Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Teenage Wasteland

So, while we're on the topic of teens this week, let's examine the current preferred form of communication for kids ages 13 to 18: texting.

Tara Parker-Pope hosted guest blogger Debbe Geiger on her Well blog yesterday. Geiger is a senior media relations officer at Duke University, a New Yorker transplanted to Durham, NC, and mother to a teen daughter and 'tween son. Her credentials for blogging on the topic of teen texting are certainly more serious than mine.

But where technology and teens intersect interests me quite a bit. Actually, most topics that relate to teens interest me, probably because my own teen years were something of a struggle. Memories of my own particular, suburban teenage wasteland are still vivid in my mind. Played out against a backdrop of vast, windowless, locker-lined hallways and late night visits to Denny's, fueled by a plaintive soundtrack packed with alternative angst--The Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode--my teen years lasted a Wagnerian lifetime. Consequently, the idea of coaching my own offspring through these potentially perilous years began consuming my thoughts long before I felt my daughter's heel pushing against my ribcage.

But I digress.

Teens these days view texting as an inalienable right, much the same way my friends viewed having their own phone lines when we were growing up (a luxury I never enjoyed, by the way). It seems that texting is an essential form of communication for the 21st century teen, the absence of which could result in acute ridicule or, worse, irrelevance.

But, as Geiger points out, there are real and present dangers inherent in the largely unpoliced but disturbingly permanent realm of texting, not to mention online communications. Putting the whims of adolescent moods--the slings and arrows of our youth--into permanent, recorded writing is significantly different than complaining into a private phone line or notebook. There are consequences.

Geiger's husband apparently acknowledged these and other risks. He took the dramatic (and decidedly unpopular) step of banning texting from his children's lives. Just like that. Gone. Geiger--and many commenters on the blog--find this decision extreme, not to mention totally uncool.

But just between you and me, I'm totally down with Mr. Geiger.

The ubiquity of technology allows us to give public voice to just about every private thought we think. It's like technological Tourette's. I've seen plenty of people closer to middle age than they are to puberty make public declarations they've surely regretted in the morning. (I recently joined Twitter.) These are people who, by all accounts, should know better. The risks are amplified exponentially as the age of the texter or poster decreases.

I'm not Luddite enough to assert that we raise our children without access to technology. (What kind of hypocrisy would that be, to proclaim such a thought on a blog!) But I do believe that it is our responsibility as parents to manage our children's communications. Growing up, I had a limit on phone time. (And a ban on the private line, remember.) I advocate the same, responsible limitations and communcation management in our new century.

But I'm curious about your opinions. Are any of you dealing with this currently? For those of you who aren't, any thoughts on how you plan to handle it in the future?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Higher Education

The New York Times is publishing a new blog called The Choice: Demystifying College Admissions and Aid. Written by New York Times education writer and author Jacques Steinberg, The Choice offers real insight in an interactive environment. In addition to Steinberg's observations, teens are able to share their experiences navigating the elaborate college admissions landscape. Beyond teens, the blog aspires to become a resource for parents, teachers, administrators and counselors; Steinberg's blog links out to other, useful sites, including sites focusing on financial aid, standardized testing and colleges that fly just under the radar--Colleges that Change Lives.

It's no accident that this blog was unveiled at a time when teens and their families are struggling to make difficult choices about college, choices spurred by a floundering economy and the sacrifices it demands. There's more hand wringing going on this spring than in years past. This year, it isn't just the hope of acceptance that consumes families, it's also the hope that, if accepted, families will find a way to pay tuition for their teens.

Have a college-bound teen in your house? Know someone who does? NPR is also running a week-long series on the recession and how it's affecting the college process.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Playlist

It's Friday, Mamas and I'm ready to celebrate the weekend with a little cookie baking (this recipe for Crispy Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies from the venerable Smitten Kitchen should do nicely) and a whole lot of kitchen dancing.

The little one and I love to dance while we bake. If nothing else, it burns a few extra calories, which is always a good thing in close proximity to baking. The trick is to fill your playlist with totally dancable, kid-friendly tunes.

Mama's Weekend Baking Playlist:

The News--Carbon/Silicon
Walking On Sunshine--Katrina & the Waves
Vacation--The Go Go's
Joy to the World--Three Dog Night
Love is the Seventh Wave--Sting
These Are Days--10,000 Maniacs
Kiss Them for Me--Siouxsie & the Banshees
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic--The Police
Me & Julio Down By the Schoolyard--Paul Simon
Three Little Birds--Bob Marley & the Wailers
My Cherie Amour--Stevie Wonder
Somewhere Over the Rainbow--Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

Have a great weekend, Mamas! And happy dancing!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Where's the Beef?

I'm going to come clean: I spent close to 14 years of my life as a vegetarian.

The whole thing started when I was about 13 years old. I had a wicked crush on River Phoenix and read that he was a vegetarian. That's all it took for me. I forswore meat and spent many years without it, much to my family's chagrin. Early on, I was what I now refer to as a "bread-and-cheese-atarian." I didn't eat meat, it's true. But at age 13, in the late 80's, in Northwest Ohio, I didn't have a meatless Mediterranean diet at my disposal. Suffice it to say that I ate a lot of frozen Stoffer's French Bread cheese pizzas.

Later, specifically after I moved out East, I found that it was easy to find delicious, healthy, meatless dishes. But it was also easy to find really, really delicious meat-centric dishes, especially in New York City. Then, I married a Frenchman, who regarded vegetarianism as an aberration. Say what you want about the French, but they are epicureans all.

Though I ultimately went back to my carnivorous roots, I did so in moderation. To this day, I'm not an avid meat-eater. And I believe this is beneficial to my health. (As recently as a few weeks ago, my cholesterol clocked in at [REDACTED]**.)

New evidence shows that low-meat diets are, in fact, healthier than diets heavy in meat, specifically red meat--a claim my French husband disbelieves. But the proof is in the (meatless) pudding.

Tara Parker-Pope examines this topic on her New York Times Well blog. Aside from imparting the benefits to the body and the planet that consuming less meat offers, she also highlights some delicious-sounding recipes that are light on meat, including a chicken and biscuit pot pie. This one sounds so good, I think I'll try it on my Frenchie.

**This has been edited to appease my father.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Atsuyo et Akiko

I'm not sure how I wandered over to Atsuyo et Akiko the first time (DesignMom, maybe?), but I sure am glad I found this little online atelier. Pretty things for your girls, your boys and your babies.

See?






Tuesday, March 24, 2009

MADE

The issue of teen dating violence has gotten considerable attention in recent weeks, due to the abuse Rihanna suffered allegedly at the hands of her boyfriend, Chris Brown. This is a topic I wrote about recently as well.
Through some work I'm doing, I recently became acquainted with a truly stellar initiative, MADE--Moms and Dads for Education to Stop Teen Dating Abuse. MADE is an offshoot of the groundbreaking Love Is Not Abuse program for teens, started by Liz Claiborne, Inc. in 1991.
MADE is dedicated to bringing this issue into the light, ensuring that kids all over the country have "the education and resources available to maintain healthy relationships, free from abuse and violence." The folks at MADE are dedicated, organized and really pretty hip. They're even on Facebook.
As parents we must make a conscious decision to talk to our kids about healthy relationships--about what behavior is and is not OK. And we're not doing anyone any favors if we only have these conversations with our daughters. At a loss for how to start this conversation? They've got some tips on that, too

Monday, March 23, 2009

Peace Love Mom

You've got to love those little gems that land in your in box, no? That's how I found my new favorite Mama-based company, Peace Love Mom. By Mamas, for Mamas, their stuff is cute, cozy and--of course--practical. Oh, and seriously groovy.



Friday, March 20, 2009

The Rite of Spring

So it's the first day of Spring. The Vernal Equinox. The death of Winter, the rebirth of life and all things warm. And I was so into it. We've been waiting for months to be liberated from the icy shackles of this, the Longest Winter Ever.

To mark this most anticipated of days, I'd prepared a blog post on gardening, the uber-chic pastime of 2009--even the Obamas are doing it. I was prepared to expound on the therapeutic benefits of reconnecting with the earth, of cultivating life, and of nourishing your family in a more natural and holistic way. Yes, I was going to blog at length about these things today.

Then, I looked out my window to see that it is snowing. Big, fluffy, white, "I'm-not-ceding-the-season-yet!" flakes are tumbling down on the other side of my window pane. (Though at present, they don't appear to be sticking. I will take this as proof of God's mercy.)

So now I'm kind of too bummed out to pontificate on the joys of Springtime gardening. I will, however, share some good gardening resources with you.

The National Gardening Association. Seed swaps, pest control advice and how-to videos. One-stop shopping for the expert and the novice alike.

Second Nature, by Michael Pollan, a self-proclaimed "child of Thoreau." This book inspires the gardener trapped inside.

Daffodil Planter, gardening with a sense of humor.
The Edible Schoolyard, by famed organic chef Alice Waters. Read this book and get inspired to suggest changes at school, too.

Any gardening resources you like, Mamas? Please share!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Good News, Mamas!


Yesterday on NPR's All Things Considered, shared letters from listeners made it clear that many of us have had it up to here with the perpetual stream of bad news pouring out of most media outlets these days. Seriously. Enough with the Chicken Little routine, already!

GNN isn't a website filled with "inspirational" quotes or pictures of waterfalls. Founded by Geri Weis-Corbley--a former CNN staffer--the GNN is a website that posts real news stories with a positive bent. GNN's stories will put a smile on your face without making you roll your eyes. It's all real news, it's just all good. How weird is that?
Apparently, there's enough good news out there to fill up a whole website, even these days. That's good news, indeed.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Top O' the Mornin'

Take some time out from hunting for that pot of gold today to check out some of these fun books at your local library. Erin go bragh!
This is Ireland by M. Saesek.




The King with Horse's Ears and Other Irish Folktales retold by Batt Burns and fantastically illustrated by Igor Oleynikov.


Fin M'Coul the Giant of Knockmany Hill by Tomie de Paola.

May the road rise to meet you today, Mamas! Have fun exploring the Emerald Isle.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Peanut Allergy Treatment?

Great news for children who suffer from peanut allergies--and for their parents: The American Academy of Allergy has found potentially effective treatment. Tara Parker-Pope reported in her Well blog yesterday that "two new studies...raise the possibility of a cure for this potentially life-threatening condition."

As many of us know--or have heard--nut allergies are fairly common. There are over 3 million sufferers in the U.S. alone.

The treatment researchers worked with involved developing a tolerance to peanuts, over a prolonged period of time and while under intense medical supervision. (That's right Mamas, you shouldn't try this at home.)

Dr. Wesley Burks, chief of the division of pediatric allergy and immunology at Duke University Medical Center and researcher in this study, said that there are plans to continue and expand the study over the next few years. The hope, of course, is to find a cure.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Blissful Spring

It's Friday. The weather is Spring-ish. I thought I'd celebrate with a peek at of my favorite Mama Photographer's photography.


This gorgeous print is entitled "more." Like it? Me too. Want to see more? Head over to her newest Etsy shop, blissful images too.

And while you're falling head over heels in love, check out her blog, too.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

He Will Hit You Again

"If a man hits you once, he will hit you again."

Those were Oprah's words to the embattled Rihanna who was abused--alright, allegedly abused--by her boyfriend, singer Chris Brown, last month. Oprah is dedicating today's show to the current epidemic of intimate partner violence.

Why does it matter? And why am I blogging about it here?

The issue of violence against women is one that is dear to me, for myriad reasons. I worked for years in NYC emergency rooms, in conjunction with a non-profit agency, bearing witness to the very real, very disfiguring results of sexual and domestic violence.

This violence is raging in our schools, in our comfortable neighborhoods, on our college campuses and in our housing projects. It crosses every single socio-economic barrier that we have ever envisioned. It ravages the mind, the body and the spirit. And it currently exists at epidemic proportions.

You don't even have to take my word for it. The Bureau of Justice reports that "on average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day." A study commissioned by Liz Claiborne's Love Is Not Abuse initiative found that 1 in 3 teens report knowing "a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, slapped, choked or physically hurt by his/her partner." These statistics are available here, at the National Domestic Violence Hotline Website. They make me wince. And then, they make me angry.

As I mentioned, today, Oprah is dedicating her show to this topic, because of teenage Rihanna's recent ordeal. Oprah calls this a "huge teachable moment for our young women and men." And I'm inclined to agree with her, a rare occurrence to be sure.

No one can know how Rihanna's very public ordeal will turn out for her. But the rest of us can take notice. This is not a private issue. It is a public one. If you know five women, you know at least one person who has experienced sexual or domestic violence.

When we shine light on this monster that thrives in darkness, we help those who have experienced this particular kind of terror to heal. We help strip away the layers of guilt and fear and shame. We must continue to illuminate this violence and call it by it's name; we must not turn away. By talking about it to one another, by educating ourselves and by beginning to put the focus where it belongs, we facilitate change. Instead of asking, "Why does she stay with him?" perhaps we should start asking "Why does he beat someone he professes to love?"

Essential resources:

National Domestic Violence Hotline
Love Is Not Abuse
Rainn.org
Safe Horizon
Joyful Heart

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Black Bean Enchiladas

I might be a girl born from the frigid wasteland of Northwest Ohio, but I love nothing so much as a serious, authentic Mexican meal. Enter the Black Bean Enchilada. Cheap, easy, delicious.

This recipe from Martha Rose Shulman over at the New York Times has initiated a Pavlovian response on my part. I truly cannot wait to try this dish. Guess what's for dinner tonight at our house!

Photo credit Andrew Scrivani New York Times

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Daughters.com

I guarantee that at the onset of my 'tween years (back then, we called it puberty) my mother would have much appreciated the link that was waiting for me in my in box this morning.

Nancy Gruver, girl champion and founder of New Moon Media, is now running the site Daughters.com. Daughters.com is a hub of information, articles, advice and relevant blogs all focused on the unique challenges and celebrations that come to those of us charged with raising today's girls.

Upbeat but realistic (read: not Pollyanna-ish), Daughters.com aims to help caregivers of girls encourage them to soar in their own skin and to find their own voices, all while dealing with the sense of weirdness and disorientation that can come from so many physical and social changes occurring in such a short span of time.

Daughters.com is a must for any Mama of a little lady. A companion and a guide, this site is more thorough than any Judy Blume novel we ever had to hide from our mothers. Come to think of it, I kind of wish my mother had had this site as a resource, too.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Right From Wrong

It's easy to know when my Little One has had enough of amusing herself after breakfast while I get a bit of work done: She'll walk over to my chair, look me in the eye, and hit my arm. She knows that hitting is wrong, it's plain from the defiant look on her face. But she does it anyway.

The vast majority of the time, she's a good, gentle kid. But she is still a kid. And this moral compass thing apparently takes a while to develop. According to an NPR report this morning, morality begins to develop as early as age 2, though it doesn't solidify for years. Essentially, as the report explains, the inner struggle at this age is one between the "happy victimizer effect"--it feels good when I get the toy that I want by taking it from you--and empathy--it feels bad when someone takes away a toy from me, so if I take away a toy from you, I will make you feel bad. Even at the young age of 4, children exhibit knowledge of the difference between moral rules and social rules, and they seem to grasp the more profound nature of moral rules.

For instance, when a class of preschoolers was asked if there were no rule against hitting in their school, would it then be alright for them to hit other children. The kids said no, because hitting hurts, and hurting others isn't OK.

Psychologist Judy Smetana explains that "the task of a young child's development is to coordinate the perspectives of the victim and the transgressor, and weight it to the way the victim feels."

Listen to the whole report here.

I'd better go, before I get another whack in the arm.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Life in Plastic...It's Fantastic!

A million years ago, when I was a struggling actor, I took all kinds of jobs. Many were strange, some embarrassing. But I always figured my myriad odd jobs would make good fodder for when I was working the late night talk show circuit, promoting my Oscar-nominated film.

Ahem.

This morning while listening to Morning Edition, I was reminded of perhaps one of my strangest jobs; for one spring and summer, I was contracted to do personal appearances as Barbie. Toy stores, toy fairs, Wal-Marts, my stage was anywhere Mattel might market their mightiest merchandise.

I vividly remember my agent calling me, his voice taut, excited and totally upbeat, speaking in the way only agents and used car salesmen do: "I've got the greatest job for you," he promised.

A week later, I found myself poking out of the center of yards of poorly-fitted pink taffeta, a Miss America-style sash slung across my chest, proclaiming my temporary identity: Barbie! My direction was simple, but specific: Smile at the throngs of little girls who would bunch at my knees in undulating waves of bubble-gum scented enthusiasm, and sign autographs with a pink permanent marker. (Yes, I practiced the signature so that it matched the logo.) Apart from the pink taffeta, I felt like one of the Beatles.

"Where's Ken?" was the most common question posed to me.

"Where's your car?" was a close second.

"Do you really have an elevator in your house?" was my personal favorite.

Other than the occasional leering dad, it wasn't the worst way to make 12 bucks an hour, even if I did have to stuff the front of the dress to appear--um--authentic.

At the end of a four or five hour shift, I'd shove my cotton-candy clad self into some little washroom to change, reverse super-hero style. Then, baseball cap pulled low, I'd sneak out a squeaky, shadowed back door, out of the view of little girls and leering dads alike, maintaining the illusion for everyone.

As I said, it was Morning Edition's story today that brought all this back for me. The story was about a life-size House of Barbie that Mattel is opening in Shanghai, in honor of Barbie's 50th birthday. The six-floor, "hot pink shrine" is filled with Barbie-inspired fashion boutiques, a spa and a cocktail lounge, serving--what else?--Barbietinis. Modeled on such a larger-than-life personality, perhaps the only surprising aspect of the House of Barbie is that it took 50 years for someone to build it.

Putting on her mantle--sash?--was, for me, something of an embarrassment. Hadn't I--with my theater degree and hours invested studying Shakespeare, Chekov, Mamet--progressed farther than so many layers of pink taffeta? But if I'm totally, honest, it was also a strange kind of honor. To step into the impossibly tiny shoes of such an enormous personality well, isn't that a large part of what acting is all about? (Hey, that kind of thinking made the sore feet and inappropriate looks from dads a little easier to bear.)

My conflicting emotions over Barbie will likely remain so, even as my own daughter discovers the blonde bombshell who, in 2000, conquered the Oval Office--as Commander in Chief, not salacious intern.


And so, Barbie, I wish you a very happy birthday. 50 never looked so...tightly-moulded. I raise a Barbitini to you and all you've accomplished, even as I hope you spend the next 50 years breaking through some real glass ceilings, instead of building more glass houses, pink or otherwise.



Photos by Louisa Lim/NPR


Thursday, March 5, 2009

TV Won't Make Your Baby an Einstein

Today, CNN reports that this week the journal Pediatrics has released a study that disproves claims that television and so-called educational DVDs can actually make children smarter.


Experts from Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital in Boston conducted the study, which monitored more than 800 children from birth to age 3. The authors of this study wrote: "Contrary to parents' perceptions that TV viewing is beneficial to their children's brain development, we found no evidence of cognitive benefit from watching TV during the first two years of life." (Emphasis added)


This is not the first study to come to this conclusion, and it will likely not be the last. The American Academy of Pediatrics has, for years, recommended no screen media for children under the age of 2. While the children's health community maintains nuanced opinions on whether or not watching television is actually harmful to children, they remain in steadfast agreement that watching television or DVDs--no matter how educational the marketers would have you believe the product is--offers no benefit to children whatsoever. Indeed, pediatrician Dr. Michael Rich, one of the authors of this most recent study and the Director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital , points out that these media forms actually "steal time from much more productive cognitive developmental activities."


Rich, goes on to caution that regular time in front of screen media actually "teach[es] 4-or 5-or 6-month-olds how to watch TV." He points out that this early encouragement of sedentary behavior, coupled with prolonged and repeated exposure to commercials that market unhealthy snack foods, are predictors of childhood obesity, just one of the issues many experts link to early and over-exposure to television.


While this study is not an indictment of parents who mindfully use television to occasionally occupy a child, it should be taken as a call to awareness. So much of our lives revolve around screens--our computers, televisions and other media--that we don't always realize how much time and credence we give to the unending flow of images and ideas inundating our minds. And we often forget that these images and ideas ultimately emanate from people who want to sell us something.


Other resources highlighting the intersection of childhood and television:


The American Academy of Pediatrics Smart Guide to Kids' TV
Dr. Spock
NeuroPsychiatry Review
KidsHealth
Unplug Your Kids

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chow Mama

Another week, another favorite food blog! The delectable ChowMama is a daily food blog, packed with creative, kid-friendly recipes and nutrition tips. Complete with cleverly written anecdotes featuring a whole host of characters (most often ChowPapa and the ChowKids), this blog is a well-balanced meal of information and great recipes, served up with a generous portion of humor.

Parents after my own heart (stomach?), these ChowParents have dedicated their blog--and, it would seem, considerable effort--to cultivating healthy, adventurous eating habits in their family. Lucky for the rest of us, they've decided to share.

Some recipes I can't wait to try:

ChowMama's Lemon Fennel Shortbread Cookies

Turkey Black Bean Chili

Lemon Caper Butter--with fish

Greek Style Rice Pudding--seriously, this couldn't sound more delicious

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Commissioned Art

Have a kid? One who likes to draw?

Then Pier 1 has a contest for you. They're looking for the next big thing in the art world, from the 14 and under crowd.

Submit your best holiday drawing by March 6 and it could be featured as one of this year's UNICEF holiday greeting cards sold at Pier 1. The winner will receive a $5,000 scholarship and $500 worth of art supplies.

All the details are right here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Vinyasa Mama

In a former life, I was a yoga goddess.

OK, I was in my own mind, at least. I practiced several times a week, over the period of several years, with a couple of teachers I adored, a Vinyasa teacher in particular. I looked forward to these classes, to the feeling of being grounded and centered and strong. These classes were the ultimate "me" time.

Now, my "me" time usually consists of sneaking into the bathroom to pee, hoping no one notices.

Lately, this doesn't feel like quite enough time alone.

I've been promising myself since my little one was about 6 weeks old that I would get back to yoga. And I have. Many times. Then, inevitably, some scheduling issue would knock me out of the routine and I'd be back to my meditative moments in the powder room.

But no more! I have found a fabulous--and cost effective--alternative to the scheduling headaches my relaxation has caused me in the past: a bona fide, real deal, truly tremendous yoga DVD by Seane Corn.

Wait! Before you decide I can't possibly know what I'm talking about if I'm recommending a DVD to practice yoga, let me assure you that Seane is an accomplished, talented and deeply spiritual teacher. Her DVDs take you through mindful, challenging Vinyasa flow. No incense, no wind chimes, no gurgling fountains. Just yoga, pure and simple.

Whether you're a curious beginner or an accomplished yogi, you will find something peaceful and powerful within Seane's DVDs. And this is certainly more than I can say for my powder room.