A Southerner’s Guide to Playing in the Snow

snow pantsTwo weeks ago, we had snow. That stuck! So you could play in it and make snowmen, and sled, and everything. This is a rare occurrence – it happens maybe every two or three years. That means my kids were even more excited than a northern child to go play in it – and also that they were much less equipped. They stayed outside for 20-30 minutes, then came inside tearful as their soaked jeggings and wet cotton mittens contributed to a quick drop in body temperature and painfully cold fingers. They definitely had “The Umbles,” and it wasn’t very safe for them to play in that gear.

So when I heard Pax was headed for us, I shopped for snow pants, ski gloves, and boots. And died of sticker shock. It’s just crazy to spend several hundred dollars to outfit two children for a once-every-24-months event, especially when they’ll grow out of most of it in a year!

So here’s what I did to keep costs reasonable, and my kids relatively warm and dry:

  • They already have winter coats, so torsos and arms were taken care of
  • For gloves, I passed up the one remaining pair at our local Dick’s (cost: $50/pair), and ordered some extra long Thinsulate gloves – even with one-day shipping, the total for both pairs was about $40. These are the most critical item, and the hardest to fudge, so I made an investment. I did order on the big side, to stretch their useful life.
  • For keeping feet warm and dry, we used rain boots with thick socks. The strongest combination would be slightly roomy boots combined with one pair of technical wicking silly pantssocks and one pair of wool socks, but we did OK with fluffy cotton socks.
  • For keeping butts and legs dry, I used a technique I learned while cloth diapering – take some wool Goodwill sweaters, felt them, and make them into pants. If you have a small enough kid or a large enough sweater, all you have to do is cut off the sleeves (and maybe some of the body, if you need a bit more fabric) and sew them together. If you don’t have expertise or supplies to make an elastic waist, you can just cut slits for a drawstring or pin the waist to the child’s clothes. To take it over the top, lanolize them, and they’ll be practically waterproof!
  • Regarding lanolizing – I didn’t have time to completely soak thick wool and get it dry before the snow hit, so I made some lanolin spray with about 2 tsp each lanolin (it’s in the breastfeeding section of drugstores or Target) and hand lotion, mixed with about 1/2 cup very very hot water. I shook it up in a spray bottle, sprayed it on the outside of the pants, and hung them to dry overnight above a heating vent. Worked great!
  • Oh, and you probably don’t want to put the pants in the dryer after lanolizing, because they’re basically covered in grease. Please don’t burn your house down.

I had to stitch together swatches to make pants for the big girl, and they look awfully silly, but she didn’t balk at wearing them.  And they happily stayed outside for more than an hour. They made snow angels, and one completely buried herself in the snow. They came inside and their regular pants underneath were completely dry and warm!

So I invested about $50 and an afternoon, and now my kids can play in the snow safely and happily. I’ve even got some scraps of sweater left if they need an impromptu hat or some leg or wrist warmers. Happy snow day, y’all!

Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine – Review

goldieblox2There’s a lot of argument over this toy: is it feminist, or does it perpetuate pink princess stereotypes? Do girls and boys play and think differently? If so, should we use those differences to lure girls into STEM? Or should we assume that boys and girls actually tend to play and think the same way, when allowed to?

I don’t have answers to all these questions. But I can tell you I was really excited about this toy when it was first announced. Now that my five year old daughter has actually played with it, I’m a little disappointed. Ultimately I’d say it’s not worth the money, and other building toys are better. Upshot – the best thing about Goldie Blox is that it inspired me to buy some Tinker Toys for my daughter.

Here’s the good stuff:

  • Unlike so many cool building toys, here’s one that specifically welcomes girls. Too many nifty toys have only boys pictured on packaging, along with the blue, black, and green that places them squarely on the boy side of the toy aisle divide.
  • No batteries. I think this not only decreases the annoying factor for those around the playing child, but encourages more imaginative play.
  • It does offer some interesting possibilities for building and physics play.
  • The main character of the story is a girl who likes to build things and solve problems.

The drawbacks come in two categories – the toy actually has some sexist elements*, and the play value of the toy is limited:

  • Its premise is basically, “Can we make math pink?”
  • There are five character figures you can use in your constructions. Of the five figures, four are MALE. The female character is a ballerina. (Note to Goldie Blox: If you’re trying to make a feminist toy, you really should avoid the trope that men are the default, and try to keep the ratio of genders closer to real life. Maybe even three girls and two boys!)
  • Suggested play is focused on making different shapes with the ribbon as you set it up to spin the characters. There are no construction goals beyond “spin the characters.” Everything beyond that is about visual design. (Because girls don’t accomplish objectives – they make things pretty, teehee!)
  • There are actually further, more interesting ways to play with this, but they probably require far more pieces than come with the set. See below.

The tantalizing thing about this toy is that you could play with it in many other ways. There are slots on the top and on the sides of the board that accept the spindles. Likewise, the wheels have all sorts of holes, some of which fit tightly with a spindle, and some of which allow it to move freely. The blocks can be used as connectors, so you could build structures and include spinning, turning, and swinging elements. If only you had way more pieces.


Goldie Blox’s website draws attention to both the possibilities and the insufficiencies of their product on the Play page, which features constructions far more imaginative than the suggestions in the instruction booklet. However, many of them require a lot more pieces than come in the box. You can theoretically order a “Blox + Bits” expansion set, but currently it’s sold out. And honestly, if you ponied up $30-$60 (!) for ten measly spindles, do you really want to fork over $9.99 for some more?

Bottom line – this is an underdeveloped, under-equipped building kit with a slightly novel mechanical aspect (the ribbon) and a lot of flashy marketing. I don’t hate it, but I don’t think it’s worth the $29.99 I spent. I certainly don’t recommend spending $60 or more for it!

Alternative ideas include:

  • Tinker Toys, which have a similar pieces and connection, and allow spinning and rotating elements.
  • K’Nex, which explore gears, wheels, axles, levers, pulleys, incline planes, bridge engineering, etc.
  • Lincoln Logs – a classic.
  • For older kids, good old Erector sets.
  • Of course, there’s always Lego. Add girl figures to taste.
  • Toys that explore other ways of building such as wooden blocks, magnetic building kits, marble runs, snap circuits, vehicle models, anatomical models, and so on.

* I hear tell that the follow-up game is even worse, the goal being to help a friend win a princess pageant and ride a parade float. I haven’t seen that game, so I can’t comment, but it seems consistent with Goldie Blox’s intentional “girls are girlie” approach.

Confessions of a Fever-Phobic

jonaylorUntil this week, I was shockingly misinformed about fever. Despite being generally well educated and pretty savvy about medical stuff, I had some serious misconceptions. Misconceptions that may have led to unneeded treatment of my child, and definitely led to a lot of unnecessary anxiety for me!

My poor kid has had some UTIs lately, and one involved a fever up to 104° (40° C) for several days. My husband and I had to threaten, coerce, and manipulate her to get her to take some ibuprofen to get the fever down. I was terrified she’d get brain damage, start hallucinating, or seizing, or . . . I dunno, other unspecified awful stuff. I slept next to her, my clothes arranged like a firefighter’s, so I could jump up and run her to the emergency room if the fever went over the magic number (101° while on ibuprofen) one of the doctors specified.

During our next visit with a different doctor, he mentioned that fever is not a problem, and doesn’t need to be treated. But it was a brief comment amongst a lot of other critical information about kidney involvement, ID and sensitivities, and the right antibiotic. I felt like I’d gotten some mixed messages, but I didn’t think about it much at the time.

Two weeks later, my lucky kiddo came down with Fifth Disease. And her temperature went up. When it rose to 103.7°, and her skin felt as hot as a baked potato fresh from the oven, I woke her up and tried to get her to take some medicine. Despite (or because of?) her evident misery and restless sleep, she refused, so I pushed fluids, kept the covers off her, and stroked her with a wet cloth.

Now, we had called the advice nurse that evening, and she told me, “A fever between 100 and 104 is therapeutic.” In Worried Mom mode, I didn’t reflect on it much. My baby was frighteningly hot! Everything in my guts said, “Fix it! Cool her off! NOW!”

But later, with a little distance and a lot more sleep, I decided to investigate just what the deal is with fever. Turns out, fevers in response to illnesses are relatively harmless. (Heat stroke is a separate issue.) They might even help get you better faster. They don’t cause brain damage or any other lasting harm, and are self-limiting to 107° or less. Pediatricians do not recommend taking a child’s temperature frequently, or waking them up to take “antipyretics” (that’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen) to bring fevers down. Many parents dose antipyretics wrong, which is a much greater risk to a child’s health than a fever is. Even febrile seizures are not likely to cause harm, and using antipyretics doesn’t seem to prevent them. Oh, and if it’s lower than 100°, it’s not a fever, it’s a normal fluctuation in body temperature that happens every day for all of us.

TL:DR version – even high fevers in children are harmless. (NB: Fever in young babies is more complex.) You can give your kid medicine if they are suffering, but the fever itself isn’t anything to worry about.

This still feels wrong to me. But I checked. And checked. And checked. And checked. And checked. I think part of the reason fever phobia is so stubborn in our culture is that pediatricians focus on fevers. Every office visit starts with taking the child’s temperature. Any fever is focused on and investigated – how high? How long has the child had the fever? Presumably they’re trying to find out what is causing the fever, and to eliminate possible serious underlying conditions. Which is sensible, but gives us parents the impression that fever is scary. Plus clearly different doctors have different attitudes and give conflicting advice about fever management. Add in the historical use of “fever” in the names of many scary childhood illnesses, and it’s a great recipe for continued fear in parents!

Fever itself isn’t dangerous, and in the future I’m going to attempt to stow my anxiety and deal with it more rationally. Of course, my child tends to feel quite miserable, has trouble sleeping, and won’t eat or drink much when her fever goes over 101°, so I might still give her medicine, but at least I know now that the risk I’m battling is her discomfort, and I don’t have to worry that she’s cooking her own brain.

For reference by worried parents, here is a nice rundown of the common worries and the facts about fever.

How I’m parenting these days

I also throw out tons of precious, irreplaceable art each day. I try to at least snap a picture of the more interesting pieces before binning them.

I also throw out tons of precious, irreplaceable art each day. I try to at least snap a picture of the more interesting pieces before binning them.

This morning I asked my five year old to retrieve her backpack from her room. She insisted it wasn’t up there. I was pretty sure it was. I also didn’t want to climb the stairs with my wonky ankles only to find it there. So I told my ten year old, “I’ll pay you fifty cents to go check Claire’s room for her backpack. And if it is there, you also get to go ‘nyah-nyah, nyah-nyah-nyah’ to her.” (Including taunting hip shaking and derisive jazz hands, naturally.)

Turns out, it was in the front closet. No wonder we couldn’t find it – it was put away where it belongs! I admitted I was wrong and Claire was right, paid Chloe her two quarters, and went about my business.


Claire is in a developmental stage with a lot of anxieties, especially about nightmares. She has trouble falling asleep, wakes up and comes to my bed in the night, and resists bedtime at all costs. I’ve worked with her to make bedtime less scary, empathized, expressed certainty that she can feel scared, have nightmares, feel bad feelings, and still survive, and that it will get easier. I’ve given her more bedtime help and support because she is truly in distress over this, and that is valid. But I also offered to pay her a quarter every morning that she doesn’t wake me up in the middle of the night. And also, when she leaves that quarter lying around in some random place, I take it and put it back in the stash and pay her with it again the next successful morning.


The ten year old wants an Instagram account. I’m considering letting her have one (really, me getting one on her behalf and letting her post through me, since the age requirement is 13). But I’m thinking that I’ll make her write an essay about the potential risks and pitfalls of posting on Instagram and turn in it to me before we proceed. I will point her toward appropriate source material. But I will also grade it, and she has to pass to get an account.


Sadly, I say, “Pick up your damn _________ and put it away!” way too often. I pledge to at least try to leave the “damn” out, even if I don’t manage to make cleaning up a well-planned, Mary-Poppins-themed game as part of a thoughtful and consistent daily routine.


I let them attend church with friends. Until I hear a report that they were offered the opportunity to get full-immersion baptized last Sunday. Then I flip out. Then I hear the further report that she may have misheard, and I calm down. Mostly.


Most of the time lately, I feel like life is kind of a controlled fall. I’m doing the best I can, feeling a bit frazzled, but also having fun with the girls. I keep waiting for life to calm down a bit, for things to normalize and allow some predictability and routine. But I’m realizing that this will actually probably never happen.

Why parenting a toddler is so exhausting

grumpyWell, one reason. There are lots, and they all swirl together into a maelstrom of overwhelming fatigue.

But today, I want to talk about something that’s very hard to describe to someone who hasn’t spent day after day taking care of a small child. You get totally worn out because almost every interaction you have with your toddler is a power struggle. It’s amazing how utterly draining it can be simply to tend to life’s necessities, and maybe go to the library or (God forbid) get a sibling to one of their activities. Because every time you want to do anything, you are met with resistance.

Here’s an easy, relaxed morning with your spouse or friend:

Each person grabs their own choice of simple breakfast food. You discuss your plans for the day, and decide to buy some groceries, then swing back home and eat lunch. You spend five minutes cleaning up the breakfast stuff, then hit the store. Everyone hops out of the car and heads in. You cruise through the aisles, each picking up needed items, helping each other remember needed stuff, and check out. Back home, you both help bring bags in, put food away, and get lunch started.

Here’s the same experience with a toddler:

He insists he wants Cheerios for breakfast, but only if he can get them himself. He wants to climb the pantry shelves like a monkey to get them. When told that is unsafe, he throws himself on the floor and screams for five minutes. After helping him get over that, you talk it over and agree he can stand on a chair to reach the cereal. He gets the box, and you put some in a bowl with milk, cut up some fruit for him, and give him a cup of juice to go with it. He looks at the bowl of cereal and says, “NOOOO, I want eggs!” At this point you can tell him to like it or lump it, you can try to remind him that he wanted the Cheerios, or you can make him some eggs. Every choice is bad, and at least two lead to a screaming temper tantrum. Breakfast takes 45 minutes, and ends with you hunched over the counter, eating the kids’ leftovers because you’ve spent so much time and energy on their breakfast, you never made any for yourself. Don’t forget to clean everything up yourself, while the toddler hangs off your ankle complaining he’s bored. You probably have to mop even if he didn’t deliberately throw food this time.

You know what? I’m not even going to do the trip to the grocery store, because typing it is too exhausting to contemplate. I’m sure you can fill in the blanks yourself.

And no matter what discipline style you use, it doesn’t matter, because you’re going to get constant blowback and have to deal with it. (Even if people are very harsh with punishments, toddlers just don’t have the mental equipment to control their obnoxious behavior traits – they don’t remember, plan, or regulate their impulses well at all, and neither total unconditional parenting nor brutal spanking, nor anything in between is going to change that.) And the whole point of this post is that, however you deal with opposition, the dealing with it, over and over and over again all day, is what sucks the life out of you.

And that’s why the uninitiated don’t understand. There’s a certain underlying thought of “You’re the adult – just make them do what you want.” And securing compliance from a small child is often quite doable, and one interaction doesn’t drain all your resources and energy. So people who are with their kids for two hours a day, or who babysit, or who witness one interaction between a parent and child at a discount store or park or whatever – to them, it seems relatively easy and they can’t fathom how taking care of small children all day is a hard job.

The good news is a lot of these people will someday take care of small children for long hours, and we will get to laugh at them.

Defection from the Catholic Church – Update!


by TheChristianAlert.org, via flickr

I did get a response to my Declaration of Defection last year. It was rather disappointing. The bishop basically said the church won’t consider me non-Catholic because I’m not converting to another religion, and asked me to call some priest to discuss why God is real. I briefly considered calling, but I’m just not willing to invest any time, energy, and stress into this. What is the guy going to say to me? Nothing I haven’t heard. I find their evidence for Jesus et al. very unconvincing, so why waste both our time?

I think the bishop was being a bit disingenuous in his letter, as he failed to mention that the Catholic Church doesn’t even have Defection anymore. There just isn’t any way to have them record officially that you are not a member. Yes, it’s annoying. I would rather not be associated with them or risk them using my “membership” as part of their clout. But on reflection, I suppose it doesn’t matter much. I don’t give the Catholic Church any of my time or money, and I know that I have left the institution far behind. They will still have a record of my baptism without any notation that I jumped ship, but when it comes down to it, I guess it isn’t a big deal if they have my name on a piece of paper somewhere.

As far as I know, there aren’t any laws in the U.S. that would require a church to remove you from their membership list upon request. As long as they aren’t doing anything to you, but simply have a record of your baptism in their books, I don’t think they are violating any law. And after all, those records are just documentation of an event that did in fact occur.

While it’s just an anonymous forum post, it seems this person has run down the situation very well. In short, you leave by not participating and by considering yourself non-Catholic. Having the church officially acknowledge that is really only going to happen if you ever want to participate in a sacrament again. (Fat chance.)

Just a word about excommunication here: you can try to get excommunicated, but there’s no real point. Excommunication does not remove you from the church. People who are excommunicated are explicitly considered current Catholics, but the church denies them the sacraments in an effort to pressure them into repudiating their sin and coming back to the fold (sins like saving the life of a mother at the expense of her non-viable fetus for instance). So I wouldn’t bother.

There you go – this ended rather with a whimper than a bang. I’m sorry dear readers that I didn’t have the patience to call and recount the priest trying to convince me to come back. Maybe someday, if I ever get really, really bored I’ll give it a go.

Give Peas a Chance – Book review

peasFull disclosure: the publisher contacted me and offered a free review copy. So I may be biased by swag.

This is a great book for parents who worry that their toddlers don’t eat enough. I would say that the focus of the book is definitely on anxiety about getting enough calories in to your kid, with getting more variety a second goal, and more aspirational nutrition running third. So if your child eats plenty of food, is gaining weight well, and you mostly want to teach him to love whole grains and broccoli, this might not be your go-to manual. If, however, your doctor is concerned that your child has fallen off her growth curve and you find yourself chasing your toddler around trying to get extra food into her, this is going to be very helpful.

Samela does a good job of walking parents through both normal toddler behavior that can complicate healthy eating (can’t sit at the table for long periods, will graze all day on snack food if allowed, etc.), and the standard dietetic requirements. She discusses macro- and micro-nutrients, and cautions against common pitfalls such as depending on commercial “toddler foods,” letting a child drink vast quantities of milk, or expecting a toddler to eat far more food than they actually need.

The advice about what to feed your toddler seems pretty good, but a bit unambitious at times. Perhaps I hang with too crunchy a crowd, but I know a lot of mothers who would stroke out at reading the recommendations to feed your toddler a Nutella and Fluff sandwich, frozen yogurt sprinkled with Fruity Pebbles, or a pudding cup with vanilla wafers. However, if a parent is worried about getting enough calories in, these Whole Food heresies are probably defensible, and they are counterbalanced with many more healthy suggestions. As a mom whose children eat plenty of food, but gravitate to white starches too much, I would have loved more advice on nudging them in the direction of vegetables, but again, that doesn’t seem to be the main purpose of this book.

The one thing I found truly irksome about this book was its disregard of breastfeeding. This book is explicitly aimed at children 12-36 months old, and it has not one breath about continued nursing. I understand that nursing past one is very rare, but it is recommended by health professionals and organizations, and it deserves at least one sentence when there’s an entire section devoted to “Milk.” Even chocolate milk gets a positive side-bar, and  rice milk, almond milk, soy milk, hemp milk, and coconut milk are all discussed, but giving a toddler the biologically normal and most healthful milk is not even mentioned. Maybe sustained nursing is unusual, but is it really less prevalent than parents giving their kids hemp milk?

All in all, if I knew a pretty mainstream family with an underweight toddler, a parent who was anxious about getting enough calories in, or a mom who was “addicted” to processed foods from Gerber and Beech-Nut, I would heartily recommend Give Peas a Chance. For the average family dealing with a health-but-picky kid, I’d say it’s useful enough. For crunchy folk, or parents who are looking to make their child love kale and quinoa, I’d say another book would probably be a better fit.

Resources on that stupid Milkscreen thing

Edited 4/23: UpSpring has pulled Milkscreen breast milk production “test” from the market. Nice job, lactivists!

Quickity-quick, before I run to pick up my preschooler, here are some links of interest regarding the fraudulent and dangerous Milkscreen test for breast milk production.

FDA warning letter, with contact information for FDA officials

FDA complaint line for Texas, where the company is based: 855-630-2112

Federal Trade Commission online complaint form

Texas Attorney General’s Fraud Reporting info

Target Customer Service contact info

Amazon page for Milkscreen – leave a negative review!

Change.org petition to Target to stop selling this crap

Make your voices heard before this product hurts more women and children!