Lack of Grace

Facing death is challenging regardless of how it comes. Humans, as the only creatures aware of their mortality, deal not at all well with death. Impending death, malingering death, looming death, recent death, distant death. I’m sure that there are anthropological examples to upend my theory, but in general we don’t tend to speak honestly and openly about death. And I wonder if that’s because each death, like each life, deserves something different from us.

Humans don’t seem to appreciate knowing we’re going to die, don’t appear to relish not knowing when, and seem rather frustrated at having a very, VERY clear sense that there is no rhyme or reason to who dies or when. The last fact—good people sometimes die horribly and too early while awful people sometimes die peacefully after inflicting the world with their nastiness for far too long—galls me.

Someone I love has Stage IV cancer. Someone I think I hate has Stage IV cancer. I’m not at all proud at how differently I’m handling their concurrent cancers, and yet we are all different in life, so I feel rather abashedly willing to scale my sorrow for the end of lives that actually add to the Universe’s limited quantity of love, rather than hoarding affection and refusing to share. I celebrate the lives of fair and decent and good people, and I petulantly sneer at the death of grotesque and mean and small people.

Is that something that I can even admit? Is that something that I should feel shame for?

A very close friend was abandoned by his father and grandparents when he was young. Starting in middle school, my friend never got a phone call from his father. Never received a birthday card. His dad was too busy with the second family he’d set up across town to bother with his old life. And my friend lived his entire adult life sure his father didn’t care.

Now, facing the news of his father’s impending death, my friend is wondering if he should call. Or visit. Or somehow try to repair the damage done. Somehow, I think, he hoped all these years that his dad would show up on his doorstep, with a giant teddy bear and a bouquet of flowers, begging forgiveness. “Please. I’m so sorry. I was so wrong. I miss you and I love you and you didn’t deserve to be abandoned.” Because he didn’t deserve to be abandoned. And friends and family tell my friend that he is loved and he is lovable.

But because his father never showed that, I suspect my wonderful friend doesn’t really accept that he’s loved.

Hearing about Stage IV cancer changes the dreams of apologies and reconciliation. That day of spontaneous forgiveness, of weeping together and embracing and swearing that you’ll make up for lost time? Doesn’t happen according to plan. And once my darling friend heard his dad was in hospice and unresponsive? The  healing moment became impossible. Asking, “why did you choose another family over me? Do you know what that did to me? Did you ever love me? Why not?” Not in the cards anymore.

And that’s a whole different kind of grieving. That’s desperately missing someone whom you have already missed for decades. That’s anger and fear and sadness rolled into the pit of your stomach where you think you’re not allowed to swallow. That’s heavy-drinking and rage grief.

And I’m so sorry. For my friend. Not for his jerk of a father.

I feel, at moments, dreadful for not caring that the callous, heartless jerk is dying. Isn’t that terrible to say? In our culture we’re not allowed to speak ill of the dead or dying, are we…we’re not allowed to cast aspersions on those who selfishly hurt our friends and family because somehow Stage IV means unassailable. Saying you hate someone who’s dying is somehow judged as mean or heartless.

That’s not fair. Because some people don’t deserve to be mourned as soulfully as others do. Which is more heartless: abandoning your kids so they forever think they’re unlovable? Or despising someone who abandoned their child? I think in our culture some people think that the rules change when someone has cancer.

I have another friend living with Stage IV cancer. A good and true and kind friend who goes out of his way for others. He makes people feel at home even when they’re relatively unknown to him. This friend who loves deeply and selflessly, who speaks ill only of those who malign him horribly yet quickly forgives if they offer even the slightest apology—his is the cancer I care about. His cancer I hate. His cancer I want to fight. This is where I put my effort, my grief, my love. I refuse to share that effort, grief, or love with the absentee father.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m supporting the friend with the dying, never-there dad. I’m listening and hugging and nodding empathetically. But I’m thinking terrible things, like how the rat doesn’t deserve a son who still actually cares, after decades of neglect and heartbreak. How he already abandoned children, so it doesn’t much matter whether he’s dead or not.

I’m also supporting the wonderful friend who puts his kids first. Who tells them every day that they’re loved; who has fought cancer for three-and-a-half years facing the scary and the toxic and the uplifting and the devastating with his children and his wife clearly in his adoring focus. Who deserves, if we ever had the folly of pretending that humans get what they deserve, a life as long as he would want.

One man, who might have loved his children but never told them or showed them or even called them, left his family years ago. And cancer will end his life.

Another man, who desperately loves his children and makes them know it constantly, will some day leave his family because cancer will end his life.

I mourn for the dying dad and I mourn for the wounded children. All of them. But I will not mourn for someone just because they’re dying. Life is much more nuanced than that.

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Foreign Exchange: the straw that broke the camel’s back

Culture clash 2013!

Our foreign exchange student is a big fan of all things chemical. She prefers bread with long ingredient lists, loves pasta from a can, adores adding bouillon cubes to her cooking, and can’t go for more than an hour without using some sort of fragrance-infused toiletries.

Her shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, toothpaste, perfume, body lotion, face lotion, candles, nail polish, styling products, and soap sit in a row atop her dresser downstairs and seep phthalates into our house. The bottles just sit there, even when closed, and reek.

It doesn’t help that, after more than a decade of completely fragrance-free products, I can smell perfume a mile away. Nor does it help that those fragrances, inherently toxic, give me a headache and nauseate me.

I’ve gotten to a point in my hyper-Berkeley-ish-ness that I want to rescue people who reek of perfume. It’s not nice to be holier-than-thou, but I can’t help it. I want to hand the chemically-addicted an article on the neurotoxins found in fragrance and beg them to change their ways.

I’m not dreadful, though, so I say nothing. Not about my mom’s hairspray or my neighbor’s sunscreen or my father-in-law’s cologne. And not this summer when I have to close the bathroom door and run the fan for hours after our Dominican visitor takes a shower.

But today I’m so furious I can’t stand it.

Rosí asked me how to use the washing machine, and proudly did her own clothes yesterday.

But she left a trial vial of some hideous cologne in her pocket, and its contents leaked into the washer. And dryer.

So now my family’s clothes, towels, and napkins freaking reek of cheap cologne. I’ve washed four times, with baking soda, with vinegar, and with non-toxic eco-friendly soap.

The whole house stinks. When I walk into certain rooms I want to throw up. Every time I enter the house I wonder if a group of misguided teens has shellacked themselves with Axe body spray and wandered the rooms of my house just to torture me.

It’s not all about me, of course. When I handed Rosí the near empty vial from the dryer and told her that her perfume had been through the wash, she seemed devastated.

“Oh, no! I’ll have to get more.”

If anyone would like to host a foreign exchange student for a week, please come now. No, seriously. Now. Because there might be an international incident soon.

Really soon.

 

 

Dental guilt

Raised by a dentist, I have always held dental hygiene higher in importance over most other personal hygiene. I’ll skip shampoo more often than advisable and I’ll forgo shaving. But I have to brush and floss twice daily. Because that’s what people in my family do.

And I’ve brushed my kids’ teeth since the very first one erupted July 9, 2006. I did not need to look that date up, because I know my children’s dental histories.

When Peanut was diagnosed with a cavity at age 7, I felt shock and sadness. We’d been slipping a bit on the brushing, and had remembered very few morning toothbrush communions that year. We had split parental duties a bit and I brushed the younger child while Spouse monitored and rebrushed for the eldest.

But Spouse is not as dentally retentive as I am. And he let two minutes become one. Or less.

So after the cavity was filled I resolved to do all the brushing myself.

At night.

In the morning, though, I reminded Peanut of his jobs and wrote (and drew) a morning chart as suggested in The Secrets of Happy Families. His jobs were to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, pack his backpack, and check the weather to decide on shoes and jacket. But he rarely brushed in the morning. And I started to rely on Spouse again during the interminable evening routine. Chaos. Screaming, wailing, running, tickling chaos. So once again I brushed the little guy while Peanut increasingly took on his own dental hygiene.

Second cavity at age 7.5.

Both have been in permanent teeth.

Both, I have to note, have been without dental insurance.

And both are my fault.

Yes, I should be able to give a seven-year-old child a task and expect him to do it passably well. But I suppose there’s no need to get petulant at having to ask repeatedly and remind and plead and cajole and glare and remind again. I suppose I was wrong and it’s every parent’s job to ask seven times every single day for a basic and important task to be done, right?

Yes, I should be able to trust his father to brush him well after the initial juvenile pass. But I guess there’s no need to rely on other parents in the family to do a good job with something as important as dental health. I guess I should have to brush three mouths three times a day if I want us all to be cavity-free.

I guess.

So for at least a night I laid awake, terrifically disappointed in myself that my small child, for whose health and safety I am wholly responsible, will for his entire life have two molars that have been drilled and filled with foreign substances. And that will probably, in decades, need to be further drilled and additionally filled. It’s my fault that he will probably also have potentially toxic (though BPA-free) sealants on his teeth.

That he is broken. Invaded by bacteria. Vulnerable. Weakened. Compromised.

All because of me.

And then I woke up and thought of all the things I try so hard to do right. Food and kindness and respect and exercise and reading and science and math and listening and vocabulary and five-point harnesses and non-toxic lunchboxes and lead-free backpacks and friendship and history and family and sunshine and sunscreen and connection and nature and…

I stopped.

And thanked goodness for dental science and dentists and glass ionomer and resin composites. For disclosing tablets and timers and hygienists who teach what a child will not believe from his parents.

For lessons learned from making mistakes.

And for peace following acceptance and a plan to move on.

Maybe I’ll sleep better tonight. Right after I brush my teeth.

Bugs, bugs, bugs.

Oh, dear heavens, our seven-year-old got lice.

I really don’t need to say much more than that, for most of us had those insidious creatures as children or have parented small people growing those insidious creatures.

But holy guacamole it’s a lot of work. Our resolve to treat most illness and body issues naturally is seriously testing my rejection of all things insecticidal and toxic.

[UPDATE: See link at the end of the post for a three-week combing plan that requires no spraying, washing, nighttime masks, etc. I didn’t use it in the beginning, but have adopted it now.]

I knew as soon as I saw him scratching that I wouldn’t use neurotoxic insecticides that are illegal for use on farm animals and pets but legal for use on children. (Seriously, FDA? What is this, the billionth time you’ve made the wrong choice at the hands of major chemical companies?)

I also knew that choosing to eradicate bugs without toxic chemicals was going to make life way more challenging. But I had no idea just how challenging. I searched the Internet for nontoxic lice treatments to kill lice without poisons and came up with a regimen of head- and house-delousing that has, incidentally, almost killed me.

Why?

Day One:

  1. Shampoo and condition infected child with our regular, non-toxic products plus tea tree oil. Rinse with apple cider vinegar. Wash towel on hot. Estimated time: fifteen minutes.
  2. Strip all bedding from all beds, all clothes from drawers, all hats from rack, all costumes from basket. Put rugs outside. Sequester all washables in garage. Bag and seal all unwashable items (helmets, stuffed animals, etc.) Begin endless hot-water-and-tea-tree washing and drying on high. Estimated time: forty minutes.
  3. Take long-haired louse-festival and his brother to three stores to get supplies for two weeks of anti-lice tirades. Estimate time: one hour
  4. Spray both children with diluted tea tree oil. Comb each kid with his own with stainless steel nit comb. Boil nit combs. Time: two hours.
  5. Iron bunk bed mattresses. (Yes, with a clothes iron.) Put clean sheets on bunk beds. Estimated time: twenty-five minutes.
  6. Spray car seats with tea tree oil. Estimated time: five minutes
  7. Coat everyone’s heads with coconut oil (mixed with a dash of tea tree oil). Add shower caps. Estimated time: five minutes.
  8. Have Spouse nit comb my hair. Estimated time: forever.
  9. Continue laundry barrage. Estimated time: eternity.
  10. Sleep in coconut oil and shower cap. Estimated time: not long enough.

Day Two:

  1. Wake and comb coconut treatment out of both kids with nit comb. Ninety minutes
  2. Strip beds, throw all pillows, sheets, comforters into dryer in thirty-minute phases. Fifteen minutes
  3. Bathe kids. Wash hair, rinse with vinegar. Let dry, spray with diluted tea tree oil. Thirty minutes
  4. Take them to beach. Time? Who cares? It was lovely.
  5. Remake beds. Fifteen minutes.
  6. Give baths. Thirty minutes.
  7. Comb with nit comb. One hour. (Look at me, getting faster. Or careless.)
  8. Make beds. Fifteen minutes.
  9. Strip car seats, wash and dry covers. Twenty minutes.
  10. Regret bunk beds, hair, resistance to chemicals. All day.
  11. Apply coconut and shower caps. Five minutes.
  12. Reassemble and attach car seats. Thirty minutes.
  13. Have Spouse nit comb my hair: One hour.

Day Three:

Wash, dry. Strip beds. Wash, dry laundry. Comb kids. Wash, condition, rinse, dry kids. Make beds.

I’m going insane.

And I itch all over. I’m convinced I have lice, ticks, fleas, mosquitoes, and chiggers. All right now on my head.

Despite evidence that I don’t.

Day one eldest was crawling with bugs. Combed out maybe 50 disgusting little buggers. Youngest had none. I had none. Morning after coconut treatment eldest had at least a dozen dead bugs. Youngest had one tiny dead bug. Me, too. Morning after second coconut treatment eldest had no live bugs, two tiny dead bugs. Youngest had no live bugs, no dead bugs.

Tonight, after 48 hours and complete freaking adrenaline overload. I can’t find any eggs or lice on either kid. But eggs are microscopic and we have two more weeks, at least, of combing before we can be sure whatever hatches doesn’t grow big enough to lay its own eggs and start the whole insane cycle again.

So I’m psychosomatically itchy. And tired. And firmly resolved to keep up this incessant pace of laundry, combing, and coconutting.

The pediatrician says all we really need is the combing. And patience. Three weeks.
A friend says we could help ourselves by having the kids sleep in sleeping bags on the floor for ease of morning laundry.
The Internet says we have to keep doing all this for three weeks. Unfortunately, the Internet also says to buy lots of products, toxic and non-toxic. But nothing kills the eggs, and hatched critters can’t lay eggs if they’re combed out.

 

So.

What’s a little twelve-step day that takes six hours total? I have a spare six hours every day, right?

Wrong.

But. There are upsides.

  1. My kids are now sitting still (in front of the television, but I think anyone on the planet with excuse me that one) for an hour each day.
  2. We’re cleaning out the freezer of all the emergency, just-in-case frozen meals. Because there’s no way I’m cooking, too.
  3. The bugs seem to be gone for now. Or at least they’re on their way out. I have bested them with my will. And will continue to do so.
  4. I’ve finally needed the numbered-list formatting on my five-year-old blog.

So I guess there are silver linings to every creepy, crawly, disgusting parasite.

Right?

[UPDATE link http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/theliceprogram/index.html%5D

Hot cocoa

There are few things that unify the world like chocolate.

During our first week together I offered our foreign exchange student a cup of cocoa.

And that event has become a microcosm of our relationship.

First she marveled that we call it cocoa. She calls it hot chocolate. Fair enough, I explained, since many people do. I like distinguishing it from edible chocolate. Drinkable chocolate sounds funny. So hot cocoa or just cocoa.

I try to buy only fair trade chocolate. Because I feel it’s important to fight child-slave labor by refusing to buy conventionally sourced chocolate. But after trying all the fair trade cocoas out there, I’ve decided my favorite is the brand this taste test decried as cloyingly sweet and overly vanilla-ed. Organic, but not fair trade.

Too sweet, most tasters at the newspaper said. But our dear friend from the Dominican Republic almost spat out her first sip. She said, horrified, “you didn’t put any sugar in this!” then fixed it to her liking, with three soup spoons full of sugar and a little extra milk.

The next night, she asked me to make her another cup of cocoa.

As I mentioned earlier this week, we’ve been working on getting her more independent. So I pointed to the kettle, explained how it works. I made sure she knows how to turn on the stove. And I told her the water would be ready soon and left her with a packet of a less sweet, fair trade cocoa.

She managed just fine. She found a cup and a spoon. And she knew very well where the sugar was.

Holiday gifts

Hey, there.

I haven’t posted in forever because I’m crazy busy.

But I have something for you. A gift, perhaps.

Go to HealthyStuff.org and check out the toys you’re going to give the small people in your family. Or use it to check the stuff you’d really rather donate to charity, under the guise of making room for new toys by getting rid of the old.

Our government and our corporations do a really horrible job of making sure we can buy things that won’t hurt us. At least one major company has resolved not to use carcinogenic, hormone-disrupting chemicals in products for children. Good for them. But there is arsenic and lead and PBDEs and PVC in a lot of the stuff you or your loved ones can buy, gift, use, and enjoy this time of year.
Toxic phones, toxic car seats, toxic household products, toxic sunscreen, and toxic makeup and shampoo.

Some of the data is old, and a lot of new toys aren’t on the Healthystuff.org reports. But still. Do what you can. Nobody wants to give their niece a toxic piece of chemical waste for Winter Solstice. Right?

Find some healthier alternatives at Safe Mama. Her cheat sheets will help you find safer toys, lunch gear, backpacks, bug repellent, and more.

Be safe out there. It’s a gross mess of lead-tainted wrapping paper and tape and poison-PVC tinsel and lead-filled holiday lights out there.

It’s still an awful lot of fun though. Happy holidays, and enjoy all the fair trade gelt and organic candy canes, and whole-wheat winter solstice gingerbread you can eat!

Stop supporting slave labor

There have been numerous articles on the use of slave labor, particularly forced child labor, in the production of chocolate. And I’m glad there are alternatives so we don’t have to choose between abstaining (NO!) or feeding our families the product of slave labor (HELL NO!)

When I buy food, I try to balance the important issues: maximizing nutrition while minimizing toxins, cost, and labor abuses.

Didn’t think you had to worry about slavery anymore? I wish that were true.

We buy locally grown organic tomatoes to avoid the pesticides and chemical fertilizers of conventional farms, and also to stay as far away from supporting the obscene work practices of some tomato farmers. I refuse to buy or eat products that are the product of slavery or of child labor. In the case of tomatoes, though, I had no idea I was supporting both until I read Tomatoland, the tomato’s version of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

We also buy fair trade coffee to vote for a world where local cooperatives grow and harvest coffee in conditions safe for the workers and the planet, where workers are paid a fair price for their products, and where crops are not grown in harmony with, rather than at the expense of rain forest.

As we prepare for Halloween, I was thrilled to find Kristen Howerton’s guide to an ethical Halloween because I think Americans spend a lot of time and money ensuring their own kids’ safety, and should learn how the holiday is harmful to other people’s children. Major chocolate companies often get their chocolate from farms that use child labor, child slavery, unsafe working conditions, and grotesque chemicals.

Go read more about the truth behind fun sized chocolate. Then check out one of the alternatives: fair trade chocolate (yum) or treats without any chocolate (also yum). Heck, give out toothbrushes or pencils like I always threaten to do.

Just make sure all children have a chance to be as safe as yours will be on Halloween.

Please.

I don’t have much power in this world, but I need something. I don’t have fame or fortune or a huge readership, and I don’t know what to do. I need help.

I need your hope. Because I need my friend to be okay.

He’s been through enough. He’s had a whole lot of shitty thrown his way, and each time he’s bested it. He’s finally with the woman absolutely meant for him. He has three amazing kids. He has hundreds of friends because he’s a miraculously good person. The type who gets a raw deal time and time again (and again and again) yet still smiles and makes people feel that they’re special. Makes us laugh and cry and appreciate being alive.

The motherfucking cancer that tried to kill him didn’t. And he had one blissful year after the torture of chemo and radiation and surgery.

And that stupid fucking no good cancer is back.

I don’t really have the power to do anything, and, of course, it’s not about me. Except I hurt just hearing that he’s in pain. That he’s scared. That his family is upside fucking down with fear.

So I want to get every single person I can thinking good thoughts. I can turn the Universe, right? Heartfelt pleas for good thoughts mean something, right?

Pray if you do. Hope if you will. Send him some good wishes if you please. I know there are lurkers amongst you, those who come out when it’s important.

He desperately needs something, and I want to give everything I can. So please. Send him a few thoughts or prayers or wishes. Type him a few words, would you, even though you don’t know him. Please.

The world needs him.

In which I go all Yosemite Sam

Frickafracka galldarned fanglewrangle pifflepoffle…

[UPDATED 8/21]
Searching for a child-sized non-toxic backpack for Peanut is some serious bullsh*t. Almost all the backpacks out there have PVC and lead, and I’m furious that I have to work so hard to find that most companies are a bunch of corner-cutting liars, thieves, and jackweeds. Not shocked, mind you. Mad.

Phthalates were banned from children’s toys in 2008 (but not other children’s products). PVC (vinyl) and small amounts of lead are allowed in the manufacture of children’s toys and in other products. Despite the hazards of PVC, shocking number of school supplies are still made of this toxic plastic, including binders, backpacks, sheet protectors, paper clips, and rain gear. And offensive as that is, since none of the parents I know are willing to buy products that invite their kids into the worlds of asthma, reproductive problems, cancer, obesity, ADHD, and learning disabilities; lunchboxes and backpacks with PVC have lead, too. That’s because PVC is made with heavy metals. Bonus, special for you today: (at least) two toxins for the price of one! (and don’t get me started on cadmium)

Sorry, what? They’re making stuff for kids to carry around and touch and eat from that are not free of lead or PVC? What the frickafracka glippidygloppedy…

Here’s what I’ve found (in my copious free time for such nonsense):

DwellSmart’s backpack is bigger than a toddler pack and smaller than a big kid pack. PVC-free and non-toxic. Cotton and whatnot. Thank heavens. Also? No chance my kid will want it. I would. But he likes bold and designs. And glitter and sequins and stickers and neon lights on everything. [sigh]

Dwell Studio offers some nice retro-esque prints and an ideal size.

Cute packs for big kids and for little kids by Beatrix are just the right size and fit our non-toxic requirements.

Ah, hemp. Can’t go wrong with natural fabrics, right? Rawganique has a whole selection, including a mini backpack just the right size. As with DwellSmart, small problem with the lack of kid-friendly prints or design. Perhaps they could add just a sweet cotton applique or stitched design? My kid would choose either if they had a stitched robot on the pocket.

Fluf Organics has my personal favorite kindergarten nontoxic PVC-free, lead-free, phthalate-free, BPA-free backpack.

Not Quite:
Wildkin pack-n-snacks are PVC-free, phthalate-free, and BPA-free but don’t specify lead-free. They say they comply with legal standards. That pretty much screams “probably has lead but don’t sue us because we didn’t promise it didn’t” to me. There’s a big difference between lead-free and lead-compliant. Lead compliant means within the legal limit for lead. Federal standards for lead is less than 100 ppm (if they actually found that level feasible, having proposed lowering it from 300 ppm. So complying with federal law means less than 0.03% to 0.01% lead. Lead free, however, means no lead. Given how much energy I’m investing in these kids, I prefer lead free.

Crocodile Creek has some backpacks that are PVC-free, phthalate-free, and BPA-free. Again, they say they comply with legal standards. Less than 100 ppm lead.

Hanna Andersson has a line of PVC-free backpacks, too. They will only say they comply with lead and phthalate regulations, which does not set my mind at ease. Plus, they don’t have any without pink and purple right now, though, and my long-haired, nail-painting, pink-loving son has enough hurdles entering kindergarten that I’m not showing him these.

High Sierra has PVC-free backpacks (and tents, which we found as we searched for a four-person tent [shout out to Butter, y’all!] But I can’t find one for kids and their pack-finding tool at the High Sierra website is broken, so I’m mad at them.

SafeMama, the guru of hunting down companies until they weep and admit their eco-toxic ways has a cheat sheet for us. Naturally.

But everything else out there is too big for my kid or too toxic for anyone.

[aside: if you have someone larger than a kindergartener, you might be interested in this link from Be Safe Net. That, plus SafeMama’s cheat sheet, might lead you to High Sierra and Jansport and Patagonia and Timbuk2 and Ecogear. Maybe not. If you have a smaller dude on their way somewhere important, like school or day care or from one room to another, you’ll check out Mimi the Sardine and Skip Hop zoo backpacks. And CBHstudio, which has the most adorable backpacks I’ve seen, PVC-free, BPA-free, phthalate-free, lead free. Maybe you’ll make your own backpack. Maybe you can send me one and I will be grateful.]

Frickafracka…we’ll see which of the five options I found that work for us, DwellSmart, DwellStudio, Rawganique, Fluf Organics, or Beatrix.

Why can’t we just go to local stores and buy things that are safe?

Bears repeating

Peanut went to a birthday party this weekend while I stayed at home and cooked through Butter’s nap. Increasingly, I don’t have time to prep and cook meals so I do it all on the weekend to eat throughout the week.

Though I do this to save time and money, I also do it because I don’t trust most of the prepared foods at the store and in restaurants. Since the 1990s I’ve tried to be more and more aware of how food is made (and of which ingredients). I don’t like chemical tasting food and I tend to buy and prepare foods in their natural states. We try to eat whole, natural, organic foods grown by local, sustainable farms and businesses.

And since I had kids I’ve gotten much more annoying about how careful I am.

So I cook as much as I can. Local, fresh, organic, whole. And I fake it when I need to (we have almond butter sandwiches for dinner at least once a week, not because I’m an About Last Night fan but because we run out of leftovers and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna take my hour of free time during Butter’s nap every day to cook something that might or might not be eaten later.)

On the weekend I try to blend homemade sauces like tahini and hummus, slow cook some vegetarian chili, make lentils and couscous with veggies, pre-layer black bean quesadillas, overcook and mash white bean and sweet potatoes for homemade burgers, prep berry almond smoothies, slice goat cheese and polenta to grill later with marinara, and bake a homemade pizza. The boys will generally eat these things, I have two hands to prepare on the weekend, these dishes don’t take careful spicing or attentive cooking, and most of the items last well through the week. So I sacrifice an afternoon or two to the home cooking gods.

[A friend once joked that a real Top Chef quick fire challenge would be to create something edible in 45 minutes…when you have to leave the prep area every 5 minutes to break up a fight, and leave the cooking area every 3 minutes to remind people about the rules, and leave the food unattended for at least 10 minutes while you run after someone making very poor choices. I would watch that episode a dozen times, were they ever to get that real with their reality programming.]

But making good food for four people is increasingly wearing on me. I’m tired of the work, I’m tired of checking labels, I’m tired of the exorbitant cost, and I’m tired of being such an annoying stickler.

Plus, it’s a pain that my day generally falls into the pattern:
wake to crying…clean a bottom…prepare food…serve food…attend to crying…
clean a bottom…shuffle people into car…serve food…shuffle people into car…
clean up food…prepare food…serve food…attend to crying…clean a bottom…
clean up after food…serve food….clean up after food…attend to crying…
shuffle people into car…prepare food…serve food…clean a bottom…clean up after food…prepare food…fall asleep

I’m getting tired of cooking my own beans to avoid BPA and making my own marinara to avoid BPA and putting everything in washable bags to avoid phthalates and refusing to do disposable to avoid adding to the landfill and buying local and organic at three times the price to avoid pesticides and herbicides and petroleum and child labor.

Then Eric Schlosser goes and writes something new that reminds me why we do this. Pseudofood is killing the planet, killing people, and killing farmers. I want to rip out the backyard, plant a bigger edible garden, write letters to local and national government, run for political office, take on the restaurant and agriculture lobbies, and rebuild the FDA and USDA to serve consumers.

Because what we’re eating now is not food. And the more people who know that, the better the food we get will become. And the less often I will have my kid come home from a birthday party full of modern marvels labeled as food.

[Of this I’m enormously jealous, by the way. I want to go back to a time when a blue tongue was fun rather than a source of stress, and when sugar was fun not toxic. But that ship has sailed.]

California is still the Old West

Peanut: Can we have beets for dinner?
Me: Sure.
P: Raw, please. Or cooked.
M: Which one?
P: Raw. Shredded.
M: Okay.
P: With goat cheese, please. And balsamic. Or I’ll shoot you.

I’m quite over the shooting phase. It has been 10 days, and the boy can make anything into “a shooter.”

He doesn’t know a thing about guns. He only recently learned about bows and arrows. We’ve not shown him any movies with any projectile-firing weapons, and we don’t have any toys that fire projectiles. I was raised with guns, know my way around a gun, and have a terrified-respect relationship with guns. I want to live in a world with no guns. [Shut up with your “it’s too late for that, you commie liberal.” I know that, you jackass. And I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to the parents who read this blog because their kids drive them nuts, too. Go pay the NRA to lobby for your Constitution-misreading right and leave my blog alone.]

And yet he’s up every morning at 6, demanding tape so he can attach something to something else and pretend it shoots. Mostly his contraptions shoot me, because I’m the one lucky enough to be locked in a house with him far too many hours a day.

I asked the teachers, who said the same thing all the books do…pretend violence is not real violence. It’s natural and acceptable play. As long as you don’t give him something that fires projectiles, and as long as you don’t make a big deal about it, all will be fine.

So when he points at me, I say, casually, “please don’t point at me because I don’t like it.” And then I move on to something else, distracting either him or myself so we can not focus on the damned shooter.

Nope. 20 hours a day that kid is pointing something at me and bellowing, “soot soot soot!” [We have issues with the /sh/ sound.]

I’d be fine with a finger as a shooter. I’ll play pretend whip cream fight or pretend water hose like any other goofy mom. Heck, I’ll play pretend poop squirter if the mood strikes. But please don’t point construction paper-taped-pencils at me and say you’re going to make me dead. I know you don’t know what dead is. I know you don’t understand why pointing at anything you don’t want to kill is absolutely not okay. I know you need a fantasy life.

Can you please get it somewhere else?

Because you’re the one who wants shredded raw beets with goat cheese and balsamic. And if the other shooters heard you, they’d shoot you just for saying that.

Lead alert: juice and fruit

NPR featured a story today on high levels of lead found in fruit and juice for children

Story is available http://www.kqed.org/epArchive/R201006101730and an FAQ page here.

The long list of products (including some from Whole Foods, Safeway, Kroeger and big, national brands you know and might buy, like Dole, Del Monte, and Earth’s Best) is available here or beginning on page nine of the legal notice to companies that they’re in violation.

Isn’t it good to know that we can’t trust one stinking company with our food, nor our government to protect us? Good, good times, Corporate America.

Lessons from the Olympics

Every two years I learn a bit more about human nature from watching the Olympics. Here’s what I’ve learned this time.

1) There should be compulsories in every life pursuit, including citizenship and parenting. Required maneuvers, put your own stamp on them, but prove you can do the basics, or GET OUT.

2) People who genuinely succeed in life see the big picture. “I’m here to do my best, and in that performance I achieved something I’ve never done before. It was a personal best. That’s the point, and I’m thrilled with actually doing my personal best.” People who live like leeches off successful people, for instance those who produce and write and report on television, have a completely f—ing screwed view of life. “He’s been having a terrible Olympics. yesterday he came in 13th and the day before 18th.” In the WORLD. Because he did his absolute best, and so did everyone else, and 12-17 bodies happened to just fire a bit faster on those two days. You “television personalities” are the oxpeckers of our culture.

3) Any sport that involves going faster than the human body can travel on its own is anathema to mothers. Wanna cross country ski really fast? Cool. That’s like running. Wanna hurl down a mountain at freeway speeds with just a helmet and goggles to protect you? Mama says NO. Serious negative bonus points if your sports is named after the part of you that could break…say, maybe, skeleton.

4) Holding your skate is not impressive. All that other stuff…wow. Holding your skate is really really dumb and I wish you’d stop it.

5) The absolute worst pseudo-food, food-like products are advertised during these sporting events, as though somehow putting those food-like substances in your body will make connected us to world-class athletes. Mmmmmkay. I’d rail against this faulty logic except that most of America gets suckered by this, just as they believe that pseudo-food will get fat, balding, short, flatulent men the tallest, thinnest, most intelligent and beautiful women. You just go ahead and think that, America.

6)The world will be a better place when ice fashions eliminate the flesh-toned stretchy fabric crap. “Oh, my. It looks as though she’s basically naked. How will she leap and twirl…oh, wait a minute. I see. It only looks as though there’s no fabric there. How clever. He didn’t bedazzle his flesh, he simply bedazzled some fleshy nylon. Kudos. It allows us to pretend to see her whole back and midsection without actually revealing anything, heaven forbid, in that skin tight everything-but-labia revealing dress.” You know what else makes a costume look like skin? Skin. Some of the fine competitors this year used their own skin to look like skin and it worked wonderfully well. You know what else holds up outfits? Real fabric. Straps of it or swaths of it or whole pieces of it. Other competitors used fabric. In bright colors or tasteful neutrals. Also worked quite well. This 1970s body stocking bullshit simply has to go. Thanks to the competitors who have already realized that.

SIGG toxic b.s.

I am so angry it’s taking all my energy not to scream obscenities and cry. Sigg, the maker of stainless steel bottles I’ve used for YEARS to escape exposure from the scary hormone-disrupting chemicals found in plastic (especially BPA), actually contain BPA. Or did, until last year when they changed their liner without telling anyone about the toxins.

Should I have known when they touted their bottles as an eco-alternative that “does not leach BPA” to read between the lines and see that doesn’t mean “does not contain BPA?” Sure. But I wasn’t the only one fooled. Consumer advocates have been trying to prove for years what we all suspected: Sigg is too good to be true.

Now Sigg is willing to replace their old bottles with their new, BPA-free bottles. I refuse to link to their website because I am angry I could spit BPA tainted water. Several retailers are exchanging the bottles for the new version or for an alternative.

I’m not getting new Sigg bottles. I’m going to put on hold my boycott of Whole Foods, whose dolt of a CEO wrote an editorial opposed to health care reform and basic human services (hello, do you know your customers at all?) because Whole Foods is taking back Sigg bottles for a credit. And with that credit I will buy the bottles I thought I could never afford but am now KICKING myself for not buying earlier, distraught with what I may have done to my body, my children’s bodies, and my Spouse’s body by relying on Sigg for so many years.

I’m scared and mad and feel so f—ing misled. What is the point of reading and researching and trying my absolute best if goddamned companies goddamned lie as a way of doing business?

No aluminum. No Gaiam bottles (I knew that because they taste like plastic). No Sigg bottles.

Yes to stainless steel. Yes to Kleen Kanteen. Maybe to whatever other alternatives you’d like to suggest, if you can prove they’re not taking our money and lying like certain other companies. Like all of them.