Sunday, April 29, 2007

Bad Virus, No Biscuit!

The kids and I all have a cold. SillyBilly woke up yesterday morning with a bad asthma attack. Breathing fast, retracting muscles between his ribs and above his collarbone, splotchy skin tone, audible wheezing. We discovered all of his medication was expired (and I mean years expired) because it's been so long since he's had any trouble.

So, we called the pediatrician, got him to call in a new prescription, and went into his office for a Saturday afternoon visit (bless you, Dr. Zatz!) to avoid an ER visit. Turns out SillyBilly had a 102F fever on top of the runny nose and severe wheezing. I guess I was so distracted by the wheezing that I missed how hot he was.

After several nebulizer treatments, including one at 11:30 last night, SillyBilly was much better today. Still wheezing, but no fever and back to his normal spunk level. I hate to give him that kind of medication (nebulized albuterol is powerful -- it makes my hands shake and my heart pound), but in cases like these I think it becomes necessary.

Now it's my turn to wheeze. All of my medication is similarly expired. Don't tell anyone, but I snuck a bit of SillyBilly's new stuff.

Update: Everyone seems to be on the mend. No more icky medication, though we're all still coughing and dripping.

Tip for getting small children to blow their noses: tell them you're having a contest to see who can make the yuckiest noises while blowing! Worked well for me this morning.

I think my next post will be about health and illness. If I can muster up the energy to write it!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Spring Has Sprung

Miscellaneous evidence of spring:

The boy got his first bike!

The Easter bunny came, but immediately went back to Florida because it was too darn cold.

We made these sheep out of yarn, felt, and wooden spools. Sometimes it's hard to find crafts that a 3 and 4 year old can do. These adorned our Easter dining table and nature table.

We had that enormous storm, heavy rain for two days. Our humble little brook threatened to flood into our backyard, but luckily it chose somewhere else to roam free. The picture on the right is how the brook looks in the summer with little rain, taken from the same spot as the left one.

Well, this has nothing to do with spring, but I had to share. The other day Napoleona found a little piece of uncarded sheep's wool. She was puttering around, and the next thing I knew she had dipped the wool into a glass of water, put it between two wooden blocks, and rubbed the blocks together to make felt! My crafty girl. She's not even three years old yet -- I think she's a prodigy!

This week should be about 70F every day, so we're expecting the trees to bust out some major pollen. The crocuses, snowdrops and aconite are all gone, and now we're starting on daffodils, primroses and grape hyacinths, with tulips not far behind. The maples are all flowering, as are the magnolias and forsythia. We've spotted the chipmunk that lives under our lawn, the woodchuck who lurks near our parking space, and we noticed some serious courting going on among the songbirds this afternoon. The kids were very excited to see that a blue jay pair has chosen the maple tree outside our front door for their nesting site. We also found that the edge of the brook sports several skunk cabbages, which are some of the weirdest looking plants ever.

Best of all, I can let the kids play outside for hours and hours again. No more cabin fever!

My Tiny Little Dream House

I just came across this on the Craft blog and could not resist sharing. I've wanted to live in Underhill since I was a little girl. And I've always loved miniature things.

Miniature Bag End

Friday, April 20, 2007

Nonviolent Mama

Recently I've been feeling a little stressed out. I'm trying to fit in more work while still taking care of the kids, and I've not been getting enough sleep -- I stay up too late doing "fun" stuff like reading blogs after a hard day.

So, I'm ashamed to say, my parenting skills have suffered. I've been frustrated and yelling a lot. Yelling quite loudly in fact. Here's what's been happening:

Naptime starts with me reading a story, usually SillyBilly on my lap and Napoleona in her bed. Then SillyBilly sits in the living room while I sing and rock Napoleona to sleep. Then in theory I would bring SillyBilly into the bedroom to rock him to sleep.

But lately SillyBilly has decided to thwart that last bit. He'll act up, refuse to be quiet, wiggle around, etc. Sometimes he'll take so long to settle down to sleep that it's only half an hour until Napoleona gets up. Sometimes I get him into the bedroom, and then he'll make enough noise to wake Napoleona up. And when that happens, she won't go back to sleep. This all makes me very, very upset.

You see, naptime is a little haven of quiet and solitude during my day. Just me and the cats. I can do a little work, do a little blogging, read, sleep, whatever, and be all alone.

When SillyBilly interferes with that, I get angry. Angry that he's not listening to me, angry that he's not obeying me, angry that I'm not getting what I want. But, I don't want to be a yelling, spanking, angry Mama. I definitely don't want them yelling or hitting either. (Recently I heard SillyBilly saying "Goddammit!" quietly under his breath, as if to practice what he'd heard. Wonderful.)

So I went looking for help. I reread our copy of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion by Marshall B. Rosenberg. I've been struggling recently over how to incorporate NVC principles in my interactions with my kids. The structure of stating our observations, feelings, needs, and requests seems overly wordy and analytical when working with small children. This time I noticed that I could work with empathy more than the words, empathy for both myself and the kids.

I realized I need to look at the situation in an entirely new way:

At the core of all anger is a need that is not being fulfilled. Thus anger can be valuable if we use it as an alarm clock to wake us up—to realize we have a need that isn’t being met and that we are thinking in a way that makes it unlikely to be met.
I need quiet time alone, and when I don't get it I feel angry and frustrated. But yelling and spanking are not going to result in a quiet, peaceful afternoon. So I have to find ways to get what I need. This may mean paying for more day care so that I don't feel compelled to work during naptime; this probably means I need to go to bed much earlier so that I'm not so tired when I'm with the kids.
The first step to fully expressing anger in NVC is to divorce the other person from any responsibility for our anger…. We are never angry because of what someone else did. We can identify the other person’s behavior as the stimulus, but it is important to establish a clear separation between stimulus and cause…. Whenever we are angry, we are finding fault—we choose to play God by judging or blaming the other person for being wrong or deserving of punishment.
I was blaming SillyBilly for his actions, when really he was just being a normal 4 year old being tired but not wanting to sleep. I wasn't getting angry because of his actions, I was getting angry because I was not getting what I wanted. I can still express my frustration and anger to him, but if I stay conscious of the fact that he's not to blame, then I can keep my cool and just use calm words instead of yelling.

Now, normally in NVC we would use conversation to work through the conflict, expressing our needs and making concrete requests. But that would not work for me in the situation of trying to get SillyBilly to quiet down while trying not to wake up Napoleona! So I read about the concept of protective force:
The assumption behind the protective use of force is that people behave in ways injurious to themselves and others due to some form of ignorance. The corrective process is therefore one of education, not punishment.
If SillyBilly is being noisy while Napoleona is sleeping, I have to be prepared to take him out of the room. But the key is that I can't blame him, I just have to help him understand why I need him to be quiet.
What do I want this person’s reasons to be for doing what I’m asking? We soon realize that punishment and reward interfere with people’s ability to do things motivated by the reasons we’d like them to have.
This is the trickiest part for me. Part of me just wants the little bugger to comply with my requests, because I'm the Mama dammit! And I think to a certain extent that's valid. I think parents need to have a sense of authority over their children -- not authoritarian, but authority. I am the adult, I am the parent, therefore I have the responsibility and the authority to direct the children in their behavior. But ultimately I would like them to learn to act out of love and kindness, out of empathy for other people's needs.

This last bit is the hardest because it's a long-term proposition. Three and four year olds can't really empathize -- they don't have that kind of consciousness yet. So we face a long road of repeating instructions and modeling the behavior we want them to exhibit.

So far things have been improving bit by bit. I've been trying to head SillyBilly off at the pass by expressing my need for him to take a nap right before naptime, so that it might be in his awareness a little more. The weather has been beautiful, allowing us to spend more time outdoors in the mornings so that the kids are more tired at naptime. We're making a plan to ensure we have enough money to cover sufficient day care so that I can work during "normal" working hours and get enough rest.

A Congressional Conversation

The other day I got an email from Pandora, an internet radio service, asking me to sign a Save Internet Radio email petition to help revoke the recent increase in licensing fees by the Copyright Royalty Board. I looked into it a bit, and signed the email petition. I'm of two minds about royalties/copyrights: on the one hand, I think artists should be able to make enough money to live while producing their art. On the other hand, I'm not so sure "owning" the artworks via copyright is the way to go.

In any case, the petition went to my federal congresspersons, including Senator Clinton.

I received the following reply three days later:

Thank you for your e-mail. It is very important to me to know the issues that are of concern to you. A growing number of my constituents are now choosing to communicate with me via e-mail. I hope you will understand that, because of the volume and range of e-mails I receive, it can take some time to send a response that specifically addresses the subject raised in your message. I do, however, want to let you know immediately that your message has been received. Hearing from you and others through e-mail helps me to quickly learn the views and interests of New Yorkers and others, which is very helpful to me in my work in the United States Senate. I hope you will continue to monitor my work through my website at, and I welcome hearing from you.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton

Two hours after that, I received this email:
Thank you for taking the time to contact me regarding the proposed new royalty rates for online radio. I always enjoy hearing from New Yorkers about challenging public policy issues that are important to them, and I particularly appreciate your concerns regarding the future of Internet radio. As you may know, I am a strong supporter of maintaining an open Internet that fosters innovation. No other communications medium in recent history has had such a profound impact on the expression of speech, education, the dissemination of information and the exchange of ideas.

Online radio is a great example of how the Internet has helped to cultivate innovation and offered consumers access to new and personalized information. However, the great technological and commercial progress that has come with the ongoing development of the Internet has also brought with it numerous new public policy dilemmas, such as how to balance copyright protection for music and other property with the innovation that the Internet continues to cultivate.

As you know, in March 2007 the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) proposed a new online radio royalty structure, which would amend the system that has been in place since 2002 and establish a new scale for royalties charged to Internet radio companies on a per-song, per-listener basis. The proposed rates will begin at 0.08 cents per song per listener, retroactive to January 1, 2006 and will reach 0.19 cents per song per listener in 2010. The CRB has since announced that it will hear appeals of its previous ruling. Your concerns about this matter are significant and I hope that this period for appeal will enable the CRB to carefully consider points of view like yours.

Thank you again for sharing your concerns regarding these important Internet radio issues with me. Please be assured that I will continue to follow this issue closely and that I will keep your views in mind in the future if related measures come before the Senate. For more information on my support for an open Internet and other important issues before the United States Senate, please visit my website at

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton

Two things come to mind:

1) I was impressed that I received these emails, in a somewhat timely fashion. Neither of the other two congresspersons responded to the petition. Even if they're completely canned emails, they are still replies. I've signed numerous email petitions over the last year (mostly through the Organic Consumers Association) and this is the first response I've received, ever.

2) She gives absolutely no opinion on the issue in her response. She states "I am a strong supporter of maintaining an open Internet that fosters innovation," and refers me to her website. Where I can find no information on her opinions or actions relating to the internet, except for sponsoring legislation to ensure VoIP users can access emergency services via 911.

You're wondering: will I vote for her in 2008? Ah, but that would be talking politics, now wouldn't it?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Antisocial Behavior

I just thought I would bring the following two items to the attention of my 5-6 loyal readers.

May your experiences in formerly sedate venues such as restaurants and bookstores be serene once more.

Turn that thing off!


This public service announcement brought to you by the Annoyed Virgos of America.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Remembrance of Foods Past

Being at home with my kids, much of my days revolves around food. Shopping, preparing, cooking and cleaning up meals are primary tasks each day. Lately the Huntlings have been going through ups and downs of eating: some days just nibbling, other days seemingly eating more than their body weight!

I was thinking about the food of my childhood. Growing up in Southern California, I had year-round access to fresh fruits and vegetables. My dad still has large lemon trees in his yard, and not too far from there are avocado orchards and lettuce fields. But that's not what has stuck in my memories.

Sometimes I think about festive foods: my mom often made wonderful roasts with Yorkshire pudding for holiday meals. I always turned up my nose at yams at Thanksgiving dinner.

Other memories are the stuff of funny family stories: my dad once tried to make a cinnamon roll. It tasted quite good while hot, but by the next day it had formed what we from then on called the "cinnamon doorstop." My dad was also famous for his "anything goes" omelettes, frugally using up leftovers in sometimes dubious combinations.

For many years we had dinner every Friday with my German grandma. She made wonderful, simple foods like chicken soup with cauliflower, celery and carrots, and stuffed cabbage rolls (no tomato sauce, thank you.) She was also a fan of the after-dinner "little bit schnapps," which she often shared with my dad.

Then in my teenage years, when I could fend for myself in the kitchen, came a precipitous drop in nutritional value. I was a regular consumer of Hot Pockets and lunchmeat sandwiches. I fondly remember orange Creamsicles and Otter Pops in summer. As an evening snack I would share a pot of Earl Grey tea and some buttered toast with my mom as we watched TV.

In college, on a limited budget, I for a short time survived on 5 for a dollar instant ramen noodle packets, and toast with butter, supplemented with $1 bean burritos (no red sauce!) from Taco Bell.

What are your childhood food memories?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Some thoughts on toys

Napoleona's third birthday is coming up soon, and so I've been thinking about toys. Having two kids, I'm often thinking about toys, stepping on toys, telling them not to throw their toys, fixing toys, etc. But what are toys, and what makes a good toy?

Waldorf methods are pretty clear about some things: encourage the child's imaginative processes with simple objects that can be used in a variety of ways, choose natural materials that are pleasant to work with and connect the child to the natural world, and nurture the child's instinct to imitate the world and processes he sees in daily life (e.g. cleaning, cooking, caring for others).

Human beings in general, and small children in particular, are beings in the process of becoming. In his surroundings the child needs that which is in the process of becoming, and needs the possibility to transform and create anew. It is not the finished, completed object which is refreshing, satisfying and invigorating for children...A crooked branch with many little side branches and twigs, completely covered with a cloth, can be a mountain in a landscape; half-covered it can be a gnome's cave, a dollhouse, or a barn...Those materials which support and encourage the kind of play indicated above will best nourish the imaginative strength of the young child which develops into the faculties and capacities needed during school-age years and later in life. In such play the child can experiment freely and become acquainted with the world by being active. In a profound manner the child unites himself with the world creating self-confidence and a sense of security.

Well. Who knew toys were that powerful? Many parents have the instinct that tells them the "beep-boop" type of toy isn't the best. Witness the typical delight of the child given a cardboard box. SillyBilly played for several hours today with an empty tissue box. It formed part of a trash truck, and the last time I saw it, it had become a snug little bed for a stuffed animal. Give them some sticks, rocks, mud and a few buckets and scoops, and the Huntlings will have a ball in the yard. Here's Napoleona "fishing" off the back steps with a stick:

The Not Quite Crunchy Parent had a good post recently about one of our favorite "be-anything" toys, play silks. So far I've been hoarding all the silks for the nature table, but the kids have a big yellow silk that I plant-dyed a few years ago. It usually functions as a cape, but it has also been a wheat field for the matchbox tractor and bedding for numerous stuffed animals.

Lately the kids (especially Napoleona) have been making "houses": they take cloths, baskets, dining room chairs, and whatever else strikes their fancies to make little enclosures. Sometimes it's just Napoleona sitting on the floor by the couch surrounded by baskets that form her "walls." Other times I help them make grand dining room table palaces with flannel sheet walls and soft pillow beds inside. (Note to any grandparents reading this: we could use some more cloths and playclips to enhance this experience!)

Now, we don't have a total ban on non-Waldorf toys. A good friend gave SillyBilly a quite awesome plastic red and black dragon, which has become a favorite. Occasionally we give them markers instead of beeswax crayons. But generally we try to stay away from toys that are too formed or structured. So in general, blank drawing paper is in, coloring books are out. Wooden blocks (many made by Grandpa Walt) are in, Legos are out.

I'm still working on that farm landscape for the kids. It has taken a lot longer to crochet, knit, and latch hook a relatively little rug than I thought it would. Today SillyBilly sewed on a brown felt "bean field" all by himself. YES! Helpers! In any case, we are all looking forward to the farm coming to life soon, and I promise to take pictures.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Out of the Mouths of Babes, VI

Overheard while SillyBilly was getting his jammies on with Papa:

Papa, what color is a soul?

Papa, what shape is a soul?

In the car driving home from the mall (I know, Easter Sunday, but it was too cold to play outside and we HAD to get out of the house) we discussed how Jesus and Buddha said some of the same things (be nice to everyone):

SillyBilly: Mama, when I grow up I want to be like Jesus, or Buddha.
Napoleona: Me too!!

Back at home, after a lengthy discussion about Jesus, Mama gives one more example of how Jesus said we should be nice to everyone:

Mama: ..and one time a lady who had done bad things washed Jesus' feet and dried them with her own hair, and even though other people didn't like her, Jesus said that because she wanted to be nice and she was sorry, that he liked her.

SillyBilly: Mama, what bad things did she do?

Grammy: Let's see how she gets out of this one!

(Needless to say, I just left it at "bad things, I'm not going to tell you what exactly." I was not going to explain theologians' arguments about her being a prostitute.)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Trust and paranoia

"We must eradicate from the soul all fear and terror of what comes towards us out of the future.
We must acquire serenity in all feelings and sensations about the future.
We must look forward with absolute equanimity to everything that may come.
And we must think only that whatever comes is given to us by a world-directive full of wisdom.
It is part of what we must learn in this age, namely, to live out of pure trust, without any security in existence -- trust in the ever-present help of the spiritual world.
Truly, nothing else will do if our courage is not to fail us.
And let us seek the awakening from within ourselves, every morning and every evening."
-Rudolf Steiner

Papa Bradstein recently posted about parenting and fear, and my lengthy comment there brought home to me how pervasive fear is in modern parenting (not to mention simply being human). He quotes Paula Spencer's recent article in Newsweek about parental paranoia, asking what the effect might be on our kids growing up with constantly neurotic parental models, and why we might look back fondly on childhood adventures sans parental hovering but would never allow our children those freedoms today.

And I purposefully use the word freedom here. As I said in my comment to Papa B, I'm all for creating safe boundaries in which children can play freely. I'll give you an example:

Our yard has no fence, just a brook for a back boundary. So whenever the kids are outside playing, I'm pretty much always going to be with them, barring the occasional run into the house to grab some crackers for snack. After living here for almost a year, I feel like I've created a "psychic space" in our yard, where the kids know that they need to stay close by. But they're still young enough that I monitor them closely.

The other day they decided they wanted to play "in the forest," meaning in the trees at the edge of the yard. As long as I could see them, I stayed away and let them do their foresty thing while I got some yard work done. They happily pulled a few wagons in there, and proceeded to pretend they were living in a house, making a (pretend) fire out of sticks to cook some (pretend) food. Beautiful, self-motivated, imaginative play.

I find that this kind of playing, free from adult intervention, is very refreshing and healthy for them. So much of their time each day is dictated by adult rules and desires. I've noticed that when we're inside the house, the kids become much more like billiard balls, knocking into each other all the time. When they play outside, they have both physical and psychic space in which to roam, and they hardly ever conflict.

Now this is not to say that I don't have my fears, even when they're happily playing house. There's still a part of my mind thinking: What if she trips and bashes her head on a rock? What if he gets a nasty case of poison ivy on his sensitive skin? What if they fall in the brook and catch pneumonia? What if a meteorite falls from the sky and knocks one of them unconscious? (OK, that last one is really far-fetched, but it could happen!)

I try to maintain the state of mind that Paula Spencer promotes:
"No matter how careful you are, bad stuff happens (diaper rash, stitches, all your friends assigned to another class). And it's seldom the end of the world."

Otherwise, what am I modeling for my children? That the world is not a safe place? (Sunscreen and hand-sanitizer and white sugar, oh my!) That they should not be self-reliant? (Don't climb up there, you might fall!) That they should not be happy and creative? (Don't touch that, you might break it!)

When SillyBilly was born, he was in serious medical trouble and came close to death. A good friend told us that in her meditations on him, she wished that he would "meet his true destiny." I remember feeling that, while I appreciated her sentiment, at that point I couldn't go there with her. I just wanted to hold my little boy. But now, I can link her comment with Steiner's thoughts above: "whatever comes is given to us by a world-directive full of wisdom," and it is up to us to receive it with gratitude and trust.