Thursday, March 27, 2014

Good eatin's

Lately I've been on a foodie kick.  Translate that to, "I am actually bothering to make interesting food instead of just English muffins for breakfast, PBJ for lunch, and chicken with rice for dinner."

Here are a few of the delicious things I've made lately:

I have wanted to make sprouts for ages, and I heard it was really easy, but it takes an awfully long time for me to go from "want to" to "actually doing it."  I finally tried it with some lentils.

First off, yes, it's ridiculously easy.  You put the lentils in a jar.  Soak them for 12 hours.  Then drain and just rinse them morning and night till they're how you like them -- which takes about a day for little sprouts and a couple more days for long sprouts.  The longer they sprout, the less they taste like lentils and the more like .... hm.  Pea pods?  Raw broccoli?  Something fresh and green, anyway, and it's really hit the spot with my spring fever and, of course, nothing growing yet outside.

The first way I had them was as a salad: sprouts, cucumber, onion, olives, and a mustard dressing.  That was pretty tasty, and the kids kept stealing it.  I'd have added some cabbage shreds if I'd had any, but I was out of almost anything green.

Then I found that lentil sprouts are much better cooked.  Some people steam them, but I gave them a light saute and put them in a pita with kimchi.  That was pretty awesome too.  Soy sauce would have been a nice addition, but Aldi has not had any in a month.  *grumpy face*  I like Aldi's because it's made with just soy and not wheat, meaning John can have it too.

Buckwheat crepes (galettes)

I try to keep buckwheat flour around as an alternate for when I want to make something gluten-free.  In reality, its flavor and texture are so different from wheat that I mostly just use it to make soba noodles.  These are awesome; I just cook them right in chicken soup ... it makes a chicken noodle soup an order of magnitude better than the traditional kind.  Since soba noodles are dense and chewy, they don't fall apart in the soup; and they also give off starch as they cook which thickens the broth a bit.

But this time I went to the cuisine from a completely different place, Brittany, where buckwheat is a traditional staple.  I used this recipe to make crepes, but instead of stuffing them with greens and Gruyere, neither of which I had, I stuffed them with swiss cheese and sauerkraut and they were delightful.  Then for lunch I had them again with eggs, onions, and mushrooms.  I'm not sure which was better!  My philistine children had a couple with jam and then asked for PBJ ... le sigh.

Definitely want to try these again -- especially since buckwheat is so fantastically good for you.  Though I may try a more authentic recipe -- just buckwheat flour and water -- instead of the one I did, which added eggs to make them easier to make.  On the other hand, easy is pretty good, so.... we'll see.

Masa harina 

At Aldi, I got a bag of masa harina (traditionally-made corn flour) in the hopes of expanding my gluten-free repertoire.  I cannot describe how tired I am of rice and potatoes, night after night.  I think the kids are tired of them too, and that's why they keep not finishing their dinner.

The Maseca website has oodles of recipes.  On Tuesday night, I made tamale pie, which everyone devoured.  It was hard keeping back anything for John's lunch!  And it's really quite easy to make -- just my usual meat, tomatoes, and corn mix seasoned with cumin, plus a little corn batter baked on top.

Then on Wednesday I really knocked myself out and made gnocchi.  They were quite delicious and a good texture ..... though they took forever to make, and in the end I wished they tasted less like corn.  So I don't know if that's going to join the regular rotation.

I also made corn pancakes on Sunday morning, which were tasty, though I was wishing for maple syrup.  They were just like regular pancakes in texture, but that corn flavor is pretty distinctive. 

This morning, I made corn tortillas and then huevos rancheros out of them.  This was absolutely delicious, but the kids were impatient with how long it took to make them, then refused to eat them when they were done.  And then they ate mine.  KIDS!  I learned a trick for rolling out tortillas, which I've never had success with before: I folded my Silpat baking sheet in half and put the ball of dough in the middle.  Then it was easy enough to roll them out without sticking or cracking.  For lunch today, I'm going to fry up the rest of the tortillas I made for tostadas.

After that I think I might give corn a little break .... that's kind of a lot of corn!

I have it in my mind that on my dream farm, I'd like to grow an heirloom variety of corn and also buckwheat -- both grains that grow well where I live, and which are easy to harvest by hand.  So perhaps recipes like these might come in handy!

I've always felt that I couldn't eat interesting food because interesting food uses unusual, expensive ingredients.  More and more, I'm discovering that isn't so.  I might buy one new ingredient and get half a dozen new, delicious recipes, or even find new uses for things I've always had.  And there's a lot to be said for googling "what to do with _____" or "______ recipes" when you have something that you want to use, and no clue where to start.  That's how I found most of the recipes here.

Making new things is work, and it's a bit of a risk because the results might not taste good.  (I didn't even tell you about the dosas I made, because they really were not good at all.)  Or the rest of the family might turn up their noses at something you spent an hour making.  But when it does work, it's pretty exciting!  And I get to eat food that is not boring.  That's really what this is all about. 

Have you made anything exciting lately?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mystical theology of gender

I've already discussed pretty much everything infallibly defined by the Church about gender.  There isn't much -- in fact, the only things that separate the sexes is that men can be priests and women can't, and that each may only marry a spouse of the opposite sex.  And while there were isolated saints and catechisms which suggested women should always stay at home, that women were less rational, or that women were an inferior helpmeet of men, there are also writings not on the infallible level suggesting the opposite.

But what if we talk about some of the mystical and theological tradition of the Church about gender?  Is there anything we can learn here that could shed some light on what the nature of men and women is?

A recurring thread I've heard discussed in many places is the "mystical parallels" theory.  I don't know who came up with it; I've seen it in discussions on the theology of the body, but I haven't seen it in any of what I've read of the theology of the body itself.  Certainly a beginning of it is mentioned by St. Paul, when he compares a husband and wife to Christ and the Church.  In the past I've shied away from thinking this way, but I feel it's time to face it dead-on and see if I can come up with some answers.

It goes, more or less, like this.  God is masculine, and we can think of creation as feminine.  Christ is masculine, and we consider the Church to be feminine.  A priest is masculine (standing in for Christ), the congregation is feminine (a part of the Church).  And a husband, being male, is masculine, while the wife is feminine.

In each of these relationships, the masculine principle is the one who initiates, who begins a process of creation.  Then the feminine principle is the one who carries it out, who receives it within herself and brings it to reality.  This was what Milton was talking about when he said "Thou O Spirit ... from the first / Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread / Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss / And mad'st it pregnant."  It is always the masculine begetting something within the feminine, and the feminine gestating it and bringing it to birth.  Of course it's all metaphorical, except in the case of individual couples specifically when they are engaged in procreation.

In fact, it isn't even unique to Christianity.  There are many pagan religions that had the same concept: some kind of father god who was identified with the sun or sky, and a mother goddess associated with the earth.  In some cases, the male god is the dominant one, in some it's the goddess, and some focus on duality in a roughly equal sense.  In some cases the sexual metaphor was taken so far as to be carried out in a "sacred marriage" in which the priest and priestess would be publicly joined together; in others, regular people went and had sex in the fields to guarantee fertility for the coming year.

It doesn't bother me that this isn't at all new.  After all, if it's this deep of a reality within the universe, it's no wonder other people have had the same idea.  What interests me more is how the dominance of the male god corresponds usually with a male-dominant culture, whereas goddess-dominant religions often were matriarchal.

In Christianity, there is no doubt about which is dominant.  In all the spiritual applications of the metaphor, the masculine is greater than the feminine, even though this domination is always in a loving sort of way.

This brings up the question, how far are individual men and women supposed to fit into this metaphor?  Aside from procreation, there is no sense in which all relations between the sexes are characterized by male initiation and female receptiveness.  Some say there should be -- that even if it isn't going on in a hierarchical sense, of the man making decisions and the wife obeying, that there is some sense in which the man should be the initiator and the woman the responder.

Melinda Selmys said, when I asked her about it, that this is defining the metaphor much too narrowly, and that it is completely possible for a woman to be an initiator while being 100% feminine -- that femininity is a great deal more than can be described as simple receptiveness.  She might be right, but if so, the mystical parallel is not all that exact.  And that's all right, it doesn't have to be.  I know my husband is not entirely like Christ, nor am I a perfect image of the Church.

It's also not impossible to say that the spiritual realities of masculine initiator and feminine receiver might be enacted across gender lines in individual men and women.  There are times when a man might partake in the spiritual feminine, and a woman might take part in the spiritual masculine.

That's easily proven in the case of men.  Individual men are part of the feminine Church -- it's fair to say that their relationship with God is a submissive, responsive one.  In the Mass, the congregation might be symbolizing something spiritually feminine, but about half the members of the congregation are actually male.

I can't come up with any examples in the case of women, though.  The "feminine" congregation might be made up of partly men, but the masculine priesthood is exclusively male.  There is no room whatsoever for an individual woman to be enacting something spiritually masculine in this case.  Is there any case in which she could take part in what is spiritually masculine?  I can't think of one.

Complementarian Protestants have no problem with this, because they aren't thinking in terms of duality, but of hierarchy.  A man can be submissive with regard to God, but in authority with respect to his wife.  The woman is submissive to her husband, but in authority over her children.  But Catholicism, as I understand it, doesn't necessarily say this, because it isn't so much about authority at all.

At least, I don't think it should be.  But if the gender metaphor isn't about hierarchy, but duality, why is there an unevenness in so many places?  Why can men be in the place of the feminine Church, but women can never stand in for Christ?  Why is God masculine?

I was told, growing up, that one of the ways humans are in the image of God is that we exist in a community of love, just as the Trinity does.  And just as the love between the Father and the Son results in a new person, the Holy Spirit, the love between a husband and wife becomes a new person, the child.  But why then are all three persons of the Trinity generally considered to be masculine?  Is the feminine not really necessary or eternal?

This does not, in itself, make me unequal.  But it would make me feel much better as a woman to know that one of two things were the case: either that the feminine is equal in greatness with the masculine, or that I as an individual woman can have both a masculine and a feminine side and can act at different times in a masculine or a feminine way.  Otherwise I am forced to identify myself solely with something lesser, and I don't care for that.

You see why I've avoided this topic for such a long time.  I can't see how the mystical view of men and women is at all compatible with equality.  It seems if you follow the metaphor strictly, you will wind up saying women may never lead, women may never initiate, and that women's main place is only in nurturing areas.  True, the Church doesn't teach infallibly that this is so.  But I don't know how the Church's view of gender could develop any further than it has, without developing in a direction I don't much like.  What already has been said seems to place us on a course toward teaching women's inferiority -- a course we've been on since the rather sexist patristic and medieval writers.  The best the Church can do is refrain from teaching that sort of thing -- I don't see a way that it can teach the opposite without abandoning things we are already infallibly committed to, like the male-only priesthood or the book of Ephesians.  Meanwhile in practical terms, the voice of women isn't heard much simply because most Catholics are married, faithful married Catholics usually end up having lots of babies, and in most cases the women are all too busy being pregnant and nursing to contribute very much.

Am I missing something?  Or should I just be grateful I am not being forced into lifelong subjugation to a man, because being lesser in some vague metaphysical sense is -- especially in view of human history -- really not so bad?

Or is this just a metaphor stretched waytheheck beyond what St. Paul ever intended?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

How men and women are different: wrong answers

I find dealing with the question of how men and women are different rather exhausting.  Everyone has an opinion, but no one can possibly be an expert.  How could they, when no one has ever truly been both?

The first question is, Are men and women different?  But that's not really controversial.  We all know they are, statistically.  If you run a survey about almost anything, there will be differences between the average answers that men and women give.

So the real question is, Are men and women different by nature, or is it a matter of culture?  It's really impossible to have a conclusive answer about this, because culture is a part of who we are, and every single person was raised with biases stemming from culture.  And even if it is largely a matter of culture, does it matter?  I am the totality of who I am, not just my genes alone, but also my upbringing.

Perhaps we should focus on the question, Should men and women be different?  If we think they shouldn't, we should make a conscious effort to raise boys and girls the same, and as adults we should try to overcome our differences to be more similar.  If we think they should, we will be very defensive of our cultural standards for boys' toys and girls' toys, boys' activities and girls' activities, and we will defend our own gender identity and be careful not to transgress cultural norms.

I believe there are some differences that are purely natural.  You can't expect one brain that is under the influence of testosterone and another that is under the influence of a changing cocktail of other hormones to develop entirely the same.  And as we grow, it makes a difference pyschologically to be a teenager who suddenly grows muscles or a teenager who suddenly gets sick once a month.  It affects us.

And yet, I get thrown by the conclusive way in which people toss around their opinions about men and women.  I consider the difference between men and women to be one of the great mysteries of life, one which you can spend your whole life trying to wrap your head around, and which you may never have the words to adequately explain.  It seems the height of arrogance for some pastor  or philosopher to announce conclusively, "Men are like this, women are like that."  And it usually comes with a therefore: "Men should do this, women should do that."

One pet peeve is when, instead of saying "This is how men and women are different," we talk about "what women are like," meanwhile taking men as the standard from which women deviate.  This is a flaw of modern medicine, which trains doctors to consider the adult male body as the standard and women and children's medicine as deviations.  As a result, there's not nearly enough study done about how women's changing hormones affect other systems of the body -- only your ob/gyn knows anything about "women stuff" -- you can't expect your gastroenterologist to know anything about it.  And yet a woman's body is a lot more than a man's body with a uterus stuck inside.

Much as I like some of what John Paul II has written about women -- he described himself, after all, as a "feminist Pope" -- his analysis of the "feminine genius" has this flaw.  He was a man, so he had no idea what it's like to be a woman.  And yet he felt quite comfortable telling everyone what women are like.  I would have been happier if he'd tried telling us what men are like, without assuming as theologians in the past did that men are the norm.  I haven't understood enough of what he wrote to say if I think he's right or wrong, if he describes my experience or not, but the nature of who he was and the approach he took means that he couldn't talk about it the way I would like.

Maybe I'm thinking about it wrong, though.  Asking a woman what women are like is like asking a fish to describe water.  Maybe a man is the right person to tell us what women are like -- but if so, men also could stand to be described by women.  It is much easier for me to ask myself "What do men usually do that seems odd to me?" than to try to pick out what parts of my nature are "feminine" and which are specific to me as an individual.

In any event, I feel I get closest to the understanding of gender differences when discussing them in a mixed-gender group.  Just talking things over with my husband, I feel I can check my work a little more -- I can verify his impressions of women, and he can verify my impressions of men.

Another frustration of mine is when gender differences are taken as completely universal.  There is a huge difference between saying that men and women are different on average, and saying every man and every woman can be described in certain terms.  It's all very well to say "men, on average, are better at reading maps," but what if I am good at reading maps?  At worst, these people like say that even if your experience feels counter to their description, those descriptions are true of you regardless.  You're a man and say you are not all that visual in your attractions?  Well, you secretly are.  You're a woman and don't feel very intuitive?  You just need to get in touch with your intuition, because it's there whether you detect it or not.  That's incredibly frustrating, because it's an "expert" (which, as I said, it's not possible to be) who doesn't know you claiming to know more about your personality than you do.

The worst part of the gender-differences discussion is when people move from the descriptive to the prescriptive.  That is, they say something which is generally true (men are physically stronger, for instance) and move to something which they feel should happen as a result (men should be the provider in the family).  It ignores so much, like those men or women who don't fit into the appropriate boxes (what if you are an incredibly fit woman? what if you are a physically disabled man?) and the ways in which we can transcend the obvious differences (of course one does not need big muscles to make an income).  It also treats as a universal standard something which is not universal -- in this example, "making an income" is only a thing in a cash-based economy, which is a relative newcomer in world history.

I hear often that men are protectors and providers, while women are nurturers.  And that's fine if you want to be descriptive.  On the whole, men do most of the fighting and earn a lot of the income.  Women do most of the childcare around the world.  But how can you be prescriptive about this?  On what grounds do you give a statistical reality the force of a commandment?  Should I be the primary nurturer simply on the strength of peer pressure, or should I also consider my own talents and preferences?

You can bring the Bible into it, but I don't think it works.  Deborah, Judith, and Jael all protected the people of Israel.  The Proverbs 31 woman brought in an income.  Jesus was surrounded by children.  If God had a problem with people occasionally going outside the statistical norm, you'd think he would have mentioned it at some point.

It all comes down to one basic question: is there one sort of virtue for men, and another for women?  Should men try to cultivate especially those virtues which come most easily to them, and women do the same?  Or do we start out in different places, whether from gender, upbringing or temperament, and strive for the same virtues?

Overall, I come down on the side of virtue being virtue.  If I am not physically courageous because I am female, I shouldn't encourage that by shrieking when I see a spider -- I should learn to be braver and kill my own spiders.  If my husband feels awkward holding a newborn, he should hold that baby till he gets used to it.  Jesus displays a lot of manly virtues, but when you examine what he said and did, it isn't all manly stuff.  He was okay with hugging his beloved disciple, crying in public, and both preaching and practicing nonviolence.  If you're addicted to manliness, Christianity appears a "womanish religion."  But it isn't that exactly -- it's that it demands straight-up virtue, both those that are easy for men and those that come more naturally to women.

That said, there's such a thing as playing to your strengths.  I am a very nurturing person, and I don't have to fight that.  I am lucky to have that virtue come naturally to me, so I should use it.  It just doesn't excuse me from learning other virtues too, like courage or industriousness.  I also tend to be rather passive.  This is a trait often characterized as feminine, and it's a virtue in many instances.  It is a virtue when Marko is melting down screaming .... it feels right to me to wait and let him come to me when he is ready, instead of leaping in to try to fix him.  On the other hand, there are times when it is emphatically not a virtue -- say, when Michael is clubbing Marko over the head with a stick -- and that's a moment when I have to tap into something a little bit less natural and take action.

Women who are less nurturing, or less passive, might struggle with some things.  Being pregnant feels like a terribly passive activity, and a lot of women have trouble making peace with it.  Breastfeeding demands a level of nurturing that isn't easy for everyone.  Those women, if they become mothers, will have to struggle sometimes against their temperament to do what is necessary for the good of everyone.  At other times, though -- say, when shepherding a crowd of kids through the children's museum -- they shine.  They are not worse mothers or worse women because they didn't come out of the womb with every "'feminine virtue" fully developed.  Even virtues labeled "masculine" can make you a good mother.

The same goes for men.  Throughout our lives, we meet situations that are easy for our temperaments and ones that are hard.  There's no free ride out of the tough ones on account of gender.  If a virtue is demanded of you, you learn it.

But celebrating the ones you already have, being proud of them, and putting yourself in an environment where you can use them?  Nothing wrong with that.  That's why I am a stay-at-home mother -- because it suits me, as a woman and as an individual.  My husband makes an excellent librarian because of many things intrinsic to him: his love of order, his love of quiet, and his love of hard work.  Our jobs aren't easy for us, but they are made easier by the fact that they are well-suited to our temperaments.

As to what the differences actually are -- well, I'm still hashing those out.  But this post about what they are not can serve as a start.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Do boys have it worse?

Ever read Matt Walsh?  I see him linked a lot.  Some of his articles I agree with -- like when he talks about education and points out you can succeed without college.  Others infuriate me -- usually the gender stuff.  He seems to be softpedaling the strict gender roles ideology by only talking about the less-controversial parts .... but one wonders just how far he really would go with it, if you asked him.

If you need an example, we can talk about his latest, An open letter to liberal feminists: girls don't have it any worse than boys.  He lists many problems boys are dealing with today, such as higher rates of ADHD, delinquency, crime, and suicide.

As far as that goes, he's entirely right, and it's scary stuff for someone with two sons to read.  He even missed a few: higher rates of autism spring to mind, as well as young men's lower achievement in college.

But then he concludes that feminists, by championing women's rights, are part of the problem and hurting boys.  He never offers any proof for this.  There's no evidence anywhere in his article that feminism is somehow sending boys to prison or giving them ADHD.

Let's take a few of the problems and talk about what does cause them.

Boys are more sensitive to ADHD because of differing brain chemistry.  Now I will agree that school is not an environment that helps kids who might be prone to attention problems; there have been anecdotal studies showing that ADHD symptoms decrease when a child switches to homeschooling.  But is this a "boy" problem or a problem with the educational system?  I don't believe that anyone benefits from being made to sit in a desk all day.  Perhaps boys will show more obvious disciplinary problems, but that doesn't mean the girls are paying attention either.  They may be staring out the window daydreaming (that was me) or anxiously trying to avoid getting called on, but quietness doesn't mean they're learning.

There is one point often raised that is quite true: there are very few male teachers in the elementary grades.  Some speculate that this causes boys to consider learning a "girl thing" and not be motivated to succeed.  This may be true.  But is feminism to blame for that?  Traditional gender roles dictate that women should be teachers and other nurturing roles.  Feminists would like more female CEO's -- but that implies that men will be stepping up to do some of the nurturing jobs once in awhile too.

Meanwhile, is there anything that can be done about the problem of gender contamination?  This is the phenomenon, known to anthropologists and marketing professionals, of men refusing to have anything to do with things they consider "women's things."  Where are boys learning this?  Is this innate, or do they learn it from us, when we tell them, "You can't play with that, wear that, do that, because that's for girls"?  Women don't experience this, and it's believed that it's because men have higher social status, so it is a step up rather than a step down to drive a "manly" car, drink a "manly" drink, or wear pants.  Again, perhaps feminism could help here.

Boys and men have always been more likely to commit crimes than women, so you can't really blame feminism for that.  It's probably due to increased aggression caused by higher testosterone, though there's something to be said for stronger muscles making it easier to commit crimes in the first place.  It seems to me that teaching boys other ways of managing problems besides aggression is definitely a good place to start.  Despite what Matt Walsh says, I don't really see how allowing toy guns in school will keep boys out of prison.  I do agree that excessive penalties for toy guns are stupid; but I never heard that feminists were the ones behind these stupid rules.

Suicide is a big one: why do men commit suicide much more often?  The difference appears everywhere, from progressive nations to patriarchal ones, and that in itself makes it hard to blame feminism.  But what are the causes?  One cause is that men are much less likely to seek help for depression, in part due to a cultural perception that psychiatric care is for the weak.  This is more the fault of machismo than of feminism.  Another reason is that men are less connected to supportive social networks than women are.  To some extent, that might be natural to men, but modern men are particularly estranged.  Why don't men make more close friendships?  Again, machismo is a major suspect.

Does this all have to be a zero-sum game -- for every gain women make, men have to lose?  I don't think so.  I think that when we tell people, male and female alike, "You don't have to follow a gender script -- you can choose to be what you want to be," everyone wins.  It seems to me that strict gender roles have winners and losers.  The winners are those who naturally fall into their chosen box: women like me, who want to stay home and raise kids, and men like my dad who never cry and are fulfilled through work.  The losers are those who don't: my girl friend whose dream was to be a Marine, my guy friend who hates sports and wonders why his male friends never hug him.  But I don't see what is taken away from anyone by broadening our vision of what a man can do or what a woman can do.

I've had people tell me they were sure I'd "ruin" my sons with my feminist ways.  I just don't think so.  I will teach them (like I would teach a daughter) that we use our words instead of pushing and hitting; that bossing our friends around is rude; that everyone cries sometimes and it doesn't mean you're not strong; that they can grow up to find something they love to do, and their dad and I will be cheering them on no matter whether they're hairdressers or football stars.  I'll also show them (like I would show a daughter) to take commitments seriously; to put up with their friends (and later spouses) even when they drive them nuts; to make sacrifices for others; to rock a baby; to fix a toilet.

I think that's pretty feminist -- and I also think it will help them grow up into great men.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Seven quick ways to eat your vegetables

Is this post proof that I'm misusing Seven Quick Takes, or that I'm taking it to a new, exciting level? 


Eating vegetables is very important to me.  It's pretty much the one thing every healthy-eating school of thought agrees about: we should all be eating more of them.  (I did read a comment on the Weston A. Price Foundation saying that vegetables were a waste because their nutrients are all gone by the time they reach the store.  But that isn't true, and it's not even the view of the WAPF -- at least, Nourishing Traditions has a huge section on vegetables that convinced me to try a lot of new ones!)

It's also important to eat a variety of vegetables, in a variety of ways, because you don't get the same benefits from peas as from squash, or from raw carrots that you get from cooked carrots.  Some vegetables are really best cooked (like eggplant) and others I  prefer raw (like cucumbers) but for things that can be had multiple ways, it's good to mix things up.

Some people actually think that as long as you eat some vegetables, you're all clear.  But there are nutrients that are only found in certain types of vegetables, so that if you rule out all orange veggies (for instance), you're selling yourself short.  Besides, one helping of spinach a day is hardly keeping you out of deficiency.  At best, it may keep you from chronic constipation.... or not.


When I was growing up, we had one fruit a day, max, plus a vegetable at dinner if it happened to be contained in a casserole.  Vegetables weren't really the focus, and we couldn't afford fresh ones very often, so I thought I didn't care for them.  But when Grandma came by our house with a box of sweet corn and homegrown tomatoes, I definitely became a vegetable lover pretty quick!


I hope to raise my kids with a variety of delicious vegetables too.  But there are a few obstacles -- budget and pickiness.  Both of my kids ate everything with relish when they first started eating solids, but now they do gravitate toward meat and starch (Michael likes meat and Marko prefers starch) and often leave the veggies sitting on their plates.  I don't force them to finish -- it's just a sign that I need to try something different to tempt them to try.  But oh, how I hate wasting food when it's all so expensive!

As far as budget goes, it's good to just browse the produce section and see what's cheapest each week.  Usually that ends up being what's in season, either locally or in one of the big produce-growing parts of the world.  The less perishable things, like squash or carrots, are often cheaper because they are easier to transport before they go bad.  I don't buy organics at this point.  Better to buy a lot of vegetables than only organic vegetables -- the nutrients in any vegetable will help you combat any toxins you happen to consume.

In most cases, fresh is better than frozen, which is better than canned.  However, since vegetables are frozen straight out of the field, often the day they are picked, they can sometimes be more nutritious than what's been sitting on the shelf all month.  (They may not be as tasty, though, sadly.  At least the kids think not.)  And one vegetable at least -- tomato -- actually increases in some nutrients when it's canned.


Breakfast:  I admit vegetables aren't usually a big part of our breakfasts.  We start with fruit (because my kids wake up ravenous and fruit is pretty much instant) and then have something else after.  Eggs with spinach, dandelion greens, onions, or mushrooms are often a hit -- especially if I keep them all on my plate and pretend I don't want to share.  (Ah, kids -- your perversity is so easy to manipulate sometimes.)  In the summer, I often get my hands on a few enormous zucchini and make zucchini bread or muffins.  Carrot muffins are good any time of year.


Lunch: I made it a resolution of mine some time back to try to make vegetables the centerpiece of lunch.  It doesn't always happen, but I try.  The reason is that the same veggies that get ignored when sitting beside a chicken leg and some mashed potatoes somehow get eaten right up when they're the only thing offered.  And if I'm making just the veggie dish, I have time to make something really tasty.

A few big hits:
Fried eggplant with marinara sauce
Veggie wraps -- lettuce, tomato, cucumber, sprouts if you've got 'em, even a few green beans don't go amiss!  In midsummer I replace lettuce (which has bolted in my garden) with purslane, which grows wild in the yard.  The secret to a good wrap is a good dressing -- ranch and homemade mayo are both hits.  A few cubes of cheese are a hit with the kids, but chickpeas are good protein for wraps too.
Burritos -- refried beans don't count in my book, but lettuce, tomato, corn, and homemade salsa all do.  Putting the same things in a bowl works, too, but the kids often pick out their favorite things and leave the rest, whereas when it's hidden away in a tortilla, they'll eat almost anything.
Green beans with hollandaise sauce
Tomato and cucumber sandwiches
Sweet potato fries, sometimes with homemade mayo to dip them in (don't knock it till you've tried it, mmmmm)
Creamed collard greens -- for that matter, creamed anything
Pumpkin or squash with butter and curry powder
Any kind of vegetable soup -- blended soups seem to go over better with the kids, but some days Marko in particular will turn his nose up at soup, the barbarian.
Quiche, with whatever veggies I have thrown in
Pasta with vegetables in it -- though they sometimes pick them out.  A lasagna-type sauce (marinara sauce mixed with ricotta) goes over pretty well with spinach mixed in.
Mac 'n' cheese with pumpkin puree added to the sauce -- you can even leave out the cheese altogether and season with sage and thyme instead.  As an extra perk, it's as bright orange as Kraft.  The kids seem to go for bright colors.
Salad -- I don't serve this to the kids.  I just make it for myself a bit before our usual lunchtime, put on a really good dressing, maybe some canned salmon or chickpeas, and dig in.  They swarm around like a couple of vultures and eat almost the whole thing, as a prelude to their own lunch.  If I put some in their own bowls, forget it.

These things are surprisingly satisfying -- veggies are often higher in protein than you'd think, and my dressings are usually fatty -- but sometimes we have some other food too, after the veggies.  I don't tell them we're having anything else, but if they're still hungry after the veggie course is gone, I suggest PBJ, quesadilla -- you know, the usual suspects.


I don't really push veggies for snacks much, but some days we just have cucumber slices or green pepper slices with dip and are happy as clams.  Celery with peanut butter is sometimes good, though they will try to lick off the peanut butter and get more.  Occasionally they want a plain carrot, but they rarely finish one.  Pickles or pickled green beans or some other fermented goodie always get eaten up. If we have avocados, they gobble them up with lemon juice and a little salt.  One time I made artichoke dip with crackers and we all loved that --  I should try spinach dip too.  If the veggie IS the dip, they don't think to pick it out.


We do the traditional meat-starch-veggie combo most nights, but I could use some ideas.  On the one hand, if I'm going through all that trouble making three courses, I don't feel much like doing something interesting with the veggies.  On the other, no one really likes plain frozen peas, corn, or broccoli, and it seems like that's all we ever have.  Occasionally we have canned green beans or asparagus, cucumber slices, salad, or boiled cabbage.  A good dressing helps, but making a sauce or dressing at five pm is always an iffy proposition.  Having something already in the fridge is so handy.  Pesto, lemon-parsley sauce, homemade mayo, teriyaki sauce ..... if I have it already made, and can put it on the vegetables, the kids like everything better.

Sometimes we have casserole or soup, but Marko at least is happy to pick out his favorite ingredients and leave the rest.  Sometimes we bribe him to finish, but it does give me peace of mind to know that he has plenty of vegetables the rest of the day.  I just eat his leftovers after he's left the table.

In my book, potatoes aren't vegetables -- although, for a starch, they're surprisingly nutritious.  With their skins, they are a good source of vitamin C and potassium.  We just use them so often as a source of calories that I feel like we need something else to switch things up.  I also don't count tomato sauce or onions as vegetables, just because they are seasonings in so many of our meals.  But of course they are quite healthy too.

Do your kids eat vegetables?  Do you?  Which are your favorites?  How do you get them into your diet?

The Quick Takes are all at Conversion Diary.  I hope no one gets mad at me for veggifying Quick Takes, but I had a boring week!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Book review: Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids

While I was at my parents' house, I borrowed this book, which is by Laura Markham, and easily finished it in a day or so.  It's not a tough read.  I was familiar with Dr. Markham already from her website, Aha Parenting.

For the most part, I really liked the book.  The focus is on emotional development, how to nurture it in your kids and why it's important.  I wouldn't say it's a thorough look at every aspect of parenting, and it certainly couldn't be called a discipline book, though it has a few suggestions.

It's divided into three sections.  The first is about centering yourself, because you can't be the calm parent that your kids need unless you deal with your own baggage first.  I absolutely agree with this.  Too often we expect a level of self-control, calm, and respect from our kids that we don't have ourselves.  How can you tell your kids to use a respectful tone if you yell at them?  And it's not just about example -- negative feelings and outbursts can be catching.  I know when I was a kid, anytime people were upset around me, it was hard to distinguish their feelings from my own feelings.  Sometimes I would just go off alone, and other times I acted out.

I didn't find much that was very helpful to me in this section, though.  Most of what she says about mindfulness, slowing down, counting to five before reacting, I already try to do.  For deeper problems -- if you were wounded in your relationship with your own parents, for instance -- all she can really tell you is to seek help from a therapist.  It's fine advice, anyway.

The next part is about building your relationship with your child.  And here's where she has the clever bit -- at least, I have found it very neat.  When your child is throwing a tantrum, deliberately being defiant (like how Marko used to look me in the eye while overturning a basket of clean laundry), or just mouthy and rude, that's a sign that they have some negative feelings they have to deal with.  Our usual impulse is to try to make our kids just stop .... distract away from the tantrum with a new treat, punish the defiance, correct the bad attitude.

Dr. Markham says that this just leads to more outbursts later because the child is still upset.  So her method is to encourage an outburst, particularly crying for little kids.  (Getting your child to giggle, if they're not too upset to, is also good, and the big kids can talk through their feelings to feel better.)  You remind them of why they're upset while holding them (or staying nearby if they don't want to be held) and let them cry until they are all done crying.

It seems kind of weird, and I didn't do it for a long time after I read an article about it because I didn't like the idea of making my child cry.  I don't try to force them to stop or distract them from a fit, I figure if they're going to throw one, that's what they're going to do and it's no good trying to stop them .... but to encourage it?  One time I did do it at bedtime, back when we were teaching Marko to go to sleep alone.  I told him, "I am going to leave soon, and you are going to go to sleep by yourself."  He cried hard at that.  Every time he started to calm down again, I would start to leave.  He'd cry, and I would come back and hold him.  Finally he just stopped crying when I tried to leave, I left, and he went right to sleep.  Maybe he was just exhausted at that point.  But I think in some sense he had to deal with how upset he was that I was leaving .... yet with me present, so he wasn't just crying himself to sleep alone.

This past Thursday, Marko was having one of those awful days.  He was tired after our long trip the day before and still angry to be home, which is so much less exciting than the airport.  He was mad because he'd been watching cartoons and I had told him it was time to stop soon.  I figured the whole day was going to be a wash, if already at eight a.m. he was being this bad.  So figured I might as well try the "Aha Parenting" trick.  I held him while he cried about his cartoons.  I told him that I knew it was hard to be back home, because home is not so exciting.  I said that we all miss Grandma and Grandpa and his aunt and uncles, and it's okay to be sad about it.  I reminded him that we have lots of fun things to do at home too, and that made him cry more.  I said that he was going to watch to the end of the cartoon and then he was going to find something else to do.  He screamed and screamed.  (Michael, luckily, wasn't perturbed -- sometimes he demands lap time anytime Marko gets it, and that would have been problematic.)

After about ten minutes, he'd pretty much quieted down, so I said, "Would you like to finish your cartoon, then turn it off and find something else to do?"  He said, "Yes."  And we did not have another "incident" all day.  No meltdowns.  No whining.  No defiance.  No picking fights with Michael.

Well, I guess I'm a believer now!

Her other big point is "special time" -- ten special minutes of intensely paying attention to each child.  I don't know about that.  I definitely pay attention to each kid for at least ten minutes a day, but if I set a timer and said "this is your special time," it seems guaranteed that the other kid would break in with demands.  Special time with each kid is something that has to be stolen sneakily when the other kid is busy with something else.  And sometimes, I would say the most special time is with all of us together -- like when we go for a walk around the block together, or read a book.  I'm not sure they need it to be one-on-one, so long as I really am paying attention to both of them.

Of course, at their ages, Marko most wants to be listened to and Michael wants to be on my lap, and I can do both at once pretty well!  Maybe when they're older, they'll need something more individual.  Who knows.

The third section, about coaching your child to be a success, I didn't really like at all.  She says that if you are highly responsive to your child (which I'd say I am), you can also be highly demanding (which I'm not).  She spent the first half of the book telling us that our only influence on our child is their love for us, that we have to nurture the relationship by letting little things go and having twenty positive interactions to every one negative one.  Then in the last section, she says that we should have high expectations, push our kids to do every last bit of homework before playtime (plus extra if they aren't doing well in school), make them do chores, get them to be organized -- in short, dozens of commands and criticisms you're going to have to make every day.  How the heck are kids going to comply with all that -- especially without any form of punishment?

In my point of view, peaceful parenting has to go along with a certain amount of hands-off.  How can we tell our children, "I am not going to 'pull rank' on you and make authority everything by punishing you," and at the same time demand things of them that are neither to their own benefit, nor necessary for the rest of the family?  Schoolwork is one of those things.  Dr. Markham even admits that homework in the early grades hasn't been shown to increase learning one whit.  But she says that since the schools give it, you have to make your kids do it so that they succeed in school.

It just seems a rather tough sell: "Do this thing that you don't see the point of, which in fact there is no point to, solely because you love me and want to please me."  How far can you push this?  And isn't it a bit manipulative to do so?

I have very good results getting Marko to do things if I can show him that it is either good for him, or good for someone else in the family.  His own self-interest motivates him, and his care for others is beginning to get him to be considerate of their needs too.  I think this is great.  But if I can't connect what has to be done to one of those two things ..... I have a pretty tough time motivating him.  He might do it, if he feels like it, or he might not.  And I'm not wasting my influence with him on getting him to say "yes mom" or wear matching clothes, much less do homework.

She also says you shouldn't let your child try stuff on his own and fail, because then he'll think you're not on his side because you didn't help him, and he'll start thinking of himself as a failure.  So if he forgets his lunch, and you can easily bring it to him, you should, or else he'll be angry and hurt that you let him be hungry.  (If you are really busy and can't, you can just empathize and promise a big snack when he gets home.)  And if he's not turning in his homework, and his grades are slipping, you can't just say, "Boy, I guess that homework really does affect your grade!  You want any help?"  No, because he might choose to keep neglecting homework, the bad grade will devastate him, and then he'll give up on school.  And not wanting to be good in school is not an option.  You have to be proactive, hover over him to get him to do the homework, check his bag to make sure it's in there, etc.

Even if I did send my kids to school (and I can't imagine this, because it's so far removed from how I parent altogether), I wouldn't do this.  A little failure now and again, when you're young and can turn it around, is not the end of the world.  I don't think you learn to be responsible by having your mother check your schoolbag.  You learn by finding out what happens when you forget.  Scientists are now telling us that kids who are never allowed to fail as kids are paralyzed by the fear of failure as adults.  They simply can't imagine what it would be like.

So, in this case Dr. Markham parts ways with things that I do and believe, to the point that I couldn't see much wisdom in her advice in the third section.  What she calls coaching, I see as helicoptering.  It's in my nature to be much more hands-off.

Would that work for some people?  Maybe.  I just can't imagine it wouldn't result in a lot of frustration, constantly coaxing your kids to be high achievers.  Wouldn't that hurt the relationship too?  And once the kids see you as pushy and more interested in what you want them to do than in how they want their lives to go, haven't you lost the one thing you had to manipulate, I mean influence, them with?  Dr. Markham is a therapist and family counselor and has all kinds of experience, so maybe she's seen her method work for people.  But maybe it would totally fall on its face for some other families.  What can I say but, your mileage may vary?

For the first two sections, though, definitely a thumbs up.  If you don't want the book right now, try her website and poke around -- a good deal of the same material is there.

Friday, March 7, 2014

7 trip takes


We just got back from Seattle -- visiting my family, who are now thoroughly settled in back in America. 

Traveling with two little kids is no joke!  But let me tell you, it is a heck of a lot easier going with two parents, an almost-four-year-old, and an almost-two-year-old, than it was last time with one parent, a two-year-old, and a newborn.  Michael napped a lot on the planes, which was good, because every moment he wasn't sleeping he was climbing all over me, trying to open and shut the window and push the call button and kick the seat ahead of us.


Incidentally, it seems to be part of toddler nature that they just have to stretch their legs on a plane by pushing them into the seat ahead of them.  Yes, it's rude to the person sitting in that seat.  But on the other hand, if you try to stop them, they scream and disturb everyone on the plane, instead of just the one person in front of them.  "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" suggests that we should just let toddlers kick if they want to.

But I didn't do that, because I didn't want to be glared at.  So there was some screaming.


We had some nice weather and then a lot of cold drizzle.  It was a break from ice and snow, anyway.  And my parents' house, unlike my house, was both big enough and novel enough that the kids weren't bored staying inside.

The kids' uncles and aunt are 12, 9, 7, and 5.  That made for a lot of fun games, especially with the youngest (Charles) who is only eighteen months older than Marko.  They pretty much just played all week.  They played jumping-off-the-swing Olympics, captains and lieutenants on a ship (the uncles were pleased that Marko didn't insist on being captain, but his aunt objected to his choosing the name "Martha"), trucks, cars, chase, puzzles, books.  There was just no end to the fun.  The big kids had off homeschool for the week, but I didn't notice anyone being bored for a moment.


It made me really look forward to having kids a bit older.  I remember these kids being a ton of trouble when they were smaller (actually, that is something of an understatement; my family members are ALL intense), but this time they played together delightfully and the grownups had long, uninterrupted conversations!  My mom could run to the store with one kid and leave the rest at home!  Some of the kids could make their own food!

I know that older kids have their own challenges .... but boy, do I dream of a day when every member of the family uses the potty and sleeps through the night.  Maybe I will be fifty by then.  But by golly, it'll happen someday.


As usual when traveling, at least one kid (this time, Michael) was much too clingy for me to do what the grandparents always imagine and jet off on dates and naps while they watch the kids.  Sometimes John watched Michael while I did things, but he pretty much cried whenever he was without me, so I didn't do that much.  The first few days Michael nursed about every half hour.  I think it was his way of assuring himself that I was still there and he didn't have to be scared.  He certainly was happy to play with everyone as long as I was right there and he was getting nursing whenever he wanted.


But all the same, it was restful.  I didn't do much housework or cooking, and sometimes I napped when Michael did.  (Nights, with jetlag and all, were bad enough that we reinstituted naps.)  So when I got back yesterday, I was raring to go.  Really the only thing unpleasant about housework is the constancy of it, so having had a break, I didn't mind doing it again.

Well, yesterday I didn't.  Today I'm blogging to put off doing the dishes.  But I'll do them, never fear.


The trip back was rougher than the trip out.  It was Ash Wednesday, so we had to try to find meatless, gluten-free food during our brief time in each airport and then fit it in with the schedule of two-snacks-and-one-meal.  I would not recommend this to anyone.  Traveling is rough enough without being hangry.

Then we got back to our car and discovered the tire was flat.  The spare got us as far as a tire place, so we could replace the missing tire before going home.  But after that both kids screamed the remaining 45 minutes of the trip .... Marko, because he had been enjoying the adventure (though he was clearly tired) and wanted to go back to the airport and ride the escalators and never go home; Michael, because he was tired and didn't want to be buckled and we wouldn't let him nap for fear he would be up late.  Which he was anyway.

We got up that morning at 3:30 a.m. Pacific Time, and finally crashed in our own bed at 11 pm Eastern Time.

But oh, the sweetness of one's own bed.  There is nothing in the whole world like that.  I think I may never leave again.

How was your week?

More quick takes at Conversion Diary.
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