Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pretend Snow

Despite my weird dream last night, it doesn't snow in Florida. (I've heard rumors that it snows here occasionally, but it melts before it hits the ground.) We visited Oregon for Christmas, but it was too warm and rainy for snow. My husband and I both grew up in the West and snow was a prominent memory of childhood winters. It's strange to think our children won't have the same experiences (though with frequent beach days, I don't think they'll mind too much).

So with no real snow in sight, I tried a Pinterest "snow" recipe for sensory play. You just mix shave cream (not gel) and baking soda. There's no exact ratio, just add some of each and mix together until it stays together when squeezed into a ball.

The girls loved this. They built snowmen, scooped ice cream, and played with this stuff for much longer than play dough holds their attention. It's probably the novelty factor. It was also a little bit cold to the touch due to the shave cream.

It did make a mess, so this isn't something I'd do on a regular basis. But it brushed off of children and swept up pretty easily. Even if you have real snow to go play with, this would be a fun activity for kids when you're stuck indoors because of the snow.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Book Review: Salt, Sugar, Fat

Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss

Let me sum up this book for you: processed food is bad for you.

Okay, so I already knew that. Most educated people know that. But it's a little more horrifying to hear how many teaspoons of sugar are in a bottle of soda. That's a measurement I can visualize rather than the grams that are on the label. (And yet, while I read the section on soda, I wanted nothing more than to go out and buy a root beer--maybe it's the pregnancy?)

Some shocking things about salt: many processed foods, even ones we don't think of as salty (like breakfast cereal) taste like cardboard, or worse, taste metallic, without salt. Is it really food if it needs salt to make it taste like food? Also, humans are not hardwired to like salt. Babies like sugar and sweet from day one. But a baby who eats only fruits and veggies will not like salty things as they grow older, whereas a baby who eats grocery store foods like its parents will start to like salt.

Some shocking things about sugar: Many breakfast cereals are 50% sugar (sometimes even more). Most people know that soda is bad for them, and as a nation our consumption of it has gone down. But our consumption of sports ades, juices, and vitamin waters have gone up--and those often have just as much sugar.

Some shocking things about fat: Like salt, it's often in things that don't taste fatty. It's not a taste, it's a mouthfeel thing. And because of this and other factors, we have no internal alarm that goes off when we eat too much fat like we do with sugar. And cheese, which is incredibly fatty, has been turned into an ingredient, rather than an indulgence that people have after a meal.

This book was interesting and horrifying and a little bit frustration-inducing. What is left but fresh fruits and veggies? What on earth can I feed my children? Without crackers and cereal, what would I feed my toddler after she's had an apple, a banana, and an orange and is still hungry?

And a realization: if I tried to make everything homemade, I would have time for nothing else. I made homemade bread while we lived an hour away from a store. But as soon as we were closer to a store, I haven't made a loaf of bread (even when we had our bread maker). Trying to get a homecooked meal on the table is often frustrating, let alone making my own ketchup. I know chicken nuggets aren't good for you, but they're an easy back up on busy nights. Or when we've run out of bread before I get to the store and we can't have sandwiches for lunch. And, no, I'm not going to make homemade chicken nuggets. If I have time for that, I'll make something better than chicken nuggets.

So I've decided not to beat myself up for the processed food we do eat. I would like to slowly find healthier alternatives to some of the processed foods we eat. But I'd have to spend all day in the store reading labels to replace everything at once. I also don't want to suddenly shock my family (and myself) with a bunch of healthy food that has no appeal. And as long as I'm on the road to doing better, it shouldn't matter at what point in the road I'm on compared to other people (just like anything else in life).

Friday, January 17, 2014

Not Noticing

Yesterday I walked across the grass to get the mail. And noticed that I don't notice the grass anymore.

Less than a year ago when we moved to Florida, everything was strange and unfamiliar, even the grass. The blades of grass are long and coarse (it's easy to keep it green in this climate--but it doesn't exactly invite you to take off your shoes and  walk through it).There are palm trees everywhere, there's a pond or lake on every corner, and the birds are large and weird.

Apparently we've adjusted more quickly than I realized, even though I still feel new here. My daughter rarely points out palm trees (she only points out the huge ones now; she used to exclaim over every one we saw). I don't notice the water everywhere, I don't cringe when I see the rough lawns, and I only notice the weird birds if they're crossing the street in front of me.

We've even acclimated to the humidity apparently. It's not nearly as oppressing during the winter and I don't even notice it right now. My husband said that people coming to train here from out of town complain about how humid it is. I thought that was weird until we went away for Christmas. When we came back, I felt the humidity again. But only for a few minutes.

Friday, January 10, 2014

What Two Kids and Countless Books Have Taught Me About Sleep

Parenting Without Borders by Christine Gross-Loh was on my list of nonfiction books I recommend from my readings last year. Though seriously, I wish I had just come across this article by the author that people I know have been posting on Facebook lately: "Have American Parents Got It All Backwards?" It's a lot of the same ideas, just shorter.

I am glad I read the chapter on sleeping. And wish I'd read it before my first child. Or even read or heard anything that let me give myself permission to do things differently--to figure out what worked for us and not worry about what the experts said I should be doing. Here's a summary of what Gross-Loh says and what I'm learned with my two children and my plans for #3.

Gross-Loh on sleeping:

Co-sleeping is common throughout the world. The idea is (and has been confirmed in studies) that a child who feels secure and cared for at night will be more independent during the day. This is opposite of the American idea that a child who co-sleeps will be dependent on their parents forever. Even in cultures where children do have their own room after a while, it is accepted that a child can come and sleep with the parents part of the night if they need comfort until much older than I would have thought is “normal” (based on my American ideas).

 The American idea that children and even small babies should have their own sleeping spaces came out of the emergence of a middle class—it showed affluence to have a separate sleeping space, a nursery, for your baby. It also created a need for sleep training methods and comfort objects. It also creates stress in the parents (I can attest to this one!) when a child does not go to sleep alone at the age other parents and their pediatrician deems normal.

 In co-sleeping cultures, they normally have large futons on the floor for sleeping with their babies and children. American beds, high up off the ground, make co-sleeping more difficult. A couple of years ago (I remember this one) an ad in Wisconsin compared co-sleeping to a baby sleeping with a large butcher knife. Children can be smothered during co-sleeping, but it always has a risk factor involved. Usually alcohol or drugs. From the book: “To blame an infant smothering by an intoxicated parent on co-sleeping is like blaming the act of driving for a drunk-driving accident: It’s not the driving that caused the crash, it’s that he was driving under the influence.”

What I’ve Done: Child #1

I read lots of books, but none of the right ones. And I probably didn’t talk to enough moms with real babies instead of just the American ideal. My baby slept in a bassinet in our room at first, which still required me getting up to nurse her at night. (I believe I even went to the other room where the rocking chair was to nurse her at night.) She moved to a crib in her own room at 2 months (but 2 weeks later than was recommended, ack!). I spent the next six months a zombie as I spent most my night rocking a screaming baby who wouldn’t sleep if I tried to put her down. When she was 8 months, I was so exhausted that my husband made me go to bed and tried a modified cry it out (checking in at 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, etc. rather than letting the child cry until she fell asleep no matter how long it was). She eventually “slept through the night” and I was more rested, but I never have felt good about doing that. Maybe just in the sense that it’s the best I knew how to do at the time. At four she sleeps through the night unless she has a bad dream. Then Dad or Mom (usually Dad) goes and cuddles with her on her bed until she feels safe and falls back to sleep.

What I've Done: Child #2

I prayed and prayed for a better sleeper. I got a better coping method. This child slept with me most the night. It didn’t start out on purpose, but simply out of necessity. If she woke to feed, I could just roll her over to the other boob and fall asleep while she fed and then fell asleep. Without having the right kind of bed set up for it, it did involve pillows wedged next to her so she wouldn’t roll out, and my husband learned to sleep on a very narrow wedge on his side of the bed. I don’t remember when we transitioned her to a pack and play to sleep (the crib was being used as a toddler bed for the toddler). But I believe I got less sleep and got more frustrated with her frequent waking. We moved when she was not quite 18 months and instead of a pack and play, she started sleeping on a small mattress on the floor. This made it easier to lay next to her and comfort her back to sleep at night. She’s almost 2 now. She now sleeps on a twin mattress on the floor and seems to sleep better. I think she has more room to roll around without rolling to the floor, and it’s significantly more comfortable for us to sleep with her if she wakes up at night. 

With Child #3 I Plan To:

Co-sleep. We’re not going to change our Americanized bed set up, but we are going to use a co-sleeper to give us more room in the bed and still have easy access to the baby for night time feedings. After what I’ve read, I’m going to try to relax about night time wakings (stop counting them!). I don’t know at what age baby will move out of the co-sleeper. I’ll let baby lead the way on this. We have a pack and play we could put in our room to still be close by, but after our experience with #2, a simple mattress on the floor might be easier. When it’s time to transition out of Mom and Dad’s room, I think I will move baby #3 to sleeping in the same room as big sisters (and definitely to a twin mattress on the floor). Even if it’s a boy and we have enough bedrooms for a separate room, I think I will let baby (who will likely be a toddler by then) sleep with older siblings for a while (in co-sleeping cultures, siblings sleep in the same room and find comfort in not being alone). Until my oldest needs more privacy, there is nothing wrong with them all sleeping in the same room. (For a while, my three sisters and I had all our beds in one room and our dressers, etc. in another.)

The Ultimate Take Away:

When co-sleeping is accepted and planned on, it works great. When it’s used as a last resort for a child who will not stay asleep on her own (as it was with my #2), it is a source of frustration. The best way for a child to sleep is the way that works best for parents and baby. My girls wouldn’t sleep unless held. (It’s only in the last few months that #2 naps in her bed instead of in my arms. But now she prefers her bed.) My sister had a child that wouldn’t fall asleep if he was being held. 

“Where should your child sleep? Wherever he sleeps best.”

Saturday, January 4, 2014

My Best Reads of 2013

I've been making lists of the books I read each year since 2007. (Oh, I wish I'd been doing that when I was a lit major in college!) I read 37 books this year. Not as many as in previous years, but more than last year. Here are some of my favorites.


1) Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth
The first movie is coming out in the spring. And when the last book was coming out, I decided to start over and reread from the beginning so I had a better continuity of the story. After both the second and third book, I noted that the story had taken a surprising turn. And the series has a truly surprising ending. They're YA lit, so they're shorter and less dense than an adult series. But they are engaging stories and good writing. Worth your time, especially if you plan on seeing the movies.

2) The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
2013's Newbery Award winner. It was a beautifully written, slightly heartbreaking story. From the point of view of a gorilla. Yes, a gorilla. When a writer can draw me in with an unusual character, that's some good storytelling.

3) The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
This was my first adult Neil Gaiman books. I love his stories, but his children's stories scare the pants off me (but in an interesting way, not in a gross or gory way which is all too often the case these days), so I've hesitated to read his adult ones. The main character was a young boy, so I thought this one would be safer. I recommend it if you like stuff that's a bit different. Haunting story, beautifully written.

4) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
A friend introduced me to John Green this year. I started with Finding Alaska, which was also good. But not as good as this one. He's an excellent writer. Most of the YA stuff I read tends to be fantasy or dystopian types. I don't read a lot of YA that covers contemporary topics (mostly because I'm not a youth struggling with those issues right now). But this writer and his stories are worth it. I'll be seeking out more of his works.

5) Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
I hadn't read Barbara Kingsolver since I read The Poisonwood Bible in a feminist lit class in college. It was a really interesting story, really well written. I had actually started this book and put it down without finishing for months. The introduction led me to believe it would be a different book than it turned out to be. But I read enough good reviews to try again. So if you start this, I'd recommend reading a few chapters before deciding to give up on it.

Nonfiction Notables

None of the nonfiction I read this year fall into the best reads category, but I read a few that were interesting and worth my time.

1) Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks
This was a fascinating book. It covered hallucinations caused by all sorts of things--not just drugs or psychosis as you might think. I actually found out that it's not unusual to see spots and patterns during a migraine, which I've had before.

2) Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
I love David Sedaris--he's hilarious if a little crude sometimes. I didn't put this one on my best reads list because I loved the stories from his point of view. But he also had stories where he took on another persona. I'd skip those ones. They weren't nearly as good or funny and they seemed a little extreme (which may have been his point, but it bothered me).

3) Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman and Parenting without Borders by Christine Gross-Loh
These are completely different books, but I lump them together because they had similar themes. They both talk about how children are raised in different countries. They didn't necessarily make me change much in my parenting, but it was interesting to see how many ideas we have about parenting are approached completely differently in other countries. We only see what those around us do. What I got most out of these books is to be a little more aware of why I do what I do as a parent--making conscious choices rather than habitual ones.

What were the best books you read in 2013? What should I add to my to be read pile for 2014?