Saturday, June 30, 2007

Snoqualmie Valley Railway

We drove up to visit the Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie Falls today. We timed it just right and hopped on the hour long scenic railroad tour right after we arrived. Asher was ecstatic about riding on a train. We saw the diner where Twin Peaks was filmed from the train. Next time we'll have to stop in to get a piece of cherry pie in tribute to Agent Cooper.

Elliot, our keeper of family rituals, asked for the return visit, but I think it had less to do with the train and more to do with the Snoqualmie Candy Store (wall to wall candy and ice cream) that we ate at last time. The kids meal includes an ice cream, cheetos, apple juice and a piece of taffy. This time we also bought Elliot a gummy rat. He proudly showed it off to anyone who caught his eye, "This is Matt the Rat. He has an ear infection." And you're going to eat him? He held the rat all the way home and ate him before bed.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Nationwide Veggie Booty Recall

Veggie Booty, also known as "crack for babies" made headlines today with the awful news that packages of Booty on the market may be contaminated by salmonella bacteria. We haven't bought Veggie Booty recently, but it's been a popular snack in our house over the years. I'm not sure why, it tastes like salty styrofoam. It's full of salt and fat and has no real nutritional value, but it's still fun to eat and is better than a lot of junk out there. Asher's teacher notified all the parents this morning about the recall.

United Press International Veggie Booty is Recalled:

Robert's American Gourmet Food Inc. of Sea Cliff, N.Y., initiated the recall because the food might be contaminated with salmonella, an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.

The FDA said 51 cases of salmonella across 17 states were related to the consumption of the Veggie Booty, predominately in children 3 years of age or younger.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Handa Bear

Elliot and I were playing a game, name as many animals as you can in a minute. He went first, but I was surprised at how few animals he could name. "Dog, bird, cheetah (that's my favorite animal), bee, eagle, fly, worm, bee, um.... fish, cat, bear, grizzly bear, brown bear, panda bear." Then he went in a really interesting direction. "What about a handa bear? It's a panda bear with a knife that comes out of its hand and it can cut up any intruders with just a whoosh of his hand."

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Giant Pencil and the Last Day of School

Elliot was enchanted by this giant pencil at the Land of Nod, I laughed (but apparently it's not funny) and gave in to the purchase. He brought the pencil to school and I'm not sure everyone was as impressed with it as he was, but his excitement over this writing implement seemed emblematic of his academic life.

School is still a little overwhelming, but he's growing into it; he's motivated to write and learn. I don't know if it was the tutoring, the behavior plan or just maturity. I'm just glad he pulled through and ended up liking school. Yesterday was the last day of kindergarten. We survived!

A few nights ago Elliot had trouble sleeping and said he wanted to draw. It was almost 9, but I let him stay up. He sat at the kitchen table tracing a complicated line drawing of an eagle while I washed the dishes. [I'm glad I found out about tracing, no OTs recommended it to us, but it's great practice for his fine motor skills.] I can see why he likes it, he gets a fully realized drawing, something more sophisticated than he could draw on his own. His self-portrait, traced from a photograph, shows how far he's come. Congratulations Elliot!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

They Might Be Giants Violin

Tonight Asher said, "Mom, sing that song." I said, "What song?" "This song," he said. "I don't know what song you're talking about." This went on for a while. I tried several standards, "row your boat", "you are my sunshine." But none did the trick. Then Asher reached over, put a little pinch of nothing in my hand, "Here sing this." I ate the invisible song and sang "Do Re Mi" apparently it was what he was looking for. My ethereal child.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Making 2nd Grade the Old Kindergarten

The New York Times article When Should a Kid Start Kindergarten? reported on the trend of affluent families holding their kids back from kindergarten called "red shirting" in order to give them a head start academically. The result is a classroom full of young poorer kids who tend not to do as well and much older well off kids who excel because of age and privilege.

Elliot's kindergarten, like all US public school kindergartens, is extremely academic, with no free play time except recess. Even one of the most brainy girls in Elliot's class said what she liked most about school was recess. Today's kindergarten is the old first grade. If we really want our children to succeed, stop making them do work they're not developmentally ready to do. Stop making them be little adults. Fund free preschool for all children. Start academic school at age 7, the age of reason. Make 2nd grade the old kindergarten. Then maybe we'll see the US at the top of the global educational system.

Bedard found that different education systems produce varying age effects. For instance, Finland, whose students recently came out on top in an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study of math, reading and science skills, experiences smaller age effects; Finnish children also start school later, at age 7, and even then the first few years are largely devoted to social development and play. Denmark, too, produces little difference between relatively older and younger kids; the Danish education system prohibits differentiating by ability until students are 16. Those two exceptions notwithstanding, Bedard notes that she found age effects everywhere, from "the Japanese system of automatic promotion, to the accomplishment-oriented French system, to the supposedly more flexible skill-based program models used in Canada and the United States." Friedrich Froebel, the romantic motherless son who started the first kindergarten in Germany in 1840, would be horrified by what's called kindergarten today. He conceived the early learning experience as a homage to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who believed that "reading is the plague of childhood. . . . Books are good only for learning to babble about what one does not know." Letters and numbers were officially banned from Froebel's kindergartens; the teaching materials consisted of handmade blocks and games that he referred to as "gifts." By the late 1800s, kindergarten had jumped to the United States, with Boston transcendentalists like Elizabeth Peabody popularizing the concept. Fairly quickly, letters and numbers appeared on the wooden blocks, yet Peabody cautioned that a "genuine" kindergarten is "a company of children under 7 years old, who do not learn to read, write and cipher" and a "false" kindergarten is one that accommodates parents who want their children studying academics instead of just playing. States could also decide to learn from Finland — start children in school at age 7 and devote the first year to play — but that would require a major reversal, making second grade the old kindergarten, instead of kindergarten the new first grade. States could also emulate Denmark, forbidding ability groupings until late in high school, but unless very serious efforts are made to close the achievement gap before children arrive at kindergarten, that seems unlikely, too.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Macaroni and Cheese Taste Test

Our boys love macaroni and cheese like most kids. I recently read a Salon article about what a rip off "natural / gourmet" mac and cheese products are, how they're just as unhealthy as McDonalds and how Annie of Annie's Homegrown is an evil marketing genius. So we made our own version which took much longer than the prepared versions by the way. Pasta, cheese, butter and milk are really cheap, it's healthier than the prepackaged versions obviously. But our boys, who regularly eat penne or fusilli with salt, butter and grated romano or asiago, totally dissed it. Dan and I thought it was pretty good (but not worth the effort). Beecher's World's Best Mac and Cheese is my favorite, but it's also pricey.

Here's how the main contenders stacked up in our house:

Amy's Kitchen - Frozen. Calories: 410. Trans Fat: 0 Sodium: 590 Organic: 82% organic - milk, macaroni.
Asher, "It's good." Elliot, "This is the best. It's salty and cheesy." MK, "Good mouth feel. Nice cheddar flavor."

Annie's - From a box. We added milk. Calories: 280 (single serving) Trans Fat: 0 Sodium: 530 Organic: Certified organic by Oregon Tilth.
Asher says, "It's good." Elliot says, "I don't like it. It's boring."

Full Tank - Secret Agent Pasta Macaroni and Cheese - made by a local Seattle company. Frozen. Calories: 310 Trans Fat: 0 Sodium: 400 Organic: Certified O by Oregon Tilth. Asher says, "It's good." Elliot says, "Yuck. It's too sweet. Here you eat it Asher." MK says, "Not creamy enough, needs more salt or garlic." Designed by a chef and a pediatrician, Full Tank hides vegetables in the sauce which is why their mac and cheese is so sweet. Asher isn't that picky, but it didn't fool Elliot. The boys had carrots with dinner. So it wasn't really necessary to hide veggies for our guys.

Amy's Kitchen, the least healthy product won. But since we have a case of Annie's Mac and Cheese we'll continue to serve it regularly and buy Amy's on special occasions for Elliot. Maybe I'll buy Secret Agent Man for Asher on special occasions.

The Dangerous Book For Boys

The Dangerous Book For Boys, a nostalgic guide / tribute to old fashioned boyhoods is getting a ton of press lately. After hearing the authors interviewed on NPR, it sounds like the title should really be "The Lost Art of How To Be a Boy." It's trying to define boyness for a new generation, it's not "the dangerous book for kids" or "the dangerous book for boys and girls."

Boys are supposed to be risk takers, action adventurers, inventors, clever problem solvers. By embracing retro boyness, does the book also embrace old school gender stereotypes? I haven't read it, so I can't say for certain, but it looks like they're going in the girls are equal but separate direction. In the section "Advice About Girls" they preface their recommendations, which seem sound and not at all sexist for the most part (although if you see a girl in need of help, unable to lift something sounds like a stereotype to me) with:

You may already have noticed that girls are quite different from you. By this, we do not mean the physical differences, more the fact that they remain unimpressed by your mastery of a game involving wizards, or your understanding of Morse code. Some will be impressed, of course, but as a general rule, girls do not get quite as excited by the use of urine as a secret ink as boys do.

Elliot is too young for this book, but I can't see our family taking on any of these ambitious projects anyway, we have trouble making dinner, how can we build a go-cart? Maybe some day.

From the NPR Story:

Boys can learn how to build a go-cart, make an electromagnet, grow a crystal and make secret ink. Dads and their sons can bond over the adventures of Scott of the Antarctic and the Battle of the Somme. The Igguldens even include the long-lost art of tanning a skin and wrapping packages in brown paper and string.

The idea, the authors say, is that courage, risk-taking and a sense of adventure is what being a kid is all about. As for danger, sections on hunting and cooking rabbits and making cloth fireproof may hold more risk than most chapters (including one on how to treat girls), but the overall premise is that learning new skills — and taking a few risks — can be fun.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Heat Wave

We've had a week of hot weather to kick off summer. What does that mean for us? Many late nights (not so good for mom and dad) and water balloon fights!