Sunday, February 27, 2011

Zenbit: Guardian at Sunset



Location: Easter Island
Date: December 16, 2005

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Promised Cookbook Post

Thank you all for your comments and good wishes on yesterday's post. Petunia is clearly feeling better today... she's graduated from insisting on sitting on my lap and sleeping or watching Signing Time  to standing at her favorite spot in front of the TV and watching Signing Time. And I'm so happy to have my arms back that I'm not going to argue with the umpteenth showing of Signing Time today. We can get back to our "one show per kid per day" rule tomorrow. That particular rule has always been honored more in the breach than the enforcement, anyway.

I should go out and clean up the disaster in my kitchen. I had to make my lunch while holding a fussy toddler who really just wanted me to sit back down on the sofa and let her snuggle. Let's just say that not all of the cream cheese made it onto my bagel. And then, while I was eating my bagel, Petunia swiped half of it and started gnawing on it. I was happy to see her eating- the tonsillitis has significantly dampened her enthusiasm for food- but cream cheese was spread over even more surfaces.

But that can wait. Instead, I'm going to write about cookbooks.

I love cookbooks. The represent possibilities to me, and I enjoy browsing through and getting ideas for new meals. When I have a specific recipe in mind, or even a specific ingredient I want to use, I turn to the internet. But when I need inspiration, I turn to cookbooks. As I mentioned in my post on the last Cooking with Dexter column, I have several go to cookbooks. I am always looking for new ideas, though. I used to buy new cookbooks when I wanted inspiration, but the realities of the limited space in my kitchen have made me change my behavior. I've started checking a cookbook or two out of the library when we take Pumpkin in for a new set of library books. I don't get a lot of time to look at the cookbooks before choosing ones to checkout- I usually have Petunia with me while Hubby helps Pumpkin pick her books, and Petunia's main interest in cookbooks is as items that can be pulled from shelves. So it is hit and miss- I recently brought home a beautiful stir fry cookbook with lots of yummy sounding recipes... but they all would take thirty minutes or more to make, and that isn't what I'm looking for right now.

My most recent haul from the library, though, was far more successful. I think I may buy one of the books I have home, Quick Fix Meals, by Robin Miller. She is apparently some sort of Food Network celebrity, and her tone is a little bit chummy for my taste. But her recipes are good! I've made four recipes out of this book now (Sweet and Sour Pork, Curried Butternut Squash Soup, Broccoli Puree with Parmesan, and Roasted Balsamic Asparagus), and all four have been hits. I think I'll add more cheese to the broccoli next time, but that says more about my dislike of broccoli than the recipe.

She has five main sections in the book: "meal kits" (basically things that you make ahead in full or part), "morph it" (master recipes that get used in multiple dishes), "dinner express" (similar to my Dinner during Dora idea- from start to finish in 30 minutes or less), side dishes, and desserts. We don't have dessert most weeknights, so I haven't checked out that section. The other sections are all good, though. I get the idea of the "meal kit", but I am resistant to it- I know that I can make my weeknights easier by doing some cooking and prep on the weekends, but those are Hubby's days to make dinner, and frankly, I'd rather have those two days off from cooking. I may revisit my opinion on this, though. The Curried Butternut Squash soup is a meal kit and wow, was it good. You couldn't make the recipe as written in 30 minutes or less, but that is mostly due to the chopping of the butternut squash. My Mom suggested looking for frozen prechopped squash, and I think that is a brilliant idea. If it works out, you can expect to see my modified recipe as a Dinner during Dora post sometime.

The other cookbook that I brought home was Vegetable Love, by Barbara Kafka. This is not a book for busy weeknights. I found fewer recipes in it that I want to try- but I'll confess that this may be at least partly due to the fact that most vegetable recipes don't sound that good to me. It is a wonderfully written, and a true treasure trove of information about vegetables. I'm not going to rush out and buy this book, but I think I will put it on my wish list and hope that someone else buys it for me. I think it would be a wonderful reference to have on hand. The only thing that I wished for in the book but did not find was a discussion of the nutritional value of the various vegetables. This probably also stems from my status as a veggie-skeptic. I want to know if learning how to make a vegetable in a way that I'll eat is worth the effort.

The final new book I've been using recently isn't from the library- it is on loan from a friend of mine who is an amazing baker. I saw The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook, by Beth Hepsinger, on her shelf and asked her if it was any good. She said she hadn't used it much and lent it to me. We use our bread maker primarily to make the bread that is on offer at every dinner for Pumpkin and Petunia. We make a loaf, slice it up, and freeze it. Every night, we pull a slice out of the freezer and toast it for dinner (unless we have some fresh bread like Mimi's Sneaky Good Corn Muffins on offer). I wanted to see if there were other bread maker recipes we might want to try. There were several interesting looking recipes, but I'm not sure many would make it into regular rotation here. I did make the recipe for Graham Bread and loved it. Pumpkin ate it, but still prefers the recipe that she calls her "regular bread". The Cornmeal Pizza Crust is nicer than the other recipe I had, and is the basis for the pizza crust recipe that I'm working out now. I'll post that once it is final, too. But the best thing I've gotten from the book was the tip to add a little wheat gluten to bread machine recipes. This really does make for a lighter, nicer loaf. Since we don't make fresh bread that often, I probably won't rush out and buy this book, either, but I will copy down a few recipes before I return it!

So, what about you? Where do you turn for cooking inspiration? Any cookbooks you think I should try to find?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Change of Plans

I had really been looking forward to my last couple of weeks of unemployment- the time after I accepted a job, but before I start work. I envisioned a mix of chores and fun, getting things crossed of my to do list interspersed with walks on the beach and other things I don't get to do that often these days.

That is not how the last couple of weeks have turned out at all. I took one walk on the beach, on Monday of last week. It was interrupted by a call to come get Petunia from day care because she had a fever. I never saw that fever, but kept her home the next day along with Pumpkin, who did have a fever. Then Petunia went back to day care, but Pumpkin stayed home for another day, having slept in and missed her ride to day care. She was basically fine, but enjoyed another day of being pampered, and I thought- no big deal, I still have next week.

But this week, Petunia has been out all week. She had a fever over the weekend, but seemed to be on the mend on Monday. I was so sure that she'd be going to day care on Tuesday that I packed her milk and lunch. Instead, her fever spiked up overnight, so she stayed home with me. I took her to the doctor, who measured a fever of 103.5 and diagnosed tonsillitis, took a culture for a strep test (which has since come back negative), and recommended that we start her on a course of antibiotics. As the fact that the strep test eventually came back negative might lead you to guess, the antibiotics haven't done much but upset Petunia's tummy. I wish we hadn't started them, but I couldn't get in to see our regular doctor (who knows us and knows that she doesn't have to prescribe antibiotics just to make us feel better), and I'm only human. My baby had a high, high fever and was miserable. A doctor recommended antibiotics, and I decided to listen to my breaking heart not my cautioning head. Oh well. Only 7 more days to go!

With the devastation in Christchurch and the people of Libya being bombed by their own government, I can't really feel that the loss of my planned last week of freedom is such a big deal. There are clearly far worse things than having to sit on the sofa and hold your sweet snuggly sick baby, especially since she obligingly perks up a couple of times a day (always after a dose of acetaminophen kicks in) and plays and smiles, letting us know that it is unlikely that this particular illness is all that serious.

But. I can't help but worry. Petunia has had a high fever for several days. She has been sick a lot since I've been laid off. It is not just my last two weeks that have disappeared into a string of sick days. It was a sizable chunk of my time off. Would we be worrying if we hadn't already been through one health scare with her? I don't know. But she took a five hour nap today. (No, I'm not exaggerating- I held her for that entire time, from 11:30 until 4:30, and for 30 minutes after that, when she was awake, but just wanted to snuggle. And yes, I finally put her down for exactly the reason you'd think.) When she gets sick, she gets sick- not just a runny nose and a little cranky, but a high fever, lethargic, and clearly miserable. And she gets sick A LOT. We're trying to tally it up, and I think we had three illnesses in December, at least two in January, and this is our third or fourth in February, depending on how many illnesses you think the last two weeks have included. That seems excessive, even for the first cold and flu season in day care, particularly when you add in the run of fevers in the fall. Rationally, I know that those were probably a low grade infection and unrelated to this current string... but I can't help but wonder if there isn't something more going on.

Our doctor agrees that something seems hinky, but thinks that we're unlikely to figure out what until Petunia can talk and help us try to identify the problem. She is happy to refer us to an immunology specialist and/or an ear-nose-throat specialist, though, if we want it. I'm taking Petunia in for a follow up on this latest illness tomorrow, and I think I'll ask for that referral to an immunology specialist. Hubby and I are debating whether we need to make any changes in our child care plans- i.e., hire a nanny instead of sending Petunia to day care. I think that the opinion of an expert in immunology might help us. Petunia clearly doesn't have a severe immune deficiency (she's not been sick enough for that), but maybe they can find something else. Or tell us that she's normal, and we should stop worrying. 

So, we're back to worrying, just in time for me to start my new job. Blogging may take a backseat for awhile- or it may be my lifeline that keeps me sane. We'll see how it plays out. But right now, Hubby just pointedly reminded me of the dishes in our sink as he walked by with Petunia, finally asleep. I'd love to write up that post on cookbooks I mention in my last post.... but I think that in the interest of marital harmony, I'd better go do some dishes instead.

Friday, February 18, 2011

In Which I Am Surprised to Agree with a NY Times Column on Food. And Parenting.

Normally, when I read the NY Times on parenting, I don't recognize myself, and when I read the NY Times on food, I think "yes, in a perfect world... i.e., not my world." But today, I came across an awesome column from the NY Times on cooking, via @cydharrell's twitter feed. (If you aren't following her, you should. The haiku's alone are worth it!) The column is apparently the last in a series that I missed because I have decided that the NY Times adds more stress to my life than joy.  The column was called "Cooking with Dexter", by Pete Wells, and was presumably about cooking with kids (Dexter is his son). The last column is about how hard it is to get home-cooked meals on the table during the week. To which I can only say "AMEN".

Between my sporadic Dinner during Dora series and my occasional rants on food- specifically how just the fact that I use food someone else made (i.e., "processed food") should not mean that I am feeding my kids (and myself) unhealthily. I love this quote from the article:

"Instead of cajoling people to get “back” into the kitchen and shaming them into avoiding processed foods, it might be more helpful to work on turning out proc­essed foods and fast foods that taste like more than just salt and grease and that don’t make kids fat and sick."

YES. EXACTLY THAT. Let's stop trying to force our lives back to a time when we could devote a lot of time to cooking and start trying to make the way we live now healthy. Are you listening food companies? There is a market here!

We have decided to prioritize family dinners, and since so much of the processed foods that are currently available are unhealthy, we do try to eat more home cooked meals than not. (I also like the idea of my girls seeing that cooking is a normal thing to do- and, since Hubby does most of the weekend cooking- that it is a thing men and women both do.) However, this only works because things in our life are aligned perfectly to allow it. We've split our work shifts slightly, so that I get to work between 8 and 8:30 and leave at 4:30 (I don't take a lunch break- I eat at my desk).  We live relatively close to work, and day care is also close to work, so by leaving at 4:30, I can usually count on being home by 5:30 (if I didn't have to do the day care pick up, I'd be home before 5). That gives me roughly 30 minutes from when I walk in the door to dinner time, so I generally have time to nurse Petunia, throw on a show of some sort, and make a quick recipe in the kitchen. But if anything goes wrong- I have a late meeting, Pumpkin insists on finishing a game at day care, traffic is worse than usual.... well, it all falls apart.

Even when it works, it is stressful. More days than not, at least one of the girls spends some time crying or whining while I cook and can't give her the attention she wants. And then there's the end result- I have my go to recipes from my go to cookbooks, but I get bored with them, and miss the wider range of recipes we ate before we had kids. So I'm constantly looking for new recipes, a search complicated by the fact that Pumpkin is an extremely picky eater.  And, because I don't really like most vegetables but feel that I should be eating them as a model to my girls, I am constantly searching for quick recipes that will make vegetables palatable to me. I've got a couple of cookbooks home from the library that I think might help with those things. But it is late, and I'm tired, so I'm going to go to bed. But if you have the same problems I do, stay tuned- I think I'll have a post on cookbooks coming up soon!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Desperately Seeking a Change in Perspective

I'm pleased to announce that I'll be going back to my usual sporadic posting schedule soon. I've accepted a new job. I'm fairly excited about it- I think the job will be a lot of fun. But that is all I am going to say on the matter, since I like to keep up the fiction that this is an anonymous blog and the details of the job are fairly specific. Also, I have a rule about blogging about work- i.e., I don't do it, except in the most general terms- and I'm not about to break the rule on this job before I even start it.

Anyway, I start work on February 28th. Now that I only have a couple of weeks of freedom left, my days seem more precious. I have a long list of things I'd like to get done before I start work (fun stuff, like scrubbing the mold off my shower curtain while wondering why I don't just buy a new one, clearing out the surfeit of bottles in our cupboards now that I'm not pumping anymore, and figuring out what the heck to do with a bunch of underwear that are a size too small for Pumpkin). But I also want to enjoy my time a bit. So today, I decided to run a couple of errands in Pacific Beach, and then head down to the beach for a walk.

Walking on the beach mid-week is a very different experience than walking on it on the weekends. There are very few people there- a few families visiting from out of town, a few local families, some retired people, and your usual smattering of free spirits (one of whom was doing a unique mix of yoga and dance on the beach today) and homeless people. And of course, the birds:



(I also saw a squadron of pelicans doing a low fly over, but I wasn't fast enough to capture that in a picture.)

I was planning to go home, eat some lunch, and then spend the afternoon knocking chores off of my to do list. Then, as I headed back to my car, my phone rang. It was day care, telling me that Petunia had a fever. So, instead of driving home, I drove to day care. Petunia didn't feel hot when I picked her up, but she was clearly not feeling like her usual playful self- she was just sitting in the middle of the floor, ignoring all the toys and looking a little mournful.

I drove home still hoping to get something useful done. It was almost time for Petunia's nap, and she generally naps well. But not today. She didn't really want to go to sleep, and once I got her asleep, she screamed at me if I moved to put her down in her crib. So I sat on the sofa and read. I finished the book on bullying (I am now seriously freaked out about when my kids start school, but still have no idea how to help Pumpkin handle a little girl who alternates between following her around asking to be her "best friend" and doing random mean things for no discernible reason). I watched an episode of Bones. After an hour and a half, Petunia woke up, nursed and fell back to sleep on the Boppy on my lap. I didn't expect her to sleep long, so I turned on another Bones episode. She slept for two hours. Not only did I not get anything done, I was scrambling to start dinner once she finally woke up.

Petunia will be home with me tomorrow, per day care rules about staying out for 24 hours after a fever. I also made a doctor's appointment for her, to get her ears and lungs checked. She and I have both still been coughing from the cold we had two weeks ago, so there is an outside chance that she's got some sort of lung infection. I suspect it is just yet another cold, though. (Here is where I fight the urge to scream WHEN WILL THIS COLD AND FLU SEASON FINALLY BE OVER??????)

I know that this shouldn't really bother me. After all, it is better to have her sick now than in two weeks. None of the items on my to do list are really urgent (although Hubby does curse every time he reaches for a wine glass and has plastic bottles fall out of the cupboard and that shower curtain is pretty gross). Some day soon, I'll miss the chance to sit on the sofa and hold a sleeping baby- already, it is unusual to get a snuggle longer than a few seconds out of Pumpkin. The weather is not even supposed to be that good tomorrow, so I'm not really missing out on prime outdoor time opportunities (and if the weather does turn out to be nice, Petunia loves to be outside). By any objective measure, spending a day with a playful toddler is more fun that scrubbing mold off of a shower curtain. So why am I so antsy about my to do list?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Zenbit: Drunken Pancakes



"Fully licensed" means that they can serve alcohol, which just cracked me up- particularly in combination with the "open 24 hours".  Because who wouldn't want pancakes and cocktails at 2 a.m.?
 
Location: Brisbane, Australia
Date: January 23, 2006

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Obscurity and Success

In the summer of 2003, Hubby and I took a trip to England and Wales. This was back before we had kids, so we managed a full three week vacation, but still only scratched the surface of the things we wanted to see. Some day, maybe, we'll get to go back- but then again, I have yet to see France at all, and only stopped over in Germany on my way to Spain (that's a long story). And I've always wanted to see Scotland, and have heard that Holland is nice....

We knew that we wouldn't be able to really "do" London- we had a little less than a week there. Still, one of my favorite things to do when visiting a city is to walk some neighborhoods, so I was determined to spend one of our precious days just exploring. We had a guidebook with several different walking tours, and we picked one out and went on the tour one morning. I think we picked that particular tour because it included both a church designed by Sir Christopher Wren (the Church of St. Stephen Wallbrook, which was indeed beautiful) and a half-timbered house originally built in 1595 (the Gatehouse of St. Bartholomew the Great, which had to be restored in 1916 due to damage from a zeppelin bomb). I still love the image of the half-timbered house squashed in between more recent buildings:



But the highlight of the tour turned out to be a park included primarily as a resting point. The park included a statue that is a tribute to John Heminge and Henry Condell:



They were actors and friends of Shakespeare who saved his work for posterity. They collected all of his known plays and got them published. I was struck by this statue, and the idea that without these two men- whom I had never heard of before that day- we would not know some of the greatest plays ever written.

Between the lay off and the life reorg I was working on before the lay off, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be "successful". Then the Tiger Mom thing blew up all over the internet, and I was struck by what a narrow view of success some people have. And I remembered that statue and those two men.

I have written before about how I define a successful life- it is about happiness more than money or fame. But I also believe that we should all try to make this world a little better for having had us here. Too often, we think that the only way to achieve this is to do something big and splashy that makes future generations remember our names. But that statue in the park reminds us that there are other ways to make a difference, and that even people whose names disappear into obscurity can have a profound impact on the lives of future generations.

If you think about it this way, the possibilities for having a successful life multiply. In fact, we may not even know what act in our life will have the most impact on the future. I wonder if Heminge and Condell gathered Shakespeare's works and published them because they thought they were important works of literature that needed to be saved for future generations? Or because they thought they could make some money by publishing them? Someone out there has probably researched that question and knows the answer, but I don't think it really matters- regardless of their motivation, the world is better off for having had them in it.

The lesson I take from that statue in the park is that the actors in the limelight in life may not be the ones remembered by history, and that what I think of as my life's work may not be my biggest contribution at all. Very few of us will get the chance to do something that will make future generations know our name, and even fewer will know at the time that their actions will be remembered. Did Shakespeare himself suspect that his plays would still be relevant so many centuries after they were written? I certainly won't be writing any great literature. I may or may not contribute something truly lasting to the advancement of science. Perhaps something I do outside work will have an impact- but maybe not. I hope to raise kids who will themselves go on to make the world a little bit better, but there are no guarantees. All I can do is try to use my skills on projects that seem worthwhile, and try to spread a little happiness in the world. And if I can do that, I will count myself as successful, even though the schoolchildren of the future will never learn my name.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Pathologically Eclectic Rubbish List

Bonus geek points if you catch the reference in the title. (I'll explain it in a comment right before I put up my next post.)

I have a bunch of things rattling around in my head, preventing me from settling down and focusing on today's to do list. So I'm going to write them down here. One of the things rattling around is an idea for a "real" post- maybe I'll get to that later today, maybe tomorrow.

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Thank you all for the kind comments on my post about Saturday. Sunday was indeed much better. Petunia slept better Saturday night- although Hubby held her for some of that time. He fell asleep holding her, though, so who knows if she actually needed to be held the whole time? I don't care. I got some sleep, and that was all that I cared about at that point.

Petunia was in a wonderful mood all day Sunday, until the very end. She got whiny, and squirmed out of our arms when we tried to comfort her, and just generally seemed uncomfortable. Sure enough, after her bath, she disappeared into her room for some privacy. I'd go in from time to time and ask "are you ready for me to change your diaper?" and she'd shake her head and say "noooo". The funniest part was that she was looking at her books while she worked on her diaper. I guess that tendency starts young?

She eventually finished up, let me change her diaper, and was MUCH easier to get down for the night than she had been the previous two nights. She also slept really well. So, now we have a solid theory for what messes with her sleep. But there isn't a darn thing we can do about it, other than delay bedtime if we suspect she needs a little more time to, um, work things out.

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I've heard that the interview last week went well, and that an offer is probably forthcoming. But no offer has yet showed up, so I wait. And try to decide how much time I should invest in applying for a couple of other jobs I've seen that would do, but aren't great fits for me, and how much time I should invest in clearing things off our household to do list. 

I'll probably spend time updating the personal website that I would use if I were to start to seriously pursue contracting gigs- if this job falls through, I think short term contracts may be my next best option.

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We took the girls down to a park at Mission Bay in the afternoon. Pumpkin ran around and had a lot of fun. Petunia practiced carrying sand on her shovel, and then finally figured out how to climb up onto the play structure on her own. They were both so happy. It was one of those moments where you remember why you're glad you had kids.

On the way home, I looked at Hubby and said that I thought it was time to get down the little percussion set we'd bought ages ago and hidden. He agreed, so we did. Pumpkin was ecstatic. Petunia liked the maracas. The three of us marched around the house making noise like a demented hare krishna group while Hubby made dinner.

And life was good. Until Pumpkin decided that she wanted a turn with the maracas.

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Hubby and Pumpkin are both loving the CD Santa brought the family this year: Snack Time, by the Barenaked Ladies. Pumpkin sings along in the back seat, and we all enjoy the respite from the Chinese CDs she had fixated on previously.

My favorite song on the CD is "Pollywog in a Bog", because of the little rap section, which makes excellent use of the refrain "jump, jump!" and just cracks me up.

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Petunia slept well last night, but I did not. First of all, I was sure she'd wake up between 10 and 10:30, so I stayed up reading waiting for her. She did not wake up until 11:30. I had turned the light off at about 10:40, and was just falling asleep when she woke up. (Yes, Pumpkin's slow to turn off brain is probably a genetic gift from me. Hubby usually falls asleep as his head hits the pillow. It takes me 30-60 minutes.) She nursed and went right back to sleep. Great! But she still has a cough from her last cold, and every few minutes or so, she'd cough. Meanwhile, Hubby (who has finally caught the cold) was snoring. I would have gone to the sofa to sleep in peace, but that generally wakes Petunia up. I finally propped Petunia's head up on my arm, which made her stop coughing, and slept the first part of the night snuggling her.

So, I'm tired today, and debating the relative merits of taking a nap after lunch and trying to cross lots of things off of my to do list so that I feel productive. A short nap would be the perfect compromise, but I'll bet that if I fall asleep, I'll sleep for two hours, and wake up feeling disoriented and groggy.

What I really want is a decent night's sleep. Naps are great, but no substitute for actual sleep.

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Pumpkin is having trouble with "B" at day care again. Things had improved after I spoke with the center's assistant director last time, and we thought everything was fine. But at drop off one day last week, Hubby witnessed B bullying Pumpkin, so he went and talked to the assistant director again, and then sent me a cryptic email about the event. Luckily, I called him and got the full story, because later that day, the director called me to discuss the problem. They're taking it seriously and I'm happy with the center's response. I don't know whether or not B's parents are responding well- the center's director implied not, but Hubby and B's dad had a little chat at the birthday party on Saturday, and all seemed fine to Hubby. I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt- I think dealing with B's behavior without squashing her natural leadership tendencies would be difficult. Her parents are trying to walk a fine line.

It is already so hard to monitor what's going on out on the playground. I imagine it is only going to get harder as the kids get older. Luckily, Pumpkin is playing more with some of the other kids. I'll be setting up a playdate with one of the other little girls ("K", for those following along at home)- I spoke with her mom about it at the party, and she's up for it, too. I also bought a book on bullying for my Kindle. I picked The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander, by Barbara Coloroso, because it promised to talk about preschoolers. I also looked at Queen Bees and Wannabes, by Rosalind Wiseman, but it seems to be aimed more at tweens. I'll probably need that, too- but not yet.

The entire situation just makes me sad. So far, Pumpkin still seems like her usual happy self. But I know that it bothers her that B is mean to her, so I want to try to figure out how to help her respond.

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In news that is probably unrelated, but feels linked to me... Pumpkin is entering a "meltdown at the slightest provocation" phase. We've been through these before, and they drive Hubby bonkers. I can sympathize a bit more. After all, I have been known to meltdown into tears at inappropriate times, too. Still, I think we need to work with her on responding to disappointment in a less dramatic way. That should be fun. But her future colleagues will thank us for it.

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Despite all my worries about Pumpkin, I think she's turning into a delightful little girl. K's mom told me that she was so happy when her daughter and Pumpkin started playing together more, because she thinks Pumpkin is just the sweetest little girl. Now, I know that she wouldn't exactly tell me if she thought Pumpkin was a brat, but she didn't have to say such nice things. So I'm taking her words at face value and feeling happy about them.

I also love watching Pumpkin play with Petunia. Petunia doesn't quite get the "playing together" thing yet, which frustrates Pumpkin. But she has learned how to take a step back, look at what Petunia wants to do, and help her with that. Just yesterday, Petunia was trying to get up on a chair to play with Pumpkin's computer. Pumpkin saw this, and went over and helped scoot her chair up to the little desk with the computer. Then she turned on her computer for Petunia, and selected a game that Petunia could play.

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I'll end with a picture. Here is Petunia, practicing for her future in the rodeo and/or circus:

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Zenbit: Waterfall



Location: Erawan Falls, near Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Date: March 1, 2006

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Down. But Not Defeated.

Today whupped me, simple as that.

The trouble really started in the middle of the night last night. Petunia, whose sleep has been screwed up because of a string of colds, had been sleeping better this week. Thursday night, she slept from 10:30 through until 4:30 without waking up. Sure, that was in our bed, but I didn't care. That was 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep for me!

But last night, our luck turned. Petunia woke up at about 11, and I brought her into bed and nursed her like usual. She went down again, but was restless. She woke up at 1, and all hell broke loose. She screamed. She tossed and turned. We tried rocking her. We tried watching TV with her. She was clearly exhausted. So were we. But she just couldn't settle in and go back to sleep. Finally, I sent Hubby out to sleep on the sofa so that one parent would be semi-coherent in the morning, and I settled in for a rough night. At about 3:30, I got her to stop screaming and snuggle to sleep- but only if I held her against my chest while I sat upright. If I laid down, the screaming started again. And of course, I had to keep trying that because when you're that tired your rational brain shuts off and you can easily convince yourself that this time will be different. At about 5:30, she nursed again and let me lie down with her. She slept fitfully until almost 7, as long as I kept her head on my arm.

I blamed the lingering congestion from her cold and the snot that always comes when she teethes. (She's getting at least one canine in right now.) Hubby pointed out that the congestion was not new, and suspected that she needed to poop. Annoyingly, it turns out he was probably right. She woke up cranky and stayed cranky until she filled (and I do mean filled) her diaper. Then she was happy as can be.

Which was good, because we had a birthday party to go to! We all piled into the car for a morning party at an indoor jumpy place. The girls both had a lot of fun, until it was time to go and Pumpkin wanted to hold the bucket of party favors she'd received in her right hand, but Hubby wanted to hold that hand while they crossed the parking lot. He either didn't understand her or didn't think it should matter, and got mad at her for refusing to hold his hand while we crossed the parking lot. I had my hands full with Petunia, who was insisting on walking across the parking lot, too, so I could only watch from several paces behind them as Pumpkin melted down and Hubby got stubborn and we were fated to listen to a screaming preschooler for the entire ride home.

Hubby can be wonderful with Pumpkin, and talk her around when she stubbornly wants something insane. But he can also get mad at Pumpkin's irrational behavior sometimes, and dig his heels in and just start saying "no" to everything she wants. And given the poor sleep we'd had, I guess it is no surprise that he did the latter today. Somehow, despite her proximity to her sister's fire alarm like wailing, Petunia fell asleep in the car on the way home. I carried her in to her room to put her down in her crib to finish her nap. That took about 10 minutes. By the time I came out, Pumpkin was wailing again because Hubby wouldn't give her the favor bucket (he said her behavior was too bad) and was saying she couldn't watch Cinderella because she needed to eat lunch- she had refused to eat the pizza served at the party, so we were making her a quesadilla.

By this time, I was sick of listening to Pumpkin wail. I'd had a grand total of 3.5 hours of sleep the previous night- from 11-1 and from 5:30 - 7, and that last 1.5 hours were pretty poor sleep since I had to hold Petunia for all of it. I was pretty sure that if I had to listen to Pumpkin's continuing meltdown for another five minutes my brain would leak out of my ears. So I decided that we could have a picnic on the floor and watch Cinderella while we ate lunch. Hubby glared at me, but then Petunia woke up from her nap and he took the opportunity to go try to nap with her. And most importantly, Pumpkin actually ate her quesadilla and some snapea crisps, and her mood improved greatly. She is like me- if she gets hungry, she gets cranky and irrational. Hubby knows this, but for some reason, while he can recognize the symptoms in me and calmly suggest that I eat a cracker or two, he has a hard time differentiating between hunger-induced craziness and your run of the mill preschooler craziness, and doesn't usually realize why things with Pumpkin are spiraling out of control.

Unfortunately, Petunia would not go back down, so I brought her out to watch Cinderella (really: walk up and down the hall with her sister's baby stroller while we watched Cinderella) and let Hubby nap. The deal was that when it was time for Pumpkin's nap, I'd nap with her and he'd wake up and take Petunia. So we each got a nap, and the day improved... for awhile.

Hubby is supposed to cook dinner on the weekends, since I cook all week. But he doesn't plan ahead very well, preferring to just wing it on the day (this drives me bonkers, but marriage is about compromises, right?) He never got a chance to figure out a dinner plan, so I ended up making the applesauce-oatmeal pancakes that Pumpkin likes for dinner.

Or I should say, the applesauce-oatmeal pancakes that Pumpkin liked, because she took one bite of her pancake and declared that she doesn't like them anymore, and never will again. At which point, I realized that the day had whupped me.

I am now waiting for Pumpkin to stop calling me back in to her room to flip her pillow over (she apparently prefers a cold pillow) or to give her ideas of nice things she can dream about to chase away the bad dreams. And then I am going to bed, where I will chant my mantra about how I take a long term view on eating habits and how all babies sleep eventually.

And tomorrow, I'll get up and try again. Because in parenting, you always get to pick yourself up off the mat and go in for another round.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Details

I realized in reading the comments on my recent post about food, that "processed foods" can mean a lot of different things- duh, that is part of my problem with the blanket condemnations of processed foods that are common in the press and on food blogs these days. So I thought it might be helpful/interesting to provide some more details about what gets eaten in our house. This is a long post, so if I'm wrong, you should just click away now!

I know I'm opening myself up for a fair amount of judgment. That's fine, just try to be respectful in the comments, OK? I might as well say a few things up front, so that I don't have to say them in the comments: (1) I realize we could be eating better, but I think we could be eating worse, too, particularly when you factor in the fact that the main chef and her oldest child are both picky eaters; (2) I don't think it is as easy to "cure" a picky eater as a lot of the advice implies; and (3) Even with my recent layoff, we're living a fairly comfortable life. I am aware of that, and grateful for it.

OK, without further ado, here is a list of the processed foods that we use heavily, along with a note about any "extra" ingredients that are included that wouldn't be there if I made the food item myself. Where possible, I've linked to a web page with the actual ingredients list/nutritional information.
  • Classico Tomato and Basil sauce. Extra ingredients: None, unless the cans of diced tomatoes I buy don't have calcium chloride in them (it is listed as an ingredient in the diced tomatoes in the sauce).  I'd certainly add some sodium chloride (table salt), though, and I don't mind a little extra calcium.
  • Buitoni Chicken and Prosciutto Tortellini. Extra ingredients: Quite a few, but these are one of the few sources of meat in Pumpkin's diet, so they stay. The extra ingredients are some gums in the ricotta (probably for texture), something called "ham base" and "chicken flavoring"- I'd probably use chicken stock, but probably wouldn't go out of my way to add chicken fat!
  • Various dried pastas and vacuum-packed gnocchi. Sorry, no way I'm making these myself!
  • Sargento Mexican Mix Preshredded Cheese. Extra ingredients:  potato starch, powdered cellulose, and natamycin. The first two are to keep it from clumping together, the last is a mold inhibitor, which makes sense given the large increase in surface area you get by preshredding the cheese. I use this to make quesadillas. I like the preshredded cheese for convenience and because the mix of cheeses in it melt nicely in a quesadilla without making a mess all over my quesadilla maker. We usually have some Italian mix preshredded cheese on hand, too, for Pumpkin to sprinkle over her pasta, since she won't eat sauce. I occasionally use the preshredded cheeses in recipes, but generally, if a recipe calls for shredded cheese I'll just shred the type it calls for.
  • Alexia Sweet Potato Fries. Extra ingredients: rice flour, tapioca starch, dextrin, dextrose,  and xanthum gum (although I discovered today that I could buy this at the store if I wanted it... so who knows?) Also, If I were making these from scratch, they'd probably not have any oil, because I'd just bake them. But then they probably wouldn't taste as nice.
  • Annie's Peace Pasta and Parmesan. Extra ingredients: whey, sodium phosphate, and yeast extract. All organic, of course!  I originally tried this because I thought the shape of the pasta would be easy for little fingers to pick up, and I was going crazy trying to find finger food that Pumpkin would eat. I was right- she liked these, still likes them, and so does Petunia.
  • DiGiorno Pepperoni Pizza. Extra ingredients: sodium stearoyl lactylate, sodium aluminum phosphate, DATEM. I have a B.S. in chemistry and I had to look that last one up. DATEM is an emulsifier. It stands for Diacetyl Tartaric (Acid) Ester of Monoglyceride. I've never made my own pepperoni, so I can't say whether or not there is anything "extra" there. But I fully recognize that this is not a particularly healthy item. It is a treat, and a sanity saver for Friday night dinners.
  • Casbah felafel mix. Extra ingredients: I don't think there are any, but I've never made felafel from scratch, so I can't be sure. The mix has garbanzo bean flour, wheat flour, spices, canola oil, baking soda, granulated onion, and sea salt. This is a relatively recent addition to our pantry. We thought that since Petunia likes pancakes so much, she might try these. She did, and even ate a little. Pumpkin, on the other hand, wouldn't try them.
  • Natural Directions unsweetened applesauce. Extra ingredients: None. This has apples and water in it. Pumpkin won't eat actual apples, but she loves applesauce.
  • Campbell's Chicken Alphabet soup. Extra ingredients: More than I care to count. It looks like they are mostly preservatives, and they're pretty far down the ingredient list. The only way we got Pumpkin to try soup was to offer ABC soup, and we've yet to find an organic/more natural version of this. Maybe if I could be bothered driving to Whole Foods....
  • Campbell's Cheddar Cheese soup. Extra ingredients: Even more than in the Chicken Alphabet soup! But this is the easiest way to make cheese sauce for my broccoli (1 can + 1/3 cup milk + 1/2 cup grated cheese with actual flavor), and I need easy and fast to be able to include broccoli with cheese sauce in weekday meals.
  • Various brands of pesto sauce. I keep trying new brands in hopes of finding one that tastes remotely as good as homemade. Extra ingredients: it varies by brand. My current one has potato flakes in it and uses sunflower oil instead of olive oil. Really the problem is more what is missing- i.e., a strong taste. So I use more of the store bough kind than I have to when I have homemade on hand. Once basil is back in season, I'll probably make a big batch of my own pesto and freeze it.
  • Stubb's Smoky Mesquite BBQ Sauce. Extra ingredients: as small amount of gums and corn syrup, but then, I've never really tried to make my own. I use this for making sloppy joes. Pumpkin won't touch them, but Hubby and I like them and it gives me a chance to make some ground meat for Petunia (she'll eat lightly seasoned ground meats- Pumpkin won't).
  • Lundberg Risotto mixes.  I'll fall back on these occasionally on weeks when I know I won't be home in time/have the energy to make one of my homemade rice dishes. Extra ingredients: I don't add sugar, and the mixes usually do.
  • Breakfast cereals. Pumpkin and Petunia can currently choose between Quaker Oatmeal Squares, Cheerios, and Crispex. Extra ingredients: a variety of preservatives, flavorings, and colorings, but nothing too scary. Sugar is the third of fourth ingredient in each. The Oatmeal Squares definitely have the most sugar of the three.
  • Various crackers. Favorites are graham crackers, Ritz crackers, and Goldfish. Extra ingredients: the graham crackers and Ritz crackers have soy lecithin as an emlusifier and HFCS. The Goldfish are "clean", but pretty high in sodium.
  • Snack Salad Snapea Crisps. Extra ingredients: none, but I can't imagine making something like this on my own.  We have these in place of crackers sometimes. They are the only way Pumpkin will eat peas. Or, for that matter, that I'll eat green peas. Still, I consider them more of a snack and/or a starch than a vegetable.
  • Various dried fruits. This was Hubby's idea back when Pumpkin wouldn't eat much of any finger foods. It actually worked- she eats a lot of dried fruits. (I'm not a huge fan, myself.) We try to buy the kind that are really just freeze-dried X or dehydrated Y, but some of them have some sugar added, too.  Pumpkin also loves fruit leather, which she calls "smooshed fruit". I am deeply ambivalent about those, since they are mostly apple puree with other juices and purees added as flavoring, but have decided that it isn't worth worrying about too much.
  • Trader Joes strawberry bars. These are like Nutri-Grain bars, but a little less loaded with preservatives and other random junk. Still way more sugar than really necessary. I think of these like a cookie.
  • Bagels (for me), multi-grain bread (for Hubby). The girls mostly eat bread we make in our bread maker.  We slice it up, freeze, and then toast it to offer with dinner as part of the Ellyn Satter "you don't have to eat what we made, but we're not making you anything else" strategy. See my Confessions of a Picky Eater post for more on how we implement that.
  • Chicken nuggets. Gasp! I know, these get vilified. But they are one of the few meat products Pumpkin will eat, so I keep them on hand to offer as an alternative meal component sometimes (again, see the picky eater post for details on why we do that). She usually has them at most once a week, and sometimes goes for weeks without having any. I've yet to get her to eat chicken any other way (she won't even try the breaded chicken breast bits I've tried making "from scratch"). Extra ingredients: the chicken parts, I suppose. The actual ingredients list isn't so bad, but I know that I'm supposed to be horrified by the fact that they reconstitute the "nuggets" from less than ideal bits of chicken. 
  • Various baby food purees. Extra ingredients: some of them have ascorbic acid (vitamin C) added to help preserve color/flavor. We don't buy any that have any sugar added.
  • Gerber Yogurt Melts. Extra ingredients: hard to say, since these aren't a food anyone would make at home. I wish they had less sugar. They are one of the compromises we make because we need to send finger foods to day care and Petunia, like Pumpkin, is only slowly warming up to more standard things like fruit (she'll eat strawberries, but no other fruit). She won't eat actual yogurt yet, or slices of cheese.
  • Gerber Sweet Potato Puffs. Extra ingredients: again, hard to say, since I have no idea how I'd make something like this at home. Again, I wish they had less sugar.  I wasn't going to use these with Petunia, but for awhile, she wouldn't eat Cheerios. Who ever heard of a toddler who won't eat Cheerios? They are getting phased out now that Petunia eats other starchy finger foods without trouble.
I'm sure I've left something off that list, but it gives you the idea.

What do we actually eat in an average week? Well, I'll tell you about this week as an example.

Breakfast:
  • Pumpkin has cereal with milk, some dried mango bits and dried banana slices on the side.
  • Petunia has half a tub of fruit puree, some dry cereal or, if she asks for them, Goldfish. She sometimes has yogurt melts or dried banana slices, too. She's been offered "real" banana many times, but has yet to do anything other than mash it up then cry for her hands to be cleaned. 
  • I have oatmeal with (too much) brown sugar. Downside of adding your own sugar: you can add too much.
  • Hubby has his preferred mix of cereals, some raisin bran thing and some mango museli thing from Trader Joes, with a half banana sliced on top.
AM Snack:
  • Pumpkin has whatever they offer at day care. On the weekends, she usually has a fruit leather and some crackers. Sometimes, she has a strawberry bar or some applesauce instead. Sometimes she'll have some cashews or cheese with her snack, too. 
  • Petunia has strawberries most days at day care, since I can't get her to eat any other suitable "wet snack" food. When I can't get good strawberries, I send yogurt melts and dried banana slices. One the weekends, we'll give her some more fruit puree and crackers or yogurt melts.
  • I have the half banana Hubby didn't eat for breakfast, and maybe a handful of cashews. Once I'm back at work, this will have to change, since a half banana doesn't travel well.
  • I have no idea what Hubby has for snack, or if he even has a snack. He's a grown up, so he's on his own.
Lunch:
  • Pumpkin has whatever they're serving at day care. Their menu is OK, not great, but fine with me. She'll eat refried beans and rice at day care, and won't touch either at home yet, so the peer pressure thing works on her a bit. On the weekends, we have quesadillas or sometimes applesauce-oatmeal pancakes (a recent addition to Pumpkin's list of approved foods). This is when we're trying felafel, too. I'd like to start trying more new things at lunch, because I've noticed that Pumpkin is more likely to try something new at lunch time than at dinner time.
  • During the week, Petunia has leftovers for lunch. I send some mix of: carrot cake pancakes (she loves these), sneaky good corn muffins, lightly seasoned ground turkey, Spanish rice (I should post my recipe!), Annie's peace pasta, leftover veggies if we have them (not that she'll eat them), and sometimes some sliced cheese or snap pea crisps. On the weekends, she has whatever we're having, plus sometimes some pureed veggies or fruit.
  • On weekdays, I have a bagel with cream cheese, maybe some yogurt or hummus with crackers, and maybe some cashews. I've been eating out a lot more lately due to the need for networking. I'll also eat leftovers if we have a single serving of something left over.
  • Hubby has 1.5 ham and salami sandwiches, made on multi-grain bread, with a New Zealand cheddar cheese from Trader Joes. Every freakin' weekday, unless he goes out (which is rare).
PM snack:
  • Pumpkin has whatever they are serving at day care. On weekends, she has yogurt or applesauce, maybe some cashews, definitely some crackers.
  • Petunia has whatever "dry snack" they're serving at day care- usually some sort of cracker. On weekends, she has crackers and throws a wide range of fruits on the floor.
  • This is my danger zone. If I'm going to break down and eat a bunch of cookies, this is the time I'll do it. At my last job, this was when I'd roam the offices looking for the little candy bars they left out all over the place. I definitely need a better strategy for this time period, but I haven't come up with one yet.
  • I think Hubby has a cookie and coffee at this time, but I don't really know. Maybe this is when he eats the apple he takes every day.
Dinner:

We prioritize family dinners. I didn't realize that this was unusual until I said something about it at a day care gathering, and half of the other parents looked at me as if I'd just said that aliens came down from Mars and joined us at the dinner table most nights. Anyway, I write a menu plan every week. I cook on the weekdays, Hubby cooks most weekends.  Even during the layoff, I've been keeping to pretty short recipes- I'm using the time to experiment a bit and try to find new things to add to our rotation, though. We always have leftovers in the freezer, and on busy weeks, there are more "leftovers" dinners in the plan.

Anyway, here's this week's dinner plan. The bread that shows up just about every day for the girls is home made using our bread machine. As I mentioned above, we slice it, freeze it, and then pull it out and toast it.
  •  Saturday: Sweet and Sour Pork with rice (I checked a stir fry cookbook out of the library. The recipes sound great, but most are too involved for weekdays.) Neither girl was interested in any part of this. Pumpkin had a chicken nugget and bread. Petunia had pureed veggies and bread.
  • Sunday: Hubby's special mac-n-cheese. It has spinach and a homemade Gouda sauce. It is yummy, but neither girl will eat it. Yet. Pumpkin had plain pasta that Hubby reserved for her, with cheese, and bread. Petunia had pureed veggies and bread, and threw some pasta (plain and from our mac-n-cheese) on the ground.
  • Monday: Carrot cake pancakes, pork breakfast sausages (my umpteenth attempt to get Pumpkin to try them- no dice- and my first attempt to get Petunia to try them- she had a little), and smoothies. Pumpkin had the smoothie and some bread. Petunia ate 1.5 pancakes, about a quarter of a sausage,  and some smoothie.
  • Tuesday: Leftover soup and Pumpkin-Parmesan scones. Hubby and I had leftover homemade Cream of Zucchini soup- it may have been even better reheated than fresh. Pumpkin had leftover Campbell's ABC soup.  Petunia had half a jar of veggie puree. Both girls ate half a scone.
  • Wednesday: Gnocchi with (store bought) pesto, steamed carrots, and leftover Pumpkin-Parmesan scones. Pumpkin ate plain gnocchi with cheese. Petunia threw her gnocchi on the floor, but ate some veggie puree. Pumpkin won't try carrots anymore (this is one veggie she has actually tried, and decided she doesn't like), and Petunia threw hers on the ground. Both girls had half a scone.
  • Thursday: Pizza. I have a frozen pizza in the freezer, but I think I will try making my own dough this time, since I don't have much planned tomorrow. I'll just top it with jarred sauce, shredded mozzarella and parmesan, and pepperoni, though. I can't think of any other topping that has any chance whatsoever of being eaten by Pumpkin, who has recently decided to only eat the crust off her pizza most times. Petunia likes pizza, so she'll probably eat some. I'll make a spinach salad to go with this, and maybe put some mandarin orange slices in, since Pumpkin will eat those. Petunia will throw them on the floor.
  • Friday: Home made New Zealand-style meat pies, with frozen sweet potato fries and a salad. This is a treat for Hubby (and one of his friends, who comes over whenever I make these). I've been working on perfecting the recipe as a project while I'm out of work. Once I go back to work, these won't get made often, because they're quite an undertaking. I make a regular pie crust and a steak filling (in a gravy). I slice some cheese to go on top of the steak filling, then top with store bought puff pastry and bake. Pumpkin and Petunia will both eat the sweet potato fries. Pumpkin usually declines the chance to try the pies, so I may get some leftover Annie's Peace pasta down for the girls.
Evening snack:
  • Pumpkin has some mix of: fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts (cashews or pistachios), cheese, crackers, and, if she's eaten her dinner, she sometimes gets a cookie or some candy if she has some hanging around (like after Halloween, or after a birthday party with a pinata). If she's had a particularly poor dinner, I might add some applesauce.
  • Petunia has breast milk. Some nights, she'll join Pumpkin for some strawberries and crackers, too.
  • Hubby usually has some fruit with Pumpkin; I sometimes do. We might have some candy (he's prone to buying pistachio coated chocolate covered toffee at Trader Joes, and sometimes we'll each have a piece after the kids are in bed) or cookies if we have any on hand.
Drinks:
  • Pumpkin has water and milk at home. They sometimes give her juice at day care. At home, she gets juice if she tries something new (which doesn't happen that often). I sometimes give her a little bit of my juice in the morning, too.
  • Petunia has water, milk, and breast milk. 
  • I am addicted to something I call my "cranberry-fizzy", which is a splash of 100% (unsweetened) cranberry juice in a tall glass of lime fizzy water. When I'm working, I have one glass a day, with dinner. Since I've been home... um, I have several. I have a glass of orange-tangerine juice every morning, too, and sometimes a glass of milk at some point in the evening. I occasionally have a beer after the girls are in bed. We try to have beers and hang out and talk on the sofa most Friday nights, but if Petunia isn't sleeping well, we skip it.
  • Hubby has water with most meals and also a glass of wine or a beer with dinner sometimes, particularly if we have company. He has grapefruit juice in the morning. He almost always has a beer after he's done with his part of the bedtime routine, sometimes two.
So there you have it- the local food environment at Casa de la Cloud.  I'm constantly fiddling with things, trying to improve our eating habits. But I try not to obsess about it. I went down that road when Pumpkin was little, and it did no one any good. I refuse to turn dinner time into a battle, so I am pretty comfortable with our approach to that. I think my girls eat too many crackers, but haven't really figured out what to do about that. My current plan is to try some snack-like breads in the bread maker and see if those are a hit. We've tried the raw veggie with ranch sauce snack on Pumpkin, and it doesn't work. She is a very thin girl- she is probably about 15% for weight and average height. I know that this doesn't mean we should let her eat junk, but I feel like I have to make sure she eats enough calories to grow- so I try to serve things she'll eat, while gently trying to expand her food horizons. Petunia is not as thin as Pumpkin was as a baby (OK, she's a but of a chubby little thing right now, but she's thinning out now that she's walking). It will be interesting to see how we need to modify our snack schedule to work for her.

I obviously think we need more veggies, but other than continuing to offer them, I am not sure what else to try. We've tried the "go to the Farmer's Market" idea, and Pumpkin has fun, but doesn't want to try anything new. We may try the "plant a garden" idea as Petunia gets older and we can make the time for it. I doubt it will help, though. We also need to add more fish into our diet- right now, we all take fish oil to compensate for its lack, which is suboptimal. The problem there is me- I don't like fish, so it takes a lot of willpower to put it on the menu plan.

If you've made it to the end of this post, you are probably as food obsessed as I am right now. So... any suggestions for new things to try?

      Tuesday, February 01, 2011

      Scenes from My Life

      Petunia is definitely an independent walker now. She toddles around the house with a satisfied smile on her face, until she sees me, at which point she puts her arms up and demands to be picked up. She still likes to push Pumpkin's baby stroller around, though. Tonight, she was circling through the house, walking from Pumpkin's room, down the hall, and out into the living room, then back. Each time, as she left Pumpkin's room, she paused in the doorway and grinned and waved "bye" at me and Pumpkin. And when she came back in, she grinned again, and waved "hi".

      ---------------------

      Ever since Christmas, Pumpkin has been wrapping gifts for everyone in the family. She'll pick some book or toy, find a doll or baby blanket, and wrap it up. She does a surprisingly good job. Apparently, the good wrapping gene skips a generation- my Mom has it; I do not.

      Tonight, Pumpkin decided to wrap up a box of flash cards for Petunia's "birthday". She made her a cake out of lego, and then had us all sing "Happy Birthday".  Just as we got started, she stopped us and said "No! In Chinese!" and led off again, in Chinese. Then she ran down to her room with the flash cards to wrap them. Petunia came toddling in with the stroller, and Pumpkin gave her the gift. Petunia plays along with this game better than any of us- she gets a genuine smile, and eagerly takes her "gift" to unwrap. This time, though, she was confused. She couldn't walk down the hall with her gift AND the stroller. Pumpkin saw this,  and said "Don't worry, baby. I'll carry your gift for you."

      And they set off down the hall together.

      --------------------------

      Ever since she was Petunia's age- maybe even younger- Pumpkin has liked to make lines of things. She stayed home with me today, to have a special mother-daughter day. Towards the end of the day, we went out into the front so that I could pull weeds and Pumpkin could ride her tricycle and scooter on the driveway. She rode each of our wheeled toys for awhile, and then she lined them up :


      They are arranged in order of size. You can't see Daddy's scooter, because it wouldn't stand up, but it is at the front, because it is tallest. I guess I should be glad that she didn't make me drag out Daddy's bike.

      ----------------------------

      We made chocolate chip cookies this afternoon. Pumpkin enjoys helping me measure, but runs away when I turn on the mixer. She says it hurts her ears. She said the same thing about the hair dryer this morning, and went and hid behind the rocking chair in Petunia's room. She shrieked with delight when I came in and found her.

      She helped me put one cookie on the sheet, and then decided that was too messy. But she wanted me to remember which one she made, so that she could eat it. I did, and she ate it warm from the oven and pronounced it very good. I was relieved that the cookies came out OK, because I got so distracted by helping Pumpkin measure the ingredients that I forgot to cream the butter and sugar together before we added the eggs and milk. (The consequence of this was lumps of butter in the dough, which I had to beat out by hand after I added the dry ingredients. It was a workout.)

      Pumpkin also helped me make Pumpkin-Parmesan scones for dinner. Again, she helped me measure ingredients, and she helped me mix. She even helped me knead the dough. Then I cut the scones, and she helped me brush egg white on the tops and sprinkle on the parmesan cheese. She picked out one to be for her and one to be for Petunia, then helped me put the pumpkin seeds on the rest. She was excited to eat "her" scone with dinner. Unfortunately, I forgot to tell Hubby that the scones had assigned owners, and he gave Pumpkin's scone to Petunia. A massive meltdown ensued. Hubby didn't understand what the big deal was, so his reaction to all of this just made things worse. I did understand the problem- she'd selected the scones for her and Petunia carefully, and was really looking forward to having the one she'd picked. Still, it took me two trips to Pumpkin's room to get her to come back to the table. She finally did, and ate the half of her scone that Petunia hadn't eaten and a little bit of her soup.

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      When Petunia wants to nurse from the other side after finishing on the first side (something that only seems to happen in the middle of the night, strangely enough), she signs "more" in the not quite correct way that most toddlers seem to do it- one palm open, pointing to it with the pointer finger of her other hand. But because she has immediately stuck her thumb back in her mouth after releasing her latch, she signs it right in front of her nose. I think this is cute, even in the middle of the night.

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      Pumpkin had cheese (and a chocolate chip cookie) for snack tonight. She lined up her four slices of cheese, because she likes to line things up (see above). After she'd eaten three slices, she picked up the remaining slice and sang "the cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone, hi-ho-a-derry-o, the cheese stands alone".


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      This post was brought to you by the letter "I" and the number "2".  And my bad memory and fear that I will forget all of the best parts.
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