Tuesday, May 31, 2011

anyone for pink slime?

By this time I'm probably well-known among friends and family for buying and eating only organic meat. We started with ground beef in 2003, and over the years as I've become well-read on the subject, we've extended our organic purchasing to all kinds of animal products (beef, poultry, pork, milk, eggs, etc.). There are many reasons we made this decision even in the face of rising grocery prices. Rather than discussing the animal treatment and sustainability reasons for our decision (more of which can be found in the books "Fast Food Nation" and "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and the documentary "Food Inc."), I am focusing today's blog post on the safety factors.

I believe for many people baby steps are needed to begin transforming grocery habits. I don't want anyone to think I'm judging you for the kind of food you buy, but I think it's important that we all understand what is the food we eat. Unfortunately we cannot as of today trust the USDA to control the meat companies effectively, so we need to do our own research and make our own choices. To say we cannot change the way companies produce food is to underestimate the power of consumer demand.

If you haven't heard of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution yet or seen his show on ABC, I highly recommend it. I especially appreciated a recent episode in which he covered the inclusion of "pink slime" in 70% of ground beef sold in America. What IS pink slime, aka ammoniated boneless lean beef trimmings?
Pink slime is the intestines and other remainders left when butchering beef that was previously only included in dog and other animal food, but thanks to a process in which the beef is cleaned with ammonia (yes, that ammonia) to remove E.coli, we now consume. 
More about the process can be found in a 2009 NY Times article. The ugly truth about American beef is that children are now routinely dying after eating ground beef, and it's not just Jack-in-the-Box or McDonald's to blame. Even grocery stores add pink slime to their ground beef. You can avoid pink slime by buying local or pre-packaged organic ground beef, or you can watch your butcher grind the meat in front of you.

To address the affordability issue, I'd like to point out that we now consume a giant amount of protein, way more than our bodies need and more than we ever have in the history of our country. While we do continue eat meat protein at least once a day in our household, we have begun to rely on other forms of the nutrient, such as nuts/nut butter, beans, avocado, fish, eggs, and yogurt/cheese, and some soy (mostly edamame). This diet allows us to save money and still eat healthily. I have begun to make Indian food, which I think is the most creative and delicious vegetarian food I've ever eaten. I still don't have an Indian cookbook, so I'm currently relying on the Internet for recipes. If anyone has a recommendation on which book to get, I am listening!

Update (1/31/12): The Huffington Post reported McDonald's and several other fast food chains have cut pink slime from their ground beef, which is a step in the right direction and one many believe (including yours truly) was spurred by Jamie Oliver's efforts

Editor's Note: This post is a part of Fight Back Friday

Fight Back Friday

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I'll believe it when I see it, but if this is true, yay!

Vivisms, vol 13

Vivi: Grandma, can you hold my ice cream?
Bonnie: Sure I will!
Vivi: And I will hold my spoon. (getting out of the car...)
Vivi: But I can't eat bugs with my spoon, Daddy!

Vivi: Where are we going?
Nate: Dunkin Donuts.
Vivi: Mmmm, naked donuts are my favorite!

Vivi: ...obnoxious nonsense singing in the backpack, while strolling through the Public Garden...
Nate: Ok, that's enough of that.
Vivi: But Daddy, I need to!
Nate: Why?
Vivi: I need to sing for all these people.

Vivi (in the car): Mommy, it's Katy Perry! I love this song! It's my favorite song! Do you love it too?
Me: Yes, I like this one too.
Vivi: Can you sing with me?
Me: ...singing...
Vivi: No, not like that! That wasn't good.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

i love you, you're perfect, now change

I love the title of that play because I think it so aptly describes human interaction, especially with spouses and children, at its basic emotional level. As Vivi grows into an intelligent and headstrong three-year-old, I am continually challenged to strike the balance between instruction and acceptance. After all, what are parents if not adults who impose our values and expectations on our little sponges?

Parents who've seen the proud smile of a praised child--and any child psychologist worth their salt--can attest that the secret to achieving lasting behavior modification is positive reinforcement. In our case, Nate and I realized the most glaring example of this truth last fall in a manner too disgusting to describe here, even for a mommy blogger. I'll sum it up by saying after your kid does the most dirty of deeds on your living room floor and then dances a little jig while you and your husband scream and pull your hair out, it doesn't take long to realize you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Sure enough, as soon as we stopped making a big deal about it...voila! Potty trained child.

So if we have hard evidence of the benefits of positive reinforcement, why is it so hard to enact consistently? I've been pondering this question frequently. Perhaps it seems counter-intuitive to praise the good and ignore the bad given our adherence to the Biblical adage, spare the rod, spoil the child. And an authoritative parent like myself who has witnessed many gross displays of overpraising ("Oh good, Johnny! Thank you for not smacking Mommy in the face! What a good little boy you are!") desires to avoid going down that laissez faire road at all cost. But I find with some compassion and a lot of patience, I can offer both discipline and praise. After some soul searching and good old fashioned hard work, I believe I've come to strike a zen-like, albeit sometimes stressed, disposition in my household. In my mind, the key to this delicate equilibrium is to punish consistently the behavior you find intolerable, whatever that might be (for me, it's back-talk and hitting), but ignore the annoying but tolerable behaviors like thumb-sucking and seat-kicking.

"When you understand, you cannot help but love. You cannot get angry. To develop understanding, you have to practice looking...with eyes of compassion. When you understand, you love. And, when you love you naturally act in a way that can relieve the suffering of people." -Thich Nhat Hahn

I am a lover of Buddhist teachings, less on a spiritual level than a practical one. A former psychology student, I routinely scrutinize my interactions with those I love most dearly, and I seek advice of the wise and experienced out there, whatever their philosophical or religious leanings might be. Since I haven't yet found myself a personal monk or guru, I read books and attend therapy sessions instead. I freely admit I have needed both lately to tame the beast I've previously described here. Again and again, my studies lead me to one word: compassion. Who would think that such a primitive and vital principle would be at times so elusive? And yet, even with all of the outpouring of emotion, the unconditional love, the joie de vivre I express to and for my family, it is unconditional acceptance that I find tricky to attain. Managing my expectations and withholding attempts to control my kids are my parenting Achilles' heels. I am reminded again of Buddhism and the Dalai Lama, who says parents love their children not because they are good but because they are their children. And so, I will endeavor to be more compassionate.

Friday, May 20, 2011

organizing loves: kids edition

I showed some of my favorite organization accoutrements earlier in the week, and I thought it only fair to those readers without children that I separate my kid-related paraphernalia from the rest. But no one comes with more crap, figuratively and literally speaking, than those tiny little monsters. So for the parent readers out there, here are my best-loved kid-themed tools:

At 3 years old, Vivi is old enough to pull these bins out to play with the toys by herself, and better yet, put them away when she's done!

We're lucky our closet came with an organizer. It's a must purchase for any non-outfitted closets.

Are you picking up on a theme yet? I love bins!

More bins!

Diaper caddy from Munchkin. Who needs a changing table? We use the top of a dresser.

Use up all that space.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

microwave-baked apples

This recipe couldn't be more simple. I like to put it on ice cream for dessert and use the leftovers for oatmeal the next morning. It's nice to have when company are in town because it doesn't take any babysitting.

3 large apples, cored and chopped
1 c. "Cape Cod cranberry" trail mix (i.e. dried cranberries, raisins, walnuts, dates, and coconut; you can substitute just nuts or dried fruit or leave it out completely)
1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
1/2 c. water
1 tsp. cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Microwave for 20 min on high, stirring occasionally. I like to use a glass pyrex bowl that comes with a lid so I can pop the remainder right in the fridge.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Vivisms, vol 12


Vivi: Daddy, can I try your beer?
Nate: No, you won't like this one; it's bitter.
Vivi: It IS better. It's better for me!

Vivi: What are you doing, Daddy?
Nate: Getting dressed.
Vivi: I don't need to get dressed because I am already jammied.

Vivi (singing during nap time): I can't take it take it no more, never felt like felt like this before.

Vivi (after hurting Charlie while rough-housing): Charlotte is too tiny small. She needs to grow "wery" big and strong like me so we can play.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

the organizing loves of my life

My house still needs a lot of work, but the trees sprouting some leaves have inspired me to do a bit of spring cleaning and organizing. Oh how I love to clean and organize. Some days I fantasize about somebody coming to take my kids for an entire day so I can put on my music and work gloves and get down to business. Alas, no neighbor in shining armor has come to sweep my kids away yet, so I have to take the hour or two as I can get them. Boy am I mourning the daily nap thing. I get about 1-2 naps a week now with Vivi. Sigh. Guess they have to grow up some time, and it's wrong to give them cough syrup just to get them to sleep...or so I'm told (kidding!).

Anyway, since I've touted myself as an organization guru, I thought I should share a few of my current favorites:

What started as a bookcase has become a great place to store my food stuffs "stockpile."

Expensive kitchen organizer from the Container Store. 
When we bought this we had zero $, but it has stood the test of time and been a great investment. Wish my kitchen in this house was big enough for it.

I love my rolling laundry sorter! 
I put Nate's clean work shirts on the bar and can move it out of the way. Perfect.

These two big black metal shelves from Target have been worth their weight in gold, but luckily they were very affordable. Wait for a sale. You won't be disappointed.

Hand-me-down Ikea bookcase. This is actually on the smallish side as storage goes, but it keeps me from accumulating too many books. I read it and then set it free unless I'm sure I'll reference it again. It's very liberating.

Grocery bag organizer! I've always wanted one and now I have it. I'm much more careful now about bringing my reusable bags to the store if I know my organizer is full. No more yanking zillions of bags out of the bottom of a closet.

Plastic bins are the answer to life's "what do I do with all this tiny crap?" dilemma.

If you are not a person who's into cleaning, this next paragraph is best skipped (Note: I wasn't paid for this endorsement, I just love my mop!!). Though I don't have a picture of it, I also have a great new mop-like instrument for cleaning my kitchen tile and wood floor. If you are as into the whole reduce-reuse-recycle concept and as cheap as me, you'll appreciate this new gadget. Libman came out with a Swiffer-ish mop, BUT it has a reusable pad instead of the disposable kind and a refillable bottle for the cleaning product. I've never been a mop girl because I can't stand the thought of rubbing that old nasty sponge all over the floor just to spread that bacteria around. But I also can't stand the thought of throwing the pad away. With this one, you throw the pad in the wash EVERY TIME YOU USE IT! AWESOME!

We also have a Eureka steam mop for the once-a-week sanitizing, but I just couldn't get into the idea of plugging that thing in every day. This way, I can mop to my heart's content and then lean it against the wall when I'm done. No fuss. And it sure beats getting down on my hands and knees with a spray bottle and a rag, which was my previous modus operandi.

Update (5-14-12): We gave up our steam mop a few weeks ago to our church's rummage sale. I still use the Libman mop and still love it just as much, but when I'm feeling a deep-cleaning frenzy, I get back down on my hands and knees and scrub. There's just no better way to sanitize.

Monday, May 16, 2011

let's play spot the living thing...

the tiniest violin

Ready for some whining? I've got no right to complain because, hey, I'm an American, meaning I have every need covered and then some. I have all the food I need, I'm able to splurge and go out to eat occasionally, I have two beautiful children, I can take the girls to the gym for 2 blissful hours a day, I drive a nice new car, and did I mention yet that I don't have a job? Moreover, I live in a gorgeous town, and incidentally, I discovered by accident today you can leave your front door wide open here for hours at a time while you're out running errands, and no one steals from you. So now that I've run through my wonderful life, allow me to demonstrate my A#1 reason for bitching:

This weather S-U-C-K-S! If I had managed to do a screen capture of the last 4 days along with this forecast, you'd really see a nasty trend. Wait, 4 days, what am I saying? The last 4 MONTHS is more like it. And don't you listen to those weather men who say it might be partially sunny and 68-70 on the weekend because that ain't happening. Liars! If it does happen, I assure you it will be alongside 80mph winds and a bit of hail. Why are you doing this to me Boston?? You couldn't just ease me into your terrible weather, could you? Oh no, you had to lay it on thick and rub it in. This weather is EXACTLY like living in England again. 53 deg and light drizzle, 24 hrs a day. Not enough to stay indoors, but just enough to piss you off. It's no wonder British people aren't particularly happy...or tan for that matter. I have gone full fledged vampire now with my sickly pale skin and dark highlightless hair. Oh sun, how I miss you. I know I cursed your existence back when it was 98 and humid on a hot Georgia summer day, but I take it all back! I love you sun! Please come back!

Friday, May 13, 2011

10 years later

Playing soccer on an isolated hillside with girls who had never seen a white person--mzungu--before (click to enlarge)

It has been exactly 10 years since I took my first trip to Kenya with the Study Abroad program at UGA, which means it's been exactly 10 years and one day since my lightweight boat missed a medal at our top regatta in Philly by four tenths of a second. Those were the days...insanely competitive race followed less than 24 hours by a trip half-way around the world to a foreign land. Africa still calls to me to return, as does rowing. Mark my words, I will see both again, some day. Now that we have kids, that day seems further and farther away, but it's there in the back of my mind always, beckoning to me. It will be mine. Oh yes, it will be mine.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Vivisms, vol 11

Ah, motherhood...
Vivi: Mommy, can you wash my face? I have a booger mustache.

Singing in the car...
Vivi: Come on, come on, I like it like it.

Vivi: I want to play with the puzzle.
Me: Ok.
Vivi: But first, I want to get married.
Me: ...blank stare...
Vivi: (hugging me) There, now we are married!

Vivi: Mommy, let's play. You be the little girl, and I'll be the ice cream fireman.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Vivi turns three

I'm a little behind posting about Vivi's birthday, which happened a week ago. I've been enjoying finally being able to go outside!

We celebrated Vivi's birthday all weekend long, starting with a trip to a local farm on Friday with her best friend Avery. Avery's mom and I have become friends, so we had a great time chatting as the girls giggled and ran around holding hands. It was quite possibly the most adorable moment of Vivi's life so far. The farm was hosting a kids' event where they made stations at each animal pen and let the kids make little art projects; they even gave them baskets to carry their goodies in. The girls ate up every moment and every bit of the cookies I gave them, and Charlotte watched wide-eyed from in her backpack. Oh how she wishes she could join in the fun! On the day of her birthday we had my cousin and her family over to eat dinner and chat; Vivi and her little cousin Ella had many giggly moments, including when they decided to feed each other icing while no one was looking. I only wish I had gotten more pictures. We ended the weekend with a hike in the beautiful Blue Hills, taking advantage of one of the first nice days we've had this year. I can't wait until the girls are a little older so we can start taking them camping; they love being outdoors.

It's hard to believe Genevieve is already three years old, and yet she seems so grown up at times I forget she's not older. I'm hoping to make letters to my kids a traditional part of their birthdays. So here goes...

Dear Genevieve, 
Before my eyes you have suddenly grown from a toddler into a full-fledged kid. And what a great kid you are! You are almost always happy and laughing about something "silly," a word you use about a million times a day. My favorite thing to do with you is read, and I feel lucky you seem to love it as much as I do; it has become a weekly activity to return to the library for more books. Our library has a wonderful children's section with an alphabet puzzle and books you can pull out and look at on your own, so I usually give you some time by yourself to explore while I set off with Charlie to find some weekend movies. You love all books about farm animals, pirates (a special favorite called "Pigs Ahoy!" combined the two), ballerinas, princesses, dinosaurs, and being a big sister. You were very excited about your third birthday, and we talked about it daily for the two months between Daddy's birthday and yours. Since you love food so much, I was very surprised you didn't like the taste of either your birthday cake or the cupcakes we made the next day. I guess your food preferences are like mine in one small way at least. You are such a sweet and helpful big sister, and one of your favorite things to do is make Charlotte laugh. If she cries, you are very sympathetic and say "That's ok, Charlotte. You probably just need to poop!" I know this is going to be a great year for us, and sometimes I wish I could freeze time so you will always be my little angel. I love you very much!  
Love, Mommy

a blessed mother's day

I had such a great time! It was actually more like Mother's weekend because we spread out several activities over a few days. It all started on Cinco de Mayo, on which we had the customary and yummy tacos and margaritas. Incidentally, adding jalepeno and onion to standard taco seasoning really jazzes it up. Nate surprised me with wonderful goodies from a nearby bakery, and we sat margarita-buzzed on the couch and blissfully consumed copious sugary concoctions like florentines, macaroons, snickerdoodles, and luxurious and overflowing rum bombs. One day away from the diet couldn't hurt, right? I only wish the movie we watched could have paired better with the evening.

[An aside: We saw Hereafter that night, and I hesitate to judge it too harshly considering the potentially biased view I now have; any movie that causes me to sob with a mouth full of taco automatically receives a lower grade. But in an attempt to stay unbiased, I do have to wonder why they made Matt Damon's character so whiny and pathetic. Why couldn't it be a gift to serve as a connection to those who have lost loved ones? And if it's so bad, why did he ever turn it into a business in the first place? I found it annoyingly choppy and murky. But I did love the french woman and young boy.]

On Saturday I got to do my favorite activity (sans kiddos): spring consignment shopping. My first sale of the day comes around only once in a lifetime; it took a bargain shopper's perfect storm of serendipitous events to lead up to the paradisaical outcome:
#1: Wrote the start time down wrong on my planner as 9:30 instead of 10am.
#2: Arrived early to the sale at the same time as a more bossy and headstrong woman and realized together the sale hadn't yet started.
#3: Glommed on to said bossy woman as she bullied her way into the sale early. Silently gave apologetic look to taken-aback sale volunteer while inside secretly gave the pushy gal a high five.
#4: Stared slack-jawed at the glorious bounty of gently used high-fashion dresses in my view, with none of the typical elbows in my side to get there first. Needless to say, being that the sale was at the international school in our town that costs $18k/year or more to attend, the parents who donated clothes aren't shopping at TJ Maxx. I don't want to brag too much, but let's just say there was some serious label swooning going on. AND to top it all off, my partner in crime was only interested in boys' clothes. Yipee!

After my bargain bonanza, we picnicked in Lexington square, and it was beautiful outside. To end the perfect day, I went to a second consignment sale, this time catching their end-of-day $15/bag take-whatever-you-can-cram-in-there blowout event. I left 30 minutes later and $30 poorer, hauling 2 incredibly heavy paper grocery bags toppling over with clothes and books. Sometimes you just have to go for quantity over quality, but in the high-brow Lexington community, you pretty much can't lose. On our way back to the car, it started to rain, but even the rain couldn't ruin my high from the day's scores. It seems Boston never has a totally gorgeous day in spring from start to finish. If it's sunny, it's either accompanied by wind or followed quickly by rain. I recently discovered the high doesn't reach 70 degF until the end of May...i.e. almost JUNE! You could say I knew what I was getting myself into, but then again, do we ever really know?

My Mother's Day was a typical uneventful Sunday full of exercising and eating at the local flatbread pizza place, but time with my family doing our normal thing was the ideal end to the wonderful weekend.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

the reason you have two kids...

They are playing together! Sorry it's blurry, but I didn't dare risk letting them see me, which has interfered in the past.


And here are some of a rare moment of playing with Charlotte while Vivi was napping. I was folding laundry when she started trying to get my attention.



Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Vivisms, vol 10

The 3rd degree...
Mommy: What do you want for your birthday?
Vivi: A cake and presents.
Mommy: What kind of present?
Vivi: A toy!
Mommy: What kind of toy?
Vivi: A pink toy!
Mommy: What kind of pink toy?
Vivi: A ball.
Mommy: What about a blue ball? (I had already bought one)
Vivi: Yeah, that sounds great! And we can kick it together and say "hooray!"

The doctor asked her lots of questions at her 3-year check-up to test cognitive ability, including...
Doc: What should I do if I am cold?
Vivi: Get sunny!
Doc: What should I do if I'm hungry?
Vivi: Eat food, silly.

At the gym...
Vivi (to caregiver): It was my birthday yesterday, and I'm three years old, and I got cake and presents, and they are all MINE! But you can play with them too. 

Vivi: Bob Marley likes jam, Mommy. And I like jam too! Especially blackberry jam. Yum.


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