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Archive for July, 2011

Five Dollar Post – Why the Fascination with Brinner?

Friday, July 29th, 2011

At lunch yesterday I sat in my company’s cafeteria with my normal dining companions and we got onto the topic of what to have for supper.  (There’s nothing like planning the next meal before you’ve finished the current one…)  One coworker mentioned “brinner” (breakfast for dinner) with the same enthusiasm I’ve heard from lots of other people in the past couple of years.

I piped up and said, “I just don’t get what all the fuss is about brinner.”  My colleague responded, “But, it’s breakfast for dinner!!” as though that explained everything.  I told her that I understood that she was current with some sort of cultural heatwave around eating breakfast for dinner (after all, there was an entire episode of Scrubs dedicated to the fascination with brinner), but that I still didn’t understand why breakfast served in the evening was any more exciting than breakfast served in the morning.

Then it hit me.  I came up with my very own (probably genius!) theory regarding this otherwise inexplicable excitement over an egg served after 10:00am.  I posited that the excitement stems not from breakfast at supper time, but breakfast at all.  No matter how many nutritionists preach the value of starting the day off right – with a full breakfast – far too many people blow it off.  We stir protein powder into a glass of milk and call it a meal.  We eat a Nutrigrain bar in the car on the way to work and think it counts as breakfast.  Or we skip it altogether.  But very few people – or perhaps more accurately stated, very few young working people – eat an actual breakfast every day.

And that is why so many of my contemporaries are drooling over brinner.  If they don’t eat breakfast for dinner, they don’t eat it at all.  Breakfast foods are wonderful.  Eggs, biscuits, smoothies, pancakes, waffles, bacon, and so on are terrific foods.  Forsaking them all for the convenience of a granola bar is a shame.  But I think that may be what has happened here.

I may not eat bacon and eggs every morning, but I do eat a real breakfast every single day.  And if I ever stopped, well, I’d be very cranky for starters, but more importantly, I’d really miss eating breakfast.  Perhaps then the fascination with brinner would resonate with me too.

Because it’s Friday and I’m feeling lighthearted, let’s take a little poll.  Do you eat breakfast every day?  What is your most common breakfast?  I’ll go first. As I mentioned before, I’m a crank if I don’t eat breakfast, so I take it seriously. Most days I make a strawberry-banana smoothie and a piece of whole wheat toast with peanut butter.  This week it’s been toasted banana nut bread, an egg over easy, and a small bowl of strawberries.  In the winter I switch to oatmeal and hot chocolate.  Okay, your turn!

Beyond the White House Lawn

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Yesterday I heard from a commenter asking if there were any news on our missing babysitter.  This prompted me to realize that others of you may also be interested in an update.  We were relieved to find out a couple of weeks ago that she is fine.  She was in a bad car wreck that put her in a neck and back brace preventing her from using her computer to return e-mails for several weeks.  She has since gone through a rigorous physical therapy program and was recently cleared by her doctor to resume normal activity.  Thanks again to each of you for your concern and advice.

Fabulous arms and stunning collection of belts aside, there is much about Michelle Obama’s life that I do not envy.  Specifically I do not envy her obligation to walk the very narrow path of what is determined to be an appropriate level of involvement for a First Lady to take in public causes.  For the most part she has walked this path adeptly.  However, there have been times when even I – in spite of my sympathy for her highly visible but poorly defined role – have found myself judging.  Her pet cause of nutrition has been a big shortcoming in my mind.

This is not to say that I don’t agree with her stance.  Quite conversely I think that nutritional deficiencies (and the multi-billion-dollar-a-year health problems they cause) are grossly overlooked in our culture.  Yes, we idolize slender celebrities and bemoan the percentage of our population that is overweight and obese.  But have we really done much of anything to solve the problem?  This is where my beef with Mrs. Obama comes in.  I have always believed that her organic garden on the White House lawn was a wonderful symbol, but it is only a symbol.  How many people can it feed?  Not many.  It was never enough.

The First Lady got out of my dog house recently, though.  Last week she moved beyond the White House lawn as she was joined by a collection of representatives from major food retailers to announce their commitment to open or expand a combined 1,500 stores in designated food deserts.  In February of last year she initiated the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, and now that project is producing some real results.  Walgreens, Wal-Mart, and other major players in the retail food sector have pledged to begin offering fresh produce and other groceries not typically stocked at the locations in question.  This is a huge step forward.  It means that millions of people will now have access to fresh ingredients where before they may only have had access to fast food.  This is the beginning of making a real difference.

Why just the beginning?  Because it’s only half of the equation.

The documentary film Food, Inc., briefly profiles a poor Latino family of four.  The father has Type 2 Diabetes.  He, his wife, and their younger daughter are all overweight.  His diabetes medications absorb a sizeable chunk of their monthly budget, and so they find themselves unable to purchase the foods they would like to buy at the grocery store.  The cameras follow them through the produce section as they look longingly at heads of broccoli, apples, and other fruits and vegetables that are out of their price range.  They face similar frustrations in the dairy section, where the mother comments that a two-liter bottle of soda is on sale for less than half the price of a gallon of milk.  They believe that their dollar won’t go stretch far enough in the supermarket, and so they get in the car and drive to Burger King where ten dollars can fill all four of their bellies for the rest of the day.  It broke my heart.

This is why a lack of fresh food in urban areas is only part of the problem.  There is an education problem at play that must be addressed simultaneously.  Many (most?) of the people afflicted by food deserts have no idea how to shop for or prepare raw ingredients.  And it’s not their fault – they’ve never had the opportunity to learn.  As I watched that scene in Food, Inc. I thought “Where are the dried beans?  Where are the canned tomatoes?  Where are the eggs?  Where is the frozen spinach?  Where is the rice?  Where are the ham hocks and chicken wings?”  These are inexpensive items that can stretch a tight budget for miles.  Cooking from raw ingredients (which doesn’t always mean fresh produce) on a budget is not hard, but neither is it intuitive.  It is something that must be taught.  Without some educational programming at the ready, these newly stocked grocery stores won’t make a difference.

Fresh broccoli, apples, and blueberries are wonderful additions to a person’s diet.  But they are pricey indulgences for people with limited income.  And without some serious training that’s all they will ever be – occasional treats.  If we’re going to make a difference in the health of low-income families, we need to help them change the way they eat all the time, not just now and then.

I applaud Mrs. Obama for all the work that she is doing in this arena.  I just hope that she realizes we’re not to the finish line yet.

Many thanks to Big Little Wolf whose Sunday post on the topic of buying healthy food on a budget, coupled with the news about the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, inspired this post.

On the Cusp

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

It’s a bit surreal spending three hours a week in a NICU when you’re pregnant.  Actually, I should clarify that.  It’s a bit surreal spending three hours a week in a NICU when you’re about 2/3 of the way through your pregnancy.

I’m at a precarious place, gestationally speaking.  I’m 25 weeks pregnant, which is a scary place for me.  If something happened and my baby were born today he would be in the position of a decent likelihood of survival, but also a decent likelihood of lifelong health problems stemming from prematurity.  Perhaps some people take comfort in crossing that threshold into “the baby could survive” territory, but I step onto a bed of pins a needles.  I will stay on those pins and needles until at least 34 or 35 weeks.

This past Sunday as I made my way through the NICU looking for fussy babies to soothe I came across two who were especially tiny.  Both were in incubators and under bili lights.  Due to HIPAA constraints I’m really not supposed to ask questions about patients unless it relates to my interaction with them.  But in these cases I couldn’t help myself.  I asked these babies’ respective nurses how old they were.  One was 2 weeks old, and born at 25 weeks.  The other was 4 days old and born at 27 weeks.  These babies should have been born a mere two weeks before mine, and yet they are here now.

Seeing these tiny creatures was strange – almost like looking into my own womb.  No matter how much you read about what your baby weighs at this point, or how long he is, or how he hasn’t filled out and his skin is wrinkled, it just isn’t the same as actually seeing a baby who looks a lot like yours would (or rather, does).  I feel big these days, but I know now that my baby is still small.  And on the days when I wish to fast forward to the end of the pregnancy I can remind myself that every day matters.  Every day that my baby kicks and squirms is a blessing.  No matter how much I want to meet this little boy, the unknown is better than the known.  No matter how much I miss my old jeans, big and pregnant is better than slim and not pregnant.  Because at this point, the alternative would be a nightmare.

I am on the cusp of my third trimester.  The coming weeks will bring heartburn, snoring, and an inability to tie my own shoes.  And I will be thankful for every discomfort I endure.

A Day Late and Ten Dollars Short

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Last night GAP and I watched Blue Valentine, after which I was too depressed to write much of anything.  So this week my Monday post will be going up on Tuesday.  Please check back tomorrow and I’ll have something worthwhile to say.  Hope you had a great weekend!

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

When it comes to firing someone, there is a right way and a wrong way.  When it comes to breaking up with someone the rules are less clear but still somewhat defined.  When the split falls somewhere around the halfway point along the continuum between these two situations I suspect that the rules are especially vague.  Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder if Tiger Woods still managed to do it wrong.

It came out this week that Woods fired his longtime caddie Steve Williams.  Williams had been with him for 12 years, since nearly the beginning of the golfing phenom’s career.  And in a move that was apparently as shocking to Williams himself as it was to the rest of us, Woods has cut him loose.

I don’t fault Tiger for changing caddies.  He has a job to do (although he’s been riding the bench lately) and if he feels that a new caddy is going to improve his performance then he should make that change.  But, like most aspects of Tiger Woods’ life in the past couple of years, this one isn’t quite so simple.  The difference here is that Williams has been fiercely loyal to Tiger.  Such loyalty isn’t all that impressive when your boss is the number one golfer in the world and you take a percentage of all his winnings.  It becomes more so when your boss becomes mired in a tawdry sex scandal, tumbles in the rankings, and sits out of multiple tournaments nursing various injuries.

What I’d like to have seen out of Woods this week is something of a mea culpa.  I wish he’d said something to the tune of, “It’s not Stevie’s fault that my life is in a shambles, or that I need to make radical changes just to recalibrate myself.  He’s a hell of a caddy and anyone else on the tour will be lucky to have him.  I’m grateful for his loyalty both on and off the golf course.”  That, however, is not what he said.  Paying mere lip service to the man who carried his bag for more than a decade he said, “I want to express my deepest gratitude to Stevie for all his help, but I think it’s time for a change,”  Something about it feels obligatory.

When you get right down to it, Tiger Woods’ life is really not my business.  Whether he is gracious or surly in his professional life affects me no more than any one else whose professional life doesn’t intersect with my own.  Nevertheless, for better or worse, he plays a big role in setting the tone in the sports world.  Young people look at him and want to model themselves after him.  I think he missed an opportunity here.  (If we’re being frank, he’s missed a lot of opportunities lately.)  He could have fallen on his sword a bit, taken some accountability for the fact that he got himself into this mess, and softened the ground for Williams before going public with the split.  That wasn’t the path he chose, though.

It’s such a tricky business looking to athletes to model citizenship for us.  Professional athletes have reached the pinnacle of their respective sports by being singularly focused on their performance and competitive edge.  In many cases other traits – like grace and gratitude – get left behind.  And yet we try to build up the image of a well-rounded individual to suit our own desires.  Naturally there are exceptions here, but by and large I have to believe we’re better served by making role models out of people whom we know to be worthy of our discipleship, rather than people whose lives are bright and shiny on the outside, but may not be so when the curtain is lifted.

Breaking up is never easy.  I suspect it is even harder when the world is watching.  And that is why it confounds me that Woods didn’t do it more carefully.  Apparently, even after nearly two years of disappointment, my expectations are still too high.

Just Peachy

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Something about this time of year makes me value simplicity.  Last year around this time I dedicated a series of posts to some of the little things in life that bring me joy (namely scalloped tomatoes, nightgowns, and TV reruns).  This year it’s peaches.

Every summer of my childhood sometime in late July my mother drove to a nearby small town that is very nearly paved with peach orchards.  She would come home with peaches by the bushel.  She spread them on the kitchen island, breakfast table, and counters to ripen.  It seemed that every flat surface on the first floor of the house was covered in peaches.  And when they hit that perfect moment of ripeness – usually all on the same day – the house smelled of peaches from top to bottom.  It was heavenly.

Many related memories tie into these moments of peach season.  I remember becoming adept with a paring knife as I peeled fresh peaches, eating them at the kitchen counter as the juice dripped down my hands because I ate each slice as I cut it, not bothering with forks or plates.  I remember watching my mother stand over a pot of boiling water to blanch and peel quart after quart of peaches to be sliced and frozen for winter consumption.  And I remember eating those peaches through the cold months, thawed on top of cereal or oatmeal and enjoying a taste of summer when the world outside lay dormant.

Last weekend I went to a local farmers market and loaded up on peaches.  I didn’t buy them by the bushel as Mom does – she chided me affectionately for only buying two half pecks – but I bought enough to put a few pints up for the winter, to make a pie, and to eat them sliced on top of my cereal for days on end.  As of this morning I have half a peach pie left, and a couple dozen peaches at the perfect stage of ripeness for peeling, slicing, and freezing.  I will put them up tonight, and then likely make a repeat trip to the farmers market for a second batch to make another pie and some peach butter.  My goal is to completely indulge – to make myself totally sick of peaches now so that when mid-August rolls around and the peak of the season is behind us I will feel fulfilled by the triumph of such perfect fruit, and not jilted by the brevity of the season.

I don’t know why this time of year finds me reveling in life’s simpler pleasures.  I’m sure it has something to do with the proverbial bar being lowered by day after day of god-forsaken heat.  Scorching temperatures aside, I sort of like this time of year.  There are no holidays.  No big plans to make.  Little to occupy me beyond my typical work-a-day existence.  It’s a comfort, really, to enjoy a stretch of days when the biggest thing going on in my life is the daily enjoyment of a perfectly ripened peach.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Monday, July 18th, 2011

If you are a 10-ish-year-old boy named Will from St. Louis, the whole “back to school” affair that’s coming up in a few weeks just got a lot more exciting.  The end of day camps, and cannon balls, and chasing down the ice cream truck are about to draw down for the year.  I suspect this would be a huge letdown for most little boys.  And perhaps it will be for Will too.  But when Will goes back to school next month he will likely be asked, in front of all his classmates, what he did on his summer vacation.

Will will sit patiently while he listens to stories of grandma’s house and Disney World and beach trips from his classmates.  And when it is his turn Will will stand up and say, “I danced on stage with Bono in front of 56,00 people.”  And with that statement Will wins the summer vacation sweepstakes.   (Assuming, of course, that Will’s pint-sized classmates grasp how unlikely and how awesome such an event is…)  I’m pretty sure nothing tops that.

I think we have defining moments in our lives.  For most of us they include things like wedding days, childbirth, professional conquests, and sometimes tragedy.  But many of us also have little moments of fortune that create huge memories.  Things like catching a home run fly ball, or winning the science fair, or getting pulled up onstage by Bono for the better part of “City of Blinding Lights.”

I don’t know what kind of impression his rock star treatment will leave on young Will.  I know that I was beyond excited on his behalf.  I know that I will remember him walking around that stage with Bono holding his hand.  I know that it was an experience that millions of people around the world might dream of, but that Will himself may not understand that for a number of years.

But that’s the thing about these defining moments: what is pivotal for one person may not be for another.  We all interact with the world in our own ways, and are impacted by things differently.  That’s part of what makes life so interesting.  Will may go on to have an astounding life in which an onstage appearance with Bono is merely a footnote.  Or he may think back on that moment filled with adrenaline and excitement for the rest of his life.  I’ll never know.  But today I’m thinking back on some of the more pivotal moments in my life, and they are making me smile.

All Aboard!

Friday, July 15th, 2011

When I was a little girl my grandparents lived in a town about an hour away from us.  Occasionally, when my parents were out of town, my sister and I would go stay with Grandmother and Granddaddy.  My memories of those visits are filled with happiness: building towers out of Grandmother’s canned goods, learning to sew buttons onto scrap pieces of fabric stretched over embroidery hoops, meeting Granddaddy at the top of the hill as he walked home from work, feeding the Canada geese that lived at the hospital pond behind my grandparents’ house, and getting dressed up for dinner out at the Chinese restaurant across the street.

But one of my favorite memories is from lunches at home with Grandmother and Granddaddy.  We ate in the train room.

Once upon a time the train room was the shared bedroom of my dad and my uncle.  I was told that in past years the walls were covered in team penants and sundry high school memorabilia.  By the time grandkids came around it had been converted into a sitting room, of sorts, with a drop leaf table next to the window.  This repurposed room became known as the train room because we so often ate lunch there at that table in the window, pretending that we were in the dining car of a passenger coach, on our way to someplace exciting.

Looking back (and through the eyes of a parent, now) I suspect that the train room was invented to make a simple lunch at home something exciting, glamorous even, and something to be eagerly anticipated.  Interestingly, this doesn’t take away any of the magic.  As I think back on our lunches in the train room I feel just as excited (mixed with some nostalgia) as I did back then.  Grandmother and Granddaddy wanted our visits to be fun and adventuresome.  And for two imaginative little girls, the premise of a railroad journey was a repeat hit.

I’ve been thinking back on the train room lately because IEP is a boy obsessed with trains.  He takes Thomas and Percy and Molly on our morning walks, down for naps, and up and down the stairs ad nauseum to ensure that they’re never far away.  And beginning this week he has started identifying any paved path (usually a sidewalk) as train tracks.

We walk two miles every morning (big dogs + small yard = lots of walking) and nearly none of our neighborhood streets has sidewalks.  But for the single stretch of our route that does have sidewalks IEP instructs me daily, “Mommy, ride on the train tracks!”  And each morning as I veer onto the sidewalk he shouts, “All aboard!!  Choo choo!”  And every time he says it I am taken back to the train room – to macaroni and cheese served in big mugs; to canned fruit on a bed of lettuce topped with a dollop of Miracle Whip and a sprinkling of cinnamon; to brown stained pedastal glasses that were filled with iced tea for Grandmother and Granddaddy and with milk for Anne and me; and to that big picture window of our dining car where we imagined that we were headed to new and exciting places.

Grandmother passed away a few years ago, and in one of my last visits with her she took a long and meandering trip back in her memory to the stacking of canned goods, the sewing of buttons, and lunches in the train room.  I can see now how much those times meant to her – that even as her mind faded these were the memories she still saw clearly.

Granddaddy is still here - 91 now, and sharp as a tack.  I try to visit him whenever I’m home, and when I do we talk about work, travel, current events, and IEP’s latest conquests.  We haven’t talked about the train room in a very long time.  But I know his memory of it is every bit as bright as my own.  There are just some things that we don’t forget.  And sometimes, when very little boys get excited about pretending that sidewalks are train tracks, we are flooded by our own memories of imagined dining cars and cross-country adventures.

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Toddlers?

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

When my sister and I were little girls my parents made a concerted effort to throw us into a wide variety of social situations.  These included backyard barbecues, church potlucks, pre-theatre dinners before the opera, rodeos, and country club brunches.  Their intention – which worked – was to ensure that Anne and I were comfortable in any setting – that we would be neither daunted by formality, nor unable to relax and enjoy a more casual atmosphere.  It’s a strategy that GAP and I plan to replicate with our own children.

The lynchpin of this strategy, though, is exposure.  The only way a kid learns how to behave and acclimate to a formal restaurant is if you take them to one.  Or, rather, to several.  No number of at-home lessons on “start with the fork at the outside and work your way in” can match the exposure that the real experience provides.  As a parent you have to expect that your first foray into new territory – whether it’s with linen tablecloths or cowboys and bull riding – is going to be fraught with hiccups.  Kids acclimate quickly, but not typically without a few errant assumptions and awkward questions.  It’s just part of the learning experience.

With all of this in mind, I was disheartened to learn that a restaurant in Pennsylvania has banned all children under the age of six.  They claim that young children create excessive and uncontrollable noise that disturbs other customers.  I claim that they are intolerant and a bit too big for their britches.

As the mother of a toddler I know well the pitfalls of restaurant dining with a little kid in tow.  IEP is a pretty good restaurant patron, though we have certainly powered our way through a few meals that were interrupted for disciplinary trips outside.  In most of these moments few, if any, other diners were bothered because we took care to remove the tiny tyrant from the dining room and rectify the bad behavior someplace else.  Thankfully, we’ve never gotten so much as a cross look from a waiter or hostess.

So I wonder why this restaurant wasn’t willing to take a more individualized approach.  Why not address each family when a problem arises?  Why punish all families, even those with mannerly tots?

I have always found that it is the most upper-crust places that are the most tolerant of young kids.  Their approach is one of service which applies to all customers.  These establishments seem to pride themselves in playing a role in helping children learn how to behave in an environment that may be new and different, and I always appreciate that.

It’s hard to raise kids who know how to behave in public.  It’s a lot of work to expose them to different situations and teach them the social protocols for each.  Of course it’s easier to just stay home and order pizza (and there are plenty of nights when we do just that).  But trying to teach kids to know something a bit broader,  well, it’s not for the faint of heart.  We need all the help we can get.  And that’s exactly why news like this leaves me crestfallen.  If this particular decision becomes a trend (surely not!) we parents will be left with few options, and a generation of 10-year-olds who know only how to behave at Pizza Hut.

Grounded

Monday, July 11th, 2011

This post was originally published in April 2010.  The shuttle program’s final mission lauched on Friday, so I thought it timely and appropriate to offer these thoughts again.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been listening to various newscasters mention the impending shuttering of the NASA shuttle program.  After 30-some years of space exploration, the program is being disbanded, and surprisingly, I care.

I am not a science buff.  I care very little about space exploration, rockets, moon dust, and the like.  It is all so far away, so abstract, and has so little bearing on my daily life.  Other than the disasters, all of our space exploration has captured very little of my attention.  Nevertheless, the romance of it resonates with me.

I can imagine the 1960s.  I can picture the race with Russia.  I can understand the sense of incredible national accomplishment of Neil Armstrong’s small step that was for our country a giant leap.  And I can understand how the realization of President Kennedy’s dream fostered pride in Americans and a drive to keep striving for more.

My life has never existed without NASA buzzing about somewhere in the background; shuttles preparing to launch; satellite photos showing up in National Geographic and Time magazines.  I was born into the country that won the space race and wore that badge proudly.  As a product of the seventies I have never seen America’s superiority legitimately challenged, and there’s a certain level of braggadocio that can develop as a result.

But now we’re sitting down for a few years.  We’re going to have to hitch rides on a Russian shuttle while our own program is in time out.  Granted, there is a new program on the horizon, but it will be several years before the Constellation program is actively launching anything.  And there’s something about this that makes me a little bit sad.  It’s reassuring to know that your country’s best and brightest are behind the wheel, doing things that you will never be smart or brave enough to do yourself.

When I say it like this it feels silly.  Much as the shuttle program didn’t affect my daily life during its lifespan, its ending likely won’t either.  And if I gleaned any sense of security from our space exploration it was probably unfounded.  I suspect that subconsciously I liked to believe that if we had the time and money to be bouncing around space, then things here on the ground must be in pretty good shape.  But I don’t have to read too many headlines to know that’s not true.

I guess what it boils down to is that there is something romantic and powerful about space travel.  And walking away from it – even if temporarily – feels like we’re taking a step backward.  Once the newness of this change has worn off the topic of our space exploration program will probably return to the outer recesses of my mind.  But when it comes back, I’ll be cheering for it to be better than ever before.