Posts By claudiajr1

Grilled Mahi Mahi with Pineapple Basil Salsa

Today was Father’s Day and I needed something different to make for Macho Man’s (MM) special meal since we didn’t feel like eating at a restaurant. Well, at least not MM and me.  Miss Fancy Pants (age 3) would eat out everyday if I let her. I was aiming for something light and fresh since it’s been hot and humid all week and we didn’t want a heavy meal weighing us down.  Macho Man is particularly fond of pineapple and prefers mild, white fish to salmon, so I thought Mahi Mahi with pineapple salsa would make an excellent pairing.  While I originally wanted to use cilantro to make the salsa (the word “salsa” is used lightly here), my cilantro plant kicked the bucket so I used basil instead for my herb. The combination was so flavorful that even MFP oohed and ahhed multiple times as she devoured the meal.  I got her very highest compliment when she told me (pretending that I was a chef at a restaurant), “This meal was so yummy, Chef. It’s one of the best meals I’ve had. I will come back to eat at your restaurant every day because the food is so delicious and healthy.”  Not to brag or anything, but this was one of the most scrumptious meals I’ve eaten in a long time. You definitely should try it. If you don’t have fresh pineapple, you can substitute a can of crushed pineapple with most of the juice drained.  Just don’t try to grill it as you’ll end up with a big mess. :) But if you have it, go for the fresh.  It makes a huge difference.  Trust me. Since there are only a few ingredients in this recipe, each one is important.  The garlic adds some savory to the sweetness of the pineapple.  The macadamia nut oil was chosen for it’s mild, buttery flavor while the avocado oil was utilized for it’s neutral flavor and high smoke point. But if you don’t already have avocado and macadamia nut oil on hand, you can use avocado oil for both the salsa and brushing the pineapple and fish.  Enjoy and Happy Father’s Day!!!

 

Mahi Mahi with Pineapple Basil Salsa

Ingredients

6 Mahi Mahi fillets (I used the frozen, wild Mahi Mahi from Costco and thawed per directions on bag)

1 fresh pineapple, sliced into rings (you don’t have to core as it softens when cooked, but you may if you prefer)

⅓ cup avocado oil for brushing pineapple rings and Mahi Mahi prior to grilling

⅓ cup macadamia nut oil

1 handful fresh basil, finely julienned or chopped

juice of ½ lemon

1 clove of fresh garlic, minced

½ tsp. salt

salt and pepper for seasoning

Directions

Prepare your grill to medium-high heat.  Brush pineapple rings and Mahi Mahi with avocado oil.  Generously season the fish with salt and pepper. Grill pineapple for about 2 minutes on each side, or until you see a nice grill marks.  Remove to clean plate.  Add fillets to grill.  Cook for approximately 5 minutes on each side or until center is opaque.  If the fillet sticks to the grill, it’s not yet ready to flip.

While fish is grilling, chop about five or six of the pineapple rings (to equal about a cup of chopped pineapple) and add to a small pan with macadamia nut oil, basil, lemon juice, garlic clove, and ½ tsp. salt over low heat. Stir and keep warm.

When fish is done, plate fillets with spoonfuls of salsa and serve remaining pineapple rings on the side.  Or continue the theme through dessert and serve a pineapple ring beneath a giant scoop of vanilla ice-cream or lemon sorbet.

Enjoy!

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My Lazy Girl’s grilled pineapple “rings”, sans coring.

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Pineapple “Salsa” warming on the stovetop (don’t cook too long or your basil will lose it’s vibrant hue)

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Ta daaaaa!  The dish completed, served with simply dressed greens.

I’m no food photographer, so this looks way more delicious in person.

Chickens and Bar Fights

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Growing up, we lived in a middle class suburb in Connecticut.  Some of the major employers at time time included Pratt & Whitney, The Hartford, and ESPN.  It’s single and multifamily houses boasted green lawns, manicured bushes, and plenty of trees.  It certainly wasn’t a farming town when I was a kid, although it had been decades before I was born.  My grandmother, an Italian immigrant who came over as an adult when my grandfather decided to build a new life for his family in the United States, is a colorful character.  Remind me to tell you about the time she accidentally smashed my father in the head with a wine bottle trying to help him break up a bar fight at their restaurant. I’ve been told that I’m very much like her personality-wise, which I consider a compliment.  But there are two qualities that I envy that we don’t share- her green thumb and her physical strength.  My husband says I’m like a Ferrari.  Pretty to look at, high performance, and always in the shop.  Nonna would be a more like a F 150 pickup (but with a much more attractive body style).  Reliable, dependable, and hard working.  She’s also smart as a whip and has a better memory than most people half her age.  Having lived through the Great Depression when she was a child in southern Italy, she is accustomed to hard, physical labor.  Being the eldest in a family of girls, she helped her father run the family farm and vineyard.  When she came to this country, she carried on the tradition of growing produce and raising livestock, no matter that she lived in the suburbs with neighbors an arm’s throw away from her house on either side.

Seeing Nonna’s massive vegetable garden, picking figs from her trees, sampling grapes from her vines, and visiting her chickens and rabbits in the backyard seemed normal.  Her chickens produced the most beautiful colored eggs, with yolks so orange that you just knew they had to be chock full of vitamins.  At one point, she had a favorite chicken named “Caterina”.  Nonna shared full discussions with her and Caterina would happily cluck back before running off to the neighbor’s yard two houses down to visit with its owners. The local school bus would stop to allow Caterina to cross the road. When Caterina went missing, my grandmother called the police to inform them of her “murder”, and later mourned what was likely Caterina’s untimely death at the hands of a fox or canine.  Nonna’s eyes still moisten when remembering her beloved bird.

Not all of Nonna’s livestock were considered pets.  I’m sure my sister still remembers the Easter of our young childhood when our father attempted to trick us into eating rabbit, only to be foiled by my discerning eyes that noticed our dinner’s feet were decidedly un-fowl-like. I had many stints of vegetarianism growing up (although now I’m a card carrying omnivore), likely influenced by knowing where meat actually came from (cute animals, not a styrofoam tray wrapped in cellophane or a box from McDonald’s)- at least the meat from my grandmother’s suburban “farm”.  For years I believed that the meat and eggs that came from the grocery store shared similar, well-cared for beginnings.  California says they have “happy cows” but I know for sure that my Nonna’s free-roaming chickens were living the good life.  After all, part of their diet included my Nonna’s homemade sauce and pasta.

I don’t remember the exact moment I found out about hormone and antibiotic laden, inhumanely raised, factory farmed livestock or pesticide burdened produce, likely because it was a gradual realization.  In my elementary school years, I learned about how veal is produced, forever turning one of my younger cousins and sister off from our Italian restaurant staple. Many years passed though until I got turned onto organics. The documentaries “King Corn”, “Food Inc.”, Michael Pollan’s book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and my own research taught me where our grocery store foodstuff actually comes from (and how it’s manufactured), including a better understanding of the hazards of GMO’s (such as the rise in Celiac disease and gluten-intolerance), Roundup, and Monsanto.  I also learned about the unjust working conditions and workplace hazards faced by many of the people who grow and process our food (including the higher rates of Autism, mental retardation, and birth defects in the children of families who live in areas where there are high exposure rates to pesticides used in farming).  But this essay is not about getting into the specifics.  I encourage you to investigate some of the resources to which I referred (and have linked below).  What I hope to achieve is an understanding of why we need to change the way our food system works so that all people, even low income, can afford to feed their families healthful, nourishing food that supports the health of people and our ecosystem.

Once I knew better, I strived to do better.  I began shopping at our local farmer’s market, buying more organic food, reducing consumption of processed foods, and avoiding GMO’s when I could (It’s difficult to do because GMO corn and soy is ubiquitous, in products you wouldn’t expect, even pre-sliced apples!) I realize I’m lucky to be able to afford the luxury of organic, local, and humanely raised food.  When I speak of eating “organic”, or “local”, or “grass-fed”, I’m not using it as a status symbol or being a “food snob”.  I want to clarify this because I believe that people can get turned off thinking that “clean” eating is only for the elite or the domain of crunchy hippies.  And sadly, to an extent, it is due to our country’s subsidizing of corn and soy production which is used to make cheap, processed foods, including the hamburger you eat at your favorite fast food chain.  If I only had a few dollars to feed my family dinner, I would be hard pressed to find enough organic produce and sustainably raised livestock to feed more than one person but I could find plenty of “junk” food to fill their bellies.  It shouldn’t have to be that way.  All people should be able to have access to affordable, organic, sustainably raised food. In fact, a recent UN study suggests that it’s the only way we’ll be able to continue to feed the world’s growing population.  Transformation can happen if we, as consumers, demand it- both with our purchasing power and in insisting that laws be changed with regards to how our food is produced and inspected.

I know that the premise of my blog is about parenting my child and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.  This topic may seem beyond the scope of my original intention; however, I believe that this is crucial information for all parents to be aware in helping to ensure the health of our children and future generations.  I will revisit the topic periodically in subsequent blog posts but in the meantime, I hope you will consider perusing the resources I’ve included if you are not already familiar with them.

This summer I will attempt (again) to grow some of my own food.  And while our Homeowner’s Association would frown upon my raising chickens in our backyard, I hope to foster in our child a connection between her food, where it comes from, and the importance of supporting local, organic agriculture. Hopefully she’s inherited my Nonna’s green thumb.  I know she got her physical strength, thank goodness.  We don’t need two Ferrari’s in this family.

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Resources:

I have no affiliation with Amazon, but am providing links for the films via Amazon because Amazon Prime subscribers can watch some of these films for free.  We like free.

Food, Inc.

http://www.amazon.com/Food-Inc-Eric-Schlosser/dp/B0027BOL4G

Fresh

http://www.amazon.com/Fresh-Ytit-Chauhan/dp/B007JRU4TY/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1394466750&sr=1-1&keywords=Fresh

King Corn

http://www.amazon.com/King-Corn-Dawn-Cheney/dp/B003F9XQ9A/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1394466788&sr=1-1&keywords=king+corn

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

http://www.amazon.com/Omnivores-Dilemma-Natural-History-Meals/dp/0143038583/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1394466819&sr=1-1&keywords=the+omnivore%27s+dilemma

Roundup’s and GMO’s link to increasing rates of Celiac disease

http://nhrighttoknowgmo.org/BreakingNews/Glyphosate_II_Samsel-Seneff.pdf

How to eat organic on a budget

http://foodbabe.com/2013/05/20/how-to-eat-organic-on-a-budget/

 

Drag Queens, Coke Bottle Glasses, and Self-Esteem

I don’t normally wear a lot of make-up.  Powder, blush, mascara, lip balm.  Sometimes no mascara since eye make-up bothers my peepers.  Oh yeah, and concealer for the dark undereye circles I’ve had like forever.  Truth be told, even when I had the time, I was never really good at applying face paint. In my twenties, I had a stunning girlfriend who could rock magenta lipstick and smokey eyes like no one’s business.  But she also had bronzed skin, midnight hair and espresso eyes.  I’m pale.  Way too pale for any respectable Italian.  Even my eyelashes are blonde. Heavy make-up looks clownlike on me.  Worse yet, an unfortunate misunderstanding at the M.A.C. counter on the morning of my wedding resulted in me looking like a drag queen for my big day (no offense to drag queens).  FYI, if the make-up artist tells you he’s going to give you a “dramatic” look, he might be prepping you for your debut at The Birdcage.  My friends and family attempted to console me, “It’ll look good in the pictures.  Don’t worry.  No one will notice.”  They did. Every.Freaking.Person.  The priest even did a double take as I walked down the aisle and I’m pretty sure it’s because he thought he was going to be breaking some rules by marrying us.

Here is a picture of me on my wedding day.  I don’t have black eyes by the way.  They are green but I don’t think you can tell under all that charcoal.

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Here’s a nice shot of the entrance of the theatre where we had our reception.  It has no relevance to this post, I just think it’s really beautiful.

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But I digress. The past week, plagued with a hardcore sinus infection and pink eye, I am make-up free.  None whatsoever.  And I’m wearing my glasses. I honestly wouldn’t mind my glasses except that my lenses could be used as replacements for the Hubble Telescope.  Did you know that, apparently, there are men with a high-myope fetish who furtively photograph women wearing coke-bottle glasses?  That’s just a weird, random fact I discovered that I needed to share because it made me feel all creepy.

Anyway, back to the whole no make-up thing.  Not having to apply makeup or insert contacts has freed up a bunch of time in the mornings.  On days when I don’t have to wash and style my hair, I feel absolutely liberated.  It dawned on me that this is what men must feel like.  Ok, so I look deathly pale and people think I’ve contracted some awful disease.  “Wow, you are really ill.  Look at you. You look so pale and sickly!”  Um, that’s probably the lack of blush.

I know a lot of moms don’t bother with makeup, and if I weren’t so damn vain, that would be an excellent trend to jump on.  My makeup routine probably takes less than five minutes tops, but for some reason, those five minutes feel like a drag on my morning.  I always vacillate when it comes to the topic of grooming and what’s expected of women.  Part of me wishes I could wear a monk’s robe (although maybe in a less itchy fabric than burlap, something with a nicer hand, like jersey knit or something), tie my hair back in a ponytail, and be makeup free everyday.  Part of me likes to dress up and look pretty, even if that requires a bit of effort.  Ideally, I’d prefer that there is no expectation and that I get to choose when I fancy myself up or if I want to go au naturale.

I see how Miss Fancy Pants watches my morning ritual.  I wonder if she will grow up thinking that women have to carefully apply makeup to be considered attractive- or even just to avoid being told one looks unwell?  As a three-year-old, she’s totally into dressing up, tutus, and her hair.  Is it just imaginative play or is she beginning to internalize society’s message that women need to be attractive to be acceptable?  Did I inadvertently contribute to this internalization with my constant admiration of her beauty?  “Do I look pretty?”, she asks.  “You look beautiful!” I gush.  I do try to focus on what she is capable of instead of her appearance. “I love to watch you build that tower!” and “You are such a great little chef helping Mommy to cook!”  I scold family members who may comment (albeit sometimes innocently) about her weight and what a good eater she is.  Having spent the majority of my skinny childhood on a diet or obsessed about my appearance, I’d like to avoid the same fate for my daughter.

Even on days when I’m feeling “fat”, you won’t hear me complain, at least not in front of MFP.  When she called me “beautiful” in my glasses and sans makeup, I didn’t deny the compliment like I normally would with an adult.  I heartily thanked her and then we danced uninhibitedly to her favorite song.

I’ve read research on the topic.  Academics will assert, “Don’t tell your little girls that they are pretty.  Tell them they are smart or strong or creative…”  But then other research will point to not telling little girls that they are smart because once school work becomes challenging, they will already have associated being “smart” with effortless ability; thus equating needing to work hard at academic tasks with [their] lack of intelligence.  Instead, praise girls for trying hard, for overcoming obstacles, and for persevering in the face of adversity.

In parenting MFP, I’ve taken a more laid back perspective.  Certainly, I focus upon working hard and feeling proud when one achieves a difficult task. Often MFP will hear me say (upon completing an arduous chore), “It may be hard, but I’m going to keep trying and trying until I get it!”, a phrase I now hear her repeat as she goes about her day.  I offer sincere and specific praise when she tackles the challenges she encounters, big and small. But when my little smarty pants is dressed in her tutu and tiara, wondering if she looks pretty, I’m not afraid to tell her she looks beautiful.  But I do emphasize that she is beautiful inside and out, and that her beauty does not depend upon what she’s wearing.  She doesn’t quite get the concept yet, but one day, I’m hoping she will.

However I realize that, more important than what I say, is what I model for her.  If I comment upon other women’s appearances (good or bad), complain about my muffin top, and spend hours grooming, what message am I sending?  If I want the focus to be on what her strong body and clever mind can achieve, then my actions need to reflect that message.  Afterall, I’m more than my pale skin and high-myope lenses. We all have gifts to share with the world, no matter what the package looks like.  If we put more focus on those gifts, maybe our girls will too.

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Go with the Mommy Flow

Almost everyone has those moments of being “in the flow,” when one is fully immersed in an activity and it feels natural, energizing, and enjoyable.  Time is lost as minutes become hours.  The experience feels easy.  In my pre-baby days, I used to feel that way when I painted, oblivious to the commotion around me as I focused on creating my masterpiece…um, sorta decent piece of art.  When I worked outside of the home, these moments would creep up too, like while presenting a high profile case or writing a psychological evaluation on an especially intriguing client.

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That’s me and MFP, two winters ago at Myrtle Beach in November, enjoying a moment of flow.  Yes, I do have the Whitest.Calves.Ever.  No, we did not catch pneumonia.

Admittedly, these moments of flow are few and far between now.  My world has become one of multitasking, checking off to-do lists in my head as I attend to the needs of my family.  As much as I attempt to stay present in the moment, I often find my mind drifting to the next task (I’ve got to make dinner before there is a low blood sugar meltdown in the house!); or analyzing MFP’s behavior (Is that age-appropriate?  Normal?  Does she need more omega-3’s in her diet?); or replaying an awkward interaction with another parent (I’m so sorry I didn’t recognize your daughter at church despite the fact that I see her at pre-k drop-off twice a week!), or one of the other bajillion thoughts that run through my head at any given moment.  And sometimes the only thing I’m thinking is, “I really need a nap.”  But there are those instances, although fewer than I care to admit, that I am fully present and thoroughly enjoying a tender moment with my child.  Last night it was while reading the same “Fancy Nancy” book for the upteenth time as MFP snuggled her lavender scented head on my shoulder.  I think she felt the power of that moment too because mid-story she looked up at me with wide, warm brown eyes, smiled a dreamy grin, and said, “I love you Mommy,”  which made the huge tantrum she had thrown fifteen minutes earlier totally worth it.  Last week, it was during one of our late afternoon strolls as we discussed a seemingly deranged squirrel, picked dandelions, and debated about when birds lay their eggs.  MFP insisted it was during the summer, not spring and wouldn’t let it go until I “asked” my phone (turns out most do in spring, some will lay eggs multiple times a year, and some, like chickens, lay eggs year-round).

Because I’m analytical by nature (I know, how nerdy), I wanted to examine the factors that contribute to these experiences, what I’ve deemed “Mommy Flow”, with my child.  I came to the conclusion that in order for me to really pay attention and be present in the moment, a few factors seemed key.  Here is my very unscientific summary of those findings.

Time  It is important that I have adequate time for the activity.  If I’m rushing to get MFP to bed or dinner on the table, flow is much less likely since my focus turns to beating the clock rather than what I’m doing in the moment.

Energy  The more adequately rested and less overworked I am, the more involved I tend to become in the activity.  This made me chuckle.  It’s hard to imagine a mom ever really being well rested.  My measure of having had adequate rest is when I don’t feel like I need to chug three espresso shots prior to engaging in an activity.

Having a goal  My goal might be as simple as helping to make MFP feel relaxed and loved before bedtime or teaching her how to observe and enjoy nature.

Liking the activity  It’s easier for me to be in the flow when we’re sharing an activity that is mutually enjoyable.  Sitting on her stepstool waiting for her to go potty…not so much.  Family day at the museum.  Much more likely.

I know flow isn’t going to happen all the time or even every day necessarily.  Motherhood is rewarding but challenging and sometimes, plain old exhausting.  There are days when merely keeping the kids supervised and fed seems like a lofty goal.  I recently lamented to an acquaintance that I felt guilty because MFP told me, “Mommy, I love watching you cook and clean…not really.  I wish you could just play with me.”  Ugh.  That was a knife to the heart, even though intellectually I know that I spend plenty of time “playing” with her.  The acquaintance, a lovely mother of four children under the age of ten, graciously responded, “That’s good for her to see you cooking and cleaning.  She has to see the reality is that there is time for work and time for play. You can’t play with her all day long.  And the reason she plays so well independently and can use her imagination is because you have given her that time.”  What wonderful words of wisdom.  Which makes me feel slightly better about telling MFP to “Go find something to do,” when I’m in the midst of completing a project.  Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

However, in those times when we are “playing,” I can improve the quality of our interactions (for the both of us) by recognizing what factors contribute to flow and helping to ensure that, whenever possible, conditions are ripe for those blessed moments to happen.  Did you ever notice how flow comes naturally to children?  How absorbed toddlers and preschoolers can become in an activity, even if it’s only for the length of their abbreviated attention spans?  How great it is to remember to be “childlike,” not only for our children’s sake but for our own.  It makes me want to pick up my palette and brushes again.  Someday I will, but in the meantime, I’m going to focus on how I can embrace the current moment and find those small opportunities for joy where I can.  Wanna join me at Starbucks for a triple espresso shot cappuccino?

Giada, call me. Bacci.

Hi!  I know you haven’t heard from me in a while.  It’s been pretty crazy around here and I just haven’t had the time to write like I did before.  The snow in the South a couple of weeks back meant that pre-k was cancelled for almost a week and that always sets me behind.  And in a cost cutting effort, we also had to let go of our sitter so I’m finding that I need to squeeze my consulting work, writing, errands, bill paying, chores, building a house, and saving the bees (more about that later) into a much smaller chunk of child-free time.  Moms, I’m sure you can agree with me here.  Isn’t it always the case that when you finally feel like you’ve got your routine somewhat well managed, something happens to throw it off and you’re back to scrambling like a hamster on a wheel?

Right now Miss Fancy Pants and I just finished practicing her letters- tracing Montessori sandpaper letters with her finger and writing letters on paper. Now she’s spelling “words” with the sandpaper letters as I type.  Her pre-k teacher actually suggested that I stop practicing at home with her, at least on the days she has pre-k, because apparently MFP has informed her teacher that she doesn’t need to work on her letters at school because she does them at home.  Where did I get this child?  Seriously.  I used to cower in fear when teachers told me to complete a task.  Meanwhile, my spirited child is trying to guide the curriculum.  I’ve got to nip this or we’re in trouble.  Despite MFP’s precocious verbal ability, her fine-motor skills (when it comes to writing) are simian-like.  Which, when you’ve been dealing with a child who has hit all her developmental milestones months (and even years) ahead of schedule, is a little dose of reality.  At least for my husband, who would have her doing calculus and speaking Mandarin Chinese by age four.

As an aside, while I’m happy to help her with homework and glad that she’s being exposed to pre-writing and reading skills, shouldn’t 3-yr-olds be running around wild and free in the outdoors, exploring, gathering worms, getting skinned knees, and eating dirt?  It seems that so much of childhood is lost nowadays to ever increasing amounts of competition amongst children, fostered by well-meaning parents and societal expectations.  I’m not sure where the balance is, but I’m going to do some research and let you know in an upcoming blog post.

My sister suggested that I supplement my blog with Youtube videos of me cooking healthful recipes, either with or without MFP.  What do you all think?  If anything, it would make for a good laugh.  I told her I’d have to lose a few pounds first since the camera adds, like what, ten pounds?  Right?  But at least you know that I eat my own cooking.  I look well fed.  Never trust a skinny chef.  My nonna doesn’t care for Giada, I’m pretty sure (in part) because she’s too skinny.  I love Giada’s recipes and her daughter, Jade, is adorable.  I don’t think Giada is one of my readers, but I just want to make sure she knows that my grandmother’s views on the topic differ from my own.  Hey Giada, let’s do lunch.  Call me.  Bacci.

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Well, it’s time for me to get MFP’s to sleep so that I can kick back and watch “The Bachelor”.  This season has been a huge disappointment for me.  Juan Pablo, it seems, is only just a pretty face, which is now less so because of his less than desirable personality.  But it’s still a nice, mindless escape from reality so I will continue to indulge in my guilty pleasure.  And it’s less fattening than the box of leftover Valentine’s Day chocolates that I’d like to devour right now.  Good night!

“Happiness is overrated. Get a job.”

You can get a lot of interesting advice on how to raise children via Facebook memes.  I’ll admit it, I’ve posted a few dozen hundreds on my own Facebook wall, platitudes that appear innocuous as we scroll through our New Feeds, liking or sharing with only a few moments’ thought about the message.  Many reflect cultural ideals of Western society and are taken as a given.  But looking back at a few that my friends and I have shared over the years, I came to realize that they are sentiments shared by many parents- parents who are well meaning and wanting the best for their children.  The messages sound good in theory but what do they mean in practice? I’ve heard many of these ideals shared over and over, both in speaking to other moms and in my work with parents.  I’ve shared these beliefs myself.  But when I sat down to analyze them, I realized that these seemingly harmless and good intentioned beliefs may actually be getting us results contrary to what is best for our kids.

I just want my child to be happy.”  Sounds like great advice, right?  What parent doesn’t want that?  Of course we want our children to be happy. Except that happiness, as a state of being, is by its nature transient.  And as humans, when we experience something for an extended period of time, we become habituated.  If we teach our children to strive merely for happiness, we are setting them up for failure.  Happiness is also one of those emotions that is magnified by contrast.  If I have a million dollars and I win $100,000, I will be happy, but not in the same way that I would be if I were struggling to pay my mortgage and won 100k, right?  Sometimes, you need a little struggle or moments of discontent to fully appreciate what you have.  Instead of wanting my child to “just be happy”, I want her to experience the fullness of her emotions- moments of joy, elation, happiness, boredom, frustration, sadness, anger- all normal emotions to the human condition- and to be able to acknowledge them, embrace the moment that has created the feeling, and continue on having learned from the experience.  I don’t want to teach her to strive for a feeling that is fleeting.  And yes, while overall I’d like her to be happy, I wouldn’t promote it as one’s primary aim.  Happiness should be the result of a well lived life, not the goal.  Because if she’s striving for mere happiness, then how will she feel when she experiences periods that are don’t meet this ideal? She will likely feel as if she’s failed, even when she hasn’t.  And I will have failed her by setting a standard that is by its very nature unachievable. Besides, I don’t want to end up in this situation when Miss Fancy Pants is 30:

MFP:  I quit my job and am moving back home.

Me:  Why?!

MFP:  Because my job doesn’t make me happy.  And you said all you wanted was for me to be HAAAAAPPYYYYY!

Me:  Happiness is overrated.  Get a job.

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It’s not our job to toughen up our children…”  I agree with this to an extent.  I want to teach my child to help make the world a kinder place.  And if we all strived for that goal, we’d be a lot closer to achieving a better existence for all of humanity.  But reality is, the world is sometimes cruel and heartless, and I don’t want to raise a child so sensitive and sheltered as to be crushed and made immobilized when life is unfair or others act in wicked ways.  I want her to be empathetic, kind, sensitive, AND “tough”, which by definition means to be able to withstand difficult conditions.  I want her to be the kid who stands up for herself when bullied and the one who speaks up when she sees others being treated unkindly.  I want her to dust herself off when she fails and keep trying until she succeeds.  I want her to challenge those in power who abuse their authority.  I want her to be able to dismiss unjust words from others, recognize that her self-worth is not defined by those who may taunt or discourage her, and to persevere despite wickedness.  I want her to be resilient.

You shouldn’t care about what others think.”  Yes and no.  If the other person is being unreasonable, judgmental, doesn’t have the whole picture, or is just being a plain old jerk, it’s true, you shouldn’t care about what they think or at least, you shouldn’t let their opinion to force you to change your behavior if you’re acting justly.  Besides, there are some people that will judge you no matter what you do, just because of their own inherent prejudices and negativity. It’s not worth your worry to dwell on what they think.  However, there are times when we should absolutely care what others think.  If our actions hurt or are unfair to others, maybe we should be spending a bit more time thinking about what we do or say and consider how others feel about our behavior.  I hope I will do a good job helping my daughter to distinguish between two, erring on the side of caring while being “tough” enough not to let others’ (unfounded) opinions prevent her from living an authentic life.

I want my child to have high self-esteem.”  By now, it’s well documented (Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger, & Vohs, 2003) that the self-esteem movement of the 70’s and 80’, which included indiscriminate praise and reward) failed to produce the desired effects of making children get along better with others, obey the law, improve school performance, delay sexual activity, reduce rates of drug use, improve social skills, or reduce rates of aggression.  In fact, people with high self-esteem tend to be more narcissistic (self-centered, with big, swollen egos) and have a tendency to inaccurately rate their abilities and/or their negative impact upon others.  I can recall a former acquaintance who spoke frequently about his high self-esteem.  And while he was bright, successful, and competent at his job, he often put his needs before the needs of others.  He was helpful when it suited his desires or increased his social standing, but neglected friendships and colleagues when it didn’t benefit him.  He often bragged about his ability, turning off others, rather than letting his achievements stand on their own merits. Certainly low self-esteem, with it’s correlation to depression, is no better; rather, accurate self-esteem appears to be the most desirable goal.  Instead of praising children for everything little thing that they do, giving them trophies for mere participation (except for the littlest ones), banning teachers from passing out failing grades, etc., children need realistic feedback about their performance.  Not shaming or harping on weaknesses, but offering praise when they achieve difficult (relatively speaking) tasks, while taking advantage of teachable moments when children miss the mark.

If it sounds like I might be hard-nosed on my kid, let me assure you, she gets loved up and down all day long.  I would never purposefully do something to damage her self-esteem or ignore her need for love and approval.  Kids need unconditional love from their parents.  But I do want to give her the skills necessary to navigate a difficult world, teach her how to deflect unjust criticism, and help her to recognize the impact of her deeds and words upon others.  I don’t want to set her up for disappointment by making her think that life is always fair or that a perpetual state of happiness is achievable, but I do want to show her the importance of being grateful for the good in her life and to search for the good even in unpleasant circumstances.  These are lessons that I still strive to learn and incorporate into my own life.

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Reference

Baumeister, R. F., Campbell, J. D., Krueger, J. I., & Vohs, K. D. (2003). Does high self-esteem cause better performance, interpersonal success, happiness, or healthier lifestyles? Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4, 1-44.

Calgon, Take Me Away!

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When I was in college, there would be times (mostly during finals or when some big research paper was due) that my roommate and I would secretly wish for some illness (like mono) to give us a legitimate excuse to buy more time before facing whatever hurdle we were dreading.  Yeah, it was warped thinking.  In reality, neither of us really wanted to be sick; luckily, the universe didn’t grant our delusional wishes in order to teach us a greater cosmic lesson.  But now that I’m a mom, my daydreams sometimes drift to thoughts of another equally absurd escape, and I can’t imagine I’m the only person who has ever wished this.  My desire?  That I could freeze time and escape to a parallel universe to get a guilt-free break.  You know, like maybe make myself a decade younger and do a European vacation with my girlfriends for a few weeks, pigging out on gluten and sugar with abandon (and no ill consequences).  I wouldn’t have to worry about Miss Fancy Pants missing me, or if my husband was messing up her sleep schedule and feeding her GMO’s and high fructose corn syrup every day that I was gone.  I could leave without Macho Man (MM) putting up a big protest, needing to stock the freezer with a month’s worth of meals so that he wouldn’t starve to death, or dreading the mountains of laundry that would await me had my real life not been paused.  Because in reality, while I could probably rope my mom into taking care of her granddaughter for a week while I took a much needed vacation, I would still be calling MFP multiple times a day, wondering if she was ok, and missing my family.

I’ve been told this is part of the affliction called “Mommy Guilt”.  Some moms have it to a greater degree than others, but all moms have some.  Notice that you’ve never heard the term “Daddy Guilt” – that’s because it doesn’t exist (alright, I just Googled it and there there is a term “Daddy Guilt”, but I don’t personally know of any men who have it so stick with me folks).  MM travels for his work…A LOT.  He also works really late hours most days and sometimes even works weekends.  Sure, he misses MFP and mentions that it bothers him that he’s missing out on seeing her grow up, but that doesn’t seem to curb his enthusiasm when he opts in for “networking” opportunities (i.e. overpriced dinners with colleagues who are all looking for an excuse to take advantage of their expense account and get out of family obligations for a night).  I’m not saying that MM doesn’t love our daughter and he certainly has been making an effort to get some quality time with her on the weekends, but men seem to have the ability to put any concerns about their family on hold and enjoy their free time.  I can’t ever imagine a career mom (with similar work related obligations) feeling the same freedom.

Sure, I can go out with friends and thoroughly enjoy myself, but it usually involves ample planning, preparation, and relaying detailed instructions. Meanwhile, MM is all, “Hey, I’m going out to dinner tonight with my coworkers…I forgot to tell you about it. I won’t be home until after MFP is in bed. We’re going to be talking shop, so I really should be there,”  [Me: eye roll].  Notice, no daddy guilt.

I think moms should have free time and enjoy it thoroughly without feeling like they need to justify it, to others or themselves.  As a stay-at-home mom to “only” one child who is now in pre-k for two half days a week, I’m often asked, “So what do you do with all your free time now?”  Well actually, when I’m not at the spa or taking dance lessons with Juan Pablo (bad “Bachelor” reference) [insert another eye roll], I can usually be found doing laundry, shopping at Costco, working on my consulting business, or trying to batch cook meals to freeze for days when JP and I need to practice our Salsa (haha).  Yet, I don’t recall anyone ever questioning my husband about how he spends his “free” time, even though my days are often longer than his.

But I don’t mean to sound all bitter…really.  I love having the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom and I wouldn’t trade being a mom to our daughter for anything in the world.  But loving your family and wanting a break aren’t mutually exclusive. When moms take time for themselves, they are questioned or criticized (i.e. “I heard Sarah gets to work out with a personal trainer while her kids are at school.  Wish I had that luxury.  Why isn’t she back at work?”). Meanwhile, if I were to complain that my husband seems to find the time for his crazy workouts, I would be told, “Well, he needs to do something for himself.  He does work all day long.”  And it’s true.  Dads need their “me” time.  I get it.  And most take it without blinking.  But moms feel guilty and/or are judged when they demand a little down time. Don’t (I understand, easier said than done).  You need that down time for yourself.  It’s cliche, I know, but if you don’t take care of yourself, it will be hard for you to be fully there for your family.  How much time or what sorts of activities will vary based on individual needs.  Me personally, I need time to work out, an occasional outing with my girlfriends, and date time with my hubby (it’s been way too long!). And after MFP is asleep, I love to immerse myself in a good book or occasionally (like during “Bachelor” season) watch some mindless TV.  I don’t always get my “me” time, but when I do, I feel like a new woman and a much happier mom.

As an aside, last night (around 7ish) MM called me from work to let me know that his old colleague was in town and that they were going to meet up for a drink.  As a result, he might not make it home for MFP’s bedtime…again.  I emailed him the rough draft of this essay.  Shortly before I was about to tuck MFP into bed, he rushed home to tell her good-night.  Hmmm.  Maybe Daddy Guilt does exist…if you work it the right way.

2013: An Unremarkable Year in Review

For me, 2013 has been an incredibly unremarkable year.  This was not a year for getting married, bringing a life into the world, earning graduate degrees, or starting a new career.  I didn’t run a marathon, scale mountains, publish research, patent an invention, write a novel, learn to meditate, travel to distant lands, or even venture out of the country on vacation.  In fact, my biggest accomplishments were lived vicariously, such as cheering my husband on as he earned a promotion and rejoicing in every milestone or wondrous (in our eyes) thing our 3-year-old did.  A year ago (ok, even as recent as last week), I would have bemoaned my lack of accomplishment, especially since I’m nearing my 4th decade of life (you know, midlife-buy-myself-a-Maserati-crisis).

Like most moms, my year has consisted of putting hundreds of meals on the table; doing too many loads of laundry to count; sweeping and mopping the floors; tending to runny noses and scraped knees; wiping bottoms; staying up at night with a feverish child; managing tantrums (our child’s, my husband’s and my own); drying tears; singing the alphabet a bagillion times; coloring; wiping finger paint off of little hands (and the floor, and the table, and the cabinets, and clothing…); driving to swim class, ballet class, and preschool; reading the same books and singing the same songs over and over and over again until my adult thoughts are crowded out by lyrics to “The Wheels on the Bus…”; arranging play dates; trips to the park; nature walks; planting and (almost) killing an herb garden; multiple trips to the pediatrician; helping with homework; drinking over 600 cups of coffee; grocery shopping; clothing shopping; recitals; school activities; scraping food off of the floor; bath and bedtime routines; naps, naps, and more naps; managing finances; pumping gas; cleaning up toys; stepping on Legos; teaching- lots of teaching!- of morals, manners, anger management, self-soothing, academics, and life-skills; and numerous other activities that would be too tedious to list.

There is nothing considerably special about any one of these activities.  These are the everyday expectations of mothers, be it stay-at-home, work-at-home, or work-outside-of the home.  Not only are these activities not lauded, they are often taken for granted and underappreciated.  And yet, their completion is most remarkable for many reasons.  The accomplishment (and continued completion) of these activities is not motivated by accolades or a paycheck.  They are exhausting to perform and societal expectations are great with regards to how, when, and how often these tasks must be done. Mothers are scrutinized by experts, spouses, in-laws, grandparents, teachers, doctors, politicians, religious authority, the media, bloggers, society, and other mothers.  Mothers aren’t just expected to keep their offspring alive and provide for basic needs; indeed, we are expected to raise productive, kind, moral, responsible, mentally healthy, educated, happy individuals, often without the help of a village.  More difficult still, many are expected to do these things well while dealing with additional pressures caused by factors such as a strained marriage, divorce, work, chronic illness, lack of resources (financial, emotional, etc.), inadequate childcare, and so forth.  AND, while we are managing these feats, we are (ridiculously) asked to have a flat, firm stomach, look pretty, keep a smile on our face at all times, and do things like run marathons, travel the world, patent inventions…

In fact, when examined in this new light, my year was quite remarkable. This doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on my own dreams and goals; rather, my goals and dreams have merely shifted for the moment.  What I have done, what I have accomplished this year- these things are enough.  I won’t feel guilty for what I haven’t done.  I will celebrate what I have managed to do despite all the roadblocks that I, like all mothers, have faced.  I ask that you, wonderful mother who is reading this, celebrate in all the things that you have accomplished this past year too.  Let’s celebrate each other.  Society may still underappreciate what we do, but we can cheer one another on, offering encouragement, support, a sympathetic ear- and an occasional Cheesecake Factory binge.

There is still time for all the other fabulous goals we have yet to achieve in the years to come.  Hang onto those non-Mommy related goals, as those are important too.  But if you haven’t checked them off of your to-do list yet, know that you have still contributed your share to the world.  In fact, you have had a most remarkable year indeed.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2014!!!

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You might be an Italian-American if…

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When I first started dating Macho Man (MM), he was baffled by my Italian pride.  He grew up Hispanic in Texas and claimed that where he lived, “white” people didn’t differentiate between ethnicities.  White was white.  I thought he was lying until I spent our first Texan Christmas together with his family and their next door neighbors.  My introduction to his neighbors went something like this:

Neighbor to his wife (in major Texas drawl):  Hey look Sally!  MM’s girlfriend is eye-tal-yin!

Wife:  Wow, I don’t think we’ve ever met a real eye-tal-yin before!  Wait, Rebecca-Lyn’s aunt’s neighbor might be eye-tal-yin…but not like “her parents are from It-ly eye-tal-yin” eye-tal-yin.  [Then turning to me] So, you’re like a real eye-tal-yin then, right?

Both stared at me like I was some kind of exotic specimen.  I wondered if it was because they considered me a foreigner or just because I am the lightest Italian you’ve ever seen.

So in honor of this fond memory, I’ve compiled a list to help people determine if they indeed would be considered “Italian-American”.  My sister thinks this list may be more relevant to first generation Italian-Americans like ourselves, but I think most Italian-American’s will find something on here to which they can relate.

You might be an Italian-American if…

1.  One of your favorite Christmas songs is “Dominick the Donkey”.

2.  Christmas isn’t complete without Panettone.

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3.  Every major holiday dinner includes a lasagna, except for Christmas Eve, which is meat-free and must contain seven types of fishes.

4.  Your father usually carried a large wad of cash in his pocket and peeled off bills when you needed spending money.

5.  For years you thought, “Onistiga” was an Italian expression until you realized people in your family were saying, “Honest to God”.

6.  When other kids were eating PB&J, you were eating sandwiches that included prosciutto, salami, capicola, and provolone cheese.

7.  You thought “sandwich” was pronounced, “sang-wich”.

8.  You say, “Close the light”, instead of “turn off the light” and “Open the light,” instead of, “Turn on the light.”

9.  You’ve got at least one relative named Maria, Tony, Dino, Sal, and Frank and the newest generation includes an Isabella, Sophia, or Ava.

10.  The women in the family “jar” their own tomatoes every year.

11.  On Easter you got a giant chocolate egg wrapped in foil that included a prize inside of it.

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12.  At least one family member owns or has owned a restaurant, construction, or sanitation business.

13.  You know what a “grinder” is.

14.  You’ve played Scopa and bocce ball.

15.  You’ve gotten chased around the house with a belt and/or wooden spoon when you did something bad.

16.  You’ve had a house shoe thrown at you when your parents couldn’t reach you with said belt or spoon.

17.  There was at least one elderly widow who wore black after her husband died…for decades afterward.

18.  You started drinking some form of fermented grape during holiday dinners from the time you were eight.

19.  Your dad (or some other male in the family) made his own wine.

20.  You parents drank espresso before it was cool and called the stuff they sell at Dunkin’ Donuts, “American coffee”.

21.  You’ve had at least one family member that has raised livestock in their backyard- in the suburbs.

22.  Someone in your family tree came over from the Motherland on a boat, and you’ve heard the story relayed at least a dozen times.

23.  Your mom has tried to force feed all your friends when they come over for dinner and if they refused 3rds and 4ths, she became convinced that they didn’t like her cooking.

24.  You’ve danced the Tarantella and done the “Chicken Dance” at family weddings.

25. You know what a bomboniere is…and there are likely several in your mother’s china cabinet still tied with their original bag of Jordan almonds.

26.  Every bedroom in the house had a crucifix or statue of the Virgin Mary and Rosary beads hanging from the bedpost.

27. Your parents and/or grandparents had fig trees or grapevines growing in their backyard.

28.  Your parents had a reproduction of Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” and a portrait of the Pope hanging on their wall.

29.  You use so many hand gestures while speaking that you get an aerobic workout.

30.  Even if you can’t speak Italian, you know all the swear words and corresponding hand gestures.

31.  You know what paisano means.

32.  You’ve watched “The Godfather” too many times to count.

33. There is at least one family member that you suspect may be in the Mob.

34. You will use threats of the Mob against people who piss you off but then get angry when non-Italians refer to Italian-American stereotypes.

35.  Your mother would think it’s a schifozz’ if you bought pre-made pasta sauce.

36.  Even when you moved out, your mother brought you bags of groceries and offered to do your laundry.

37.  You didn’t move out until you got married, and if you did, you moved back home to save up money to buy a house.

38. You think Frank Sinatra is king.

39. Your parents’ house has statues of lions in the front, columns, or both.

40.  Your holiday cookies looked like this:

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And finally…

 

41.You think everyone wants to be Italian (and you’re right).

 

Feel free to add your own in the comments section!

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RMFP: Thanksgiving Edition

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Thanksgiving is upon us.  When I was a kid, Thanksgiving meant turkeys, Pilgrims, lots of food (including lasagna- hey, I’m Italian), and a couple of days off of school.  Truth be told, I only thought about what I was grateful for because it was usually a school assignment.  However as I got older, especially once Macho Man and I got married and we had our daughter, I developed a deep sense of gratitude for our many blessings.  There is not a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for our family- well, except maybe on those days when I want to run away to a tropical island and drink daiquiris with my girlfriends.  But mostly, I am in awe of the gift with which I was entrusted- another human life.  I hardly feel worthy. Which is probably why I only got one. In all (sort of) seriousness though, there is a lot that I feel thankful for, especially this year.  Please indulge me as I recall my elementary school days and present my numbered list to you.

I am thankful for…

1.  My daughter.  Without waxing too sentimental, she is absolutely the biggest blessing of my life.  Even when she’s aging me prematurely, she fosters such joy in my soul that I can’t imagine a life without her.  Ask me again when she’s 16…or 30 and still living at home.

2.  My husband.  He gets my humor, appreciates my quirks, is really smart (we’re still working on the common sense part though), works long, hard hours to provide for our family, is quite the looker, and he loves my blog.  Bonus points for loving the blog even when I’m poking fun at him.

3.  The Boston Foundation for Sight, for helping me to see clearly again (literally) and giving me my life back.  Plus I look way hotter in contacts (PROSE) than with my Mr. Magoo spectacles.

4.  My friends.  Better than any therapist (because they’re free), they listen when I bitch, offer sage advice, make me laugh, and get me through the day. They also let me know if I have spinach in my teeth.

5.  My mom and dad.  It was only after I became a parent that I realized how much they both sacrificed for us kids and how much we, sadly, didn’t appreciate it.  Well I get it now, Mom and Papa.  I was a feisty, headstrong kid and now karma is biting me in the tush.  Thanks.

6.  Spanx.

7.  A roof over my head and ample food to eat, as evidenced by my need for Spanx.

8.  The fact that there is a Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and independently owned coffee shop all within 4 minutes of my house, one being within walking distance.

9.  My family, who have always loved me, even when I went through that really geeky phase from ages 5-20.

10.  My readers.  If you’ve read this far, thank you!  I know you are all very busy being awesome, taking care of your families and working hard.  I’m truly appreciative knowing you take time out of your day to read what I have to share.  Thank you!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!