Category Archives: tips

Raffi is Coming to Town!

Photo Credit Jon Benjamin

The all time children’s superstar, Raffi, is on tour!  Haven’t heard of Raffi?  Well, he has been creating classic children’s music since the 70s.  His songs like Baby Beluga, Down By the Bay and Apples and Bananas have captivated generations of children.

I’ve been a fan since probably the 80s when his tunes entertained me and my little brothers and sisters.  Now,  Raffi’s songs entertain my little boys.  On a daily basis, Bobby marches around the house singing Apples and Bananas.  And, CJ chimes in with grunts here and there.

I just can’t wait to let them sing Apples and Bananas with Raffi live in concert!  Luckily neither they nor I will have to wait that long since Raffi is on tour!

He will be in Berkeley on April 6, then hopscotching around the country.  Interested in more details? Then, click here.

The concerts will benefit the Center for Child Honouring, an organization founded by Raffi based upon a Covenant for Honouring Children, an absolutely inspirational movement promoting the rights of children and aimed at bettering the world for all children.  Check back for more information about the Covenant for Honouring Children as it more than warrants a separate discussion.

You’ve Got To Sing When The Spirit Says Sing – Music, Child Development & Raffi

Photo Credit Jon BenjaminSome say the first language of babies is music as they experience it in the womb.  From this early exposure, babies learn to love rhythm.  I noticed Bobby’s special connection with rhythm from the first moments of meeting him.  He was a bit of a fussy baby.  So, a constant dance-like bounce was all that would soothe him.  Once that stopped working, he would calm by listening to Yo Yo Ma.  The drastic impact music had on Bobby got me thinking about the relevance of music in his development.  I’ve learned that a connection with music plays an important role as the foundation for literacy and other social and cultural development.

Why is Music Important?

“The necessity of music in human intellectual development has been discussed as far back as ancient Greece, in the 6th century B.C. In Plato’s Book of Laws II, a discussion is presented between an Athenian student and his teacher, Clinias, that describes the ancient Greek views on the importance of music education.

Athenian: So, by the uneducated man we shall mean one who has no choric training; and by an educated man whose choric training has been thorough.

Clinias: Exactly.

Athenian: And, mark you., the choric art as a whole embraces both dance and song.

Clinias: No doubt.

Athenian: Thus it follows that a well-educated man can both sing well and dance well.

Clinias: So it would seem.” CITE

Many advocate for continuing a child’s early exposure to music.  One such group of experts explain: “Early musical training helps develop brain areas involved in language and reasoning. It is thought that brain development continues for many years after birth. Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways.” (Cite)

Music At Our House

Continuing Bobby’s exposure has been a bit tricky.   At 3.5 years old, he seems a bit young to sit through lessons.  But music is still on his mind.  The other day, he was in the backyard with two sticks.  One was double his height.  He held it upright in one hand and took another stick and began to strum the larger stick.  When asked what he was doing, he replied that he was playing the cello.  Later that night he pretended to play the flute.  And, his little brother, who we call Bam Bam due to his love of banging on everything and everyone, used two sticks to beat the ground.  Future drummer?  Maybe.  So, we had a delightful time singing songs amidst the trees.  After all, in the words of Raffi, you’ve gotta sing when the spirit says sing.

The favorite song these days is Baby Beluga. Thank you Raffi Cavoukian, the superstar of kids’ music, for creating this charming song that introduces lil ones to the wonders of the ocean.  Singing Raffi with my kids is nostalgic for me as I remember singing his songs with my six younger siblings.

The All Time Children’s Superstar, Raffi

Haven’t heard of Raffi?  Well he has been creating classic children’s music since the 70s.  I’ve been a fan since probably the 80s when his tunes entertained me and my little brothers and sisters.  For me, it is wild that now, I am enjoying his music with my own children.  What’s wilder than that? Well, letting them experience Raffi in concert.

Raffi will be on tour this year.  He will be in Berkeley on April 6, then hopscotching around the country.  Interested in more details, then check here.  The concerts will benefit Child Honouring, an organization founded by Raffi based upon a Covenant for Honouring Children, an absolutely inspirational movement to help make the world a better place for all children.  Check back for more information about the Covenant for Honouring Children as it more than warrants a separate discussion.

Ways To Introduce Your Kids To Music

There are so many ways to introduce young kids to music.  From streaming music in the background, asking them what they think of it, singing, dancing and playing instruments or sticks as the case may be.  In addition, concerts are a great way to let them gain another perspective.  Raffi’s concert is one such event and should be amazing!  But if you can’t make that, then check out your local community.  Consider attending a high school performance, church choir concert, music class or youth symphony.  Library storytimes also can incorporate music as well.

Thanks for reading!   Wishing you and your little ones magical times making music memories!

Tackle Those Spices: One Way to Organize A Shelf

Too cold to jaunt outside in the morning?  Or are your kids like mine, sick as dogs with the cold that just won’t go away?  Why not take advantage of being inside and make life a little easier by organizing your spices.

spice 1If you’re like me, you have a few spices on hand.  Some of them you may never use, because they are buried in a corner, at the bottom of a drawer or have just disappeared completely.  After years of trying to figure out how to best organize my spice drawer, I finally figured it out!

Rather than use a spice drawer, I am using a shelf.  I have labeled the tops of the spice jars.  Since the tops of the spices are at eye level it is so easy to find the spices I need when I need them.  My cooking has gotten a bit more creative as now everything is easily accessible.

All it took was a few labels, a sharpie pen, a little time and a dash of patience spice 2and voila — mission accomplished!  You can color code your spices as well.  I used red for spicy, yellow for savory, and blue for sweet which is turning out to be helpful.

By the way, the Slap Ya Mama spice in the photo besides adding a dose of humor to a spice collection, offers a fabulous slightly spicy yet salty flavor.   In my opinion,  like the man spice for women.  You know, the one your husband wants to put on everything? My husband would put Lawry’s or Mrs. Dash on anything and everything (before he met me).  So Slap Ya Mama is a southern favorite -its like Old Bay but with more flavor.  Made with red pepper, garlic and salt, it is pretty darn versatile.

What’s your favorite way to organize spices? I’d love to hear.

Kid Friendly Wine Tasting in Sonoma Valley

Wine tastingLife in Sonoma may be synonymous with picturesque vineyards but it is also synonymous with kid friendly activities of all sorts.  Finding kid friendly wine tasting experiences, however, can be a little tricky as some of the tasting rooms seem more like museums.  From intimate to commercial tasting rooms, here’s a list of my favorite spots to take family and friends with kids in tow.

RocheSince this article is about wine tasting in Sonoma, I’ll first mention a delightful tasting room steps from the historic Sonoma Plaza.  Let your kids explore the Sonoma Plaza and then continue the fun at the Roche Winery Tasting Room.  In addition to exquisite wines, Roche offers a perfect place to experience life Sonoma style.  Not to worry if your tots are still restless, Roche has a lovely patio for kids to roam.  If your kids are older, Roche also has bike tours of the vineyards!Kid cycling Roche

Meadowcroft is ideally situated at Cornerstone.  Why not let your kiddos let off some steam while hunting around the gardens, and then pop in for a tasting?  That’s what I did.  And, to be honest the folks at Meadowcroft were more than hospitable with the two galloping tots.  They even went out of their way to invite me to feed my kiddos in the tasting room.

Bartholomew Park  offers as its name suggests is in a park setting.  With trails and picnic grounds to roam, all will delight in a visit.  Interested in hiking? Then load your toddler in your backpack and take a hike.  Or bring a picnic and enjoy the grounds.

No list of family friendly Sonoma wineries would be complete without mention of the Larson Family Winery.  This place includes picnic tables and a grassy area with kid friendly games.  If you like  bubbles, then try theirs. We used it to celebrate CJ’s baptism.  Also, for future holiday planning, note that Santa visits Larson.  Wine tasting  and Santa — enough said.

Desire a more intimate tasting experience?  Then consider visiting Peter Cellars.  Located on a private estate equipped with bocce ball, it doesn’t get more kid friendly than this. Be forewarned, however, that this boutique winery offers wines so delightful you’ll be hard pressed not to join IMG_1755the wine club!  Note that tastings are by appointment only.

Up for a bit of a drive?  Then venture to two wineries in my neighborhood – Benziger and Eric Ross.  The warm, friendly and intimate environment at Eric Ross Tasting Room is worth a visit.  Eric Ross is so kid friendly that they keep hot-wheel cars on hand!  And, Dennis and Diane, the tasting room managers, make it a point to welcome kids.

Benziger in Glen Ellen offers a fun experience.  It even boasts a play-structure!  I think one of the only play structures in Glen Ellen.  Take kids on the tractor tour of the vineyard or let them climb the fort and speed down the slide.  Either way you win!

Kenwood offers numerous spots as well.  Why not visit VJB?  VJB offers a little piece of Italy right here in Sonoma.  Feel transported  by the environment, wines and flavors.  In addition to a tasting room, VJB houses a lovely Italian deli and dessert cafe.  The courtyard contains kids providing a respite for parents as they leisurely nibble on Italian treats while letting kids race around the courtyard.  I highly recommend the prosciutto and arugula pizza.  Totally delicious!

I hope you enjoy some of these places.  Did I miss your favorite spot?  I’d love to hear about it!

2012, Where did you go?

It’s so hard to believe it is January. 2013 – yikes, where did 2012 go? Reflecting on the last year, I was shocked at how much of a blur it’s all been.  It occurred to me that having baby numero 2 created more of a mommy fog than baby numero 1. Why? Well, with two boys racing around – time just doesn’t stand still.  I’m left in the dust behind two roadrunners.

Maybe it’s just me, but time seems to fly faster the more children I have.  It didn’t seem to go as fast with just one child.  Bobby’s first year, my husband and I relocated to Sonoma.  I can vividly remember exploring the town with my then 6 month old Bobby, introducing him to music classes and story-time.  I did similar things in 2012 with CJ, but its such a blur.  maybe it’s that the visits to the parks have taken on a new persona, instead of sitting playing in sand or with leaves, it’s a more interactive experience – playing hide and seek, tag, freeze dance, and chasing after Bobby as he climbs trees or (to be honest) tries to run into oncoming traffic.Again, left in the dust.

The quandary becomes how to slow things down for 2013.  Over the holidays a friend and also a mom of 2 wrote a beautiful piece about slowing things down.  She vowed to create stillness in her life.  To enjoy, embrace and extol the simple moments. Through these moments like reading stories, singing songs, and playing games, she saw her kids shine.

After much reflection as to my own blurry 2012, I do think there is something to slowing things down.  For isn’t it in the everyday moments where we really see our children in a new way.  Letting them explore things thoroughly without the pressures of hurrying about to get to X, to accomplish Y, or to finish Z.  I’m starting to think so anyway.

http://mothering-matters.com/10-tips-for-easier-laundry/The other day when faced with piles of laundry to fold, I tried something new.  Rather than wait until my roadrunners were sleeping, I decided to pull out the laundry baskets and actively engage them in folding. Here’s what happened.  Bobby was thrilled to get to help.  CJ was happy to pull clothes out of the basket and then climb in it.  Rather than get frustrated about the mess and inefficiency of the process, I let it go, trying to enjoy the moment.  I focused on letting the kids just enjoy the process.  After all, did it really matter if it took a little longer to fold?  Or if a towel had to be folded 3 times?  What I learned about my boys in that hour couldn’t be replicated anyother way.

Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be making this laundry folding a daily activity.  Nor will I be slowing things down completely as it’s not in my nature.  But I will be carving out time and creating space to enjoy life in a pure and simple way.

Meeting Reindeer at the SF Zoo

Looking for sometReindeer Romphing fun to do this holiday season?  Consider introducing your tot(s) to some of Santa’s reindeer.  They’re at the SF Zoo.  Just follow the red signs to their location.  Both of my boys loved watching the reindeer prance about.  In fact, we could have probably spent most of the day just observing the reindeer do their thing.

After visiting the reindeer, we stopped by to see the penguins.  Luckily for us it was feeding time which happens at 10:30am and again at 3:30pm.  Bobby laughed as the penguins lined up to be hand fed their breakfast.

We then strolled about for awhile checking out the zebras, monkeys and even the rhino.  Bobby though was most amused by the peacocks that were free ranging along the paths.

We ended up stopping for lunch right near the carousel, which proved to be a great way to encourage Bobby to enjoy some veggies. Of course after his lunch, he got to ride the carousel.  He picked out a pig to ride on and loved trying to figure out how the pig moved up and down.  I totally loved admiring the beauty of the carousel which is made out of wood and dates back to the 1920s.  Total perfection.

Of course a trip to the zoo would not be complete without stopping by the children’s petting zoo with goats, horses and ducks.  My boys loved petting the goats. I loved watching them. For older kids, there is a tack barn with creative activities like drawing for kids to enjoy.  My boys aren’t there yet, and were more into taking the mini tractors for a spin around the grounds.

Tips – If you can swing it, I highly recommend going on a weekday it is a much more relaxing experience. Avoid the first Wednesday of the month as it is the free day for SF residents. I also highly recommend bringing a picnic lunch as well as some extra layers.  Oh and kids 3 and under are free.  So enjoy!

 

If the Twos are Terrible then What the Heck are the Threes?

For years I have been hearing about the terrible twos.  And, yes, with little ones finding their independence the twos can be and were most challenging.  Now though that I am experiencing the threes, I am wondering why the twos got so much hype.  Why isn’t anyone talking about the threes?

Today must have set some sort of record.  The day started off with what was supposed to be a lovely short trip to the store which quickly reminded me why I prefer to shop solo. Bobby wanted to hold the box of kosher salt, then he wanted to throw it on the floor, then he wanted to grab something else, then he screamed for no reason.  All within a ten minute period.  I won’t go into what happened after the grocery store, but let’s just say more of the same thing.

Wanting some guidance, I did a little research to help me understand what this behavior is all about.   Some articles on websites like BabyCenter explain that tantrums are about the child gaining independence and that children will tantrum as a result of being unable to express how they feel.  These articles were totally unhelpful to the parent of the child who knows how he feels but just seems determined to pitch a fit.  After digging some more, I came across an article on WebMD that was informative.  Children between the age of 3 and 4 have a hard time knowing the consequences of bad behavior.  Allegedly after awhile a tantruming 3 year old will learn that the behavior results in a some sort of consequence and as a result they’ll tantrum less.

What should the consequence be?  Some experts suggest time outs, others just a lack of attention.  Apparently ignoring the tantrum can work well.  And for me, it has worked.  But what do you do when they’re tantruming in public.  One expert advocated for the parents to remain calm and detached.  After reading that, I started to wonder if they had kids.  It’s so hard to stay calm when your child is sprawled out on the ground somewhere with a group of onlookers.

Lucky for me, I got to try to stay calm. On the way to the park, Bobby had a meltdown. At first it was about a green dinosaur – he wanted it, then he didn’t want it, then he wanted something else, and went back to wanting the dinosaur.  Usually, I try to talk him down from his tantrum.  This time it was clear that my usual approach wasn’t going to work. So, I tried something new.  I ignored him.  I tried to keep my cool and counted to ten.  By the time I got to ten, he simmered down and was looking out the window.  So, maybe there is something to ignoring the tantrum.

Dining With An Eight Month Old

While it is easy to enjoy a nice meal with a sleeping baby, once that sleeping baby awakens things change.  Months later the previously sleeping baby turns into an active monkey who can enjoy real food.  The challenge becomes being able to feed the happy active baby while also eating something yourself.

For the longest time, my husband, Tony and I would take turns appeasing CJ. Then, we appeased hungry monkey by putting him on the table in a Bumbo.  It worked for about two months.  Now he can bust out of the Bumbo, but he still wants to be part of the action.

The quandary became how to entertain CJ while also enjoying a meal.  After loads of trial and error, pulled tablecloths, spilled glasses, and plates tossed on the floor, I finally figured it out.  I followed his cue – and stopped feeding CJ off of a plate.  I discovered something heavy and bulky to put in its stead.  A cutting board!  After all, a wooden cutting board is too heavy for him to toss on the floor or otherwise mess with.  It goes right on the tablecloth and acts like an anchor for his food.  CJ feels like a part of the family dinner (and eats more too).

Now, we can literally dine together without worrying about dishes being dropped on the floor or tablecloths being pulled from their place.  At least not CJ doing that, my 3 year old is another story.

Raising Awareness – Pinatas, Peanuts & Epi Pens

With eight percent of children having some sort of food allergy, raising awareness is important. After all, you don’t want to be the one innocently giving a child something that could trigger a life threatening reaction.

It seems that food allergies are here to stay. A 2008 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed an 18% increase in food allergy between 1997 and 2007. Peanut allergy also tripled during that time.

Some kids can react to an allergen being in the air or a handprint on a play structure, others need to ingest it. For those who have more tactile allergy triggers, the world can be a dangerous place. I’ve heard of moms leaving playgrounds when they see kids eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Imagine peanut butter getting on one child’s hands and then transferring it or traces of it to the playstructure. Such a result could present a serious danger to some children.

A small number of foods are responsible for 80% of all allergies (milk, wheat, soy, eggs, fish and nuts). The most common childhood allergies are to milk, wheat, soy, eggs. These allergies are likely to resolve during childhood. Other allergies, like to nuts and fish are said to be more long term.

With food being such a part of our culture, a restricted diet presents challenges especially for young kids who are too young to regulate their own food intake. From birthday parties to playgrounds, the snacks offered can pose serious risks. For kids with egg allergies, innocent foods like French toast, mayonnaise, quiche, custards and meringues, are problematic.

Being the mom of a child with food allergies is a nerve wracking anxiety provoking experience. Bobby first showed sign of being allergic with a light rash on his face. As he got older his reaction intensified – vomiting, tongue swelling and trouble breathing. So, as his mom, I’ve learned to watch him like a hawk. You could say I am a helicopter parent on steroids.

When a piñata breaks at a birthday party, I have been filled with a sense of dread as I look to make sure I am able to monitor what candy my child eats. Of course he goes for the candy in shiny packages. Explaining why some kids are able to eat peanut butter cups or why the Easter Bunny would leave candy that can’t be consumed has been a bit of a challenge. The good news is that as he get older, he will be better able to understand the result of his allergies and self regulate his intake.

Not knowing when a new food allergy will show itself is a challenge and downright scary. Such has been my experience lately, requiring the inaugural use of the Epi Pen and resulting in Bobby’s first (and hopefully last) ride in an ambulance. Holding Bobby as he struggled to breathe was my worst nightmare. For seconds, I contemplated whether to subject him to one of the things he hates most – a shot. As much as I hated him having him the shot, I knew he needed it. I held him, my brave husband gave it. Within seconds, that shot somehow helped him breathe. After being able to breathe, he thought it was so “cool” an ambulance and a fire truck came to his house. I thought it was so “cool” that they arrived so quickly. But – Bobby, yes, this was an impromptu party.

For parents of kids with allergies, there are things we can do to. We can educate others about our children’s’ allergies. In fact, I hesitated to write this article as I want so much for Bobby to be treated just the same as the other kids on the playground. The reality is that he can be treated that way, but that the adults caring for him need to know how to use the Epi Pen should the need arise. On that note, Bobby’s school actually invited me in to talk to the teachers. They even practiced using the Epi Pen. Here in Sonoma, two schools are at least partially nut free – Valley of the Moon (entirely nut free) and Sunshine School. Old Adobe Preschool is also attentive to children with allergies.

There are little things we can all do to make the world a more allergy friendly place.

  1. Before giving a child a snack, ask their parents if it’s ok.
  2. Have kids wash their hands with soap and water or wipes after eating. There is research to suggest that hand sanitizer won’t get rid of trace amounts of food.
  3. When hosting a party, make sure food is on countertops out of the reach of young kids.
  4. When your child is done eating, make sure uneaten remnants make it into a trash can.
  5. Be supportive of parents whose kids have food allergies. If you think they are overreacting or being overprotective, then check out a video on youtube of a child having an anaphylactic reaction or just ask me what it’s like. I’m happy to tell you.
  6. Remain positive. Stress the strengths of kids with allergies.

So where’s the silver lining? Current scientific studies may hold promise for the future. For example, there are studies currently as to introducing trace amounts of foods to develop a tolerance. Also, kids with food allergies learn to be tough. Heck, I’ve heard of an Army Ranger who has a peanut allergy. So with the right support, our kids can have the option of being rangers too.

For more information about food allergies – check out FAAN (www.foodallergy.org), the Food Allergy Initiative (www.foodallergyinitiative.org) and the Food Allergy Project (www.foodallergyproject.org).

A 6 Month Old Foodie – Feeding Baby Sonoma Style

Raising kids in Sonoma has tons of benefits, beautiful weather, picturesque pastures and amazing local produce.  The food part of this joyous trinity seemed to disappear when I started feeding my 6 month old premade babyfood.

Have you ever tasted store bought babyfood?  The other day, I opened a jar of garden veggie dinner of the organic variety.  I gave some to CJ, my 6 month old.  He spit it out!  So, I had to wonder why his protest?  I tasted it.   It was absolutely dreadful.  I spit it out too!  It made me wonder about the long term effect of serving my child bland disgusting mush.  So, in a very dramatic style, I tossed the jar in the trash and threw some of my dinner into a blender (the magic bullet – best 20$ investment ever).   Shallot and lavender chicken, sautéed Romano beans and panko crusted mac n’cheese.  Interestingly enough, CJ gobbled down the blended mush.

It turns out that folks have written all about this phenomena – check out Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton and Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman.

It has turned into a bit of an experiment for me.  As I fed my first son completely differently than how I am feeding CJ.  With Bobby, I followed the traditional approach.  First he had rice cereal.  Then I slowly introduced each food individually for about a 5 day period looking for allergies.  For awhile Bobby had very plain tastes that have taken awhile to undo.  That’s not to say I disagree with the idea of slowly introducing foods as to look for allergies.  But as a mom with a child with food allergies, I can tell you that in my experience the reaction a child may have to food can be really pronounced  (rash, wheezing, swelling, vomit).

It is quite possible that I stunted Bobby’s culinary tastes by feeding him such plain food for so long.  Having come to this realization, I have completely changed what and how I feed CJ.  Now for breakfast, he gets whatever we’re having.  Today it was bits of sweet potato banana scones (see recipe in my blog post).  For lunch, he gets blended fruits and veggies.  He snacks on fresh produce from the farmers market. He loves cucumbers, peaches and plums all fed through a mesh feeder.  For dinner, he gets a mashed version of whatever we’re having.  Over the weekend, he tasted and loved ribeye steak, basa fillets, and lavender chicken.   All were hits as he didn’t spit it out and wanted more.

Don’t get me wrong – sometimes he gets jarred food too as it is so convenient.   It is the rare instance that I don’t add some sort of flavoring to it.

So, if you want to start feeding your baby Sonoma foodie style – pick up a small blender like the Magic Bullet and a few mesh feeders.  Get creative and you won’t be disappointed.