Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Strange but True

Yesterday Jack pushed the record button on the front of the DVR (the screen was off at the time, so he couldn't see what he was recording). What did he record?

"Monty Python's the Meaning of Life"

Boys and Girls

I'm amazed that at 23 months, Jack know the difference between boys and girls. I don't understand how he picked this up, but I have some theories.

When we stopped breastfeeding, one of ways we talked about the transition was that mommy milk (or, in Jack speak, "mamoo") was for little babies, and that Jack was a big boy now. This never made him feel bad; rather it seemed to make him proud and pleased to no longer be considered a baby. So since we talk about him being a big boy (always as a good thing), it makes sense that he knows he's a boy.

So how does he understand what makes a person female?

About 8 months ago Jack received a castle play thingy, that came with 4 figures: a king, a queen, a peasant man (!), and a horse. (Actually, I could write quite a bit just about the choice of figures, but that's another blog....) As Jack played with them, he would sometimes call the king or the peasant da. I wondered how Jack would relate to the queen, with her full gown and long hair. Who was she to him -- he has only seen me in a dress once. Did he know she was supposed to represent a woman, and that his mommy is a woman? Well, he mostly ignored her (as well as the horse). But somehow knowledge about gender has filtered into his brain, because now when we read a book that has illustrations with children, he can identify the girls from the boys. And when I ask him if mommy is a girl or a boy, he says girl. In the store, if he gets a balloon from a female clerk, later he talks about the balloon he got from "the lady."

It's all very interesting, and reminds me to watch what we show/teach him -- I am committed to raising a healthy, non-sexist boy who will be respectful of women (and everyone else).

Whoops -- maybe I spoke too soon about him having a firm understanding of gender differences. This afternoon he says his da is a lady.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Jack's phrase of the day

Mommy time

Becoming independent

In the past few weeks, my life has swung in a happier direction. Jack now plays by himself a good part of the day, so I have more free time to get chores done while he's awake. When he's napping I can read or rest or write.

Before this Jack often refused to do anything unless I did it with him, particularly in the afternoon. Cooking dinner was impossible until Hans got home, so I usually made something while Jack napped, then reheated it at dinner time. Today while I cooked dinner Jack ran back and forth from his room to the kitchen carrying toys with the assistance of small monkey (who, it turns out, also likes to color). At this moment Jack's putting toys in a bin, dumping them out, and putting them back in.

It's a joy to watch Jack grow and develop new skills. And I am more calm, rested, and present while I'm with him.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Saturday, November 24, 2007

An interesting book for writers

I just finished "Stand Facing the Stove: the Story of the Women Who Gave America the Joy of Cooking," by Anne Mendelson.

Several aspects of the book are especially fascinating to anyone who either works in an editorial capacity in cookbook publishing (as I did) or is a published author (as I am).

We are so spoiled these days by computers that it's hard to imagine how daunting book production (particularly cookbooks) must have been in the early and middle part of this century. Creating and following a consistent style guide for a massive and intricate cookbook without even the aid of photocopiers is incredible, but that's how it was done. And the idea of indexing a cookbook without the aid of a computer is a bad dream -- indices are awful even with a computer.

Add the difficulties of creating and publishing a cookbook to an absolutely intolerable relationship with a publisher for years and years of drama. Irma Rombauer, who originated the "Joy of Cooking," made a rookie mistake when she signed the contract for the first edition with Bobbs-Merrill, granting the copyright to the book, as well as to an earlier, lesser edition, to the publisher. This one detail robbed Irma Rombauer and her daughter Marion Becker (who eventually overtook the book's subsequent editions) of perhaps millions of dollars as well as control over the book.

Things didn't get any better for future editions -- in 1962 Bobbs-Merrill published an edition of "Joy of Cooking" "without a contract, an act of stunning recklessness that left the receipt of income from sales something like the receipt of a live bomb." This edition was very badly edited in every way -- in the key to the symbols what was originally parenthesis intended to highlight optional ingredients morphed into a circle, and then later to a solid circle. Ingredients were spelled incorrectly, recipes chopped up but not reconstituted correctly, etc. Anne Mendelson compares the work finding and listing all the errors to "counting locusts in a Scriptural plague."

It's enough to keep an author with a book in production up at night, and a good reminder to check any contract carefully.

Friday, November 23, 2007

What Jack ate for Thanksgiving dinner

3 dinner rolls
about 1/2 cup cranberry jelly
2 bites of glazed carrots

He tried a taste of gravy and was horrified. Wouldn't go near the turkey or stuffing.

For dessert: a few spoonfuls of whipped cream, just to get his eyes all sugar sparkley before bed.

Jack's new word of the day


The wave

We live within walking distance of a pedestrian bridge which passes over BART train tracks. When Jack's train obsession started we took daily walks to the bridge and watched the trains pass by. Then we realized that if we waved to the person driving the train, he or she often waved back, and sometimes even honked the horn. Well that was such a thrill we started waving to other people: MUNI train operators, street sweepers, and garbage men have all responded quite nicely to our waves. The MUNI drivers seem to be the most jazzed by waving, and they almost always honk.

We took our waving philosophy one step further and tried waving to people in cars waiting for us to cross the street at stop signs or traffic lights. This has been the most dramatic interaction of all. People stonefaced with boredom or nearly apoplectic at the momentary delay we're causing transform completely when Jack waves to them. Their faces just light up as they wave back, and the rage seems to drain away, at least for a few seconds.

Waving at strangers is something you probably can't get away with as an adult, but if you enjoy the company of a toddler now and then (or all day everyday), I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Fun fact

Eucalyptus buttons (seeds) put into a heating vent in June will smell just like cat pee when the heat is turned on in November.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tuesday dinner

Meyer Lemon-Cauliflower Risotto

Cauliflower is a good source of vitamin C -- many people who disdain this vegetable will enjoy it when roasted.

This is another dinner culled completely from Trader Joe's....

24 ounces fresh cauliflower florets
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper
2 cups arborio rice
1 onion, chopped finely
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/4-1/2 cup lemon juice (from Meyer lemons if you can get them; use less juice if you have conventional/Eureka lemons)
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 1/2 cups chicken stock (or veg stock), warmed to a simmer
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat over to 425 degrees.
2. Toss cauliflower florets and 2 Tablespoons olive oil together in a bowl with salt and pepper. Pour out onto baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes, stirring once at about the 15 minute point. Florets should still have a little crunch to them. Transfer florets onto a plate to cool.
3. Over medium-high heat, saute rice in 2 Tablespoons olive oil until rice begins to smell nutty and turn light gold in color, about 5 minutes. Add onion and cook about 3 minutes, until onion is soft.
4. Add lemon juice and wine to rice and onion and stir. Begin to ladle stock into rice, one cup at a time. Stir as rice absorbs liquids, then add more stock when you draw the spoon across the pan and it leaves a clear path. Continue until rice is cooked to your liking -- most like it with a slight "bite". You might use all the stock, have some left, or even need a little more. If you run out, you can always finish it with some water.
5. Remove from heat, stir in cauliflower, cheese and parsley, and allow to cool at least 5 minutes before serving.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Jack's phrase of the day

Bread dipped in soup

Monday night dinner

Pre-jack, I bought most of our groceries at Andronico's and Rainbow. Now, it's much easier to make one big weekly shopping trip to Trader Joe's. I buy many convenience foods there, and these help me to cook dinner quickly -- essential when there's a toddler begging for attention at 5 p.m.

Every ingredient for this soup was bought at Trader Joe's. Of course, it can be replicated with food purchased anywhere else. I do support shopping locally, and look forward to doing so once Jack is a bit more independent.

Butternut squash bisque
1 1/2 pounds butternut squash cubes
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 sprig fresh sage
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
a few grinds of pepper
4 cups stock (any kind, it's really good with turkey stock)
1/2 cup heavy cream (can skip if you're counting calories)

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2) In a bowl, toss together the squash, onion, garlic, thyme, sage, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Pour out onto a sheet pan with low sides (like a cookie sheet).
3) Roast for 1 hour, stirring once after about 40 minutes.
4) Remove pan from oven and dump contents into a soup pot or large saucepan.
5) Add stock, bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour.
6) Allow to cool, fish out sage stem and leaves and discard them, then puree the soup in blender.
7) Return soup to pan, warm until hot, then remove from heat and stir in cream.

One great thing about this recipe is there are several points at which you can stop and throw everything in the fridge. Then resume cooking when you are able. I make most of it when Jack is napping, then finish it at dinner time.

Garnish the soup, if you like, with crumbled blue cheese, toasted pecans, and/or pomegranate seeds.

You can also reduce this soup to a sauce -- simmer at low heat for about 30 minutes more, and toss with cooked noodles of your choice. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Score: Jack 3, parents 0

Penguin has been found. He was shoved behind the books on the shelf near our front door -- a location I was sure I searched earlier.

Saturday we bought a 3 ball set of small juggling bean bag balls. By Saturday afternoon 2 of the balls were missing. We looked everywhere. Sunday afternoon Jack calmly plucked them from the shelf under his high chair.

He's way out of our league....

An unexpected break

Our family routine has always included a morning walk for Hans and Jack. When Jack was a tiny baby, Hans took him in a front pack. When we moved down the hill to the flatlands, Hans pushed him in the stroller. And when Jack began walking, Hans and Jack walked together. It was a blissful morning break for me, a chance to get everything together for the day, put a load of laundry in, unload the dishwasher, etc.

Suddenly, about 2 months ago, Jack refused to go on the morning da excursion. Every day we asked him, and every day he said no. I really missed the extra time alone in the house, but Jack was so adamant, we thought it best to respect his wishes.

Today, Jack was sitting on his tricycle, and Hans asked him if he wanted to take it out for a walk this morning. Jack said "now."

So they've gone off on an adventure, and here I sit with time to write. Bliss!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Jack's phrase of the day

Happy to be me


During autumn of my first grade year, I can remember looking out the window and catching a glimpse of geese flying in their classic "v" formation. I stood up in excitement, pointed outside, and shouted "geese!" to my schoolmates. While I can't remember exactly what my teacher said, I can still feel the burning shame of being harshly scolded by her for disrupting the class. Joy was not fostered in that room, or anywhere at school that I can remember.

What a sad thing. Now that I am a mom, I don't think joy is taught. It's just there. It seems to rise up and out of Jack like steam spilling from a teakettle. So it's particularly unfortunate that during so much of my early schooling spontaneity and joy were squelched. We were encouraged to be quiet and pay attention to the teacher, and unplanned occurrences (like the geese) were distractions from the all important curriculum.

Thankfully, education has changed for the better since the 70s, and Jack will likely not encounter the same attitudes in school. What better way to teach children than to link learning to the things going on all around them on a daily basis, planned or unplanned?

Jack soaks up everything like a sponge, so we try to teach him about the subjects he is naturally interested in. These days it's fun to learn all the part of a train, count anything and everything, and sing abc's. The things he learns will change as he grows and his personality develops, and that'll be fun too.

But beyond teaching concrete things and concepts, I like to be joyful with Jack. He has such a delightful laugh and his face lights up when he has a funny thing to share. He likes to run around the house with a small stuffed animal and hide it somewhere (sometimes a little too efficiently). When the animal is found he laughs and laughs. A few days ago he learned to hop, and he loves that. Running has always been a big joy, and the sight of him running while laughing is pure wonder. Running, jumping, and laughing with him is a fantastic gift. It's reminded me that the joy is still inside me, just like it was that autumn day in first grade. And there's no mean teacher here anymore; no one to criticize me for my actions or behaviors. No one for whom to keep the joy inside. There's just me and my family, and the joy.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Jack's phrase of the day

My way or the highway

Choo choo

Jack's train obsession started about 2 months ago. It seemed to come out of the blue -- we visited places with trains before, like the Discovery Museum, and rode the train at Tilden and Fairyland, and he enjoyed all that, but he wasn't overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Then I suppose it was kismet; we rode the Little Puffer at the San Francisco Zoo and he came home crazy about trains.

For about a month we visited the Zoo at least once a week (we bought a membership) so Jack could get his train riding fix. At home, we've procured Brio train tracks and engines from toy stores and EBAY. We bought some train books and were lucky enough to get some passed down from a Glen Park parent. So we are really set up now.

The older train books have charming illustrations and often slightly annoying text. "The Little Engine That Could," (Amazon info: ISBN: 978-0448431147) one of my mom's favorite books from childhood, goes on and on and about the dolls getting all teary and the children in the town who will be deprived of spinach and lollypops, but once the blue engine gets going, it arrives too fast at the top -- that should be the interesting part! Plus, there is a scary clown (of course Jack loves him).

"The Caboose Who Got Loose" (ISBN: 0395148057) has a wonderful flowing text and cute illustrations, but I don't know what to make of the story. The caboose doesn't like being at the back of train and sitting in the smoky trainyard, so when she breaks off the train, flies off the track and gets stuck between two spruce trees she's happy. Maybe it's the no one ever finds her part, it makes me think of "Into the Wild," or other poor hikers lost in the wilderness.

"Tootle" (ISBN: 0307020975) is about an engine in training who misbehaves, jumping off the tracks to play in fields of flowers. The chief engineer trainer and the townspeople band together to show Tootie the error of his ways. Is this really a message to conform?

Some newer books mostly skip moralizing altogether, and either feature stories light on content and heavy on rhymes, or drift way into fantasy. We all like "The Goodnight Train," (info at Amazon: ISBN 978-0152054366) with sweet illustrations of children in beds flying along the train tracks. I actually started calling it Naptime Train so I could more easily read it at naptime, so Jack calls it that as well now.

Other volumes in our library:
"Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo" (Amazon info: ISBN: 978-0786807604)
"I Love Trains" (Amazon info: ISBN: 978-0064436670
"I've Been Working on the Railroad" (Amazon info: ISBN: 978-1931722117)
"The Big Book of Trains" (Amazon info: ISBN: 978-0789434364)
"Dinosaur Train" (Amazon info: ISBN: 978-0060292454)
"Two Little Trains" (Amazon info: ISBN: 978-0064435680)
"Trains" (Amazon info: ISBN: 978-0744512236)
"Chugga Chugga Choo Choo" ISBN: 978-0786807604
"Clickety Clack" ISBN: 978-0140568295
"The Little Red Caboose" (ISBN: 0307021521)
"Animal Train" (ISBN: 0689848382)
"Puff Puff Chugga Chugga" (ISBN: 0689839863)
"Train Song" (ISBN: 0690047266)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Jack's new word of the day


Busting out

Add this to the ever expanding list of things I never knew would happen, toddler chapter: Jack is peeing so much at night (and sometimes during the day) that he is overflowing his diapers. During the day this is usually discovered when I pick him up and feel a dampness emanating from his bottom, or unfortunately when he gets up from the couch and a telltale blotch is left on the cushion. So far when his output has exceeded the limits of the diaper at night he has slept through this, but Hans and I face a total bed and pajama change in the morning when both of us are barely awake.

As usual, good tips from folks on the Glen Park Parents list include going up one diaper size, trying overnight diapers, changing him when he's asleep about 11pm, and using diaper doublers. The last suggestion seems best for us. We used these back when he was in cloth diapers, and since he still fits in the smaller size diapers, we could still use the smaller size with the doublers, which are like big maxi pads without adhesive.
Ordering them online might be the only reliable source for us, since I've been told they are stocked infrequently, and only at some Safeway stores in our area.

Hooked on Book Mooch

I've been Book Mooching for almost 2 weeks now, and it is strangely addictive. At this point it feels a bit like a pyramid scheme -- I've shipped 15 books and have yet to receive any (although 2 are on the way). Cleaning books off the shelves and sending them to people who really want them is satisfying, especially remaindered hard covers, since no one will ever buy them back at a book store.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mommy Takes a Hike

Hans shoved me out the door Sunday morning for a hike -- only my second solitary trek in almost 2 years. Since I didn't want to be away for a long time, I chose San Pedro Valley Park, which is always one of my favorite places to hike, any time of year. The weather was perfect and the trails were very quiet. I love the way the seasons overlap in the bay area, and at San Pedro there were still red berries dangling from honeysuckle vines (summer), purple drupes on Coffeeberry shrubs (autumn), and new flowers on the manzanitas (winter). There were about a million hummingbirds zipping about, and great piles of Coffeeberry-studded coyote scat along the trail. I look forward to more hiking in the future -- if and when Jack is agreeable, we could hike quite a bit during the week.

New words and phrases

Jack is often shy when he is trying out a word for the first time. Yesterday at the playground he said "dirt" very softly and it took me several minutes to parse what he was saying.

We make pizza dough every Saturday morning, and he's learned most of the words associated with the mixing: barley, rye, and whole wheat. Still needs to learn cornmeal and bread flour!

Out in the yard he knows several plants: lupine, bay tree, oak tree, lantana, and dahlia. We pull weeds "by the roots," and he loves that. Good thing, there are about a million nasturtiums sprouting all over.

His cutest word lately though, is ketchup. He says it so earnestly and quietly.
And our hearts do melt when he says "hold my hand."

Our playground opens this weekend

It's been 16 months of construction and delays, but the Sunnyside Playground reopens this weekend. I always slowed down and took a long look every time we drove by, and in the last few days it finally started looking like a playground. It'll be great to have a playground we can walk to. And just in time for the rainy season!

Hiding and Finding

Where do they go? The tiny bouncing ball, no doubt, has bounced into oblivion, and easy to see how, but the penguin? Where does a 5 inch stuffed penguin disappear to? It's not like we live in a mansion with 8 bedrooms and maids' quarters and vast walled grounds -- you can almost vacuum the entire house from one outlet! I feel like I spend half my day looking for miscellaneous small toddler toys, and the rest of the day looking for the darn penguin.