Saturday, May 29, 2010

When Your Tea Parties Aren't So Fancy . . . There's Always Nancy

As the mother of a young girl, I've attended more tea parties than I can count.  Most haven't involved any actual tea, just me with dark circles under my eyes and a fluffy pink boa wrapped around the wrinkled, slept-in version of an outfit that only yesterday was acceptable to wear out of the house (which is what happens when you reach that point in your life where you decide that just taking off your pants actually qualifies as changing into your pajamas).  Most of my daughter's tea parties have included a set of plastic Disney princess dishes and the occasional plastic donut for me and about a dozen stuffed animals to snack on. 

Clearly, I've never made that much of an effort to make our tea parties fancy.  Until Nancy came along.

Fancy Nancy, that is.

If you have a school-aged daughter and you don't live under a rock, you've probably heard of Fancy Nancy.  The original book is the story of, you guessed it, a little girl named Nancy who loves to be fancy.  And it has seen such tremendous popularity that there is now a whole series of Fancy Nancy books.  One of the newest?  Fancy Nancy: Tea Parties

Now I really have to step up my game.

And I'm actually a little more excited about it than a thirty year-old woman should probably be.  But the book, like the others in the Fancy Nancy series, is adorable.  It's not a traditional, plot-driven Fancy Nancy story, but it is filled with beautiful pictures and simple, easy-to-follow recipes and party plans.  Whether you're planning a small tea party just for fun, or an entire tea party birthday extravaganza, Fancy Nancy: Tea Parties will give you tons of great ideas.

And if you're looking for even more examples to inspire your creativity, TwitterMoms is hosting a special blogging event featuring Fancy Nancy Tea Parties.

 Translation:  there are lots of mommy bloggers out there sharing pictures and ideas from their own recent tea parties.  Click on the giant-flashing-can't-miss Famcy Nancy button to the right of this post to find out more.  

A  few of the best posts on the subect (in my humble opinion) can be found at the following blogs:
Okay, I've officially got some great ideas for one very posh tea party. 

Now it's just a question of when I'm going to get out of my pajamas.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Host A Healthy Home Party!

We've all heard the latest news stories about the importance of "going green," but if you're like me, you may not know where to start.  One easy way?  Host a Healthy Home Party!

Healthy Child Healthy World, a nonprofit organization devoted to protecting children from harmful chemicals, has partnered with companies LUNA and Kleen Kanteen to help educate families and develop community awareness of the harmful chemicals hidden in our everyday lives.  For a tax-deductible donation of $20, every host will receive one complete Healthy Home Party Kit, which includes everything you'll need for your party--guides, fliers, brochures, a DVD to show, as well as several samples from many of their sponsors to share with your guests.  It's that easy, and you can invite as few or as many people as you like!

For more information about hosting a party, or to find out more about reducing chemicals in your own homes, visit the Healthy Child website at  They have some great resources, including:
So check it out.  And if you decide to host a party, take pictures and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Mommy Blogger In All Of Us

When I first considered becoming a blogger, I did my homework.  I researched the various types of blogs, read books about how to make money as a blogger, and spent way too much time surfing through the blogosphere.  Along the way, I stumbled upon a fascinating creature that intrigued me, yet also left me feeling slightly disturbed.

I discovered the mommy blogger. 

As a mother of two young children, who enjoys writing about all things mommy-related, I might have immediately embraced the role of mommy blogger as one for which I am ideally suited.

I, however, chose not to.  In the beginning, my thinking went a little something like this: 

I do not, under any circumstances, want to be one of these women.  

I do not want to share intimate stories about how I can't pee in privacy with the rest of the world. 

I do not want to inundate the internet with pictures of my half-dressed children.  

I do not believe anyone cares about my narcissistic belief that said children are endlessly entertaining and adorable. 

I do not want to churn out poorly written and gramatically incorrect anecdotes about the most mundane details of my existence on a daily basis. 

I do not want to chase advertising deals with big-name companies who offer me peanuts in return.  

I do not want to use my blog as my personal therapy session, with my readers as my therapists. 

I do not want to churn out post after post under the misguided belief that a six-figure book deal is just around the corner.

I do not need to join the masses and become just another number sharing the same old story about how I used to be hot but have learned to love making baby food. 

I do NOT want to be a "mommy blogger." 

Yes, my first reaction was fairly negative.     

I'm pretty certain that the poor writing I came across so often had much to do with it.  Anyone who enters adulthood armed with an English degree is cursed to go through life constantly decrying our national inability to use the words "their, "there" and "they're" correctly.  They're not interchangeable, people!!!!

Shouldn't there be some prerequisite for starting a blog?  Like maybe a basic grasp of the English language?

But, despite all that, I've had a change of heart.  I've decided that my inner mommy blogger is a creature worth embracing.


At first glance, mommy blogs may seem to be about trivial things, and that makes it all too easy to trivialize their contribution to the world at large.  But don't be fooled.  Mommy bloggers are making a contribution.

The lives and experiences and perspectives of the women who write these blogs are real.  Even the blogs that aren't so well-written are having an impact, because there are still people listening to what their authors have to say. 

And the blogs that are well-written?  These blogs and the women behind them are out to change the world, and they're building the audience they need to do it successfully. 

Mommy bloggers may be laughing (and sometimes crying) about their exploits with their kids, and some may be questioning their choices and looking to change their lives, but these women are also addressing the deeper issues head-on.

Mommy bloggers are talking about more than potty-training and Elmo.  They're addressing real issues that most of the "puff" pieces in the big parenting magazines fail to even mention. 

They're talking about jobs and husbands and gender roles and childbirth and breastfeeding and why they feel so judged by other moms. 

They're talking about the complicated decision to stay at home or go to work.  They're talking about war, and politics, and sex and sippy cups.  They're commenting on breaking news as it happens. 

They're connecting with other women who share their experiences and opinions and passions.  They're building a community for themselves and making their voices heard.  They're numbers are growing and those voices are getting louder. 

Mommy blogging is not just about being a mommy; it's about being a women in a world where that's not easy. 

It's about embracing motherhood as a valid and integral part of the female experience. 

It's about telling it like it is, and addressing the real issues that plague women as mothers openly and honestly.  It's about commiserating with like-minded women, and discussing and disagreeing with others who see things differently than you. 

It's about admitting when you're wrong, and when you've changed your mind.  It's about making each other laugh, and also sometimes cry.  It's about joining together, and saying the things that need to be said.

Every mother has a story and an opinion that deserves to be heard.  There's a mommy blogger in all of us.

 I've embraced mine.  Where's yours?

Is the Stay-at-Home Mom the Ultimate Feminine Mistake?

The Feminine Mistake.

Yes, it's a catchy title and a clever play on Betty Friedan's iconic classic, The Feminine Mystique.

But this book pissed me off.  Royally. 

Author Leslie Bennetts claims that The Feminine Mistake:  Are We Giving Up Too Much was inspired by her "exasperation at the glorification of stay-at-home motherhood."  Clearly, because in every chapter of the book she seems to be on a personal quest to deglorify it in painstaking detail. 

I, and all you other women out there who have been as foolish as I have been and have chosen to quit working and to stay home with children, will eventually rue the day that that decision was made.  We will be blindsided when our husbands die, or more likely divorce us for younger women, and we will be left broke and alone, with no career and no means of supporting ourselves or our children financially.

Okay, Leslie, point taken.  Men sometimes leave.  Sometimes, they lose their jobs.  Sometimes, life doesn't turn out as we plan.

But the point might have been more convincing if you hadn't used the same example over and over and over and over.  I lost track of just how many real-life women whose husbands had left were featured in the book.  And I kept waiting for a husband who had stayed. 

He never appeared. 

I'm loathe to admit this, but, in the midst of all the insanity and misguided conclusions, Bennett raises some valid points.  Women who choose to stop working and stay home to raise children do lose more than just a  paycheck.  We lose valuable work experience which impacts our long-term earning potential.  We lose the validation that often comes with paid employment.  We do lose financial security. 

And, unless we're independently wealthy -- show of hands, anybody?? no??  --  we do become financially dependent on our husband or partner. 

Don't even bother protesting that you're planning to re-enter the work force once your kids are older.  Bennetts covers that too -- it's next to impossible, in case you were wondering.     

Choosing to be a stay-at-home mom is a complicated web of risk and trust, self-esteem and vulnerability.  It is a calculated risk to assume that your husband will continue to provide for you and your children.  It takes a tremendous amount of trust and love to believe and truly know that you're with somebody who isn't going anywhere. 

It isn't every woman who can open herself up to that level of vulnerability, or who has high enough self-esteem to recognize her own non-monetary contributions to her children and her husband as worthwhile.

I'm not arguing that women should be stay-at-home moms, but I am arguing that it is a valid choice. 

Bennetts doesn't seem to think so.

"If you just walk away from paid employment, you will not only have cheated yourself of the opportunities that might have come your way but you will also have forfeited your chance to have an impact for the better," she writes.  Because apparently working moms forfeit nothing and paid employment is the only way to impact the world.
"Women must (emphasis mine) reevaluate their assumptions and consider their long-term interests as well as their families short-term needs before making major life choices." 

You know, because she said so, and because if we've chosen to stay at home because we're obviously too stupid to have considered the long-term repercussions. 
Ultimately, my main frustration with The Feminine Mistake is not in it's message but in its tone.  Bennetts has a major superiority complex, and instead of just sharing what worked for her and talking about how combining motherhood with a career can be a great choice with a lot of financial and emotional benefits, she goes on a rampage against any woman who has chosen a different path.

It's as if she's on a mission to show stay-at-home moms everywhere the error of their ways.  And I find it hard to stomach that kind of smug superior attitude, especially when she states that "this book is not intended as a contribution to the Mommy Wars." 

Really?  Because I swear there was a lot of mud-slinging going on in those pages.  Sure it was subtle and cleverly masked under the cloak of intellectualism, but it was there.  And how does that help anybody?

We're all just feeling our way through this thing called motherhood.  NOBODY has the right answer, particularly since it's different for every woman. 

And while I've always thought of myself as a feminist, this book really makes me question that label.

If feminism is about women having the power to make our own choices, is it also about other women having the power to reprimand us when we've made the wrong ones?

Seriously, folks, I'm asking.  Anybody have an answer?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

'Cause God Forbid We Teach Kids the REAL Reason Why Women Have Boobies

The issue of public breastfeeding is once again in the news, thanks to one breastfeeding mother in Tampa, FL who refused to move when a school principal offered her "a more private place" to nurse her child.  Apparently, the No Food and Drink sign posted in the elementary school lobby also applies to breast milk . . .

The controversy over whether women should be allowed to nurse in public isn't new.  According to Babytalk magazine, 57% of Americans still disapprove of a mother feeding her child in public.  But in many states, incuding Florida, there are laws that protect a woman's right to nurse her child in any public place where she is authorized to be.

Except, apparently, the law is open to interpretation.

When Melissa Taylor approached Hillsborough School District with her frustration at being told not to breastfeed in one of their Tampa Schools, she thought she had the law on her side.  But, instead, the school board stood behind the principal involved and made no effort to protect what Taylor thought were her legal rights.

Why?  Because they found an impenetrable argument:  there are children involved.  Young children.  Young boys.  And God forbid if a little boy sees a woman nursing her child and puts two and two together and realize that THAT'S why mommy has those boobies.  The cultural message at play here couldn't be any clearer.  

It's okay to nurse in public, unless young children, and specifically young boys, might see you.

Okay, I get it that breastfeeding makes a lot of people uncomfortable.  I get that breasts are highly sexualized in our culture, and tend to evoke thoughts of strip clubs instead of lunch or dinner.  I get that the school district in Tampa was walking a fine line, trying to figure out how to respect a breastfeeding mother's rights and "protect" students whose parents didn't want to have to explain basic biology. 

I agree that sometimes common courtesy and respect for the discomfort of others might be motivation for a breastfeeding mother to choose some place more private.     

But I also have to ask what we're doing as a society when we accept the premise that children shouldn't know the basic facts about how babies eat. 

I don't quite get how we're going to normalize breastfeeding if we aren't teaching our children that it's normal.  And I don't quite understand why we're making the children the issue when it's obvious that it's the adults who have a problem with it.

Check out this video clip from Sesame Street, where Maria nurses her baby, in front of a young girl.

Food for thought, no boobies exposed.

Co-sleeping In the News: How KMOV Got It Wrong

Several years ago, KMOV ran a story that really disappointed me.  I couldn't find it in their archives, but it was a story about an infant who had died while sleeping in a parent's bed.  Although co-sleeping had NOT been found to be the cause of death, most of the story was focused on interviews with experts who explained why co-sleeping is always wrong and always dangerous. 

The fact is, that's just not true.

Yes, co-sleeping can be dangerous.  And if you've followed any of the recent crib recalls, you know that placing an infant to sleep in a crib can be equally dangerous, if not more so.  But there are also experts who believe that it can also be done safely, and can be highly advantageous under the right circumstances. 

Sadly, KMOV's story did not include any of this information. 

But in his recent story, reporter Brad Hicks of Fox 6 News in Milwaukee, Wisconsin got it right.  If you're intersted in a balanced story about co-sleeping, and what makes it safe and when it can be dangerous, watch the full clip below.    

Now, I know that the majority of infants sleep in cribs.  I'm not telling anyone that you should co-sleep.  Every family is different, and there is no right choice.  But parents deserve fair and accurate information.  That is what they got in the story above.  That is what I am asking from our local journalists here in St. Louis. 

And I don't think that's asking too much.

Note:  If you're interested in hearing more from Dr. James McKenna, the co-sleeping expert featured in the above story, check out his book "Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent's Guide to Cosleeping."  

Monday, May 24, 2010

The 29 Jobs of The Non-Profit Mom

At the moment, I'm posting on Blogger, primarily because I'm almost completely computer illiterate.  And I'm discovering that, in the world of blogging, if you don't understand computer basics, it doesn't matter how well you write, you won't get very far.  I never needed to know about SEO or HTML code when I was writing college papers in good old Microsoft Word . . .

While stumbling around, trying to editing my Blogger profile, I discovered a tab marked Industry.  One click and I was offered a list of 29 different industries in which one might work.  I paused.  Which industry do I work in again?  I failed to find a category for "Raising the Leaders of Tomorrow" or "Shaping the Minds of the Future."  As a stay-at-home mom, where do I belong?

And then it hit me.  Every.  Single.  One.

Accounting:  Every time I leave the grocery store I make sure that both my kids are accounted for.  No?  How about household finances?  Does that count?

Advertising:  Any mother who has ever convinced her child to eat vegetables by cutting them into silly shapes qualifies as an advertising executive in my book.

Agriculture:  Anybody grow their own garden?  You know, it's a must these days, what with the pesticides and the local food movement . . . If you don't have your own garden you're a total slacker mom.

Architecture:  Last week I helped design a hotel completely out of Legos.  And it didn't fall over.  That's just good design.

Arts:  Um, I do art projects every day.  Just this morning my toddler used his yogurt to fingerpaint all over my kitchen table.  Creative expression at its finest!  (Though to be fair, in that situation I really only played the role of clean-up crew).

Automotive:  Got stuck at Target last winter with two kids and a car that wouldn't start.  Successfully opened the hood and jiggled the thingie that my husband told me to jiggle.  The car started.  If that doesn't qualify as automotive work, I don't know what does.  Did I mention that it was dark and raining and freezing and my toddler was inside the car screaming?  Show me a mechanic who can do that.

Banking:  I have a bank account.  Sure, Suze Orman might have a heart attack if she discovered the state of my finances or the fact that I'm not always "hands-on" when it comes to managing our money, but, hey, at least I read the bank statements.

Biotech:  Apparently this is when technology is used to change or enhance a biological process or biology is used to aid in industry.  I'm thinking that my breast milk, with all it's amazing properties, has to figure into his one somehow . . .

Business Services:  I provide just about any and every service any one of my family members might ask for.  All in exchange for sloppy kisses and unconditional love.  That's service in exchange for goods, so that's business, baby.  

Chemicals:  Learning more and more about them every time I read the ingredients on a bottle of household cleaner or kid's shampoo.  Trying to keep them out of my house and away from my children could easily be a full-time job.

Communications/Media:  Do I even have to explain how a mom works in Communications?  As for media, I spend way too much time determining which kid's shows and movies are appropriate and which ones will surely scar them for life.

Construction:  Remember the hotel made of Legos?  I built it.

Consulting:  I share my experiences and opinions with any other mother who is interested, and plenty of them who are probably not.  Ever wonder why new moms are so desperate to join a playgroup?  Nope.  It's not to "socialize" their two month-old.  It's because every mother in that group is going to serve as their free, personal parenting consultant.  As a mom whose been around the block already, I'm thinking maybe I should start charging by the hour . . .

Education:  Shaping young minds, molding our future, raising the leaders of tomorrow.  All education.  Plus just about everything else that we teach our children everyday.

Engineering:  How about engineering the daily lives of four very different people?  It takes a pretty damn good understanding of logistics and even statistics to keep a family running smoothly, you know. 

Environment:  If I used cloth diapers, this one would be easier . . . but I don't.  I do teach my kids not to litter or leave the water running when they brush their teeth.  Plus, by staying at home and not driving back and forth to work every day, I prevent all that extra fuel emission.  Yeah, I agree that last one is a stretch.

Fashion:  I shop for my children's clothes and dress them every day.  My own personal sense of fashion, however, is playing hide-and-seek with me at the moment.  I know it's here somewhere, but I can't find it the midst of all my Wal-Mart designer apparel.  It's sad when you buy clothes in the same place you buy groceries.

Gov't:  I govern every day.  Some days, we live in a democratic state.  Others, I'm a benevolent dictator.  And then there are the days when you better just do what I say.

Human Resources:  You mean like when my husband is home and he handles a situation with the kids in a wildly inappropriate manner and I have to reprimand him and explain to him the logistics of respectful interpersonal communication?  Maybe next time a probation is in order.

Internet:  Use it every day.  Where else am I going to escape to?

Investment Banking:  Like I said, Suze, not my biggest strength.  But what about the time and energy that I invest in the well-being of my family every single day?  Do you think that will pay off in the end?  You know, I'm kinda banking on the idea that if I can't afford a nursing home, my kids will remember all the love and devotion I've given to them and return the favor in my final days . . .

Law:  Kids have an absolutely amazing capacity for finding loopholes and arguing their position on any matter, whether it's staying up later or skipping the broccoli at dinner.  I may not be a trained lawyer, but I would rather face off with one of them than one of my children any day.

Law Enforcement:   Well, this one is just too easy.  We have rules.  Sometimes I have to enforce them.  Duh.

Manufacturing:  Well, I manufactured two beautiful children right?  I know.  Ha. Ha. Ha.

Maritime:  Okay, I may be stumped here.  No wait -- I've taken my kid's to the beach and out to explore the ocean.  Yep, I've got maritime experience.    

Marketing:  Again.  Too easy.  It's when you successfully argue that the new Princess pajamas are waaaay better than the beloved, ketchup-stained, three-sizes-too-small Dora nightgrown.

Military:  Living in a home inhabited by children can be like living in a war zone.  There are battles, big and small.  And children don't fight the good fight.  With them, it's all about guerrilla warfare.  You let your guard down, and start thinking that everything is going smoothly, and then BAM!!!  Suddenly you're down and out for the count.

Museums or Libraries:  I go to both all the time.  And we read so many books in my house I think I should just start telling people I'm a librarian.

Non-Profit:  If I had to choose one category to describe my role as a mom, this would be it.  Because I work my ass off day and night in ALL of the above categories (as well as about a million other ones) and I DON'T MAKE ANY MONEY FROM ANY OF IT!!!

Blogger wouldn't let me select all 29 categories; they're trying to pigeon-hole me into choosing just one.  But if they plan to continue hosting mom bloggers, it's a glitch they're going to have to fix.  Moms are the ultimate multi-taskers -- we don't do anything one at a time!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

It Pays To Be Outrageous (Or Why I Will Not Drop My Kids Off at the Park and Leave Them There)

Apparently, if you want to get noticed, all you have to do these days is be outrageous.  Do something controversial or say something that gets people up in arms, and you can pretty much write your own ticket.

You'll probably get booked as a guest on the Today show.  Or get your own reality series.  Or your own parenting column.  Or, if you're lucky, your own parenting movement.

All you have to do is let your child ride the subway alone in New York City.

Lenore Skenazy made headlines when the columnist at the New York Sun wrote about how she let her nine year-old son take the New York City subway by himself.  Skenazy was instantly dubbed "America's worst mom," and while that might seem like a bad title, it seems to have served her pretty well.

She now writes a column at AOL's ParentDish, warning other parents about the dangers of holding your kids too close.  She's also the force behind the Free Range Parenting movement and has written a book entitled Free Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts With Worry).  And, if she hasn't been busy enough, she's also the woman who brought you 'Take Your Kid's To the Park . . . And Leave them There Day."

That's right.  Leave.  Them.  There.


Okay, call me a co-dependent mom.  Call me a helicopter parent.  Call me crazy.
I just don't like it.

I understand where Skenazy is going with the idea that parents today are paranoid and totally freaked out by a 24/7 media cycle that makes the world seem a lot scarier and more dangerous than it actually is.  I think that somewhere beneath all the insanity, she actually makes a valid point about the way our own irrational fears can hamper our kid's independence and development.

Yes, Lenore, American children do need to spend more time outside playing with other kids instead of inside playing games on the computer.  

But I'm still not sure how I feel about the whole "Free Range" kids thing.  It feels too much like a gimmicky slogan designed for getting media hype.  To be fair, I haven't yet read the book, and when I do, I'll revise my opinion if necessary.

And, by the way, if you're interested in participating in this little experiment, "Take Your Kid's To the Park . . . And Leave Them There Day" is today.  May 22nd.  (Yes, a date has been set, and it has been well broadcast.  You know, for the full benefit of all the sickos and perverts out there who might be interested.)

But if you happen to see my kids at the park today, you'll see me there too, in full helicopter mode.  Free range?

Thanks for the idea, but I'm raising children, not chickens.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

St. Louis With Kids: Top Ten Can't Miss Destinations

St. Louis is home to wonderful attractions for families and kids of all ages to enjoy.  Some, like our many playgrounds, ice rinks, water parks, and shopping centers, are much like those found in cities across the country.  But others are truly unique, one-of-a-kind destinations that you won't find anywhere else.  They're the places that make St. Louis special, and make it such a great place for families to visit and live.

1. The St. Louis Zoo.  Sure, other cities have zoos, but only the St. Louis Zoo combines a world-class animal experience with free admission.  It's nearly impossible to see all the animals on one visit, but that's no big deal.  It's free, you can always come back tomorrow!    

2.  The St. Louis Science Center.  Rated as one of the top five science centers in the country, The St. Louis Science Center is home to more than seven hundred hands-on exhibits, as well as the Omnimax Theatre and the James S. McDonnell Planetarium.  It isn't my personal favorite, but then I don't really like science . . .

3.  The Magic House.  One of my favorite places, The Magic House is a great place for kids to play and explore.  You'll find tons of hands-on activities geared to every age group; even babies and toddlers can join the fun!

4.  Grant's Farm.  In my opinion, Grant's Farm is a St. Louis must.  At the historic farm, which was once owned by Ulysses S. Grant, you'll  take a tram ride alongside animals like bison, deer, and buffalo.  And, according to the website, they still offer complimentary samples of Anheuser-Busch products.  (Translation:  free beer.  Need a better reason to visit?)

5.  The City Museum.  The City Museum is, well, unique.  It's a self-described "eclectic mixture of children's playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel" that you just have to see to believe!

6.  Anheuser-Busch Brewery.  Obviously, kids under twenty-one aren't going to get to sample the beer.  But Anheuser-Busch is a St. Louis institution, and tours of their brewery offer a fascinating learning experience.  Plus, you can stop by the stables and see the infamous Budweiser Clydesdales.

7.  The Muny.  Nothing says St. Louis more than the Muny.  The nation's oldest and largest outdoor theatre is a summer tradition for young and old alike.  This summer, you can enjoy classic musicals like Cats and The Sound of Music, as well as the Muny premiere of Titanic: The Musical.

8.  Missouri Botanical Garden.  The Missouri Botanical Garden is home to a variety of beautiful plants and flowers, and is also considered "one of the world's top botanical and conservation institutions."  One of it's biggest draws for families is The Children's Garden, which opened in 2006, and offers over two acres of outdoor exploration and fun for the garden's littlest visitors.

9.  The Butterfly House.  Located in Faust Park, The Butterfly House offers visitors the opportunity to walk through an entire garden of freely flying butterflies.  And as an added bonus, if your kids aren't interested in the butterflies, Faust Park has a great playground and is home to The St. Louis Carousel. 

10.  The Gateway Arch.  No other city can boast anything close to the Arch.  Where else can you ride six hundred and thirty feet into the air to see a breathtaking view of the Mississippi Riverfront below?  Okay, full disclosure, I've never actually done this and don't ever intend to lock myself in a tiny box and ride that far away from the ground, but I've heard that, if you don't have claustrophobic and slightly paranoid tendencies, this is pretty cool.

Next time your kids are bored and you're looking for somewhere interesting to go, you don't have to look too far.  Just remember what amazing places we have right in our own backyard!

Organic Produce: Does It Matter?

In case you haven't been able to tell, I'm a fairly big advocate for healthy food.  My kids eat whole-grain bread and brown rice and natural peanut butter without complaint.  They know not to ask for things like Kool-Aid at the grocery store.  Fruits and vegetables are a large part of their diet.  But for all my interest in healthy eating, I haven't made one crucial switch:  I haven't started buying organic.

I'm starting to rethink this one. 

A new study released yesterday links pesticide exposure to ADHD in children, and while I question our national obsession with labeling kids with these kinds of "disorders," I can't argue with the study's finding that 94% of children tested showed compounds from pesticides in their urine.  And it's hard to keep telling myself that buying organic isn't really that important when a 2008 study proved that, when children switch to organically grown fruits and vegetables, the pesticide compounds in their urine drop to undetectable levels.  Wow.

So why haven't I switched to organic before now?  In a word, cost.  I've always known that organic produce is better for my kids (and myself), even if I've also insisted on burying my head in the sand and purposely NOT reading the articles that remind me why organic is a better choice.  But when you're standing in the grocery store, looking at one pint of strawberries that costs $2 and another that costs $6 and your grocery budget is only so much, it seems like a no-brainer.  I would love to buy the organic, I tell myself, but I just can't afford to right now.    

Or maybe I can't afford not to.  Maybe I'm irreparably damaging my children every time I feel like a good mom and serve them fresh fruits and vegetables.  Maybe they would be better off if I just handed them a box of ding-dongs.  Are there pesticides in processed foods?  Isn't anything good for you anymore? 

(Ignore this last paragraph or simply take it for what it is -- the stream-of-consciousness ramblings that go through my head every time I try to make a decision about any complicated issue that relates to my children.  I'm guessing other moms can relate.)

Anyway, next time I'm shopping, I'm going to take a second look at the organic produce.  I'll pay particularly close attention to the strawberries, apples, and spinach that are a family favorite, but also sit on the list of Top 12 Fruits and Vegetables You Should Buy Organic.  And before you panic too much, rest assured that there is also a "Clean 15" list of fruits and vegetables that are the least likely to be contaminated by pesticides, and therefore considered "safer" to buy in the non-organic variety.

Okay, so I've officially decided that I should be buying at least some organic produce.  My next mission:  to figure out how I'm going to pay for it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Five Easy Ways to Boost Nutrition in Your Kid's Meals

Yesterday, I wrote about the macaroni and cheese that I destroyed with quinoa and butternut squash.  Well, "destroy" might not be the most accurate word, since I actually thought it was pretty good.  And my husband, who usually turns up his nose at anything healthy like quinoa, liked it too.

But my kids would most likely use the word "destroy."  And in a way they would be right, because even if it didn't taste bad, it did not taste like macaroni and cheese.  So today I'm sharing some of my more, um, successful attempts to feed my children healthier meals.

Consider the following list of foods that are nutritional powerhouses, yet are surprisingly easy to incorporate into some of your kid’s favorite meals.

1. Avocado.  This green, mushy fruit, which is nutrient dense, makes a great first food for babies, but it tends not to be a favorite with older children. So mash it up and mix it in! I’ve discovered that when a well-ripened avocado is mashed to a smooth consistency, mixed with refried beans, topped with cheese, and rolled in a tortilla, neither one of my children even notices that it’s there. You can also toss a piece of avocado into the blender with some chocolate ice cream, syrup, and milk for tasty but more nutritious version of a chocolate milkshake. (I know, I know.  I was doubtful at first too.  But I’ve actually tried it and you really can’t taste it.)

2. Wheat germ and flax seeds.  I keep a jar of toasted wheat germ and a box of ground flax seeds in my refrigerator at all times. Wheat germ is high in protein, and is an excellent source of iron, potassium, omega-3’s, and vitamin E.  Flax seeds are also high in omega-3’s, as well as fiber and a number of important antioxidants.  Why do I love these two so much?  Because they offer a super easy way to boost the nutrition of just about anything.  Stir a tablespoon or two into a bowl of oatmeal or your favorite prepared pancake mix.  Replace some of the bread crumbs in any recipe with either one.  Or use them as toppings for yogurt or applesauce.

3. Zucchini.  My kids are pretty good about eating their broccoli and green beans, but they’re not very adventurous when it comes to other green vegetables.  So, armed with a simple hand grater, I grate zucchini into a variety of their favorite foods.  Bland in flavor, grated zucchini makes an easy addition to muffins, meatloaf, or even their beloved chocolate chip pancakes.  (They could even see the green zucchini specks in the pancakes and they still gobbled them up!)

4. Spinach. Parents used to rely on Popeye to convince their little ones to eat their spinach, but most kid’s today have never heard of the classic cartoon character. Enter the smoothie. Toss a handful of spinach into the blender with some fresh or frozen fruit, yogurt or coconut milk, a splash of your favorite juice, a little honey, and some ice cubes. The combinations are endless, and may are so yummy that your kids won’t mind if they're green. Our family favorite is spinach, mango, and coconut milk!

5. Almond butter.  Most children like peanut butter, so almond butter often makes an easy alternative.    Almond butter has all the same health benefits as almonds, makes a great dip for apple or banana slices, and can be used any place you would usually use peanut butter.  AB&J anyone?

Like most moms, I’ve had my share of misses when it comes to trying to get my children to eat healthier.  But I keep trying.  Some days they eat really well; sometimes I still take them to McDonald's, even though I know that their food is a nutritional disaster.  Being a mom is like that.  You do the best you can with what you have and what you know, and then you move on to the next issue.  Who has time for anything else!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mac and Cheese: Hold the Squash

Last week, I served my children macaroni and cheese for dinner.  And they both refused to eat it.  Now, you might wonder what kind of children refuse the classic childhood comfort food that is beloved by so many others, but before you get too concerned, I should probably confess -- I altered the recipe.  Considerably.

Macaroni and cheese is typically a favorite in our house.  Whether it's in the infamous blue box (Kraft), Daddy's favorite (Velveeta), the healthy one (Annie's organic), or the homemade casserole version straight from my mom's tattered copy of Betty Crocker, my kids always devour it.  So what went wrong?

Well, in retrospect, maybe I shouldn't have replaced the pasta with quinoa and added a whole butternut squash.  I'm thinking that maybe the combination of the two might have changed the flavor just a little too much  . . .

As parents, we often struggle to turn fresh, healthy, whole foods into meals our children will appreciate (as my quinoa and butternut squash debacle clearly demonstrates).  But if recent studies are any indication, we have to keep trying.  Obesity is a growing epidemic among American children, whose diets are typically high in fat, sodium, and sugar, and shockingly low in the nutrients that they're growing bodies desperately need. 

So what, exactly, are parents to do?  How do we improve our children's nutrition while still offering snacks and meals that are easy for us to prepare and enticing to them to eat? 

The fact is, it doesn't have to be quite as difficult as I seem to make it.  There's a long list of culinary disasters that preceded my attempt to destroy macaroni and cheese.  I've served beef stroganoff over green spinach noodles, and made muffins without any sugar (or honey or maple syrup or even molasses, no sweetener WHATSOEVER).  I don't blame my kids for not eating a lot of the things I've tried to serve them. 

But the good news in all this is that I've learned a lot along the way.  You don't have to slave away for hours in the kitchen over food that no one ends up eating.  There are plenty of simple, quick-fixes for boosting the nutrition of foods that kids already know and love.   Stay tuned for my next post, where I plan to share some of my favorites!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Book Review: Unconditional Parenting

Visit your local Barnes & Noble, and chances are, you'll be overwhelmed by rows of parenting books by authors who claim that they can solve any number of your parenting dilemmas. Raising children can be overwhelming enough, without having to fork over $26,95 just to discover that you've chosen a book that is, in fact, completely useless.

Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason is not that book. A self-described "provocative challenge to the conventional wisdom about discipline," it is an excellent choice if you're looking for an alternative to the more traditional approach to parenting that most authors seem to offer. In Unconditional Parenting, Kohn goes far beyond a basic discussion of how to get you kids to do as they're told, instead forcing us to reconsider what we really want for our children and challenging us to do better by them.

According to Kohn, himself the father of two girls, traditional methods of discipline rely far too heavily on control and conditional love. He describes common practices such as time-outs, rewards, bribes, and even punishments as "conditional parenting" practices, which he believes can be detrimental to a healthy parent-child relationship. For a lot of parents, this idea is fairly radical. How are we supposed to make our child behave at the grocery store if we can't promise a treat in the checkout line or threaten to take away a favorite toy?

The answer, says Kohn, is to not think in terms of making a child behave at all. He believes that children deserve respect and the knowledge that they are loved unconditionally, and that when they get both, behavior problems will greatly decrease.

"Kids really respond when they're treated with respect, involved with problem solving, and assumed to be well intentioned," he writes. "Our choice is between controlling and teaching, between creating an atmosphere of distrust and one of trust, between setting an example of power and helping children learn responsibility, between quick-fix parenting and the kind that's focused on long-term goals."

I first read Unconditional Parenting when my daughter was not quite three. And while I had to agree that a lot of what Kohn says makes sense, I also had a lot of "you've got to be kidding me" moments. For example, his suggestion to avoid saying no whenever possible just didn't seem like a feasible way to deal with my opinionated and headstrong two year old. "She'll run my life if I never tell her no," I remember whining to my husband.

But as my daughter has matured and I've reread Kohn's book, I've found that a lot of what he says really does work (at least once your child has grown out of the typical belligerent behavior that characterizes just about every two year old. Yes, there are times when children need to hear and accept the answer no, but there are also plenty of times when we as parents say no when we could just as easily say yes. It is also hard to deny Kohn's basic claim that we get better results and more cooperation when we work with our kids rather than repeatedly threatening and punishing them.

Unconditional Parenting is written in an easy-to-read, conversational style that busy parents will appreciate, and is even available on DVD in a lecture format if you prefer. The book is available through the St. Louis and St. Charles County library systems and is on the shelf in several area bookstores.

Do You Believe in The Tooth Fairy?

Typically, I'm a girlie-girl. And kind of a movie snob. So it comes as a bit of a surprise to me that I love The Rock. He's a former wrestler; I don't do wrestling. His movies are silly; I roll my eyes every time my husband mentions Dumb and Dumber.

But you gotta admit, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is hilarious. The majorly muscled former WWE star has found his niche, playing the big tough guy who isn't afraid to get in touch with his frilly, feminine side. I mean c'mon, he let Hannah Montana paint his face with bright blue eye shadow and pink lipstick. And most recently, he actually put on a pink tutu (and allowed himself to be filmed in it) for his starring role in The Tooth Fairy.

In his latest film, Johnson stars as a Minor League hockey star who has given up on his dream of getting back to the Majors. Dubbed "The Tooth Fairy" by fans who love to watch him smash heads and knock out teeth, he is rapidly becoming a washed up has-been. He doesn't believe in dreams, and crushes those of everyone around him.

But when he almost tells his girlfriend's daughter that the tooth fairy doesn't exist, he's gone too far. Suddenly, he finds himself serving time as a real tooth fairy. (Yeah, apparently there are thousands of them, all led by Mary Poppins). What follows is a formulaic and sappy story of a man who slowly learns to believe in dreams again. The message of the film, that you can't give up on your dreams, is not very deep. I have to admit though, that watching the Rock prance around with a giant pair of wings as funny as it was intended to be, as is the cameo by Billy Crystal.

Yet, as funny as parts of the movie are, I have to question exactly what audience The Tooth Fairy is intended for. As I watched it with my husband after my own children were asleep, I found myself thinking that (despite the PG rating) it's not really a kid's movie. True, the movie reinforces the idea that there is a tooth fairy (and my kids are young enough that they still believe), but it's mostly a story for adults, a message film about how we need to find our on inner child and be willing to believe like we could when we were young.

And, besides, it's just not a very good movie. I was excited by the previews, but the script falls flat, and even The Rock's comedic genius and the presence of Julie Andrews can't save bad writing. If you're looking for a good laugh, you'll probably enjoy the movie, but if you're looking for a great movie to watch with your kids, look elsewhere.

It seems to me, that if we need a reminder of the power of dreams, we just have to look at our children. Children don't need a lame movie to remind them that life is full of magic and possibilities. They already know.

They already believe in the tooth fairy.