Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Your Take on Television and Computer Usage

by Anne Zelenka
I've enjoyed the discussion about Santa Claus and other mythical beings generated by Marjorie's post The Tooth Fairy and Other Lies so I thought I'd toss out another controversial topic for moms and dads to consider: screen time (meaning the TV, the computer, and video games) and your kids.

Jody of Raising WEG doesn't let her triplets watch TV; that's courageous. I am excited to have found a book that (persuasively, I think) argues that video games and TV are not all bad--they can improve the cognitive skills of children and adults. We have fairly liberal screen time rules, but I have a hard time living by them anyway: I blog way more than I'm allowed and with my babysitter out this week, my two-year-old has been introduced to all sorts of shows she never knew existed. I dread when Rose (our au pair) returns and Laura starts saying "I want dragons!" to watch Dragon Tales.

So what do you think? What's your position on TV watching, computer usage, and video game playing? Work of the devil? Mama or Papa's savior? Good as an occasional treat? And why? What's bad about them in your mind? What's good?

And are there any programs or games that you think are particularly worthwhile? I love my nine-year-old's computer game Zoombinis Logical Journey: it's filled with logical puzzles wrapped up in a fun adventure. I think Between the Lions works well for children developing early reading skills. I like SpongeBob SquarePants for its clever humor. The drawing program KidPix lets even preschoolers make fabulous and creative pictures and slide shows on the computer. Those are some of my overall favorites, but I find value in a bunch of others too. Four-year-old Anna has been diligently printing out horses from her My Little Pony PlayPack CD and then cutting, coloring, and gluing them together. It keeps her busy in a productive way. Unfortunately, the theme song for the Little Pony CD seems to be better suited to an insane asylum than a household... which makes it perfect for us.

Share your thoughts!

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Another Pantry Dinner: Pesto Chicken Pasta

by Anne Zelenka
I made another good pantry dinner this past week: Pesto Chicken Pasta. The recipe's up at my food blog The Everyday Cafe.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Death of a Fish

by Anne Zelenka
Yesterday was a bad awful day. Sugar ants invaded my pantry. My babysitter left town for a 10-day vacation. I had six kid taxi trips to make. And the last of our five fish, the strong one, the one Anna named Swim Eat Silly, died.

It was right before car trip #3 that I noticed Swim was not living up to his name. He was struggling. Damn! I thought. I knew I should have cleaned the tank earlier in the week. But I procrastinated, for no good reason except laziness. I cleaned the tank and put him back in after using some special chemical that supposedly quickly rids tap water of water purification chemicals. Then I woke the two girls up from their naps and hustled to get Henry from school.

When I arrived back I saw that Swim had perked up. He was breathing more smoothly and swimming a bit more. Clearly my neglect of the tank water had caused him some harm. Would he survive?

I checked him before and after the three remaining car trips. Each time, he was worse off, but he didn't die, either. His little body curved into a strange shape and he lay on the bottom of the tank for long periods of time. When I walked by, he would jump up and swim around, as though he knew I was there. He's just a fish, I told myself.

After dinner, he seemed to be convulsing. I decided he must have suffered brain damage when the tank water went bad. I lifted him out of the tank with the scooper and he didn't fight at all. He died immediately--didn't even gasp once. We buried him and I cried, even though he was just a fish.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Tooth Fairy and Other Lies

by Marjorie
My five-year-old lost her first tooth last week. She literally lost it, didn't even know it was gone. She came over to tell me something and I thought she looked funny. She opened wide and the tooth was gone -- I don't think she even knew it. Don't know where it went -- maybe she swallowed it. It was very One Morning in Maine, except we don't live in Maine and it happened inside the house.

I told my friends. One of them asked what the tooth fairy brought. Um, nothing. Suzanne never mentioned the tooth fairy, so I didn't raise the issue.

Here's my problem. Years ago at a playgroup, the butcher's wife mentioned how Santa Claus is the first time many parents purposefully lie to their kids. For some reason, this really struck me. Since then, I haven't played up Santa Claus, she gets enough of it from our culture. We've read books about the historical Santa Claus but I don't really get into the nitty gritty of telling her he's real or unreal, but none of her presents are from Santa -- they come from mom and dad. The same friend who asked about what the tooth fairy brought also asked what Santa brought. She must think I'm a nutcase, maybe thats why she's always so nice to Suzanne.

Anyway, I guess Suzanne hasn't heard much about the tooth fairy -- if she had and had expected a visit, she would have gotten one. But I'm not bringing it up. I'm thinking she's probably headed for therapy and I'm headed for hell.

Monday, May 23, 2005

I Never Get Mad at My Kids

by Anne Zelenka
Yeah, right.

Suzanne of Mimilou fame wrote about Anger Management yesterday and asked, "how do you handle those moments when your kid(s) push you to the edge? It happens to you, too, right? Right?"

Yes! It happens to me. It happens to my husband. I wonder what the neighbors think. They compliment our son on his trumpet scales and ask if my two-year-old has woken in the middle of the night lately. But they never comment on the loud yelling that characterizes much of our after-dinner interaction. How tactful of them.

Lately I'm not getting angry with the kids as often, since we instituted stricter rules. I typed up the rules of the house and posted them on the fridge. They include things like "be kind to each other" and "don't run in the house." I also typed up what happens if you don't follow the rules. After one warning, you get the timeout chair--one minute for each year of age.

Last night four-year-old Anna earned the timeout chair. She was arguing with us about whether she could have a snack. It was five minutes until her bedtime and I told her the kitchen was closed. She continued to press and whine. I considered giving in, but fortunately Rick put her in the timeout chair. Then she was so angry she wouldn't go downstairs for bed. In my most authoritative voice, I got her downstairs without physically touching her. It required three times of "get downstairs and brush your teeth." She wouldn't let me say goodnight to her but I felt great--I wasn't angry; I was in control.

The more I feel control, the less I feel angry. Still, it's hard to use the timeout chair. I'd usually rather not hassle with it. But it pays off down the road because the kids know we mean it when we tell them to follow the rules.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Who Is the Beholder?

by Marjorie
I've been pondering my toe-nails for some time now. Bored housewife or social radical? (guess it really isn't a political issue)

Warm weather is finally coming to the DC area and I've been donning sandals as of late. My habit is to start painting my toenails in the spring and through summer. I've never had a manicure or a pedicure and at this point in my life, I wear that as a badge of honor (along with never having had my hair 'done' or having visited a tanning bed. I'm not a natural woman by any means, one of my greatest joys in life is dyeing my hair and has been for a couple of decades). Polished toes look kind of nice, though, so I paint them. Its a pain and I've been known to wear chipped polish for a week before I repaint -- and then there is the all-consuming question of whether to just put another coat on to hide the chips or to remove the polish and re-apply.

Whatever. I don't feel like polishing my toe-nails anymore. My toes look fine -- they are toes. I flatter myself to think they are not my most attractive feature so whether I should call attention to them by painting them is yet another question. My toes don't look awful unpainted -- they do in mid-summer when the polish has yellowed the nail a bit.

Anyway, as a social reactionary (or perhaps an antisocial person), I feel spurred on in my decision not to paint my toes by Anne's post on her other blog, Economom. For whom do I paint my toes? I paint my toes for me and I don't want to do it anymore.

Don't worry, I'm not about to stop shaving or burn my bra (I need that lift and support).

Vacation Reading

by Marjorie
We're going to the beach in a couple of weeks and I'm looking for some light, funny, interesting summer reading. I'm currently reading homeschooling books and a book on comparative religion. I used to be a big fiction reader but I've drifted away from that recently. My recent fiction books have been Susan Howatch novels, but I've gotten tired of the formula and of the religious/spiritual format (they really all say the same things anyway).

So, I'm looking for something to read but I would prefer not to actually purchase the book. I've requested books from the local library, however, I'm deep enough in the waiting lists and the library holdings are few enough that I don't think I'll get any of them in time for vacation. My husband insists I won't have much time to read since we have young children, but I'll have the loooong car trip down and back and last couple of years I was able to do a fair amount of reading. Of course, our youngest was napping then, giving me a 2-hour block every afternoon while DH took the eldest on outings to the playground or pool. The youngest is no longer napping, so maybe DH has a point.

Anyway, what do I want to read? Prep, I am Charlotte Simmons, Smashed. Yep, I'm looking for books about collegiate life replete with substance abuse shenanigans in an attempt to learn why we do stupid things in college (at least, some of us). Probably won't get them from the library and don't want to fork out the cash for them.

DH suggested I Don't Know How She Does It which would definitely be available at the library. Doesn't appeal to me. I read the Nanny Diaries a couple of years ago and enjoyed it. I thought the first half was really funny but found the second half immensely depressing. Poor kid. The nanny I found to be too self-centered even for a college student. It was a good read though and would be perfect beach reading.

I just saw a review for White House Nannies, that could be fun. The waiting list isn't too long, but with only a few copies in the library system, I'm unlikely to get it.

Yes, I could shell out the money to buy one of these books, but I'm now faced with option paralysis as to which one I want to read enough to buy it. Too many choices.

I'll probably read a book about a Zen practitioner facing a terminal illness, thats available at the library.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Pantry Dinner: Chicken Chili Verde

by Anne Zelenka
Inspired by Marjorie's Cheap Eats, I converted a slow-cooker recipe from one of Dana Carpender's low-carb cookbooks to a pantry dinner using canned chicken breast. Rick (my husband) and Rose (au pair) pronounced it delicious.

Chicken Chili Verde from the pantry

1 medium onion, chopped
1 T vegetable oil
1 10-oz can chicken breast, drained and shredded with a fork
1 16-oz jar salsa verde
1 4-oz can chopped fire-roasted green chiles
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp black pepper

Saute onion in oil until limp and translucent. Add chicken breast and saute briefly, then stir in salsa verde, green chiles, cumin, and black pepper. Simmer over low heat for about ten minutes.

Serve with warm flour tortillas, shredded monterey jack cheese, and sour cream.

* If you have a lot of adults to feed, add a second 10-oz can of chicken breast. It will be less of a budget meal this way but the chili turns out heartier and chunkier.
* If you like spicy food, add canned sliced jalapenos.

Fitting In or Sticking Out

by Anne Zelenka
There are some people who easily adapt to almost any situation. Perhaps I shouldn't be judging my own children or anyone else's, but I think my third child Laura and Marjorie's darling daughter Suzanne will fit in wherever they go. These are sociable, verbal, happy girls. Big school, little school, homeschool, unschool--they're going to do great.

Some kids and some people, more generally, have a harder time fitting in. Diana writes how she felt alone and apart at her kids' talent show. That's generally how I feel at large school gatherings. I don't socialize well in big groups especially if I don't know people well. I am easily exhausted by crowds. And I'm not good at small talk. I have a hypercompetitive streak that lights up in the presence of people who are better dressed or more well-spoken than I am. I like small groups and one-on-ones where I know people well.

I had the happy realization this morning that my nine-year-old son Henry has found a place where he fits in: his small Montessori school here on Maui. It's parent-teacher conference time at school. From when Henry was three until he was in second grade, the conferences we had with Henry's teachers were uniformly negative. He's an introvert like me, and like me, he's given to perfectionism and anxiety. He's strongly internally motivated but breaks down under external pressure. He makes friends slowly. Until he was in second grade, every conference was dominated by talks of how to fix Henry. He couldn't cope; he was too anxious; he didn't socialize enough. Then his second grade teacher realized he needed a break. He's a fine kid, gentle and caring. He doesn't need pressure to do good work. And he'll socialize when he's ready and comfortable.

We didn't know that by moving him from a high-powered gifted and talented magnet school in Virginia to a go-at-your-own-pace one-room Montessori schoolhouse in Maui we'd be planting him in just the soil that he needed.

It's a constant churn of meeting one person's needs and then another's with five headstrong members of the family. Now Rick's accelerating in his career and learning so many new things, but I'm struggling to figure out work that can balance family with my need for intellectual stimulation. Henry's thriving while four-year-old Anna still pines for her Virginia friends and can't quite accept the loss of Mr. C., her old preschool teacher. Laura, well, like I said: she'll do great anywhere.

Please Don't Tell My Kids How They Feel

by Marjorie
My oldest had her 5-year check-up the other day. No shots but she had to have a finger-prick blood test. I hate those, she hates those -- it was a bit tense. I tried soothing and calming her a bit and it helped a little, but she was still scared and stalling (she was not screaming or thrashing about). The lab tech and nurse did not have the best bed-side manner and were trying to rush me along with some nonsense about others waiting to use the lab -- the office was actually pretty empty at the time and, I'm sorry, but I usually wait 1/2 hour in the waiting room and an additional 10 minutes in the examining room. I think they can be understanding that a 5 year-old is not thrilled about a needle stick.

Sorry, ranting. Anyway, what got me most was after the lab tech pierced my child, she proceeded to do her thing to collect the blood samples. Suzanne was still crying and fussing a bit (this was not a horror show fit, just typical whining about the pain) and the tech told her it didn't hurt anymore. Now I wanted to throw a horror show scene because I always found the squeezing of the stuck finger to be far more painful than the needle stick. I calmly said something to that effect but I wanted to scream at this woman not to lie to my child and how did she know anyway. Bitch. Pardon my honesty.

Maybe its time for me to check into alternative health care.

The second episode happened during a playdate when her playmate started mixing playdough colors. Not a big deal, we'd probably all agree, but it upset a small child. The playmate's parent said that he does it all the time and might even have suggested she'd get more playdough and soothingly said to my daughter, "Don't cry, Suzanne." We don't need more playdough, we can certainly work through our anal issues about not mixing colors (this comes from me), but don't tell my child not to express her emotions. Again, this was not a big fit or tantrum, more of a whining with tears streaming down her face. Not a big deal, but it definitely underscores to me what one should not say to a child.

Don't worry, I say the wrong thing plenty of times. I'm glad to notice these things because, hopefully, it will help me correct my behavior.

Moms' Names

by Marjorie
In the spirit of the playgroup, I'm looking for a bit of enlightenment here.

How should your child's friends address you (or your friends' children, for that matter) ? I'm for the formality of Mrs. X. I can understand the informality of first names, but I can't help but feel its inappropriate. Granted, when I was a kid, I thought it was super-cool when a neighbor, friend's parent, or substitute teacher said, "call me Thelma."

When I was a new mom, my friend Anne was a seasoned mom -- I always liked the way she used Mrs. Smith when she was talking to her kids referring to me. Another friend in playgroup, used to refer to us to her child as "Miss Marjorie" and "Miss Anne." I was okay with that, too, but I think it was beginning to veer towards only the name as the child got older. Our neighbors' elementary school-aged kids call both me and my husband by our first names and it drives us a bit batty. Having a munchkin, or a not so munchkin, call me Marjorie is grating to me -- most especially if I had not been asked if it was okay.

But its not okay -- I had a friend over yesterday and she was telling her son that if he wanted something or other, that he should ask me. She paused before finishing this directive, turned to me and asked if it was okay if he called me Marjorie. I felt like a total heel, but I stuck to my guns and said "I'd prefer he use Mrs. Smith." She smiled and it was all fine, but I did feel like a fuddy-duddy. I would have prefered if the default had been Mrs. Smith; that would still allow me to lessen formality if I wanted by saying "no, please, call me Marjorie."

I definitely see the point of children using first names as a way of showing a greater friendliness, but in those cases I have a real need for a title, like "Miss Marjorie" or "Aunt Marjorie" even if we're not blood-related. Its not that I'm a big authoritarian, to me its more of an issue of respect.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Welcome to Paradise

by Anne Zelenka
I haven't complained about Maui lately, so here's my monthly it's-not-paradise post. As of about a month ago, Maui has no scrapyard for old cars and appliances. But Maui residents are resourceful. They know what to do with their unwanted junkers and Jenn-Airs: leave them by the side of the road. Maui has turned into a junkyard.

I appreciate that Maui is teaching me so directly that disposing of our waste isn't automatic, that there are limits to what we can do to our environment, that sometimes there just isn't a place to put the stuff we think we no longer need. Still, I would like to live in a place that has an actual junkyard and doesn't force me to confront the reality of the disposable American lifestyle each day as I chauffeur my kids to school, karate, and swimming class.

Old cars by the side of the road don't bother you? Try this: two tourists from New Jersey were beaten up and robbed in the only park in my town that has a playground. Nice, huh? Spirit of aloha, right?

They say that Maui embraces you or chews you up and spits you out. I think "they" have got it backwards: I'm chewing on Maui and it's making me gag. Quick, give me a spittoon!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

I Sold Two Articles

by Anne Zelenka
Now I can call myself a writer. I sold two articles, one on herbal therapy for weight loss and one on planning a family trip to Hawaii. This is the first time I've made any money since getting a surprise bonus for a patent application made by the last software company I worked for.

My big paycheck? Thirty whole dollars! Wow! How am I going to decide where to spend it all? After taxes it might be enough to take the entire crew out to McDonald's but only if we drink water and I order a cheeseburger instead of a salad.

The articles will be published in the next couple of months on a web site that wraps useful content in advertisements. It's really no different from television or magazines--they get their revenue from advertising too.

It's a baby step towards working again. I'm thrilled.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Mind Control for Mothers

by Anne Zelenka
I had the happy experience this morning of seeing that my EconoMom blog had been referenced by Cynical Mom in a discussion of her decision to switch from full-time to part-time work. She described how she was annoyed by people congratulating her on the decision, implying that she was making the change for the good of 1.3 children (she is pregnant with her second). She did not make the decision for the good of her children, she said; she made it for herself. She wanted more time with her son and she didn't want to make him stay up late or take her own time away or eliminate time with her husband.

Are we allowed as mothers to make decisions just because they benefit us? Or do we always have to put ourselves second? Are we allowed to be honest about how we make our choices and how they make us feel? Or do we have to candy everything into an Everlasting Gobstopper of motherly sweetness?

I know the annoyance that Cynical Mom feels. I get annoyed when people congratulate me for staying home with my kids. That only happens when they don't know I have full-time live-in care for my three children. I have noted before that the reason I don't work is not to benefit my kids. I don't work because I'm relatively lazy and I don't like corporate politics. Yes, it means my kids see more of me. That's great, but that's not why I'm at home. So don't pretend you understand my life just because you can slap the letters SAHM on me.

Sadly, Cynical Mom decided to take her post down, probably because of the unhelpful comments she received. One slammed her for being negative. Being analytical and serious and thoughtful does not always equal negative! And we are allowed to express our reservations at how society at large controls us through its motherhood rhetoric. The second comment was more sensitive but told her she was just plain wrong about her own motivations and about whether it is better for her son if she works part-time.

Are we allowed as mothers to have our own minds, our own beliefs, our own ways of meeting the world? Sometimes I think we're not.

Monday, May 16, 2005

A Virtual Playgroup

by Anne Zelenka
When we were tossing around ideas for this blog, Marjorie suggested we make it like a playgroup. I confess I didn't really get it. Now, after doing it for a week, I get it, and I really like it.

We wanted to avoid judging and ranting. We haven't ranted, but my post about finding out the gender of your child was more judgmental than I wanted--it was not something I'd say in an actual playgroup; it was too confrontational. But it led to just the type of exchange I'd like to have in an actual playgroup--other mothers telling me why they weren't finder-outers and helping me understand this choice. It made me remember that I was a non-finder-outer until I was 36 weeks pregnant with my first child. Then I was just too impatient and the doctor with her ultrasound wand all too accommodating. Though I was certain I was carrying a girl, it was my dear Henry, now nine years old.

Here in Maui, I really haven't made good friends. I haven't made the effort. I'm busy writing and blogging and planning for the career I'm going to launch when I return to the mainland. I made such good friends in Virginia that I feel no lack of friends in my life. And I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything because I have my playgroup here on Chocolate and Peanut Butter.

Come on in, sit down, have a Reese's, and let's talk.

Funny Movies

by Anne Zelenka
I'll see any movie with Ben Stiller in it. I also like Steve Martin and I'm really excited that he's starring as Inspector Jacques Clouseau in the new Pink Panther movie coming out sometime this year.

Last week we chanced upon Mel Brooks' Robin Hood: Men in Tights on TV. Thirty minutes into it was bedtime for Henry and Anna, so I turned it off figuring we could order it from NetFlix. The first half hour was hilarious. Sadly, it's not available on DVD. Meanwhile, we have a whole new set of movies to check out: everything by Mel Brooks. I wasn't too into his films in the past but I need that slapstick humor now and nine-year-old Henry loves it.

We've modified our movie-watching habit so that Wednesday night is kids' movie night (an animated film or other kid-appropriate movie) and Saturday night is adults' movie night. The adults sometimes watch with the kids and vice versa, but not always. This Wednesday we're watching Spaceballs, a Mel Brooks spoof of the original Star Wars trilogy. The best and most disgusting character in it is Pizza the Hut, dripping with cheese and meat toppings. On Saturday night we'll enjoy Meet the Fockers.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Cake Talk

by Marjorie
If I make a cake, I use a boxed cake -- I think they taste great and its so easy. I was chatting with a couple of moms at Suzanne's birthday party today about it (Suzanne is still young enough where her friends are mostly my friends' kids, so I really enjoyed the guests at the party). These moms told me that baking a cake from scratch is pretty difficult, that they often turn out dry. This made me feel like I have a good reason to use a boxed cake -- not only is it easy, its actually better than scratch.

However, frosting is a different matter. I don't care for canned frosting -- too sweet, not enough flavor, chemical aftertaste. When I make frosting, I use my mama's recipe (she probably got it from somewhere, but I don't know where). Its easy and yummy and here it is.

Mama's Heavenly Frosting

In a screwtop jar, add 1/2 cup milk and 2 tablespoons flour. Shake until well mixed. Pour into a small saucepan and put on stove over medium-high heat. Stir constantly until it forms a paste. Remove from heat and let cool completely.

In a bowl, cream together 1 stick of butter and 1/2 cup sugar using a mixer. Add the paste and 1 teaspoon vanilla and mix until fluffy like whipped cream. Frost cake or eat straight.

For a chocolate version, I simply add 1/3 cup cocoa powder. You might want to adjust the amount to taste -- I love a strong chocolate flavor.


Birthday Party Post Mortem

by Marjorie
Today was Suzanne's 5th birthday and her birthday party. I'll try to be brief here, but may give the long version over on my other blog, unclimber, where I direct my homeschooling and religion posts.

The weather was hard to call. We have had a string of days with gorgeous weather until yesterday evening, when we had three violent thunderstorms. The newspaper was calling for t-storms today and it was cloudy all morning. The party was in the afternoon, so I planned for more of an indoor affair. I had a couple of crafts for the kids to do and my husband was on stand-by as the MC for games.

The crafts consisted of puppet- and bookmark-making stations. For the puppets -- the kids were given brown paper lunch bags, google eyes, markers, scrap paper, and glue sticks. Bookmark making was even simpler -- strip of paper from a scrapbooking kit I have and stickers. Stick the stickers on the strips and voila -- your very own bookmark. Sorry, kids, crafts are not my gig.

It was nice enough to play outside and I was kicking myself that I wasn't better prepared. I love to have toys, tents, and bubble equipment out for the kids but I didn't have it for fear that everything would get drenched in a downpour. Inspiration struck my husband, though, and he had the wagon out for kids to climb in while he raced around the backyard pulling it. It was a hit! Of course, he was pretty tired by the effort.

After hearing thunder and feeling a few drops, we headed inside. We were an hour into a two-hour party so I thought it would be a good time for cake. We had one cake from a local grocery store and we had made cupcakes and frosting that morning. I ran out of time making the frosting so the cupcakes became another craft -- frost your own. That was actually a big hit because kids that age like spreading and they got to choose between chocolate or vanilla frosting. I had logistical problems as my kitchen area is a bit tight -- if you're going to do this, I recommend having room for all the kids to sit down.

We had lots of time for free-play and the party probably dragged a bit, but I'll spin it to say that everyone was able to relax and talk. I'm one of those 'open presents after the party' types, so I didn't have that to fill the time. Luckily the weather had cleared and some kids finished out the party playing outside.

We survived and Suzanne was happy with the party. I would have been happier if my youngest hadn't fallen out of a chair I was attempting to gently move with her in it, causing her to bleed profusely from the mouth and causing me to worry about 'dead' front teeth.

Its over. Thank God.

Friday, May 13, 2005

College Blogging

by Marjorie
Just got this from Steve over at llamabutchers. An adjunct professor at SMU got fired ("failed to have her contract renewed") because of blogging (no, they don't say that, but come on).

Anyway, bits of her blog are still up, I hope she gets a book deal.

BTW, a book I loved long ago about college life from various perspectives was Jane Smiley's Moo.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Boy or Girl?

by Anne Zelenka
I try to understand when pregnant women and their husbands don't want to learn the sex of the baby. But I just don't. I don't get it. It's so much more practical to know. It's just as much a surprise when you find it out at the eighteen-week sonogram as at the forty-week birth. You have an answer when people ask, "boy or girl?" And you can settle on a name. Still, I try to understand and be empathetic to this choice.

But this I really don't understand.

Feeling Crusty

by Anne Zelenka
My daughters ask me to rip the crust off of Pop-Tarts. I guess it's because there's no super-sweet filling in the edge. About a month ago, they both stopped eating the puffy crust on pizza slices. They would eat three or four bites of the cheesiest middle, then say, "ready for another piece!" We had to put a stop to that because I was getting tired of eating all crust and no middle.

Why is it that so many kids don't like crust? And does anybody buy those frozen PB&J "uncrustables"?

I like crusts on Pop-Tarts and pizza, but not on brownies. My husband Rick likes brownies from the edge of the pan--brownies with crust--but I adore the gooey middle ones.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Happy Mother's Day, Anne

by Marjorie
...and to all mothers and mothers-to-be (expecting or otherwise).

And now, a tale of my first Mother's Day... or was it?
[wavy text as we turn the back the clock]

Mother's Day 2000 was on May 14, the latest date possible for Mother's Day, which is the second Sunday of every May. I was very large with my first child and have the pictures to prove it. My due date was May 19 but I had been certain I'd go early -- I was exercising and walking and my OB had pushed my due date back by two weeks early in the pregnancy. Based on my calculations, I was due May 5, based on the initial ultrasound, I was due May 19. Bad luck.

Mother's Day morning, I noticed the absence of any card for me at the breakfast table. I questioned my husband, Tom, about this. "You're not a mother" was his response. For those of you out there unclear on this issue, any pregnant woman is a mother -- especially one that is about to pop. Breakfast was tense that morning. I can't recall whether my husband produced a card that the had bought just in case -- regardless, the damage was done -- I was not a mother in his eyes. I responded later that I must have been a mother because he certainly was a mother f**ker (it was a joke, I find coarse language to be strangely empowering. I'm not the only woman to feel this way. I'm not saying anyone should emulate me.)

We went to church, which was rare for us in those days. As we exited, one extremely kind woman tapped me and wished me a happy Mother's Day. I shot Tom a dirty look.

My husband and I joined my parents and my maternal grandmother for brunch. We discussed Tom's faux pas at breakfast. My father backed him up, asserting that I was not a mother. (For some reason, there are certain men that seem to get a lot of enjoyment out of annoying me. This is not unique to me, I've witnessed Anne's husband bait her. I guess they just like the danger of it all.) My mother, precious angel that she is, had a card for me. She mentioned it was hard for her to pick a card because she didn't know if she should get a mother-to-be card or a mother card, since it was possible I might have had the baby before Mother's Day.

No, really, it gets better. That evening, Tom and I took a long stroll around the neighborhood. We came home and I proceeded to put together a casserole for dinner. Right after I put it in the oven, about 6 pm, I turned around, ready to make some salads. At that point -- whoosh! My water broke unmistakably. I was so excited and scared and freaked. I thought it was mighty convenient that my water didn't break until after I got Tom's dinner made. My OB told me that I was to wait until the contractions came X minutes apart and then head for the hospital. If the contractions never came, we were to go to the hospital around midnight because of concern over infection and that we'd need to get the show on the road.

We went to the hospital and my daughter was born after 9 am on Monday, May 15, thereby insuring that her birthday never fall on Mother's Day, so I can never even say, 'well, if you were born in thus and such a year, it would have been on Mother's Day.'

To this day, my father loves to point out that Tom has celebrated more Father's Days that I have Mother's Days.

Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 06, 2005

You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman

by Marjorie
Natural accomplishment, eh? But remember, I'm anti-rewards, so my idea of 'accomplishment' probably also varies from that of many others.

I enjoyed Elizabeth's review as I'm sure I'll never read the book -- but it sounds as if Lareau is humming the tune "What Do the Simple Folk Do?" If I recall, the singers of that song ended up divorced with the wife nearly burned at the stake -- rescued by the dashing Lancelot but then cutting off her hair and vowing a life of chastity.

Wait, what was the topic?

I suppose the book discusses that the working class may not shuttle their kids around to activities because of the financial restrictions of their economic status. That could be the only reason why parents don't 'do everything possible to give their kid every advantage.' There are those of us who actually choose this way of life. We define 'advantage' differently. To me, the most important 'advantage' is copious time with my children and granting them the freedom to let their imaginations roam and look at the clouds instead of forcing them into an unceasing parade of activities in which they may have little interest. However, there is a big difference between taking a ballet or karate class and having every afternoon and weekend booked with lessons and tutoring and athletics.

I always wonder if the jam-packed schedules have more to do with the parents competing with one another than having to do with nurturing their child's talents. I think there may be a herd mentality, that 'everyone is doing it.' A recent Op-Ed in the Washington Post supports this -- she says twice that she sent her kids to camp for just that reason.

As to 'middle class' naturalists (unschoolers), there is a big divide in philosophy over whether to allow the kids unfettered access to TV, believing (and proving) that the kids moderate themselves eventually, and getting rid of the TV altogether.

Interesting book -- I don't see the need to lump people into groups. Anne seems to me to be interested in the sociological approach, I'm more interested in the psychological approach. I'm uninterested in the demographics and am more likely to wonder what it is about people that makes them choose certain approaches.

Concerted Cultivation or Accomplishment of Natural Growth

by Anne Zelenka
We could have called this blog Cultivation and Natural Growth but that doesn't sound quite as yummy as Chocolate and Peanut Butter. It would, however, represent our two approaches to parenting. I am more the Concerted Cultivation mom: my older children are enrolled in a private Montessori school, they have a busy schedule of after-school activities, and I feel guilty when I don't entertain and cater to them. Marjorie, on the other hand, believes firmly in the power of children to accomplish their own natural growth given an enriching and loving environment. Because of this philosophical belief, she's chosen unschooling for her children's education.

These two approaches are outlined in the book Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race and Family Life by Annette Lareau reviewed by Elizabeth of Half-Changed World. Lareau associates the "accomplishment of natural growth" approach with poor and working class families and the "concerted cultivation" with middle class families, but I'm sure there are many exceptions, as in Marjorie's case.

The ideal might be a combination of these two approaches, mixed with a third, one I will call the "employee development" approach. In that approach, children are treated as part of the economic unit that is the family, working together for a happy and healthy life. There is something other than sitting in front of the TV all the time (something that Lareau noted in some "natural growth" families but not by any means an intrinsic element of that approach) and sitting in the car on the way to karate, speech therapy, or music lessons all the time ("concerted cultivation"). That's where children work alongside their parents in doing the work of the household. I haven't gotten my children anywhere near as involved in chores as I would like, but every time I do, it's been worth the hassle.

Yesterday I had just finished attending speech therapy with four-year-old Anna when it was time to take Henry to karate. I grabbed my keys and headed out the door. "Mommy, wait!" Anna cried, "I have to be your helper!" The week prior, I had taken her with me to the grocery store while Henry was at karate. A diligent and sociable girl, Anna loved the chance to be alone with me and feel productive. So we had a practical and pleasant mother-daughter outing while Henry kicked and yelled "chum-be!" to his karate-mates.


by Marjorie
I got a chance to play some tennis today. I suppose I'm the girl with the curl -- when I make good shots, they are very good, but when I don't, my shots are horrid.

I remember years ago playing on an office volleyball team. A friend of mine stated bluntly that I'm an inconsistent player -- she couldn't predict where I would send the ball or if I'd even make it over the net. She was probably pretty frustrated about that.

Its not that I'm unathletic, its just that I've never had much practice in any of these sports. My mom never wanted me playing rec league sports because they really interrupt family time on weekends. So, I can play sports, but I'm either not good or I'm inconsistent.

It makes me wonder where else in my life I'm inconsistent -- definitely with mothering, I can be very moody. My husband tells me I'm not inconsistent as a spouse, but I think he's trying positive reinforcement.

Consistency now....consistency now....

On An Even Keel

by Marjorie
(I wonder if I spelled that right...)

Mike's comment on my Elastigirl post got me thinking. What if sometimes a cartoon is only a cartoon? Well, no, it didn't get me thinking that, but it does make me wonder about opinions and balance.

I am a woman of strongly held opinions. I like being that way, but I'm finally recognizing that it might be an impediment to compassion, understanding, and peace. Anyone reading through Unclimber and Barely Attentive Mother can see that Anne and I have gone at it on various issues with me blundering around in absolutes and her suggesting a bit of moderation and understanding.

Sometimes I fear that any attempt to moderate myself might end up diluting my passions. As a creature of passion, I cannot imagine life without passion. Then again, I long for more patience and understanding with my kids. I constantly remind myself that these small creatures are also vulnerable and delicate and that they really don't need mommy yelling at them in an attempt to relieve her frustrations (it never works anyway).

A final concern is that if I moderate my opinions I will become wishy-washy and aimless, unsure of anything and unable to make a decision.

Well, I think I can safely try to exercise a bit more empathy without becoming a door-mat.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

My Other New Blog

by Anne Zelenka
I've started another blog, EconoMom, to indulge my interest in economics as applied to the homemaking life. This way my biased appraisals of what's going to happen to the housing market won't clog up Chocolate and Peanut Butter.

The other time I started a topic-specific blog (my food and cooking blog The Everyday Cafe), I didn't keep up with it. But you never know what's going to stick.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Picture Book Recommendation: The Quiltmaker's Gift

by Anne Zelenka
My four-year-old Anna discovered The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau with pictures by Gail de Marcken among the books in our basement. de Marcken's watercolors enchant; I would love paging through them even if I didn't enjoy the story. Publisher's Weekly called it a "somewhat pedestrian fable." But walking can be good exercise. The story shares a lesson we in America need to hear more: happiness isn't for sale at Wal-Mart or Neiman Marcus.

My Fairy-Tale Existence

by Marjorie
I have two daughters. Suzanne is nearly 5 and Gabrielle is 2 1/2. Gabrielle is going through an extreme "Mommy phase." She wants me to hold her and carry her much of the time. Her sleep, and mine, is disturbed several times a night as she cries for me. I don't know if she has nightmares, night terrors, or if she just wakes up between sleep cycles and wants me.

Last night, I went into her room to soothe her several times. She continued to cry for me, progressing to screaming for me. We recently moved her from her crib to a toddler bed and she now shares a room with her sister. Toddler beds are short (the crib mattress is used in the bed), low to the ground and have a weight restriction that would prohibit even Elasticgirl from climbing in and cuddling up with her child. Thus, I sat on the floor and leaned over to comfort Gabrielle. Each time I attempted to leave the room, she started to cry. I decided to sleep on the floor next to her and this soothed her enough so that we both eventually drifted to sleep.

Before I fell asleep, I was thinking about how I was curled up on the floor amongst my children sleeping in their beds, a modern day Kinderella.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Weight and Feminist Ire

by Marjorie
We love string cheese. Being thrifty (cheap), I buy whatever brand is cheapest based on sales and coupons. Recently, we've been eating Frigo Cheese Heads. The individual packages promote various characters from The Incredibles. I haven't seen the movie, but I know Anne has. Each cheese stick has a different character and interesting factoid about the character's particular talents or attributes -- like some male character who is so cool, he says "Freeze" to the bad guys before he freezes them.

Well, on my cheese stick package, I see a lovely picture of an animated young woman. The accompanying text says:

Elastigirl is 5'8" tall and weighs 125 pounds. Her power is full-body

Why do we get the height and weight of this character? I reviewed the contents of the entire package (and a big package it is) and there is no other height or weight measurement given for any other character, and there are a couple of different packages for each character.

Who is the target market of this product? Thirty-something moms? Yeah, I'm going to ask my kids if I can go see The Incredibles. I'm thinking its targeted to a younger demographic, one that is perhaps very weight sensitive? [Hello my anger. Breathing in, I smile at you, breathing out, I embrace you.....nope, not working]

I am outraged at this. First of all, I don't think 125 is a reasonable weight for most 5'8" women, its very skinny. I'm an inch shorter and was about that weight right before I got married because I couldn't stand my law school roommate and spent all my time in the gym and eating frozen vegetable stir-fries. While I enjoyed feeling skinny, I knew I looked peaked. One friend of mine figured I was thin because of stress, which I took to mean I didn't look healthy and good. Granted, I was 26 at the time, so its not too off the wall that a teenager might be this skinny. But what about the ones who aren't? I think this package might as well list the urls for the Ana (anorexia) and Mia (bulimia) websites.


Cheap Eats

by Marjorie
Maybe I should post a response rather than a super-long comment to Anne's post on feeding a family for $10 a day. Like I said in my comment, I don't know what our meals cost, but since I prefer to use 'shelf stable' ingredients, I'm betting our meals are pretty cheap.

In addition to each entree listed below, we have a salad and a half grapefruit or other in-season fruit. Okay, only when I have them on hand, usually its just salad or some frozen vegetable that I've steamed. Our meals tend to be sparse. An interesting note: Tom lost 10 lbs. when we were first married because of my propensity for low-fat, bean-based cooking and because he had previously been eating restaurant food twice a day.

What do the kids eat? Gabrielle, 2 1/2, eats table food. Suzanne, 5, eats nothing usually. She may nibble on cheese or leftover tortillas. I read in a book about picky eaters that young kids really only need two meals a day -- I like that so I'll go with it. Suzanne has a good breakfast and lunch and a vitamin pill so I stay off her case about eating. Bad mommy but I don't think its enough to trigger a CPS visit (Child Protective Service is our state's child welfare office). We offer her food, we just don't make her eat it.

Some of our frequent meals include:

Tuna White Bean Casserole -- called Sparky's Cannelini Salad on Anne's blog

Jarred spaghetti sauce with spaghetti -- get 'em on sale

Chicken Florentine Casserole
with canned chicken, frozen spinach, a can of cream of mushroom soup and other ingredients

Chicken Pot Pie
canned chicken, cream of chicken soup, about a cup and a half of frozen mixed veggies and corn muffin mix for the top.

Bean Dip Casserole
a basic black bean dip recipe doubled and served with brown rice.

Hot dogs with baked beans

a 15 oz can fat-free refried beans heated and mixed with a 15 oz can of petite diced tomatoes with jalapeno peppers/green chiles (Del Monte or RoTel); this mixture is used as filling for tortillas which I then bake for about a half hour at 350. These are really burritoes, but if you don't cover the pan, they get crisp, hence the name. When reheated in the microwave, they get mushy and become 'sogitos.'

Chicken curry
a can of chicken and a can of chickpeas with a curry sauce -- look for it in The Can Opener Gourmet

Chicken patties
we'll each have a frozen chicken breast patty with a side of mac n' cheese or other Lipton side dish. These are easy to keep on hand for a quick meal.

Once a week we order out from or eat out at a local ethnic restaurant, usually Indian, Thai or Italian. We often get a cheapo pizza at the grocery store for Friday night dinner.

Can you feed your family dinner on less than $10?

by Anne Zelenka
How much does it cost you to put together a quick and healthy dinner for your family? I'm happy if I can do it for under fifteen dollars for my family of six made up of three children and three adults (we have a live-in nanny). My favorite dinners these days are the ones that I don't have to cook. Last week I bought a roasted chicken, a bag of coleslaw mix and a tub of premade mac and cheese for a little over fifteen dollars. I carved the chicken and mixed a quick mayo dressing for the coleslaw. The mac and cheese heated up in three minutes in the microwave.

When my kids eat the "adult" main dishes, it is harder to do budget meals. My nine-year-old son Henry has recently begun eating meat. I make Italian Sausage Burgers with a pound of ground beef and we hardly have enough for the five members of the family who love them. They're so delicious it's no wonder we fight over them. You mix ground beef with Italian sausage seasonings like fennel, thyme, and paprika. Then form it into patties and broil on one side for five minutes. Turn over, spoon on plain tomato sauce, top with a thin slice of mozzarella cheese and broil for another five minutes. The recipe is from Express Lane Cookbook by Sarah Fritschner.

If I weren't in Hawaii, I bet I could do budget dinners for ten dollars or less. What about you? What does "budget dinner" mean to you and what are your favorites?

Monday, May 02, 2005

Why chocolate and peanut butter?

by Anne Zelenka
Because it's the best damn flavor combination around. If only I had a piece of Cheesecake Factory Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake right now, yummmmmmm...

Also because more than four years ago Marjorie and I met at a church lunch kicking off the start of the church year, in school year terms, that is. I made chocolate cookies with peanut butter chips from a mix. Rick (my husband) and I had already noticed the couple sitting in church with a baby who appeared to be around our daughter's age. I saw them sitting alone at a table and even though she was perfectly put together and her husband was so handsome that he couldn't possibly have been a nice person too, I talked to her anyway.

We immediately learned that we were both completely committed to chocolate and peanut butter. We have been friends ever since.

In the intervening years I haven't had a friend so good as Marjorie. Yes, we drove each other crazy sometimes and now we live thousands of miles and many time zones apart. I'm sure if we hadn't had our blogs we would have shortly lost touch. I'm terrible at writing letters or making phone calls. Since our commitments to our personal blogs waned, it seemed like we might do better in partnership. So here it is:

Chocolate and Peanut Butter

Better together!

How to embrace a new life

by Anne Zelenka
Shortly after I moved to Maui, locals told me "Maui either embraces you or chews you up and spits you out." This must be Corollary A to the Principle of Island Fever which says that if you are some haole* transplant to a Hawaiian island, you will soon suffer mainland withdrawal pains, mostly from having to shop at Wal-Mart rather than Target.

But I refuse to accept the Principle of Island Fever and the Corollary of Maui Mastication and Spittoonishness. Maui will not chew me up and spit me out as though I were a wad of tobacco being worked by some wannabe Apprentice. I am the person here, not Maui, despite its being named after a Polynesian demigod. Maui is just a chunk of volcanic rock; Maui lacks arms to embrace and a mouth to chew and saliva with which to spit. I will be the one doing the embracing. Or the spitting out.

Therefore, I will be searching for ways to embrace Maui since it looks like I'm stuck here--er, I mean, living here--for the next year and a half.

*haole /how'ly/ someone who is white or foreign.

Well Done, Anne!

by Marjorie
Chocolate and peanut butter, its my favorite combination. Which do I love more? I cannot say, some days I prefer chocolate, some days I prefer peanut butter, but I always prefer to have both together.