More Love (Less Panic)

MORE LOVE LESS PANICI reconnected with an old friend from high school, Claude Knobler.  He is the author of the newly dropped book, More Love (Less Panic) 7 Lessons I Learned About Life, Love, and Parenting After We Adopted Our Son From Ethiopia.

Claude’s history is unique.  Ask him about the television pilot he shot with a young Brad Pitt. Or, if perhaps you are friendly with Mr. Pitt, ask him about the television pilot he shot with a young Claude Knobler.

Already the father of two biological children, Claude and his wife, Mary, adopted Nati from Ethiopia. The experience taught them more than their family of four (then five) could ever have imagined.  Here are a few questions I asked Claude:

1.     What was the first thing you wrote, and how old were you when you wrote it? The first thing I remember writing was a brilliant short story called, “Spot The Dog Goes On A Motorcycle.”  It had beautifully done illustrations, I drew myself with my very own crayons.  I was five and my mother still has the original manuscript.  As I recall, it was a sad tale, ending with ‘silly old Spot’ crashing into a wall.  I should really try to get my publisher to re-issue it!

2.     What have you written since then?  Well, for a good stretch of time, I did movie reviews for radio stations around the country, so there was a lot of writing done for that.  And I wrote a novel, which, sad to say, has yet to be published.  Honestly, I think I’m just as proud of that book as I am of the one that’s now in print.  I’ve had a reasonable amount of stuff in magazines too, plus essays of mine have been published in This I Believe: On Fatherhood and a collection called Carried In Our Hearts.  More Love-Less Panic is my first published book (second, if you include Spot The Dog Goes On A Motorcycle.)

 3.     What made you choose your genre of writing—memoir—and is it hard to be completely honest with yourself and your readers using this format?  I don’t think I chose the genre so much as it chose me.  An editor at Penguin named Sara Carder liked my essay from Carried In Our Hearts and asked if I wanted to write a book.  And being honest wasn’t the real challenge for me either.  I think you have the story you have and there’s not much you can do other than tell the facts as you remember them.  On the other hand, what was a challenge was communicating what I’d learned about parenting in a way that would be useful to any parent, not just the ones who’d adopted.  I really do think that what I learned after we adopted Nati from Ethiopia was true for all three of my kids.  I realized that I loved all three of my kids so much that I often had to remember to be calm and just enjoy them, without worrying about perfecting them.  Sometimes our love for our kids makes us think that our job is to demand they clean their rooms every day so that they grow up to be responsible, neat and perfect so they’ll get into Harvard one day.  I tend to believe at this point that I’m just supposed to love them without being quite so panicked.

 4.     The way you adopted Nati, after reading an article, and proposing the idea to your wife with the certainty she would say no, is intriguing.  Is there any of that “happenstance” that occurred while writing the book of your adventure?  The whole book was really the result of happenstance, since I was lucky enough to have an editor ask me about it, instead of banging my head into walls trying to get it out there (as I did with my novel.)  I think that happenstance tends to happen more though when I’m not walking through life with blinders on, determined to get to a goal.  When I live that way, when I try to control my kids so that they’ll have the futures I want them to have, I tend to make myself and the people around me, fairly miserable.  On the other hand, when I relax a bit, the most remarkable things can happen…..adopting a child or getting a book published about it, for instance!

5.     It only natural for a book to change from the original intent of the writer, as it’s being written. How did your book change as you created it, and did it surprise you how it came out?  I feel guilty saying this, but honestly, that wasn’t my experience.  I had to work with my editor and my agent to mold the concept of the book, but once we settled on seven lessons about parenting that I’d learned, I just kept going.   My editor suggested some changes after the first draft and most of her ideas where great.  The only time I didn’t follow her initial suggestions was when she corrected some of my grammar.  She was right, of course, but sometimes the word ‘ain’t’ is exactly what you need.

6.     What did you learn about yourself during the writing/publishing journey?  What shocked me most of all, through the writing, the publishing, the launch party and the occasional interview is that I actually like parenting even more than I like writing about it (and I like writing about it a lot.)

7.     Tell us a bit about your book, More Love, Less Panic: 7 Lessons I Learned About Life, Love, and Parenting After We Adopted Our Son from Ethiopia.  Over ten years ago, my wife and I decided to adopt a five year old boy from Ethiopia, even though we had two perfectly good kids of our own already at home.  Nati spoke no English when I came home with me and I only spoke 4 words of his language (and two of those were about going to the bathroom.)  What surprised me was that so much of what I learned raising a five year old boy from Africa turned out to be true about all three of my kids.  I found, for example, that while I worry a lot, I’m not very good at knowing what to worry about.  I worried that our different languages would be a huge problem, but that was never an issue.  On the other hand, I never thought to worry about what we’d do if the sweet little boy we’d adopted turned out to be just too confident (when Nati was five, he began coming down for breakfast every day, blowing kisses and saying, “NATI KNOBLER IZ AWAKE!  ZANK YOU VERY MUCH!)  So, that helped me give up worrying about my kids quite so much.

Claude Knober FamilyMost of all, having sat with Nat’s mother in a café in Ethiopia and seen her say goodbye to the son she was too ill to take care of, and having raised three kids with a family I’d never expected, I’ve learned that it’s okay to simply love my kids without feeling like every single thing I do has to be about molding their destinies.  And that’s hard for parents.  We love our kids so much that we really do tend to think that if we can get them the right tuba lessons at five, it’ll help them get into Harvard when they’re 18.  More love…..less panic.  I really believe in that.

8.     Any plans to follow up with a book that tells us where you, Mary, Clay, Grace and Nati are now?  I have a few thoughts about more writing.  I’ve been married for over 20 years now and I think I could happily share some of what I’ve learned in that time about relationships.  And, of course, I’d love to do a follow up on what Spot The Silly Dog has been up to.

9.     How do people get in touch or follow you?


As Seen on the West Orange, NJ Public Schools Website

NJ Illustrator/Author Judith McLaughlin Returns to Pleasantdale SchoolPleasantdale School Visit

Back by popular request of students and faculty, NJ illustrator/author Judith McLaughlin spent April 24th at Pleasantdale School helping students to celebrate the school’s third annual “Poem in Your Pocket Day.”  Each student sported a poem in his or her pocket while attending one of McLaughlin’s three assemblies. Students surprised McLaughlin by reciting her “Peppers” tongue twister poem that they had been practicing for the occasion. McLaughlin, in turn, delighted the students by reciting a new tongue twister from her upcoming sequel to “Poems on Fruits and Odes to Veggies.” Asked how she felt about returning to Pleasantdale School for another “Poem in Your Pocket Day,” McLaughlin replied that although her April “Poetry Month” calendar always is booked with school visits, she loves coming to Pleasantdale School for ‘Poem in Your Pocket Day’ because across the grades, the students are so enthusiastic about helping brainstorm, compose, and share a group poem.

After presenting her poems, it was McLaughlin’s turn to be the audience for student-poets. McLaughlin was especially moved by the reasons given by more than fifty students, grades kindergarten through grade five, for wanting to sacrifice their recess to share a poem with her. “It is a humbling privilege to have youngsters say that my visit last year inspired them, and that they have written their first poems for me.” One of the teachers gave McLaughlin high marks for instilling some usually shy students with the confidence to risk reciting poems in public as long as McLaughlin was in the audience. “It doesn’t get any better than helping students stretch their potential.” “I’ve never done anything like this before,” one fifth grader confided before reciting her poem. “I love this poem and I think she will enjoy this poem, too.”

Giving each student-poet her full attention and insightful feedback, McLaughlin, who has heard many students’ poems during author visits throughout the years around the state, commented that there were many firsts among the poems the Pleasantdale students shared. Notable among them was an entertaining “two-voice” poem performed by a fourth grader and her proud mother, a moving poem recited in Bengali by a talented fifth grader, a joyful poem played on piano by an outgoing first grader, and an original thoughtful poem, composed and recited by two sensitive second graders.  “Make no mistake,” one teacher commented following the recess poem sessions, “Ms. McLaughlin’s impact on our students’ relationship with poetry has been huge since her visit last year. Once again, Ms. McLaughlin filled our poetry buckets, and the children, in turn, have reciprocated—they have filled hers.”

Noting that April 24th was National Poem in Your Pocket Day, Principal Dr. Joanne Pollara observed, “In addition to the wonderful literacy experience our Pleasantdale School students enjoyed in our building, their experience was magnified knowing that they were partaking in something larger than themselves. They were experiencing something in common with students throughout the country. There is something very powerful in that connection. We are very grateful to everyone—parents, students, and faculty and staff who supported our Fall bookfair. It is the proceeds from that event that enables us to support literacy enrichment programs such as the Poem in Your Pocket Day author visit. Thank you! And thank you to all the teachers who worked so hard with their students composing original poems—acrostic, shape, haiku, diamante, to name just a few—that beautifully adorn the halls of our school. Thank you!


Tomato, Tomato, Tomato


This is my first tiny tomato growing in my garden.  You can see it here growing from flower to tomato. How long until it looks like these, the tomatoes I painted for my children’s book Poems on Fruits & Odes to Veggies – Where Healthy Eating Starts With a Poem?  I wonder….

How Does My Garden Grow? Week 3

garden3My 16 square foot garden is FANTASTIC! I know, I know, I am not ready to move to a farm, but my 4 x 4 raised bed garden is a fun. And my plants are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing:  GROWING! Yesterday afternoon I added fresh cilantro to my “Dr. Oz Green Drink.” What a refreshing and delightful addition! And last night I added fresh basil to my tomato sauce.  My family all said the sauce tasted “fresh!”  I really can’t wait to be making my sauce with home-grown tomatoes.

tomatoesYou can already see a few flowers blooming  on one of my tomato plants…these flowers will turn into red, delicious tomatoes. Can’t wait. I promise to keep posting the pictures. Check out these two yellow flowers! Happy Growing!

How Does My Garden Grow? Week 2

garden2If you follow this blog you know that approximately one week ago I planted my first garden. It is filled with tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, zucchini, cilantro and basil. It is bordered with marigolds to keep the bunnies away.  So far so good. I thought it would be fun to post a picture of my garden each week so we could track the progress together.

Thanks to those who reached out to me regarding my cucumbers and zucchini and the way they tend to take over a garden. I am planning to add a stake or two in the near future.

And when I am out there watering and weeding and watching my plants grow, you can just bet I am thinking of a poem to share because as you know, healthy eating starts with a poem!

Happy Mother’s Day!

photo[2]Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there!! Great job women. Our family tradition is breakfast in bed for mom (me). My children are now teenagers and sleep way later than I do. I typically wake up, walk the dog, do some work, straighten the house, and basically wait until they wake up and send me back to bed.

When they were little, they would wake my husband up way before the sun rose, so they could get my breakfast going. Those were delightful days too. Their little feet puttering downstairs, their little hands cracking the eggs.  Their little voices giggling and fighting too-fighting over whom would carry the tray, crack the eggs, pick the flowers. One thing they didn’t fight over was the fruit salad. It has always been my youngest daughter’s job to make the fruit salad, filled with all my favorites, cantaloupe, watermelon, kiwi, strawberries, blueberries and bananas.

Here is the Cantaloupe Poem from my book Poems on Fruits & Odes to Veggies

“Cantaloupe today?” Asked the handsome Mr. Harry.
“Can’t elope today,” I said.  “I’m way too young to marry.”

Oh, my Mother’s Day  breakfast in bed has always been delicious; the eggs and fruit…but especially the memories.

What is your mother’s day tradition?

My Veggie Garden

gardenI am giddy with excitement.  I am growing a vegetable garden in a raised bed.  With a small piece of property, finding the right spot for a garden has been tricky. This raised bed made it simple.  Just put it on the side of my house, where we get the most sun for the longest amount of time, added some dirt and planted my garden.  I am attempting to grow tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant and a few herbs.  I will keep you all posted on the progress.  I am envisioning Tomato, Cucumber and Basil salad!  Eggplant Parm Stackers, and many loaves of my Zany Zucchini Bread!

Lots of pictures will follow!  Hopefully of healthy, happy veggies.

As the author of P0ems on Fruits & Odes to Veggies, growing my own garden seems like a natural fit.  Happy growing, friends.

Do You Know What Umami is?

41551702Umami.  The tongue is  sensitive to a fifth taste, umami.  Umami encompasses that which is savory, meaty or full-bodied.

Umami is a Japanese word which translates roughly into the words “wonderful taste.”  Taste, as a sense, is the perception of a combination of these the sweet, sour, bitter, salty or umami on your tongue.  But really, taste is so much more than just a flavor on your tongue.  It’s highly complicated and to the mix you must add how food smells, looks, and sounds. If you shaped your favorite sweet treat, a chocolate brownie, into what appeared to be a pile of dog doo, chances are this typically delicious food would gross you out!  When we eat a carrot, it has to crunch. When we drink coffee, we expect a certain aroma. Get it?  Anticipation is part of taste.

When you anticipate eating carrots, bananas, grapes, oranges, zucchini or peppers (all on the cover of Poems on Fruits & Odes to Veggies) what happens to you?  Let us know.


Can You Acquire a Taste For a Certain Food?

asparagusCan you acquire a taste for a specific food?  Well, my unscientific answer is YES!


But before I share my unscientific studies with you, let’s talk a little bit about the science behind taste. “The sense of taste is a sensory system like the eye,” says Ilene Bernstein, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington. “The tongue is sensitive to different tastes — sweet, sour, bitter, or salty.”  The tongue is also sensitive to a fifth taste, umami.  Umami encompasses that which is savory, meaty or full-bodied.   Umami is a Japanese word which translates roughly into the words “wonderful taste.”  Taste, as a sense, is the perception of a combination of these the sweet, sour, bitter, salty or umami on your tongue.  But really, taste is so much more than just a flavor on your tongue.  It’s highly complicated and to the mix you must add how food smells, looks, and sounds. If you shaped your favorite sweet treat, a chocolate brownie, into what appeared to be a pile of dog doo, chances are this typically delicious food would gross you out!  When we eat a carrot, it has to crunch. When we drink coffee, we expect a certain aroma. Get it?  Anticipation is part of taste.

Nature and Nurture

And finally we must add nature and nurture.  “Taste is a product of our genes and our environment,” says Leslie J. Stein, PhD, from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. “Our food preferences are determined by multiple factors, including genes, experience, and age.”   Genes do a play a part in our predisposed desire to eat certain foods. Genes help us detect basic tastes by influencing the configuration of taste receptors.  Hmmmm…a complicated way to say our genes detect tastes we either like or dislike.  And then there is environment.  If you grow up in a home where salty, fried, chicken nuggets and potatoes are the go-to meal, chances are, you will long for chicken nuggets and French fries.  But here is what really intrigues me…repeat exposure to a food whose taste you don’t like, not only can decrease your dislike, it can actually increase your liking. For instance, research done at the Monell Chemical Senses Center showed that people who stick to a lower-sodium diet over time eventually PREFER lower levels of saltiness in their food.

Acquired Taste

And of course, there are acquired tastes, such as caviar. And here, my friends, is the crux of the matter, ACQUIRED taste.  At the start of this blog I told you, unscientifically, that you could acquire a taste for a food.  I know because I’ve done it.  When I was a little girl, I couldn’t stand asparagus.  Its taste was bitter and just plain awful.  But every time my mother served asparagus, I was encouraged to take a tiny taste.  I always held my nose and made that awful face, (you know the one where you resemble a raisin?) but I got my asparagus down.  And then one day (I don’t remember specifically when) I didn’t have to hold my nose anymore.  And then one day, further in the future, I actually liked asparagus.  And now, as an adult, I can honestly say, I LOVE ASPARAGUS!  So don’t give up on yourself, or your kids, just because they don’t like a fruit or veggie first time around.  Keep making it.  Keep eating it.  I am proof that you CAN acquire a taste for it.