Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Death by Cute

I happened to need a laugh and found this on a friend's Facebook page. It sufficed...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Marketing to kids...

This morning, the kid was playing with Webkinz on the iMac. At one point, I glanced over and realized she was in fact surfing the new products and was watching a video about some sort of deluxe subscription service. My "dad" voice went on and I told her to turn it off or return to playing with the characters. She wondered why, of course, and I started in on an explanation of what was going on — that she was being sold products that she would then want me to buy. I've tackled these issues here before, but today's conversation came on the heels of the biggest lead-up to Christmas yet, or rather the first one where she's putting specific demands out that are coming from commercial influence.

Until recently, I kept a fairly tight cinch on the kinds of TV she could watch — pretty much locking the options down to Boomerang (which does not show commercials and recorded shows where she could skip the ads). And until she moved in with someone recently, her mom didn't have cable at all. At home, she has discovered other channels and begun to watch them when I'm not paying attention. And these channels are jam-packed with ads for all the latest toys every kid needs.

I thought about all this as I approached the Webkinz question this morning — and as I face a Christmas where she will be getting franchise-building things like American Girl and Nintendo DSi. Rather than shutting it all down and eliminating cable (at least not yet), it seemed like a good chance for a teaching moment. We sat in front of the computer, and I asked her why she thought the Webkinz site was showing her all the great products she could get to expand her collection. She said it was so we would go buy them — so far so good.

The next lesson was about need. I asked her why she "needed" the cute koala or yorkie toys, and she said she needed them so the animals she already had would have more friends. I asked her if she really "needed" the toys or just felt like she needed them and really just wanted them. We've discussed the difference between want and need in the past, so she aced this question. I went in for the kill.

The reason they make her "need" them, I explained, was because they know how to make kids want something so badly their parents get it for them. I added that we could get things we wanted when we can afford them, but I wanted her to understand that it really was just a way for the companies to sell more stuff.

Looking back and writing about it now, I wonder how best to keep approaching this lesson without being a thorough killjoy. It's not that I want to isolate her from every venal form of advertising and marketing to kids — I can't — but I do want her to understand when the shiny object they're trying to sell her might not really be all it's cracked up to be.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Fun — a ukulele edition

Not sure why I've been on a little ukulele kick lately, but there you have it. Here are a couple of selections to lighten up your Friday. Feel free to add more in the comments.

Picked up from Boing Boing...

Another good one from Sophie Madeleine...

The requisite adorable kid that makes me smile every time. This boy is brilliant...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Locavore fun.

I got a call from a coworker yesterday asking me if I wanted a piece of venison. He'd pulled a back strap (filet) out of the freezer and had a small chunk of it left. Of course I do, I said. Not being a hunter and without a reliable source, I've never had the chance to prepare venison, but it has been on my list.

The piece he gave me was a little over half a pound, and I decided to prep it for dinner last night. Figured I wouldn't tell the kid what she was eating until after dinner. With distractions like homework and letters to Santa, I needn't have worried. She hung out in the kitchen while I prepped the meal.

I'd done some research on preparations and came down to the following: quick marinade in red wine, olive oil, salt, pepper, and sage. Three minutes on each side to brown it with a touch of olive oil in a hot cast-iron skillet. Seven minutes in a 400-degree oven. Transfer to a plate and put the skillet back on the stove for a reduction. Reduce the reserved marinade with extra wine and a splash of balsamic vinegar thrown in. Serve with couscous and snow peas.

The meat came off a perfect medium rare. With a drizzle of sauce, it was tender and lean and just phenomenal. The kid even ate her whole serving and gave it two thumbs up. I decided to compliment it with a wine produced only a few miles from where the deer had been shot — Villa Appalaccia's Toscanello. I've wanted to pair this bottle with venison since I first poured it at a wine festival two years ago, and I'm pleased to say my gut instinct was dead-on. The pairing was phenomenal. The layers of fruit and pepper from the sangiovese/primitivo/cab franc blend complimented the flavors of the meat so that holding both in your mouth produced a brilliant synergy of flavor.

The kicker on the whole thing was getting around to telling the kid what she'd had. "I ate deer?" she asked. When I said yes, she said, "Hunh. It was good." One more foodie-parent victory...

Mornings, pt. 7,384

I blew up at the kid this morning, but what was notable about the explosion, however, was the realization that I wasn't really yelling at her. I wasn't really mad at her. I was blowing up at myself. I've had so much on my mind and have so many things swirling around in life — from the ups and downs of relationships to the holidays to worries about our brewing plans to money concerns to an endemic lack of sleep to every other little thing you can imagine — that I seem perpetually on edge right now. This morning it boiled over when a cup of water spilled. Granted the kid has a bad habit of leaning on tables, or the breakfast bar in this case, but doing so and knocking over a cup of water really shouldn't be a trigger for me to yell.

Honestly, I have to say that one of the most difficult parts of parenting is balancing all of these demands. And when you have your own emotional issues to navigate, the smallest irritations of life with a kid can be magnified by all the other pressure. This isn't the first time I've felt this, but what is different now is that I caught myself. In the past, I might have carried over the irritation and frustration to everything else. What I chose to do this time was admit to the kid that I was hurting and that I was sorry for making her feel bad. Very sorry.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Fun — advertising edition

This is the kind of stuff that makes advertising just outright fun — a reformed alien speaking for Raisin Bran... Brilliant!

Picked up from Boing Boing.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

cooking, or getting to it

I realize that I haven't been writing very much lately on one of my favorite subjects — food and cooking. For one reason or another, I also haven't been doing very much cooking lately.

In any case, the coming weeks will bring my annual foray into my take on my grandmother's Swedish Meatballs. Much as I love IKEA's meatballs in a pinch, they have nothing on this preparation — particularly with the inclusion of meat from Belmont Butchery. In past years, I've done gl√łg. This year, I may attempt her Swedish fruit soup. Maybe I'll even pull one or two more Swedish traditions out of the woodwork.

For New Years Eve, I'll do the paella I've done the past few years. Since someone else will be doing a seafood preparation this year, I'll be able to return to a full-on recipe. I may even pull the rabbit parts out of the freezer for a flavoring saute, and I may even jump to a wood-fired preparation on the grill. It all depends how adventuresome I feel, and whether I feel like cooking in a tux again this year.

And then there's the Super-Dad Cookie Baking Party...

Monday, December 07, 2009

A Poem

One of the kid's assignments in school last week was to write a poem. I can only assume based on the result that it was a similar exercise to what we did when I was doing teaching trips in grad school. Be that as it may, I'm pretty proud of what she came up with:

Red is the taste of apples being picked,
Rassberry juice squirting in your mouth,
Ripe tomatos on the plant waiting to be picked,
The fragrance of roses in a vase on a table.
Red is yarn being played with,
Bean bags being sat on by children
and flowers in the sun.
The scent of cranberry juice in a bottle.

Not bad for a seven-year old.