Category Archives: Motherhood

Going to the Zoo Through Play and Books

Our play zoo!

My little gal V has a stuffed animal collection that I’ve worked to limit since she joined our family a little over two years ago.  I have put out the word to curtail gift giving of fluffy friends since year one.  Still, in addition to the 10 or so that accompany her to bed every night, we have a pet net (remember these from the 80’s…I saved mine) and a large Rubbermaid bin full of the little friends.

So it came to me one day that we had a full-on menagerie living in our house and we might introduce that element into some pretend play.  In a bored moment, V and I pulled out all the stuffed friends and decided to make a zoo.

We grouped the animals into area by type (birds, bugs, jungle animals, farm animals, dogs, elephants, etc.).  It came to me that this activity actually is a great one for helping kids sort and categorize objects by similarities or differences (kind of like the Sesame Street activity:  “One of these things is not like the other; one of these things doesn’t belong.  Can you guess which thing is not like the other before I finish this song…”).

Sitting amidst our pretend zoo, we decided to read some zoo related stories which I’ve listed for you below.  I know this is a simple activity, but it’s something to take up some time on a rainy fall day when you are at a loss for what might keep your toddler/preschooler occupied.

From Head to Toe by Eric Carle:  This book involves physical motion that is sure to get your little one moving and mimicking animal actions.

123 to the Zoo by Eric Carle:  This is a wordless counting book; your little ones can practice their animal identification and counting skills as they look at the colorful illustrations.

Zoo Parade by Harriet Ziefert and Simms Taback:  This rhythmic story has been a favorite in our house for a while.  We used to use animal puppets while reading it aloud.  The rhymes and sounds of the story will have you chanting along…”What kind of walking will you do today?”  V loves this one and so do I; I think I have much of it committed to memory!

And to bring a little fun sing-a-long into your play, remember you can always sing “Mama’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow” with Raffi!

Enjoy your zoo play and make good use of the mountain of stuffed animals in your home!


Learning and Loving to Read

One of the great gifts my mother gave me is a voracious love of reading.  She read aloud to me from an early age, took me to libraries and book sales, and always made sure I had plenty of reading material available to me.  As adults, she and I swap books and recommendations; whenever I return to my home state to visit, I nearly always come home with one or more books.

It was no surprise to anyone when I married a man with a love of books that rivals my own.  Anyone who has moved us during one of our 12+ moves can attest to the extensiveness of our personal library.  Currently, we have reduced our load down to five overstuffed bookshelves, some boxes in closets and the basement, and several baskets full of books throughout our house.  Books are in every room…usually even in the laundry room as I stack piles to be returned to the library.

V “reading” her books at 11 months old.

As the child of two avid readers, our daughter V was exposed to books starting in the womb, as her parents read aloud “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” groaning at the inept literary references and cackling at the goofy zombie antics.  We now find it funny that at age two she selects this particular book off of our bedroom shelf and carries it through the house, looking at pictures of “zomies.”  Though she will be formally introduced to Jane Austen before we let her read this book, I don’t think it is chance that she is drawn to this story.  She’s heard it before.

There are many reasons why I personally believe that reading is critical to life.  Reading introduces you to experiences, people, places that you might not otherwise encounter.  It can help develop a sense of understanding of difference and empathy for others.  It can facilitate critical thinking and open up the mind and heart.  For me, reading can comfort, motivate, empower, engage, explain, teach, and enrich my world.  There are many reasons to read and many ways to promote reading in your children’s lives as well.

Some of the ways we expose V to the written word are as follows:

-We have baskets of face out books around the house.  She has one basket of books that are currently seasonal/interesting to her by her bed.  Another basket near her bed is full of library books.  When it gets quiet, I know to look for her snuggled on her pillows flipping through stories.

-We started attending library programs at age 8 weeks old. She knows our children’s librarian by name and feels very comfortable in the local library space.

-We make a weekly library trip.  At the library, I select a combination of books that match her current learning interests.  If she’s all about bugs that week, I get every book I can find on bugs.  If she loves Mo Willems books, we stack a giant pile on the counter.

-We read books over and over again.  She picks from the selections available to her and we read them, sometimes ad nauseum.  She easily commits her favorites to memory and can recite them back to us while turning pages, proudly saying “I read it my big self!”

-We read to her during potty training; we have mini books in the diaper bag for waiting at restaurants and doctor’s offices; we bring books during car rides…even short ones.

-We have an entire bin of books on CD and tape next to our stereo system in the living room and play them throughout the day.  When she gets bored, instead of the TV, I offer her a recorded story when I am busy with housework.  She can play her books on tape by herself and we are teaching her how to gently handle the CDs so she can play those as well. (Note:  you can pick these up cheaply at garage sales, online or from library or community book sales.)

-We have a comfortable reading nook near her books on tape and sensory bins.  There are pillows and a blanket in her nook.  A box near her nook includes books that tie in with the themed sensory bins stacked beside it.  For example:  we have books on dinosaurs in the box and a dinosaur sensory bin that she can explore while in her nook. I rotate titles in the sensory bin reading box.

-I pull out seasonal titles to read as the year progresses.  For example: as Halloween approaches, I go through all our shelves and pull related titles to put in spots where V tends to sit and read.  If they are handy, she’ll choose them.  This keeps our selection fresh and helps with learning about seasons, holidays, and related thematic activities.

-We tie in art projects, museum trips, nature walks and projects, and science projects with the books we are reading.

-We connect her TV viewing with reading.  We read books about familiar characters she encounters on the DVDs we watch with her:  Curious George, Dora the Explorer, Diego, Little Einsteins, Winnie the Pooh, some Disney characters.  When she is interested in a topic from a show like Sid the Science Kid, we find books about the topic (example: we found books on weather and posted a weather chart).  When we read about a topic like bugs, we find non-fiction kid oriented documentaries at the library for her to view (like MicroCosmos or Stargazer). We limit her TV viewing.

-We read every night at bedtime.  Sometimes we read books that are well above her age level, like the Magic Tree House series.  She loves the one about knights and we just finished the one about the ice age and sabertooth tigers.  This helps her build her vocabulary and also stretches her ability to attend to a book with limited pictures.  She fell asleep more than once to a DK early reader about knights; this was a topic that fascinated her for a while.

-We have a busy bag basket filled with literacy activities that she can select as part of self-directed play.  There is a wipe board and dry erase markers for printing letters (she can manage some letters at 2 years of age); there are textured flashcards and magnetic letter boards for her to touch and explore.  We do not drill her on letters or words but answer questions or play with her at her request.  Based on the reading I have done on the topic, I do not recommend pressuring toddlers and preschoolers with flashcards and workbook literacy activities.

-We have a chalkboard where we select a letter of the alphabet and write down all the words we can think of that begin with the chosen letter.  V loves to brainstorm the words with us now that she is older and it is great to see how her vocabulary is developing.

-V also accompanies her writer parents to poetry and fiction readings where she sees us read our written work; I hope this will make a big impression on her and empower her to explore her own stories as she matures.

There are so many ways to help children explore and enjoy reading.  In our house, we like to keep it fun and interest-based so that V will crave more words and more literacy experiences.  While she may turn out to have different reading interests that her father and I, I hope that she will always feel comfortable with books and using books to further her life-long learning.

Here are some wonderful resources that I have recently read about promoting literacy in children.  I hope you take the time to check out one or all of them.  Give the Read Aloud Handbook as a gift to teachers or principals or to a new parent.  There is no telling what can happen when you give the gift of reading to a person in your life.

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

Raising Bookworms:  Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment by Emma Walton Hamilton

Raising a Reader:  A Mother’s Tale of Desperation and Delight by Jennie Nash


The Day I Set Myself on Fire and Other Kitchen Fire Stories

The cutie pie that prompted the flour mess which kept me cleaning in the kitchen and not in another room while our stove fire started! Thank goodness for messes!

You know how they say things come in threes?  Well, this week I finally added a third kitchen fire to my list of accomplishments.

Yes, you heard me right.  I’ve started three kitchen fires in my “quasi” adult life.  And I’m not a professional cook.

I know that fire is a serious thing.  I was a Girl Scout and often assigned the job of “woodie” as a camper.  (Stop snickering, you dirty minded readers.  A woodie is someone who gathers fire wood, starts the fires, maintains the fire-water bucket complete with stick so small critters can escape, and most importantly, cleans the latrines…)

I also know that there are many people who have been victims of fires in their life and who have had their person or property damaged by fire.  My heart goes out to those folks, and I would never treat those types of situations lightly.  But humor in life helps assuage tragedy and so I share my own rather ridiculous fire related stories with thankfulness as a way to laugh at my perpetual mishaps.

The first fire-related incident took place over Thanksgiving many years ago.  I was about 16 or 17 at the time and was helping my mother set the table for dinner.  Reaching over a candle, with what I thought was enough clearance, I set an item down for the place setting, then wondered aloud, “What is that smell?  Is something (meaning food) burning?”

The response my parents gave me was not what I expected.  Out of what seemed like nowhere, they threw me on the ground and started beating at me.  Apparently, I was on fire.  Smelling the singed ends of my hair afterwards, I realized that the sleeves of my 80’s style polyester sweater had just grazed the candle, allowing flame to travel up my arm to the tips of my hair.  Remarkably, aside from my hair and my pride, there was no damage.  The sweater had some crazy chemical layer that had burned off; not a mark remained.  My family loves to recall this event, dredging it up when I set the table near an open flame or reminiscing fondly over turkey about the time I caught myself on fire.

It was probably about 12 years later, in a townhouse apartment that I shared with my husband, that I started my next kitchen fire.  Absentmindedly preparing a BLT dinner, I had wandered into our dining/living area when I heard a loud bang in the kitchen and ran in to see open flames on the stove.  I had set a dinner plate on a hot burner and it had heated and shattered, setting the bacon greased towel and bacon pieces that it contained aflame. I seem to remember my husband dealing with this particular incident as I reacted hysterically.  Amazingly, once I catch things afire in the kitchen, I mentally block the aftermath.

Not quite 5 years later, (though I am averaging one fire per decade of my life so far) this week, I completed the cursed trio of kitchen fires.  Having a productive morning of baking three batches of zucchini bread with my daughter, making homemade smoothies and lemonade, cutting up the week’s fruit produce for easy eating, doing multiple loads of dishes, and cleaning up my daughter V’s flour sensory play, I popped some boxed mac & cheese on the stovetop for lunch.

While the water boiled, I busily vacuumed the flour mess off of my daughter’s booster seat and argued with her over the use of the vacuum only to have my senses send me a warning message as I said “What’s that smell?”  I turned around to find the cardboard mac & cheese box tipped into the gas flame burner and burning at an alarmingly quick rate.  I gasped, grabbed the box, threw it in the sink to douse with water, then opened all the windows and turned on fans to dissipate the smoke.

V was all in a dither.  “What’s the problem Mommy!”  “What’s on fire?”  “Come here Mommy, I show you where the fire lives.”  (Note to self:  fire belongs in the fireplace.  Even a two year old knows that…stupid, STUPID Mommy!)  Apparently, “you light a fire, you have a little picnic, then you blow it all out.”  That’s what you are SUPPOSED to do with fire.

Lesson learned, V.

Evidently, I have a problem in the kitchen.  Or I am cursed.  Hopefully, with the culmination of my third fire experience, I’ll be a little more aware and a little less distracted in the kitchen.  But with each mishap, I have to admit the dreamy, crazy multitasking aspects of my nature haven’t much changed.  Perhaps my husband should kick me out of the kitchen as a potential hazard to people and property.  Here’s hoping.

I hope you enjoyed a laugh with me today, but seriously, if you don’t have a kitchen fire extinguisher on hand, and you plan to invite me over…you are taking your chances.  Get a fire extinguisher, check the batteries and operation of your smoke detectors, and stay alert while cooking.  I’ve learned these lessons firsthand and thankfully, I’m here to share them with you today!


Labor Pains and Stretchmarks

It helps to have support!

I’ve been thinking this week how internal growth and expecting a child share some similarities…

It is hard work and uncomfortable.

Facing things we want to change in our lives is a difficult process.  It requires endurance, stamina, sometimes intense discomfort, and often a whole lot of aching.

It causes some sleepless nights.

Sometimes you just have to get up, pop on a movie or immerse yourself in a book and give yourself a break from the process, so you can rest through the sleepless times.

We aren’t always sure what to expect.

Changing yourself can affect your relationships and impact your subsequent life choices.  Once you commit to the change, it is hard to predict what will happen, but chances are, it will be worth it!

It can be simultaneously anxiety provoking and exciting!

Internal growth can be freeing, can open our hearts and minds and bring greater joy and authenticity to our lives.  But it isn’t a painless process.  It is one that can create some anxiety, uncertainty, and confusion.  At the same time, feeling yourself move past some difficult stages, toward the future, can create a sense of empowerment and hopefulness. Allowing all those feelings to coexist during the process helps us move through those moments where we may want to turn back or stuff something down again.

You can have a new life.

We all have the power to make changes inside ourselves.  It isn’t always pretty and can be as scary as facing down childbirth, but in the end, it can be extremely rewarding.

I’m doing some intensive internal work right now and having been through this process of self-analysis, discovery, weeding, stretching, learning, and growing before, I know I won’t regret the effort.  Though each labor is different, and we can’t predict the outcome of stretching ourselves, growth is empowering and life giving.  It is what keeps us from stagnating inside and allows us to move past the internal barriers that seek to limit who we are.

So I’m going to face down my comfort zone, knowing that I’m in for some pain along the way.  Because even if the experience isn’t perfect, I know what I really would regret is shutting down inside.  I would regret missing out on the person I am meant to become.  Instead, I know I’m going to wear those stretchmarks with pride on the flip side.

Linking up with Shell’s


The Fall of Fort Thunderbird

The Next Generation…

I missed a call from my Dad this weekend.  I was putting my daughter down for her nap at the time and came out to hear a message from him.

“Hi Pam.  It’s Dad; I’m up North and doing something you’re not going to like.  I have to tear down the fort.  It’s getting old and I’m worried kids will climb on it and get hurt.”

It was sweet of him to leave me the message and he was right that I am sad about the demise of “Fort Thunderbird,” the scene of so many wonderful childhood memories.  But I know he’s right:  it’s time.

Certainly any parent can’t argue with the logic of removing warped and rotting boards that might beckon children to a bad fall from a tall, previously wonderful tower where you can gaze through the dense woods with binoculars, looking for deer, birds, or a rogue pirate sneaking up to ambush.

And every adult could understand that an empty theatre, with a stage visited only by ghosts of children performing plays about sailors, pirates, and wounded souls in need of laser surgery, is no longer operational.

But I know why he really left the message.  He’s seeing his children charge him a quarter for those performances, running around in the pirate hats, with swords he handcrafted from paint sticks, and secret treasure maps he drew in his own hand.  He’s hearing small feet come thundering down the path from the fort screaming about snakes.  He’s emptying buckets of rocks collected by small hands and left in the tower for safekeeping.  He’s remembering those precious days of freedom we all found together, away from work and the duties and obligations of home.  Summer vacations at the cabin where we all spent time in nature and in the company of each other were the best memories of my young life and I know they were some of his as well.

My Dad has gently reminded me that time is changing and we cannot hold onto the things of our past forever. We have to evolve and grow and open ourselves to new and equally wonderful journeys. My daughter, V, my little niece, A, and any subsequent additions to our family will not experience the joys my sisters and I got from the tower fort with real bark walls that my parents erected some 20+ years ago.  But they will still have a family who believes in the power of imagination and fantasy.  I know we’ll find new ways to pass on our dreams and experiences to the newest generation in our family. Though their feet will never climb the tower of Fort Thunderbird, nor grace the performance stage, and they will never set an old rope spool for tea while seated on driftwood seats inside it, together we will make our own magical childhood summer memories.

Thanks to my parents for gifting us with “Fort Thunderbird” (alternately known as “Thunderbird Theatre”) and for inspiring us to use our creativity through play in nature.


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