what had gone on today (really, it goes back to yesterday).  And I actually came away feeling empowered.  It's true!  I showed up to a friend's house at a pretty low point and came away thinking "wow.  I rocked that breakdown!" 

I swallowed my pride (I was sniffling and sobbing getting everyone loaded into the car as my next door neighbor played banjo on his porch.  I wasn't exactly having this meltdown in the privacy of my home.) and I did what was best for my child. 

This became so crystal clear to me as I journalled; I don't think Bean will remember today.  From his perspective, it's the day I cried and then changed our plans from something fun together to something fun at A's house.  And he got to come home in someone else's underwear - he might remember that because it seems like the kind of random stuff he currently stores in his memory.

But today is (almost certainly) not going to be the day he tells his future therapist about.  Today will be a day he reads about in the journal I keep for him and his brother.  And I'll be interested to hear his reaction!

All that is not to say that things are rosey now.  Oh no.  The Beast and I are trying to figure out how we want to parent through this.  Bean is so smart and passionate.  He has moved past the "why?" phase and obviously gained a lot of knowledge from it - both about how the world works and about what makes a good answer to the question "why?"  Now he is in a phase of "THIS IS WHY!!!!"  (If I could make your computer scream that at you, I just might.) He doesn't just tell us he does or does not want something.  No, he tells us why he feels that way and commences negotiations.   I could give you lots of examples and, separately, they are hilarious.  Together?  Not so much. 

In any case, I am so grateful for A - and for the community of moms* I am a part of generally.  It's a community that is honest about our struggles and thrilled by each others' victories and generally bucks the Myth of the Supermom. (<---read that link.  It is awesome.)

I am thinking about who else is on my mental list of people to call when I'm struggling as a parent.  I have a few people who have explicitly put themselves on that list, and I feel like I should have their phone numbers written down in one place so I don't even have to think about who to call.

Do you have such a list?  I think we all need such a list!!

*There are also (of course!) dads in our community, and they are also awesome.  But they seem, somehow, to not suffer with as much of the unnecessary and unproductive guilt that we mothers do?  Or feel the weight of that obnoxious demand to be "SuperDad?"  Or maybe it just looks different on them, or we don't hear about it as much because we women are too busy gabbing to each other?  I would love to hear the perspectives of dads on everything I ever write in this blog, and I know a few of you read it :-P

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Montessori Print Shop Giveaway

This is a selfish post.  But I also know that some of my readers enjoy my posts about activities I do with Bean, and they will benefit from the knowledge that Montessori Print Shop is doing a giveaway...and they'll go enter it and I'll have more "competition" for the item being given away.  BLAST!

Anyway, Montessori Print ShopGiveaway of a CD Rom of science materials.  Their materials are awesome.  I think this counts as an entry.

Happy Sunday :)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Feeling small....thinking small

Disclaimer:  If you're looking for a nice Mother's Day post, this isn't it.  Save this post for another time and stop reading here.


I'm finding this Mother's Day week difficult - the first time in my memory that it has been so difficult (I don't recollect the Mother's Days in the years immediately following my mom's death, but I imagine they may have been equally or even more awkward than they were painful).  There is a lot going on in the world, mothering my firstborn is challenging at the moment, and there have been a few things over the past month that have thrown in my face the absence of my mother and the layers of trauma that came with her death.  

So here goes.

It has been an intense week in my brain.  Allow me to take a moment to list much of what has been on my mind.

A little over a week ago, I wrote two entries thinking about whether I am a feminist mother and what that even means.  So my introspection switch was definitely in the "on" position.

Then I had some discussions on Facebook and via email with a few different friends about obesity (and subsequently bullying, shape diversity, and a little about what this word "obesity" has come to mean), the American food industry, healthcare, and welfare - all of which were intelligent discussions trying to get at what bothers us about aspects of each, and what changes we'd like to see.  It all had me thinking deeply about politics, and how in the world I have any power in the political and/or legislative processes.  I feel I have little to none, and no energy to devote either.

Sunday I attended a panel discussion entitled "Straight Talk:  Talking with Your Child About Difference."  It was a wonderful (in an awkward way) and eye-opening panel.  So eye-opening, and the discourse so new to me in many ways, that I am not ready to talk about it or even attempt to summarize it yet.  I think it has brought about a bit of a paradigm shift for me - an ultimately positive one, but also a difficult one (I think I'm unpacking my invisible knapsack - and it's not just full of my white privilege - and I'm very bothered by what I see). And my brain has gone so global that I am having a lot of trouble placing it in any context.

And then, of course, the Big News of the week:  Osama bin Laden's death (and the subsequent sometimes-changing of the spelling to Usama bin Laden?  I am confused on this point).  Monday I found myself chained to my nursing chair by a (teething?  frustrated? simply 7-month-old? milestone-ing?) fussy baby while The Beast took Bean on some all-day adventures, so I gave in and kept up with the developing news and read some background while I was at it.  And I watched attitudes and reactions develop on Facebook and in the news.  And I started to feel a little bit sad about some reactions, but mostly relieved and maybe even heart-warmed at the compassion qua ambivalence that I saw in my Facebook newsfeed; my little corner of the world (and virtual world) seems full of peace- and fellow-man-loving people.

And today I read this post about discourse in the world of online feminism and many of the links within it and reactions to it (a handful linked here), which got me thinking about the conversations people (including me) are having about everything I've mentioned in this post (you know, every dang thing going on in the world...).  And one particular article (which I tried to re-visit, but I failed to find it...) was talking about "what's wrong with _____ (I think the feminist discourse) and what we can do about it."  In the end I felt like the "what we can do about it" was "keep talking, but not like we are."  There was no real affirmative what to do.

Add a Facebook conversation about the justness of the bin Laden raid, and catching a bit of a news report about the reaction of Pakistan and I'm about to hyperventilate.

Oh, and there's also this bit of news in Tennessee that nauseates me.

What's a mom to do?!?

I hear myself uttering or thinking in clich├ęs about "the world my kids will inherit" and "the world I've brought children into."  I go around and around about what my role is in this big world - I am so humbled by my lack of power.  How do I make the world a better place for my children?  Can I even keep them safe?

I have tried to follow various options to their various possible ends (which is, of course, impossible).

The only idea that gives me any sense of power is that I need to start as locally as it gets - with my family and children.  I have to raise my boys to be good people, and I have to hope that my neighbors (and their neighbors) do the same.  I want my children to seek out, appreciate, and cultivate the best parts of people.  I want them to seek to identify their own prejudices (and I think we all have them - I know I am constantly seeing more of my own) and work to get beyond them by getting to know people and seeking common ground.  And when they find common ground, I want them to stand firmly on it and agree to disagree on the rest.

I keep going around and around, though.  I'm certainly very uneasy about our political processes and systems.  On a global level, with so much violence and hate and misunderstanding, how do I figure in?

I'd appreciate any and all perspectives on anything I've touched on.  I would like to get out of my spinny little head.  (Stop my brain, I'd like to get off!)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Cleaning rags and napkins (and laundry)

 
Another in my series on reusable cloth items!

For dish rags and cleaning rags, I just cut up old shirts.  Cotton t-shirts and worn-out flannel shirts work great.  They are not particularly absorbent, but they do the job just fine.  These are shirts that have holes or stains and would do no one any good at Goodwill - having a boatload of those shirts during a de-clutter was part of what led me to do away with paper towels.  It was mostly "hey...I have these shirts...what do you suppose I could do with them besides throw them in the garbage?"  We have many more rags than we use - that'd be more than a load of laundry's worth.  (I may be a recovering pack rat who can't say no to a free t-shirt.)

When Squeak outgrew the smallest pre-folds we had, we designated about half of them as "un-paper towels" - i.e. things for cleaning up wet messes.  Before that, we were using dish towels, which was less than ideal.

Originally we never had napkins in the house - paper or otherwise.  In a pinch, we were giving people the cleaning rags (before the rags, paper towels).  So dinner parties and messy toddlers got the same treatment...which grew to feel uncivilized, so I ordered some napkins from a shop on Etsy, and I've been happy with them (not that we host dinner parties too often...).


Storage and laundry:  We have a giant shopping bag full of rags under the kitchen sink, and another bag with the outgrown prefolds/unpaper towels. When they are used, they get laid or hung out to dry.  When they're dry, they go in a cotton laundry bag.  Once a week (during my supposed once-a-week cleaning routine of the whole house) I make sure all the dry rags around the house are in the bag.  If the bag is full, I do a load of rag laundry.  Otherwise I wait another week.  I probably do a load of rags every three weeks, or maybe less often.  This load includes dish towels, the unpaper towels/prefolds, and the cut-up shirt cleaning cloths.

In terms of the wash routine, I do it the same way I launder cloth diapers.  We have such a ridiculous supply (so many rags that I've actually got some t-shirts stockpiled to be cut up later - anybody want them???), that I've been known to throw away rags when they get super oily (which happens with some frequency because our cast-iron skillet ultimately gets a coat of oil after every use).  Other than that, sometimes I give them a long soak in hot water and detergent before the wash or I will do an extra hot rinse or two.  I don't deal with trouble-shooting them, but just throw one away if it is feeling gross.  Call me wasteful!

What about you?  Do you have more "official" cloth rags (sometimes I think a rag with sewn edges in a nice hue would make cleaning the kitchen table several times a day a little less of a chore)?  Or do you use paper towels?  Do you have any additional laundry tricks, or things that have worked really well?  Perhaps a material that is stellar for a particular household task?  Perhaps you have a storage method you love, like a towel house?

**I have absolutely no affiliation with the Etsy store I've linked to on this page and am not vouching for their quality.  Our napkins were made by them, and we're happy with them, but I am not giving any more or less endorsement than that.  I have not, for instance, ever seen one of their towel houses outside a picture on Etsy.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Food Waste

As I was doing dishes today, and picked up a plate of Bean's that still had about half the food he'd been served, I thought four things:

1) Boy am I glad we compost - if the kid won't eat it, the garden will sure enjoy it

2) Now that we're eating almost entirely vegetarian, we have even less non-compostable waste.  So, again, at least the garden will enjoy it.

3)  Why the hell are we giving him such large portions?  Shouldn't we give him what we expect him to eat (or, these days, only what we're intending to insist he eat before he can have something else?)

4)  I cannot believe how close the words "there are starving children" are to coming out of my mouth.  At least I'm not about to say "there are starving children in China."  No, I'm not quite that cliche and I'm also aware there are families right up the road who struggle with getting enough food.  Which makes this wastefulness all the more bothersome.

Incidentally, if you've never composted and are interested, let me know.  I still feel like a beginner at it, but I think it might really just be this easy:  put plant matter (and egg shells) in a pile.  Turn the pile over when you think of it.  When it doesn't really look like plant matter (or egg shells) anymore, mix it into your garden soil.  We've had enough to do across our small garden once a year, and we share our pile with a neighbor couple.  They don't seem to use much (if any?) of the compost.  So maybe we're not doing to bad on wastefulness after all?

Book Review: The Empowered Patient


I recently finished Elizabeth Cohen's The Empowered Patient:  How to Get the Righ Diagnosis, Buy the Cheapest Drugs, Beat Your Insurance Company, and Get the Best Medical Care Every Time.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who will ever see a doctor.  Which I hope is everyone.

I have to say that Elizabeth Cohen has a special place in my heart with this book, partly because her commitment to empowering patients stems from her experiences with preeclampsia (you can read a bit about my own experience with preeclampsia here and here).  Cohen almost died as she waited in a hospital bed to see a doctor after her first daughter's birth, and waited to have a medication administered.  Her husband eventually advocated for her by, in her words, going to the nurses' station and "quietly, politely [going] berserk."  A few years later, after her third preeclamptic pregnancy, she found herself advocating for her tiny newborn daughter in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) who was about to receive an unnecessary spinal tap.

Her book gives practical information on how to become an empowered patient and even includes work sheets you can utilize in understanding your treatment plan for simple and complicated medical issues.  She also includes resources for checking out your doctor, looking into medications (including new options), how to find contact information for a doctor with expertise specific to your ailment, and oodles of anecdotes and statistics to give you confidence.

For the most part, Cohen remains respectful of the training and expertise that doctors have.  I think this is important - to recognize doctors' years of schooling and training, and their commitment to the health and well-being of their patients.  It's also important to recognize that they are human; they each bring their own biases, preferences, and interests (in the sense of what aspects of medicine/health they are interested in) to the exam table.  Some keep up with current research better than others, some navigate the draw of drug reps with ease while others are a bit more charmed and still others band drug reps from their offices, some are extremely risk-averse while others are comfortable with small gambles (hopefully with the informed consent of the patient!). 

Though I think, after years and years of regular medical care, that I have learned many of the lessons in this book through trial-and-error and practice, I found value in this book by its reinforcing my medicine-related habits.  It also reaffirmed my confidence in my nephrologist, who has never poo-poo'ed my opinions (or the "stuff I read on the internet" - which Cohen does a great job of discussing), never rushed me out of his office, and has gone out of his way to be available as needed.

I do, however, wish I had read this book before my first pregnancy.  Entering into a new arena, I had a hard time knowing what questions to ask as a high-risk pregnant patient.  Trying to communicate from one medical specialty to another was quite difficult.  I think this book would have helped me to formalize the information I was getting from each doctor and communicate information more concisely.  It may also have led to my changing my medical "team" slightly.


I also saw much of my mother's story between the lines of this book and felt she would be alive today had she had this information.

Again, I recommend this book to anyone who will ever see a doctor - even if you are an unfortunately well-seasoned and empowered patient.

Clean Naturally: Recipes for Body, Home, and Spirit (Book Review)


I've recently been reading some natural/green/less-chemically cleaning and body care books (you can read a short review of another book here), and Clean Naturally:  Recipes for Body, Home, and Spirit, by Sandy Maine was the latest.  This book was a little too....complicated?  Esoteric?  In any case, there's no way I can make much use of it right now.  I simply can't safely make soap with a preschooler and an infant, though I think that would be a great science experiment (slash craft?) when the kids are older.

Sandy Maine has an obvious love of soap crafting and makes housekeeping sound breezy and relaxing.  Which is great, except (again) impossible with a preschooler and an infant.  It actually made me want to rip pages out of the book as she talked about doing weekly chores and rotating focus each month through different rooms of the house.  I'm pretty proud if the bathroom is cleaned each week.

Maine romanticizes natural fibers on brooms, brushes, and mops...but then her given resources to find such things were either out of business or had websites that were difficult to navigate.  Plus I'm guessing they're expensive and not something I'd invest in at this juncture - maybe in a few years.

I will say, though, that I have added glycerin soap to my list of kitchen projects to do with Bean.  There are several recipes in this book that look promising for that purpose (you don't actually have to make the soap - just melt it).

So this is one book I may appreciate more later, particularly if my kids want to do a science fair experiment that might result in some lovely gifts.

It's definitely worth a read if you want to try your hand at soap-making.
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