Thursday, April 30, 2009

Happy Mama's Month!

It's finally here, Mamas! Put on your party dresses and turn up the music because Mama's Cup turns one today!

In celebration of this milestone--and in honor of the work we all do daily for our families--I've lined up some fabulous giveaways for you, my hardworking, hardteaching, hardplaying Mama readers!

I have nothing but love for all of my generous, creative and Mama-tastic supporters who are helping me get this party started. For the whole month of May, Mama's Cup will focus on the best of what motherhood has to offer.
Who's joining the party? Check it out:

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

My little one has developed a distinct affinity for wolves. (I can't be certain, but I think it all started with Sir John Geilgud.)

This fascination has endured for months. In fact, we recently took her to the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, NY, where we were able to get up close and personal with a few of their "Ambassador Wolves." From the howling to the eating, my little one was not afraid. Impressed, yes, but not frightened.

Her love of wolves (especially Apache) has translated into a difficulty in comprehending why they end up as villains in so many stories.

"But aren't they nice wolves, Mama?" she will ask me.

Yesterday at the book store, she found LonPoPo: A Red-Riding Hood Story From China, translated and gorgeously illustrated by Ed Young. Of course, she had to have it. Thumbing through it, I found the illustrations a little unnerving and thought for sure that this would be the end of the wolf affair.

Not so.

She loves it.

In the story, three sisters, through intelligence and teamwork, save themselves from their own demise at the hands of a cunning and hungry wolf. In one sense, it is a good lesson for children, to learn to believe in their own capabilities.

But what of all the Laws of Nature-abiding wolves, the wolves who do not stalk children, wolves who do not imitate the voices of beloved grandparents, wolves whose names are sullied by such gross misrepresentation? For them, Ed Young has included a message:

"To all the wolves of the world
for lending their good name
as a tangible symbol
for our darkness."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Homemade Popsicles

One of the best things about warmer weather: Homemade Popsicles. Totally delicious and, if you do them right, nutritious too. And they couldn't be easier to make.

A few that we like around our house:

Blueberry, banana & apple pops: Blend together (ratio: 1 banana/2 cups blueberries/2 cups apple juice); freeze.

Pineapple, strawberry pops: Blend together equal parts until smooth; freeze. (Also, plain blended strawberries with a little sugar sprinkled in make good ones, too!)

Homemade lemonade pops. (Try this homemade lemonade recipe!

I also found a recipe over at ChowMama that I can't wait to try: Grapefruit Lime Cilantro Popsicles!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Classics for Kids

This morning on NPR, I heard an interview with Karen Jo Shapiro, Mama, author, poet and psychologist.

Karen Jo doesn't write just any old kids' poetry. She writes classics. Well, kind of.

A lifelong lover of words and meter, Karen Jo spent her youth reading and studying the poems of the masters. Once she had her daughter, she discovered a way to unite two of her life's great loves: Classical poetry and children.

Karen Jo introduces children to the rhythm and rhyme of classical poetry using subjects kids can understand. Her playful parodies of some of the English language's most beloved verse make great introductions to the great works. By shying away from the "heavier" themes of the classics, Karen Jo's poems bounce and frolic their way from Dickinson to Poe to my personal favorite, Shakespeare, while retaining the music inherent in the original work.

"Double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble," from Shakespeare's Macbeth becomes:

Bubbles, baubles, singles and doubles;
soapy bath and fishy pond,
blow some from a plastic wand.
Here a moment then they're gone.

Suddenly, the pre-K set is counting out iambs!

Listen to Karen Jo read her poetry on NPR.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Mama's Month!

A year ago, Mama's Cup was just a twinkle in my eye. I had lots of opinions and ideas, sure. But where to air them?

So, on May 1, 2008, Mama's Cup was born. The labor was not terribly long, but was certainly intense. It took focus, dedication and a lot of coffee, but I did it.

In honor of this milestone--one year of Mama's Cup blogging--and in honor of Mother's Day, I am officially declaring the month of May to be Mama's Month!

Starting this Friday, Mama's Cup will begin a month's worth of themed blogging and giveaways, from fantastically generous supporters like:

I'm adding new supporters and ideas along the way, so make sure you check back often during Mama's Month!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Breast Really Is Best

There's next to no debate that babies benefit from being breastfed. From encouraging Mama-baby bonding to imparting immunities to the littlest ones, breastfeeding has, for years, been regarded as the preferred way to nourish our children.

Now, it seems, there are some proven health benefits for us Mamas, too. This week, an article by Roni Caryn Rabin in the New York Times outlines some exciting new research, linking women's overall health to whether and how long they breastfed. The health benefits, researchers found, stretch into the postmenopausal years for women who breastfed, even for as little as one month of their lives.

The benefits, however, do "increase with duration of past breast-feeding, the study found. Women who had breast-fed for more than a year in their entire lifetimes were almost 10 percent less likely than those who had never breast-fed to have had a heart attack or a stroke in their postmenopausal years. They were also less likely to have diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol."

The study, appearing in May's issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology, was conducted on a very large scale, incorporating data from almost 140,000 women.

Researchers do not suggest, despite compelling data, that breastfeeding is a panacea for women. Dr. Nieca Goldberg, medical director of N.Y.U.'s Women's Heart Center points out that women who breastfeed may also be women who take better care of their health. Additionally, it is documented fact that socioeconomic status has a direct correlation to whether or not women choose to breastfeed. The higher the income bracket and level of education, the more likely women are to breastfeed. And socioeconomic status is also indicative of overall health and access to preventative care.

Nevertheless, the new research highlighted in the New York Times article is compelling. It seems we Mamas have one more reason to make the effort to nurse.

For more information on these topics:

World Health Organization


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mother (and Baby) Earth

A dear and talented friend of mine has started a new blog, Lost and Found in Translation, linking her native language, Spanish, with her "chosen" language, English, for her beautiful, bilingual daughter.

Today's post offers a small way for the smallest members of your family to get Earthy this Earth Day.

Congrats on the fantastic blog, Stefania!

Happy Earth Day

What's better than saving the Earth and saving some cash? Check out these Earth and money-saving tips over at The Fruugalist. (I found this little gem over at Ruth, the Mom, one of my very favorite Mama blogs.)

The Fruugalist is a site dedicated to sharing tips on how to save money and live better--at the same time!

Haven't decided on a way to celebrate Earth Day yet? Why not check out The Fruugalist's link to a Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Audit!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Walking With Henry

Tomorrow is Earth Day (making this Earth Week or Earth Month, depending on your level of commitment). In honor of this celebration of sustainability, I thought I'd share with you a beautiful children's book that tells the story of the Original Environmentalist, Henry David Thoreau.

Walking With Henry takes young readers (or listeners) on a journey with the naturalist and poet. Imparting Thoreau's reverence of nature and love of the untouched wilderness, Walking With Henry makes a convincing case for the 21st century relevance of this 19th century philosopher. He still has much to teach us.

His words are paired here with gorgeous landscapes by illustrator Thomas Locker, making this book a beautiful tribute to a sustainable, earth-conscious lifestyle.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Safe Sand

With Easter behind us and Memorial Day on the horizon, my thoughts have turned to summer fun. Nothing like the open air to exhaust the little ones. One of the virtues of having made the move from the city to the 'burbs is our really great backyard.

But with a great backyard (even a fully-fenced one) comes great responsibility.

See, we bought this really cool sandbox for the little one. It's all wood (plastic toys were dethroned, remember?) and it comes with a canopy, so she can get enough sunlight to make her own Vitamin D, but not so much as to cause skin cancer. I really thought I had mitigated all of the potential life-threatening dangers of outdoor sandbox play for our soon-to-be 3-year-old.

Then, I tried to buy sand.

It turns out that the "play sand" sold at your friendly, neighborhood Home Depot is nothing more than a heavy bag of carcinogenic dust. Seriously.

Joking aside, it seems that "play sand" isn't natural sand, but "actually derived from quarried quartz rocks. The dust from such sand is regulated by OSHA and known to cause fatal lung conditions." It contains crystalline silica, a substance the EPA recognizes as a possible carcinogen.

Nonetheless, bagging it and calling it "play sand" is still perfectly legal, unless you do so in California, in which case you must include a warning label on your package which cautions against "cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm." Once you slap that label on it, you're free to cash in.

I hate to be a fear monger, I really do. But how does a Mama read something like that just ignore it? How can I continue blithely along and fill my daughter's sandbox after reading this?

Of course, I cannot. Pandora's sandbox has been opened and the ills of our 21st century world have flown out in a swarm of crystalline silica. I can't fill my kid's sandbox with a bag of junk that an entire state government believes could kill her.

Instead, I dig around for hope.

I found the Safe Sand Company, which promises to sell me "finely gradated and clean play sand" for only around a dollar a pound. They figure it should only take about 200 pounds to fill up my little sandbox. At that rate, I'll need to start charging admission for playdates.

Papa says we should just drive out to our local beach under cover of darkness and fill up a few trash bags. But I'm not convinced that resorting to crime is the way to solve our problem.

Maybe the solution is to return the sandbox to the store and dig a dirt pit in the back yard for her to play in. It's cheap, it's easy, it's totally natural and, presumably, it shouldn't give any of us cancer. It also won't require a part-time job to fund.

I'm still looking for a safe, less expensive alternative to the crushed cancer-causing dust at the hardware store. But if I don't find one by Memorial Day, you may just find us making mud pies in our very own dirt pit.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Not Your Mama's Grilled Cheese

Nothing like a gourmet twist on an old favorite. Try this Grilled Taleggio Arugula Apple sandwich on for size, from the creative and always unexpected Chow Mama.

Speaking of gourmet, Papa and I are celebrating seven years of wedded bliss (or at least wedded-ness) today. He promises me a fancy dinner. If he doesn't deliver, I guess we'll have these four star grilled cheese sandwiches as back up.

Happy Weekend!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cool Mom Picks

Cool Mom Picks has done it again. Their new and improved Mother's Day Gift Guide is out for 2009 and this one is Recessionista-approved.

Like these travel-size bottles of tangerine fragrance by themefragrance, complete with a message of perseverance sure to resonate with any Mama.

The hot Mamas over at Cool Mom Picks even orchestrated discounts for their readers on every item they're featuring, so make sure you check out their guide before you make your purchase! They'll save you money!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Smart Cookies

I love a good story about Mamas who are making a difference, not only in the lives of their children, but in the world. And the latest issue of Cookie magazine highlights seven spectacular and influential Mamas with the energy, vision and commitment to make the world a better place.

The third annual "Smart Cookie" Awards--awards which celebrate the "symbiotic relationship between motherhood and citizenship"-- honor women like Deborah Koenigsberger. Koenigsberger founded Hearts of Gold, a New York City non-profit whose mission is to enhance the lives of New York City's homeless mothers and their children. Assisting this vulnerable population in practical and emotional ways, Hearts of Gold provides immediate assistance in tangible forms. And they also provide hope. Says Koenigsberger, "To the moms I meet, I say, 'This is not your life. This is a moment in your life...You can get past this.'"

Koenigsberger and her sister recipients will inspire you to action. They embody the directive to "Be the change you want to see in the world."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Birds, Bees and Respect

I'm still a few years away from having any of those conversations with the little one, but the time will come soon enough.

In today's New York Times in the "18 and Under" column, Dr. Perri Klass visits this topic and the nuances involved in having this talk with boys. In today's world of sex-on-demand media, parents are probably having this discussion earlier than in generations past. And if they're not, they probably should be.

The swirling images and mixed messages our kids internalize before they reach high-school make this an important topic, and one parents for which parents will compete for "expert" status if they wait too long. But how to handle it? As Dr. Klass puts it, "Somehow, there has to be a way to talk about sex and relationships beyond the anatomical details, and a way to discuss what happens in school and what happens on the cover of People magazine."

Don't miss the article.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Blueberry Girl

The Easter Bunny (E.B. around our house) was quite generous this year, filling baskets to the brim with all kinds of treats, including several new books. One of these books, Blueberry Girl, by Neil Gaiman (of Coraline fame) is my newest favorite.

This book is perfect for girls of any age. (In fact, I might just buy a few to keep on hand for birthdays...) Filled with wishes, wisdom and adventure, Blueberry Girl is not your average children's book. At its heart, it's a kind of blessing.

"Let her tell stories and dance in the rain, somersault, tumble and run/Her joys must be high as her sorrow are deep. Let her grow like a weed in the sun."

The gorgeous illustrations by Charles Vess are like a beautiful map to accompany Gaiman's lyrical journey. It really is the kind of book that sets your heart racing a bit, because you know you've found something special. Here's hoping my own little Blueberry Girl enjoys this book as much as her Mama.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Spring Holiday

We're hosting family for this holiday weekend, Mamas!

Happy Spring! Happy Easter! Zsin Pesach!

See you on Monday...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Wireless Amber Alerts

Recently, I was driving back from a weekend on Long Island. Along the route, I passed several of those highway message signs that alert drivers to traffic and other roadway conditions. On this particular day, every sign I passed displayed a frightening message: Amber Alert! Tune in to local radio for more information.
For close to two hours, from Long Island to Connecticut, I listened to a variety of local radio stations, on both bands, AM and FM. Not once did I hear any information about this Amber Alert or the missing child. It was very frustrating. All I could do was imagine being the parent of that missing child, wondering why the Earth didn't stop spinning on its axis until my child was found.
In fact, I never heard anything more about the case, beyond the initial highway sign announcement. I can only hope that the ending was a happy one.
So, when I found out about the new Wireless Amber Alert system, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice, Syniverse and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, you can bet I signed up right away.
The premise is simple. You sign up online using your cell phone number and submit up to five zip codes for which you would like to receive Amber Alerts. The process takes less than 30 seconds. It's totally free. And you will only receive alerts for the specified zip codes; they do not sell or otherwise distribute numbers to third parties.
It really couldn't be easier. Just imagine, if it were your child, you would want every cell phone in your time zone to buzz with notifications until he or she were back safely in your arms, wouldn't you? Of course. It's a small step that might just generate some big results.
Sign up here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Philosophy of a Joyful Heart

Big stuff going on today, Mamas!

Today is Sexual Assault Awareness Day and in an effort to raise awareness and spread some joy, two of my favorites have teamed up on Facebook.
The generous folks at philosophy are hosting a virtual candle lighting event all day today, April 8, 2009, to benefit The Joyful Heart Foundation and support them in their mission to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse and shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues.

How does it work? Head over here, to philosophy's Facebook notes page and become a fan (if you're not already). Then, leave a comment to light a virtual candle. For a every virtual candle lit, philosophy will donate an amazing grace shower gel to The Joyful Heart Foundation who will then pass on this small comfort to women in need of some kindness: women in domestic violence shelters, emergency rooms, rape crisis programs and other places of refuge.

It is a simple way to support this important cause. It takes almost no time and costs you nothing. And by participating in this event, you will not only assist in bringing tangible comfort to another person, you will also be raising awareness of this important issue that affects all of us.
Thank you in advance for your joyful support!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

How to Make a Difference? It's in the Jeans.

Look what I found on SuzySaid...every Mama's sharp, savvy and extremely well-connected online "galpal." (Yes, I still write for my local edition but that doesn't preclude me from being a fan or from singing their praises. Plus, what I found is really cool.)

Cotton Inc. and National Geographic Kids magazine have teamed up to assist Habitat for Humanity. It's part of Cotton Inc.'s "Cotton. From Blue to Green" initiative which collects used denim and recycles it, turning it into housing insulation for Habitat projects. How does it work? Check out their process.

The kids will have fun with this, too, because while they're helping people in need and being environmentally responsible, they can also work toward setting a world record for Guinness!

This is a terrific way for the whole family to make a difference together (not to mention get your closets cleaned out). Here's how to participate.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Tuscan Style White Beans

My very favorite gourmet Mama recently shared her delicious recipe for Tuscan Style White Beans, a simple and delicious side dish that's also nutritious and cheap! With her approval, I'm sharing it with you, Mamas.

1 lb dried Cannellini beans
4 T fruity extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic - crushed
4-5 fresh sage leaves
3-4 whole peppercorns
salt & pepper to taste

Sort through beans discarding as necessary. Rinse under cold water. Put beans in large earthenware casserole. Cover with cold water & set aside for at least 4 hrs or, preferably, overnight. Drain beans.

Add 12 c. cold water, 2 T oil, garlic, sage & peppercorns. Cover casserole (or pot) & bring to a simmer over medium heat - about 1 hour. Season to taste with salt, reduce heat to med-low & gently simmer, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon until beans are tender & interiors are soft - about 1-2 hrs more.Remove from heat, set aside & allow the beans to cool in the cooking liquid.

To serve, reheat the beans in their liquid over med-low heat, drain them & season with s&p.
Drizzle with remaining 2 T olive oil.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Teachable Moments

Yesterday, I was feeling totally overwhelmed.

I'm catapulting toward a deadline on my biggest project to-date. I've been on my own for child care for more than a week. My house looks like the aftermath of a sample sale. I've been battling a nasty spring cold. I'm absolutely exhausted. And my little one picked yesterday as the perfect time not to nap.

By 3:30 PM, I was feeling, well, deranged.

Then I got a call from a vibrant Mama friend, with a killer sense of humor. "H hasn't napped today. The baby's not sleeping. I'm strung out. Want to come over for an early dinner?"

Ah, the sweet salvation of another mother in the throes of the reality of the job. We were in the car in fifteen minutes.

The kids made a glorious mess of sugar cookie cut outs and sprinkles as my friend and I threw dinner together. Then, the little ones ate, battled each other over toys and, eventually, had total meltdowns which I attributed to total exhaustion. (OK, really, it was only my kid who had a total meltdown.) In the midst of her sleep-deprived mania, my little one smacked her playmate square in the face.

Apart from the gratuitous violence, we had a lovely time, this Mama and I. We commiserated, empathized and laughed. We each sipped a small glass of wine with our early dinner, surrounded by the blissful, frenetic energy of our realities. (Please refrain from indictments: I don't think indulging a half glass of wine over dinner with little ones in the room is worthy of condemnation. Then again, I live on the East Coast.)

After the little one and I got home, she rubbing her red-rimmed eyes, we went through our routine of bath and books. Snuggled on my lap, Winnie-the-Pooh open before us, recounting tales of Heffalumps, my baby looked up at me and said "I feel sad."

"Why do you feel sad, sweet girl?" I asked.

"I feel sad because I hit H," she said.

"But you were sorry," I said, trying to encourage her.


"So next time, you can make a different choice. Next time, you can decide not to hit when you get frustrated, because you will remember that hitting made you sad," I said, trying to embrace the "teachable moment."

She said nothing, turning her attention instead to the Silly Old Bear whose head was stuck inside a Honey Pot.

After I put her to bed, I returned to my work and made significant progress. In fact, I started to feel like I might just accomplish the tasks I've laid out for myself. I felt good. I felt like I could breathe.

The teachable moment for me--for all Mamas, maybe--is to know when to throw up our hands and give in to the marvelous madness of our lives. It isn't always easy, and it's rarely neat, but, if we take the time to stand back and embrace it for what it is, we might be able to breathe a little better, and accomplish a lot more.

Oh, and have a little fun along the way.

Be where you are; otherwise you will miss your life. -- Buddha

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hip To Be Square

I started this week talking about teenagers. And I recently discussed a particular teenager with someone very close to me. He was lamenting the fact that his lovely, intelligent and athletically talented teenage daughter had recently developed a disturbing distaste for learning. It seems that she thinks that learning is kind of, well, uncool.

She's a bright kid, with a lot of aptitude. And I know she's not the first of her kind to shrug off academics as unnecessary. Her father was wondering how to encourage her, how to get her excited about academics and, more importantly, about her own potential.

My advice was to find some younger people she looks up to and see what they have to say about learning and education. The opinions of younger people and people teens already respect and admire carry a lot of weight in adolescence. Remember?

For me, it only took reading that River Phoenix was a vegetarian to change my eating habits for more than a decade. For better or worse, the opinions of peers and role models carry a lot of weight for teens.

Recently, I came across a newish CNN blog, Young People Who Rock. It's basically a weekly interview series, spearheaded by Nicole Lapin. Lapin's focus is on inspirational people under age 30. She introduces them and their stories on her blog and follows up with an on air interview. From skyrocketing drop-out rates to leukemia, the young people Lapin finds have all overcome some difficult hurdles in their young lives and have truly inspirational stories to share. And while education may not be the focus of each story, most of these young people have a lot to teach. And none of them could do the good they do without a healthy respect for knowledge.

Young People Who Rock is worth a read. And while you're at it, pass it on. You never know who you might inspire.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Spring Reading

Most trips to our local library produce a treasure or two, usually in the form of a good book. Yesterday's visit was no exception. We found a spectactular book to usher in this most welcome season: In A Spring Garden, illustrated by the beloved Ezra Jack Keats.

It's a sweet book of sparse Japanese Haiku, celebrating spring, complemented by Keats' vibrant but simple illustrations. Unfortunately, it's out of print, which is really a shame. The silver lining to this cloud is that you can find a used copy online for very, very cheap. Or, you can always ask your local librarian. She or he might just be able to find it for you for free.

Mud by Mary Lyn Ray is another fun spring book we've discovered. Ray celebrates the messier aspects of the season, aided by Lauren Stringer's rich illustrations.

And, from my children's librarian sister-in-law, the bold, colorful celebration of springtime's greatest pastime: Kite Flying, by Grace Lin. This simple story of a family's kite making and flying tradtition comes alive on the pages, kite tails fluttering vibrantly across the pages.