Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Choline Reduces Birth Defects, Improves Brain Development March 31, 2008

nutrientlinkedtohealthybabies.gifStudies show that, in pregnancy, choline plays a critical role in brain development, and may reduce the risk of neural-tube defects such as spina bifida by as much as fifty percent.

Dr. Gary Shaw, a research director of the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program reported in a paper in the American Journal of Epidemiology (2004), that women whose daily choline intake was greater than 498mg had about half the risk of delivering a baby with a neural-tube defect, compared with expectant mothers whose choline intake was 290mg or less. Surprisingly, this reduction occurred independently of intake of folic acid. “Many of us have been targeting folic acid as the way to prevent birth defects, and this has certainly worked, ” Dr. Shaw says. ” But issues remain as to why it doesn’t work in everyone.”

In pregnancy, choline plays a critical role in brain development by helping regulate the transport of nutrients into and out of cells. It also forms acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory function, according to Dr. Steven Zeisel, a recognized expert in choline, who published his findings in the Journal of Neurochemistry (2004). Choline, a vitamin B-like compound, is found in high quantities in eggs, beef and chicken liver, wheat germ and soybeans. The National Academies of Science recommends nursing mothers increase choline intake to 550mg—the equivalence of two whole eggs.

*For more info on how choline helps during pregnancy, check Big Love, Low Risk: Your Guide to the Healthiest Pregnancy. You’ll also learn how Omega-3 fatty acids may decrease the risk of both post-partum depression and preterm labor. 


Cool Decor Ideas for Kid’s Rooms! March 24, 2008

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Decorating your child’s room presents an unusual dilemma: unlike the kitchen or living room, decorating your child’s room is an opportunity to actively involve your child in the process, helping define his or her favorite colors, interests, and personality.

Sit down with your child—if you can find a place to sit in that bedroom!—and talk about the stuff that makes up his or her life. Your child wants a cool hangout for friends and hobbies, and wants a look that expresses his or her individuality and independence. You want a room that can be kept organized, provides a study area, and is a complement to the rest of the home. The challenge is to create a special place that is a sleeping retreat, study, computer and audio-video room, and an entertaining space for friends. Where to begin?

Color, color, color! You know the old maxim: painting the walls is one of the most cost-effective yet dramatic remodels. The neutral palette in your dining area may be stunning, but in your kid’s room, double-dog-dare yourself. Paint the whole room in one solid hue, try color “blocks” (large squares of hues that “ground” a picture, mirror, or row of shelves) or try mixing paints and papers in contemporary patterns. Paint the walls in colors which best reflect your child’s personality; those are the hues that are most likely to make your child feel comfortable in his or her surroundings.

Pink. Your child is gentle and affectionate. A good communicator, your child lets people know how fond she is of them.
Yellow. Your child has an expansive personality that is bubbly and warm. He or she is cheerful, energetic and spirited in all activities.
Orange. Your child likes to lead games and be active. Talkative and lively, he or she has a generous spirit.
Red. Your child is competitive and socially assertive. Learning stimulates him or her, including dramatic artistic pursuits, such as theater and music. Your child is passionate about life.
Green. Your child is nurturer, caring for pets, and is sensitive to others’ feelings. Your child is relaxed, and enjoys the great outdoors.
Purple. Your child quietly observes others in social situations, which can give him or her a mysterious air. An intuitive soul, your child is comforting and reassuring when someone is troubled.
Blue. Your child is easy-going. He or she is comfortable with both friends and solo activities. His or her room is a place of tranquillity and peace.

San Diego-based Interior Decorator Michelle Strausbaugh assures parents, “If your child chooses a wall color you just can’t agree to, compromise by using the color in an area rug, beanbag chair or pillows. Should they tire of it, a new favorite can easily replace it.” 

Eye-catching lighting
Great lighting adds warmth and character to a room. Pendant lights are ideal for creating soft, diffused lighting without using any floor space. Hung overhead, these lights are away from curious hands and ever-growing limbs. Loose wires can be tamed with cord covers painted to match the wall. With cords and fixtures readily available for a very low cost, virtually anything can be made into a pendant light, simply by drilling a hole in the fixture. Keep glare and fire hazards to a minimum with low wattage (40w or less) bulbs. Hang different size pendants in an attractive grouping, or align 2-4 identical pendants in a row. 

Genius organizational tricks
Clothes, sporting equipment, books and CDs all require storage. Your local home center has a selection of closet organization systems available to manage everything in one spot. Many of these systems are adjustable, so that if your child gives up soccer for baseball, the shelves can be moved around to accommodate a glove and bat instead of a soccer ball. Install inexpensive bracket or floating shelves just below the ceiling to house books and mementos, or stack colorful cubes or bins for modular storage. Simple, inexpensive wood shelves look fabulous when the back is painted a contrasting or deeper hue than the bedroom wall, adding depth. Magnetic boards hold calendars and photos. Strausbaugh suggests parents “keep clutter in check by placing smaller toys in attractive baskets, or cover plain, cardboard containers with funky paper. Label containers so children can participate in clean up–for small children apply pictures of contents.”
Involve your child when deciding what goes where: he or she knows how often an item is used, and those daily items should be easily reached and replaced. Come up with the categories that make sense for your kid: Sports, Hobbies, Toys, Clothing, School stuff. The more your child feels a part of this process, the greater the likelihood he or she will keep up with the organization.  

Kids spend a lot of time with friends in their rooms, so choose additional seating pieces that do double-duty. Ottomans with built-in storage can house games or hobbies while also serving as a footstool or a game or snack table. Another great choice is an oversized armchair or futon that folds out to a twin bed: perfect for a stay-over guest! 

Grouping collections
Be sure to place all like items (all dolls, trophies, figurines, etc.) in one location. More attractive to the eye, this showcases your child’s interests and is a principle of feng shui. At clean-up time, putting things back where they belong is a no-brainer. Strausbaugh arranges favorite photos or sports cards on desktops, positioning clear or colored plexi-glass over the items to create a fun and washable work area.  

Setting up study areas
Your child’s desk is where greatness begins. Facilitate longer, more comfortable study periods by ensuring ample space to spread out books and papers in front of a computer. Pair it with a comfy chair. Choose a high-quality halogen light for the desk; Don’t depend on the ceiling fixture, which casts shadows, is not bright enough, and may cause headaches. Teach your child to put away pens, pencils and study materials before bed, leaving a tidy surface. This practice will help your child to have a more restful sleep, and presents a fresh space to get started for the next study session.  

Extra Special Extras!
Strausbaugh adds whimsy to kids’ rooms. “Kids love a ceiling with personality! Paint it a bright color, string twinkle lights, or hang their favorite posters. Utilize colorful clips to hang your child’s favorite items—photos, hats, stuffed animals, found items—to a cable system or clothing line strung across the room.   


Raw Brownies! With Icing!! March 5, 2008

Sugar is a stranger at our house. A lover of all things dessert, you would guess otherwise, but I have found countless “alternatives” for ooey-gooey, sinfully delicious and satisfying treats. I put alternatives in quotations, because, in truth, what is available in the produce department is delightfully sweet, complex in texture and wildly versatile. The real deal.

When I was nineteen, overweight and eating junk, I came across this cookbook on macrobiotics. Lovingly written, this book changed my entire outlook on food, and in many ways, my body. It also retrained my palate to find a simple apple sweet to the taste, and soon after refined sugars became headache-producing. Anyway, that was, ahem, 18 years ago. While I’m not exactly macrobiotic now—I’d say I’m more, “if God provided it, it must be OK; If any ingredients were produced by industrial chemists, it must not be”—my very favorite type of cooking is raw food, rivalled only by my lust for (almost quizzically, now that I think of it,) French cuisine: the full-fat, rich-sauced, beautifully-prepared variety.

Anyway, above all, I adore raw desserts. I fantasize about existing on them alone. It was during one such fantasy that I came across this lovely little recipe that is so easy to make and so deceptively wonderful, that I just have to share. Not only is it made with only “good” fats, but it is also low-glycemic*, gluten-free, flourless and vegan.

Get out your food processor, and toss in
1 cup walnuts
1 cup dates
1/3 cup cocoa powder
Special note: Good food requires good ingredients. Treat yourself to some Scharffen Berger cocoa powder. Green and Black’s makes a nice organic one. Navitas makes Raw Cacao Power, perfect for the purist. (The extra cost for your luxury cocoa splurge is justified by your savings in flour, eggs, butter and milk!)

Grind these ingredients until they resemble potting soil, then pat firmly into an 8×8 pan.

Next, use your blender or hand-mixer to blend the icing:
2 avocados
1/2 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup cocoa powder (see Special Note above)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
dash salt
dash cinnamon

This icing is to die for!! Don’t tell anyone that you’re using avocados to make chocolate icing, they might just gag. But, one taste and you will never look at an avocado the same again. In fact, this icing recipe makes much more than you really need; consider it a bit ‘o love from me to you.

Ice your brownies, lick the spoon, and place in the freezer to set (1 hour). Since this is, essentially, a bunch of healthy fruit and nuts, feel free to nibble on a brownie on your way into work in the morning—and let me know how they turned out! Makes 12.

Other ideas: I’m going to try substituting organic almond or peanut butter for the walnuts, to create a “chocolate-peanut butter cup” version. 

*To make this ultra-low-glycemic, replace the dates with prunes.

Looking for more great recipes like this one? Check out my other blog, the Unassuming Foodie!