Category Archives: Books and Movies

A Fairy Good Time

An attentive purple fairy at the library program (photo by PML)

We recently have enjoyed some fairy themed projects and excursions. V and I went in full fairy regalia to a fairy themed summer reading program at our local library.

Mama and V fairies at the library program (photo by MEL)

There, we listened to fairy stories, made fairy dolls, magic wands, crowns, and participated in other fairy activities.

To continue our adventure into fairy land, we have been reading the following titles:

A Fairy Went A-Marketing by Rose Fyleman: A sweet story about a little fairy who releases captive animals back into the wild.

Fairy Tea Part by Jamie Michalak:  A sweet little story that helps children learn colors in the context of a fairy tea party.

Usborne 1001 Things to Spot in Fairyland:  V has been loving look and find books and this one on fairyland is delightful!

Talking to Fairies by Sheila Jeffries: While the writing is a little amateurish, the stories and fairy facts are fun. And the quotes about fairies by young children are just plain adorable! I plan to check out some of the titles mentioned in her book for additional reading with V.


Ann Arbor’s Fairy Village (photo by PML)

Enchanted Village (photo by PML)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On our family excursion to Michigan this summer, we enjoyed additional fairy activities with Grammy and Uncle J.  First, we went on a tour of Ann Arbor, Michigan’s fairy doors.  If you haven’t been on this walk, I recommend it (although it’s probably a bit more enjoyable in cooler weather…we went in 90+ degree heat!).  I lived in Ann Arbor for three years and never heard of the fairy doors until my mother told me about them this year.

(photo by PML)

(photo by PML)

We started out checking out the fairy village, then rambled about exploring fairy doors throughout the downtown area.  In the participating key shop, V was given a special Yoda key, which she then used to try to unlock all the subsequent fairy doors.  The walk was enchanting and reminded me of all I love and miss about Ann Arbor.

(photo by PML)

The keys to fairyland…(photo by PML)

A lush fairy garden home (photo by PML)

M & V on a fairy door walk

During our visit, V and Uncle J and I made some fairy houses based on a wonderful house shown by local artist, Diana Gorham of Craftworks, during the library reading program.  Her fairy house was absolutely gorgeous and delightful; it inspired me to give it a go.

V’s fairy A-frame complete with bling: a moss carpet, a stone table and stone chair! (photo by PML)

After a severe thunderstorm gifted us with many loose branches and bark scraps, we went on a nature walk to gather fallen items.  If you do this activity, make sure you aren’t violating any park laws by scavenging where and what you shouldn’t…

The back view of V’s fairy house complete with glitter, beads, and lichen
(photo by PML)

Our rule was to take what was fallen, although I admit to pirating a small scrap of moss from the next door outlet.  Here is what we came up with using twigs, bark, stones, moss, hot glue, craft sticks, beads, pipe cleaners, and glitter:

Front view of J’s fairy summer cottage (interior included Adirondack chair and table designed by J); note the festive flag pole!

Even 10 year old J was enthralled by his fairy house.

Side view of the summer cottage including a stone fireplace, moss garden and pine cone trees (photo by PML)

It was a wonderful way to pass a sweltering afternoon while keeping two children occupied.  My husband M, V, and I have plans to construct additional fairy dwellings over the years; we just love the idea so much!  (And sorry, Mom, I forgot the extra bark I gathered in your car…yep, even big kids still leave car messes!)

A rare view of the ‘secret’ goblin house on our fairy door tour… (photo by MEL)


Family Rules!

Food on the couch? That’s ok; it’s not one of our rules!

As the parent of a two and a half year old with a strong will and curiosity, I have given a lot of thought to the topic of discipline.  Though some of my friends and readers have asked for my take on discipline, I haven’t yet broached the subject on my blog in-depth, and I’m not sure that I will get into the usual debates.  Children’s diets, sleeping habits, and discipline seem to be among the top most controversial topics discussed on blogs, and I’m not sure I am interested in opening up to the possibility of a judgment fueled debate in my space.  Trying to keep it a little Zen here, but I always reserve the right to change my mind if the muse inspires.

HOWEVER, I think most parents, educators, and child development experts will agree that rule-setting is an important piece of children’s discipline.  So today, I’ve decided to share our family rules as well as some social story resources that we are using to help V to learn and understand them.

We have had consistent rule setting in our house for a while: rules that both my husband and I agree upon and address when the rule is broken.  One day, while on a play date, I noted that my friend had posted a list of their family rules for their son on a little wipe board within his viewpoint.  When discussing behavioral concerns, she would refer to the rules by number which indicated to me that she and her son had shared previous conversations where rules were reviewed.  I thought that was a great idea.  Though we educate V on our family rules through repetition and behavioral discussions, actually posting a concrete list and inviting her to learn the rules with us made perfect sense.  In fact, it’s what occurs in most classroom settings as part of classroom behavioral management.

So I sat down and drafted a set of rules which my husband reviewed, edited, and printed for our gal.  We reviewed them with her in a quasi family meeting  and posted them at her eye level so we can reference them with her as needed.

I would like to differentiate our rules from “limits” which we also have defined in our house.  We have established limits about treats, juice, TV viewing and other topics that are generally followed but we can be flexible about if the occasion warrants.  Limits address things V wants to do but that aren’t permissible ad nauseam. Rules address her behaviors. Knowing the limits helps V to understand what to expect from us, but limits are more malleable, while rules are consistently reinforced (at least we try!).

V’s Rules

  1. Respect other people’s bodies (no hitting, kicking, biting, licking; stop when asked)
  2. Be kind and gentle to others
  3. Use your listening ears when Mom and Dad are talking
  4. Help with chores and cleaning up when Dad and Mom ask you to help
  5. Stop, look, listen, and hold an adult’s hands when crossing the street or in parking lots
  6. Don’t go anywhere with someone unless Mom or Dad say it’s ok
  7. Use your big girl words (not whines) when you are upset about something
  8. Respect toys, books, and belongings (no throwing, ripping, smashing)
  9. Use big girl manners (say please, thank you, excuse me, sorry, and excuse me to get down from the table)
  10. Tell the truth

I know that learning family rules will be an ongoing process.  Rules will be tweaked as V grows and matures.  At some point, we’ll invite her to participate in the family rule making process as we teach her how to handle conflict and emotions.  Some of these rules are good reminders even for us (be kind and gentle, using listening ears, no whining, using manners), and I am reminded daily how self-discipline and emotional regulation is something that we pass onto our children by example.  Striving to set a good example is an ongoing challenge as we wrestle with our own complicated histories, patterns, and emotions but M and I are committed to improving our efforts and selves as we try to be better parents for our little gal.

When setting rules, it is important for us to remember the developmental limitations of our little V.  Rules are used to guide her behavior and help us know which behaviors require immediate, developmentally appropriate consequences.  I think much of the discipline debate centers around these questions:  how many and what rules to establish (are you relaxed or strict with your expectations of your child); what behaviors constitute a violation of the rules; and what are appropriate and effective consequences.

We struggle to find the right answers to these questions, and while I have read, considered, and tried many approaches with regard to discipline, I feel every parent and child find a different balance that more or less works for them.  The important thing is that consequences are developmentally appropriate (which some parents struggle to understand without education or previous experience with young children), that they respect the physical and emotional well-being of the child, and that they are applied consistently.  I think there are a rare few parents (if any) who can honestly claim to do all of this perfectly and I think many parents wrestle throughout the parenting journey to adjust rules and develop appropriate, effective consequences.  I know that I will have (and already have had) many successes and mistakes over the years.

For me, it’s important that the rules we create help V to respect people and property.  By setting these expectations for her, we are communicating that they are valued and important and I hope it will help her to learn good social boundaries with others.  We have experienced times when our child was the “model child”, following her rules and treating others with respect.  We have also experienced times when our gal was frustrated, angry, and aggressive toward us or her little friends.  Toddlers do not yet have fully developed brain pathways that allow them to regulate their emotions.  They get easily flooded, as do many of us adults!  They need boundaries to help them understand what behaviors are hurtful to others so as they develop the capacity for self-control, they have other resources to draw upon when experiencing challenging emotions.

V has responded positively to her rules, often reciting them back to us when we have “behavioral discussions.”  She proudly tells us, “I followed my rules! No hitting, no biting, no kicking!”  when she has a particularly great stretch of kind behavior. We make sure to reinforce those times with specific, positive praise so she knows that we are proud of her kind and loving actions too!

Using Social Stories

Our daughter, much like her parents, learns through story-telling and reading as well as her real life experiences.  We have selected some social stories to help our little one learn about rules and have found them to be a helpful tool when discussing positive ways to handle emotions, the impact on others when rules are broken, and establishing what kind and helpful behavior looks like.  I know we will be adding to this list through the years and welcome hearing about any helpful titles you may want to share in the comment section.  I also welcome hearing about the rules that guide your family!  As always, thank you for keeping comments positive and respectful so that everyone feels welcome to share.

Teeth Are Not For Biting by Elizabeth Verdick

Hands are Not for Hitting by Elizabeth Verdick

(and the whole Best Behavior Series by Free Spirit Publishing)

Be Polite and Kind by Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed

(This is one of V’s current FAVORITE reads.  Seriously, she loves it.)

Listen and Learn by Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed

(and the whole Learning to Get Along Series by Free Spirit Publishing)

*Incidentally, I did not know until I searched for the links to the above titles for this post that Free Spirit Publishing published both series of books that we’ve been reading!  I am not being compensated for recommending these titles, but I encourage you to check out their website for additional resources.

QEB Everybody Feels… (Happy, Angry, Sad, Scared) Series by Jane Bingham

(V had us read the one on anger four times in a row…until Mommy suggested exploring one of the other four titles.  She told us that “When you are angry, you feel shaky and hot!” demonstrating it for us by tensing up her body and clenching her fists!  At first reading, she is already learning so much from these wonderful titles passed onto us by my mother.)


Celebrating America’s Independence: Flags, Fireworks and Reading Fun for Toddlers

Hot summer days are officially here.  With the temperature soaring to the upper 90’s today and the 4th of July approaching, I decided that it would be a great day to teach V about America’s Independence Day celebration.  Together, we read some stories and created some simple, kid-friendly crafts to celebrate the 4th of July holiday.

Two books that guided our learning experience are:

The Story of America’s Birthday by Patricia A. Pingry

and

The Story of The Star-Spangled Banner by Patricia A. Pingry

American Flag Craft

Together we made an American flag out of paper and paints.

Materials:

Red, white, and blue construction paper, scissors, Elmer’s Glue, white tempura paint, paintbrushes

Instructions:

I cut 6 strips of white construction paper and a blue rectangle of construction paper in advance.  I also lined them up in proper American flag order with the red stripe starting at the top of the flag and thirteen stripes total showing.  Line up the white stripes on a piece of red construction paper, creating alternating stripes starting and ending with red and having approximately equal spacing.  Have your child apply Elmer’s glue and affix the stripes to the construction paper.  Then, have your child glue the blue rectangle in the upper left corner of your flag.  Let them create white stars on the blue corner with white tempura paint.  Another option is to have them use silver foil star stickers (the kind that teachers use for grading) and apply them to the blue rectangle.

Firework Paintings

Materials:

Red, white, blue, yellow (and any other color) tempera paints,  (We especially like to use sparkly ones!)  paintbrushes, and black construction paper.

Instructions:

Let your child free paint their version of sparkly fireworks on the paper.  Allow to dry and display!  We practiced color mixing while we painted our fireworks (V learned to mix purple, green, and brown colors from primary colored paints).

Mama's Version for Demonstration

4th of July themed Nature Table/Tray 

This Montessori/Waldorf concept can be adapted so many different ways.  There are a ton of websites that give examples of nature trays for you to explore as a reference. We like to make learning our own in our home so this is what I came up with and what V added.

Our Nature Tray

Materials and Instructions:

Take a small wooden tray (you can find them at a craft store).  I lined ours with blue sparkly felt for the season.  Our nature tray contains red stars, red and white “jewels”, sparkly star stickers, shells, sticks and rocks that V recently collected on outside excursions, fish, frog, flower, and bug stickers for some interactive seasonal fun, shells and a fossilized fish skin we found when visiting my dad in Florida.  We will add items as the weeks progress, and change out the 4th of July theme following the holiday.  We keep our tray on a little table near the entrance to our house so V can easily add to her collection.

(As with all crafts/activities posted here, neither this blog or the author accept liability for related injuries.  Please be responsible and provide proper supervision and use discretion when determining whether your child is old enough to complete the above projects, especially with children under the age of 3, for whom small objects might pose a choking hazard.)


A Spring of Thoughtful and Fun Titles

It’s been a while since I’ve done an adult book review, but not for lack of reading.  Here’s what has been occupying my mind this passing Spring season.

Hiking with V and M in the woods; so she won’t be “The Last Child in the Woods,” the next book on my reading list.

Already Finished:

Generation Me:  Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–and More Miserable Than Ever Before by Jean M. Twenge

I really enjoyed this thoughtful review by prominent Psychology professor Dr. Jean M. Twenge, who is a member of the generation she describes in this book.  The tone of the book is casual and conversational, but I found that a lot of her assertions resonated.  Twenge posits that Generation Me’s high expectations combined with increasing societal obstacles and a victim mentality make the current generation more frustrated and unhappy than previous generations who were not as focused on achieving dreams and finding personal happiness.  As a member of Generation Me, I could not disagree with most of Twenge’s conclusions and I think this read is an important characterization that both Generation Me members and their older counterparts should read for insight and understanding of current social trends.  I plan to purchase a copy for more in-depth reading and note-taking.

The Price of Motherhood:  Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued by Ann Crittenden

If you didn’t get enough of social science reading with Generation Me, I would highly recommend this now slightly dated title by Pulitzer Prize nominee Ann Crittenden.  Her analysis and summary of the many issues faced by mothers (and now many fathers as well as men increasingly are involved with child care) is spot on.  She describes the difficult balancing act of mothers trying to manage work and childcare obligations, the financial cost of leaving the workforce temporarily, the obstacles faced by mothers chasing after child support, the way divorce impacts the financial stability of families with children, the lack of social support and social programs that reflect true family values compared to other industrialized nations, and the many misperceptions of all types of mothers.  If you aren’t incensed reading this book, you should be.  Though published in 2001, over a decade ago, little change has been effected in the areas Crittenden discusses in her book.  Ultimately, Crittenden believes that if we don’t value mothers and our human capital, the cost is great.  And I happen to agree.  Read it yourself and then read it again; I plan to.

Montessori Learning: A Parent’s Guide to Purposeful Play From Two to Six by Lesley Britton

Lesley Britton is a well-known UK expert on Montessori learning.  In this book, she describes many activities and Montessori concepts that parents can use at home.  While the book is certainly very dated (check out the lace collars worn by the kids in the pictures?!), some of the activities are great and can be easily tweaked or adapted if you don’t have  all of the materials Britton shows.  I like the way Britton encourages practical living skills; this is something that I strongly encourage with my own daughter, V, who at 2 and a half can get her own cereal from the cupboard, pour it into a bowl, select her clothes and dress herself, put on her shoes, and help with age appropriate housework.  V is eager to do everything herself, and I think Montessori learning embraces rather than fights the interest children have to learn more. I also like how the book gives a breakdown of ages for each activity.  Some of the activities I can flat out say would bore my two year old, but many of the sensory activities, nature activities, and language learning, I plan to give a try.

The Hand That Trembles  by Kjell Eriksson

To lighten up this non-fiction heavy reading list, I enjoyed this murder mystery by Swedish author Kjell Eriksson.  The story centers around Sven-Arne Persson, a Swedish politician who disappeared years before Detective Ann Lindell investigates the discovery of a female foot.  The stories are told in parallel fashion until you finally understand the character’s connection in the end.  It’s not as obvious as you might first imagine, and I enjoyed the read.


Currently Reading:


Alphabet Art by Judy Press

This book leads you through children’s art projects that correspond with each letter of the alphabet.  What I like about them is that they are relatively simple and mostly use easily obtainable items.  However, some of the craft themes are somewhat repetitive (heavy use of paper plates and paper towel rolls to make creatures and animals).  Still, I think that children would enjoy the projects and I plan to give them a try with my daughter as we work our way through the alphabet.

On My Nightstand:


I hope to find some time to read these titles before I have to return them to the library!

The Last Child in the Woods:  Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

The House of Silk:  A Sherlock Holmes Novel by Anthony Horowitz

Nightwood by Charles Frazier

What are you currently reading?


Expect to Not Know “What To Expect When You’re Expecting”

Our little pumpkin

Back when my husband M and I were expecting, we wrote up a “baby contract.”  The contract was akin to premarital counseling efforts, in which a couple attempts to discuss potential parenting issues and come to some sort of advance understanding about topics of concern.  M and I had waited a long time (approximately 8 years) to grow our family. We had grown accustomed to some of our habits and routines, and were trying to prepare ourselves for the many changes that come along with a new baby.

Our contract addressed many topics, among them: holidays, religion, discipline, division of labor, and alone/couple time.  Part of the agreement stipulated that M and I would try to sustain our mental and emotional well-being by taking time for ourselves with regularly scheduled alone time.  We started this practice sometime within the first year of V’s infancy, after I started really feeling the demands of postpartum life.  It was tricky to manage at first, as I was nursing on demand and V would not take a bottle, even of expressed breast milk, but it was important enough that we made it happen, at first intermittently, then more regularly as she grew older.  At age 2.5, we have managed to sustain the following practice for around a year and a half:  both M and I take one weeknight off a week.  It is only for a few hours, and we are almost always both home for V’s bedtime (with a very few exceptions), but this weekly time has been a haven of sorts.  We each can look forward to a time where we are guaranteed the space to do whatever we choose to restore our spirit and energy.

A week past my due date…not what I was expecting!

I have often allotted my weekly night off for writing time; it is one of the few times I have just the right combination of mental focus and uninterrupted time to compose my blog entries, newspaper articles, and other writing projects.  However, spending every waking free moment on writing began to make it feel like a job for me, so I have recently begun to shake things up by spending time on other neglected hobbies and interests in lieu of writing.

This week, I decided to take myself to a movie at the local cheap theatre.  I haven’t been to a movie by myself since 2007, and it is something I really enjoy doing.  I’m not sure exactly why, but it makes me feel connected to some part of myself to attend a movie independently.  It is time I get to spend choosing what I want, doing something I enjoy, and relying on myself to keep myself good company.

Alternating between Dark Shadows (I used to watch the series with my mom and sister as a kid) and What to Expect While You’re Expecting, I decided to go with the “chick flick,” something I knew M has about zero interest to see.  Settling into a 5:10 show, the lone person in the theatre, with my dollar bag of popcorn and a soda, I felt a great sense of relaxation and satisfaction with my choice for the evening.

The movie, as expected, was no great work of art.  I got pretty much what I was looking for out of the evening: mindless entertainment.  But I did have a few reflections about it that I thought I’d share for those considering a viewing. Please acknowledge the SPOILER ALERT here!

Greeting little V for the first time!

What To Expect While You’re Expecting couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a drama or a comedy and as a result, did not fully achieve either.  Parts of the drama succeeded:  Wendy’s (Elizabeth Banks) dashed expectations of having “pregnancy glow” as she experiences the many physical and emotional challenges of pregnancy; the experience of miscarriage and its toll on an unstable, fledgling relationship; the potential risks of delivery; some of the feelings associated with fertility struggles.  Though I do not have a personal understanding of the experience of adoption; aspects of some of the insensitivity and lack of social support and understanding that adoptive parents could potentially face seemed to resonate as honest depictions.

The comedy however, stopped just short of abysmal.  In contrast to some of the dramatic moments of the movie, the comedic moments seemed forced, clichéd, and unnatural.  For example, the dads’ group, which had appeared in the trailer, was another example of the “doofus dads” phenomenon, as my husband has aptly named this stereotypical depiction of fathers in the media.  Though there were few moments of the dads “screwing up” in their fatherly roles, their attitudes were largely portrayed as wistful, nostalgic yearnings for their long abandoned, pre-kid, manhood.  I found this to be particularly repugnant, as both my husband, and other involved dads I know, do not walk around spending their energies pining after a pre-kid persona.  Nor is their manhood somehow reduced by their role as parents. In fact, the stay-at-home dads in our playgroup pretty much express the same experiences as stay-at-home moms, only without some of the social support systems inherent to motherhood.  Dads are dealing with the same discipline issues, balance, sleep and feeding concerns, and philosophical questions about how to raise caring, thoughtful children.  They aren’t slinging beer cans from the backseat of the mini-van or functioning in the half-aware state shown by Vic (Chris Rock) towards his toddler aged son.  Though not a father, these portrayals irritated me.

A beautiful moment of NOT “a doofus dad” and his newborn daughter…

The ridiculous go-cart race between Ramsey (Dennis Quaid) and his son was another example of over-the-top, as was the scene where Vic’s son gets beamed with a beer can and tumbles down a set of concrete stairs completely unscathed.  And sneezing out a child? I can’t imagine any mother, even those with relatively uncomplicated labors, who have had that kind of delightfully easy experience.  Overall, the humor was slapstick that fell flat and contrasted too strongly with the emotional intensity of many of the other scenes.  More subtle and less stereotypical attempts may have made the film hold together a bit better.

Still, as my expectations were not fixed or high, I was entertained, and found moments that I could identify with in many of the characters’ experiences.  And I think many parents can relate to the transcending message of the film, that you can’t ever fully anticipate the experience of pregnancy and parenthood until you are living through them.

First family photo

While our “kid contract” helped M and I start discussions and have a tentative plan for dealing with some hot button parenting issues, we could never have imagined the joys, the challenges, and most of all, the love that accompanies the arrival of a child and parenthood in general.  The most we can all do, after all, is to make the best choices for our children as we go, to seek out the support of friends and family to help us over the rough patches, and to love our little ones with all our hearts.  Parenting will always challenge our expectations, and it’s up to us to adapt and open ourselves up to the reality that no movie, however intense or humorous can adequately capture.

Mama and V holding hands; they were SO tiny! I love baby hands!

Author’s Note:  Hilariously, I was joined in the theatre right at the end of the movie, smack during the series of labor scenes, by a small, approximately eight year old boy.  After several minutes had passed, with no parent yet in sight, I asked him if he was sure he was in the right spot.  He didn’t answer.  I feared he might be in shock. As the credits rolled, his mother walked in with refreshments for the next viewing of What to Expect.  I can’t imagine taking my elementary aged son or daughter to see this movie, but I’m sure it was enlightening for him!


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