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Archive for August 2009

School Food Revolution

Chicken fajitas. Cuban black beans. Sauteed corn and summer squash.

These are just some of the dishes you’ll find at The Lunch Box Project, an online guidebook to help schools serve healthier meals to our children.

The website is part of the “School Food Revolution,” a movement that began with Chef Ann Cooper and supported by organizations and businesses such as the Chez Panisse Foundation and Whole Foods Market. Their goal is to encourage schools to steer away from the usual lunch fare of hotdogs, chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers and to start offering locally grown fruits and vegetables, whole foods and other healthier alternatives.

“The way we feed our kids is a reflection of our values,” Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA, said in a press release. “We cannot, in good conscience, continue to make our kids sick by feeding them cheap byproducts of an industrial food system. It is time to give kids real food: food that tastes good, is good for them, is good for the people who grow and prepare it, and is good for the planet.”

This year, Slow Food – an educational non-profit dedicated to promoting sustainability and connecting farmers, cooks, educators, students and others who care about food and the environment — launched “Time for Lunch,” a national campaign to provide kids with real, healthy food. Locally, members of Slow Food Spokane River have organized an Eat-In next Monday, on Labor Day. The gathering is designed to raise awareness of the kinds of meals served to the more than 30 million children who take part in the National School Lunch Program, according to this story from Down to Earth Northwest.

The Eat-In also will give participants the chance to learn more about the Child Nutrition Act, which Congress is expected to reauthorize this year. Slow Food is asking lawmakers to allocate more money toward school meals. Schools receive a cash reimbursement for every meal that’s served, but less than $1 of each meal is spent on actual ingredients, according to Slow Food USA. Instead, the money pays for labor, equipment and overhead costs. A petition from The Time for Lunch campaign wants Congress to allocate $1 more per day per child for lunch. It also wants the government to establish standards for all food sold at school, including vending machines as well as provide funding to teach children healthy eating habits through farm-to-school programs and school gardens.

Here’s some info about the local Eat-In:

TIME FOR LUNCH: An Eat-In for Better Child Nutrition

WHAT: A community potluck organized by Slow Food Spokane River to raise awareness about government funding and the quality of food in school lunches

WHEN: Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 7, 4 p.m.-6 p.m.

WHERE: Comstock Park’s picnic area, Spokane’s South Hill

OTHER INFO: Event includes hands-on activities for kids and an opportunity for parents and others to learn more about Time for Lunch. People can sign a petition calling for Congress to provide schools with the resources to serve real food for lunch. The gathering takes place just before the annual Spokane Symphony concert at the park. Participants can bring a blanket or chair, a reusable plate, cup and utensils and a potluck dish to share. Water and lemonade provided. For more information, contact Karen at or (509) 570-4541.

What do your kids eat for lunch at school?

Baby items and new law governing secondhand sales

People in the Inland Northwest love garage sales. If they’re not driving around rown scoping out other people’s stuff, they’re probably throwing a sale of their own.

For parents, these sales often mean great deals on used kids’ clothes, toys and nursery furnishings. Throwing a garage sale can also be an efficient way to make a little extra money while getting rid of stuff that the children have outgrown.

If you’re thinking of having a sale before the end of the summer or considering selling items on Craigslist and eBay, make sure your product is safe. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recently launched a campaign called Resale Roundup, which now makes it illegal to resell anything that has been recalled by the manufacturer.

“Those who resell recalled children’s products are not only breaking the law, they are putting children’s lives at risk,” Inez Tenenbaum, chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said in a press release. “Resale stores should make safety their business and check for recalled products and hazards to children.”

A 1999 CPSC study found that nearly 70 percent of resale stores sold at least one recalled or otherwise hazardous product, according to the press release.

The commission already keeps an eye on thrift stores to make sure recalled items aren’t being sold. Although it won’t be sending inspectors to garage sales any time soon, according to a recent story from McClatchy News, the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s new law will make sellers on eBay or Craigslist more accountable.

Garage sale shoppers and others who frequently buy items on Craigslist and eBay should also be on the lookout for dangerous recalled products by checking out the CPSC website.

Here’s a list of the agency’s Top 10 most dangerous products for children:

  • Playskool Travel-Lite Play Yards (portable cribs)
  • Baby Trend Home and Roam (portable cribs)
  • Evenflo Happy Camper Play Yards (portable cribs)
  • Baby Express Portable Cribs and Play Yards
  • Magnetix Magnetic Building Sets
  • Polly Pocket dolls with magnets
  • Easy-Bake Ovens
  • Simplicity Drop Side Cribs
  • Simplicity Bassinets
  • Hill Sportswear hooded drawstring sweatshirts
  • Evenflo Envision high chairs

Kids and cell phones

More than 70 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds own a cell phone, according to a study published this month by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

As a point of comparison, the survey — conducted in 2008 — noted that 77 percent of all adults interviewed in 2008 were cell phone owners. Teen cell phone use also has increased significantly since 2004, when only 45 percent of teens said they had a mobile phone.

They survey also found that in addition to calling friends, 76 percent of the teens use their phones to send text messages. Girls are more likely than boys to send and receive text messages. Same goes for teens ages 15 to 17.

Last month, Spokane Public Schools joined a long list of school districts (including Central, East Valley and Coeur d’Alene) that enacted policies to ban cell phone use at school except during lunch breaks.

According to a July story published in The Spokesman-Review, students who disregard the cell phone rule will get their phones taken away and only a parent or guardian can get them back.

What do you think about banning cell phones at school? Do you have rules in your household about cell phone use? How old was your child when he or she first got a phone?

Parental responsibility law

In Eastpointe, Mich., a new city ordinance can now send parents to jail or force them to pay fines if their kids under 18 commit crimes.

“This obviously gives us another tool in dealing with parents that don’t want to take responsibility,” the city’s police chief told The Detroit News.

Charges will be filed not only against the minor who commits vandalism, theft or other crimes, but also against his or her parents. A first offense could result in a warning, but after that, a conviction could mean jail time of up to 30 days and fines of up to $500.

According to the Detroit Free Press, other communities in the area already have similar ordinances.

Do you think this new law will be effective in preventing crime? Do you think it’s fair? Is it possible that some kids behave in ways that are beyond a parent’s control?

Choosing schools

My son will be a kindergartener this fall in his neighborhood public school.

But for some parents who live nearby, the school isn’t quite what they have in mind for their own children. Some have opted to send their children to private school. Others have chosen public elementary schools that are close to their homes but are not the designated schools for our neighborhood.

Besides choosing which school to attend, some parents also want a say in their children’s teachers, according to a recent Associated Press story, “Picking junior’s teacher: Should parents weigh in?

The reporter, Diana Marszalek, presented several perspectives. She interviewed an Illinois principal who said she solicits parents input when putting together class lists.

“… While (the principal) and her teachers do their best to know students and their needs, parents usually have a far deeper understanding of their children and what factors may help or hinder them in school,” Marszalek wrote.

Another point of view came from Dr. Paul J. Donahue, a New York child psychologist and author of “Parenting Without Fear.”

“Our job as parents is not to make everything perfect for our kids,” he told the AP. “Children learn important life lessons - how to be resilient and adapt to a range of situations - when required to roll with the punches. … Our kids are capable and they can cope.”

I can understand the need to move a child to another school or classroom if he or she has special needs or if the parents are seeking a particular program such as Montessori that isn’t available at all the schools. But I’m also a firm believer in supporting one’s neighborhood school.

Although this school doesn’t boast the highest test scores in the district, it’s certainly among the most diverse. The teachers also seem very caring, capable and committed and I feel confident my son will get a great education. Besides, it’s in our neighborhood. I’m looking forward to volunteering at this school and to walking home with my son at the end of the school day.

Am I being naive and too idealistic? Are some schools really better than others? What criteria are parents using to make their decisions? Test scores? Demographics? The reputation of certain teachers and administrators? Recommendations from other families? What other factors influenced your decision when choosing a school or educational program for your child?

The worst case scenario

What would happen to your kids if you and your spouse suddenly died?


According to a 2007 survey, nearly 75 percent of parents with children under 18 have no will or estate documents. That means they also haven’t named a guardian for them in the event that something tragic were to happen – the death or perhaps severe impairment of both parents.


If you’re divorced and a single parent, it’s likely that your ex would get custody of your kids. But if you’re married and you both pass away, it’s hard to tell what could happen. Without a will, the children can become wards of the state.

“There’s typically no easy mechanism for determining who takes over when the parents of minors die,” wrote personal finance columnist, Liz Pulliam Weston. “Your children could wind up at the center of an ugly court battle, be foisted on a relative who doesn’t want them or be stranded in the foster-care system if nobody steps up in time.”

“The only people who always, without a doubt, need a will are parents of minor kids,” she emphasized.


Many parents can’t bear to think of this worst-case scenario, but it’s something we all have to consider.


Here’s a link to a recent NPR discussion on the subject. It includes a checklist of how to prepare for the worst:


  • Pick the person you trust most to be your children’s guardian.
  •  Make sure this person accepts the responsibility.
  •  Give the guardian a certified copy of your will.
  • When you make your will, also buy life insurance that will replace your income and support your children. Get a policy big enough to fund major future expenses, like college, if they aren’t covered under other savings.

Do you have a will and a designated guardian for your children?

Border-crossing with children

If you’re traveling to Canada with your kids but without your spouse or partner, you need to bring a letter of consent.


My husband and I learned this the hard way earlier this summer during a family trip without me to British Columbia.


I was in Portland at the time attending a conference. While sitting in one of the sessions, I heard my cell phone ring and immediately turned it off. An hour later, during the break, I checked my messages and discovered that the Canada Border Services Agency was trying to reach me. One of the officials there had called three times.


Apparently, they had detained my husband and kids. They wanted to make sure that I knew he was taking the children to Canada before letting them through.When I called back, I got a stern lecture from the man who had left me several messages. First, I needed to answer my phone. Second, I should’ve written a notarized letter of consent.


If you’re planning to take your kids across a border any time soon, be sure to bring passports or birth certificates and other legal documents. This is especially important if you’re divorced (you need a letter from your ex) but it applies to all parents traveling across the border with their children.


Here’s some information from the Canada Border Services Agency:

Parents who share custody of their children should carry copies of the legal custody documents. It is also recommended that they have a letter of authorization from the other custodial parent to take the child on a trip out of the country. Such a letter will confirm that the child is not being abducted or taken against his/her will. The parents’ full name, address and telephone number should be Included in the letter of authorization.

When travelling with a group of vehicles, parents or guardians should arrive at the border in the same vehicle as the children.

Adults who are not parents or guardians should have written permission from the parents or guardians to supervise the children. The permission letter should include addresses and telephone numbers where the parents or guardian can be reached.

CBSA officers watch for missing children, and may ask detailed questions about the children who are travelling with you.

Several travel websites noted that even if you are not divorced, you still need written permission that includes contact information. “Immigration personnel will telephone that parent, so, as an added precaution, it can be helpful if the absent parent can be reachable at around the time of the expected arrival at the border,”  according to

I think these rules generally apply whenever a minor is traveling outside the United States with only one parent.


All preschoolers get grumpy and fussy, but if it’s chronic, it may be a sign of depression.

A recent study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health found that children as young as 3 can actually suffer from this disorder that affects as many as 18 million adults – that’s one out of every 10 people you meet.

According to an Associated Press story this week, “Depression found in kids as young as 3,” about 2 percent of preschoolers in the United States suffer from depression at one point or another.

Researchers found that depression was most common in kids whose moms were also depressed and those who have experienced a traumatic event.

Unfortunately, because we often don’t look for depression in little children, most of these kids don’t get diagnosed until they’re teens.

Most preschoolers can get moody or throw fits, but they quickly get over it and seem happy again when they start to play or take part in their day-to-day activities, according to Dr. Helen Egger, a psychiatrist at Duke University, who was interviewed in the story. Kids with depression don’t bounce back as easily. Here are some of the behaviors to watch for:

  • Depressed children appear sad even when playing, and their games may have themes of death or other somber topics.
  • Persistent lack of appetite
  • Sleep problems
  • Frequent temper tantrums that involve biting, kicking or hitting also are signs of possible depression.
  • Being preoccupied with guilt over common mishaps.

One family‚Äôs playborhood

Any kid can play in Mike Lanza’s front yard.


That’s because the San Francisco father of three boys turned his garden into a “front yard family room,” where all the kids in the neighborhood have received an open invitation to hang out, play on the swingset, draw on the 30-foot whiteboard, shoot hoops and just enjoy being outdoors.

“When I think about my boys’ futures, I’m terrified,” Lanza told The San Francisco Chronicle in a story headlined “From landscape to playscape.” “I’m not terrified that they will have inferior educations or live in an unsafe world. I’m terrified that they won’t have very much fun.”

One of my son’s susbstitute preschool teachers, a bright young man who is also majoring in Child Studies at Eastern Washington University, sent me a link to this story. He and I have been exchanging e-mails on the philosophy of “free-range kids” and how parents need to relax a little more and just let their kids explore and play.


My own front yard is the size of a postage stamp so this would never work, but we do have a wonderful park just two blocks away where our neighbors and others congregate for pancake breakfasts, play dates, dog walks and other gatherings. (Our dear friends and next-door neighbors got married at the park.)


If a community like this is something you’re interested in for yourself and your children, the article gave some great advice:

Knock on doors: Get to know your neighbors. Then, encourage them to let their kids play out in the front yard and take turns supervising them. Eventually, older kids can look after younger ones.

Play close to home: Instead of driving your kids to activities, be it sports, ballet or playdates, stay home and do things in the neighborhood: informal potlucks, block parties, games of T-ball or flag football.

Show, don’t tell: If your kids see you spending time on the porch or in the garden with friends in the evenings, they may venture to do the same.

Loosen the leash: Allow your children to have independence in stages as they grow older and more confident.

What’s your neighborhood like? Is it a great place for kids to play?

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This blog is intended to provide a forum for parents to share knowledge and resources. It's a place for parents young and old to combine their experiences raising families into a collective whole to help others.

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