Category Archives: culture

My Life is Like a Pearl Necklace

bnm(of Itty Bitty Miracles All Strung Together.)    by Christina Ivazes

This story is dedicated to the parents of Joanna Newsom, who nurtured an angel!

 

Although it was obvious there wasn’t much living going on in our living room, I never thought of it as being empty until the morning after that magical night.

The temporary territories we called “home” only contained necessities and usually didn’t include things like couches or coffee tables, and definitely did not include anything decorative hanging on walls. Our family necessities were mattresses, cooking and eating utensils, a few pieces of clothing each and a kitchen table with chairs. As a child, I never questioned the need for more furniture to create the warmth of a home. Our view of what was normal was designed by what we saw and experienced, not by what we did not.

In between homes, my father must have scavenged assorted pieces of furniture quickly to provide us with the basics until we moved onto the next house or apartment. We only carried what we could fit into the trunk of our car and a few toys, though there were still the instinctive and repetitious fights with my siblings over who got the ‘baby spoon’ or ‘baby fork.’ It mattered that whatever it was stood out from the others because in a family of five children, standing out was the ultimate goal and a complete set of matching silverware and dishware was something only Grandmas were made of.

Or perhaps baby spoons and those other coveted objects disguised the fact that there were much deeper terrors in my life. This may also explain why I have guarded a few precious and seemingly insignificant memories, elevating them to the prodigious events of my otherwise tragic childhood recollections.

Something else I should mention is that even though we didn’t have living room furniture in that short-lived Mountain View home in California, we were blessed with two new sets of second-hand bunk beds while we were living there! It felt to me like we had hit the lottery when my parents carried them into our house. I don’t know how they did it. These beds were the first real bedroom furniture for us older kids. One set was made of wood and the other set was metal, which I distinctly remember being painted a pale green. They were each put in a separate bedroom. I remember the thin, green metal railings. I slept on the top bunk because I was the oldest. I must have been about six or seven years old.

Though the arrival of bunk-beds was monumental, it doesn’t compare to the unexpected event that highlights this home like a blazing light in my childhood. And forgive me while I explain a bit more about my father because he was the conductor of this particular event. Daddy was a house painter by trade in those days before he became a chimney sweep. But foremost, he was a musician.

Daddy played the horns. He played trombone, baritone horn, and the trumpet (which he played in the military service). He must have been quite good because when I was older Daddy told stories of two famous brothers who had big bands in the 40’s who were fighting over who would have him in their band. He decided against their offers. He also boasted that Martha Graham had offered him to be her lead musician when she went out on tour, but he turned her down too. Even back then, Daddy’s brilliance was overshadowed by his eccentricities that became the theme of my childhood. Eccentricities that made poverty pale in comparison. Like when Daddy eventually added giant gongs to his instrumentation, but those gongs are yet another story.

Yes, Daddy’s passions lied in his life as a musician. Ironically this same lifestyle, the lifestyle that attracted Mommy to him the night he played at Nepenthe in Big Sur (with Henry Miller in the audience), was where many of their marital problems erupted. As the eldest, I observed and experienced the tensions between Daddy and Mommy more directly than my siblings as Mommy spilled her anger and frustrations onto me in the form of yelling and beatings. All of this going on while Daddy dedicated his evenings to music after a hard day of work.

Though my story takes place in the late 1960’s, Daddy was known as one of the first people to perform during a ‘light show’ for the other counter-cultural Beatniks in San Francisco from the 1940’s. (A light show is a moving picture of swirling food coloring and oil on a projector that is displayed on a screen while spontaneous instrumentation is played in the background, most closely related to the ‘acid jazz’ of our modern era.) Daddy was way ahead of his time with the ‘in crowd,’ so he said, although I never understood any of this stuff until I became an adult. I was just a kid.  I didn’t really understand what he did late at night in the garage with other people that never came into our house, with the exception of this one night.

I recall Daddy asking Mommy for permission to store an item for one of his friends, only overnight. Like a dutiful wife, she complied. Later that afternoon I walked into our stark, white walled living room and saw it. The most beautiful thing I had ever seen illuminated in the far left corner of the room as if it had its own stage lighting. It was a giant, magnificent golden harp as exquisite and curvaceous as a mermaid, as golden as an award’s statue, and as finely strung as if by a hundred angels. I am quite sure I lost my breath. As I moved in to get a closer look, Daddy blurted out in his firm, no messing around manner, “Don’t you dare touch it Christie!” Daddy’s wrath was my biggest fear. He was always the bad guy in every nightmare I had about Mommy and him fighting. The last thing I wanted was for one of those nightmares to become real.

bnj   So, to state the obvious, there was no way I was getting anywhere near that gorgeous instrument; even though I wanted to so bad I could feel it resonating throughout my entire being. I just planted myself on the bare wooden floor in the opposite corner of the room and studied it.

A child’s active imagination is an amazing pool of creative wealth and mine was extremely active in those days. My school report cards were speckled with comments about too much ‘daydreaming in class.’ In this particular moment, my eyes glued to the harp, I was liberated to daydream without teacher retribution. Familiar cartoon images of angels playing harps started racing through my mind. I envisioned full-sized and feather light angels dressed in gossamer fabric playing sweet melodies that drifted off in never ending sonorous threads. The imagined sounds and physical dimensions of this instrument seemed larger than life and much grander than I had ever realized the influence of a harp could be. It sounded luscious. It glowed profusely, filling the entire room with its beauty. It became my refuge, offering me a perfect and tiny, yet infinitesimal moment of peace through my eyes and imagination.

Today, I can only speculate that that was one night where I truly had sweet dreams, instead of the ritual nightmares of Mommy and Daddy fighting. Nightmares that always left me in a urine soaked sweat by morning. But on that following morning I wasn’t wet. Without hesitation, I jumped up and raced into the living room to greet my wonderful new friend.

My heart sank.  It was gone, taking my dreams away with it; taking its golden light from my otherwise dark reality. The living room was no longer a stage. It was just a barren, cold living room again, like the dozens of other barren, cold living rooms throughout my childhood. How I wished I had secretly snuck up to touch and strum those magical strings just once, to leave the room with its real, everlasting echoes of angels. Why didn’t I? I knew why.

But the feeling of its soothing sound and its golden glow beaming from the corner of our gallery stark living room will always sit inside me, illuminating a corner of my mind with magic and surprise. I had been very lucky and I knew it. I had been graced with the potential of the ever appearing surprises life offers when you least expect them. To this day, whenever I see a golden harp, I am transported. That warm glow becomes the present and I thank the harp for offering refuge to the little girl in me and for the proof in the miracles of possibility.

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Filed under childbirth, creativity, culture, Families, Fathers, Grandparents, Granny Pants, mother, music, Writing

Sedentarianism: Disease or Addiction? The Dilemmas of a Sedentary Society

sed

                 The escalating rate of childhood obesity in the U.S. is just one example of  “the canary in the coal mine.” There is a much larger, more encompassing issue at hand of which childhood obesity is just one symptom. This issue is a growing disease/addiction I call “sedentarianism.” In my book published last November, 2009:  The New Physics of Childhood: Replacing Modern Myths with Simple Solutions, I introduce the concept of sedentarianism because in order to fully address the problem of obesity, behavioral issues and an increasingly illiterate and unskilled labor force in the United States, we need to look at all of the connected and contributing factors to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, not just school lunch programs, high-fructose corn syrup or income disparities.

obesity

The terms sedentarianism and sedintarianism and sedentarism  have been used by others before in publications and posts, yet this post is not do dispute the word itself, but to understand the term itself and its implications in our global future.

The definition of a disease is:  1. A pathological condition of a part, organ, or system of an organism resulting from various causes, such as infection, genetic defect, or environmental stress, and characterized by an identifiable group of signs or symptoms. 2. A condition or tendency, as of society, regarded as abnormal and harmful.

The broad medical definition of an addiction is: persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be physically, psychologically, or socially harmful..

I make my case below for a more conscious global plan to combat sedentarianism. You can decide whether or not it qualifies as a disease or an addiction. Regardless, I hope you will agree that it is worthy of escalated attention.

Sedentarianism is the abnormal daily way of life for a growing number of Americans, adults and children, evolving subtly and slowly over decades of cultural shifts, inventions, and failed policies. We are now in a moment where many of us don’t even realize that sedentarianism is an abnormal way of life, that it is extremely life-threatening and contrary to the physical, psychologial and social needs of every person it affects.  Shift-by-shift and invention-by-invention, we have been and still are, chipping away the amount of physical activity and outdoor activity that each American gets compared to life 50 years ago. With every next new technological invention or seemingly helpful new product or service, we are slipping deeper and deeper into a deceptive lifestyle that is literally killing us from a multitude of angles.

Sedentarianism is an individual problem, a family problem, a city, state, national and growing global problem. Everyone is effected and in order to address this global threat efficiently, we need everyone to be a part of the solution: parents, mayors, city planners, educators and policy makers. Investing in the preventives to sedentarianism with save billions in health care and crime while creating a stronger, healthier, more capable and productive country, whereas if we just focus on antidotes like prisons and pharmaceuticals, we will be drowning in debt with a lose-lose situation for all. So, let us take a closer look at preventives by looking at the subtle changes and symptoms that have led the U.S. to become a nation suffering from sedentarianism.

From The New Physics of Childhood, Chapter 6:

“Many homes in the U.S. today have yards which are surprisingly not even set up with growing kids in mind. Yards are filled with kid-prohibited landscaping like poisonous plants, sharp drop offs, pools without fences, and bare concrete, with no swing-set or jungle gyms or tree forts to play in. Or worse yet, there is no yard at all. There are even people who design new homes to cover an entire lot, foolishly omitting the yard for both children and adults to enjoy.”

couch potato 

 

From Chapter 15:

“Once again,  it is important we discuss “sedentarianism” and the role that city planners and developers have in this social disease. Sedentarianism is propagated by suburban sprawl, box stores, and zoning laws in suburban, rural, and urban communities. Fast food becomes the standard meal for working families when isolated communities are not offered convenient fresh food choices due to zoning laws that favor large chain stores over neighborhood grocers and/or farmer’s markets. Sedentarianism produces higher crime rates when urban communities have zoning laws that permit liquor stores on every corner, selling alcohol, cigarettes, soda and even guns. Sedentarianism increases diabetes rates when these same communities have grocery stores with fresh food on the average of a mile apart with fast food alternatives in closer proximity. Sedentarianism increases isolation when we build new housing tracts far from a city’s hub without connecting public transit. Sedentarianism increases addiction and obesity rates through isolation when we allow apartment buildings to exist without playgrounds, parks, and safe outdoor common areas and/or community centers. Communities forced indoors due to limited healthy opportunities to interact experience numerous negative consequences that impact the larger society.

If we replace six-foot high solid fences and walls that separate and force isolation, with short, and open white picket fences, we invite a smile or wave from a neighbor. If we create front porches with benches or swings that encourage neighbors to sit and greet passersby during morning and evening walks, we encourage familiarity and conversation with one another. If we design garages that do not dominate the front of a house, but are discreetly set in the back or to the side, observation and connectedness become priorities, replacing isolation. We remove the fear factor, “the fear of the unknown.” Lack of knowledge about our neighbors creates a climate of mistrust, fear, and secrecy. These emotions are breeding grounds for crime because unknown community members lack accountability. Isolation robs a person of the feeling of belonging or responsibility to a larger community.

A heightened sense of belonging and higher quality of  life is invaluable to every resident, regardless of age. Safety and inclusion result when grocery shopping is within walking distance, bicycling trails are within every housing tract and neighborhoods connect to every other neighborhood, and are continued to downtown areas in all residential and commercial zones—regardless of distance. This community model is not new; it has been the common European model for centuries; in fact, most of the world’s communities are designed like this and should be celebrated and maintained instead of being replaced with the highly problematic designs of the U.S. suburbs and urban areas.

Commercial facilities and factories with healthy outdoor environments also experience more indoor productivity by increasing employee satisfaction during breaks and lunches. Bicycle trail connectedness from residential communities to the workplace and shower/change facilities at work increase employee health and reduce sick days. Plain and simple: connectedness increases well-being and safety for all.

Communities designed with the citizenry walking and greeting each other have less crime and less problems with adolescents because again, all eyes are upon everyone: nature’s built-in—free of cost—security system.”

from The New Physics of Childhood: Replacing Modern Myths with Simple Strategies

I was in Finland this past winter. After only 1 week, I had already learned about the issues arising from the isolation Somalian immigrants were feeling in Helsinki. Racism and cultural differences are creating a situation that is causing many of these intimidated immigrants to remain indoors, escaping their pain through television.

This newly produced Finnish problem smelled awfully familiar to what I have seen evolving within the immigrant Latino communities I am familiar with in the U.S., specifically California. Disenfranchised populations will isolate themselves as a survival mechanism, yet the devastating effects of sedentarianism prevail in these situations such as obesity, insomnia, depression, aggression, and illness, among others. When immigration policies create fear in any community, sedentarianism increases with all of its by-products.

The education component of sedentarianism is just as important to consider in the future financial and economic health of our planet.  When children and adults are sitting in front of a television or video game or spending hours of useless time on cell-phones and computers (versus productive time), every community is losing this valuable time individuals used to be spending on reading, creating, training, and working. The long-term devastating iphone effects on our global culture are yet to be seen now that our current focus and mania has become the latest “App” or “Tweet” or “Wall Post” instead of the real, tangible activities that drive any healthy economy.

We know today, that children are under-educated, but they are also becoming socially and emotionally incapacitated with an increasingly sedentary culture if they are not getting the “optimum” physical and social face-to-face opportunity to develop these crucial communication and social skills with their own families, peers, and community members. Technology has created more opportunities for socialization on one hand, but on the other hand it has also created more isolation from the outer world, specifically the outdoor and in-person social world where instincts and a multitude of sensory skills are developed.

We have replaced productivity with hobbies, feeding this disease of sedentarianism until now it has become so interconnected into our daily life that it is accepted as normal, even with symptomatic abnormal behaviors like insomnia.  These time wasters of misplaced creativity and distractions are the pathogens, but what we don’t realize is that these pathogens are weakening our physical, psychological and social constitutions which are reducing our chances to transform into productive and prosperous societies. New technology, like a euphoric, fleeting cocaine buzz, has now become indispensible to our economic growth and to everyday life. The product pushers of our economy, who are also addicted, deny this dilemma because it feeds the larger monster: the global economy. Now, as a global culture, we are addicted to the products and behaviors that promote sedentarianism.  Country by country, those who adopt our American dysfunctional ways and seductive products are suffering the same symptoms such as obesity, behavioral problems, learning challenges, suicide, etc.  These results are all connected to this spreading addiction of  sedentary indoor activities that are replacing the vital physical needs of our bodies, minds and spirits.  Though, if we carefully examine this quandry that feeds our economy while killing our population, we can begin to design and promote a new era of productivity based on the real needs of the human being, not perceived, vacant, market driven products that feed the spread of this disease/addiction.

Personally, like the billions of others, I am enthralled with all of these social networking tools. I Twitter & have several Facebook pages  & blogs, but I have seen in my own life how addicting these activities can become. I made a vow this Spring to make the effort to start working more with my hands again and not just on a keyboard. I started a bit of gardening and made a blanket for my new granddaughter that will arrive in August. Last night, as I sewed all of the crocheted squares of her blanket together. I reveled in this very tangible act of  love that would last for many years, just as my latest grandson’s blanket has lasted for him.

At the end of the day, a tangible, creative and lasting measure of my efforts is the most rewarding, whether it be a weekend with my daughters and grandchildren, a published book or a blanket. For me, these are the measure of success. (Of course, I also feel accomplished when a blog post receives an abundant amount of hits and/or comments.)  We all have to find our own measure of success and go for it until we achieve it and then go for it again and again and again. It may be that part of that success does involve sitting at a computer, but at the end of the day, isn’t balance what we are striving for to ensure we are not suffering the effects of sedentarianism?  When we stop going for it is when we are more susceptible to the many addicting distractions of sedentarianism. The distractions that can take us further from ourselves and leave us feeling empty and unfulfilled at the end of every day. We all have physical, psychological and social needs to be fulfilled, regardless of where technology is leading us.

Of course, in my own life, I have found that by being honest with myself about my own vulnerability to succumb is the first step. Then, I know that I need to make sure I start my day physically with exercise, because if I have numerous tasks to accomplish on my laptop such as this blogpost, I know that I will get sucked into this seductive world and that my body will suffer if I don’t start with exercise first!  For me, insomnia and body aches are my clues that I have been too sedentary. We each have our own warning signs. I also know that those around me are observing and learning from my own choices, so I have to kick it up a notch, which becomes a motivator. I love it when my  1 1/2 year old grandson, Hudson comes to watch me exercise and joins in to do his squats. Hudson also gets me out of the house for walks more frequently than when I am by myself. I am just as prone to sedentarianism as the next person. It takes tremendous will power to counteract the everyday temptations like that closer parking spot, the elevator instead of the stairs, television all evening instead of a refreshing walk around the neighborhood, coffee before exercise (which will ruin everything for the day).

Sedentarianism is a preventable. Whether it is cultural disease or addiction, it is being fed in many forms throughout our days in blatant and oh so subtle ways. Even baby monitors today make it unnecessary for a parent to get up and walk to their child’s bedroom to see if they are okay! It seems like every latest invention is geared toward less physical activity, not more. Many of the newest children’s outdoor toys are now battery operated so kids don’t even need to use their legs to make their bike or razors move!

With honesty and awareness we can consciously insist and reward innovations for anyone responsible for city planning and/or new inventions make considerations to increase walking, movement and productivity, while boycotting products or community designs that promote the life-threatening, costly effects of sedentarianism. We are creative beings that are always searching for products or “Apps,” to make life easier, but if easier means less physical movement, perhaps we should consider passing! Maybe that is where the next phone “App” revolution should be: to increase physical activity. I am still waiting for this idea for every classroom in the U.S. : Energy Efficient Bicycle-Powered Classroom  Focusing on inventions like this will stamp out sedentarianism!

Granny Pants

Owner, Chamelea Productions

Author of The New Physics of Childhood: Replacing Modern Myths with Simple Strategies

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STAY AT HOME DADS- UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES?

Today, our fathers are more important than ever! We are grateful they are taking on these new roles in caregiving, providing our children with an awesome opportunity for the first time in American history! Yet, with these economic driven changes taking place, there are also some current considerations.

In my profession, I observe diverse family systems, the changes they go through, and the effects these changes have on children. It doesn’t matter whether the children are in the United States, Finland, Mexico, or an other country I have experienced.  Children all have the same basic needs and when these needs are not met, they communicate this imbalance to us in a variety of ways. Imbalance expresses itself differently for each child. It may look like withdrawal from the world in one child or acting out in another. It may show up in the form of insomnia in one or stomach aches in another. Because of all of these different “shouts for help” coming from our children, there is one new need that children will be suffering from in the future that we should all be aware of and work towards handling so we don’t see a new form of preventable childhood problems.

My focus has always been on the preventive. It is more cost-effective and harmonious for all concerned to prevent a problem rather than ending up with a host of problems that not only torture all involved, but also become very costly to treat.  I urge you to keep this in mind when I communicate the following:

bnbWith the new trend of Stay At Home Dads, largely in part due to our current economic downturn and high rates of unemployment, many Dads are embracing unemployment as a gifted opportunity they never had before. Children are also benefitting from having their fathers more present in their daily lives than any other previous generation in the U.S. (Though many European countries already recognize the importance of Paternal Leave.)

As we witness this beautiful evolution in our fathers, which I see on a daily basis, and most personally, with my own son-in-law right now, many fathers are showing themselves as capable caregivers, and in some respects, even better housekeepers than their wives. I say Hallelujah for this!  When the mother does not have the burden of working, cooking, shopping, caregiving, and housework entirely on her shoulders, she will be more balanced in her own life, and perhaps even more available emotionally and physically to her husband!

However,  just as unplanned suburban sprawl has created numerous unintended consequences to our culture and planet such as isolation, over-consumption of resources and energy, obesity, and addictions, we need to prevent unintended consequences from this current trend in Stay At Home Fathering. We need to have a plan and consider all ramifications before we have a spiraling out-of-control situation that we did not foresee or know how to stop.

There are two specific  issues I am bringing up with this post to consider, regarding this modern day phenomenon:

#1. When fathers are not trained as caregivers from birth as mothers are from generations of gender stereotyping, experience, and role-modeling, it is important they have had good role modeling, and/or training and support in basic healthy practices and effective child rearing methods in order to prevent the further deterioration of our children’s nutritional, emotional, and cognitive states, especially in the U.S. Granted, our children have a  host of problem these days, regardless of who their caregivers have been. However, since most fathers are not known for their focus on nutrition and vegetable consumption, we have the potential of a back slide from the current consciousness we need in this country to get our children back on track with the health, academic, and social skills they need for success in life. We need fathers to adopt and support a set of nutritional standards for their children so their daily care is actually strengthening our bnbj children’s physical health and immune systems.  How about: No foods purchased with sugar and high fructose corn syrup to start with. (Though nothing can replace the fun and satisfaction of a once in a while batch of homemade cookies.) How about focusing on more vegetables in meals. We all know that a large percentage of men, husbands, are not so keen on vegetables. In fact, it is usually a major issue of contention in many families and has affected the family’s nutritional state for generations. So, what will the effect be if our fathers today are the primary caregivers and meal makers, if they lower the vegetable intake of our households when we should be increasing this intake for our overall health.

Of course, there are many Dads who are doing a great job providing the best for their children, but aren’t they the minority? Prove me wrong please, and then I won’t take issue with this point. What I am saying is that if a father is now responsible for the nutritional standards and meals of a household, shouldn’t they be trained and committed to ensuring their children are getting their nutritional needs met? This is yet another case for a return to required Home Economics for all students in the U.S.!

The other consideration of point #1 is boundaries, limits, respect, emotional maturity, and physical exercise (instead of TV, movies, the internet, or video games). I know I am being very general about many things in this post and there are exceptions to every one of my points, but as a rule, we need to look at the majority of households, which will have the largest future impact to society, regardless of exceptions. When a father is caring for his own children all of the above considerations now become his responsibility to provide, along with the other daily needs of his children and household. To do it right, to ensure children have the best chance at success and happiness in life, all caregivers must be more, not less conscious of these aspects of caregiving.  Now is the time for all parents in America to step up; we cannot afford to push back the issues of our children’s physical, emotional, and cognitive health because life has thrown us changes!

Fathers bring many assets to provide our children with these needs. From my experiences, I have seen many fathers actually provide more hands-on opportunities and be more adamant about getting outdoor exercise than some mothers, which I personally believe comes from some genetic intuitiveness. The firmness (not cruelty) that some fathers bring to the table is probably a good thing for most of our children because they need a better foundation of respect for others and more limits to foster their emotional maturity. In this respect and numerous others, children need and benefit from more of their father’s influences, especially if it is firm, loving and infused with clear limits and consequences.

However, when some (not all) current popular father bloggers seek and succeed at high ratings from their witty, clever posts that boast poor parenting practices (Messed-Up Parenting Tips), we see the influences of popular internet culture becoming convoluted and potentially harmful to the future of our children and the idea of Stay At Home Dads, unless we have louder voices of common sense and consciousness prevailing, like the great father blogs like Natural Papa! Of course, I like my own Granny Pants’ Daily Parenting Tips, which always considers the present and future of the child over popular or market-driven trends.

We are stepping into new territory. Child rearing has not been very successful in the U.S. in the last several decades for a variety of reasons. Marketing pressures have influenced parents to choose convenience over what is best. Our current trend of kids raised on TV, DVD’s and video games has led to a country filled with hyperactive, physically unfit, obese, disrespectful, illiterate, depressed, and often violent children. Fathers who are at home with our children now have a new responsibility to embrace the preventive strategies to combat these challenges.

We cannot cvb afford to slip back into a nation of sheep, unconsciously allowing our children to self-medicate through TV, computers, movies and video games. We need fathers to take a stand and ensure they are not a part of the problem. We need fathers to disconnect those DVD players in your SUV! They are making our kids grow up illiterate and unable to communicate with their own parents or others! Their creativity is being extinguished because they have no time to listen to their own inner processes and expand their experience. They are constantly plugged into someone else’s creativity, not developing their own. We need all parents to kick them outside, teach them how to build, garden, paint, hike, explore, swim, care for animals, etc….

And, please teach them respect for others, all life, and compassion!

#2.  This next issue is something I have been pondering for a while. I am not really clear about what the solutions are, but I have some ideas, which are worth considering. Many of my approaches throughout the years, though seemingly radical at the time to others, have slowly become what are recognized as valid and proven preventives through numerous studies. I am heartened by knowing that common sense and pragmatism is seeping back into American culture, however slow it may be.

Have you ever had something you never knew you would like and then you had it, like a chocolate milkshake? (This reminds me of the story The Fonz told Richie when he was explaining to him how divorce’s were used to having sex all of the time because they had been married with easy access.)

This is the potential situation our kids will be in when fathers return to work. There are already fathers that have returned to work and already children dealing with this withdrawal feeling. They may not have been used to having Dad around, then they got used to it, then he left again!

So, how do we handle this emotional void for both Father and Child? We do it consciously. We do it by conversing with children about it, by carving out some very focused father/child time together every week, no matter how busy a schedule may get. With Skype, we can ensure regular communication during long absences, like military families and traveling business people have been using. We also do it by watching for the signs that our children are suffering these losses as in the ones I listed at the beginning of the post.

By all means, it is best for parents not to let guilt drive their responses to a child who is missing him/her.  Guilt is an unhealthy emotion that can lead to permissiveness, especially in inappropriate situations, where structure and limits are needed. Children pick up on and run with a parent’s guilt if they sense it, which can serve to drive even more symptomatic behavior and create a perspective of victimization.  Guilt and blame do not empower a child to deal with a situation. Whether it comes from the absent parent or the parent at home, what children need is adult maturity in these moments.

Honest conversations about changes and feelings are important, expressing that the adults too are missing their children. Working together as a family on healthy responses and solutions teaches a child emotional maturity and resiliency, not victimization.  Adults seeking solutions while expressing empathy are what children need to learn to deal with any loss, change or challenge.

Because a new position or career change can take off like a jet plane, leaving everything else behind, it is extremely important we acknowledge this reality while also acknowledging the need to maintain the investment in our children’s emotional security and maturity so we don’t lose the investments these fathers have already made if and when the family decides that the father take on an outside employment position!

Many baby boomer children and beyond look back and wish they could have had their own fathers more present and active in their lives. Today, so many fathers are realizing this awesome opportunity to do just that. Yet, because we have an unprecedented situation, we need to create a realistic and thoughtful plan. We need to go beyond market driven decisions and popular culture that throws fix-it remedies at parents like a pitcher to a batter. Most remedies strike out for the long haul because they are profit driven and do not consider the future of the child.

AND, many Dads already foresee their own heartache at returning to work and have considered the full-time stay at home alternative. We are at a precipice, a defining moment  in American family life. Let’s have the conversation on these important and valid points. When I see my whiny grandson missing his father, now that he is gone 3 weeks this last trip after months of being at home, when I remember a former employer and his son who used to act out frequently as a result of his father traveling, after seeing his Dad day after day and traveling with him for months, and when I have witnessed hundreds of fatherless children firsthand with their numerous behavioral and emotional problems, I can see the situation repeating from this completely different situation: The Stay At Home Dad Who Was Here Today & Gone Tomorrow

It really is all the same when a child is suffering loss. And toys and gifts and food and money thrown at a kid to soften this absence never fill the emotional void. It takes a conscious father to recognize the needs of his children and himself to make up that time by being present, even for 20 minutes a day or during a weekend excursion. Absolute 100% focused time with a child is 100% appreciated by every child!

What I am saying to all of the fathers out there is “Please don’t let life take over again, leaving your kids on the sidelines.”

And, for mothers and other caregivers, perhaps more hugs, more Mommy time, some male teachers, nannies, or relatives to fill that male void while Dad is gone, and maybe a little more tussle and outdoor play time is also in order!!!!!

For the Dads who choose to stay at home, please recognize this awesome responsibility and find support for making the best choices for your children! Recognize the powerful marketing influences of pop culture and steer clear for your kids sake as well as for your pocketbook! This 5 minute video is worth pondering: (Consuming Kids

Do you have any exemplary or despicable Stay At Home Dad stories to entertain us with? Please share them here with other readers in the comment section!

Are you a Stay At Home Dad by choice or necessity? Will choose to stay at home for a while or will you leave for a better paying position? Why do you enjoy staying home with your kids? 

Granny Pants

http://TheNewPhysicsofChildhood.com

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Filed under 1, babies, blogging, children, community, cooking, culture, environment, exercise, Fathers, health care, insomnia, mother, Myths, nutrition, Parenting, prevention, Stay-At-Home-Dads, teaching, teenagers, The New Physics of Childhood, Topics

A True Cultural and Culinary Adventure

I am not the type of adventure traveler who dares to climb jagged mountaintops with ropes and harnesses or bungee jump from ominously tall bridges. Instead, when I travel, I brave the new territory within the families of other cultures and countries by living in their homes, participating in their celebrations,  and most importantly, by observing and participating in the preparation of meals in the kitchen–where much is revealed about a culture and its values. By following this adventure trail throughout my life, I have absorbed many amazing and valuable insights, including culinary and nutritional secrets. What follows is definitely a highlight in my cultural kitchen adventures, the making of traditional Finnish Rye Bread. (If you just want the recipe, skip to the CAPS; the rest of the text is the story.)

As I reflect on my experiences to date of this Finnish Adventure, I must acknowledge that this breadbaking process has to be the highlight. Many people live a lifetime in a country, or study its history—yet never experience what it was like for early citizens.

Of course, breadbaking and dark rye bread is not the sole experience of the Finnish culture, but actually, it was and still is in many respects, the sustainence of the culture, the people! I feel so grateful to have taken part in this vital practice and am so grateful to Ulla Engestrom and her family for providing it!

Coincidentally, it seems like this dense Finnish Rye Bread we spent 3 days making will also be the new vogue in the coming era of food trends according to a story on CNN this month: http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/01/04/tips.eating.better/index.html. (I have to confess that I DO have a habit of being ahead of my time!) 

But CNN didn’t say anything about the value of sour, though there is sure to be a study coming out in 5 years that shows that bread made with sour dough starter has some kind of magical, medical quality too. And this was sour, dense rye bread, believe me. Wow! The taste comes from the 5+ generations this sourdough starter has been in the family of my dear friend Ulla-Maaria Engestrom, without “breaking the chain.” (Ulla was my cohort on this brazen culinary crusade. Neither of us would have even attempted it without the other.)

*A sourdough starter needs replenishing frequently to prevent it from dying. A fresh starter in the refrigerator needs new flour added about every 12 days. The longer a starter is alive, the more sour and flavorful it becomes. So imagine what kind of magic is brewing is in this sourdough starter after a few hundred years or longer!) These Finnish ancestors didn’t watch CNN or wait for a study to come out; they just knew what was good and they knew that the secret is in the starter! Due to the cold climate, the Finns have found an easier way to maintain starter (or what they call the “root”) by freezing it. This makes it less time intensive to maintain. 

Now, we get down to business. Where did I leave off? (If you missed Part 1-Please read first:  https://grannypants.wordpress.com/2009/12/23/a-finnish-christmas-dream-come-true/  

Next, I must qualify the inconsistency of what is to follow. Not only was this process stressful from the point of the pressure we were under to make 8 loaves of bread with a recipe we had never used before in an oven we had never used before, while being surrounded by little ones, a feverish baby, as well as my lack of knowledge of the language, I found out later a few things that make it veritably miraculous that we pulled this off! 

You see, I have been baking bread for over 35 years now. In fact, I used to bake and sell my homemade bread 25+ years ago in Loveland, Colorado. I had my own sourdough starter and rye bread recipe and prided myself on the taste of my bread. 

So, you can imagine the pressure I felt when my Ulla informed me well towards the end of the process that she was receiving the details of the recipe over the phone from two different grandmothers, sisters who were each over 85 years old, and who each disliked the other’s bread recipe! The comedy of this moment was all I could embrace because I found out about this at the point when it was too late to do anything; the bread was already in its final rising. I laughed and performed my third prayer that everything would work out. I had my doubts all along because it wasn’t looking like I knew it should, because I DID know how it should look, although I admit I even felt like a newbie bread baker in the wisdom and presence of over 5 generations from the homeland! 

How did we do it? I will post what we did and then I will post what I think we should have done in italics right after each step. I think these adjustments will yield a better, more edible product, even though we were actually able to eat the finished product. 

Dense Finnish Rye Bread 

Day 1 

  • TAKE 400 GRAMS (0.8 LBS.) OF STARTER DOUGH OUT OF FREEZER (If you don’t have this ancient starter, you can make your own with 1 1/2 cups of lukewarm water, 1 packet of yeast, 1/4 cup of flour, and let sit for a day in a warm place, stirring occasionally. Then you would follow this recipe but consider and subtract the water content of your starter when measuring the water in day 2. Use the amount of yeast I recommend as well below  in the Day 2 step, which is in addition to your starter yeast.)  
  • LET IT MELT IN THE REFRIGERATOR (If it is frozen)
  • MEANWHILE BUY 5 KILOS (APPROX. 10 LBS.) FRESH RYE FLOUR- LIPERI GRAINERY, or grocery store, or buy rye berries and grind them yourself. (The Vitamix can do this, which is one of my very favorite, versatile and valuable kitchen tools.)

Day 2 

  • 8:30AM –TAKE UNWASHED/SALTED 5 GALLON BUCKET & RINSE SALT OUT QUICKLY (bucket comes from the grandmothers (Mummis)
  • TAKE STARTER DOUGH OUT OF REFRIGERATOR & PUT INTO
    Add 4 1/2 liters of lukewarm water

    Add 4 1/2 liters of lukewarm water

     BOTTOM OF BUCKET 

  • PUT 4.5 LITERS OF LUKEWARM WATER & 1 square of yeast (this is the equivalent of about 2 packets of dry yeast)  & MIX WITH ENOUGH FLOUR TO MAKE IT THE CONSISTENCY OF THICK SOUP (Okay, this is where we made the biggest mistake right off the bat! I didn’t have the full information at the time of Day 2. From my experience, I never put all of the yeast in the starter mix at this time. I usually put 1/3 of it or so and let that sour for the day before actual baking and then I add the rest of the yeast in the next day just before adding the remainder of the flour. But, I think the ancestors know best, so I would also add all of the yeast in this  step.  However, considering how absolutely dense the final product was, I would double the yeast. This is for 8 loaves, so I would add 2 squares of yeast or 4-5 packets of dry yeast. We actually did NOT add any yeast at this time and found out much later that we needed to add all of it. 
Eliel stirring 1st. mixture

Eliel stirring 1st. mixture

  • STIR PERIODICALLY THROUGHOUT THE DAY- SET IN A WARM PLACE- COVERED YET WITH A PLACE FOR THE AIR TO ESCAPE  Just a little background here. The stick I am holding to the left may
  • ella

    Ella, Granny Pants, and the Amazing, Ancient, Wooden Whisk

    resemble something a caveman used, and probably could have been! Today, it is actually being used as a powerful whisk, which is necessary when you are mixing what we were mixing in a 5 gallon bucket. I don’t know what type of wood it is, but it is very strong. 

  •    BY 3PM, IT SHOULD BE LIKE PORRIDGE (Now this is another place
    Sourdough Starter with Yeast, Warm Water & Enough Flour to Be Soupy like Porridge

    Sourdough Starter with Yeast, Warm Water & Enough Flour to Be Soupy like Porridge-Notice the Fine Mixing Tool!

     where cultural differences can really create confusion. What I thought was “porridge” was not what the Finnish know as “porridge.” In a comical revelation, I went to stir the mix later that morning and found it to be much thicker. Ulla and her father had added more rye flour because it hadn’t been like porridge–as they know it. You see porridge is oatmeal and the way my friends prepare porridge (purro) in Finland is much thicker than my own reference. When I heard “porridge” I thought of my own idea of a more viscous substance. Ulla’s father, Pekka was the only real witness to this process that we had available. We were in the house he was born and raised in. Who knows how many times he saw that bread being baked throughout his life. We hailed to his wisdom! Do not question authority!  Due to the science this bread baking and the fact that there is no additional sweetener for the yeast to feed off of, I assume this is the reason the mixture needs more flour added than I have added to my own mixture in the past. I usually add a little molasses to help darken and feed the yeast, but this would still interfere with the sour quality, so I guess I have learned something here. The yeast needs more flour in this bubbly, first sitting, which it will feed off of instead of any added sweetener.

  •  Day 3

  

  • MORNING- ADD (3 Tbsp.) SALT & ENOUGH FLOUR TO BE STIFF. LET   SIT FOR 2 HOURS- COVERED WITH CLOTH (This begins the process when you really value the strength of this wooden whisk. Actually, Jyri-Eliel’s father had to step in and help with this mixing while I held onto the bucket. The grandmothers had been concerned with our ability to handle this process and at that moment, I understood why!) 

    3rd. Day after adding more flour

    3rd. day after adding more flour

  • ABOUT 1 1/2 HOURS AFTER THIS LAST STEP, IF YOU ARE USING A BRICK OVEN, START
    Eliel

    Eliel helping mix the flour on 3rd. day before mixing required 2 adults

    HEATING THE OVEN WITH A LOT OF WOOD-BIRCH IS HOTTEST 

  • TWO HOURS AFTER SITTING. THEN, TURN OUT ONTO FLOURED BOARD. This was not as easy as one would think.
  • TAKE OUT A ½ LITER approx.(1 1/2 c.) OF THE DOUGH & PUT IN FREEZER TO SAVE FOR NEXT BATCH
  •  KNEAD THE BREAD UNTIL IT IS BOUNCY (This is kind of a joke because rye flour doesn’t really have as much gluten as some other flours and because our dough was so dense, it never really got bouncy, though we tried. It takes about 15 minutes. Maybe this is another reason that rye bread is so good for you because it doesn’t contains a lot of the gluten that seems to irritate the bowels of so many people these days. (However, if you want a bread that is a bit bouncier and lighter, use some white flour at the time of kneading, but not too much; maybe 2 cups. This will produce a lighter bread as well, though not as original.)

  

Kneading

I really upped my game with this ball of dough! This is how women used to keep their guns packed!

img

Someone had the brilliant idea to split the work in 2. Partners in crime while Ella supervises.

  • FORM LOAVES AND SET ONTO PARCHMENT, COVER AND SET TO RISE IN WARM PLACE-NO DRAFTS (Divide dough into 8 equal parts and make each loaf a similar shape for even cooking.)  I was so nervous about this step and just praying that the loaves rose properly. I didn’t feel as if there was nearly enough yeast to do the trick. 

    img

    Rising loaves on parchment

  • ABOUT 15 MINUTES AFTER LOAVES HAVE SAT, CLEAN-OUT THE OVEN TO PREPARE FOR COOKING LOAVES. (The brick oven retains the heat in the bricks, which eventually bakes the bread. This was a very interesting process I had never experienced. In fact, when the larger oven was stocked properly, it kept the house warm for about 3
    coals

    Scoop coals into bottom compartment of oven to retain heat and make room for loaf pans. P.S. I am not THAT heavy, just layered with winter clothing!!

    days, even in the 20 below temps we were experiencing at the time! Of course, this also has to do with how incredibly insulated these homes are to keep this heat in. How’s that for saving energy!!!! Once again, the wisdom of the ancestors is worth learning from.) 

  • WHEN LOAVES HAVE RISEN, PRICK EACH LOAF SEVERAL TIMES
    beautiful

    The loaves actually rose with that familiar crackly look!

     WITH A FORK TO ALLOW AIR TO ESCAPE WHILE BAKING. (Okay, this is where we really messed up once again! We forgot to prick the loaves before we put them in the oven. Because the heating of the brick oven is so 

    ulla

    Ulla carefully picks up the loaf pans with the traditional woden paddles

    choreographed with an exact temperature needed to form the hard crust and cook the inside slowly, we ruined our heating mechanism when we pulled the loaves out of the oven to prick them properly with the fork. When we checked the temperature after returning them to the oven, it had dropped significantly. (Because I was not raised with this brick oven method of baking bread that obviously dictates much of the breads wonderful, chewy, crustiness, I was taught to spray or lightly brush water onto the crust of the loaves a couple of times throughout baking after the crust has formed, which gives the bread a thicker, chewier crust as well. This is recommended if you don’t use a brick oven like this. I would also add a little salt to the water for a salty crust if you like that.) 

    img

    Properly pricked rye bread

  • PUT LOAVES IN OVEN AND COOK BEFORE OVEN COOLS, ROTATING AS NEEDED. Thank goodness for the modern oven! We actually used the small electric oven in the house for the 2 loaves that couldn’t fit–just in case we really messed up the others.
    img

    Not decorations, but useful wooden paddles for moving objects in the oven

    It turned out we had to use this electric oven for all of the loaves eventually, as we rotated them between the two ovens to get the brown effect of the bricks too. 

    loaves

    Loaves cooling

    That was the stressful part for me, to make sure all of the loaves were cooking evenly and thouroughly without burning completely. While Ulla cared for little Ella, who was sick with a fever, I diligently focused on this rotation process. 

  • AFTER THE BREAD HAS A HOLLOW SOUND WHEN TAPPED, IT IS READY TO REMOVE FROM THE OVEN. TAKE CARE TO CHECK BOTH BOTTOMS AND TOPS THROUGHOUT BAKING TO ENSURE EVEN COOKING OF ALL LOAVES. The brick oven as we found out has many hot spots that produce a dark bottom crust, which is good, as long as it is not to burnt.
  • AFTER THE BREAD COMES OUT AND THE TANTALIZING SMELL OF BAKING BREAD HAS INCREASED EVERYONE’S APPETITE, ABOUT 5 MINUTES OF COOLING ON A RACK IS NECESSARY TO PREVENT THE BREAD FROM BINDING UP INSIDE WHILE CUTTING, even though no one will want to wait.
  • TIME TO SLICE & ENJOY!!!!

    img

    After about 5 minutes of cooling, slice & enjoy!

img

Enjoy your fresh-baked Finnish Rye Bread with real butter, of course

Eliel

Eliel is the first taste tester!

  • HAPPILY, THIS BREAD CAN NOW BECOME THE MAIN PART OF THE CHRISTMAS EVE FEAST- which it did! We found that due its sourness, it is best savored by cutting the sourdough rye bread very thin. Wonderful with freshly churned butter or salmon roe & cream!!!!! Yummmm…..

For me personally (after breastfeeding), breadbaking has become one of the most endearing ways of nurturing my loved ones. I suppose it does stem from these ancient Finnish roots of mine. There is no other comfort food quite like freshly baked bread; especially after it has taken 3 days to make! Making the sweet cardamom bread (pulla) has been a tradition in my family that I learned from my own grandmother and mother. Now, I have another Finnish breadbaking tradition to pass on to my family. (Psst. Wish me luck getting some of that ancient starter back to my home in the states!) 

This experience would not have been possible without the wonderful support, partnership and encouragement of Ulla, Jyri, and Ulla’s dear family, and her father Pekka, who helped us retrieve the starter, the salt, the famous bucket and whisk, and who kept the coals going in the oven. Also, I personally want to thank the grandmothers (Mummis) who gave us the use of their starter and their recipe/recipes! It was funny that in the middle of the rising, we actually had to heat the oven some more and one of the Mummis showed up to help us out with advice. She was so sweet and I only wished I could have understood her, but I was there listening and watching, and questioning everything she said afterwards like a curious child. Her warm and supportive eyes and smile are a priceless memory I will always cherish. 

After the baking was all said and done, we shared a loaf with each of these Mummis. And of course, the one who likes a denser loaf said the bread turned out perfect, while the one with a different recipe said the loaf was too dense! This was worth a chuckle, now that the stress of making sure it turned out at all was over. What an incredible experience immersed into the culture of people who are not my blood relatives, but from the country of my blood relatives.  I highly recommend it for anyone who really wants to understand the Finnish winter culture!

  • OOOPS!!! FORGOT THE LAST STEP. WHEN THE MIXING BUCKET IS EMPTIED OUT, SPRINKLE IT WITH SALT AND LET IT DRY. DO NOT WASH THE WOODEN WHISK EITHER. WIPE IT OFF, DRY IT, AND COVER BOTH THE BUCKET AND WHISK AFTER THEY HAVE DRIED TO KEEP THEM CLEAN. Evidently there are some magical ingredients to be maintained in these items that magnify the savory qualities of the bread. (This is my favorite part!!!!)
  • PLEASE COMMENT ON THIS POST!!!!!!!

Thank you!!!!!!!

Granny Pants

P.S. If you are interested, please sign up to receive regular posts on the adventures of my life, both in thought and form.  You can also visit my book website to learn more about my book about children: http://TheNewPhysicsofChildhood.com

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