Monday, February 24, 2014

Potty Progress.

Can we talk about potty training?  I know it's a seriously hot topic on the mommy blog circuit.  Everyone wants the miracle cure.  The magic bullet.  The one final answer that will make their kid successfully place their waste products in the appropriate container at the appropriate time. 

Let me be the one to say this out loud.  Listen carefully.  THERE IS NO MAGIC BULLET! 

Seriously.  The same could probably be said for just about every other parenting question under the sun.  You can read every book, try out every "best practice", or spend hours Googling the answer, but the truth is.....there is no easy answer.  Or right answer.  Or magic cure. 

That's the joy of parenting.  Ha.

I hesitate to say this out loud, but I believe that potty training days are coming to an end in our house.  Our soon-to-be 3-year old has recently embraced the potty as his friend and we are going on 11 days accident-free.  Truly, this is the only angle from which a mom can see the joy part of potty training.  Because when you're in the trenches, it's no picnic. 

For those far removed from the potty training days (or those that need to commiserate) let me tell you what potty training is all about.  It's about sticker charts and overzealous high-fiving in the bathroom.  It's about bribing your kids with Princess underwear, super hero pull-ups, potty treats and new toys.  It's emergency stops on the side of the road, scooping up messy misfires off the bathroom floor, wet pants in the grocery store (usually when you left the diaper bag at home), and daily negotiations about when/where/how to use the potty so as to avoid accidents. It's embracing the hilarity in a busy public restroom when you sit down to do your business and your son says to you,  "Mommy, push your penis down." 

Go ahead.  Laugh out loud.  I'll wait. 

It is the measuring stick we use to rate all mothers of toddlers...."Is he potty trained yet?"

When my daughter waited until she was WELL beyond three (three years, six months to be exact) to embrace the potty, that question haunted me. Because no, she wasn't potty trained.  No, I wasn't spending every moment Googling the miracle cure.  No, I didn't buy her a princess potty to speed up the process.  No, I didn't want anyone's advice on how to make her go potty.  We just sort of let her be.

Lo and behold, when she decided she was ready for the potty, she did it and never looked back.  She had maybe two accidents and then she was done.  Her time.  Her decision.  Her success.

My son, now moments away from his third birthday, doesn't have the luxury of taking his time because he has moved up to the "big boy" preschool class where they don't cater to the semi-potty-trained.  He's playing in the big leagues now and it hasn't come without a fair amount of trial and error.  We have successfully worked through his George Costanza stage where he would insist on completely disrobing to use the potty.  His backwards habit has turned around. 

He's even learned to pee standing up, thanks to the short potties at preschool made just his size.  This did create a bit of a challenge when he insisted on standing at normal sized toilets at home or in public restrooms.  We've worked through it.  I'll spare you the details.

We had a big potty training victory last weekend when we took a short road trip to see Disney on Ice in Sacramento.  His little puppy bladder handled the trip like a champ.  No accidents in the car, he let me know exactly when he had to go during the show, and we never needed the spare clothes I brought along "just in case."  This success story, along with his nearly-full sticker chart on the refrigerator make me cautiously optimistic about the future of my diaper budget.

For so many reasons, we are thrilled to see the light at the end of our potty training tunnel....less laundry, no stinky diaper pails, not having to personally witness every single waste product the child produces.  Now we will have time for other important parenting tasks. 

Next on the agenda, a quick lesson in anatomy. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What is Old?

My dear old Dad turned 70 this weekend.  Seventy.  I hesitate to call him old because doing so might infer that he is old enough to have kids that qualify as "old."  And we don't want to got there.  So let's just call him "experienced." 

When I think of 70 as a generic age, it seems old to me. Most people I know in their 70's are well into their retired stage of life and are juggling busy schedules of outings with the grandkids, vacations and doctor's appointments. 

But when I think of my dad, I don't think of him as old.  The first birthday I really remember celebrating with my dad was when he turned 40.  My mom organized a surprise party for him and there was lots of buzz about "The Big 4-0."  As a 10-year old kid, I remember thinking this was going to be the end of my dad as I knew him.  All the talk about being old and over the hill when you turn 40 somehow percolated into my young brain and I was convinced that life after 40 was going to be way different. 

These fears were reinforced at the birthday party when my dad received a cane as a gag gift.  I remember thinking his hair would instantly turn grey.  I assumed we were done with camping and hiking.  I figured he would probably be quitting his job to retire shortly after his birthday, and I certainly didn't expect him to be doing any kind of heavy lifting or hard labor around the house.  I think it was probably around this time that I was taught how to cut the grass, presumably in preparation for his inability to physically manage that task.

In my young mind I somehow got the idea that 40 was officially "old" and life somehow changed dramatically when you hit that milestone. 

Looking back (particularly now that I have hit the ripe old age of 40), these childish, preconceived notions about age are comical.  How could I have possibly believed that 40 was the end of it all?! 

I am happy to report that life in fact did not change dramatically when my dad hit 40.  We kept right on camping and hiking and doing all the stuff we did when he was 39.  His hair did turn grey, but over a period of many years and not overnight.  I did have to take on the grass cutting chore, but only because he was determined to raise a girl capable of taking care of herself  (Thanks for that.  Sort of.), not because he was old and crippled.  And luckily the cane (even at 70) is merely a gag.

Now that my dad has hit the 70 milestone, I hesitate to make any assumptions about age and what really qualifies as "old."  Truly, as my mom wisely scolded me when I bemoaned my 30th and then my 40th birthdays, age IS just a number. And really, even if 70 is "old", what's so bad about that?  If old means (as it does for my dad) hanging out with the grandkids, spending countless hours engaged in your hobbies of choice, traveling the country in your mini RV, volunteering your skills for organizations that need you, and eating cookies for breakfast....why do we all dread being old?? 

Certainly it's better than the alternative.  Who wants to be young forever?  Not many would voluntarily go back to being a toddler (Diapers and communicating your needs with grunts and tantrums? No thanks.)  Or repeat Jr. High (Acne and pre-teen drama?  No way.) Or even be eternally 21 (My liver hurts just thinking about it.)  Been there, done that.  It was great while it lasted, but life is about moving forward, enjoying each stage, learning the lessons and doing more or better or smarter in the next chapter.  Life is about experience.  Don't get caught up on the numbers.

Just keep your eye out for the joy. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hello, Rain.

It's amazing what a little rain can do.  After a long winter with weathermen tossing around dreary words like "drought" and "water crisis", our super rainstorm last week was welcome relief.  Aside from this fluke storm, Northern California has been downright parched this year.  Our scenic mountain vistas that traditionally turn white in winter have remained a steady grey.  Our local ski hill hasn't opened.  Anything in my closet filled with down or made of wool has hardly had a chance to see the light of day.  Strange times, indeed. 

I'm not complaining, mind you.  In a place where spring can last 15 minutes and we sometimes launch straight from cold rainy days into four months of hot, 90-100+ degree temperatures, a 70 degree day is not something we take for granted.  We have enjoyed the identity crisis of our winter this year. 

But alas, sunshine and dry weather do not make for a sustainable future.  And so we welcome the rain with open arms, umbrellas, dusty rain boots, and a bounty of youthful enthusiasm.

We also welcome hot cocoa.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Peanut Butter: A love story. Also a How-To and Troubleshooting Guide.

Oh, peanut butter.  How I love thee.

In college I would buy tubs of peanut butter and eat it by the spoonful.  When I was pregnant I would eat a PJ&J sandwich every night before bed.  Every.  Night.  Each time I donate blood I look forward to the Nutter Butter cookies in the "donor recovery" area.  (I'm not strong enough to buy them and have them in my house...for fear they would all be eaten in one day.)  It's one of the (very) few things that I won't buy generic.  And once we became a family of five, we started going through a two-pound tub of peanut butter every week.  Every.  Week. 

It's nuts.

About a year ago when peanut prices suddenly spiked, our habit was costing over $10/week (over $500/year for those slow at math).  Cheaper than a Starbucks habit, but still alarming when you see a 20% price increase in your favorite vice. 

And so I started to explore other options.  No, I didn't consider curbing the habit.  In the spirit of a true addict, I simply looked for a way to make my habit more affordable.

Enter Pinterest and a random link for instructions on making your own peanut butter.  Ding, ding, ding!!  We have a winner.  Make my own?!  How awesome is that?!  I learned how to save a little money and make a peanut butter that is just a tad healthier than what you typically find on the shelf at the grocery store.  No added oils, no added sugar, just plain old nuts. 

"How?" you might ask. 

Well, let me tell you.  Grab a pen and take some notes. 
Step One: Put nuts in food processor
Step Two: Turn on.

Seriously.  It's easy, people.  Are you kicking yourself that you've never tried this before?  You should be.  And the results are so delicious, and completely customizable to your taste and texture preferences.  Keep reading for my handy nut butter tutorial and trouble-shooting guide...

1.  If you still have it, read the instruction manual for your food processor.  It will probably include instructions on the max capacity for doing nut butter in your machine.  If you are not the type to save instruction manuals and file them away for future reference, then you can just safely assume that the capacity for nut butter is going to be LESS than you would typically put in your food processor.  My 8-cup model recommends 4-cups max for nut butter. 

2.  Put the peanuts in your food processor and let them go for about 5-7 minutes. 

2-3 Minutes:

 7 Minutes:

3.  Store in an airtight container.  We have been eating homemade nut butters for about a year and have never kept them in the fridge.  We're all still alive, so I'm going to say cupboard storage is probably just fine.

What if my peanut butter is too runny?
Store it in the fridge. Or, next time don't process as long. 

I like my peanut butter to be sweet.  Can I add sugar?
In my experience sugar, even in small quantities, gave my peanut butter a gritty texture.  I recommend a small amount (1-2 Tablespoons) of agave nectar or honey if you're a sucker for the sweet.  Add this at the end once your butter looks "done."  Note that even a small amount of sweetener will alter the texture of your nut butter, making it a little more firm and sticky. 

What if my kids won't eat it?
Put it in a Skippy jar.

What kind of nuts do I use?
I prefer the roasted, salted nuts. If you're a true, tree-hugger-health-nut, you can use the plain nuts but the results are not nearly as tasty, IMHO.

What about almond butter?  Is that just as easy?
Yes.  And no.  You can use the basic instructions here to make almond butter, but since almonds are much harder, they will be in the food processor for a LOT longer (15-20 minutes) before they turn to butter.  Add another 3-5 minutes if you toss in sweetener at the end.  Almonds also tend to bind up in the machine more than peanuts, so you will need to watch carefully and stop the machine to break up the clumps when they form. 

Is almond butter better than peanut butter?
The texture and taste of almond butter is different.  Your kids may not eat it.  Even if you hide it in a Skippy jar. The health value of peanuts vs. almonds is up for debate.  Google it and decide for yourself. 

How do I get my picky eater kid to eat almond butter?
Mix almonds and peanuts together.  My typical batch of nut butter is about 1 C. Almonds, 3 C. peanuts.  I tried half peanuts/half almonds but the kids turned up their noses.  I put in the almonds first and process them for about 3-5 minutes, then add the peanuts and process until smooth.  Important Note:  You must call this creation "Peanut Butter."  Any deviation from that name or mention of almonds may cause your picky eater to shun your nut butter. 

Does it separate on the shelf?  Do I need to stir it first?
No and no. I have no idea why the "natural" peanut butter you see in the store always has that icky layer of oil on top.  When you make your own peanut butter it all stays together and doesn't require any stirring. 

Is this really a healthy choice?
I'm not here to debate the nutritional merits (or lack thereof) of my peanut butter habit.  I'm simply here to share the nut butter love.