Monday, March 28, 2016

Decisions and Character

Today, Bug and I went to the park, like we do on many days. We drove out to a park near one of the Sacramento libraries, because he absolutely loved this particular park the last time we were there (after Family Blanket Fort Story Time, so that's how he refers to the park) and has been asking to go back. He loves the tire swing, he loves the roller slide, and he loves the big, grassy areas to run around in.

So we were at the park. There were other kids and parents there off and on, and for awhile there was a small herd of ill-behaved teenagers (admittedly, it hasn't been so long since I was an ill-behaved teenager; it's amazing how having a child changes one's perspective). There was also a gathering of homeless people in the picnic area.

I try my hardest to not be outwardly uncomfortable around homeless people. I do, I really do. I really don't want Bug to be developing any prejudices here because of me, and I know that there are plenty of people who are on the streets for innocuous reasons. So while we kept our distance, I didn't say anything outright about them, and I doubt Bug even noticed their presence.

Toward the end of our time there, Bug was playing tag with a slightly older kid. I was keeping watch, occasionally talking a little with the other boy's grandmother. And so it was that until the grandmother pointed it out, I didn't even notice that the homeless people were building a fire. But once I looked, it was clear that was exactly what they were doing, primarily out of sticks and cardboard, although I saw the guy building it looking through the trash, too, so there's no telling what else was used.

The other woman looked at it disapprovingly, but didn't seem particularly inclined to do anything about it. "Do you think we should call the police?" I asked.

"I'm not sure who else we could call," she replied, but she still did nothing.

"I wish I had the non-emergency number for the police here," I commented. And there the conversation pretty much ended. The woman collected her grandson to head home, and Bug and I followed suit about ten minutes later.

But the fire thing still bothered me. I don't know what the intention of the homeless people was--Cooking? Warmth?--but I was worried about it getting out of control and/or spreading. After all, this was a very windy day, there was an awful lot of smoke, and the flames had, by this time, gotten high enough for me to see them from a decent distance away.

And so, after a lot of thought and waffling back and forth, I decided to call the police. Bug and I got in the car and I drove close enough to the library to connect to their wifi (I don't have a data plan on my phone). I looked up the non-emergency number and called the police, who connected me to the fire department. The fire dispatcher asked me a few questions (mostly about what they appeared to be burning; it hadn't occurred to me before, but I imagine those picnic BBQs aren't really meant to burn anything other than charcoal), got my contact information, and ultimately decided to send someone over to check the situation out.

And so, feeling much better about the whole thing, Bug and I headed home. I wondered off and on while I drove if I was blowing the incident out of proportion, but I also knew my conscience would have niggled at me if I hadn't called.

So what's the whole point of this story? Well, there are a couple of things that the incident has left me thinking about, especially in relation to my son.

First, it reminded me how amazing it is to watch a young child trying to wrap their mind around an idea. I told Bug what I was going to do as I was looking up the number, and he did a good job being quiet during my phone call. But after I hung up, he had a million questions. Were the police going to come? Why were the firefighters coming instead, when I had called the police? (How did they connect me to the fire department? Are they right next door to each other?) Was it possible that the fire might get out of the BBQ and cover the entire world? Could it burn down the library? Would the firefighters put it out? How long would it take them to get there? How would the firefighters stay safe? Do they wear gloves to keep their hands safe? Do they wear socks inside of their boots? And on and on. He'd ask some questions, then get quiet for awhile, and then ten minutes later he'd ask a few more. He asked about how other fires start around town, and whether cigarettes could start fires. When I said that they could, he asked how. He asked if I had ever seen that happen, and I told him about the time when I saw a small roadside grass fire, which could very possibly have been started by someone's discarded cigarette. He asked about what I did that time, and listened, riveted, to my story.

The questions continued for the rest of the afternoon. That night, as Bug was lying in bed trying to fall asleep, we talked for a bit, like we usually do. And while mommy-calling-the-firefighters wasn't the only thing he was thinking about bythat point (he also spent awhile talking about how we need to get a farm [it would have parrots, turkeys, and hens... he later added pigs and cows], becoming a mermaid, and how he could enter the book Flat Stanley and become flat himself so that he could go through the cracks under doors), it was still very much on his mind.

Kids, especially preschool-age kids, are a bundle of questions. And I love that! I love seeing the paths his mind takes as it tries to comprehend new ideas. I love trying to answer his questions in a way he can understand, and in a way that invites even more questions.

The other point here is the point of proactivity. I don't want to be the kind of person who sits back and waits for someone to act when I can do something myself. And I definitely don't want my son to be that way. So we also spent some time talking about why I made my phone call in the first place, how the fire they were building made me uncomfortable and how I was concerned that they might lose control of it, so I called the proper authorities to come check in and "keep everyone safe."

And then we talked about how if he sees something that is wrong or bad, it's up to him to do something; he should never assume that someone else will take care of it, so he needs to be the one who talks to an adult about what he sees. He didn't really have much to say to that, but he was quiet for awhile, and it seemed clear that he was thinking about it.

Kids really do learn so much from us by example. I like to hope that an incident like this will cement my words in his mind on some level."Do the right thing" is more than just a phrase, more than just words; it's something I try to live every day.

Parenting is a long, endless process. Here's hoping I can continue to instill good character in my son while inspiring his curiosity.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Review: Trim Healthy Mama Plan

Many of us have been there. Most of us, in all likelihood. Overweight and out of shape, desperate for a change, so many people keep trying out new diets and meal plans.
Sisters Pearl Barrett and Serene Allison were there once. They went through every diet craze, listened to the buzzwords, tried to incorporate the latest "it" foods. Eventually, they came to the understanding that no diet is going to make you healthy for life. What they, and most of the rest of us, need is a lifestyle change. And thus, after years of dietary tweaking and one successful but over-long self-published book, Pearl and Serene have made that change.

With their new book, Trim Healthy Mama Plan, Pearl and Serene offer readers a streamlined introduction to their lifestyle.

Their last book, despite its wordiness and typos, became a bestseller. There are tons of Trim Healthy Mamas (and husbands and families!) all over the place, and online blogs are full of meal plans and recipes that are "on" the THM plan. This book, along with its companion Trim Healthy Mama Cookbook, are sure to be well-received by readers already familiar with the plan, and to become favorites for new readers.

But what is this plan? Without giving away too many details, here is the gist. All meals have some form of protein as their centerpiece (and by protein, I mean meat; the program is doable for vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy, but nearly impossible for vegans). Some meals are "satisfying" and have lots of fat in them, others are "energizing" and contain more veggies, beans, and grains. Some meals are both at once, although the main premise is that switching back and forth between fuel sources (fat and carbohydrates) is what will get the body to start burning its own fat. The only foods that aren't on the plan are truly unhealthy ones. Snacks and desserts are definitely okay. No calorie counting, no set menus, no designated portions. Food freedom!

Personally, I have a hard time wrapping my head around this style of eating, although I can understand why it appeals to so many. And I must admit that I nearly closed the book when I read that Pearl and Serene based a lot of their ideas on the Bible.
Instead of looking to the next guru, we looked to the Bible. Who could know better than our Creator? Thankfully the Bible holds sound advice, simple advice. So simple it is profound.
While I am certainly not a religious person, I also certainly hold nothing against those who are followers of any particular spiritual path. But I suppose I also don't really think of the Bible as having the answers for what we should be eating. It's not exactly a focus of the various books of the Bible, although certainly food is mentioned off and on. And after all, there are a lot of things that were advocated for in the Bible that we simply don't do these days.

Religious overtones aside (and yes, there are little bits of religion scattered throughout the book; some readers will find them inspirational, although I just found them distracting), Trim Healthy Mama Plan is a pretty well put-together book. There is a fair amount of research on various components of food. The basics of the different meals are described in detail. There are a slew of chapters that focus on various types of people (such as people who work away from home, people who are trying to move past a junk food lifestyle, pregnant or nursing mamas, vegetarians), and those chapters do feature a few specific meal ideas, which is what many readers will want at the beginning. Other chapters discuss various "superfoods" (and they're not the super foods you're thinking of; gelatin and oolong tea and spices are just a few of the foods these ladies heartily recommend), how to eat out on the plan, and the concept of "cheat" meals.

One other thing that does bother me a lot about this book is the authors' attitudes toward vegetables. Yes, they advocate eating them. They recognize that vegetables are full of nutrients and fiber and complex carbohydrates. But every so often they also talk about them in an annoyingly negative manner:
Hold on, are you envisioning having to stuff dry salad and brittle broccoli into your mouth? Think again! Broccoli is a whole different animal when it is tossed with S fuels of melted butter, a little grated cheese, and a sprinkle of high-mineral salt and black pepper. You won't feel forced to eat your salad greens when they're drizzled with generous, anti-inflammatory olive oil or creamy dressing and topped with lots of other yummy fixings like bacon bits or nuts. No Spartan rabbit food for us Trim Healthy Mamas!
Can we please just get past this misconception that vegetables don't taste good unless they're covered with oil and cheese? Because it's not true. Vegetables are delicious when they're prepared properly. The people who don't like vegetables are the people who don't know how to cook them right. Enough said.

Anyway. While I have no interest in adopting the Trim Healthy Mama plan, I can see why a lot of people think it sounds amazing. Does it work? Pearl and Serene say it does, as do hundreds of people who have reviewed the book or who feature it in their blog posts. If it works for you, then I'm certainly not going to bash it. We're all different, and different eating habits work for different people. If the Trim Healthy Mama lifestyle appeals to you, then go for it!

Even though I'm not interested in the plan, I did very much enjoy reading the book. Pearl and Serene write in such a friendly manner and are so encouraging that I found myself smiling and nodding along. So we'll just end this review with a bit of that famous encouragement: "You got this!"

***

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own!

This post was shared at the Happy, Healthy, Green & Natural Party Blog Hop on 2/29/2016.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

During one recent week, we been spending a lot of time reading Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

I've been trying to get a bit more creative in our daily activities; I know my son loves craft projects and simple work sheets, so I'm trying to get a bit more of them into our weekly preschool-ish schedule. So here are some of the things we got up to this week:

First off, I couldn't find our copy of the book (naturally), so we watched a few different videos on YouTube of people reading it. Our favorite was this animated one, although I am also partial to the sign language version.




We talked about all kinds of different things this week. We talked about the life cycles of butterflies (including reading another book, Butterfly by Moira Butterfield), and did this cute cut-and-paste sequencing strip. We made footprint butterflies (me, too, because if we're painting our feet then I'm obviously going to get in on that) and Bug made an egg carton caterpillar. Bug did a number stamp activity, practicing counting while making caterpillars with his dot painting set.



We talked about the days of the week, which is still a relatively abstract concept for Bug. He had a lot of fun using days of the week sequencing cards, though!

We talked about different fruits, especially the kinds that the caterpillar eats in the book. Bug did a fruit color-by-number. We also did an activity from a new book that I'm really excited about: Art Lab for Little Kids. The activity was buttermilk chalk, and it basically involves dipping chalk in buttermilk to make it creamy and spreadable and mixable. It was actually quite fun, and in addition to drawing fruit, Bug and I drew rainbows and lovely snowy scenes.


So that's what we've been up to. What kinds of fun crafty things have you been doing recently?

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Off-the-Wall ABCs

A recent conversation with Bug:

Bug:  Mama, what sound does the letter 'K' make?
Me:   Kah. 'K' makes the "kah" sound. Like 'kangaroo.'
Bug:  Kangaroo?
Me:   Or king, or koala, or kindness, or kudzu, or... kamikaze? Kefir? Kwanzaa?

As you can see, I have a problem. And with a four-year-old who is diligently practicing his alphabet skills every chance he gets, it's a problem I deal with on a near daily basis. It's not a big problem by most standards, but it's definitely a problem.

My problem is that when faced when the task of giving my son words that start with a given letter, my mind kind of blanks. And when it doesn't go blank altogether, it goes in weird directions instead.

Most people, when asked for 'G' words, would head for gorilla. Goat. Good. Giant. Nice, normal words. Me? My brain goes straight to Gorgonzola, gangrene, Geonosis, or Gollum. J is for jaguar, jungle, jack-in-the-box, jellyfish. Or jugular or juxtaposition, Judas or jinx, Jabberwocky or jackalope. (Or Jack Daniels. Definitely inappropriate.) C is for cat or cheese, cheetah or chimpanzee. C is also for cantrip, canasta, cancer, contrarian. F is for farm, family, friend. F is for flatulence, fandango, Fallopian tubes, flagellate, (the) Forsaken.

(Disclaimer: These words don't all make it from my brain to my lips. Obviously.)


A is for ant, alligator, amphibian, allopathic, agoraphobia, amnesia, androgynous, algorithm...

Honestly, I don't really know what's going on with my brain sometimes. Is this a side effect of reading too much? (Not that such a thing is truly possible!) Is this because I have strange interests and a rather morbid fascination with certain unpleasant subjects? Is this the result of four years of not quite enough sleep? (Because even when kids finally start sleeping better, parents don't... or maybe that's just me.)

Am I just plain weird?

Whatever it is, it really does come up all the time. Sometimes, Bug wants me to make up my own words to alphabet books. Normally, that task belongs to D, but since he's away for the foreseeable future, the task instead falls to me. As you can see, I have a strangely difficult time coming up with decent nouns for every letter.

Or sometimes he asks for more words when he's doing his workbooks (definitely not trying to push early academics in this household, but Bug LOVES workbooks! And I'm all for encouraging whatever he's interested in), or when he just sees random letters on the walls (thanks, DMV and military hospital pharmacy). Sometimes when we're in the car, he'll ask for letter sounds and words. Sometimes Bug just likes copying letters from books, and will ask me for sounds and words as he goes.


No matter the situation, I find that my mental lapses happen pretty much every time Bug asks for words beginning with a certain letter. And as of now, I have no solution, except to at least keep my filters intact and keep the inappropriate words to myself, along with the words that will spark questions I'm currently unwilling to answer and the words I just don't want Bug repeating.

At least my kid will have a good vocabulary. Right?