Archive for August, 2011

  • Future Author?

    Date: 2011.08.22 | Category: Create, Life, as it happens | Response: 0

    Not me (not yet anyway, though I feel thirty pages further in since Brandon Mull kindly emailed with encouragement); Joshua pulled off the most incredible storytelling tonight. Just when I thought the day couldn’t get any more quote-able…

    We finished reading a book about colors and talked about mixing colors. He said tomorrow, he wants to make a whole rainbow of colors. And suddenly, he was using his hands to tell me a story. I rushed to get it down quickly, so it’s as close to verbatim as I could get. Some of the wording really stuck with me, so if a part or a word isn’t ultra simple (ex. “below”), it’s probably just what he said. The parts below in quotes are his as close as I could get them. Out of quotes is Mommy. Our respective asides are in parentheses.

    “Look! This is a rainbow and it is lots of colors. And look! Below it is a gate. A rainbow colors gate. But it’s locked so you can’t get through.”
    Oh. I can’t?
    *sadly* “No, you can’t.”
    Let’s pretend there is a little girl; she sees the rainbow and the locked gate. What does she do?
    “This little girl (and she is a pretty little girl), this little girl walks up to the gate. And it’s locked. So she can’t get through.”
    Then what does she do?
    “She looks through the gate. And there is an old garden. And she sees a key. A rusty key.” *He wiggled excitedly at this detail*
    Oh! So what does she do?
    “She takes the key and turns it (like this!) and it works! The gate opens and she goes through.”
    And what did she find?
    “An OLD guard door. But it’s locked.”
    A guard door? (I was somewhat by this detail! Probably inspired by the wordless book Freefall.)
    “Yes. An OLD guard door.”
    Ok, so what does she do?
    “She takes the key (when she left the gate she took the key out and tooked it with her), so she takes the key and puts it in the lock and it works! But there was another locked door. And she took the key with her again and opened the other door and it worked and it unlocked!
    And what did she find?
    Carrots! Lots of carrots.” *He laughed at my surprise*
    Does she like carrots? (He does)
    “Yes, she likes carrots. And it made her very happy. The End.”

    The words are cute, but I totally wish I could have captured that on a recorder because he slipped into his storytelling mode and the drama, mysteriousness, and relish in his voice are impossible to reproduce.

    His astonishing imagination keeps soaking up everything it comes in contact with. On the way to bed, he declared he was “President Washington”! I have no idea where he came across that.

    Earlier this evening, he was prowling about growling. When I asked what he was, he announced (in a fierce growly voice) that he was the hungry tiger (a character from the Oz books, who longs to eat fat babies, but his conscience won’t let him.) “I am the hungry tiger and I like to eat mommies and fat… uh… mommies!” Probably adjusted since there were no fat babies in the vicinity. “I like to eat fat mommies!” Oh, you won’t want to eat me. “Yes, I do!” Am I a fat mommy, then? “Yes, you are a fat mommy and I am going to eat you!” His assertion, I know, is not based on my waistline, but rather ‘I’ll eat you up, I love you so.’ He is so fun and loving.

    Proof to me of how my kids see me? I told Anna as we snuggled this morning: Anna, you are so beautiful. Her reply: “Mommy, you are so beautiful.” Joshua, listening wide-eyed at the door, runs over. “Mommy you are beautiful to me, too. Even when you don’t wear earrings. But I like it when you wear earrings. That is beautiful to me too, because you are beautiful.” A few hours later, I heard him telling Anna (to her delight) how pretty she is.

    It is wonderful to me when I see my children picking up the best of what I can offer. Despite the tougher times in the day (like when they both skipped naps), they remind me constantly; I am a good Mommy, they know Daddy and I love them, and they love each other.

    Beautiful children. Beautiful day.

  • Opportunity Schooling

    Date: 2011.08.17 | Category: Activities | Response: 0

    Homeschooling is becoming a big deal all over the country. There is a huge spectrum of homeschooling methods from “No Schooling” to strict classroom regimes in homeschool Co-Ops. Different strokes for different folks, parents and children, including public school. The important thing is providing the best quality education possible. And educators agree: parents need to participate in teaching their children, whether public schooled or not.

    Joshua and Anna are a bit young for sit down schooling, but hugely curious and I enjoy feeding that. So we do a sort of home preschool that would probably best be labeled ‘opportunity schooling’. Some of it is deliberate, home-crafted learning opportunities: we cook something together at least once a week, reading at least every night, one non-fiction film for the kids every trip to the library. Others are available regularly in the community: story times at the local library and book stores, build-it workshops at hardware stores. And then, the plethora of opportunities that simply pop up: safety workbooks and drill sheets at an information table somewhere, recycling literature, contests, and even just the kids asking “How does that work?” It’s amazing what pops up when you are watching for it. These opportunities seem to be most plentiful in the Summer, but they exist everywhere all year round.

    I’ve decided to share some of these opportunities that are not location specific. They may be on-line, specific to national stores, or home-grown.

    What prompted it this time:

    Barnes and Nobel is sponsoring a children’s writing contest for ages 6-14 (mine are a bit too young for this, obviously), divided into three age groups. There are prizes, but it ends the 21st of August (2011). Check it out here.

    If you come across a good education opportunity, ping me in a comment and I will be sure to post it. The more of us that discover these and share, the more we can enjoy teaching and playing with our children instead of searching for ideas.

  • Everybody’s Friend

    Date: 2011.08.15 | Category: Life, as it happens | Response: 0

    We spent this last Saturday doing things together as a family. We hit Lowe’s Build and Grow Clinic (a nearly-every-weekend tradition by now). Later, we hit the theater together for Cars 2 (a first as a family). It was empty and we enjoyed a highly positive, riotous theater experience. And we rolled around strolling for bargains and picking up a few DIY supplies.

    In one parking lot, a lady waited to get in her car as we strapped kids into their car seats. She performed the usual I’m-waiting-but-trying-not-to-look-like-it politeness, trying to casually avoid looking anywhere but at the people she was waiting for (us). Joshua noted her right off and watched her thoughtfully for a minute. When I finished buckling him and got out of his way, he hollered out the door. “Hey! I like you.” No response. “Do you like me?” No response. “Hey, I like you! I like you; do you like me?” She did crack an un-directed smile, so I suspect he made somebody’s day…

    A very good day. I love spending time with our small family. We eagerly await a few supplies via mail, then will dig into a few small projects such as re-covering the bench we currently use as table seating.

  • Piece of Advice #104 Better than Tape

    Date: 2011.08.12 | Category: Advice: the good, the bad, and whatever | Response: 0

    “A, B, C, D. J, K, L, N O P, T, U, V. Abcd, next time, sing with me.” Anna is simply growing in adorableness, curiosity, and ability every day. And occasionally in aggravation. Seeing her brother going through potty training (for the second time), she has recently taken to diaper stripping. Which bring us to today’s gem:

    A friend told me (when Joshua was going through this phase): “Put the diaper on backwards so that the straps are in the back.”

    So I tried it with Joshua. Instant fix. After Anna’s first pyramid in a living room corner, this came to mind and I tried it again. Not only does it keep the straps away from her little fingers, the diaper actually fits her so much better this way that she prefers it. When I space out and forget to put it on the wrong way, she reminds me.

    No more pyramids.

  • Baby Anna the Hunter

    Date: 2011.08.11 | Category: Life, as it happens | Response: 0

    Joshua is afraid of spiders. He sees one, scuttles away with a yell of fright, and demands I devote instant attention to smashing it. He understands they have a place outside (as he lectured me during our latest spider hunt) but they don’t belong inside “So Mommy has to keep me safe. And baby Anna.” He has designated it as a strictly Mommy job on his list of job roles and chided Daddy a few days ago for trying to do “Mommy’s job”. Funny guy.

    For a while now, when Anna has heard him shriek, she comes racing over trying to get a good look. “No no, baby Anna! It will bite you!” Generally, he has her wrapped up in a hug for safety while I deal with the problem. Now she’s added a little twist. Yesterday when I smacked the spider, she laughed herself silly. “Spank the pinchy spider!” She immediately grabbed herself a shoe and began hunting for spiders. Failing to turn up any, she went about ‘spanking’ imaginary ones for several minutes. When Joshua shrieked today, instead of running straight for the spider, she raced for a shoe. “Smack the pinchy spider!” She spent another good ten minutes whaling away at imaginary spiders in defense of her big brother. So long as the spiders aren’t near the shoes, we may have solved the ‘curious about spiders’ problem.

    Wonderful day. Full of wonderful things that, once again, I told myself “remember”, then didn’t. I wasn’t sure how it would all fit in one post; now I’m pulling a blank. I’ve got to write these things down when they happen… I WILL next time.

  • Re-learning to Ride Imaginary Bikes

    Date: 2011.08.07 | Category: Life, as it happens | Response: 0

    Joshua has been teaching me to pretend again. It’s funny how you lose things like that, ‘growing up’.

    After nearly two weeks self-quarantined to the house as we passed a really nasty 10 day cold through our family, we’ve had trouble getting along. It’s no fun to be cooped up that long, even if all of us spent the majority of the time trying to sleep it off. The recent imagination epiphany helped. Mostly I think because it helped me loosen up and step into his world a bit, rather than demanding he stick around in mine all the time. Honestly, I think his world is superior in many ways. He has also returned the gesture by working to be involved my world of seriousness in ways he dropped a little while ago, such as helping with some chores. I have to wonder: was it because he lost interest or because I squeezed his world of brightly colored pretend (and consequently, him) in my daily preoccupation with serious things, survival, and efficiency? I’ve found there is room for both his world and mine. Little puppies can help match socks. Kangaroos are great activity organizers. Mommy can participate in pretends just by looking and commenting, even if she has to do dishes at the same time. She is amazing just for seeing the zoo and accepting it.

    The best part of our day was just before bed tonight. Joshua produced an invisible snuggle puppy which we played with for nearly twenty minutes of rollicking ear-lickyness, invisible hide and seek, giggles, and just general roll around. When the puppy finally went to bed inside the pink rubber ball, Joshua decided he was ready to as well. Sweet boy.

    Motherhood would not be complete without invisible snuggle puppies. Not only is there room for it in the midst of everything necessary and serious, I’m not sure how I’ve been surviving without it.

  • Piece of Advice #103 Go Diego as YOUR Helper

    Date: 2011.08.05 | Category: Advice: the good, the bad, and whatever | Response: 0

    A book once suggested:

    “Work from the child’s viewpoint.”

    So (in the middle of detouring toward a useless argument about pretend VS real), it clicked. I can use this with Joshua’s “my pretend trumps reality” times. So I tried it. Joshua, Peter Rabbit might have hit Anna, but you are responsible to help your pretend friends obey the rules. “Oh.” Off to timeout he went and Peter Rabbit went home. No argument for once; reality might be arguable, but rules are a fact.

    This has a LOT of benefits! Instead of fruitlessly arguing about Peter’s animatable properties while letting the real issue lose heat, I was able to address the real issue directly: Anna got hit and Joshua was responsible. It ALSO allowed him to feel I heard and that I value his perspective. It also establishes an important precedent for rules when playing with REAL friends.

    It also adds a whole new set of options to my Mommy arsenal: I can redirect his pretend toward positive actions via his pretend friends. “Hey Joshua, can you help Go Diego wash his face? Show him how so he can do it.” “Oh, no! All these poor baby animals need rescuing. Let’s put them in the stuffed animal box to be safe.”

    Not only is this working, it is making me ten times cooler a mom in his eyes. And I am enjoying it at least as much as he is!

  • Organizing your kitchen for (truly) cheap

    Date: 2011.08.04 | Category: Create | Response: 0

    Yet another magazine article today offered several ideas for making your kitchen a simpler, lovelier, more wonderful place to work. If you happen to have a couple hundred dollars available to purchase the brand-name, pre-set solutions they suggested. While a few were legitimately low-dollar, high relief, the article generally missed the boat. If we could spend fifty bucks a pop on off-the-shelf solutions, we would look for the answers in store, not in a magazine.

    Here are a few legitimately low-dollar ideas from my side of the fence:

    Declutter. Every kitchen is loaded with things that don’t get used. Try corralling this junk and sorting it out. If you feel stressed just looking at it, eliminate it. Chuck un-mated lids and containers. Keeping containers low variety will greatly simplify your life. For things you feel guilty ditching and think you ‘should’ be using (everyone has these), take one or two at a time and make a focused effort to use them for a week. You might figure out why you never use it (Too hard to clean? It doesn’t do a proper job? You already have something else you prefer for the job?). This will let you eliminate it with less guilt. For items you still feel guilty about, organize a swap, donate it, or (an online, no cost, give-to-someone-who-will-use-it solution). Cost? Zero dollars, zero cents. This is the number one thing you can do to organize your kitchen.

    For those who have already done this, I address the areas the article took a shot at (and mostly missed). Instead of looking in the household furnishings area of the store, we’ll find the solutions from other more general (and generally less expensive) areas of the store.

    Papers: Kitchen papers have many sources (mostly un-addressed in the article). Here are the top three and solutions.

    1) Random family papers–Have a family inbox where each family member has a slot. Sort papers by owner (or probably owner). Now you only have your own to worry about. Over crowded in-boxes may be subject to de-cluttering by the queen, as she feels the need. Use priority mail boxes, stacked, taped, and covered with fun wrapping paper or cloth ( has instructions). Use supplies on hand. Cost = 0.

    2) Kitchen recipes-One sided, double sized, plastic, cardboard-cutout; the variety is mind boggling.  They fall out of binders and get crunched and mangled in recipe boxes. While a $120, scan-it-to-me, on the counter cook-book is a nice idea (the magazine solution), it’s impractical for most budgets and homes with tiny button-pushing people. First, post your regular repeats on the inside of your cabinet doors. For the rest, get a slim hanging file holder for on the counter and put some files in it. Label and sort how-ever works for you. Fast to file and easy to look through when you want to. Find it in office supplies for < $10.

    3) Phone numbers and grocery notes. Go to the dollar store. Get a note pad for numbers and notes. Hang it by the phone. Each thought and call gets its own page. Get a pad for grocery items and stick it to the fridge or inside a cabinet. $1 each.

    Now for the Kitchen objects that withstood your clutter clearing:

    Cutting boards and cookie sheets – Once again, check office supplies for desk-top hanging file sorters (legal-size this time). Stand them on end on the counter or slip sideways into the cabinets to store these large flat items on end. Hello, space and order. Again, office supplies for < $10.

    Family mugs – Get a large pack of hooks from the hardware department. Install under cabinets (you might need to add a wood strip for reinforcement if the underside of your cabinets is thin). Hang your adorable, must keep, family mugs on these. Cost varies by how many you get and size. Check the hardware section < $1 per hook.

    Pots and pans – Grab double coat hooks (upper/lower claw). Pans on the bottom hook, lids on the top (unless the lids are knob-style and don’t have enough lip to hang from the edge). I would not, however, recommend hanging glass lids this way. Just in case… Find it in hardware for < $10.

    Brooms and mops, etc. – If you have a mysterious love of long handled cleaning implements, storing them for airing and maintained cleaning quality can be a problem. The magazine suggested buying a special hanging strip that you press the handle into to hang it off the floor. But these are often ridiculously expensive (about $20 apiece when I priced it), don’t tend to last long (especially with kids), and can take up precious wall space in a small cleaning closet while offering only a very limited storage capacity. My solution: Mount a sturdy milk crate to the wall at about waist height with the bottom of the crate facing the wall. This can store much more and only takes up about 1 foot of space. If you don’t have a lot of mops, brooms, and Swiffers, you can also use the remaining open areas as shelving space, say for trash bags. This can also work in the garage for gardening tools. Check office supplies for the crate and hardware for mounting brackets. < $10

    Hear that? It’s the sound of you enjoying your kitchen again.

  • More Tips for Picky Eaters

    Date: 2011.08.02 | Category: Advice: the good, the bad, and whatever | Response: 0

    This draft has floated in my post pile for quite sometime. Like most of this blog, it is a reminder to me of the good things and positive approaches for me to focus on. Hopefully the reminder gets our house through this latest pickies phase from Joshua!


    Presentation matters. A variety of color and texture has been shown to increase appetites (with the exception of the colors blue and black). The  color can come from edibles or non-edibles (such as the plate itself). And kids are just more likely to eat a fruit ‘flower’ than a heap of something. This goods in pretty much the same category as ‘give it a cool name’ (or at least avoiding telling them directly it is something they claim to hate).

    Aromas are a big deal. Remember how it feels to walk through the mall during lunch and smell the food court? So fill your home with it. Let things simmer or at least light a candle. If the kids help prep, let them smell individual ingredients. Appealing smells get their tummies going, guaranteeing an appetite.

    End the clean plate tradition (suggested in last study as well) and offer small servings. Studies have shown this is less overwhelming, less likely to lead to fights, and that children required to clean their plates are more likely to become obese later in life (they are taught early to ignore their tummy’s ‘full’ signal). You or they can always finish it later. Even soggy cereal can be turned into a milkshake.

    Strike a deal. At least one taste of each (however tiny the taste may be). Also, try bartering: one bite of what they want in return for a bite or two of you want them to eat (though this approach should be limited or you will create a new problem).

    Set an example. If you seriously can’t cough it down, then turn a careful disappearing act with your portion. A friend recently shared a loving memory of his mother who recently passed: He visited her and she, delighted to see him, offered to cook whatever home favorite he most missed. “Liver and onions!” Something she had served religiously throughout their youth. She finally confessed to her 60-something son that she hated liver and onions, but had thought they should eat it. Her disappearing act apparently worked!

    Most of all, don’t lose track of the most important things!

    The second most important thing to remember is that you are training the tastebuds to accept these foods. After several introductions, the odds are that they will accept it. Joshua is finally getting over his tomato aversion, in part due to anticipation of picking this summer’s batch (soon, soon!), but more so due to frequent reintroduction in various forms. Every failed introduction is just one step closer to final acceptance. So don’t give up.

    The MOST important thing to remember is this: Keep it positive. In a worst case scenario, you can replace the nutrion gap with a vitamin gummy supplement until they get over the pickies. But there is no replacement for a positive relationship with you. Your love and acceptance is the most essential need. It’s even more important than broccoli.