Sunday, December 31, 2006

December 2006 photos

Here are some photos we took during December 2006. Click on the photo to the left to get to our December 2006 Picasa album.

Looking over these, I realize most of what I take is pictures of Ulysses, pictures of some great food we cooked, and pictures of Ulysses eating some great food we cooked. So our obsessions are pretty clear.

Also note Ulysses' disdain for clothing in general, even in December. In Wisconsin. When we can get a shirt on him, we're so happy about it, we don't care how long it stays on. Till the next bath, even. Now if only we could communicate to him somehow that if he wore boots and mittens, it would be fun to play in the snow, instead of instantly freezing. His hands and feet run hot -- like his father's -- so as soon as he touches snow, it melts into water. The water is freezing cold. And it makes his hands cold. So, thanks to the magic of conductivity -- water being a more powerful conductor than air, and all that -- his warm hands actually make for cold hands, if he grabs a handful of snow.

And, note how many pictures are of Ulysses playing with trains. His obsession.

Friday, December 29, 2006


About two weeks ago, Ulysses used the word "boo-boo" for the first time. I've never used it, myself -- Don says he's said it. And it's used in a couple of often-seen TV episodes I can think of (Spongebob Squarepants: No Weenies Allowed; Go, Diego, Go: A Boo-Boo on the Pygmy Marmoset) Ulysses didn't just say it; he used it.

We were sitting together at the dining table. I was reading the Web on my laptop; he was atop my lap. (I suppose that makes him the actual laptopper in this story, but anyway...) I shifted position in such a way that the carving under the table scraped against his knee. He whimpered a little, but I didn't react. I was only partly conscious of it; I was reading. He whimpered a little more loudly. I reached out and patted his knee with my hand, glancing at him briefly before going back to reading. Then he said, in a clear, plaintive little voice, "Boo-boo!" The tone meant, "Hey! Don't you get what's going on here?" That stopped my distracted half-interaction. I stopped reading and leaned to kiss the boo-boo'd knee. Ulysses relaxed, and smiled.

A few mornings later, shortly after we'd gotten up, we were walking together in circles in the kitchen. I stopped walking; U walked into me, making slight contact against the back of my heel with his toe. "Boo-boo!" Don walked in to see me kissing U's foot. "Boo-boo?" he said. "Already?"

Now the slightest touch is call for "boo-boo!" Boo-boos everywhere; lots of kisses. Phantom boo-boos arise spontaneously, even while sitting still. Sometimes they travel from one hand to the other; we see him track them. "Boo-boo," he said, one evening, inspecting his right hand. Then his gaze traveled to his left hand, and it was as if his right was forgotten. "Boo-boo." Some third thing drew his mental focus; the boo-boo, evidently, vanished.

A few nights ago, I gave Ulysses an uninvited kiss on the forehead. He didn't like it. He wiped desperately at his forehead, and cried out a little. His voice started to get panicky. Then, all at once, he stopped. His hand held protectively near the afflicted region of his forehead, he looked at me piteously, and said, in a little voice, "Boo-boo." So I kissed his forehead. And somehow, that made it better.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Banana, cheese

When I came home from work today, Donald was excited. "He said lots of words all day long!" he said. "I asked him if he wanted a banana, and he looked at them and said, 'Banana!' Then I offered him some cheese, and he said, 'Cheese!'"

He also insisted on using the cheese slicer, apparently. It's the type that's officially called a "cheese plane" -- pull backward against the cheese and a sliver comes up through the slit in the metal. Don held onto it and guided U's hand for a slice or two. He's very interactive. If you're doing something manual that he might find interesting, you'd better be prepared to (a) let him do it, too; (b) guide him through motions sufficient for him to have the impression that he's doing it -- or at least helping -- while you actually make it happen; (c) get the both of you through a round of screaming as best you can; or (d) don't let him see you doing it.

In case you wondered: no, a toy version is not just as good from his point of view. In fact, offering a toy version is liable to insult him. Toy knife? Toy kitchen? They're fine for playing with, but not for real work! -- which is what he wants to do. Offer that, and get ready for some revved-up volume. Exceptions: a really good toy that you can do real stuff with. The other day, he wanted Don's pliers when he saw Don using them. Oh, how he wanted them! Wahhhh! Don frantically rummaged through U's toys until he found the toy pliers from Auntie Sharon in Missouri (Christmas, Aught 5). Life-size, gunmetal-colored, they are real pliers, just lightweight plastic instead of drop-forged steel. I didn't think it would work. It did!

Friday, December 1, 2006

Green Gunk is an American bestseller

A woman in Los Angeles has filed a class-action lawsuit against food industry giant Kraft for its misleading guacamole, which contains just a whisper of avocado -- about 2%, according to the LA Times article (see below). Even though the word "guacamole" means, in Aztec, "avocado sauce." (See my article on the etymology of the term.)

What's the goo made of, if not its eponymous fruit? Like most supermarket guacs: food starch, corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. With a dose of blue and yellow food coloring to simulate avocado green. Mmmm...

I found out about this on

Guacamole lawsuit

An article in Thursday's Business section about a lawsuit alleging that Kraft Foods Inc. committed fraud in labeling a dip as guacamole referred to the product as one of the bestselling avocado dips in the nation. In fact, Kraft's product is ranked No. 13 among guacamole dips and has only a 3% dollar share of the guacamole-flavored-dip segment, according to market researcher ACNielsen.

Peanut butter is made from peanuts, tomato paste is made from tomatoes, and guacamole is made from avocados, right?

Wrong. The guacamole sold by Kraft Foods Inc., one of the bestselling avocado dips in the nation, includes modified food starch, hefty amounts of coconut and soybean oils, and a dose of food coloring. The dip contains precious little avocado, but many customers mistake it for wholly guacamole.

On Wednesday, a Los Angeles woman sued the Northfield, Ill.- based food company, alleging that it committed fraud by calling its dip "guacamole." Her lawyer says suits against other purveyors of "fake guacamole" could be filed soon.

The suit, which seeks class-action status, highlights the liberty some food companies take in labeling their products.

If consumers read the fine print, they would discover that Kraft Dips Guacamole contains less than 2% avocado. But few of them do. California avocado growers, who account for 95% of the nation's avocado crop, said they didn't know that store-bought guacamole contained little of their produce.

"We have not looked at this issue, but we might follow it now that we are aware of it," said Tom Bellamore, the top lawyer at the California Avocado Commission in Irvine.

Kraft and other food companies said they weren't deceiving customers by skimping on the avocado. A Kraft spokeswoman said most people understood that guacamole was part of the company's line of flavored dips.

"We think customers understand that it isn't made from avocado," said Claire Regan, Kraft Foods' vice president of corporate affairs. "All of the ingredients are listed on the label for consumers to reference."

Nonetheless, Kraft is relabeling the product, which could not be found during a random check of six Southern California supermarkets this week.

Regan said the company was changing its label to make it clearer that it was selling guacamole-flavored dip. She said she was not familiar with the lawsuit.

Brenda Lifsey, the plaintiff, said she made a three-layer dip with Kraft guacamole last year only to discover that it contained almost none of the ingredient she most expected: avocado.

"It just didn't taste avocadoey," said Lifsey, who identified herself as a federal employee who lives in Los Angeles. "I looked at the ingredients and found there was almost no avocado in it."

In her suit against Kraft, Lifsey is asking the Los Angeles County Superior Court to stop Kraft from marketing the dip as guacamole. She also wants attorneys' fees and unspecified punitive damages.

Lifsey has been a plaintiff in other lawsuits against large corporations. A few years ago, she joined a lawsuit against Sears, claiming that the retailer misrepresented that its Craftsman tools were U.S. made. That case is still in the courts. She also was part of a suit filed last year against vehicle reporting service Carfax Inc., alleging that it did not have access to police accident reports in California and other states even though it advertised that it could provide vehicle history records. Carfax denied the claims.

Unlike peanut butter, which by law must contain at least 90% peanuts, the Food and Drug Administration has no legal standard mandating how much avocado should be in guacamole. The FDA requires only that the labeling be truthful and not misleading, agency spokesman Michael Herndon said.

"For FDA to say that the food is misbranded because it contains only a small amount of avocado, we would have to find that the labeling is misleading, which would likely require some consumer data to prove the labeling is misleading," he said.

Consumer advocates say the FDA should either set standards or force Kraft and other manufacturers to better disclose how little avocado is in their dips.

"It is really deceptive marketing," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, which three years ago called for more accurate labeling of guacamole dips.

At the time, Jacobson said the companies were "begging to be sued."

Like much of the prepared guacamole sold in supermarkets, Kraft guacamole is essentially a whipped paste made from partially hydrogenated soybean and coconut oils, corn syrup, whey and food starch. Yellow and blue dyes give it the green color.

That's probably not what the Aztecs had in mind when they invented guacamole about 700 years ago. They made a sauce called ahuaca-mulli, which roughly translates to "avocado mixture," according to the avocado commission. The dip was prepared by mashing avocados, sometimes with tomatoes and onions in a molcajete, a Mexican mortar and pestle.

In the modern recipe, some cooks add lime juice to keep the guacamole from discoloring. The dip has become an American tradition, especially on Super Bowl Sunday. About 50 million pounds of guacamole were consumed during the big game this year, according to the Hass Avocado Board in Irvine.

Kraft declined to give U.S. sales figures for its guacamole dip but said it was a very small-volume product.

With the right potato masher, making guacamole can be easier than pie. Brands such as Trader Joe's, Yucatan and Calavo use mainly avocado in their guacamole. But other companies opt for cellulose gum, avocado powder and ample food coloring.

When it acquired the Dean's food line last year, Ventura Foods of Brea discovered that Dean's Zesty Guacamole Dip contained skim milk, eggs and some avocado pulp. But Ventura decided not to change the recipe, said Christina Ong, a company marketing manager.

"I have no idea what consumers expect," she said.

Many consumers say they expect to find lots of avocado in their guacamole.

"This is surprising: It's skim milk, oil and soybean," said Long Beach utility worker Dave Oehlman as he read the ingredient list of an Albertson's brand at the supermarket chain's store on Spring Street in Long Beach. "You would have thought they would put more avocado in this."

"You have to keep it green. How do they do that?" he asked before reading the label that disclosed the doses of food coloring.

His companion, Christy Cloughy, said, "I'm going to stick to avocado."