Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Decadently Rich Pumpkin Fudge Cake (DF/EF/etc)

Joelito, our three-year-old pastry chef, came up with this version this morning. This moist cake is like melted Mexican chocolate, and allergy-friendly, too! I know that baking is supposed to be very precise, but as I've mentioned before, sometimes his enthusiasm gets the better of him.

1 C pumpkin
1 C apple cider
1/2 C brown sugar
1/2 C sugar
generous amount of pumpkin pie spice (Joel emptied the can, but it was almost gone anyway--maybe 2 tsp?)
several shakes of allspice
2 3/4 C flour (if gluten-free you can sub most GF mixes and the cake still comes out well, a rarity with egg-free cakes! We usually used 2 C rice flour and 2/3 C tapioca flour.)
1 C dairy-free chocolate chips
1/2 C canola oil
1 tsp salt
scant Tbsp baking powder

Mix well, pour into a greased and floured 9x13 pan and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes.

While the cake is baking, we mixed sugar, cocoa and Smart Balance light and boiled it like you would for a fudge sauce. Remove from heat, add a Tbsp of coffee and good splash of vanilla and stir well. Pour over the warm cake when it comes out of the oven.

It is the perfect autumn chocolate and spice combination. Yum!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sore spots

Last weekend I had the joy of having wisdom teeth extracted. Allow me to say, in all seriousness, that I prefer childbirth without pain meds to pretty much any kind of dental work, with full anesthesia. I don't respond well to pain meds. They make me loopy and moody, and often don't even make much difference with the pain. These extractions were under general anesthesia because one tooth was sideways and messy and they had to take out a small portion of my jawbone along with it. Things went well, but I'm am feeling whiny still, in spite of copious amounts of ice cream.

Perhaps you have noticed this--if I had ever taken physics (shudder) I'd probably know the name of the law for it--there is a special force of attraction exerted by injured body parts that compels further injury by anyone in the vicinity, despite their own intent. I first noticed this in childhood when a toe nail came off. I was positive that every single time my mom passed it, she stepped on my foot.

Now, anyone acquainted with my mother would dispute that. She is one of the most tenderhearted people I've ever met, far more so than I, and the idea of her purposefully hurting anyone is ludicrous. Nor is she so clumsy as to keep doing this accidentally (maybe once or twice, but certainly not over and over).

A similar occurrence took place with my sore jaw last night. Joelito smacked me in the jaw, and Elena headbutted me three times. Lest you get the wrong idea, this happened right after turning out the light. It was dark and they didn't see me. They had no intention of hurting me whatsoever. Joel actually cried for several minutes afterward when he saw that it hurt. Just as in the case with my foot, I was so sensitive that I noticed any incidental contact that probably wouldn't have even registered if I were not already sore.

This isn't limited to physical issues. Once I saw a couple of guys teasing each other, and happened to glance at one's face in the split second before the pain left his eyes. Now, the other guy was his best friend, and a genuinely nice person. He would have been horrified if he had realized that his words wounded his friend.

We've all seen those cruel barbs that are passed off as "just kidding" when everyone listening knows that they are meant to dig. This wasn't like that. It wasn't vicious or truly meant to hurt. Just gentle ribbing. And, if the friend hadn't been already tender in that spot, it wouldn't have hurt at all. But he never spoke up and said that it hurt. He hid it so quickly that his friend didn't see it.

I've been thinking a lot lately on the admonition from Galatians to bear one another's burdens. There is a full blog post brewing on that, but I'm not there yet. Somehow, though, I think there is something in that verse that ties in to being sensitive to sore spots in the people around us.

The Bible also tells us that each should bear his own burden, and I believe that we are responsible for dealing with our own hurts and letting them heal. So I certainly don't want to guilt-trip anyone into blaming themselves for an innocuous comment or action that just happens to hit a nerve with someone else, anymore than I would want my children to feel bad for accidentally bumping me.

I know, though, that for me it is so easy to miss things and not see the pain that my words or actions can cause, especially when no harm is intended. Maybe, if we open our eyes and look closely, we could get to be part of the healing process for someone close to us. Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to soothe and help heal damage that might otherwise go unacknowledged? After the accidental bonks on the jaw, Joel and Elena carefully cuddled close to me and showered me with love. Even though they hadn't meant to hurt, their sweetness helped bring healing. What if we could do that, too?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Help! My daughter is a Betazoid!

As we drove home from the Children's Museum today, I amused myself comparing our family to different characters from Star Trek. I have a lot in common with Kathryn Janeway, particularly her appreciation for coffee (the finest organic suspension ever devised), love of spontaneous exploration (stopping to look at every insignificant little nebula or gaseous anomaly out there...), and a rather inconvenient conscience that focuses somewhat obsessively on my ideals.

I see Carlos as Captain Picard: extremely intelligent, well-spoken, a natural leader, interested in ancient civilizations and cultures. He has a lot of Spock, particularly in his reliance on logic and dry wit. There is also a bit of Commander Chakotay in him, and a rather striking physical resemblance there, too.

Joelito is harder to tell. Maybe Captian Kirk? He definitely has the charm, love of adventure and confidence at risk-taking (not to mention the occasional rule-breaking...). Elena is too small to say much, although I am reasonably sure that she is part Klingon (just try to take away something she wants and you'll be grateful that she doesn't swing a bat'leth).

Ariana, however, is unquestionably an empath. (She loves chocolate just as much as Deanna Troi, too). She soaks up the emotions of the people around her like a sponge. Even as a baby and toddler, she was remarkably attuned to other people's feelings. There are times when I delight in her sensitivity. Other times, like today, my heart breaks for her.

She had been looking forward to our trip for days. She counted down the time left every night. At first, she was enjoying it tremendously. Her abuelitos joined us, and we were having a great time exploring. She went through the store, chose her produce and ice cream and checked it out. We played on the spider web and then the playground. She was all smiles.

Then, in the archeology section, a little girl got in trouble and was given a time out. I am unaware of the offense that prompted it, but at least the parents weren't hitting her or screaming or being overtly cruel. The little girl began to cry, though, and Ariana grew more and more distressed until she was crying, too. We comforted her and moved to a different section, but to no avail. She stopped crying quickly, but was downcast for the rest of our time there. Every few minutes she would look at me with pain-filled eyes and whisper, "I want to go home".

How do you respond to something like that? When asked what was wrong, she just told me that she felt so sad for the little girl. I told her that I thought that the little girl was probably happy now and having fun. She was too scared to go back to the area we had left. For the rest of our time at the museum, she was sad.

Part of me wants her to develop callouses. To protect her heart and emotions more and be less sensitive. Yes, we have tried to teach and model caring and compassion for others, but we need some balance here! I've noticed at home that she will give in to whatever her siblings want rather than risk them getting upset. Even when it isn't verbalized, she has an acute awareness of the emotional climate around her.

I really need some help here, because I don't know what to do. If you or others that you are close to have that kind of exceptional sensitivity, how do you develop healthy boundaries or release the burdens that you take on from others? Are there any books you would recommend? I have always been naturally self-centered enough to distance myself when necessary, but she doesn't seem to have any protective mechanisms yet. I know that she has an amazing gift in her tenderness towards others, but how do we help nurture her so that she isn't torn to shreds because of it?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Independence Day

I've ranted before about the absurd and unhealthy obsession in the US that attempts to force independence from infancy. However, it is exciting to see child-initiated steps toward competence and achievement.

Ariana has been saying since she was two or three that she wants to be a chef. Last night, she wanted to exercise her culinary abilities by herself. She went and got the cutting board and a knife, and diced an onion. She put it in the pan, turned it on and began to saute it. As any cook knows, seasoning is of utmost importance, so she had Joelito collaborate. They added salt and pepper, and Joel threw in a good amount of rosemary and some red sugar sprinkles for color. (It would not have occurred to me to add sugar sprinkles, but the color was very nice, and the sugar helped the onions caramelize).

At this point, she came to me for help. I could tell that she wanted to finish the project on her own, so I logged her in to me favorite message board and turned her loose. I had explained before that one of the safety precautions we take on the Internet is using a pretend name. She promptly suggested Caramel (she has been very involved in her own role-playing game based on Candyland, and that is her favorite alter-ego). I thought that Caramel was pretty cute for the daughter of Dulce de leche. :)

She wrote a post introducing herself and requesting help with recipes (her spelling was a little inconsistent--I think it usually came out as "recepes") for onions and rosemary. She was so excited to see the replies! She read them aloud to me and Ooohed and Ahhhed over each one. She also wrote love notes to the posters who responded and asked them to please be her freind (sic). I intercepted her in mid-post as she thanked her new friends and invited them to our house, complete with address (which prompted further discussion about anonymity online).

After thinking about which recipes would work with the ingredients on hand and our allergens, she decided to add butter, garlic and potatoes to the onion-rosemary mixture. Carlos had been a bit dubious about the concoction early on (or perhaps just skeptical of the sprinkles?), but he couldn't believe how delicious it was once she finished it. It was really, really good!

Best of all was seeing how confident and happy my little girl was with her new cooking prowess. Despite my crunchy tendencies, I'm not fully into the while Continuum Concept thing. I found it fascinating, and agree to a point, but I am still too uptight to give it free reign. I'm sure some people are raising their eyebrows at the idea of letting a five year old use a knife and stove--I will say that we are firm about it being under supervision. But who knows? Maybe a decade or two from know, she will be graduating from culinary school and look back at the delight, creativity, self-reliance and independence she felt last night.

Today she wants to help me with meal planning and grocery shopping so that we will have everything we need for her next meal. :)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Truth and consequences

When I first began my journey into gentle discipline, I was familiar with the Goldilocks-model of discipline: Papa Bear discipline, which was too harsh; Mama Bear discipline which was too lenient; leaving Baby Bear discipline which, of course, was just right. Most approaches that I heard were all variations of that theme (naturally, each book claimed the Baby Bear version) and many linked gender that way, too.

We threw those models away, preferring a more unconditional parenting approach. We don't use punishment, at least by the way I define punishment: intentionally making my children miserable in retaliation for misbehavior. And I admit, I am wary of the term "consequences" because so often it is simply a euphemism for punishment.

I imagine that some of my blog readers, especially those who are not around us often in real life, assume that we just don't use spankings as punishment but still use time outs and other negative reinforcement, or that we simply let the kids run wild and shield them from any consequence whatsover to their actions. In reality, we do allow some natural consequences, when we feel like the children can actually learn from them.

I don't usually blog about it for several reasons, among them: I wouldn't necessarily appreciate my own mistakes being blog fodder, so it seems a bit unfair to focus on my children's; they generally behave pretty well, so major issues are pretty rare; and 99% of the time, dealing with my own attitude is the key.

Still, we had some growing times recently, including the Most Famous Discipline Example of All, and I thought I'd share about them. Our responses are not perfect, nor are they necessarily my advice to others on how to handle similar instances. This is just a window into how it happened here.

I was chuckling with a friend recently how in any GD forum, if a mom starts to talk about how she cannot handle her child, and her fears for his future, veteran posters know before the mom mentions age that the kid is probably three. Terrible Twos? Not so much, in my experience. Threes, however, are two with a year of practice. Intense for everyone involved. Add some lapses with food allergies, and my dear son has had a rough couple of weeks. This cycle expanded as my darling and uber-sensitive five year old saw our attention directed towards her siblings and little left over for her.

Scenario Number 1--Yesterday, I planned to take them to Borders to celebrate the 30% discount for educators. They've been extraordinarily cooperative and well-behaved on our outings the last few months. This time, however, they were dawdling and not particularly interested in going. I pushed it because I thought it would be fun. Once we got inside the store, they quickly began a noisy game of chase. I told them to stop and was not heeded. So we immediately left.

What I did do: leave the store after the first request was not obeyed. I told them clearly exactly why we were leaving. Was it punishment? Eh, in the eye of the beholder. Certainly, they were not pleased. Ariana informed me that I was "very, very boring". I agreed that when they were not respectful of other people and we had to leave it was very boring. What I did not do: add on any punishment beyond returning to the house, or attempt to shame them. It is a tricky line, in my opinion, between letting them know how their actions affect others and deliberately trying to convict them of their wrongdoing. I believe that the Holy Spirit has a role there that is not mine to usurp. At the same time, as a loving teacher, I want to be honest about the results of their choices.

Scenario Number 2--Today, we went to the playground for lunch. The morning had been great, the time at the playground was fun for all of us, and they cheerfully agreed to leave as soon as I asked. Then came the dreadful playing-in-the-street-example. As we left, I was carrying the baby and my three year old saw a flock of birds. He darted away before I could grab him. He was across the parking lot before I could catch him. I was terrified, furious and all of the other emotions that you would imagine in that case.

What I did: grab him and hold his hand until we got to the van. Remind myself that his impulse control is still in the early stages of development, and that to a three year old excited about chasing birds, there is no thought of safety. I also, in my haste to reach him, dropped his sister's stuffed dog. A lady passing by gave us one of those looks and said loudly, "That kid needs a good spanking!" Apparently, she also picked up the stuffed dog and took it with her. :( As soon as the kids were in the van, I turned back to pick up the dog and it had disappeared. Ariana was heartbroken and began to cry.

As I looked for the toy dog, I saw a bird that had been run over. I brought Joel and Ariana over and let them see it. I explained that it had been hit by a car, and why I was so scared when Joel ran in the parking lot. I told him that I loved him and wanted him to be safe and not get hurt.

What I did not do: follow the busybody-dog-napper's advice (maybe she thought that the dog was Joel's and that she was teaching him a lesson?). Seeing how sad Ariana was made a pretty deep impression on him. The squashed bird was also a powerful object lesson. I didn't berate him or harp on it over and over after the first discussion. I didn't punish him (or the rest of us!) by trying to add anything more.

What we did do: find a replacement doggy for Ariana (though "it isn't the same one"), hold hands everywhere we went afterwards, and have a lovely time at Borders.
I also listened to him and Ariana talk on the ride home about the whole thing. They seemed to have retained the lesson, but in the future, I will still hold onto his hand in parking lots. And you know what? Even if I had spanked or punished in other ways, that wouldn't change. I would still hold hands and not expect a three year old to be responsible for his own safety.

The rest of the day has been good, unmarred by unnecessary drama. We rode bikes outside for awhile, and we're going to make a quick batch of pumpkin cupcakes before bed. We've had repentance and forgiveness and grace. Sure, there is a place for consequences, but I am glad that God removes our sin as far as the East from the West and that His mercies are new every morning.