Archive for May 2007

MotherTalk Blog Tour: Healthy Mother, Healthy Child

I started practicing yoga when I was pregnant with my first son, Ben. Until then, yoga had always been on my big life “to-do” list, like learning to play guitar and living in Paris. It wasn’t until the nice lady who was giving me a pregnancy massage told me that the burning pain under my shoulder blade was from my diaphragm (yes, that’s right, it got pushed all the way over there), that I made the time for yoga.

And it helped. It didn’t just help the burning pain, it helped me sleep a little better, and to stress out a little less; it helped me feel more balanced – physically and emotionally—for the rest of the pregnancy.

After Ben was born, I went back to yoga with him. He was kind of a fussy, colicky guy at first, and mom and baby yoga seemed like a great solution: calm baby, calm mama. Well, it didn’t entirely work out that way. I was still a little too unsteady about being a mother to manage tree poses with a baby in the crook of my arm.

Yoga on my own continued to work wonders, however, and I kept at it as much as I could, figuring that a calm mama could better handle a fussy child. When I got pregnant the second time, I practiced yoga all the way through, and was attended through a 17 hour natural childbirth by my yoga teacher/doula.

Now I don’t get to yoga classes very often at all. My family’s schedule seems to shift daily, so right now I need the kind of exercise that I can grab when the opportunity presents itself. I run every other day and aspire to setting aside some time, a place, at home where I can lay out a mat and sink into a nice downward dog every once in a while.

I’m newly motivated to do this by reading Elizabeth Irvine’s Healthy Mother, Healthy Child: Creating Balance in Everyday Life, a book I learned about from Andi and Miriam at MotherTalk. It’s a gorgeous, easy to manage book – you could lay it on the floor next to you as you practice, so that you can see if you’re getting the poses approximately right. Irvine writes with an engaging tone, and peppers her prose with plenty of real-world examples to support her points. “We take on board whatever thoughts we feed ourselves,” she says, pointing out how deflated you can feel, for example, after a well-meaning friend says, “You look tired.” She offers strategies to avoid absorbing everything the world dishes out.

The book’s thus much more than a yoga manual. Irvine believes, as I do, that what we eat and what we think and how we feel are all pretty tightly connected. As she puts it, “You know the saying, ‘you are what you eat.’ Similarly I feel there’s truth to ‘we are what we hold in ourselves.’ We become what we think, read, and watch and whom we spend our time with.” So she offers useful and specific nutrition tips—not just about what to feed yourself and your family (whole grains; juice instead of soda, etc), but how, suggesting ways to get your kids involved in the preparation of meals in order to get them more interested in actually eating what’s on the table, and sitting with you to do so. She’s preaching to the choir with me. Tony and I have insisted on family dinner since Ben was a little bug, and it has its ups and downs, of course (our toddler, Eli, having now rejected both high chair and booster, does a lot of jumping down from his chair and running around the table at dinner), but still, we are convinced, having grown up with nightly family dinners ourselves, that this is a ritual well worth passing on to our own kids.

Now, I have a pretty low tolerance for the kinds of floaty ideas that books like this seem often to offer, and happily Irvine’s writing is as grounded as she’d like us all to be. Still, she does recommend visualization, a technique that always wakes up my inner cynic. Back during my first pregnancy, a friend told me about her childbirth prep class in Berkeley, in which she was instructed to visualize her contractions “hugging and caressing” her baby. We laughed and joked about visualizing the IV full of pain medication (though in fact, between the two of us we’ve now managed 4 drug-free deliveries).

But this book isn’t just about me, of course; remember the title? And look again at the cover photo, that little body folded next to his mama’s. It’s about teaching my children some healthy habits, offering them some tools to get them through the day. And I believe Irvine when she claims that kids are particularly adept at visualization techniques. Most nights after Eli is settled into bed, I crawl in for another cuddle with Ben, who asks me to tickle his belly and tell him the story of the day he was born. Irvine would certainly approve of this sweet ritual, and I’m not looking to drop it anytime soon, but I might suggest adding a little visualization tomorrow night, and see how Ben and I do with it. Irvine offers a couple narrative routes to get you started (“Seeing A Star,” “The Rainbow,” “Soaring with an Eagle”), and I’m sure once you get in the habit, it’s pretty easy to come up with some that work for yourself and your child.

She suggests a variety of other calming strategies, like drawing a mandala (not my style, but I can see Ben, who loves to concentrate on a drawing, getting a lot out of it) or writing acrostic or diamante poems, two ideas I love. All of these various techniques – yoga, breathing, visualizations, balanced nutrition—Irvine argues, can make a difference in helping a child deal with difficulties from eczema (the condition in her son which first led Irvine to alternative therapies) to ADD to a lack of self-confidence and more. They certainly can’t hurt. Also, I appreciate how she cycles back to both her tips and the various issues they might assist with throughout the book, approaching them all from different angles, to reiterate her argument that we are fully interconnected beings.

I began to lose Irvine slightly in the last section of the book, “Home,” which seemed a little less grounded in practical advice and information and a bit more reliant on platitudes (“Each child is a unique gift;” “Children have magical ways about them”). But in the generous spirit of the book, I’ll think of these as mantras, to repeat (perhaps through clenched teeth!) during difficult moments of parenting.

I found the book simple, clear and useful. It reiterated some things I know already and practice, inspired me to try adding a couple more habits to my family life, and taught me a few things I didn’t know. I’m looking forward to adding some of her ideas to our daily routine.

Fruit Pandowdy

This is a repost from my old blog; now I have a pretty picture to show you what pandowdy looks like!

I was doing more than the usual baking toward the end of my pregnancy with Eli. It was a good antidote to the uncertainty of our renovation, and it was certainly making my friends and family happy. Even my doula, who wanted me to go on a no-wheat, no yeast, no sugar diet because I’d cultured positive for group-b strep, acknowledged that it would probably be less stressful for me to be hooked up to IV antibiotics during my labor (to prevent transmitting the bacteria to my baby), than change my diet and end my baking tear. The day we discussed this, as I recall, I’d baked both bread and a strawberry-rhubarb pie. (In the event, my water didn’t break until the minute Eli’s head popped out, rendering the antibiotic issue happily moot). Ben, always an excellent kitchen assistant, would wake up those days, during that sweet season of baking, asking, “What kind of pandowdy will we make today, Mama?”

Ah, pandowdy. A classic American dessert which is essentially pie for slobs. It has all the just-dump-the-fruit-in-the-pan appeal of a crisp or cobbler, but with the slightly fancy touch of a pie crust on top. Except you don’t have to prebake the crust, or roll it out very carefully, or even crimp the edges. In fact, part way through baking you slice it up and push the crust down under the fruit a bit so that the juice runs over the top and carmelizes the crust. Yum. It looks a mess (hence the name: pandowdy = dowdy in the pan), but tastes fabulous. Here’s an adaptation from Joy of Cooking and Deborah Madison’s lovely Local Flavors.

For the crust
1 c plus 2 tbsp flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 c butter, in chunks
1/2 tsp vanilla
2-3 tbsp ice water

Using a food processor, blend the flour, sugar, and salt together, then work in the butter until coarse crumbs form. Add the vanilla and sprinkle in just enough water for the dough to clump together with a few pulses of the food processor. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill while you prepare the fruit.

Preheat the oven to 400. Lightly butter a 2-quart baking dish.

For the filling
7-8 c fruit, chopped into large bite-sized chunks (I used rhubarb and strawberries, but you could use apple and rhubarb, apple, blueberries, peaches and blueberries, whatever you’ve got and sounds good)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c maple syrup or brown sugar

Toss the fruit with the other ingredients and spread in the baking dish.

Roll out the chilled dough to about 1/8 inch thick and about an inch wider than your dish (but don’t sweat it if the dough is a slightly different shape than your dish, leaving some gaps where the fruit is uncovered; this is pie for slobs, remember?). Lay the dough over the fruit, tucking the edges into the fruit.

Bake until the crust is light gold, 30-35 minutes. Remove the pandowdy from the oven and lower the heat to 350. Slice across the crust diagonally into 2-inch squares. Use a spatula to press the crust down into the fruit and tilt the pan to let the juices flow over the crust (don’t worry if there’s not much juice yet, and of course don’t worry about breaking or crushing the crust – that’s the point).

Return the dish to the oven and continue to bake until the crust is really golden and glazed and the fruit is tender when pierced, about 20-30 minutes more. If you remember, baste the crust with the fruit juices once or twice during this second baking. Serve warm , with vanilla ice cream.

New Literary Reflections Essay: Five Minutes

Dionne Ford just wants five minutes to work on her novel. Here’s how her day begins:

Every morning starts at a deficit. The day has not even begun, and I’m already behind. I hear shouting: “I want to take a shower!” “I don’t want to take a shower!” “I need to take a shower!” “Get up!” It could be my husband. It could be one of my daughters. It could be my subconscious. I mean to get up before them all, to sit quietly and listen for guidance for the day, some instruction that will steel me when my plans all go to hell.

Click on over to Literary Mama to see if she ever gets those five minutes.

Summer in the City

We never know when we’re going to enjoy a hit of real, fogless summer, but we’re in the midst of it now: all the doors and windows open, me in a sundress, the boys in shorts, and grilled pizza for dinner. Yum!

Ten for Ten

4 May 1997: chocolate chip banana bread for a hike on Mt. Tamalpais, Tony’s and my first (blind) date

October 1998: Caesar salad pizza, eaten to the accompaniment of Don Ho recordings and tree toad croakings, while on vacation in Maui

September 1999: margarita pizza and champagne at the Oakville Grocery in Healdsburg to celebrate our engagement

July 2000: butternut squash ravioli in brown butter, spinach salad with fresh raspberries, and an amaretto-infused wedding cake

September 2001: mushroom ravioli, spinach and pear salad with candied walnuts and blue cheese, and chocolate bread pudding, a comfort-foods dinner for friends after the 9/11 attacks

April 2002: asparagus and mushroom fajitas at Chevy’s with 5-week old Ben, our first restaurant meal as a family of three

April 2003: poached salmon with dill sauce, steamed green beans with lemon zest and slivered almonds, and lemon tart – an Easter picnic I made at home and carried to the hospital where Tony’s mom was undergoing cancer treatment

September 2004: tiny servings of extra-sharp cheddar cheese, cherry tomatoes and ice water (while Tony and Ben eat proper meals) during the first trimester of a queasy pregnancy

May 2005: pancakes at the Volunteer Fireman’s Breakfast in downtown Mill Valley, our first big family outing, a week after Eli’s birth

January 2006: tofu with fried basil and onions, veggie spring rolls, pad thai and mussamun curry, take-out, to celebrate our first night home after a year-long renovation

4 May 2007: a poached egg with crème fraiche and snipped chive, served in its shell, balanced on a bed of crystal-clear salt, the 2nd in our 7-course “garden tasting menu” at Fifth Floor Restaurant, a perfect, decadent meal to celebrate ten years.

That’s a lot of milk

When Ben was a little bit, we participated in a “nurse-in,” breastfeeding with about 1,200 other moms, babies, and toddlers in a big Berkeley auditorium. Ben could hardly focus, so wide-eyed at the site of all those kids nursing at the same time, but he latched on long enough for us to help set a new world record.

I was happy to read recently that the record’s been broken yet again, this time in the Philippines.
Congratulations to all those moms and their kids!

Muffins Waiting

One of the (many) reasons we renovated our house last year was because our little Edwardian, with all its chair rails and moldings, didn’t have much open wall space for Tony’s late father’s enormous paintings. Now, we’ve been able to hang several of the fabulous, gorgeous canvases… but as it turns out, Ben needs plenty of display space, too. He’s taken to taping his pictures (right now it’s all trains, all the time) to the half-wall over his art table, to doors, and now to the front window.
On the far right, you see an Amtrak train (“toot!!” it says,) its pantograph carefully connecting it to the electric wires above. The sign on the bottom says simply, “Ben Love Tony.” And this morning’s addition, after we’d baked banana coconut muffins, welcomed friends for a playdate: “Muffins Waiting.”

I’m so happy to live in this house!

(a note about the muffins: you can replace half the butter with 3/4 c ground flax seed and feel virtuous about eating two or three…)