What’s a Green Bean?

A funny thing happened at the grocery store this weekend.  Our cashier held up a bag of green beans and asked me what they were.  Really?  She may have only been a teenager, but she really didn’t know what green beans were?  I get it, some of those produce items can be more obscure, and it’s understandable that someone may need to ask for help.  For example, how many of you know what what Jicama looks like?  Or the difference between Collards, Kale or Mustard Greens?  Steve and I walked out both thinking the same thing, even Gavin knows what green beans are.   That’s when I realized that I think that I might be doing something right.

Grocery shopping with kids is not always a great experience, especially when your kids are no longer content to sit in the cart and people-watch.  Gavin is 3 now and Skylar is 17 months.  My usual approach is to put Skylar in the top of the cart and throw Gavin in the back.  As we get near the end of the shopping trip, that area gets smaller and smaller with our purchases and understandably, Gavin wants to get out and walk.  I usually let him.  In anticipation that this will happen, I try to plan shopping trips for times of day where there will be less people at the store.  Gavin is starting to listen pretty well and understands that he needs to stay close to me, but the urge to run down that open aisle is sometimes just too much to resist.  I try and keep him occupied by having him help me pick out food to buy.

He is especially excited to help in the produce section.  We buy a lot of fresh produce, especially in the summer months, and Gavin has developed some strong opinions on what we should put in our carts.  He never seems to like my picks for blueberries or bananas, but I have been successful in steering him in the right direction.   In the last couple of shopping trips, he has actually made requests for certain produce.  This past week, he was very upset that we did not buy any grapes, in the starting-to-cry upset kind of way.  It’s because of him that we got the green beans in the first place.  He thought that I forgot to get them.  He was also very particular about which heads of broccoli to bag.  I’ve been using his assistance in my produce selections purely to keep him occupied and close by me.  It’s hard to pick out the perfect potatoes when you have a 3 year old running towards the carrots, but it dawned on me that I’m offering an education of sorts that I never realized. 

He is learning about all the different types of fruits and veggies that are available.  He loves to ask what certain items are and wonders why we aren’t buying them.  Prior to this phase, we used the produce section to practice naming colors.  We also talk about preferences.  For example, it’s ok that Mommy only likes the red grapes, but it’s great that I’ve tried the other colors too. It’s because of Gavin’s curiosity that we bought a broccoflower a few weeks ago.  I do have to be careful because he likes to sample things before they are bought and washed.  A few weeks ago, I bent towards him to hear what he was saying to me and got a huge whiff of cilantro on his breath.  He was snacking on cilantro leaves!  (He also loves basil and mint.)  Most importantly, buying produce is a regular part of our shopping trip, and he is engaged and aware of these purchases on a weekly basis.  He is learning that fruits and vegetables are a standard and expected part of our diets.  Hopefully, these early lessons will not only teach my kids what the different produce items are but that it is the norm to include them in your weekly shopping trips.  Now, if only I could get Skylar to understand that the ear of corn needs to be cooked before she can eat it, everything would be perfect.

Another Sad Day for Recycling

Last Saturday, Steve and I met up with another couple at the Lincoln Financial Field for the Kenny Chesney/Tim McGraw concert.   The concert started at 4:30, and we got there around 3:30 to do a little tailgating.  Apparently, tailgating at this concert started very early in the morning, and we ended up parking a good 15 minute walk from the stadium.  We hung out for a while, catching up with our friends before actually going into the concert.  I particularly enjoyed sitting in a chair the whole time and not once having to chase a little kid.  It was a nice break from parenthood.

Let me gave you a little background  on country music and Philadelphia.  It isn’t all that popular around here.  We only have 1 country music station, and I don’t readily advertise that I am a country music fan.  Steve is not.  He is a great husband who does indulge me by being my date to these concerts.  However, Kenny Chesney regularly makes a stop for a performance in Philly, and the event is usually sold out.  Why not?  It’s an all day party fueled with lots and lots of alcohol (water for me, of course). 

As we headed over to the stadium, we witnessed the craziness of the day first-hand.  I regret that I didn’t take any pictures!  What was I thinking?!  The parking lots near the stadium were filled with people, most of who couldn’t walk a straight line, stand at all, or even stay awake.  The ground was covered in unidentifiable liquids.  Beer bottles and water bottles littered the pavement.  There were beer pong tables erected in parking spots.  Porta-potties constructed out of plywood in the back of pick-up trucks.  But above anything else that was overwhelming was the smell.  The smell of urine baking in the sun made me so grateful to have parked far away from this madness.    

Maybe my reaction is a yet another sign that I am getting old.  Maybe it was because I was stone-cold sober, but it was still disgusting.  We went in to enjoy the concert, despite drunk people being escorted out by security and a fist-fight behind us, but when we left, the trash all over the ground was still shocking.  I just looked at all the empty bottles thinking that they will never be recycled.  They’ll be thrown out and left to take up space in a landfill for a million years Yes, you heard me right.  It takes a million years for a glass bottle to biodegrade.  So next time you’re planning a tailgate, please try to have a recycling plan in place for the day too.  Drinking and recycling can go together.

Your 1st Pregnancy versus Your 3rd

Last night, I was thinking about how different my viewpoints are on pregnancy now that I am on my 3rd set of 9 months compared to the first time around.  This whole self-reflection was triggered by a blog post and a doctor’s visit.  Yesterday, I had a maternity checkup and when the doctor asked me how I was doing, I told her that I have a lot of round ligament pain now and frequent backaches.  For those of you that don’t know, round ligament pain is a feeling like you’re being stabbed with a knife on your side just above your hips but below your belly  It’s pretty common in pregnancy as the ligaments stretch but have been quite excessive for me this time around.  As for my backaches, my doctor was realistic and said, “I don’t expect you not to carry your kids around.”  She did suggest that I invest in a maternity support belt to help with both issues.

Now what does this conversation have to do with a blog post?  I had just read a blog post written by a woman who is 1 week further along in her first pregnancy than me who bought a maternity belt to help with her own aches and pains.  I don’t scoff at any woman’s pregnancy aches and pains, but I had to chuckle a little bit at this one.  She is very physically active and her baby belly is as small as mine was at 12 weeks.  I can’t believe how tiny she is!  She looks like she’s bloated from eating a Big Mac and large fries for lunch.  How is it possible that she could need a maternity belt?!  That’s when I started remembering how your perspective changes with different pregnancies.

Take morning sickness for example.  In your first pregnancy, you survive morning sickness and think that you get it.  You really understand what morning sickness is all about.  The truth is you have no idea the severity of your suffering because you have nothing to compare it too.  Morning sickness sucks no matter how bad it is, but you may not realize that it really wasn’t that bad until you’ve gone through it a 2nd or even a 3rd time.  How annoying and insensitive is it when a mom can’t show sympathy for someone with morning sickness because she went through it and survived?  Maybe that mom’s experience wasn’t as bad as hers.  It’s hard to really understand the varying degrees of morning sickness until you have felt something different.

Sleep is another great example.  I actually don’t have sympathy for a first time mom who complains about her lack of sleep.  In your first pregnancy, your only sleep interruption is you.  Maybe you have to get up and pee, maybe your uncomfortable, maybe you wake up because you’re hungry, but you never wake up because another baby is crying and screaming for you at 2am.  You never have to start your day at 5:30am because your kid is awake and ready to play.  You never have to wait until you’ve put your child to bed for your own bed time.  You can nap or lie down and rest whenever you want.  I remember in my first pregnancy, I took a nap every day leading up to the arrival of my son.  This time around, I’m terrified that I will be exhausted before those nighttime feedings even start.

Waiting for you baby. Here is where I do have complete sympathy for the first time mom.  Waiting for your first baby can seem like it takes 9 years not 9 months.  The time just cannot go by fast enough until you can hold your baby in your arms.  In this 3rd pregnancy, I would like time to slow down a little bit so I can start preparing for having a new little one.  I felt like I blinked I was starting my 3rd trimester.

Everybody’s pregnancy experience is unique, special and exciting.  I try very hard not to tell a new mom how it’s really going to be because her experience is her own and shouldn’t be tainted by other’s stories.  I can’t help but look back on my own experiences and appreciate how much wiser I feel for having been there done that.  Although, I’m sure something new will pop up that will make feel just as inexperienced as I was the first time around.

Do You Know Which Cow Your Milk Came From?

Unless you’re a dairy farmer, you probably don’t know. I don’t know either, but I do feel lucky that I can at least check out the cows that provide my milk.  I buy my milk from Merrymead Farm. It’s an adventure when I take the kids with me to buy milk.  You can walk around and check out a giant hog, some rabbits, donkeys, goats, peacocks, chickens and all the cows.  Sometimes the cows are out grazing in the field.  Sometimes they’re in the barn eating.  You can watch them line up to be milked.  You can even watch them during the milking process.   5 feet stands between you and your potential milk source.  If you’re lucky, they might even amble up to the window and moo at you. This scenario is more than enough for me to feel comfortable with how the cows are treated that produce my milk. 

All that aside, the real goal of any dairy farmer is to get his cows to produce as much milk as possible.  That can be accomplished with rBST injections, with painkillers do dull any discomfort, and unnatural diets that increase the amount of physiological issues requiring medication.  All bad methods, and yet common practices in the commercial production of milk.  Remember – rBST, painkillers, antibiotics all end up in your milk.  Research shows that cows will naturally produce more milk when they are happy and content.  I can’t even cite one source because there are so many out there.  I dare you to google it.  Any woman who has ever breastfed probably understands this fact.

Yesterday, I read an interesting and somewhat entertaining article about alternative approaches that some dairy farmers are taking to keep their cows happy, and they are seeing positive results.  Chiropractic sessions to avoid painkillers.  Water beds to take some of the pressure off their joints.  Misting in the barns to cool down the animals.  Even naming the cows can help them produce more milk. 

Cows may not be the smartest animal on the planet, but they too feel pain and discomfort.  They respond positively to human interaction and good treatment.  While I’m not suggesting that we all run out and find a dairy farm that gives its cows daily massages, but it can’t hurt to know what kind dairy farm is producing your milk.  A little education might change your mind about where to invest your milk money.

Do You Feel Appreciated at Work Today?

My company is not known for coddling its employees with comfort.  We don’t get free coffee or free spring water.  There are no free snacks sitting in the kitchen for an afternoon pick-me-up.   The majority of the employees do not work in attractive work spaces.  We don’t have nice views.  In fact, many of us don’t have a view at all or even a window.  We do have decent cubicles, a nice chair, and our own phones, which is enough to get you through the day as long as you don’t stuck staring at the gray walls for too long (why would anybody choose gray paint!).

I have accepted these conditions without complaint for 12 years, but I draw the line at a lack of air conditioning.  I got to work at 8am.  The humidity was already enough to start a little hair frizz and with a high temp expected at around 90 degrees, it was already in the 80’s at that time.  I walked in from my car, dodging goose poop the whole way (despite nary a goose in sight), climbed the stairs to the second floor, walked a short hallway and entered my office area to be hit by a wall of stuffy heat.  It was literally 10 degrees warmer at my desk than it was the hallway, and the temperature kept climbing as more people showed up and powered up computers. A work order was submitted and 3 hours later, I heard the hum of the a/c and the office cooled down. 

During this time, we are expected to continue working at normal productivity levels.  Seriously.  Now, it could have been worse, but when you are hot and uncomfortable and everyone else around you is talking about the heat, it’s difficult to do any critical thinking.

This experience was certainly not my first at this company where the temperature was not quite right.  I’ve experienced many hot rooms.  I’ve seen the use of portable a/c  units.  I’ve endured humidity that made you feel like you’re in the rain forest.  I even moved to a new building in the winter where it took them 2 weeks to figure out that the heat didn’t kick back on until 10am, consequently, leaving us all freezing for several hours every morning.  All that combined with leaky roofs, power outages and the occasional mouse problem makes me wonder how much my employer really values my comfort.

Right now, I’m eating my lunch in a nice cool office space getting ready to forget about all this negativity until the next a/c problem.  Now if only the guy hammering in the room below me would stop and take his lunch break… I could get some work done.

The Importance of Sleep

We all know that sleep is important. A restful night’s sleep enables us to perform our best cognitively and physically. It also helps us to maintain a healthier body weight. As every parent knows, sleep is sometimes elusive. We’ve all been there. Those first 3 months of a newborn’s life can make you feel like you’re going to die from lack of sleep. Then teething starts. Your kid gets sick. He has a bad dream. All sorts of scenarios crop up that interrupt your night of sleep, but these scenarios also interrupt your kid’s good night of sleep as well. For babies, that’s ok. They’ll make up for it during the day. For older children, the repercussions are more challenging.

Gavin is going through a transition. Some days, no nap is needed. Other days, it’s required. On the days, that he won’t nap, the result is a lot of crankiness at bed time and difficulty going to sleep and/or staying asleep. On the days that he does nap, the result is an extremely difficult time going to sleep and a very early wake up. On the days we get it wrong and he ends up overtired, he is whiny and has very low impulse control, which translates to lots of time-outs due to hitting, kicking and pushing his sister, throwing toys and talking back. Those nights might also yield a night terror and an eventual request to sleep in our bed. My mom-guilt gets me on these days because I get so frustrated with him, and yet, I know that it is the exhaustion manifesting itself.

I am trying to enforce at least a ½ hour of quiet time at nap time in hopes that maybe if he is tired enough, he’ll fall asleep or just get some rest. The last quiet time he had, after about 20 minutes he called for help. When I got into his room, all of his lights were on, the fan was on high, his books were strewn all over the floor, his closet doors were open, and he had his snow pants on. You can see that it is going well.

As we deal with this transition, I’m trying to find some patience despite my own over-tiredness. I know that these difficult moments will eventually pass. Until then, I’ll celebrate every night of uninterrupted sleep that lasts past 6am – for him and me.

Making Italian Bread

It’s been a while since I posted any cooking ventures, so I thought that I would share a recipe for homemade Italian bread.  Bread making is easy as long as you follow the directions.   In most of my bread-making, I use All-Purpose flour and/or wheat flour.  For this recipe, I use bread flour.  Bread flour has a higher protein content than other flours, which is useful in bread-making because it creates longer and strong chains of gluten.  High gluten content helps to make bread that is airy and light.  Bread flour is bad for baking because it can make baked goods that are chewy and dense.  

Italian Bread

1 cup of hot water (between 100-110 degrees)
1 tablespoon of yeast (or 1 package of yeast)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
3 cups bread flour
1 tbsp butter, melted

Add the yeast to the hot water and let it sit for 5 minutes until foamy. Most hot water heaters are set to 120 degrees, so just letting your faucet heat up is sufficient for getting the correct temperature of water. Water that is too hot will kill the yeast. Too cool water will not trigger any yeast growth. Mix together remaining ingredients (except butter) and add yeast mixture when it is ready.

Once mixed turn on to a floured surface and begin kneading. Knead dough for about 10 minutes. The kneading process is what builds the gluten strands. If you cheat and knead for less time, your bread will be dense.

Once you’re finished kneading, you should have a ball of smooth dough. Put into an oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Let the dough rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

After it has doubled, punch down the dough and turn it on to a floured surface. Cover the dough ball with the bowl and let it rest of 15 minutes. Then shape the dough ball into a 12″ baguette shape. Cover with a damp cloth and let it rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.

After it has doubled in size again, melt 1 tbsp of butter and brush it on top of the loaf. Bake it for 20-25 minutes at 375 degrees until bread seems hollow when tapped.

My bread could have used a little more flour to hold its shape. When it rose the last time, it seemed to spread out rather than get higher.  Regardless, it was still light and flavorful and enjoyed by everyone in my family.  Bread making is interesting because the same recipe can turn out differently from one attempt to the next.  The most important thing to remember is to knead, knead, and knead your dough.  The first couple of times of kneading for 10 minutes can seem like forever, but it is crucial to make light and airy breads. Enjoy!

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