Category Archives: Parenting

Sunscreen and Such Things

It’s the time of year when the Environmental Working Group (love those people) publishes their annual sunscreen report, rating the toxicity and efficacy of sunscreens. And I have some good news this year! I’ve made a few important discoveries.

First, here are a few products that I like (gawd, it would be awesome if someone was paying me for this placement but they aren’t).

For daily moisturizer and sunscreen I use this Cetaphil.

I’ve even found a sunscreen that EWG tolerates and that I like. It’s not all gooey and sticky. It’s the Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sun block Lotion SPF 30. Be careful to make sure you get the right Neutrogena product because when you get above SPF 30 the ratings start turning red.

Now, this is the really big news… I’ve found a kids sun block that I like. It doesn’t even turn them blue and ghostly. It’s All Terrain KidSport Phineas and Ferb Sunscreen Spray, SPF 30.

Skin Deep beyond the sunscreen: there are now a bajillion +/- products in the database and it can be challenging to find and choose a new product. But, I’ve discovered that I can go to a category, like toothpaste, and start at the green end of the list and keep looking in the low toxicity scores until I find a brand name that I know I can get in my local store. Ta-da! Then I have what I need.

Do you all have any lotion or sunscreen products you really love? What are they and how do they rate?

Green Beans and Kids Eating Them

Thanks for all your nice comments on my last post. Things have been spotty here lately and for that I apologize. I’ve missed you all terribly and appreciate your love notes.  And, you guys have some very clever ideas.

So, as promised, here’s how you make the green beans. Throw a bunch on a cookie sheet and pour on a little olive oil. Rub them around with your hand to get them all stirred up. Salt them. I like lots of salt. Put them in the oven set to 425 F for about 7 minutes. Stir them up. Put them back in for another 7 minutes. Ta-da. Make lots. They’ll go quickly.

If you want something a bit more precise, you can go here.

On another note, kale chips? Really? I hear they’re awesome but have not had a positive experience. Someone convince me. Email me or leave me a comment with a recipe if you have one that works.

Next week: kale rice.


Vegetables and Kids Eating Them

Do your kids eat vegetables? If so, which ones and how are they prepared?

If you don’t have kids, what are your favorite veggies and how do you like them best?

My kids are good eaters who are mostly fond of veggies. We exist primarily on roasted sweet potato/yam wedges, roasted parsnips and roasted green beans. I tell you what, those green beans roasted in salt and olive oil taste better than French fries. We’re also very fond of kale rice, carrot-orange soup and, good old, steamed broccoli. Little K can eat a good 2 cups of kale rice for dinner and Jo can eat carrot soup as fast as I can make it. Sometimes I pour it into a mug so she can drink it. We’re crazy like that.

Tell me about your faves and over the next few months I’ll plan to share my favorite recipes with you. Deal?

Breakfast: A Love Story

A few weeks ago, I taught a workshop in a foreign land. There was a long drive and a long night sleep. Then there was breakfast. There was a window booth. There was an egg and bacon. There was a big plate of fruit and a pot of tea. Oh, and yogurt. There was yogurt too. There were two New Yorker magazines and a very understanding waitress.

There were no dishes. There was no laundry. There was no spilling or crying or drama of any kind. There was quiet, uninterrupted peace, and, when it was all over, there was love. So much love. I hope you find love, whatever it may look like, this week.

The List

My grandmother was made of hardy Scandinavian stock and she died a month shy of her 99th birthday. She was forced to retire at 92 and, at her retirement party, she pulled me aside, holding my arm just above the elbow and said, “You know Katherine, I never meant to retire.” I called her Bestemor which I’ve been told is grandmother in Norwegian. I said, “Yes, Bestemor, I know, I know.”

When she started using a walker it became too difficult to get around the grocery store and she relinquished this task to me and my father. Every week, one of us did her “marketing.” When it was my week, I’d call her at 9:00 am Saturday morning and she’d answer on the first ring. She’d be waiting by the phone in her bathrobe and wingback chair with her note pad sitting on her drum table. She’d read the list over the phone, starting with produce, then moving to boxed foods, the dairy case and ending with meats. My dad and I tried to get her to email the list. She could type lightning fast, but she just never took to the computer (enter, Bestemor, press enter, or double click, that means twice). Eventually we gave up and resigned ourselves to taking the list over the phone.

With the list came detailed instructions. “I’d like two lemons. Katherine, do you know how to pick citrus fruit? They should be large. They should be large and have smooth skin. I’d like two large lemons with smooth skin. Did you get that Katherine?”

I did my best to not speak during our phone calls as she was almost completely deaf, but sometimes it couldn’t be avoided. “Yes, Bestemor.”


“Yes, OK.”

“I’d like two bananas if they’re big and three if they’re small. As green as you can get.”

“I’d like four kiwi, but only if they’re from New Zealand. Katherine, don’t ever buy kiwi that isn’t from New Zealand.”

“I’d like a spaghetti squash, a small one. If they’re large, ask the produce man to cut one in half, they’ll do that you know.”

“I’d like a quarter pound of that ham you like.” I don’t like ham.

“I’d like a four pack of that soft toilet paper that’s on special for $1.49. That’s a good price. You should get some for yourself.”

It went on like this for 45 minutes – carrots with the tops cut off at the register, two pears soft at the stem, and head lettuce, not to be confused with a head of lettuce.

Once I had the list I would drive to the grocery store near her house. I’d fill up the cart and load the contents onto the belt. Three-quarters of the pile was always produce. More than a few of the checkers, assuming the food was mine, commented on my healthy diet. I usually laughed and corrected them because back then, I ate to please my mouth without a care for nourishing my body. I was an invincible 20-something with a taste for peanut butter milkshakes and a vague idea that vegetables were important.

Bestemor was still alive and I was still occasionally doing her marketing when, at 31, I was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer and given a 10% chance of living 5 years.

I was in the midst of six months of chemo and wasting away when I started seeing a nutritionist. She told me I had to rebuild my relationship with food. This was shocking for me to hear and also completely right. After years of undiagnosed gastro pain, without realizing it I’d developed a paralyzing fear of food. She gave me baking assignments every week. She told me to eat what I made. She told me I had to start thinking of food as something that would nurture me and save me instead of something that would make me sick.

I knew exactly what I needed to do. Bestemor had been training me, teaching me all that I needed to know for years. It wasn’t only that I needed to eat more whole foods, clearly I did. I needed to plan what I would eat. I needed to make a list. I needed to go to the store and choose the best produce. I needed to prepare meals I enjoyed. I needed to eat them. I needed to nourish myself.

I started right away, rebuilding my diet from scratch. I eliminated soy and gluten which were known trouble-makers for me, and I minimized processed foods and sugars. I planned a menu every week, sitting down with my favorite cookbooks, choosing a few recipes, making a detailed grocery list and doing my own marketing. I discovered the healing nature of the creation and consumption of a meal.

Now, I’m almost seven years out of treatment and cancer-free as far as I know. My husband and I have a four year-old and a one year-old. Keeping the family fed, especially the picky toddler, can feel like a chore piled on to an already full to-do list, but I find few activities to be more satisfying. On good days, when I can get the kids to occupy themselves, or, better yet help out, it’s a cause to slow down and to take a moment to nurture my family and myself. For me the process of meal preparation has become a meditation in healing.

It’s been five years since my grandmother passed away, but I think of her all the time, like in the co-op market where I shop. I know the produce men there. We chat. They’re very knowledgeable and she would have liked that. Sometimes I think about her while I look for cantaloupes that are heavy and sticky on the outside and watermelons that sound hollow. Sometimes I pick up a few kiwis if they’re from New Zealand, and I almost always buy carrots, though I never ask them to take the tops off at the register. I can do that much for myself because, after all, I’m made of hardy Scandinavian stock too.

Katherine Malmo is the author of Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition. It can be purchased anywhere books are sold. For more information visit

Making Sense

Two of my favorite breast cancer-related bloggers, Why Mommy and Cancer Culture Chronicles died on Monday. Susan Niebur was an astrophysicist and mother of two boys. Rachel Moro “believed ‘it’s time to move beyond pink ribbons’ and messages of ‘breast cancer awareness’ and start agitating for ‘real and meaningful action in the fight to eradicate this disease for good’” and blew me away with posts like this one about Komen’s allocation of funds.

Monday night, after the kids were in bed, I did the dishes without music or news so I could think. I thought about how strange it was that Rachel died just as Komen was coming under such fierce scrutiny. Was she coherent enough to see and understand what happened when they pulled funding from Planned Parenthood? If she was, did her interest and passion ever wane? Did she still care even though it was too late for her cure?

And I thought about how strange it was they both died on the same day. What were the chances? What did it all mean?

All this thinking and dish scrubbing brought me back to my friend Emily’s last few days. Josie is approaching the age Emily’s daughter, D, was when Emily died. Josie does exactly what little D did when her mom was sick. She is always moving and dancing, she makes up songs and sings them to imaginary friends, and she’s all smiles one minute and all scowls and crossed arms the next. She’s exactly as a four year old should be.

I remember when we were matched with Josie and I realized her birthday was the same as my good friend’s child and that gave me such comfort. As a new adoptive parent, I was subconsciously looking for signs, confirmation that the process had worked, that this was our child. Afterward, I saw it all around me, people finding reassurance in these found commonalities.

Death, especially when premature, always sends me out looking for signs, symbols, patterns. I seem to think that maybe if I can find the pattern I’ll find some cause and effect, and if I find some cause and effect I’ll see some explanation, and if I find some explanation then maybe I’ll come up with some justification that will make their deaths alright. I can’t keep myself from trying to make sense of the senseless.

As the evening wears on, I know that all I can do is keep scrubbing the dishes clean, keep scrubbing, keep thinking until my brain decides to let it rest. Eventually it will and then, since I am one of the lucky ones, in the morning there will be new dances to create, there will be songs to be sung to imaginary friends, and there will be sticky kid cheeks to kiss. And I plan to kiss those cheeks over and over again in the hope that maybe if I kiss them often enough and long enough I will leave a mark, a symbol, or a pattern that may someday help them to make sense of the senseless.


We stayed in town for the holidays and on the Monday after New Years I took Josie skiing in the morning while Paul and Little K had some errand-running guy time. Josie and I had a good morning. Paul and Little K had fun too. Everyone was happy, except for Little K, who gets mad when I’m gone and clings to his dad on my return.

After dinner that night Paul left to play tennis. Little K was standing on a chair near the counter. He’s in that phase. You know, the one where he pushes the furniture around and climbs up on the chair or the table to open drawers and get out sharp knives or topple greasy bowls of fresh warm, but thankfully not hot, chicken stock. Anyway, he’s standing on the chair as he always does and he somehow manages to fall off and land on his face. It’s not pretty and as quickly as I can, I pick him up, hold him close, and tell him that I am here and that everything will be alright while he screams his head off. He’s yelling Mama! Mama! Mama! and twisting around, reaching out his arms, as if he’s trying to find someone else.

I’d met his birthmother a week earlier. Before that, I had very little information about his birth family and I imagined a faceless, bodiless, life of neglect and loneliness. I knew he must have missed people and places from that time, but it was easy for me to gloss over the past with the promise of the future.

Little K seemed so happy with us from the beginning. He started calling me Mama right away.

So right after his fall, he’s sobbing and stretching out his hands as if he’s looking for someone else, I suspect his dad, but for the first time another thought occurs to me. His birthmother is now, for me, a living, breathing person who, at times, had been a loving parent. He could be looking for her. He could have been looking for her all along.

Maybe in the early days he wasn’t saying Mama to me to get my attention or state a fact. Maybe he was really saying Mama? as in, where is she? What happened to my Mama? Where are you Mama?

I knew, even in the thick of his crying, that all I could do was keep rocking and holding and repeating that I am here and that everything will be alright and hope eventually he believes me.

Are You Enjoying Yourself?

Last week I was house-bound with two sick kids while Paul was out of town. Both kids had nasty colds, and for Josie that means asthma. The inhalers stopped working and for six days she was on steroids. Go ahead and form a mental picture of Josie on steroids.

One afternoon, I think it was Thursday, I spent 90 minutes in a very small doctor’s office with both kids. K is 18 months old, into everything including the doctor’s cabinets and drawers that were not locked or baby proofed, and he was completely uninterested in the television shows I had on my i-phone for this exact situation.

After the doctor’s office, we went to the pharmacy to get more steroids. The prescription did not have the proper dosage so after much back-and-forth and fussing and delay, we finally got the prescription filled and left 45 minutes after we arrived. By then the kids were tired and hungry and sick. Did I mention they were sick? Sure, sure I did.

I went right to a kid-friendly restaurant to get them fed as quickly as possible. Of course, Josie insisted on filling her own glass at the water fountain and filled it right to the top. Back at the table, she dumped it all down the front of her shirt. As I reached into the diaper bag to get her spare shirt I remembered that I didn’t have a spare for her because I had used that shirt to clean up the vomit she projected all over the inside of my car that morning while I was sprinting to the store in a desperate attempt to acquire more supplies. We didn’t make it to the store that morning and I hadn’t replaced the shirt. So, right there, in the middle of the restaurant, I changed Josie into an old pair of her leggings and her brother’s too-small shirt. Fine. Good enough. Moving on.

We made it home a half-hour after bedtime. I took K right into his room to put him to bed as Josie stood outside his door and sobbed. I’d given K his bottle and was bouncing all 35 lbs of him to sleep when he cough-burped and vomited all over my back and the floor. Did all that really just happen?

The next day when I was talking to my mom, she was expressing her sympathy and said how awful that sounded and by then I was like, yeah, it was really no big deal. I was putting one foot in front of the other, making it happen.

This week we are house-bound again this time due to the snow. Paul is working from the basement office while I sled, build snowmen, shovel the driveway, make kale rice, roasted parsnips and steak for dinner and do the laundry. It’s satisfying and exhausting. I am at my maximum parenting speed. I can do no more and no better. By the end of the day, my parenting skills are completely used up. And, I know these are days I will remember fondly and miss when they are grown and gone. But, I have to say that I have not exactly enjoyed every moment of the last two weeks and I feel guilty about that. I do.

When I read “Don’t Carpe Diem” this last night, the timing was perfect. This is my favorite part:

I think parenting young children (and old ones, I’ve heard) is a little like climbing Mount Everest. Brave, adventurous souls try it because they’ve heard there’s magic in the climb. They try because they believe that finishing, or even attempting the climb are impressive accomplishments. They try because during the climb, if they allow themselves to pause and lift their eyes and minds from the pain and drudgery, the views are breathtaking. They try because even though it hurts and it’s hard, there are moments that make it worth the hard. These moments are so intense and unique that many people who reach the top start planning, almost immediately, to climb again. Even though any climber will tell you that most of the climb is treacherous, exhausting, killer. That they literally cried most of the way up.

And so I think that if there were people stationed, say, every thirty feet along Mount Everest yelling to the climbers — “ARE YOU ENJOYING YOURSELF!? IF NOT, YOU SHOULD BE! ONE DAY YOU’LL BE SORRY YOU DIDN’T!” TRUST US!! IT’LL BE OVER TOO SOON! CARPE DIEM!” — those well-meaning, nostalgic cheerleaders might be physically thrown from the mountain.

Now, if you’re one of those well-meaning cheerleaders feeling guilty for trying to be friendly, don’t. This isn’t about you. I know someday I will be thinking the same thing and the next time my 90 year old grandmother comes over and says exactly what is written in all caps above, I will grit my teeth and smile and say that I do, that I am enjoying every minute. This is about giving myself a break and not feeling guilty that some days, okay, most days, I’m dreaming fondly of a time when K will watch television, telling the teenage neighbor that I will pay her ANY amount she requires if she will come and play with my kids, and counting the minutes until bedtime.

Paradise Lost

I came up with all kinds of delightful and exciting plans for my solo trip to Texas to finalize K’s adoption, but the one thing – the moment I was really fantasizing about was Tuesday morning. With all the important stuff out of the way, on my last morning there, I would sleep in. Then I’d have a big breakfast in the hotel restaurant. There would be a white tablecloth at this breakfast, a scrambled egg, a big bowl of fruit, a slice of bacon, a pot of green tea and a newspaper. I would read the whole newspaper without interruption or the anticipation of dishes. Then I would check out of the hotel and leisurely make my way to the airport for my 2:00 flight.

As planned, I fly to Texas Sunday afternoon and arrive just after dark. Dallas freeways are nasty, a handful of spaghetti thrown on the floor. There are interchanges and spurs and every highway has two names. As an out of towner, it’s hard not to take their interstates as a personal insult – an attack on your intelligence. Finally I arrive at the hotel.

The next morning I need to be at court at 9:00 am for a 9:30 appointment. I decide to take surface streets. Construction. One way’s going the wrong way. Bad neighborhoods of run-down houses and mean dogs. I follow a car in which the driver is pushing a woman out the door while the car is still moving. Finally, I arrive at the courthouse and wait in the specified location. Nothing. At 9:25 I try to call the lawyer but my phone is not working. I start talking to strangers. I find my missing lawyer. At 9:30 K is finalized. Yay!

I step out of court to find a text from the social worker that says K’s birth mother has cancelled our evening get-together. She has to work. Guess what that means? Nooooooooo.

Perhaps I’m losing sight of what is important here. Perhaps I should be focusing on the finalized adoption. Perhaps I should be focusing on the fact that I would get to meet the woman who gave birth to my son. But, all I know is that I’M MISSING THE SLEEP, THE WHITE TABLECLOTH, THE EGG, THE FRUIT, THE BACON, THE POT OF GREEN TEA AND THE NEWSPAPER.

I fall asleep early on Monday night and wake at 4:00 am after a terrible nightmare. At 6:00 am I’m in the car for the two hour drive though the dark and the fog on the crazy Dallas highways to Nowhere Texas. To stay awake, I drink too much black tea and without THE EGG, I’m all jittery and amped on English Breakfast by the time I arrive. I’m 20 minutes early and I fully expect her not to show up, but she is there. We have an intense two hour conversation. I know this is huge and what you really want to hear about and I will tell you about some of it another day, but that’s not what I want to talk about today, so you’re just going to have to wait while I talk about breakfast.

Then I have just enough time to use the restroom before hitting the road again for the two hour drive back to Dallas for my 2:00 flight. I spend the next 3+ hours uncomfortably dozing, all gaping mouthed and drooling and unable to get comfortable, and get home just in time for dinner, more exhausted than I started.

Someday, I hope to meet my Tuesday morning breakfast, but for now, today, I think I’ll have to settle for reading the Styles section of the Sunday New York Times while I eat tunafish and grapes and stare down the pile of breakfast dishes. Maybe I’ll linger a minute longer than normal. Maybe I’ll make myself an extra cup of tea or eat a few extra grapes. Maybe I’ll read over the notes from my conversation with K’s birth mother and think of how awesome this little egg will be someday.

Protein in Every Pocket

Ski trip #1 – I pick Josie up from school. We stop twice to use the bathroom. We’re about 20 minutes from the summit and she starts screaming that her mouth hurts. I pull off the highway and identify it is, in fact, her ears that hurt. At first I think, she must have an ear infection. Then I realize it’s the altitude and pressure on her ears. We’ve never had a problem with her ears releasing before and after much yawning and water drinking, I realize that she must have fluid in her ears from her cold and this isn’t going to work. We turn around and head for home – J screaming her head off in disappointment – and we hit Seattle at exactly 5:00 pm. All together we spend 3 hours in the car and don’t even see snow. Super!

Ski trip #2 – We make it to the mountain. The first few runs are tough. I use the word “runs” loosely. There’s a very gradual slope that frequently requires pushing or scooting and is really only about 40 feet long. Nonetheless, she’s a pile of arms and legs pointing in different directions, skis crossed, screaming that she just can’t do it. There is much crying and frustration. There is some talking about how hard it is to learn something new — that it takes time and patience and practice.

I tell her we can go in at any time but that only makes her scream more. She does not want to go in.

Finally at the top of the run I tell her we will wait until she is ready to try again. She needs to think that she can do this. I tell her to take as much time as she needs. Then I bring out the bag of almonds.

Now, I come from a long line of hypoglycemics and J’s different biological history has not altered the family line in that respect. When my sister first started dating her husband they went to Paris. I didn’t know Steve well at the time but I wanted to call him and tell him that he needed to carry a block of cheese in his pocket and force her to eat some every hour. Oh, here we are at the Eiffel Tower, would you like some cheese? Notre Dame! Cheese? Louve! Cheese! This is what we must do and I was applying the same principle to J that day. We ate rice cheese in the car on the way up. We ate ham in the lodge before started and we ate almonds on the slope.

As we eat our almonds, she is uncharacteristically quiet. It’s strange. I want to video tape her to show Paul because I didn’t think he’ll believe me but it’s pretty uninteresting to watch a video tape of a quiet child. At one point I ask her what she’s thinking about. She says nothing.

Then she says: I like your braids, Mama.

Me: Thank you.

J: I like them so much I want to cut them off and eat them.

Me: Oh. That’s nice, dear, I say, wondering if hair contains any protein.

J: OK, I’m ready.

I help her up, we put on her skis. I give her a push and she is perfect.