Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Evolution of Feeding Children in Modern Times

A friend posted 30 photos of cute kids on Facebook yesterday, each with a caption about their picky eating habits.

All were under 5. A few were toddlers. The kid who dumps any food on the floor from his high chair unless said food is in a bowl gets a walk, and so do his parents. It irritates me more when I see parents not teaching toddlers about plates and bowls and consistently placin the food on the high chair tray. We aren't talking mashed potatoes, because said parents probably aren't teaching the kid to use spoons or forks yet, either.

What got me was the caption on a picture of one cutie, "I make my mom make something fresh every time I take one bite." Uh. Really?

You know, you don't see cat skeletons in the trees when they are scared to come down, and hungry children WILL eat.No need to make a fuss. No yelling or tears from the parent. Just...calm.

I have been volunteering with a mid-week program at my church for about five years now where the kids come in, sit six at a table with two adults not their parents, and learn to pass food family style. There are table rules, including taking a bite of everything, not leaving their seats or talking between tables, and not putting their feet on the table. The kids seem surprised. A lot of the adults let them break these rules regularly. These are almost all kids from middle class families.

I've had kids who screwed up their faces as they bravely ate one tiny little bud of broccoli at the beginning of the year who were scarfing down broccoli with cheese sauce by the end of the year. I've seen others who continued to find broccoli a yucky food. But they learn not to comment on it and not discuss the yuckiness with everyone else.

With new children, we ask if they have had family style meals before, and many haven't seen it except at extended family Christmas meals. In those cases, a lot of the time the food is served buffet style and someone else filled their plates. The big change I've seen in five years is the lack of experience even fourth and fifth graders have in serving themselves. Mom or Dad fills the plate and sets it in front of them. They have no concept of passing the food from person to person, no patience in waiting for the dish to reach them. They enjoy the task of getting the food on the spoon and to their plate without spilling. (You never know what skills you might learn in a church.)

And I, who am a basic slob where housekeeping is concerned, bite my tongue at the way the table gets set. My fellow teachers see no reason to make a fuss. It drives me nuts to see the fork and spoon to the right of the plate and the knife to the left, or some other non-standard configuration. I, too, let it go. The point is to talk to each other at the table and enjoy the food. I talk to them about the importance of seeing that everyone at the table has what they want before we all eat. Oh. One reason the kids love to be the server who goes for the food and then clears, I think, is another rule. We can pass the food, but until the server sits and takes a bite, no one can eat.

(I find I do this as well when I am invited to someone's home where the hostess is putting the food on the table. I wait till she sits down with us. I notice more and more that most people simply start eating. I think that's rude.)

A fair number of families still eat together one or more times a week at the table. Still more eat together on the couch in front of a movie on the television. I think that younger children are used to someone else dishing up and simply putting the plate in front of them. I find that five and six-year-olds can do it themselves. Awkwardly, and they usually take too much at first. They learn, We have very little spillage.

In this same five-year period, I am finding it harder to find some implements or foods I have taken for granted all my life. Society's choices are changing. Maybe eating together and passing the food is becoming archaic. I hope not.

Looking beyond your own plate is vital if we live together. It has been an easy tool for fostering harmony and smooth interaction in society, one table at a time.

I will be sorry if we let that vanish. It costs nothing to do. And it can be so pleasant.

And every once in a while, one of us stops to notice if someone else has an empty plate.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

More than a Century, and still Buckin'

The 119th Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show, otherwise known as the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, opened Friday for a 23-day run.

In recent years, it has entertained as many as one million people who want to see the sights, ride the rides, and watch the rodeo. I was reading a newspaper article today touting the annual stock show parade in downtown Fort Worth as having an authentic Western feel to it. Well, since it actually IS authentic, no wonder.

Cowboys? Ranchers? You want to see real ones, who can work cattle with a horse, a jeep or a helicopter? The Fort Worth Stock Show is the place. No wonder the number of international visitors grows each year. People coming to Texas want to see Real Cowboys. Boy Howdy, this is the time and place to see them.

The first stock show and rodeo was a one-day event in 1896, held in January when ranchers and cowboys in Texas don't usually have so much to do. It was popular. And it grew. I think many of the current cow and horse barns were built in the 1930s, but you can look it up. More have been added on in recent years. The grounds are pretty large. Parking mostly is outside and you walk. A lot. Which can get dicey.

There's a reason the region refers to "stock show weather." I've attended stock show parades when horses and riders are jingling along in the start of a sleet storm. Usually, however, a few days of temperate weather in the 50s, 60s, maybe even touching 70, can be followed by massive freezing, sleet, and ice for several days at the end of January/early February. (In Texas, sleet and ice on the ground usually lasts no more than a few days. We go for years without any, so we don't regularly have equipment to deal with it when it hits. Stock show people simply deal with it.)

Despite the iffy weather, a midway and rides are part of the show. My admiration is high when teenagers in puffy jackets, jeans and athletic shoes or boots climb aboard a ferris wheel that is going to whip up the breeze when it is only 38 outside. Maybe that's just me.

I haven't been to the rodeo in years. I don't know if recent improvements on Will Rogers Coliseum have shut out the cold drafts, but some sort of jacket usually is nice to have. Families who have been coming for generations reserve ahead to get the same seats every year. Tickets sell out so fast, it is difficult to find any particularly at night. Matinees have a few more seats available. A spokeswoman called it a "generational event", and it is. A lot of families have years of history with this event.

It is truly an exhibition with every kind of product, tool and machinery for sale and on display. Demonstrations and classes are held. Every breed of horses, cattle,pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens and so much more are judged. Human fashion shows leave me yawning, but I can watch for at least an hour while cattle to be judged are washed, blown dry, brushed, their tail tassels curled and their hooves shined. They are beautiful when ready to show. Other breeds also go through similar prepping. They are gorgeous.

I will say if you don't like the smells associated with livestock and hay, it's not your thing. The livestock show is a show for the people who grow the animals and bring them for judging and for the sales held during the show. You are very welcome to watch. Just don't get in the way.

Agriculture is still a viable industry in Texas, despite the drought. Not near so many cattle currently,though, in order to care well for the herds still here. Ag kids have brought their animals to the show for many decades, and the selling price of the Champion Steer still pays a majority of that teen's college education.

The rodeo is a classic, with a professional entertainer booked into the arena each year for a healthy contract. There's barrel racing, calf roping, steer wrestling, bronc riding, bull riding...you know, the usual. The big purses draw the top professionals in each category to the Fort Worth scene.

The Stock Show grounds are smack in the middle of the Fort Worth cultural district. The world-famous Kimbell Museum of Art is across the street, the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art with its collections of Remingtons and Russells is nearby (and free). The Museum of Science and History with its Amex screen is at one end, and Casa Manana theater in the round is at the other. The Cowgirl Museum is one of a kind, and there are other museums as well when folks get ready for a little change from the livestock. Participants do spread out. People who by profession live out of the city enjoy the culture and imbibe readily.

The stock and handlers come in by truck, but many of the ranchers fly in with families to enjoy the whole area while they are in the Metroplex.

When it began in the 1990s, the cultural attraction may have included a little seamier activity. Hell's Half Acre was once located where the city's convention center now stands in downtown Fort Worth. It provided women, gambling, and high-test liquor in quantity for cowboys ending a trail drive as well as competitors in the rodeo. Today, the city offers some mighty good restaurants, bars, and fine cigars.

The western kick to the cultural mix in Fort Worth makes it one of my favorite cities in the country. There's just nothing quite like it.

I think it's about time I visited the rodeo again.

It's been too long.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Me, myself, and I

When my eldest son was about 7 or 8 years old, he fell down and scraped his knee. Somehow, a strand of grass became encapsulated under the skin and it took surgery to remove it. (At the time, medics had no idea what was in the bump. They only knew that he had to be absolutely still while they removed it.)

This was in the 1970s, and the law then said you did not have to give your Social Security number to anybody, any time. As a matter of fact, requiring the
Social Security number was against the law.

However, hospitals had already begun using it as a convenient check to make sure two persons by the same name didn't get mixed up in the records. I understood what they were trying to do. I refused to give them my number, citing the law. Probably because it WAS the law, my son did get his surgery, and I didn't have to give them my number. Or his. Also, 30 years ago, megalithic corporations were not so common.

I do not want to live in a cave in the mountains of Idaho, and I believe those that do carry privacy too far. They and I, however, would agree on certain aspects in a conversation.

One reason I do not want a smart phone is the excessive opportunity for privacy invasion it presents. I am cautious about what I say on Facebook because I know that I am being tracked. Laws have changed, so my social is widely used today. It worries me some. My state doesn't link driver's licenses and car tags, and I wonder if those states have more identity theft or white collar crime. I would not say I am paranoid. I do think people who surrender privacy because they "have nothing to hide" are ingenuous, another word for stupid.

I interviewed two computer scientists who consulted all over the country on firewalls and privacy issues in the 1980s. They predicted then the hacking problems we are now experiencing. They said the business community didn't want to spend the money on protection, and businesses also saw an advantage to customers having little privacy protection. They said California, Colorado and Florida were states at that time concerned with privacy.

One of the experts told me,"People who would never dream of going through someone else's wallet will get on a computer and get the same information with impunity."

And this was almost 30 years ago.

I am bemused that George Orwell was right, in a way, when he predicted the privacy invasion in "1984". It is just that almost all the invasion is by corporations, not government.

I have a friend who is always getting involved in movements and causes. She used to send me petitions to sign on issues she knew I cared about. I did not sign them. I do believe groups can sometimes affect change, but only with a lot of effort over a long period to get incremental gains. Unfortunately, I am a pessimist who really works on positive attitude. As a result, I tend to act independently more than seek a like-minded group. I have a couple of exceptions in my life.

I am "on the grid" more than I would like, and yes, it has made life more comfortable. I do get a bit testy at social expectations of who I am as "a grey-haired grandmother." You seldom see men my age identified as "a grey-haired grandfather," though I have seen it once or twice recently. Wonder how THEY felt?

One of my resolutions this year is to become more technically nimble. It will enrich life and allow me to do some things that currently either stop or slow me considerably. I will continue to research, read, and listen to information on how to live in the 21st century with at least more than a modicum of privacy.

Someone recently told me I was a Luddite. Oh, I'm not one. But I get along surprisingly well with people who are.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

We all change, and we all remain ourselves

The background music was pleasant in the Chinese restaurant I visited recently. As I mused the decades old question of whether Jello has survived in large part because of the dessert tray at Chinese restaurants, I suddenly tuned in on the lyrics of the music so sweetly playing. The two singers were warbling in gentle harmony about how deeply they hated one another, and some four-letter words were used. I was one of only a few eating alone, and I doubt anyone else noticed. I just happened to tune in, because I hadn't been really listening, either. The song segued into another really pretty song. I returned to my Jello squares.

I'm not horrified, I'm commenting: not so many years ago, the lyrics would not have been sung in a family restaurant. Technology is part of the change, because music is accepted as something that is always there today. We notice silence, but not the musical background. In my lifetime, live music led to records, then to tapes, then to intercoms in stores and everywhere. Few of us perform. All of us are surrounded by some kind of music continuously.

What is accepted has changed dramatically, partly due to the old television. The time when adult entertainment and family entertainment were separate arenas has blurred despite the attempts at movie ratings. We continue to try to have some basic laws and rules to make the general community more pleasant and healthy for our children. A lot of rules, customs and laws have changed, and the music in the restaurant was just one incident. The computer, then Wi-Fi and cell phones, have made some huge differences. I think we are on the threshold of some more that will make this year, these times, look archaic in a very few years. Human society will be adapting and fitting these new discoveries into our everyday lives. How will it go?

The enforced communality in a growing, enormous population has been a factor in professionals debating whether being an introvert, or having symptoms of the same, ought to be included in the psychologist's diagnostic manual as a disorder needing treatment. Extroverts thrive on people around them. Is that the healthiest life? More people in the United States live alone today than ever before. They may communicate on social media or play computer games, but they may not spend much face time interacting with other people. So the experts debate. It is indeed a world that could not have existed before.

Boundaries are becoming a skill less taught, it seems to me. Many of these boundaries deal with families, where boundaries have always been iffy. But I have read a lot of articles and books on parenting becoming more about pleasing the child, teaching fewer consequences, and drawing out dependence on parents longer and longer. I know, working with kids as I do every week, that children in my state are being "taught to the test"--being taught the answers they are expected to regurgitate. When I ask for conclusions on how one piece of information links logically to something else, I am stunned that many can't make the connection. They haven't been taught to think or surmise. So the parents, I, and other adults, try to do some of this in extracurricular activities. It largely works. Over time.

An older woman I know has convinced her grown children and their children to have a weekly family meal with her. She insists that everyone leave their cell phones at the door. Her family, she says, has had difficulty doing that. That rather surprises me since my own family simply ignores phones during a meal unless someone is on-call. If not business, however, the person disengages quickly and firmly. It CAN be done. The fault, as I say, is not technology but ourselves.

Funny. When a pedophile downloads child porn on his computer, we don't blame technology. We blame him. Or her. But when someone calls us during a meal, and we disrupt the meal to talk,it's technology's fault. Huh.

It is true I don't have a jillion people to talk to, but I wonder frequently who all these people are talking to as they walk along, one arm bent as they hold a phone to their ear. And when they shop doing that, are they as efficient? Or is the task of shopping so low-key that it can be accomplished without difficulty as they talk? Are they ever alone? Do they even notice the larger world they live in? or do they live only within the perimeter of their city neighborhood? Do they ever see the stars? Humans need to see stars. Stars are a heavy lesson, if we will learn, that we are not so big and important, and our planet, big to us, is only a speck in the overall picture.

Gives me perspective.

People argue about climate change. The oil and gas people go on as if their product will never end. Society changes almost everywhere. We live here, and society is changing a lot. I change too.

But however I change, and whatever I do, it is not the fault, probably not even the product, of technology.

It is on me.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Let's cheer for happy chickens

I am grateful to the state of California for a new law: egg-laying chickens must be allowed more room than simply living a life in a box too small to turn around in. The chicken must have enough room to stretch its legs, even to move about a bit. Not much, but some. My understanding is that the beaks are still blunted, but the chicken has a little more quality of life, as it were. One assumes this could possibly mean healthier chickens for healthier eggs. Not sure about that.

I just know that if we used to promote milk from contented cows--we possibly still do--I also want my eggs from happy chickens. Happier, at least.

McDonald's got publicity a few years back for buying their eggs from farms that allow more humane living conditions for the hens. It cost the company more, and I have no idea if the policy still is in place. At least for awhile, though, my guilt over an egg-sausage biscuit was over the grease and calories, not the misery of the chickens providing said eggs. And oh, yeah, pigs don't have much of a life, either.

But back to the eggs. From time to time I can buy days old fresh eggs from a neighbor, and I do so. As someone who grew up with free range chickens in the pen not far from our kitchen, I can taste the difference, and for baking? they whip about a third to twice as high. Usually, though, I can buy only a dozen at a time, and they are apt to be different sizes. For a lot of baking, I go ahead and buy eggs at the store, even though they are weeks older. I pay to get the ones stamped "cage free", and hope that is true.

Information about commercial standards for chickens has been available for awhile, but not really in the news for a number of years. The California law was touted on the news, however, as somehow amusing and unnecessary-coupled, in fact, with the law banning selfies with tigers. I suspect that law also was aimed at humane treatment of animals. I don't know.

I do know a lot of people care about puppies and kittens, which they see, and are largely indifferent to animals they don't see. The United States overall has pretty good laws on cleanliness, clean quarters, decent diet for agricultural animals. We still struggle with humane practices.

Maybe you just have to know a chicken or two. I knew a six-year-old girl with a pet chicken with soft, soft feathers who followed her around like a dog, and roosted in a rather ornamental pen the hen had in the house. She was as fun to pick up as a big teddy bear, and she would nestle in your arms. Most chickens I know simply sing that contented cluuuck-cluck cluck tune as they walk around in sunshine and eat weeds and old cabbage leaves we throw in the pen. Do factory chickens ever cluck in contentment? Do they crow when they lay an egg? I don't know. Maybe they do.

I have a lot of I don't knows here. I do know I want the most kindness possible shared by my fellow humans with the rest of the life around us. I believe the most kindness possible is good for us and the earth itself.

Is this new law a kindness? Sincerely, I hope so.

Guiltless eggs taste so much better.