Thursday, December 09, 2010

Happy birthday Dylan! Look who's walking!

Three months ago, this was Dylan.
Crawling at a fast clip, unable to walk but happily hanging out in my Ergo as we took Ava off to her first day of school.

Yesterday he turned one. Today he decided it was time to get a move on.

And again with Dad in better light and to much more fanfare.

Ava just lost one more advantage over her little brother.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Love, peace and hair grease

I thought having a boy would mean 'fewer' hair-related activities. I was wrong. I've written before about Ava and Dylan's hair care process. We added something new to the repetoire this week.

 Ava had her first braids when she was almost two years old. So Dylan beat her to the punch a bit.
 Like father, like son with the afro pick action.

Full, post-braid, picked out glory. Like Bootsy, baby!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Baby carriers for mom's little baby

I love finding new, interesting blogs and it turns out my latest find is a fellow Clever Girls Collective member. Thanks, Mail Carrier is by a mom of two who writes:
about the love that my daughters and I have for receiving mail and how happy the mail carrier makes us when he comes driving down our street.
She does reviews and giveaways of mom- and kid-friendly products. One of her November posts made me smile: an Ergo baby carrier for kids! Or more specifically, for their dolls.
Courtesy of ErgoBaby
I have loved my Ergo baby carrier and extol its virtues to every new parent who asks about carrier options. But I had to introduce my mom to the benefits of babywearing back when Ava was an infant.

While I was busy reading reams of pregnancy and child development magazines about new research in baby development, attachment parenting and the nurturing needs of newborns, my mom and aunts were convinced that the long-since debunked advice they'd been given 30+ years ago was all that was needed to whip this new, needy (in their eyes) family member into shape.

Case in point: Ava preferred to be carried a lot as an infant (still does) and would cry a lot with my mom initially, who split caregiver duties with J. for most of the day when I went back to work after three months maternity leave.

My aunts, calling from across the country to check in on the new grandmother and new great-niece, could hear all the crying in the background, and told my mom that holding the baby would spoil her and to feed her rice cereal from birth (!) to make her sleep longer and cry less. "That's what the baby nurse told me when your cousin was born," she explained. Said cousin now being in his mid-30s.

Ahem. I was SO not cool with that and explained (diplomatically) what doctors have learned about the immaturity of the infant digestive system and I trusted my gut, which told me that Ava just needed to be held and interacted with, not left in a swing or crib for hours on end, which was the norm back in the day.

So I took a sling infant carrier I'd been using at home to my mom and had her try it. She called me at work hours later to say, "I've had her in this thing all morning and she hasn't said a peep! She's just as quiet and content, hanging here on my hip just looking around." Oh really. Imagine that. :-)
Ava - 10 months
As an older new mom friend of mine told her skeptical mother who pooh-poohed her swaddling and babywearing techniques as 'Not what we did when you were a baby': "Yeah, it's amazing what can change in 40 years!"

We tried out several carriers after the Bjorn and the sling, finally discovering the Ergo. Ava at 10 months in the Ergo weighed much less than 20 pounds. J. and I loved that we could each use it it with minimal adjustment for each of us, rather than having to use separate carriers as we'd done up until then: one for his large frame and one for my smaller one.
Dylan - 9 months, Ava - 3 years
Fast forward three years and Dylan, at nine months, weighed about 25 pounds - just a couple pounds less than his three year old sister. But he still rode (and currently rides) comfortably in the same Ergo. He's 11 months and 27 pounds pounds now and though I still carry him for short trips out and about, afterwards, it feels like I've done a major buns and thigh workout, sans elliptical.

With Christmas just around the corner and Ava in need of a doll to replace one left somewhere while spending the weekend with my folks, I may spring for the Ergo Baby Carrier and a new doll for her. After all, it's never too early to teach kids how to be loving parents to their babies.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving visuals

Since we didn't host Thanksgiving dinner this year, or the cleaning and entertaining hullaballoo that goes with it, I was free to grab a few shots on the big day.

My mother-in-law working her hostessing magic. Yes, those are three stacked pies, next to another pie and a cake. Altogether, there were at least nine different desserts, including bar cookies, a red velvet cake, and a 7-Up cake (so light and tasty).
Mac and cheese and green bean casserole.
Clockwise: hot croissants in the bowl, roast turkey, baked turkey, J.'s salmon, more mac and cheese, and ham. No deep fried turkey this year. :-( My arteries will probably thank me later.

A beautiful table for the grown folks.
The kids table with Ava in the back with two of her more than a dozen cousins who came.
Jones family: poorly cropped, but happy, healthy, and thankful in 2010.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sprinting to Christmas

For the first time ever, we have our tree up more than a week or two before Christmas. Maybe it's a harbinger of a good year ahead that we're starting off ahead of the game on this annual task.

While the kids napped in the back, we took turns scouring the rows of trees at a nearby nursery. Our main criteria? One that smells good and was full. As if reading our minds, there was a section labeled "very fragrant" and therein we found a lovely Noble fir. Fortunately for me, a guy who worked there told me, because despite a lifetime in the tree-loving Pacific Northwest, I only know a handful of tree types by name. Usually I just call them what they look like. As in, big tree, skinny tree, tree blocking my view, etc.

 After loading it up and tying it securely...

we made the short trek home and had it up decorated within a few hours, after stopping to eat dinner, get ready for work and school tomorrow, and finally getting the kids bathed, read to, and put to bed. And let me tell you: it smells like we're just a present and a reindeer short of Christmas in this camp!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

City-centric toddler books and other good kid reads

Nearly a year ago, I came across this useful post by a local mom about good city-centric books for toddlers. They provide a nice contrast to the typical farm and country life themes that seem to dominate a lot of kids books, and which I realized are only relevant for us when we take Ava and Dylan to fairs, petting zoos and harvest festivals around the region.

Although I spent my first couple years and many summers on my grandmother's farm in rural Louisiana and enjoy the open space, fresh food and other benefits of country living, I've grown up in a major metropolitan area and love it here.

The article is linked below and I pulled out summaries of the books mentioned, plus a few others mentioned by parents in reviews as good toddler reads. I’ll be checking the library and now Barnes and Noble NOOKkids online bookstore for them soon.

We’ve pretty much run through the many books in Ava’s library and are searching for new, more “mature” additions. To liven things up last summer, we started leaving off the last word in rhyming favorites like Goodnight Moon so that Ava could fill in the blank or elaborate.

Natasha: “Goodnight comb. And goodnight brush. Goodnight nobody. Goodnight…”
Ava: “Mush! Like oatmeal. I loooove oatmeal.”

Now she's memorized favorites like most of the Ezra Jack Keats books and the Paperback Princess (my personal favorite) and she "reads" them to us, word for word. It's still amazing to me, but not surprising I guess after I read this Wisconsin Council on Children and Families PDF that found:

...advances in neuroscience have helped crystallize earlier findings, bringing new clarity and understanding to the field of early childhood brain development. Children are born ready to learn. They cultivate 85 percent of their intellect, personality and skills by age five. The first months and years of life set the stage for lifelong development...
Research shows that the richness of a young child’s verbal interactions has a dramatic effect on vocabulary and school readiness, with differences correlated to socio-economic status. A watershed study on the topic found that by age 3, the observed cumulative vocabulary for children in professional families was 1,116 words; for working class families it was about 740, and for welfare families 525.
Fascinating. And no parental pressure, right? ;-) But it just reinforces the approach I gravitated to with Ava and Dylan from the start: I talk to them using big words and concepts, even if they don't understand them now. It introduces them to new words, and in some cases, provides an opportunity to explain more advanced concepts in kid-friendly language.

Which is why Ava was using the word "awesome" in the proper context at 18 months, and now describes her brother as "mischievous," and tells us when she's "frustrated." Sure, she also asked when we would see "Appetizer" again. "Do you mean 'Avatar'?" I asked. "Oh, right," she said with a smile. But she's clearly absorbing many of the words we use with her every day.

11 month old Dylan, who is not as engaged by books at this stage as Ava was, simply sits still for four to five pages before doing his baby Hulk impersonation: "Hulk no like book! Hulk throw book, find noise. Hulk like noise!"

I'm looking for more tactile titles for him. He's clearly absorbing the torrent of words too, focusing intently as we say the word for each facial feature he points to. But he is much more physically adept than Ava was at the same age. The following titles look promising for him and Ava.

City-centric reads:

Also, Max Makes a Million by Maira Kalman
Max is a New York dog, but his dream is to live in Paris and be a poet.

"More More More," Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams
A trio of multigenerational, multiracial "love stories" about three pairs of babies and their grown-ups.

Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang
It's sort of a "Goodnight Moon" tale, but interesting. The book combines your average counting book (or, in this case, counting backwards book) with a bedtime sleepy story as an African-American girl and her father count down to bedtime.

Can you recommend any that have become favorites for toddlers and preschoolers you know?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Post-Thanksgiving thanks

Thanksgiving itself was fairly low-key since we didn't host this year. J. did do his usual bang-up job of cooking several salmon fillets to accompany the turkeys, ham, mac and cheese, green bean casserole, stuffing, yams, potatoes, and copious desserts his mom provided. It was a lot of food but still scaled back from previous years, mainly due to my mother-in-law realizing that doling out or storing the leftovers was becoming as much of a chore as cooking it all.

So this year, the word of the day was moderation. For the first time in many years, my eyes were not bigger than my stomach and I did not over-indulge. It made for a much more enjoyable evening to not have to lay on the couch moaning with a Pepto-Bismal-stained upper lip. I simply had two plates of small samples of everything I wanted and didn't eat any dessert since I was already full. Then I packed leftovers and the desserts to take home for the next day.

My parents and I made the rounds to different relatives, so I didn't see them on the actual day. But I did see my mom's brother and sister and my cousin, as well as my husband's family, where Ava and Dylan spent hours playing with a passel of cousins, leaving them giggly and worn out by the end of the night.

Altogether, despite the cold snap we are recovering from, it was a lovely day. So I am thankful for moderation and health for myself, for family and friends, for a happy, healthy husband and kids, for a job, especially one that I enjoy and that allows us to have food in our stomachs, clothes on our back, and a roof over our heads. Which is what I give thanks for every night.

I am well-educated, self-sufficient, healthy, and I live in a developed country, so there are innumerable things for which I'm thankful and I often preface some minor annoyance with "Caution: first world whine ahead..." to make clear that I know I've got a lot working in my favor when I wake up every day (waking up: something else to be thankful for!).

But I will be striving in the coming weeks to keep that 'attitude of gratitude' as some say, as we head into the next year.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Nook Color Kid at play

Happy Thanksgiving! While we finish cooking and Dylan naps, Ava's having a kid's book read to her by the Nook Color, or rather, an actor/reader. She's already got the swipe-to-turn-the-page figured out since it's like her dad's iPhone.

I'm digging this thing more and more, even though the wi-fi isn't connecting again. I'll try it out at a public wi-fi this weekend.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

High tech hallelujah

I was off today and spent time hanging with the family and trying to stave off a cold that has made it's way from the kids to J. and finally to me (maybe). I also continued my quest to make my new Barnes and Noble Nook Color work.

And like Dr. Frankenstein finally seeing his monster lurch off the surgery table, tonight I uttered, "It's alive! Alive!"

It took two days, two calls to Nook tech support, one call to my router tech support, two calls and one visit to my local Barnes and Noble, and at least three hours spent rebooting and reconfiguring my wireless router and attempting to connect the Nook Color to my home wi-fi.

All while intermittently entertaining, feeding, changing, wiping and playing with the kids. I even got outside with Ava and the dog to frolic in the snow for a bit while Dylan napped.

Man: and I thought I could multi-task before I had kids. 

Despite the hassle of calling, rebooting and such, as I've shown before with my lost luggage saga in '07, persistance pays baby! I finally got the Nook Color working.

Then it stopped. Now it's back. Basically, I've had to use my laptop to log in to router and reboot every time I want to connect the Nook Color to my wi-fi.

It may be due to my ancient router (2004), but I've found a few message boards on Barnes and Noble's site that indicate others have had trouble getting the Nook to connect to wi-fi too. Since every other device in the house connects to the wireless just fine, I'm not upgrading until it dies.

This is from my Nokia E71 cell phone camera.
Seriously, I could hire a courtroom sketch artist and get a better image. SO frustrating.

I downloaded an e-book, a kids book, and several trial magazines and newspapers to give them a spin, including GQ. Which is what Mr. Skeptical of E-readers there is kicked back reading so comfortably.

His verdict? "This thing is pretty hot."

Oh reeaaallly?! You, my man, are preaching to the choir. So hallelujah to that.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snowbound but no nookie

Seattle is currently in the grip of a winter storm that would make a midwesterner snicker (2"-5" of snow, wind gusts of 20-40 mph, dry, clear). But with our watery surroundings and hilly topography, the packed snow quickly turned to ice, making bridges and many streets impassable ice rinks of abandoned cars and gingerly manuvering buses.

The last time we dealt with a similar storm, I made it to work but spent hours trying to get home, only to abandon my car and hike uphill in the snow in the darkness. Thanks to the magic of telecommuting then and now, I only made that mistake once after realizing that with VPN and a laptop, I'm at my desk no matter where I'm sitting. So I worked from home the last couple days, slogging through long-overdue email tasks and working on 2011 goals for my team and myself.

My husband was able to get out and about before the storm hit on Monday to take Ava to school and pick up a birthday present that I'd finally settled on: a Barnes and Noble Nook e-book reader. Yes, it's as cool as the reviews say and as an early-ish adopter, I felt confident that this second generation Nook (the first was e-ink/black and white) would be sufficiently bug-free and worth the price. Also, I told my husband it would finally allow me to eliminate some of the hardcopy magazine subscriptions that he feels clutter up the joint. Personally, I see reading material as another type of art, not just something functional.

Having mentioned before my wish for a particular e-book, I was excited to get my mitts on this new reader. My husband handed me the package with a perplexed look. "It's just another device to bury your face in. I don't get it, but if you like it, great."

"You'll see," I explained, reverently snapping the device into the leather cover. "It's the future of content access: newspapers, magazines, kids books, the web, and more!"

I excitedly booted up the machine, watched the introductory video, and tried to set it up by accessing the web. Over and over and over again. Seems the machine could see the wireless in our house (and about 10 others: that's so Seattle), but couldn't lock on.

Tech support was closed, so I turned to the internet. Nothing but glowing reviews and hands on demos. I spent a couple hours after putting the kids to bed tinkering with our routers, my cell and laptops (which could all get online through the wireless fine).

I tried again over lunch, finally reaching tech support who showed me how to hard reset the Nook. Still no dice.

One of the things I've missed tremendously since having kids is time to sit and read. I remember those weekends as DINKS (dual income, no kids) when we'd hole up watching TV while surfing the web or reading magazines. Or sitting in coffee shops for hours doing the same, minus TV. Man, that was 3.5 years, two kids and seemingly a lifetime ago.

Unless I stay up way too late, my reading for pleasure consists of e-mail, texts, blogs, and newspaper
 sites I skim in my phone's  RSS feed. I was looking forward to the Nook Color changing all that, plus giving me another way to spend time with reading material with the kids (there's a NookKids component for downloading kids e-books read aloud by real people rather than an automated voice).

Of course, I can do that without an e-reader. Thanks to our nightly reading sessions before bed, Ava has memorized multiple books that she "reads" to us some nights. Ezra Jack Keats' stories are on heavy rotation, as is the Paperback Princess and Franklin is Lost.

But I was really looking forward to this next generation of reading with my next generation. I will be taking it in to exchange it for a new unit as soon as the icy roads clear.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A run for the (northern) border

Saturday, we hit the road to head up to Canada for the night. We do day trips up pretty often, but decided to make a night of it to celebrate my birthday.

We spent the morning cleaning house while rocking out to some music, because it's always nice to come home from a trip and just unwind in a clean house. The music makes the time go faster and the kids think something super fun is going on and can't wait to get in on it.

Case in point? Ava: "Can I have a towel so I can clean?"
Me: "Absolutely! Here's a spray bottle, gloves and towels. I already swept. Can you do those spots on the floor while I do the bathroom and I'm mop when you're done?"
Ava: "Sure! I'm helping! I can do it myself!"

Yes you are and yes you do. Next up? Getting her brother in the act. Once he's walking, we should be able to get him in on the dryer unloading, as we did with Ava back when she was just over one.

So, with the cleaning out of the way, we hit the road and discovered snow-dusted roads north of Bellingham. I was not prepared for this. I didn't even bother to check the weather report. I just always assume it will be 40-55 degrees and I will be cold. I dress and pack accordingly. I was not expecting temperatures in the 20s-30s. Still, my standard layering protocol was sufficient for me and the kids and I figured we could always buy anything critical that we might need, because if anyone has cold weather gear, it's Canadians.

The drive was lovely, leisurely and provided the usual great conversation and laughs. More than once, Ava started giggling, unsure of what we were laughing so hard about but wanting in on the fun. She and Dylan both alternated sleeping and staring out the window at the snow-dusted scenery. They have their moments, but in general, they're awesome travelers for the 3 hour or so trip.

We arrived in Vancouver to find frigid temperatures, but a cold, clear night. After getting settled in our hotel, we stretched our legs then bundled the kids up in the stroller and hit Robson Street for a little early-evening shopping.

As usual, J. found two excellent pairs of boots with ridiculous sale prices. Honestly, the guy could be blindfolded and dropped in any country in the world and within 30 minute find the most stylish clothing available on clearance. Fortunately, I enlisted him to put his bizarre gift to work for me this trip, with some success.

But I went looking specifically for boots and came home sorely disappointed. Part of my problem is that I basically despise almost all the women's shoes we saw because they're either ridiculously priced or this bizarre porn star chic style that seems all the craze. I mean honestly, I love a 2"-4" heel, but the 6" platform stiletto? All of them? Really? That's what all the women are clamoring for? C'mon designers, stop already.

I know the platform means it's only a 2" - 4" feel, but get real. I'm often traipsing about with two toddlers. Those make about as much sense for me at this stage of my life as wearing anything Lady Gaga has ever worn. I could do it. But it wouldn't be pretty or practical: two things that are essential these days.

Finally, as the kids' witching hours approached, we headed back towards the hotel in search of dinner. We spotted two possible restaurants but they were above the street up steep flights of stairs with no elevators in sight. With a double stroller to manage, J. said, "There's got to be an elevator." I asked, but no dice. "Maybe that's why it's not called the Canadians with Disabilities Act," I offered, referring to the ADA, which has made wheelchair and other access standard in the states. Curb cuts and elevators are so de rigeur in the states, it was hard to believe there was no wheeled access to those places.

I saw another likely spot a block away. Squinting towards the sign, I asked, "Think that one's kid-friendly?" J.: "Nope: there's a Bentley in front." True dat.

We kept walking and finally found a spot called Joey's just off Robson. Although it definitely had a hipster, black-clad everyone and none-of-the-loins-on-these-premises-have-ever-birthed-offspring (at least none that I know about)-vibe. But the staff was totally welcoming, gave us a great booth overlooking the action in the kitchen through a window next to our table (the chefs and waitstaff played peekaboo with Dylan as they walked by on the other side) and even let us park the stroller behind the check in desk.

The entryway featured this see-through wine rack room divider, which, though cool, only made me think, "That would be awesome for displaying shoes." At last count, J. has more than 80 pairs of sneakers. Yes, really. I think we've found a solution to his storage problem.

The food rocked, but we had to finally get it to go when the meltdowns started. It was past nine though, so we were far from surprised and had just been pushing our luck, along with the stroller. Back in our room we fueled up and turned in to rest up for round two the next morning.

We found a great breakfast spot where Dylan snuck food off Jason's plate while his sister distracted him...

After more window shopping than actual shopping with Dylan fast asleep as we wheeled the stroller through malls and down Robson, we found a nice outfit for me and finally hit the road back to the good old U.S.A. in the early evening.

All in all, it was another lovely Canadian getway and a nice low-key, laugh- and family-filled birthday weekend.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Dylan: Afro-powered Speed Racer

We're headed to Vancouver, BC for an quick overnight trip.

When we stop in Bellingham for snacks, J. runs into the store and 11 month old Dylan, rocking a major 'fro, comes up front to practice for his learner's permit test in 14 years.

Yikes. That used to seem a really long ways off, until I realize that it's just 12 years away for Ava, who took the wheel in the same way at 10 months.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hair as a biological weapon

Given yesterday's post about all the hair goings on at our house, I was reminded of some hair hullabaloo earlier this year here in Seattle. Charles Mudede, a writer for The Stranger newspaper, wrote a column about a situation involving his bi-racial daughter, her hair products and a teacher's alleged physical sensitivity to the smell of it.

As I wrote about the debacle at the time in a Facebook comment:
Jay-zuss. So. Poorly. Handled. By the teacher and the parents. Why isn't anyone thinking about the child, her feelings, and her classmates and what they're learning from this? About how deal with difference? (They've learned to push it away. In a really distracting and obtrusive way.)
About how to handle an uncomfortable situation without making someone feel bad? (They've learned a child's feelings don't matter. Only the adult's/teacher's.)
Why didn't the teacher just say "I'm feeling a little warm/dizzy. Let's open a window and the door and create a cross-breeze." Then she could broach the subject - delicately and discretely - with the parents later.
All kinds of teachable moments being missed in all this.
At the time, reading about that girl left me totally worried about my little brown girl and her gorgeous hair and attendant hair products as we prepared to send her off to play school.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hair affair

Hair is big around here. Both kids were born with full heads of hair, which my aunt says runs in my side of the family, and J. has had a catalog of coifs over the years, ranging from the current short, clean cut 'do, which he's growing out, to twists, braids, puffy afro and more.

I'm currently sporting a long, relaxed hairdo down to my shoulder blades, courtesy of two semi-close together pregnancies and related hormones, and the retirement of my longtime stylist. She was originally from Canada where apparently the word "trim" means cut off an inch and a half, thereby negating efforts to grow it out.

I've written before about the process of managing Ava and Dylan's hair day to day. Now Dylan's trying to comb his 'fro just like dad.

And this week, Ava asked for her hair to be blown out instead of styled wet.
Diana Ross-esque results below.

She was so busy dancing around and twirling it was hard to catch her on camera. Note to self: learn to use sport mode on camera. Also: replenish supply of headbands and save blowouts for weekends. Because the next day, after spending the morning playing at school outside in the wind, her hair looked like a rat's nest. A very, bouncy, rat's nest.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Parenting to-do list

We had our first parent-teacher conference today with Ava's play school teacher. At one point, she used the phrase "exceptional girl" with no caveats. She may have been blowing smoke, but I'll take it. And I will keep it in mind when Ava's being exceptionally cranky and exceptionally annoyed with her brother.

All in all, Ava's loving her class and classmates and comes home every school day to regale us with tales of all the great fun they had outside and who did what. I think the school and its play-based philosophy and diverse students and parents has been a great fit for her and us. We like what she's learning there and it matches and reinforces our family philosophies around independence, personal responsibility, fairness, kindness, politeness, friendship, and contributing wherever you are.

But it also reinforced our resolve to do whatever is required to raise Ava and Dylan to be productive members of society by hopefully modeling good behavior towards them and each other, and providing the guidance, structure and freedom in the correct balance to parent them successfully.

It reminded me of a great wee-hours discussion J. and I had over the summer precipitated by a news update on a local 10 y.o. gang-affiliated attempted robber and his sibling accomplices who robbed a 17 year old on a public transit bus. Egads. What happened (or didn't) in his 10 short years on the planet that led to the series of poor choices he made that day?

We had a wide ranging discussion about what we are trying to instill in our kids now to keep them on the straight and narrow. We want them to understand that there are consequences for negative actions, unlike the parent of an elementary school student taught by my friend, who informed her that they don't believe in consequences at their house. Huh. Wonder how that's going to work in the real world, seeing as how pretty much EVERYTHING there has consequences?

Topics we covered included how we can teach them to value themselves (so they'll know how to spot others who try to devalue them), dealing with and avoiding frien-emies, how we can demonstrate the value of persistence and hard work, how we can never demonstrate too much what positive, supportive love is so they don't go chasing some poor approximation of it, how to be leaders not followers, being and spotting a good friend, trusting their gut, standing up for what's right even when it's hard, sportsmanship when you're the star AND when you're not, dealing with peer pressure, being considerate of others, trying to live a moral and compassionate life: you know, the things that seem to have fallen out of vogue in some circles. That's a laundry list, and it's of course incomplete and we may not cover every item every week. Still, it's something to strive for. Which leads to another bullet on the list: setting and meeting goals.

Man, this parenting gig is tough but important work. But we're hoping that by doing the heavy-lifting on the front end and throughout their formative years, we won't see either kid in a news story like the one above years down the line.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Out and about by the crack of noon should work

We've been kicking around vacation ideas since about August since Seattle got robbed of a real summer this year. Trolling around online, I found a tour that seems right up my love-sleeping-in-on-the-weekend style, courtesy of and

A California man (of course: the epitome of laid-back style) has come up with a new series of what it calls Crack of Noon Tours “for those who don’t consider themselves ‘morning people’.”

Always wanted to travel Europe but hate the frenzied pace of most tours? This company's guided trips in Italy and France are scheduled so that no activities start before noon.

According to the company, “We firmly believe that travel is enjoyed much more when one is rested and relaxed — not herded and rushed.”
Dylan in his favorite sleeping pose
Man, talk about a company tailor-made for us! I know some parents swear by getting their kids in bed by 7pm or so, but the related 5 am or 6am wakeup would be a major problem for us.

Ava is definitely a night owl like me and Dylan is still sleeping quite a bit, so even though he goes down at 8pm-ish, with periodic and partial wake ups for a few sips of milk, he's out for about 11-12 hours.

That works fine for us, and on weekends, Ava occasionally wakes up around 7:30 am and creeps in to our room and quietly climbs in with us for another hour or two of sleep. It's a little snug, even in a king size, but the family bed can't be beat for snuggly wakeups on cold fall and winter mornings. And I think our schedule will work fine on a crack of noon tour.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Feeding the beast(s)

Like many couples, especially those with kids, we struggle with the daily challenge of what, and when, to eat. As a working mom, my challenge is compounded by the time constraints of commuting to and from a job, picking up kids, etc.

As a lover of  the French approach to many things, I was not surprised to learn that they take their school lunches for kids, even toddlers, as seriously as they do meals for adults. Check out this CBS News story on French School lunches.

We have been very intentional and fortunate with our kids' eating habits. We buy organic where we can (milk, fruit, some veggies), and in general, we have pretty good eating habits and rather than any hard rules, try to do all things in moderation.

Despite my southern birth and family, we fry infrequently and when we cook soul food, we try to make it a bit healthier by using smoked turkey in place of pork, chicken and seafood in place of some of the pork and beef sausage, etc.

The fortunate part has been that the kids are pretty easy when it comes to food. Ava has the toddler standard 'no crusts' edict for sandwiches and over the past few months seems to have picked up the 'vegetables are yucky' mantra from some of the kids shows we let her watch. Athough she says it, she will still eat and request broccoli, carrots, edamame, sugar snap peas, corn and more.

With Ava, the bigger challenge is making sure she eats at all. Some days I'm sure she is subsisting on sunflower nut butter and jelly sandwiches (her school has a 'no nut products' rule), grapes and string cheese. Other days, she polishes off her meal, asks for more, and sneaks bites off my plate.
Look what I found! Is Magic Shell a vegetable?
One month ago, Dylan, aka The Eating Machine, had a single upper tooth. Which he promptly chipped somehow when I was away overnight. Le sigh. 

Three weeks later, three more broke through within a day of each other! And as of last night, a canine tooth is poking through too. Amazingly, despite having five teeth erupt in such a short period of time, other than a runny nose, he's shown no discomfort or discontent, other than sticking his fingers in his mouth periodically. Having read about the teething-related misery of other toddlers, I know that once again we are incredibly fortunate with this little guy.

And as I've mentioned, even before teeth, he ate at will. Now, I think we can simply stop dicing everything into tiny slivers and instead give him slightly larger pieces for feeding himself. Next up: teaching him to use a spoon and fork.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Leafy love for Nissan's new electric car

A few weeks ago, I signed up for a reservation time to test drive one of the new all electric Nissan Leaf vehicles making the rounds of the country for road tests. The key in this little recap is that word 'reservation' since in my experience it implies being assigned a time to do something. Or not.
Still, I was very excited when I arrived midday on Saturday for my drive at the parking lot of a local mall with my 11 month old and car seat, as instructed in the signup details. I found several temporary structures housing the reservation check-in desk, informational displays and a coffee bar for those waiting to drive.

Each person who arrived checked in and was issued a wristband assigning them to one of three groups (getting ready, almost there, and something else, which I forget) preparing for the drive.

After about 45 minutes of waiting and chatting about electric vehicles and babies with other folks milling about, including other parents with babies and young children and car/booster seats in tow, my group was ushered into the first building to learn about the car and electric vehicle market.

It came as no surprise that in the green and green-friendly Pacific Northwest, Seattle is a hot bed of electric vehicle enthusiasm. According to our Nissan presenter, 1,200 charging stations are already scheduled for the Seattle area (for Leaf drivers' homes) and this city is part of a federal electric vehicle  project bringing another 1,500 public charging stations and 44 fast-charge stations. Other tidbits: the Leaf comes with an eight year, 100,000 mile warranty, the battery is fully recyclable, and like a Prius, the Leaf will feature regenerative braking. 

In addition, it will feature cool embedded cellular components that will allow drivers to use their cell phone to check the car's statuses, set it to send you text messages about car, like how much range left on the batteries, and also allow you to pre-heat or pre-cool the car remotely, check range, and set the climate control. It will come standard with GPS navigation to helps find the nearest charging stations and get software updates, because like gas engine cousins, this one is essentially a computer that you drive. All that connection between the car and your phone does require a cell subscription, which will be free for the first three years. 

In the final building, we learned about the biggest question people have: range. On a full charge, the Leaf should get about 100 miles, but like any vehicle, that fluctuates depending on driving style, coasting, whether you're using the A/C or heater use, etc. Given those variables, the presenter said the range is 70-130-ish on average. Pretty good and useful for most in-city needs.
Charging station. How cute and Jetsons-like is that? Also, my phone's camera still stinks. Or is covered in gauze.
Whenever you get a group  of people together, inevitably there's "that" person. Either the, "I'd like to reiterate what the previous person said..." (How about you don't, since they already said it?) or the "I'm a wonk and want to show off or be difficult for the those gathered by asking a question, usually rhetorical, about an obscure element of the topic at hand. Because I don't get enough attention and need you to make up for it with your precious time." 

My group had the latter, in the form of a guy who started carping about the difference between the battery return and credit system being used by Nissan compared to the Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle. Not content to note the difference, he rudely pressed the presenter on why Nissan wasn't doing their battery return system like Chevy.  Because marketing or outreach staff at the local level always know exactly why an international corporation makes a specific policy decision like that on a product, right? 

As the 30 or so others in the room looked about uncomfortably or in annoyance, the presenter finally cut him off with, "Yes, well I can't speak to why Nissan is doing it this way and Chevy is doing theirs that way, but we need to move on..." Looks of relief all around as we shuffled off to the next building.

Once there, we had a woman ask very stridently about whether the car would be using or contributing "dirty electricity." Judging by the puzzled looks around the room, even from Mr. Electric Vehicle Wonk, it wasn't a commonly known term. The presenter tried to answer, citing the car's zero emission status and the use of lots of hydro-electric power in the northwest, but acknowledged unfamiliarity with the term. 

The woman reiterated the importance of knowing whether the car used dirty electricity and finally, when pushed by the presenter and other people in the room on what exactly she meant, she said, "Well, I don't know. I could look it up (fiddling with her phone) but I've heard the term and want to make sure this car isn't using it. Or giving it off." Followed by crickets chirping and blank stares of annoyance.

Turns out (thanks Bing and Google!), the term refers to electromagnetic radiation from electricity used to power electronics. But here's my request to anyone doing any public speaking: if you're going to be strident about something, make it something you actually have the facts on. And preferably make sure it's not something which isn't commonly known and about which the jury is decidedly out and the scientific and health communities haven't found conclusive studies.

Judging by the faces of those around me, I wasn't alone in wanting people to take their questions offline if needed and just get to the test drives already. Because by this time, it had been nearly an hour and 45 minutes since we'd arrived, including trekking through three structures with Dylan in a carrier while I dragged a car seat. Although, major kudos to the young guy with the coffee cup who offered and carried it for me between one of the buildings and who apologized at the end for forgetting to do so at the end.

Our trek culminated in my group standing outside in the cold, in line again for the actual test drive of one of 13 cars. After 15 minutes of watching folks get out of line to go back to their cars for gloves, hats and jackets, I was among several people who finally gave up and left.
Me and Dylan, 11 months (25 lbs.)! As close as we got to the Nissan Leaf.

During the trip through the outbuildings, one of the presenters remarked, "Wow! You have one of the best-behaved babies to come through here! He's just hanging in there." He was. Dylan is a trouper and is happy to hang out in my Ergo carrier for extended periods. What's not to like? He's snug with mom who's got warm, comfort food on tap and who alternately provides fun games like peekaboo and "name that face part," or a running commentary on what's going on around him.

But more than an hour later, with at least 30-40 people from an earlier group in line ahead of us, I gave up and headed for my car, still dragging my car seat with cold-numbed fingers. I found the presenter to tell her, politely, why we and others were leaving.

"When I signed up for a noon test drive, I expected to be behind the wheel within 15 to 30 minutes of that time," I explained. "Holding us here then making us wait for nearly two hours defeats the purpose of reserving a time."

I suggested they might want to revamp the setup to better coordinate reservation times with the progress of each group. See? My customer service focus is applicable at work and in real life.

"Yeah, I understand your frustration," she said. "Can you wait just a little longer?" I replied, "You don't have kids, do you?" Seriously, keeping an 11 month old quietly engaged for nearly two hours without any electronic toys and no tantrums? Lady, we're well beyond "grace period."

Ah well, I tried. Despite the poorly organized test drive event, the Nissan Leaf is still on my lust list and I heard nothing but good comments from those who had managed to drive one. It's fairly roomy inside, I love the cell phone synchronizing options and it would definitely fit the bill for most of the driving I do during the week. I'll just have to curb my enthusiasm until they're in show rooms and try again. On the upside, I still dig my Nissan Murano and if the Leaf is a success, maybe the technology will be extended to larger models in the Nissan Line. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tearful landing at Museum of Flight

J. scored a nice used two-seat stroller for the kiddos at a local consignment store and it's made us eager to hit the road for outings without worrying about how far the kids will have to walk, and who might be ready to nap when we get there and thus need to be carried.

Plus, although I love carrying either of the kids in my Ergo, they're both right around 25-27 pounds, which gets tiring over long distances. So the gigantic, kid-friendly Museum of Flight in Seattle was perfect for giving the stroller its first workout.
It's a great place for kids, although ours were probably a little young to really enjoy it. Dylan in particular is still really just in the drooling, teething, observational stage. Ava was able to try out some of the kid zone toys, like this kid-sized copter. 

There were very cool displays on women and African Americans in aviation history in particular that were educational and inspriring. But the place is very big, as is necessary for a structure housing full size jets and other airplanes on display. Even with a stroller, after a couple hours, the giant planes hanging from the ceiling and the faux air traffic control tower lost their allure and we hit the witching hour.

Ava lost her chicken when we told her something horribly unreasonable, like she couldn't keep hopping on and off the stroller while we maneuvered through the displays and had to sit down.  
Judging by her face and the piercing wails that were disorienting bats in nearby caves, you'd think we told her we were selling her into an arranged marriage to a middle-aged desert prince. And at that point in the outing, that didn't seem like such a bad idea. Note the expression on Dylan, the tempermental teflon Don: his usual picture of calm. Together, they are the perfect balance.

But next time, we're taking snacks and water bottles for everyone, which was a last minute oversight. I usually take snacks everywhere. By the time we left, I felt like we'd walked the length of Boeing Air Field, which sits just outside the museum. Treats might have forestalled the meltdown at least until we got back to the car, where they both promptly fell asleep before we'd even left the parking lot.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Reporting live! A lifetime ago

In 1997, after four years behind the scenes as an assignment editor, writer and producer at a television station in Seattle, I headed off to Medford, Oregon to try my hand at reporting. 

It was a small market  (#138 out of 210 then, now #140) that was a stepping stone for most young news hounds who passed through, but we had the great fortune to work with grizzled veterans who made the Rogue Valley home and who thankfully never tired of showing the newest ones through the door how to research, interview, shoot, write, edit and finally, report and produce the news.
The station I worked for at the time recently did a retrospective of the top 25 stories of the past 25 years. One of the stories I covered made the cut: a huge fire at a mill that left dozens of local workers jobless in an area that didn't have a lot of good paying options.

At the time, I was excited to get the call from our assignment desk that as the on-call reporter, I had to go cover what initially seemed like a just a fire at a lumber mill.

Smelling smoke and seeing the orange glow in the sky from miles away as I drove to the scene, I knew it was more than just a big fire and I hoped I could get all the video and interviews necessary to properly chronicle the event. 

The video I shot still looks good, but my apologies 12 years later for the crappy audio portions. On the upside, no one died and of the 450 jobs lost in the fire, apparently 350 eventually returned.

I recently showed Ava some old tapes I found of me reporting. She was thoroughly unimpressed and asked if we could watch one of her Sprout shows instead. Kids these days: so jaded.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Honoring veterans

In honor of Veterans Day, a few factoids about some whose service is not always recognized: women. Women have served the United States Army Since the American Revolution in 1775, serving as battlefield nurses, water bearers, cooks, and laundresses. 
Fast forward more than 200 years and women have clearly come a long way. The 1990s in particular were big for women in the military. The first Navy woman assumed command of a ship in 1991. Congress repealed the law banning women from duty on combat ships in 1993. By 1999, the first African-American woman had been selected to command a Navy ship and the first woman and first African-American commanded the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Corps (NOAA).

Today, women make up about 20 percent of the U.S. military and though they have worked their way up through the ranks to high-ranking positions across all the branches of military, they still face challenges slightly different from most working mothers in particular. The Virginian-Pilot newspaper did a great article on a challenge that faces many new moms: how to breastfeed after returning to work. But as the article points out, "For military moms, there's extra duty: Breast-feeding."

For all those who serve, past and present, thank you.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pimp my office and rock my world

As part of my promotion, I'm moving into an office. "Move" seems an overstatement: it's 9 steps from my current cubicle. I consider my workspace to be wherever my computer is, whether it's at home, outside, in a cube or within four walls. 
While having four walls and a door is nice, it means I actually have to consider aesthetics of the space, something that's not as much of an issue in a cube. I am no design guru. If it were up to me, furniture would only be moved for vacuuming, then moved back to its original spot. My husband is the antithesis of that approach. About every other month, I come home to find the living and dining room furniture completely rearranged. 
"It needed a change," he'll say. As if the ottomon tripped him on his way on and pleaded, "Dude! Enough. If I have to look at the end table by the couch one more day, I can't be held responsible for what happens!" 
J. was hoping that the woman he married would bring a breezy, effortlessly elegant approach to interior design to the family home. Instead he got me, a woman who had temporary stick on accordion paper window shades in a previous home office for two years. We took them down when we moved. As I remind him, I got other skills to pay the bills.
So in addition to learning my new job and deliverables, I'm trying to decide the best configuration for my new space, which at one time was inhabited by a 6' 6" former co-worker. Thus, the desks are up on eight inch risers, making me look like a kid at the grownup table for Thanksgiving, even with the chair raised as high as possible. Even if it went higher, my feet would then be dangling, which you know, inspires about as much confidence in staff and co-workers as coming to the office in pigtails and OshKosh overalls.
Vern Yip: design super star
An office manager is checking on whether the risers come off, but in the meantime, I'm slowly moving files and other items into a space that for now looks like a TSA interrogation room. Clearly, some office pimpin' is needed. I so  wish Vern Yip would come do it. And my house. I love his crisp, modern, uncluttered design approach with great pops of color.
At the very least, I'm going to get a green plant for the space. Maybe bamboo: those always seem hearty and low-maintenance. According to Healthy and Green Living, we should strive to bring the outdoors in as "one way to begin bonding with life." One suggested example? 
* Stones, rocks, pebbles. Placed in bowls or in a ring around a vase, heaped in a small cairn or put singly in a special place of honor, the infinite variety and solid beauty of stones add grounding and stability to our homes.
I may try that, but it turns out Ava has been doing this on her own in our carport using rocks from our driveway. It looks as if she's buried a small animal next to our door and stacked rocks up to keep the miniature scavengers away. When I ask her why, she simply says, "Because I like them." I guess you bond with life easily when you're still rather new to it.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Eye spy

Me and my Granny, age 99 in March 2006
Unlike my grandmother, who lived to 100, didn't wear glasses and could still spot a dropped sewing needle on the floor across a room, I had undiagnosed vision problems as a kid and didn’t get glasses until I was 10 or 11. My teachers thought I sat in the front row because I was eager. Who am I kidding: I was eager. But I also couldn't see if I sat farther back.

My two best friends had glasses, so when I asked for some, my folks thought I just wanted them  because my friends had them. Riiight. Because all the COOL kids are rocking prescription glasses with extra thick lenses. Hawtie alert!

It turned out that I’m VERY nearsighted: 20/650 uncorrected. Meaning if I knock my glasses off the night table, I have to get on my knees and feel around for them on the floor. Not. Pretty. On the upside, in every apartment and house where I've lived, I can walk around unimpeded in the dark. See: "The perks of nearsightedness," said Ms. Glass Half-Full.

Still, I was annoyed (caution: first world complaint ahead) to wake up a couple days ago and discover a screw missing from my glasses, leaving me with one missing ear hook. Fortunately, I still had a previous pair with a weaker prescription to tide me over until I can get mine repaired or upgraded. But it reminded me that there are organizations that collect old glasses for those who don't have the luxury of first world complaining about things like missing eyeglass screws.

If you have a pair of old glasses taking up space, consider donating them to organizations that help those who can't afford them. It's environmentally friendly and a way to put your extraneous items to good use.

Also, if you have kids, get their eyes checked early. Sometimes kids are incorrectly diagnosed with learning disabilities when they really have vision problems.

Judging by Ava and Dylan's ability to see me unwrapping a piece of gum from the other side of the house, I'm guessing they got my grandmother's eye genes.