Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Odds and ends

I was planning another nutrition entry for this week, but I had some sort of stomach flu yesterday and the last thing I can think about today is food. I am currently willing the dry piece of toast that I ate for breakfast to stay down and doing my best to fend off another pity party.

Earlier this week, I gave my blog a new header using a very easy and intuitive online photo editor called Picnik. This was much simpler to use than Photoshop, didn't require any software downloads, and was free! With the help of The Blog Guidebook, where I found a great tutorial that included the key piece of information that I had been missing - dimensions - I was able to try my hand at very basic graphic design. What do you think? Not time to quit my day job, I know. But it was a fun diversion for a few hours.

Another new addition to the blog is "Artwork of the Week," which I have added to the left hand margin. I pulled my college art history textbook, Janson's History of Art, down off the shelf the other day and just the smell of the pages brought me back to Professor Chapell's lecture hall at dear old William and Mary. Would you believe that he tiny slips of adhesive paper that I used as a study aide to cover the captions below each panel are still in place?

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has helped us out over the past 6 weeks. I'm half-way to 36 weeks from where I started at 23 weeks, so time is passing, albeit slowly. My own little turkey continues to bake inside, which is where he should be, and I'm extraordinarily thankful for that.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rethinking healthy eating, Part 1

Eating has been on my mind lately, and not just because I am sitting at home all day long, staring from my perch on the couch back towards our kitchen. As my toddler grows into an increasingly robust, but at the same time highly opinionated, appetite, I am thinking more about what I put into his mouth, as well as what I put into mine. The carefree days of breastfeeding, when - as long as I stayed away from alcohol - I knew he was getting a perfect diet, are long gone!

I also stumbled upon a few other items that peaked my interest. One was an article in the New York Times  about the often conflicting messages of the USDA with regards to the diet and nutritional health of the U.S. at large. The article draws attention to the fact that many pizza chains, under the advisement of a federally-funded marketing firm, have greatly increased the cheese (and thereby fat) content of their pizzas recently as a way of selling more dairy products and ultimately more pizzas. Not surprisingly, the pizzas are tastier, and sales are better than ever! This makes Domino's, as well as the dairy industry (and by a complex web of associations, the USDA and the government) very happy.

The problem is, the USDA is also in charge of advising the public on healthy eating habits. Remember learning about the food pyramid in elementary school health or science class? Well, the composition of the pyramid reflected not just the best available science but also the influence of many parties in the food industry with vested interests in the eating habits of Americans. This is not to say that there is no value in the USDA's food pyramid. But like Mom always said, not everything you read is true, and consensus statements, particularly those coming from large organizations, can be influenced by the politics of the day and can also become rapidly outdated by advancing science.

I found a nice summary of the history of the food pyramid and the evolving state of nutritional research at the Harvard School of Public Health's website, The Nutrition Source. Here, researchers propose an alternative to the USDA's food pyramid that attempts to integrate more recent data about healthy eating.

Two points that I found most interesting were the following:

1. Calcium and vitamin D are important for bone health, but milk is not necessarily the ideal source of these nutrients. The powerful message that milk is good for your health, drilled into all of us since childhood, may have quite a bit more to do with good marketing by the milk and dairy industry than actual research and health outcomes data.

2. The traditional limits placed on recommended fat intake are likely artificially low, since they do not differentiate between saturated and unsaturated fats. Good sources of unsaturated fats, such as olive, peanut, canola, and other plant-based oils, can likely be used much more liberally than previously thought and contain important nutritional value.

Most importantly during this exercise, I came to realize that many of my general feelings about what it means to eat a healthy diet are at best slightly outdated, at worst based on myth, and the discussion above clearly just skims the surface. Which is why this entry is entitled "Part 1." In the weeks to come I hope to tackle other topics related to nutrition, come up with some concrete goals of my own for improving my diet, and collect more web-based resources for healthy cooking and eating. Bon appetit!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

View from the window

Every fall I give thanks to our neighbors, Fred and Margot, for the beautiful Japanese maple that stands outside our dining room window. The tree was planted on the occasion of their marriage. Its leaves turn relatively late in the fall - just before Thanksgiving - when many of the surrounding trees have already lost their leaves, which just adds to the beauty. Happy fall!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In my spare time

I've hit a new low. Coin wrapping. But a profitable one: any guesses on how much this stack is worth?

Monday, November 15, 2010

These are a few of my favorite...words

Though of little interest to anyone but me (and my loving husband), the vocabulary of my 17-month-old is a constant source of amazement and delight right now. It's hard to do justice to the topic without audio recordings, but sadly I'm not technologically savvy enough to swing inserting sound-bytes. So I'll have to rely on phonetic spelling to capture some of the cute factor that comes along with each of these words.

This list is in (approximate) order of acquisition:

Hi! (with an exaggerated diphthong, i.e. Ha-eeeee!)
Bow Wow
Cheese (Tssssss)
Sit (started out just Sssss, now morphed into Seht)
Bye Bye (Bah Ba-eeeeeeeeeee!)
Da Da (Da Daaaaah)
Ma Ma
More (Mah, said at the same time as the sign, and virtually indistinguishable from the preceding Ma Ma)
Milk (pronounced "Mo", and very hard to distinguish from "More")
Water (Wah Wah)
Please (originally pronounced "Bwee," now "Peez," and always accompanied by the sign and an angelic, hopeful smile)
Cracker (Krah Kaaaah)
Bath (more like "Bass")
Wash (more like "Wass")
Car (said with an undeniable Boston accent, i.e. Caaaaaaaaah)
Banana (Na Na, with the tongue sticking out between the teeth)
Apple (Bap-el)
Row (as in, Row row row your boat)
Thank you (usually comes out "Do Do," but you know it's thank you because it comes along with the sign)
Wheel (with an exaggerated diphthong, i.e. Whee-yel)
Beep beep!

So there you have it. With only about 25 words to express oneself, no wonder there is still so much whining and pointing. It will be fun to look back in a few months and realize how far a child can come in a short time period. I have read that between 18 and 24 months, kids pick up as many as 10 new words per day! I can't wait!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

These are a few of my

In the spirit of my last post, and as a nod to my failing memory, today is the first in a series of logs to document various aspects of my every-changing darling. This week I thought I would start off with toys. As I have mentioned before, we don't have many, but even so, a boy has his favorites.

Much to my chagrin, the winner right now, at 2 days shy of 17 months, is the brightly colored, entirely plastic, 6-wheeler dump truck that makes beeping noises (including the high-pitched beep of a truck in reverse). The giver of this gift shall remain nameless (but you know who you are!). A close second is the smaller, but no less plastic and even more shrill, red fire truck (see Away with the singing truck! from last week). Thankfully, a few silent toys have made the list, including the ever-popular recycling bin (which, depending upon the amount of glass, is more or less silent).

Oh to be a toddler again! Next week will be favorite words, and then perhaps favorite parks the following. Are there classic toys out there that my little one is missing out on? What were your favorite toys at this age?

Monday, November 8, 2010

The passage of time

I have been thinking lately about the intense emotions that washed through me during the days and weeks after my son was born last year, and wondering whether they will return with the birth of our second: coming home from the hospital and sobbing at the dining room table, utterly unable to imagine how we would make it through the night together; a very literal and physical feeling that my heart would break in two if anything happened to my son; and most poignantly, a sharp awareness of the inexorable passage of time.

The latter feeling, which has necessarily dulled over the past year - or how could I have ever returned to some semblance of my pre-baby life? - made the deepest impression on me. It was a piercing sense of mortality, a sorrowful realization that every day that passed, my baby was different. The baby that I knew the day before was never to be seen again, and my memory of him in that state was fading quickly.

At the time, my husband pointed me to Shakespeare's 126th sonnet (and this week's poem in the left hand margin), which perfectly captures the tension between nature's beauty and ephemeral time. Upon re-reading it this morning, I am again comforted by it's wisdom.

In some ways, I miss that poignancy, and I wonder where it has gone. To be sure, the cocktail of sleep deprivation and hormonal swings that defined those early days and weeks played a big role. Now passed, many things seem more manageable, not just grappling with the relentless progression of infant development. Perhaps I have learned to suppress it myself in order to cope and carry on.

But every once in a while, I think it is healthy to reflect and embrace the sorrow of time passing. It serves as a reminder to embrace every minute, to take in the vibrancy and color of each passing scene, to be grateful for the miracle of young life and the ambivilance of early parenthood.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Highlights of the day

The delivery man commenting on the Caravaggio print in the living room.

The road construction crew just below the window taking an early lunch.
 The smell of black bean soup simmering on the stovetop.

A fall-fresh breeze sneaking in through an open window.

A call from my husband.

Discovering that the latest novel by a favorite author is just as good as the last.

It's amazing how perspective can change when you have some free time on your hands!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Away with the singing truck!

If I hear the jingle coming from my son's red firetruck ("Did you ever see a puppy...driving a red truck?" to the tune of "Did you ever see a lassie?") one more time, I might just throw it out the window. Sadly we're only on the second floor so I'm not sure this would accomplish anything - the truck is pretty sturdy. Rather than dream up better ways of doing in the singing truck, I decided to make a CD of children's songs I actually can stand to hear more than once.

This turned out to be alot of fun. The NIH actually has a website that lists over a hundred classic children's songs, with lyrics and tunes, in alphabetical order. This was a good place to start, but I also wanted to include some contemporary songs as well as some songs from old musicals or movies that double nicely as kid's songs. In the process I came across a few very clever websites and blogs that review recent children's music releases, most of them created by musically-inclined parents who found themselves similarly fed up with the red firetruck jingle. Zooglobble is one such site that I could spend hours purusing. Another is called Kids Music that Rocks.

I quickly realized that I couldn't possibly cover everything on one CD, but I have to start somewhere! So here's my first 'playlist.' My next mix will probably consist of foreign language songs, or maybe lullabies. I retrieved many songs from itunes, so in total the CD cost me about $10 to make - the rest I downloaded from CD's in my own collection.

Whistle While You Work - from the original Snow White recording

A Bushel and a Peck - Doris Day singing classic from "Guys and Dolls"

Put on a Happy Face - I am a sucker for the Dick Van Dyke version

Five Little Ducks - this is one of the few songs from a traditional "kids" CD

My Grandfather's Clock - version by Johnny Cash

If I Had a Hammer - Peter, Paul and Mary (who else?)

Little White Duck - Danny Kaye

Waltzing Mathilda - an Australian classic

La La La La Lemon - I fell in love with this song from the Barenaked Ladies kids album

Super Frog - another great discovery from the 'adult' band "Asylum Street Spankers"

Yellow Submarine - The Beatles

On the Sunny Side of the Street - recorded by Swing on a Star Band

Side by Side - version by Dan Zanes

Rainbow Connection - original Muppets recording (Kermit singing)

Baby Mine - I've never heard a more moving version than Bette Midler's from the Beaches soundtrack

You Are My Sunshine - Carly Simon recorded a beautiful rendition

Wiegenlied (Braham's Lullaby) - orchestral version to wrap things up

So there you have it. Just the tip of the iceberg but a good start, nonetheless. I would love to hear suggestions for my next mix! Happy singing!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Listening to my fortune

For the first two weeks of bed rest, I was in remarkably good spirits. I read 7 books in that span and wrote (most of) the first draft of a paper I had been putting off. I caught up on all my ordering and stocked the baby's closet with diapers and wipes. I picked topics that were interesting to me and wrote about them every few days on this blog.

But by week 3, I hit a wall. All I could thing of was the things I couldn't do. I had no interest in blogging. I began to dread the afternoon, watching the minutes on the clock tick by until my family came home (when I couldn't pick up my son). My fortune cookie mid-week seemed like a cruel joke:

So, at the beginning of week 4, I'm doing my best to turn over a new leaf. To focus on the things I can do. Or at least, counter each can't with a can. Here's my list so far:

Can't  ->  Can:

Work out : Do arm weights (here's to perfectly sculpted biceps!)
Help out at daycare : Make a CD of favorite kid's songs for the daycare to play (more on this one later)
Cook : Relax, there will be plenty of time for making dinners that the kids don't appreciate and refuse to eat!
Host friends for dinner like we're used to : Have potlucks instead, or pick earlier times in the day for visits when a big meal isn't required

Anyway, the list could go on and on. But the mental exercise of countering each "can't" with a specific "can" is a good one, I think, and not just useful in my situation. So wish me luck. And feel free to add to my "can" list (but not the can't, thanks anyway - I don't need ANY help with that one!).