Category Archives: Kid Stuff
Okay, to be truthful, since that birthday 8 years ago when I was 3 weeks postpartum, sleep-deprived, and nursing for 45 minutes every two hours, I’ve been fairly content to let the whole thing slide by. And after making my husband SWEAR that he wouldn’t make a big deal out of my turning 40 a couple of years ago (after bringing belly dancers to his 40th the previous year–no, he actually did want a kinda big-deal party), I’ve tried to downplay the whole thing as much as possible. And yet people keep remembering…and honestly, I’m sort of digging it.
But what is so cool, especially on the gift front, is how much the people who care about me “get” what I’m about and what I love and need and want and don’t need/want…My coolest gift from husband and kids, and the one I knew about in advance because I helped pick it out and had been harping on it since summer when my mom got one, is a new SodaStream seltzer-maker. This will get its own blog post later–it’s so cool; I am a huge fizzy-water drinker, and I can’t stand all the seltzer bottles that generates…now I’ll be able to make it at home, which will cut our monthly grocery bills by probably the cost of a babysitter for one evening, and dramatically reduce the amount of recycling I add to the system.
My parents sent me a beautiful glass bead lariat necklace, handmade by an artist on one of the islands near where they live. And a purse/backpack made of repurposed old jeans from OldBagzz.com, with a vintage Wonder Woman cartoon on the side–beautiful craftsmanship, making my feeble efforts at jeans-purses feel really clumsy. I will totally use this, ALL the time. (The outer zipper pocket just fits my oversize Kindle, too.) And some goodies from an organic artisan chocolatier from another island near where they live, Black Dinah Chocolatiers, (Ahem…cough cough…yes, as of 9:00 this morning I had already broken into the semisweet bar with ground lavender flowers. Oh. My. God.), which are to die for. Dinah also has a cafe…and a blog…with recipes.
As usual, the best gifts are the intangibles–like my kids and husband making pancakes for me on a school morning, and two handmade cards, one with a picture of my son and me–with HUGE hands–standing together, and another of my daughter and I in a field of flowers at sunset (pictured above). And more Facebook happy wishes than I ever would have hoped for or expected.
It’s a good day.
Eight years ago today, I became a mom. Eight years ago today I first got a look at the pointy-headed purple-faced alien-looking creature who’d been kicking my rib cage over most of the summer and early fall. Now he’s this big tall kid who runs and reads Harry Potter and is too cool to hug his mom in front of his friends…It’s my boy’s birthday.
I told him he could have whatever he wanted for breakfast. He asked for Palaczinta, a kind of Hungarian pancake like crepes, that my mom used to make for me when I was a kid and which we loved. My kids love them too. The good thing about making them on a school day is that you can make the batter the night before and let it sit overnight in the fridge.
(Okay, remember my post at the Green Phone Booth about organic healthy whole food vs. organic not-even-remotely-healthy food? This is very clearly not on the right side of that line…be warned.)
Hungarian Palaczinta (makes about 16-18 pancakes)
In a large bowl, lightly beat with a whisk: 6 eggs, 1-2 tsp sugar.
Whisk in 2 1/2 cups milk, 1/2 tsp salt, and about 1 tsp sugar
Slowly add 2 cups flour, a little at a time and whisking well after each addition. It should be smooth and a little thick by the time you’re done. Add a little more milk if it’s too thick. I’ve heard that some also add a little nutmeg here, but I forgot.
Whisk in 6 tbs melted and slightly cooled butter. (Yes, that’s 3/4 of a stick of butter. I told you this wasn’t very healthy.)
Let sit half an hour, or overnight in the fridge. In the morning, if necessary, add a little more milk or up to half a cup seltzer water and whisk well to thin a bit
Heat a 10 inch skillet, preferably with a little curve to the sides, to medium high heat. (If it’s nonstick, you can do this without additional butter.) Pour enough batter in the bottom of the skillet so that you can swirl it around to cover the bottom. Let cook about a minute, till the lacy edges are a little brown and it’s bubbling up a little in the middle, and flip over. Cook another half minute on the second side, and remove to a plate. Continue until all the batter is used, stacking the pancakes on each other as you go. (The really high amount of butter in here keeps them from sticking together! Sigh…butter…)
To do this the proper Magyar way, you’d fill them with various cheese and fruit and nut mixtures and re-bake them. (Think Hungarian blintzes.) If you are my kids, you drizzle a little honey or maple syrup on them, or smear on some applesauce and a little cinnamon sugar, or jam, and roll them up. Then you eat them with your fingers, drizzling sticky whatever all over the place and getting it on your clothes.
Now okay, I’m sure you could use whole wheat instead of white flour. And I’m sure you could substitute some neutral oil for some or all of the butter, and probably use a good bit less of it. But the fact is, these things are so simple ingredient-wise that changing any of the ingredients fairly dramatically changes the taste of the final product; I’ve never tried oil for the butter, but whole wheat for the flour is just not very pleasant in this context. (Maybe you could add some honey or something, or maybe the overnight sit would help remove some of the in-your-face whole-wheatiness of the flour?)
For us this is just one of those special occasion really-not-good-for-you things we do once in a long while.
Happy Birthday, Bear.
Over on Marion Nestle’s Food Politics blog, I was delighted to discover this:
Honestly, I barely care if it’s PR–and of course it’s just PR! Their statement of why they are withdrawing it is what the blogosphere would call a “flounce”: “there has been some misunderstanding and mischaracterization regarding the intended consumer for this product and the proper role it can play in a child’s balanced diet. The resulting debate has distracted attention from the overall benefits of the brand, so we have decided to discontinue production of Enfagrow Premium chocolate toddler drink…” Aww, poor Mead-Johnson, with the mean blogger moms distracting everyone from the good you are trying to do for our children by pointing out that you’re making CHOCOLATE FORMULA. (Okay, I’m ranting again. But this one really ticks me off.)
As Marion says, “It’s the sugars, stupid.” And that statement applies to the vanilla version (which remains on the market) as well as the chocolate.
I don’t care if it’s PR, and I don’t care if they flounce, and I feel the same way about Kelloggs’ Rice Krispies immunity claim also getting nailed…the fact, under all of this, is that bloggers spreading the word and giving people information is causing companies to change the way they do things. We–if I may be so bold, because I hardly qualify as being able to include myself in the realm of people like Marion Nestle–are making a difference.
Yes, Marion, you are highly influential. Never doubt it.
Over at Mrs. Q’s “Fed up with Lunch” blog (she’s the teacher who spent the second half of the school year eating every day in the school cafeteria, exactly what the kids eat, and blogged about it. What’s cool is the number of widely varied guest posters she’s accrued over the months. What’s not cool is what she’s had to eat every day as a result of this project.) I just ran across an article by a college student about what happened when she went away to school and was faced by an apparently pretty good college cafeteria.
And it sounds like her college cafeteria was really pretty good–certainly better than mine was. As a mom now looking at the situation, it looks to me like her issue, and mine while I was away at school and in the years following, was about food discipline more than actually what food was offered.
My own story–I was one of those depressingly tall skinny teenagers who could eat all I wanted, anything I wanted, as much as I wanted, and never gain a pound. I was the girl who complained about not being able to find jeans with a 33 inch inseam that were a size 1. (Trust me, while that situation in your twenties might be enviable, when you’re 15 and everyone else has breasts and you don’t, it’s fairly humiliating. I think my measurements were something like 20-20-20 up till maybe my junior year in high school.) So I never paid attention to what I ate or how much, and it certainly never occurred to my parents to worry about it either (I was healthy and fairly active, so why worry?), and while of course the whole concept of “eat at least a serving of veggies at every meal; choose fruit for a snack instead of junk; drink water when you’re thirsty and not soda” and all that fairly commonsense stuff was basic to my upbringing, there just wasn’t a real opportunity to learn how to put it into practice myself, without it being drilled into me by my parents. They were the nutritional gatekeepers of the home. Isn’t that the way most of us live?
In fact, I honestly have no clue how such habits could be imparted to kids in a way that they won’t burst out and go crazy when suddenly there are no authority-driven boundaries around what they may or may not eat at any given time. Balance. Portion control. Eat-food-not-too-much-mostly-plants. If the very definition of teen-ager-ness involves Freedom And Rebellion, and if the very ethos of going away to college is No Parents Now I Make My Own Decisions, is there any way to really prepare our kids for this, to help them realize that this isn’t just what the grownups always say but is actually kind of crucial to their happiness and health in later life, and that we want them to be happy? That a rebellion which results in them feeling crappy is probably not a very worthy cause?
My kids are 5 and 7; a little early to be stressing about this, I know. But it’s a fairly important question. And I have a feeling what I do in the next 10-12 years will be a huge part of the answer.
Kara, the guest blogger for Mrs. Q, sounds like a really smart girl. (Oy. My “mom” is showing. She’s a really smart woman.) Partway through the semester she realized she was exhausted, sleeping too much, not succeeding in classes as well as she should, and figured out that the huge drain on her body’s resources represented by all this heavy rich eating was the culprit. First she cut the junk; then she went vegan. (And her blog has photos of some of the really decadent-looking vegan foods she eats on a daily basis; I doubt if she’ll convert me fully, but she makes me want to try some of this stuff, and not just because it’s vegan–because it looks good! I, being a good dairy addict, would use cheese and eggs liberally, most likely, though…) But I wonder how many college students would be aware enough to put the pieces together and recognize what’s going on, and/or disciplined enough to make the necessary changes.
By the way, my tall skinny girl story has had the proper karmic twist–right about when I got to college, my metabolism shifted and suddenly I couldn’t eat all that food without gaining weight, and my lack of food discipline has meant that I’ve had to learn as an adult what I wish I’d learned as a child. I’m now a fairly content not-quite-plus-sized woman who’s done the childbirth thing twice, and I don’t worry about weight so much as worrying about whether I’m eating well and getting enough exercise. (I’m not getting enough exercise. But I try. And I certainly could stand to lose 20 or so…) I know that I need to eat veggies whether I like them or not, and honestly I really don’t much–but I’ve also learned to cook with them and camouflage them and render them in a way I can deal with them. I know that when I cave to the drive-through cravings I pay for it, and that it’s really not worth it in cost to my own health, let alone that of the planet. But it’s taken a really long time to get here.
And my daughter, you guessed it, is tall and skinny and shows every sign of following in my metabolic footsteps.
Any of my readers have college kids? Any of my readers who are college kids? I’d really welcome any thoughts on this…
From an Igloo is one of my favorite crafty/sewey blogs, and I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at her patterns and tutorials and going, “Wow! I could totally make that!” But somehow I never do…
This one, though, I bet I could handle:
It looks fun and manageable and easy, involving a lot of rectangles, and it doesn’t require pinning fabric to slippery pieces of tissue paper and cutting it out with notches and dots. And my daughter would love it.
I may also try the “bubblegum jumper,” as I am one of those exact people she describes who has a terror of buttonholes and needs some project or another to break the fear and just do it. But this sundress looks impossibly easy–even I could do it. And I have a couple of smaller fabric pieces I could make this work with, too…maybe Friday. We’ll see.
In the meantime, I’ll spend a little more time looking at her patterns and tutorials and going, “Wow! I could totally make that!”…
Okay, I just survived another in-home children’s birthday party–once again reminded of why it’s so nice to hire one of those places to do it for you, on their own turf. But here we were able to save a huge amount of money and prevent a huge amount of garbage-generation. And my daughter had fun.
All in all, this was pretty okay. 8 girls total, ages 4-5, for a “Princess Pajama Party.” They came in their jammies, we made pizzas and decorated and iced our own cupcakes, we made princess tiaras and magic wands, and I made them each a little princess cape. We used disposable cups because we honestly don’t have enough real cups to serve all these girls (plus I have a stock leftover from pre-greenness, so I didn’t go out and buy anything at least), but the flatware and plates were all real–and when all was said and done, we were able to save the “disposable” cups anyway, because they were that hard plastic that washes really easily. (The kind of thing I would never buy now, but they are in my house, so the footprint for them is mine whether I want it or not–might as well make the most of it.) I lamented to a friend today that the cupcakes were a little overbaked, but she wisely said, “who cares? They won’t eat the cupcakes anyway; they’ll ice and decorate them, and then they’ll eat all the icing and decorations off them, and then they’ll say they’re full.” She was absolutely correct. And between crafts and foodstuffs we played a couple of games, and they ran around the house a bit, they screamed at the top of their lungs a bit, and in the end we got them settled in front of a princess movie munching popcorn for the last 20 minutes till their parents arrived.
I was fairly proud of the crafts too, though they in hindsight might have been better for girls maybe age 6-7, requiring a little more dexterity than these kids could handle. The basic tiara directions I found here–you use pipe cleaners and beads to make a really nice sparkly crown thing. The magic wands were pretty much my own creation: you get wooden dowels about a foot long and a quarter inch thick, and either cut out cardboard stars to glue onto the end or, in my case, little spheres with the right size hole in them to fit into the dowels. Roll the dowel part in aluminum foil, put a little square over the tip (or star if that’s what you’re using), and it’s silver-colored. (no toxic paint fumes.) Tie three different colored ribbons around the tip–I strung a jingle bell on one of the ribbons too, so it made a nice jingle. If we’d been outside I would have done glitter glue instead of foil. Easy and quick, and I was basically thinking to send kids home with things that they would actually play with, not throw away.
The princess capes were fun too, and surprisingly easy,though of course I did those myself. Two words: panne velvet. ($4.99/yard at JoAnn’s, I got 9 capes out of 2.5 yards.) It has this nice quality of sort of curling around the cut edges, so you can get away without hemming it or finishing any of the edges. I made these little capes by gathering the cloth onto a band and sewing ribbons onto either end; if I were doing it again, I’d probably just buy double fold bias tape, extra wide, and just enclose the gathers onto that. But these were really easy; making 9 of the things only took a couple of hours, if that–and that included a lot of trial and error and figuring out the easiest way to do it; I could probably do it in half the time now that I have the hang of it. Each princess got her cape as she came in the door.
I was slightly aghast that two of the girls, before leaving, stood there in front of me with their capes and crowns and wands and asked where the goodie bags were. Sigh. You can’t win.
But my daughter is happy. That’s what matters.
This is the last week of school, and I’m suddenly realizing I have no idea what to have the kids give their teachers as an end-of-year little gift. (There’s actually a “class gift” that everyone contributes to, which is nice–they’re building a butterfly garden outside the school, and each child paints a stone that becomes part of the environment–very cool.)
I discovered melt-and-pour soaps last Christmas at teacher gift time; there was a bit of a learning curve, but we’re much better at it now, so I feel okay about doing it again. (Actually, only three out of the six got soap at Christmas, and they were tiny little bars.) Since then I’ve bought soap molds and experienced a lot of trial and error, and I have something like six pounds of unmelted soap block sitting in the closet. It’s a great project for kids, as long as the adult does the melting, because they can pour and stir and color and blend themselves.
So…off we go.
Below is a really good site for basic instructions; if I’d had this in December, I probably would have screwed up a little less:
Melt and pour soap base is available in a lot of places, but if you get it from, say, Michaels, it is a lot more expensive. (I’m still glad I did that for my first pound–it was a good way to ease into the process.) I think I paid about $10 for a pound-size soap block, which makes maybe 4 bars of soap depending on the size you use, which isn’t that much less than buying nice glycerin soap somewhere else.
I honestly can’t remember where I bought the 6 lbs I have in my closet, but any internet search for “melt and pour soap” will give more hits than anyone can possibly need. www.goplanetearth.com/index.html has some good-looking prices and products; I’ll probably try them next.
Just a few hints, after one has read the basic falling-off-a-log instructions:
Color: I bought three little bottles of soap coloring from Michaels, in the three primary colors, and I’ve managed to work within that palette so far. One would think there’s a whole lot of variety to be found from mixing red, blue, and yellow, but somehow in practice…not so much. Probably with better colors I could get better results, but our first few bars of soap looked a bit like radioactive waste…
This batch, for 12 ounces of soap, we used 3 drops of red and 4 drops of yellow, which gave a fairly nice coral-pink. The next batch Bear wants to be green, which unfortunately was the hue we never managed last time and wound up with the radioactive waste look, but we’ll give it a try…
Fragrance: Some websites have suggested about 1.5 tsp of essential oil per pound of soap, but in reality that’s going to depend a lot on what oils you use. Peppermint overpowers almost anything, as does Tea tree…Lavender blends too quickly into the background, as does Clary, but Geranium Rose leaps to the forefront. They seem, to me, to be behaving differently in soaps than they do in ordinary aromatherapy blends, but that could be just my own impression. Also, as nice as the spices and citruses may smell, it’s not a good idea to use them in skin care products, because they are sensitizing. (Sweet Orange in small amounts I admit i do use…but I also want to be clear when I say that that I know I’m going against other advice, and no way would I advise anyone else in that direction.)
For this batch, I went the easy route and am trying to use up some of a much too old bottle of “Peace and Calming” from Young Living Oils. (Note: the Young Living company has been at the center of a lot of controversy in the aromatherapy community, regarding questionable business practices and irresponsible medical advice that flies in the face of the research of the aromatherapy community at large–advice which, incidentally, involves the use of way larger amounts of the oils than is widely deemed safe. Every shopper must make his or her own choice, but I have chosen not to continue purchasing their oils and once what I have is gone I won’t be buying any more.) I don’t know about its theraputic value, but this blend does smell very nice and ought to make a lovely soap.
Molds: Pretty much anywhere you can get soap base, you can probably also get molds. but molds aren’t absolutely necessary, especially if you want to really go for the “natural handmade” look. A loaf pan or square baking dish can work just as well, although you’ll want to test out quantity to make sure you have the right container for whatever amount of soap you’re using. (If you melt your soap in a Pyrex measuring container, you can then use a different cup to measure that same amount of water into the container you want to use and find out exactly how high your soap will come and thus how thick your bars will be.)
I swear by silicone baking dishes, and using silicone for soap molds is just as easy and wonderful. Sometimes in hard containers the soap gets stuck and is hard to unmold (though usually a quick immersion of the mold part into hot water loosens it enough to get it out), but silicone is really easy.
Additives: One word; beware. I had this lovely idea of bars of soap with lavender blossoms scattered through it, or oatmeal, or whatever…but unless one gets the soap base that’s designed to suspend things in it, it all falls to the bottom of the mold. Which, actually, gives a very nice exfoliating thing on one side, but not the effect I was looking for.
So…we’ll see how it goes!
EDIT: We now have 12 lovely bars of soap, with 3 more to be made tomorrow (ran out of time!). My oval mold holds 3 4oz bars, so we made 4 different batches:
1. coral-colored shea butter soap base with “Peace and Calming”
2. green goats-milk soap base (sort of a nice green this time!) with lavender and roman chamomile
3. lavender goats-milk soap base with lavender and just a touch of sweet orange
4. yellow clear glycerin with lemongrass and a teeny bit of lemon and orange (I know, the citrus thing, but I couldn’t resist)
5. (to be made tomorrow) orange clear glycerin with bergamot mint and sweet orange
The kids have 7 teachers, and we’ll give 2 bars to each teacher. These ones came out really nicely. And we have one additional funny little bar made in tupperware that contains dregs from several of the different batches, that’ll be ours. The kids will get a kick out of it.