Friday, November 28, 2008

This Ain't No Butterball

Though this wasn't Violet's first Thanksgiving, it was the first time she got to partake of the food that defines the occasion. So we put extra care into the menu this year, particularly with respect to the centerpiece of the meal: the turkey.

Turkey breeds (and breeding) are not a subject I'd put much thought into until I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle this summer. An account of Kingsolver's own family's year of living as "locavores," the book brought ideas about eating locally - and more specifically, eating heritage and heirloom varieties of local produce and livestock - into the sphere of my interest in healthy eating. Starting with our T-day turkey.

The turkey on the typical American Thanksgiving table is a Broadbreasted White turkey. If you're not familiar with the Broadbreasted White (I wasn't), it's a type of turkey bred specifically to get really big, really fast. So big that, if it weren't slaughtered before it was one year old, its legs would collapse under the weight of its disproportionately large breast. Breeders of Broadbreasted Whites breed not only for this deformity, but also for complete docility (they're too heavy to fly, and a less placid bird might be frustrated by this inability) and sadly, stupidity. Ignorance is bliss, right? These turkeys are so stupid they've been reported to drown when looking up too long when it's raining. Their ridiculous size and absolute idiocy prevent them from being capable of breeding themselves, so they must be artificially inseminated and the hatchlings raised in incubators.

Ew. Nothing about that sounds natural. There are alternatives, but not many . . . and if they aren't supported, not for long. Already 99 percent of the 400 million turkeys Americans consume each year are Broadbreasted Whites. We wanted to find a local farmer raising a more natural breed of turkey in a natural, pastured setting rather than a cage. Enter Jack, at Homegrown Poultry in New Plymouth, Idaho.

I reached Jack through a contact I met at our Saturday Farmer's Market, and he had just what I was looking for - an Heirloom Bronze turkey, bred without test tubes and raised by an actual turkey in an actual pasture (until it could fly out of said pasture and required retrieval from the neighbor's several times a week). Purchasing our Thanksgiving bird from Jack served several purposes: supporting a local farmer, preserving a heritage breed, and providing a pasture-raised, organic turkey for our daughter's first Thanksgiving.

Violet very much enjoyed Jack's turkey along with stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, green beans and carrots; she polished off a healthy portion of each, and was ready for seconds. We offered her a taste of both pumpkin and chocolate pie for dessert, and true to form, she turned up her nose at both. The rest of the crowd was less discriminating with respect to the sweets but also seemed satisfied with the bird. More gamebird than corn-fed couch potato, it was chewier than our traditional turkey, but still moist and even more flavorful. We'll be back, Jack!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

Four-legged Family Tree

My parents lost their beloved cat, Stewball, to kidney failure this past weekend. Though we haven’t lived under the same roof for more than 10 years, Stewball and his sister Puff hold a special place in my personal pet history. They weren’t the first strays I brought home - my apologies, again, Dad, for the flea-infested spaniel I invited into your back seat . . . oh, and the sodden shepard I schlepped across the state, also in your back seat - but they were the first who stayed.

They weren’t the first pets I ever kept, of course. I had a caterpillar (for about 4 hours), goldfish and guinea pigs and other small mammals. But I longed for a dog. Also a cat. Unfortunately, my father was violently allergic to both. Moving beyond companions that require caging looked unlikely, until the third grade, when desperation drove me to threaten to kill myself if we didn’t get a dog. That move scored me a border collie mix (Tippy) and a shrink (Dr. Schwartz). My parents were relieved when Dr. Schwartz assured them I wasn't actually suicidal, I just REALLY wanted a dog.

I should have been satisfied. But I REALLY wanted a cat, too. I indulged many of my animal loving impulses volunteering with animal rescue groups and working as a kennel attendant (aka pooper scooper) at a veterinary hosiptal. When two tiny kittens were abandoned there, I should have enjoyed them on the clock, leaving them available for adoption by any one of the many families who are always looking for tiny kittens. Instead, I brought them home and hid them in my closet.

At sixteen, I wasn't quite naive enough to believe my parents wouldn't notice. I just needed my mom - a lifelong cat lover who hadn't owned one since marrying my dad - to notice them first. This scheme was a grand success.: my dad was no match for my mom, my sister, me, and two tiny kittens. We named them Stewball and Puff, after the Peter, Paul and Mary songs he used to sing to us every night when we were smaller.

Stewball was most attached to my parents, and Puff to my sister, Kristin, so when I headed off to college the cats stayed at home. (Puff and Kristin have stayed together through Kristin's many moves since.) Once out on my own, I was finally free to accumulate animals without restriction. I started with Elliott, a Rhodesian Ridgeback who slept in my bed and shared my ice cream for several years.

Elliott and I shared a small duplex with a Chihuahua mix named Charles for awhile,

After finding a forever home for Charles, we welcomed Tiberius, a Rottweiler mix, for a few months.

My best friend Ginger and her cat, Jack, shacked up with us for a stretch.

Once I learned that Elliott adored cats, I adopted Rourke.

While in college, I continued to work at vet hospitals, which made aquiring new animals all too easy. Rourke was soon joined by Seymour.

And then Keller.

With Elliott finally past puppyhood, I was ready to add another dog to the menagerie, and brought home Romney, my first Dane. Although he'd gotten along well with other dogs until then, once Elliott determined Romney wasn't temporary, he became increasingly aggresive. Despite months of work with a dog trainer to overcome some dangerous issues, I couldn't bring him around. Romney already had a number of health problems, and so wasn't a good candidate for rehoming. Eventually I placed Elliott with another family with the stipulation that he remain an only dog; he thrived with them. Romney never seemed to mind sharing me or our home with an unfamiliar furry face, so after Elliott left us, I signed up to foster through the animal shelter and another local rescue group, and we became something of a revolving-door pet hostel.

First, we fostered Ezra.

And Ezra's sister, Kiri.

Then Sophie,

and her six puppies:

Emmett,Linus,Roscoe,Emma,and Gus.

We fostered for friends, too. Eli, a bullmastiff, who looked like a short, stumpy version of Romney.

And Willow, a husky/wolf mix who loved nothing more than to wake me in the morning by laying his cat litter-matted muzzle on my pillow.

It was a fur-filled few years (at one point I lived with 3 adult dogs, 6 puppies, and 5 cats in 1100 square feet).Other foster animals who weren't with us as long - Annie, the Dobie mix; Bob, the Pit Bull; and Ubu, the cat who never came out from under the bed - didn't make it into the family album, but they all left their mark on my heart.

Eric and I met in the midst of all this, and his embrace of my menagerie of mutts made me love him all the more. Eventually, after graduating from law school, getting married, and moving across the country, we settled down with our permanent pooch, Romney, and two cats.


and Anthem.

About four years ago, we decided it was time to liven things up again and Atticus (aka "The Monkey") joined our family. Romney patiently endured Atticus' puppyhood, shielding us from the worst of razor-sharp puppy teeth and playful swipes of paw. He was a magnificant friend to our whole family, the gentlest of giants. We lost him to liver cancer three years ago, and we still miss him every day.

These days, our house feels full with one busy toddler, two clingy cats, and one very needy Great Dane. Fortunately, they all get along exceptionally well. Violet understood "gentle touches" early on, and she lavishes the animals with them. She and Anthem adore each other; whenever we're nursing in the same room he's in, he'll lie down beside her or at her feet, and she'll reach out and stroke him while she nurses. She's become quite attached to Atticus recently, too, and now must go and say goodbye to him each morning before we leave (he doesn't get out of bed until much later). Though even just three pets can border on chaotic when compounded by a kid, it's absolutely worth it to watch them with her. Now to remind myself of that the next time the dog slobbers on her dinner tray . . .

In memory of Stewball, 1991-2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

Think About It

The decisions we make for our daughter today may affect her for a lifetime in more ways than one, which, in my opinion, makes them some of the most important and far-reaching we will ever be faced with. And yet, it seems that many people are willing to put more time into researching vacation destinations or what car to buy than into questions like what to feed their children (and why) or whether or not to vaccinate them, and if so how (selectively? delayed? or according to the standard schedule?).

It’s easy to defer to other people with some authority – real or perceived – especially on such intimidating subjects. The pediatrician, the self-proclaimed “expert” author of a popular book, or even our parents might offer an easy answer. Certainly following their advice is convenient, and provides a sense of assurance that we made the “right” choice. But while other people can contribute valuable information to the analysis, ultimately the responsibility for decisions made for our daughter rests with me and my husband. It’s a responsibility we take seriously, and not one we’re willing to delegate.

That parenting should be a conscious and thoughtful process is very much a part of the AP philosophy. Every child is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will work for each of them. Accordingly, the principles of attachment parenting don’t prescribe specific techniques or conclusions for most issues parents must consider, but rather reminds them to educate themselves and make informed choices about what’s best for their children instead of simply accepting conventional parenting practices without question. My best AP friend and I may have ultimately made different decisions about which vaccinations our kids would receive - or whether they’d receive them at all - but both were made after careful consideration of our individual children and circumstances and with all the information we could reasonably collect. What’s important is not necessarily the final determination, but the thoughtful inquiry and awareness that led to it.

My husband and have been accused of over-thinking many of the decisions we make for our daughter; I’ve been known to plow through several sources on a subject before I’m ready to settle on a course of action (my personal parenting library definitely reflects which issues I struggle with the most). It’s been pointed out to me that “not everyone reads as much as you do.” True. But we’re not talking about curling up with a glass of wine and a good novel here. We’re talking about the choices we’re making for our child. Shouldn’t those merit a certain amount of attention from parents?

Originally posted at API Speaks, November 10, 2008.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pinot Noir and the Pillsbury Dough Boy

What could those two things possibly have in common? You'll find them both in my answers to The Favourite Meme Annie at Phd in Parenting tagged me with this weekend!

THE FAVOURITE MEME. Fill in your favourite for each of the following:

1. Political show Countdown with Keith Olbermann - love his scathing Special Comments.

2. Picnic food Heavenly Apricot Cobbler Bars.

3. Mixed drink Mixed drinks aren’t really my thing, but you can hardly go wrong putting something yummy like Bailey’s in coffee. That’s a mixed drink, right?

4. U.S. President Is it too soon to say Obama?

5. Kind of student to teach The kind who genuinely wants to learn about what you’re teaching.

6. Hobby you do or wish you still did Photography. Exhibit A:

7. Sports commentator I’m going to go with Keith Olbermann, even though he isn’t a sports commentator anymore, because he used to be and he’s the only sports commentator I know of. I don’t watch sports at all. Not even the Olympics. Just doesn’t do a thing for me.

8. Sport to watch on TV See above.

9. Animal to have as a pet Despite how needy our Dane is, I have to say dog. But cats run a close second.

10. Halloween costume you have worn The Pillsbury dough boy!

11. Kind of dessert Gotta be creme brulee.

12. Comic strip Wow, I haven’t read a comic strip in years and years. When I was a kid, my Grandma bought me every Garfield book that ever came out, and I loved those. Garfield it is.

13. Style or make of footwear Ugg boots. So cozy.

14. Ice cream flavor Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Almond Nougat. Yum.

15. College or university president It’s probably best if I refrain from answering this one. I read Dooce, you know.

16. Internet news source MSNBC.

17. Vacation spot Charlotteville, Tobago.

18. Wine Anything red will do, but I’m partial to Pinot Noir.

19. Way to waste time instead of working I have to agree with Annie, I don’t believe that time spent not working is time wasted. But I do enjoy “wasting time” curled up on the couch with Eric, watching a good episode of Criminal Minds.

20. Student excuse for late work Sounds like this Meme started in somewhere in education! I’ve never had any students, but my favorite excuse for late work from staff would have to be “I had a baby!”

21. Reality show Top Chef! A new season just started last week and we’re stoked.

22. Jewelry on a man His wedding band (my husband’s, anyway).

23. Pizza topping Spinach, artichokes, mushrooms, olives and pepperoncinis.

24. Children’s movie I have loved Escape from Witch Mountain ever since I was little. I watched it again last year, and it’s as good as I remembered. The Black Stallion, not so much.

25. Celebrity you wish would retire Sarah Palin. Please.

Now it's my turn to tag some fellow parenting bloggers! Jolene, Scylla, I'm passing this Meme torch to you two.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Celebrate Babywearing! International Babywearing Week

November 12 – 18 is the first annual International Babywearing Week – what better time to tout the benefits of babywearing? People in all sorts of cultures have worn babies for centuries. It’s a rewarding practice, for both kids and caregivers, not just emotionally but practically; without my Hug-A-Bub wrap carrier and Rockin’ Baby pouch, I might never have gotten out of the recliner the first few months of Violet’s life.

Babies thrive on closeness and human contact, and many are distressed without it. “Babywearing” – carrying your baby next to your body in some sort of cloth carrier – can be a tremendous source of comfort to a newborn. A baby carrier mimics the womb in many ways; rhythmic sounds like the wearer’s heartbeat and breath echo the baby’s experience in utero, and the gentle motion of the wearer’s walking feels just like old times. Going for a walk wearing Violet never failed to lull her to sleep in the early days. Even now, she’ll succumb if she’s tired and we’ve been walking awhile.

Sure, there are other accessories available for containing your kid or toting her around. But a cloth carrier keeps your baby close to you, instead of at arm’s length. I’m not sure when the Western notion that babies should be content to be left lying alone - whether in a crib, a swing, or a bouncer - 75% of their infancy became so commonly and casually accepted, but I’ve got to admit I don’t agree with it. (Neither does most of the rest of the world.) More importantly, that wasn’t what my baby needed, and she wasn’t afraid to tell me so. Violet protested pretty much any time she wasn’t in someone’s arms, so it was fortunate we were enthusiastic about wearing her; I had our coat rack covered with a wrap, 2 pouches and a ring sling even before she was born. She was in the Hotsling just hours after we brought her home, where she snoozed in a cradlehold while I tried to keep crumbs from our favorite pizza off of her forehead.

In addition to calming her in infancy, wearing Violet has allowed us to share so much with her. In a carrier, she can watch whatever we’re doing and we can interact easily. Recently, she rode in the ring sling as we browsed the farmer’s market, and her position on my hip allowed her to see so much more than she could have seen through the legs of all the other locals out that Saturday morning had she been in a stroller (it was much easier for me to maneuver, as well). It also gave us a much better opportunity to snuggle as we shopped, pointing out fruits and vegetables and anything else that caught our eyes. Because she can walk now, she spends less time in a carrier, but I look forward to wearing her on occasion for some time to come. We’ve got a Connecta carrier I’m looking forward to using for back carries with our Peekaru this winter!

As good as I believe babywearing has been for Violet, I feel compelled to point out that the benefits of babywearing aren’t all baby’s – for the parent, babywearing can provide you a great way to carry your baby (or toddler!) without wearing out your arms and wrecking the rest of your body because the carrier supports the baby’s weight and distributes it more evenly (something my neck, shoulders, and back were always grateful for). Even better, babywearing allows you to keep your baby close, but your hands free. Much can be accomplished while wearing a baby, from catching up on emails to cooking dinner!

For those interested in, and perhaps unfamiliar with, babywearing, is a fantastic resource (a permanent link can be found in the left sidebar). And if you’re patient, I’m planning to share more about specific types and brands of carriers we’ve tried in future posts. Happy International Babywearing Week!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Don't Forget to Vote!

No, this post isn't going up a week too late. The election may be over, but the API Attachment Parenting Month Photo and Essay contest polls are open until November 30. In the spirit of AP Month this October, I entered both. My photo (the shot of Eric and Violet at a wedding in September, above) wasn't selected as a finalist, but my essay is in the running. (I'll give you a hint: it's Essay #1.) Cast a vote for your favorite photo and essay on the theme "Giving Our Children Presence" here!

I've decided that though my photo submission for the contest may not have made it to the final four, I like it enough that a copy is going to go up in my office soon. While you're voting, how about helping me decide which version: the original color, or black and white? Leave your vote in the comments below.

Friday, November 07, 2008


This has certainly been the week for it! Some of it seemed to come more easily than expected: Obama’s win was announced while Eric was upstairs soothing a stirring Violet back to sleep - we hadn’t even finished dinner yet! After bracing ourselves for a night of nail-biting, it was almost anticlimactic. (The announcement, that is. The event itself was - and will remain - monumental on so many levels.)

But even before America elected its first black president, our baby girl was going through some big changes of her own. Monday morning was Violet's first day at her new daycare. The daycare she’d attended since I returned to work, Serenity Infant Care, is a small program providing care, as its name suggests, expressly to infants. At 15 months old and officially toddling, Violet was ready to move on to Toddler Care.

We’d heard amazing things from other parents about the place we had decided on and we were impressed with the program and providers on our initial visits, so Eric and I were excited for Violet to get started. But it was a bittersweet anticipation. After a year of attendance at Serenity, Violet and I were both pretty attached to its owner, Hayley, as well as the other little ones she’d spent so much time with.

A coworker with a six month old at home mentioned to me this week that his stay-at-home wife "couldn't imagine leaving her baby with a stranger." I know what she meant, and I'm sure not having experienced anything other than being at home with her baby, that must be how she imagines childcare. But fresh from a tearful goodbye from Hayley, I told him that our daycare provider had hardly been a stranger.

Maybe it was the unusual amount of time I was able to spend at Serenity with Violet that made me feel at home with Hayley. For the first few months, Violet refused to take my milk in a bottle from anyone, so I spent every lunch hour nursing her there at Serenity, hanging out with Violet and Hayley, Hayley's staff, and the other kids who kept them company. Even after Hayley’s patient persistence had eased Violet into eating for others, I found myself lingering there often. It was just a comfortable place to be.

But even more than the environment she has created (somehow 12 infants in fairly close quarters really can be serene), watching Hayley with Violet, and the other babies in her care, was a constant reassurance. She moves among them with a peaceful grace, responding to sniffles with snuggles, basking in babies like no one else I’ve ever observed. That she loved Violet was evident every time Hayley wrapped her arms around her, which made it all the harder to take Violet to anyone else, even though we all agreed she was ready.

Before Violet was scheduled to begin attending the toddler program, we spent several afternoons there with her introducing her to new caregivers, new friends, and a new setting. She was excited to explore it all, and became comfortable with the owner surprisingly quickly. Monday morning, Violet and I showed up for her first day. Shortly after we arrived she ventured away from me to check out a basket of blocks, and proceeded to make herself at home, checking out puzzles and the play kitchen. I hung back, letting her get familiar with things on her own, but happy to hand out hugs every time she swung my way. She was happy with this arrangement until it was time for me to go, and her to join her new contemporaries for breakfast. I gave her kisses and hugs, and settled her into Shana's arms before I left. She was crying as I closed the door; it took all my self-restraint not to rush back to her. I stopped just outside the door, waiting to hear her to stop. It didn't take long - less than a minute - but every parent knows than when your baby is crying, one minute can feel like a lifetime. Of course I called several times that day, and each time Violet's caregivers assured me that she was actually enjoying herself. I was relieved to see that with my own eyes when I arrived to pick her up . . . but of course I didn't mind when she dropped her snack as soon as she saw me and came running.

It's going to take some getting used to - for all of us - but overall, Violet's first week at EFTC seemed to go well. My departure is still a pretty traumatic experience for both of us, but she recovers quickly. She's already pretty attached to the primary provider, and warming up to the other caregivers already. She completed her first art project this week - a masterpiece of different types of tape. She also joined in group activities, devoured everything we sent for meals and snacks, and slept soundly every day at naptime (I'd love to learn their secret for that!).We wish President-elect Obama a similarly smooth transition!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008