June 2006

Family meals nurture bodies, souls, no matter what you eat

The Surprising Power of Family Meals: How Eating Together Makes Us Smarter, Stronger, Healthier, and Happier, by Miriam Weinstein, Steerforth Press, 2005; $22.95.

How many of us haven’t read about the power of family meals in the last few years? Researchers say family meals can reduce teen drug abuse, build family ties, decrease eating disorders, improve kids’ manners and even help kids read earlier.

Miriam Weinstein argues that this "magic bullet" has been taken hostage by our super-busy lifestyle of fast-food dinner in the car between soccer and music lessons. These repasts are disappearing as parents pursue the quest to raise well-rounded kids and secure coveted Ivy League scholarships.

To convey what we’re missing, Weinstein doesn’t just cite statistics and studies on the benefits of family meals. She offers real-life stories of families who rekindled the tradition. For instance, there’s the overworked single mom of two young children whose foray into family dinner began when she had her bored 1-year-old tear basil leaves in preparation for the meal. This small step of involving her son in meal preparation eventually led to enjoyable suppers with her kids.

However, Weinstein isn’t calling for a return to the days when moms served elaborate evening meals. Nor is she suggesting children drop all extracurricular activities. She offers practical suggestions for today’s family on the go.

For example, if you have takeout, instead of eating in the car, take an extra 15 minutes to sit in the restaurant with your family, facing each other while you dine. What matters is not the food, but the face-to-face togetherness and communication. She also emphasizes that nutritious, home-cooked meals don’t have to be time-intensive or complicated. She discusses her own approach to being creative with whatever she finds in the fridge.

What’s also helpful is a list of suggested "blessings" to offer before meals that people of all or no faith can relate to, as well as ideas of topics for dinner conversation at the end of the book.

The Surprising Power of Family Meals is a realistic and practical guide to reviving the lost art of family meals for today’s busy families. Samana Siddiqui

Confessions offer hope for a fulfilling sex life after children

Confessions of a Naughty Mommy: How I Found My Lost Libido, by Heidi Raykeil, Seal Press, 2006; $14.95.

There isn’t a mother I know who, at some time or another, hasn’t had her sex life at a lower priority than "buy cat food" or "find time to shower" on her to-do list. No matter how much joy a baby brings, when that baby moves in, our libidos often move out.

I have to admit, I was a bit put off when I began reading Heidi Raykeil’s new book, Confessions of a Naughty Mommy. The pre-baby sex life she described was a bit more fun than I remember having. Every 10 minutes or so, I sheepishly pulled the covers higher, turned to my husband and asked, "Did we ever [fill in the blank]?" By the look on his face I could tell we had not.

But as I turned the pages, Raykeil, a columnist for the online magazine Literary Mama, evolved from being someone I couldn’t relate to, to a mind reader. Yes! I was tired, too! Yes! I don’t understand how he can want it, either! I hear you, sister!

What makes Raykeil’s Confessions so powerful is that after you finish nodding your head and laughing and reading passages aloud to anyone who will listen (anyone older than 18 that is), you realize that what lies beneath is more profound. Underneath it all is a portrait of a marriage that feels the strain of physical disconnection.

We watch two people change from spontaneous lovers who shut out the world to detached partners who shut out each other. We hear their fights and feel their broken hearts as they try to negotiate the new challenges parenting brings. And we find hope (for ourselves, as well?) when Raykeil and her husband work to rebuild that connection and find each other again.

Refreshing for its honesty, Confessions is not only a book to share with other moms, but one to share with dads, too. While no two women experience motherhood the same way, Raykeil’s memoir will give men a look into what motherhood is like for many. In addition, Raykeil’s husband provides a final chapter to the book titled "Dear Fellas" in which he offers his view, complete with advice for male partners, on what it is like to be a "co-hunter for a lost libido."

As Raykeil moves from mother love to self-love she realizes that you don’t have to forsake one for the other, though finding the balance may take a while. Kim Schmidt

Hear these old stories in a new way—through Dad’s voice

Father and Son Read-Aloud Stories, retold by Robert Gould, illustrated by Lara Gurin, Big Guy Books, 2006; $12.95.

Hey Dad! Have you read to your son (or daughter) lately? The classic fairy tales in this book are aimed at fathers who will recognize the stories, but note a twist: Some of the characters have been changed to make them more appealing to boys.

As I read these classic stories, I thought what fun it would be to hear a dad’s voice as the goats go trip, trap, trip, trap over the bridge and pass the troll to get to the green meadow. Or to hear Dad as he "huffs and puffs" in the wolf’s attempt to blow down the little pig’s house.

When Jack, of the beanstalk fame, sets out to sell the family cow, he meets up with a dapper fellow. Luckily, that dapper fellow would like to trade Jack’s cow for his magic beans. After Jack climbs the beanstalk and meets the giant, Dad will sound great as the giant when he booms FE, FI, FO, FUM throughout the story.

In this version of the Three Bears story, the bear family has gone for a walk in the woods. Upon returning home, Baby Bear discovers a golden-haired boy asleep in his bed. Turns out the boy broke Baby Bear’s chair, which means, of course, Papa will have to make a new chair for Baby Bear. Papa and Baby head to his workshop, which makes Baby Bear happy because he likes to build things with his papa.There are many versions of the Three Bears, but I don’t remember any with a boy as the main character.

"Puss in Boots" and "The Lion and the Mouse" also are included among the selections in this gender-bending collection. Who knows, maybe dads will enjoy this new idea and start changing around other fairy tales, too. Judy Belanger


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