Thursday, December 6, 2012

Outside the Classroom 

 Lately, I’ve been thinking about how amazing good teachers are, and that I’m pretty sure I’ll never be one.  When I see parents doing the usual things like reading Harry Potter aloud to their kids in a waiting room, or taking day trips to historical sites and actually learning about their significance (not just visiting the gift shop), I feel kind of bad.  But then I think that maybe I'm being too hard on myself.    I think about how my strength as a parent is really more about using everyday situations as learning opportunities.

For example:

Math and Patterns
A few days ago, my five year old said to me “Mommy, a while ago, your hair was gray.  But then it wasn’t gray.  And now it’s gray again.  That’s a pattern!  What comes next?  Gray, not gray, gray, not gray…” Partial credit for this goes to Team Umizoomi (Thanks, Nick Jr.), but partial credit also goes to me, for selecting that fine, fine show.

More Mighty Math Power
On Halloween, my kids collected a considerable amount of loot.  We had to assist them during those final blocks home, so cumbersome were their candy bags.
The first thing the kids did upon returning home was retreat to opposite sides of the family room to dump out the contents of their treat sacks.  They then proceeded to sort each and every piece of candy into matching groups, by type AND size.  A MENSA moment.

But wait.  There’s more.

My younger one is allergic to peanuts, so she had to take it a step further and sort her candy into “peanut” and “no peanut” piles.   I helped.

Fair Trade
And then the trading began.  Because of the peanut allergy, the younger one wished to trade her brother her peanut items for his non-peanut items.  It’s a good thing that child likes Tootsie Rolls.  Both sides were very pleased with this transaction. Until…

So then, my husband comes along and reminds the kids that he took them out to Trick or Treat, therefore, he was entitled to a percentage of each bounty. And so Daddy carefully selected one third (fractions!) of the older one’s candy, as the “no peanut” candy was of zero value to him.  This is also known as higher taxes on the wealthy.

Units of Measurement
Sure, the kids are learning the basics of measurement at school, but real life learning happens outside the classroom, as I’m sure every parent will agree.  My kids know that a case of beer equals twenty-four, except at Costco, where you get thirty (and free lunch).  But a case of wine equals twelve.  That’s pretty tricky.  Also?  A baker’s dozen at the bagel store (donuts too!) is thirteen, which is pretty cool.  Other units of measurement we have learned is that a can of soda is 12 ounces, but a can of whoop ass is much, much bigger.  We have just begun our unit on telling time, as it pertains to travel.  A little while, almost there, and not much longer are all roughly equal to an hour.  Give or take. 

Why, just yesterday, while on a field trip to the local Total Wine retail establishment (notice a theme here?), my daughter wandered up and down the individual beverage aisle, as we browsed all the interesting names and labels.  “George Washington!” she exclaimed.  And lo and behold – there he was on a bottle of Tavern Porter.  Also, she is learning about different dog breeds and I’m proud to say, she also correctly identified a Yellow Lab on Labrador Lager by Thirsty Dog.

Cultural Differences and Foreign Language
Honey Boo Boo.

Science, Nutrition and Health
Beans, beans are good for your heart.  The more you eat, the more you fart.  The more you fart, the better you feel.  So eat your beans at every meal.

Sports Medicine
When you’re sliding into first and you feel something burst…  (You know what comes next).  When you’re climbing up a ladder and you feel something splatter…

So you see – there are book smarts, and there are street smarts.  And then there’s the stuff I teach my kids.  This?  Is why I don’t home school.

Today’s blog is brought to you by the letter P and the number two.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Our Friends Are Here Today...

Today's a Wee Play Day!

When I first met Ms. Kathy, I had no idea that she would have such a profound impact on my early experience in this journey of motherhood.  I was a first time mom and had chosen to stay at home with my son.  This was almost eleven years ago and being a SAHM was lonely from time to time.  I had no family in the area and while I had kept in touch with many of my work colleagues, I felt out of the loop. 

So I signed up for something called Mommy and Me at the local community center.  I thought it would be a mother/child singing, crafting and activity wonderland.  What the class description neglected to mention was that it was actually an aerobics class, which infants were invited to attend and watch from their strollers. True, my butt needed that class more than I would admit, but it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. 

Next, we tried Gymboree.  The facility was well equipped, and I loved the fact that if a toy made contact with any child’s mouth, it was immediately removed from play and sent to the “to be sanitized” bucket (Hello, my name is Tanya and I am a germaphobe).  My son had a good time, but did we actually learn anything?  The teacher’s policy was: Participate if you want to, but running around the room like a certain cartoon Tasmanian devil was perfectly fine too. 

Shortly after that, I attended a local toddler and pre-school fair and stopped by a table and met Ms. Kathy.  She was starting up a weekly class called Wee Play.  Sort of kind of similar to Gymboree, but with a good helping of structure.  So we signed up. 

We loved it.   To this day, going to Wee Play is my favorite memory from my son’s toddler stage.  During the opening free play, mommies would chit chat about everything under the sun, so desperate for socialization were we.   The kids learned about sharing toys (or not) and how to meet new friends.  Circle time was not my favorite (more on that later), but it was an eye opener.  I had to learn how to handle less than ideal situations, such as my son at times (okay, fine – MOST of the time) refusing to participate and/or becoming a tad disruptive.  We dubbed the class “pre-school prep", and that’s exactly what it was.

Craft time immediately followed and again, Ms. Kathy taught me how to step back and allow my child to create what he wanted to, whether or not it remotely resembled the sample finished product.  She would casually pass me by and whisper under her breath something about "hovering".  Activity time was fun and sometimes a bit stressful, but again – I had to learn how to deal with engaging my child in polite social play and how to re-direct him when he went astray with a plastic hockey stick.  Or hula hoop.  At snack time, once again – the moms resorted to chit chat while the kids munched on the theme related snack of the day.  The class ended with each child waiting in line to show off their craft to Ms. Kathy and have a little one- on -one time with her, which included the selection of a special sticker to end their Wee Play day.

Once my son outgrew the classes and moved on to pre-school, I missed Wee Play more than I can explain.  When my daughter was born several years later, I couldn’t wait to enroll.  The location had changed and the schedule went from being once a week to a handful of classes a day.  There were birthday parties and music class and summer camp.  Ms. Kathy had really made a name for herself in the area. 

When I took the class the second time around, it really hit me how different each child is and how much we change as parents from one experience to the next, taking the bits and pieces we learn along the way with us. 

I couldn’t help but smile when I saw a mom struggling to keep her child seated during circle time.  When her son became disruptive, Ms. Kathy signaled it was time for them to work it out in the hallway and return when things were under control.  Ms. Kathy and I smiled at each other.  I can’t tell you how many times I took that walk of shame in the hallway!  This time it was my turn to reassure some of the first time moms that each stage of childhood has its own unique caveats, but it’s all part of the process. 

Once my daughter outgrew the Wee Play program, I remained in touch with Ms. Kathy –I am happy to call her my friend.  Admittedly, I was saddened when I heard Wee Play was closing its doors.  Even though we were no longer taking classes there, I loved the opportunity to stop by with my kids to say hi to Ms. Kathy and talk about the early days. 

A few days ago, as Ms. Kathy was at the studio with the moving truck, breaking everything down, I just had to go one last time and say goodbye.  I learned more about motherhood from her than she knows.  She taught me how to know when to step back and not do everything for my kids, no matter the frustration that was encountered.  She taught me to let them get messy and worry about the clean up later. She spoke to the kids in a way that told them that what they said mattered to her and never did she use the dreaded “baby talk” with them. Most of all, she taught me that our kids do not have to be perfect in order for us (and others!) to measure our success as parents. 

Ms. Kathy – you were the very first real teacher the kids ever had and you are forever in our baby book of memories.  Thank you for everything.  We love you. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Day on the Farm

You know that old saying “You are what you eat”?  But what are you eating.  Have you thought about it?   

We’ve heard a lot in recent years about farm fresh restaurants and we’ve seen an increase in the number of farmer’s markets and community gardens.  At times, it seems like just a trend, but for one internationally known chef, it’s a way of life.  One that he hopes others will continue to learn about and embrace.

Dan Barber, of Blue Hill New York, is a well-known chef based in New York City.  That is possibly the last place you would expect to find one of the pioneers of the “farm-to-table” movement.  His inspiration stems from Blue Hill Farm in Massachusetts, which has been in Dan’s family for years. 

Dan is considered by some to be one of the top “celebrity chefs”.  In 2009, Dan was named the Nation’s Top Chef by James Beard.  He even dabbled in reality TV and was a guest judge on Bravo Channel’s Top Chef TV series. 

 In addition to receiving numerous culinary awards, Dan is quite an accomplished writer.  His articles have been featured in many fine publications, such as The New York Times, Food & Wine and Martha Stewart Living.  Some may remember a few years back, Blue Hill New York was even chosen as the spot for a seemingly impromptu date night by President Obama and The First Lady. 

But more important than the recognition and the rubbing of elbows with the rich and famous is perhaps getting his message out there.  Know what you are eating.  Then take it a step further.  Know what your food is eating.  Where is it coming from – do you know?  Do you care?  Our food, for the most part has become so over-processed and far from nature.  Why is that? 

Dan’s overall theme seems to be that of getting back to basics.  Back to a time when people knew their local farmers and cooked with the freshest most basic ingredients.  I wanted to reach out to Dan and ask him a few questions, but knowing that he has been interviewed by the who’s who in the culinary world was a bit intimidating.  So I decided to try something a little different.  A little more along the lines of "back to basics", if you will.

And so, I am pleased to bring you the interview of Chef Dan Barber by Mr. Adam Rapp, my eleven year old son:

Adam Rapp:  What is the easiest fruit and veggie to grow if you haven't done any fruit or veggie growing before?
Dan Barber:  It depends on where you're growing it. But I’d start with a carrot. In the Northeast, the winter frost makes them impossibly sweet.
AR:  Did you like to cook when you were a kid?  If so, what kind of stuff?
DB: The brookie.  Half brownie, half cookie.  My greatest invention.
AR:  Do you ever eat junk food?
DB: Not junk food, but late at night I tend to swipe sweets from the pastry station.  
AR:  How do you feel about kids menus in restaurants?
DB: Sometimes I crave the simplicity of kids menus, but I still wish they were more adventurous, and vegetable-friendly. 
AR:  Were you nervous when The President came to eat at your restaurant?  Did anything go wrong?
DB: We found out he was coming about 15 minutes before he arrived. But I still found time to be nervous. 
AR:   Do you think writing a cookbook for kids would be a good idea?  I do.
DB:  Absolutely. And it sounds like you should write one. 
AR:   Do you play any sports?
DB:  I played competitive tennis until I was 21. Now I run. 
AR:   Do you have a number one favorite dish to make?
DB:  How about pasta and tomato sauce? There isn't anything much better than that in the middle of the summer. 
AR:   What are some good snacks for kids to pack for school?  
DB:  Fruit and yogurt, and lots of gorp.  
AR:  My sister (Alexa, age 5) hardly eats any vegetables.  How do we get her to eat some?  
DB:  Come to Stone Barns (or visit another farm) and have her pick her own. She’s more likely not only to give one a try, but to enjoy it. 
 A big thank you to Chef Dan for his time and to Irene Hamburger, for all her help!  For more information about Dan Barber and the Blue Hill restaurant group, click here 
For more information about farmer's markets in NoVA, click here.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Where There's a Will...

Okay, raise your hand if you have kids.

Now – raise your hand if you have a will.


Well, the good news is that you are not alone. It’s estimated that 57% of parents do not have a will in place. I know. I understand. It’s difficult to think about it and frankly – in the back of your mind you’re thinking that you really don’t need one. Not yet, anyway. I mean, what are the chances, right?

The thing is – there’s nothing like having children to force you to think about your own mortality. We know we’re not going to live forever, obviously, but for many of us, there is the assumption that we can expect to live to see our kids have their own kids and possibly beyond.

But what if?

Maybe you’re thinking that you don’t really have any money or other assets to bequeath, so a will seems pointless. It’s not always about the money.

Let’s say you’ve had a discussion with your parents. It’s understood that if anything ever happens to you, they will step in and care for your children. But do you have that in writing? Is it legal? What if something did happen to you and it all goes crazy and your in-laws who live five states away and have never spent more than 10 minutes with your kids end up with them. It could never happen, right?

What if you’re divorced or a single parent? Do you have a plan in place?

Creating your last will and testament does not need to be a lengthy and complicated process. There are many ways to accomplish this task ranging from online software to enlisting the services of an attorney. There is truly an option for any budget. As I mentioned before, the most important designation involved in your will, as a parent, is assigning guardianship of your child(ren). It can literally take about 20 minutes to take care of this important administrative task. You take care to wear clean underwear in the event of a car accident, don’t you? So there’s really no excuse for not having a will.

Also? Don’t forget the pets. If you have pets, you should designate who will care for them, should you become unable. Many well loved and cared for pets end up dumped at shelters because families of the deceased don’t really know what to do. Again – a simple legal document can take care of that for you.

Honestly, having a will is just a good idea in general, even if you don’t have kids. You’d be surprised at who may come out of the woodwork to battle over your ceramic bunny collection. Don’t think it can’t happen.

If you don’t have an attorney or prefer not to use one, there are online services and even software that will assist you in creating your will. Requirements vary by state. In many states, all you need are a couple of witnesses and sometimes a Notary public and voilĂ ! You have a will. Not free, but you can get pretty close.

Friday, March 2, 2012

My Child’s Car Seat Did What?!

It expired. Yes—expired. Says who? Well, the AAP, NHTSA, NTSB and IIHS—just to name a few (I know that was a mouthful: please see websites at the very end). I had actually heard this several years ago, but in speaking with some other moms recently, I was surprised that the information had not circulated as well as one would think…or hope. In general, a child’s car seat maintains its integrity for about six years, depending on the manufacturer (see more websites at the end!).

During these six or so years, the car seat is exposed to extreme temperature changes and the plastic can become compromised. It can partially melt then re-harden. The reaction of the seat in a collision can be unpredictable past the expiration date. This applies to all child seats from infant carriers to booster seats.

When my son was born, I wanted to select the car seat that was rated the absolute safest. And darn it, the “safest” ones always seemed to be the pricier ones. Even though I knew that all car seats had to pass the same safety test, I was willing to spare no expense to buy the one that popped up at the very top of the “safest car seat EVER” list. The rationale was that I was getting two seats for the price of one. I fully planned to reuse that seat for my second child. Well, that second child did not show up until six and a half years later (through no fault of her own).

Just as I was dusting off that pricey six-year-old best car seat EVER, I heard the news. Your car seat has expired. Throw it away. Don’t sell it, don’t donate it. Just throw it away in the trash. Oh, and be sure to destroy the seat first by slashing the seat cushion and cutting the straps. And maybe take a sledgehammer to it a couple of times. This will ensure that no one will claim the perfectly good car seat sitting on the curb and endanger a child.

After hearing such a claim about an expiring car seat, I assumed it was a marketing ploy created by car seat manufacturers to force parents to buy more car seats that they didn’t really need. I’m certainly not the only one that felt this way. I was more than a little skeptical, until I saw this.

So part of me thinks – hey! In my day, kids used to ride unrestrained in the car. We were completely free to move about the cabin and we lived to tell the tale! Then the other part of me knows there’s only one way to see if my expired car seat will withstand the impact of a crash without causing harm. Am I willing to take that chance?

I’m really not. Times have changed and we parents have to keep up with the advances in child safety, right?

How do you know if your seat is expired? You probably should not use the sniff test. Some seats are actually stamped with the expiration date. If not, try to locate the manufacturer’s label (usually on the bottom) and take note of the date the seat was produced. Not all manufacturers have the same duration of “freshness”, so find your particular car seat brand’s web site (see below) or call the toll free number if you need additional information. Can’t we at least recycle these expired car seats, you ask? It depends. The best thing to do is contact your local fire department or police station to ask if they have such a program. You can also contact your local recycling facility.

The fact of the matter is that this is not a legal issue. You will not get a ticket if you are driving around with expired car seats. It’s really more about what you choose to do with the information. I, for one, chose to post an fyi on Craig’s list. I know I saw some of those car seat styles around back when legwarmers and neon were popular. I received several “thank yous” from people who had no idea. I received even more “something else-yous” from people who were trying to sell expired car seats.

Maybe I’m falling for a scare tactic. Maybe I’m gullible. I don’t know…but I do know I don’t really push the date stamped on a gallon of milk or a pound of meat. I’d rather take their word for it, even if it does pass the sniff test. Craig's Listers, eBayers and garage sale hosts will surely dislike you, but spread the word anyway.

Related websites:

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's in the Bag

Several times a week, a situation arises in which I say to my husband “Here – hold my bag for a sec.” This is usually followed by an over exaggerated grunt as his arm jerks toward the ground, led by the heft of the sack. I am then asked the usual two questions: “What the heck do you have in here – bricks?” and “Is all of this necessary?”

The answer to first question – STUFF. The answer to the second – a huffy YES.

Lately, though, I’ve noticed that my shoulders appear just the faintest touch uneven and my biceps seem a bit overdeveloped. And there’s something else. My “baby” is three and a half and I am still lugging around a diaper bag. An ugly diaper bag. A $19.99 on clearance at Target diaper bag. But the storage on this thing! Two bottle pockets. Two small exterior pockets. One large exterior pocket. Two zippered compartments! Three interior pockets. It’s positively cavernous. And…AND – it has special buckle straps so the bag can be attached to a stroller handle or shopping cart in a snap. Hands free shopping!

But here’s the thing. In just a few days, I will be turning the number that comes after 39. I’ve decided to ring it in with a new handbag. One that doesn’t come from the luggage department. A fresh start. A graduation of sorts. No more baby bag.

It’s not that easy. Ever since I began the search (over a month ago), I repeatedly land on purses that look identical to my current diaper bag. Some of them may even be advertised as “carryall/baby bag”. I realize it’s going to be a monumental struggle to downsize. You’re familiar with Hoarders, no? My episode would be called “Hoarder…on the go”.

So I’ve asked myself: Just what the heck DO I have in there and is it really necessary? Well, let’s officially take inventory.

(Insert me dumping out the contents of my bag)

And now...I bring you (drumroll, please) ...the heck that is in there:

• A pack of travel baby wipes

• Extra t-shirt for the 3 year old (Lexie)

• Insect repellent towelette

• Socks for Lexie

• 3 tampons (2 super, 1 regular)

• 2 allergy pills

• A tube of Neosporin

• 2 Advil

• 2 acetominophen suppositories (kids dose)

• Travel pack of Dramamine

• Oscillococcinum

• Baggie of assorted Lifesavers hard candy

• 2 barf bags (unused)

• 1 asthma inhaler

• Kaopectate

• 3 bandages (assorted sizes)

• 1 prescription anti-nausea pill

• 3 crayons

• 1 Disney Princess ring (Ariel)

• 1 Ariel doll

• 1 My Little Pony figure with hairbrush

• Sunglasses

• Make up bag (lip balm, 3 lipsticks, lipstick case, pot rouge)

• Digital camera

• Bag of almonds

• Trail mix

• Nilla wafers

• Hand lotion

• 2 packets Splenda

• 2 Epi-pens (Lexie)

• 1 Epi-pen (me)

• 4 Halls cough drops (honey lemon)

• A purse pack of Kleenex

• 1 barrette

• 2 hair clips

• 3 hair elastics

• Purell (travel size)

• Sunblock stick (spf 50)

• 1 toothpick (unused)

• Pack of gum (Orbit peppermint)

• Pen

• Extra lip balm (Lexie)

• Cell phone

• Car keys

• Handtowel (In case the barf bag can’t be reached in time)

• Eyeglasses

• 1 stray piece of popcorn (Orville Redenbacher touch of butter)

• Sippy cup (Lexie)

• 2 water bottles (1 16 oz, 1 half pint)

• Wallet

 10 photos of the kids

 4 business cards

 2 missing kid info cards

 Blood donor card

 Emergency contact card

 19 shoppers rewards cards

 Credit card

 Driver’s license

 Debit card

 Library card

 “I Love You” note from my 10 year old

 8 insurance cards (medical, dental, prescription)

 Tip calculator

 3 receipts

 Starbucks gift card ($1.10 balance)

 $200 cash (I won a bet)

 $.86

Total Weight: Nine and a half pounds. Give or take.

It’s a heck of a lot. And it’s all necessary. Except for the piece of popcorn. I managed to throw that away without the need for a hoarding counselor or panic attack, thank you.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Rainbow Connection

One of our local supermarkets has an ongoing kid’s program in place called “Eat a Rainbow Everyday”. This “rainbow” refers to the variety of fruits and veggies that should be incorporated into our children’s daily diet. It does NOT include FD&C Red 40, Brilliant Blue or Tartrazine.

Unfortunately, artificial food colorings have made their way into our daily lives – sometimes in places we wouldn’t expect. If you take a stroll through the supermarket and look at the items that are specifically marketed toward children, you’ll see a lot of scary options such as: Cotton Candy yogurt, Rockin’ Red oatmeal, and blue raspberry juice blast. Sometimes I wonder if kids even know that blue raspberry is not even a real fruit. Okay, so it is actually – but unless you live in a remote part of Montana, chances are you have never seen one.

Numerous studies have been done on the effects of artificial colors on children’s health and behavior. The results are a bit alarming. Artificial food coloring has been linked to: allergies, asthma, attention deficit disorders, and even cancer. In fact, some countries have even banned certain common colorings that the US continues to use.

Take a look through your pantry and read all the labels. You may be surprised. Now – take a look through your medicine cabinet. Artificial colors can be found in vitamins, pain relievers, cough medicines, toothpaste, fluoride rinses, and even allergy medications.

And how’s this for ironic – studies strongly suggest that food coloring (especially certain greens, reds, and yellows) are connected to an increase in ADHD symptoms. And what color do you think many ADHD medications are? Exactly. Sometimes I wonder if the folks making Skittles (taste the rainbow) are in cahoots with the Ritalin people. A win-win situation for them, no?

What can you do as a parent? Continue to read food labels carefully. Just because something isn’t obviously colored doesn’t mean it’s free of dyes. This is a great resource on the subject

It’s not always realistic to eliminate artificial colors from our diets entirely, but knowing what you are dealing with is a good start. Encourage your kids to eat the right kind of rainbow. There are so many options out there these days and many companies are recognizing the desire to steer toward more natural choices, without having to visit specialty food shops and paying double. Just keep reading those labels.