Category Archives: The Wider Angle

The Wider Angle / Well Rounded

This week’s issue of The Wider Angle is oh-so-timely since I’ve been struggling myself with the coordination of the summer schedule.  Juggling camps, babysitters, my work schedule, Jeff’s travel schedule – it’s all so overwhelming.  I have also found that the inconsistent schedule (or complete lack there of) will make my kids just as crazy as it makes me.  Being an only child, I’m challenged with understanding and accepting the normal sibling relationship (fighting over toys, doing things JUST to annoy the other, being gross just to make the other laugh, etc).  I’m growing to love this silly side, and I have to bite my tongue sometimes to keep from squelching what is simply “fun” to them, although annoying to me.  And when left to their own devices, Jake and Kylie often surprise me with adorable creations (like mega-block monsters) and a healthy dose of love for one another.


It’s that time of year again, when school draws to a close along with after-school activities. And I draw a huge sigh of relief. Maybe it’s the extra pressure of attempting to balance the baby’s sleeping schedule with the older kids’ many extra-curriculars, but I am looking forward more than ever to a freer schedule this summer. Ahhh, relaxed mornings and days filled with unscripted summer fun.

Wait, scratch that. Daily swim team practice starts today. Piano lessons will continue indefinitely. And Clare and Danny are signed up for separate summer camps, which naturally require separate driving trips. That’s all before we hit the road for our annual Summer Grandparent Tour. Hmmm. If I am so looking forward to the end of school, dance, and soccer, why do I feel so compelled to sign them up for so many activities in the summer? Am I afraid of my own children??

Well, yes. Who isn’t, at least once in a while? I ardently believe that I have good children, but they’re not perfect. They play well together or keep themselves independently occupied much of the time. But it’s that sliver of time when boredom strikes that I am ever vigilant against! So I sign them up for things, telling myself that it’s a great way to expose them to different activities, ideas, and cultures and build character.

Thinking back to my own childhood summers, I’m fairly certain that I didn’t do a single week of summer camp. To be fair, I went on a Summer Grandparent Tour each year, as well as some other travel. But I also had parents who believed it was my responsibility to figure out what to do on an average summer day. And you know what? I did. I’m sure I spent some amount of time being bored, but what better way to generate excitement for a new school year? I also swam, read, and spent endless hours with my still-best friend (29 years and going strong!).

So as tempted as I am to click on the latest Groupon offering a deal on more summer camp, I’m going to resist. Instead, I will give my kids a bit more of my time and attention, and I’m also going to leave them to their own devices. I suspect we’ll all wind up building some character.

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The Wider Angle / Everything Has a Purpose

A little glimpse into the mind of Jeff James!  Oh, and by the way, I LOVE my iPad!  Today I ran/walked on the treadmill for an hour while watching a commercial-free episode of 24 with Jack Bauer!!  :)

So, I’ve been told I’m a pretty handy guy – and I must admit that fixing, building, demolishing, improving, cleaning, refurbishing and trouble-shooting are all things that make me happy.  Give me an afternoon off – and I’ll go tinker with my motorcycle, or wash the cars, clean out a closet, or hang that book shelf.  I love to tinker with stuff … but I’m also very practical.  I try not to have two of anything – either the first thing is good and does the job, or you better have a very good reason for replacing it. I just replaced the belt on my vacuum cleaner for the second time. It’s an 89 dollar Hoover Elite I bought in california in 1994 – you know, the kind with the bag? It works great, so $2.29 for a new belt, $3.29 for a new light bulb and viola – good as new!!

So when it comes to technology I don’t just buy stuff because it’s cool, it must have a purpose.  I upgrade the home network to make things run faster, we buy more backup disks because we need more space (or you accidentally delete a bunch of your wife’s stuff, but that’s another story) … it has to be put to use and have a purpose.

Well, I bought Crystal an iPad 2 for her birthday and i have to say – it’s pretty cool!!  But I’m not quite sure what it’s purpose is yet? It has spawned a whole new set of functional, home-based IT projects for me, so that makes me happy. The kids have also fallen in love with it – like a new puppy you bring home from the pet shop.  Which brings us to a scary chapter in parenting – how do you introduce a child to technology without it becoming too important in their life?  I have nightmares of my son becoming some “world of warcraft” junkie – eating twinkies and gulping 2-liters of JOLT in our basement.  Or my daughter thumping away on her cell phone at the dinner table, texting her girl-friends – or guy-friends? – gasp!!. My disposition of being a practical person (everything must have a purpose) will surely rub off on my children, right?  They won’t use these practical technology devices to dissolve into this world of virtual reality we call the internet – will they? Not if I have something to do with it.

Now, finally, I’m not all that naïve – I know the day will come when I lose the technology crown in the family. They will bring home new cars, new portable music devices, new cell phones that appear to do just about the same thing their last one did – and when I ask “why did you need a new one?” their reply will echo very clear as if it came from my own voice 40 years earlier – “Oh Dad, your just too old to understand.”

For now we will have FUN with our new widget – explore, create, learn, laugh, read, listen and watch what we can do and its purpose will surely come to light. Here’s a collage I built with some funny stuff we did this week on our new iPad.

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Being thankful for the gifts we have

A Quote: The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. Martin Luther King, Jr.
When I read the Wider Angle from Liz Seymour this week, it prompted me to add my own small note about a charity that I believe in.  A while back I had the opportunity to photograph an event at the Atlanta Children’s Shelter.  I didn’t really know what it was all about until I did some research.  This organization provides daycare / preschool to children whose families (usually a single mom) do not have a home.  Even though they do not have a home at night, I can tell you that during the day, ACS provides these children with food, shelter, a safe place to nap, and most importantly, love.  I know you might be picturing the homeless people walking aimlessly along the streets, but that is not the population that ACS is striving to help.  It is the men, women, and children who have fallen into homelessness for many reasons beyond their own control.  ACS works with the parent to provide job-search services (resumes, interview skills, professional clothing) and they also provide after care to get these families into their own home.  They assist with security deposits and basic household needs to get the family started.

Thinking it would be very special to give each parent a professionally printed  5×7 of their child, I offered to deliver these to the shelter.   My heart was broken when they asked if I had anything smaller because the parents didn’t have anywhere to keep a 5×7.  The thought of these parents not having any pictures of their beautiful children, or worse, the children growing up and not having pictures of their own childhood — heartbreaking.  The good news is that ACS has celebrated so much success with getting these parents into a job AND a home.  Last year they had a 100% success rate in their after-care program, meaning every family that moved into a home STAYED in the home for that year.  A big step towards “curing” homelessness for these children.

Can you imagine that this could be the face of homelessness, right here in our backyard?

I just attended the 25th Anniversary Fundraising Breakfast for the Atlanta Children’s Shelter, and it was truly inspiring.  I have also signed up for their 5K Walk on June 11th – anyone want to join me???  :)

Without further ado, the Wider Angle by Liz Seymour:

A while back I read a post from a woman who, somewhat facetiously, lamented that she wished she could be in an accident that would require a good week or so of rest in bed – a cold or flu wouldn’t quite suffice, as she wanted more than a day off. A recent bout with a stomach bug reminded me of this, and of how bittersweet illness can be for we moms. On the one hand, total license to rest in bed all day is a marvelous thing. Unfortunately, we usually feel so lousy that we need it but can’t enjoy it. And try as we might, the sounds of the household attempting to carry on without us are hard to ignore.

Every time I recover, I tell myself to appreciate my health more. Talk about not knowing what you have until it’s gone! I have been very, very blessed as far as health is concerned, both for myself and my family. But I know several people who haven’t been so lucky. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask you to consider supporting some of the many admirable organizations devoted to finding cures for some truly terrible afflictions. We’ve all experienced what happens to our households when mommy, or daddy, is sick for a day or two. Just imagine what life would be like if that was your every day reality?

The following are causes that directly affect people I know and love – but of course there are many more, too. In the meantime, to our health!

National Multiple Sclerosis Society:

Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America:

National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.:

ALS Association:

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The Wider Angle | Snacktime Smackdown continues!

The Snacktime Smackdown continues with some tips from our resident dietitian, Allyson Balzuweit! I will admit, I REALLY need to make this a focus in my house again.  Lately, it’s not uncommon for my kids to have two snacks before dinner – resulting in lots of leftovers (or, sadly, garbage).  Kylie even thinks she can trick me with “Mom, I think I need to eat a HEALTHY snack now, since I already had some gummies” (code for Annie’s Organic Fruit Chews, AKA sugar in a bag).  Just mark one down on the Bad Mommy scorecard for me!

No cute pictures here – just basic tips to get the snack routine back on track.  :)

The Great Snack Debate

If you have toddlers or school aged children, I’m guessing that you are all too familiar with the battle of what to feed your kids for a snack. Liz Seymour’s previous post, “Snacktime Smackdown”, offered great insight into the daily battle we engage in as Moms with hungry children who are often picky eaters.

If you’re committed to offering mostly healthy options, getting your kids to accept these adds another challenge. When Sophie started kindergarten, she became much more exposed to the wide array of snack foods that I had managed to shelter her from up until that point. Grocery shopping with my children has become more difficult as I often turn down requests for things like Twinkies and Fruit Roll-ups.

Sadly, our society has become inundated with all types of “snack foods”, most of which translate to pure junk. Add to that our fast paced lifestyles and chronic shortage of time and it’s easy to reach for these prepared convenience foods. Even foods that are deceptively marketed as being healthy add great confusion to the average consumer’s ability to make a smart choice when it comes to healthy eating. Are organic goldfish crackers healthier than the non-organic alternative? Is an “all-natural” fruit snack (i.e. gummies) really a healthy choice? Perhaps better than some of the alternatives on the spectrum of snack foods, but we can certainly do better than that.

These are the years when we still have control over what goes in our children’s bodies, with our ultimate goal being to set them up for success later in life when they will make their own choices. As parents, we get to decide what comes home from the grocery store, and from there should let our children to make choices from a selection of healthy foods. That said, depriving them of all things junky is unnecessary and will likely lead our kids to desire these foods even more. The old cliché , “Everything in Moderation” is really true in this case.

If you’re ready for your own Snacktime Smackdown, here are some tips before getting started.

  1. Choose foods that have been around longer than you and me. Not as in moldy or spoiled :), but foods that existed in nature long before food manufacturers started to invent so many processed foods. Think about how that food got from nature to the grocery store shelf. The less steps involved, the less processed and more healthy it likely is.
  2. When grocery shopping, stick to the perimeter of the grocery store. These are the aisles where you’ll find most of the stuff from Tip#1. Most of the processed junk foods are found in the middle aisles.
  3. Consider using a green/yellow/red light system when having your kids choose snacks you already have at home. For example, fresh fruit is a green light snack while a whole grain granola bar would be yellow. Limit yellow light snacks to once a day. Red light foods like cookies or chips should be limited to only a few times a week, and it’s best not to keep a whole lot of these around.

Here are just a few ideas for snacks that you will typically see my kids eating…

  • Part-skim mozzarella cheese stick and whole grain crackers
  • Apple slices dipped in 1 Tbsp. Peanut Butter
  • Stonyfield farm Yo-Kids yogurt (try stirring in some cereal for added cruch)
  • Baby carrots, cucumber slices and mini whole wheat pita rounds with 1 Tbsp. hummus
  • 1 Tbsp peanut butter with a few whole grain crackers (even graham crackers will work)
  • Mott’s all-natural applesauce
  • Fruit kabobs (for some reason fruit is more appealing if it’s held together with a stick). Use low fat yogurt as a “dip” to go with it.
  • Homemade trail mix with raisins, nuts and sunflower seeds. Every so often you can even throw in the chocolate covered raisins or even a few chocolate chips for added appeal  :)
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The Wider Angle with Liz Seymour

Ahhhh, the snack issue.  It’s a real problem in my house.  When I’m feeling very strong, I stick to my “one snack between lunch & dinner” rule, but when I’ve had a hard day, almost anything goes.  I mean seriously, can Annie’s Organic Fruit Snacks really count as a nutritious snack?   I tell myself “at least they aren’t filled with unpronounceable and artificial ingredients” – but natural sugar is still just that – SUGAR!   Better to opt for a piece of fresh fruit (which my kids love) or some carrots (which they don’t love).  Alas, tomorrow is another day….

Snacktime Smackdown

I’m writing this when the last thing in the world I feel like doing is cooking for my children. It’s been a long week of rejected meal after rejected meal, coupled with a husband working late hours, thus leaving me to wage battle against mealtime unpleasantries all on my own. On days like this, I feel like I have made zero inroads into my kids’ finicky eating habits and really find myself wondering why I bother trying. Aren’t you psyched that I’m sharing this mood with you?

While it works in so many facets of my life (the cats clawed a hole in the couch? really?), I cannot bury my head in the sand when it comes to meals. My own appetite won’t let me. So it’s time I faced my problems square on, and with a bit of insight from my friend (and dietitian), Allyson Balzuweit, I have identified one of the chief culprits: snacks.

Snacks are by far the number one saboteur of successful meals. I say that with absolutely no official data backing me up, and yet I feel quite confident that it applies to just about every child on the planet. I don’t think it’s either practical or wise to attempt to avoid snacks – they’re a healthy part of all diets, when undertaken in the right way. That’s where the wheels so often fall off the cart.

On a typical day, Clare eats breakfast at 6:45 a.m., a mid-morning snack, and lunch at noon, so she is always ready for an after-school snack. She doesn’t get home until close to 4, but if I deny a snack at that point, that’s a long day and a long stretch until dinner at 6 p.m. I do refuse snacks past 4:30 p.m., but while I have seen a modest improvement in appetites at dinner, this clearly isn’t enough.

So I am now expanding my snacktime war to include a battle with carbs. More accurately, cracker- and bread-like carbs. Instead of pretzels, goldfish, graham crackers and the like, I am taking a different tactic for the after-school snack: fruit, yogurt, or nuts. My first effort was Ants on a Log. Sneaking in a vegetable, fruit, and protein without a single cracker-related item seemed like an impossible dream. And when I announced to Clare what I had prepared for a snack, she looked horrified and said, “Ew! (long pause) Are you joking?” Which just made me laugh so hard I almost started crying. I assured her that they were not real ants, nor a real tree log. She remained a bit skeptical, but was evidently hungry enough to try it – and fell in love! Danny’s veggie radar is, unfortunately, infallible, so he opted for a bowl of raisins instead.

Of course, the real test remained: How would this snack experience affect dinner? I opted to go all-out on my test, too, and tried something new on them: a variation on baked “fried” chicken, whereby I cut the chicken into strips, thus making chicken fingers. Given that nuggets and tenders are the only form of chicken Clare will consume, I was curious to see how well this would go over. These were decidedly more chicken-heavy than your typical frozen nugget or tender. I’m not sure if I have the snack or the pre-dinner excursion to the playground to thank, but lo and behold, my chicken fingers were a success!

I am experienced enough to know that it’s usually one step forward, two steps back with these types of efforts, but my eye remains on the prize. If you have any tips to pass along, please feel free!

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