Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dear Brain

Dear Brain,

It has come to our attention that you have been trying to do it all. I understand that in the last few days you have:
·         Minded your own children plus your friends’ children; prepared home-cooked meals; prepared a tax return; had a series of intensive interviews; cleaned your house; did the shopping; spent countless “5 minutes breaks” using social media; wrote several articles and are now in the process of writing this blog post.
·         Stayed-up late to write or watch inane television shows and woken up early to mind children and work. 
There's a body attached to that, you know
photo by Dream Designs
·        Done all the laundry yourself due to some “control issues” you’re still working-through.
We would like to advise you of the following:
-          The body needs, ideally, about 8 hours sleep per night. In your case, I suggest a minimum of 7. Getting 5 won’t cut it. If you continue to give us only 5 hours of sleep per night, we are going to enforce a work-to-rule, whereby we will stop supplying the brain with oxygen ‘round about 3 pm. This will result in some unfortunate decision making on your part in the late afternoon and early evening.
-          We need more exercise. Newsflash: the occasional stroll around the mall is not a cardio workout. Your metabolism wants to inform you that you’re not 25 anymore, you know. You may have noticed that your size 6 jeans have languished on the top shelf of the wardrobe for a good while. It’s ‘cause they don’t fit, isn’t it? Move your fat ass.
-          Your stomach and intestines would also like to advise you that if you cannot provide them with 3 balanced meals a day, they will not provide you with the fuel you need to reason with a 5 year-old child. He will win every time.

Be informed that this is our last letter of this nature. If you do not follow our warning signs, we will have to take the following actions:

 -         Add 10 (more) pounds to your ass
-          Make you feel exhausted
-          Reduce your vocabulary
-          Make you crankier than usual
-          Cause zits to break out all over your face
-          Etc.

We sincerely hope you heed our warnings. If not, see you in that we mean the emergency room of the local hospital.

Yours sincerely,

The Body

Monday, September 5, 2011

Costumes for the Sewing Impaired

In a rare bout of spring cleaning that I finally undertook in September, I came across a hedgehog costume that I’d forgotten about. How could I have forgotten about it? When I was informed via note from the teacher last year that I’d have to make or buy a hedgehog outfit for my five year old to wear in the spring play, I was like: what? Did you say MAKE? I can’t MAKE anything except for dinner. Oh, and once the boys and I took an empty, plastic milk container, put two dots on the lid for a nose, pasted pink paper like ears on the front and a curly bit at the back for a tail. We called it a pig. Other than that, I can’t MAKE anything.
Spiderman Saves the Donkey

So, at the time of the spring hedgehog I had to enlist the help of buddy Sarah (of Fairy Face Designs fame). She doesn’t really do costumes, but, she saw the desperate state I was in and using something called a SEWING MACHINE (I’d heard of them but never actually seen one up close) she put a hedgehog costume together. I’d bought all the material and face paint at great expense, Sarah put in the effort, and the thing was worn for three hours. Six if you count dress rehearsal.

The new school year has started and I dread the next spring play like some people dread a visit to the dentist. The hedgehog outfit was a minor feat of engineering, what with stuffing his back and figuring out how to make the quills stand on end without puncturing my child’s skin. What’s the play going to be this year? Noah’s Ark and Zach is the porcupine?

I am a little relieved by the discovery lately of a place called Mainly, they sell costumes. They have women’s costumes, men’s costumes and children’s costumes. They also have party favours and such. It’s the children’s costumes I’m really interested in, though.  I want to send a note to the teacher and tell her she can only cast children as animals appearing on this or similar sites. So, that would mean: tigers, bunnies, donkeys, puppies, kittens, lions, monkey...

Maybe I could write an original script featuring only characters based on costumes I can purchase!
Note to self: Spiderman saves donkey from the evil clutches of a fairy princess.
Steve Jobs
from wikipedia

I could consider buying my own sewing machine and learning to use it....NAH.

Oh my gosh: I just remembered Halloween. Zach always wants to be a something complicated that can’t be purchased. Good on him and hoorah for independent thinking, but: I HAVE NO CRAFTY SKILLS, KID. I will try and talk him into a simple costume this year, like: Ghost in white sheet; or Ghandi; or Steve Jobs.

And maybe they’ll just do Waiting for Godot this spring and my husband’s old trench coat can be the costume. 

Probably not.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

So Long Summer!

There are 10008 more minutes left of summer vacation. On Tuesday, August 30th, my almost 6 year old will go back to school to start his second year in primary school, called Senior Infants here in Ireland, and my 3 1/2 year old will go to pre-school 5 mornings a week. To say that I am looking forward to next Tuesday would be an understatement.  As of then, I will officially be joining the world of mothers with free time – also known as having kids in school.

Look! No Kids!
photo by Andy Newson
Over the last six years, I’ve looked with envy on mothers who have the mornings to themselves. I’ve had either one or two children in my care all the time and I’ve wondered about women with school age children. What are they doing with those few hours every morning? They must be in heaven. Are they getting together and having mother parties and not inviting me? Is champagne served? Do they party on down from nine to eleven am and then sober up enough in time to collect the kids at 1:30?

Well move over, Sally Homemaker, ‘cause I’m about to join the party!

I know moms aren’t really doing drinking in the morning (most of ‘em, anyway), but it will feel like an absolute party to me to have a few hours to myself per day. I’ll clean th windows and oven. And I’ll exercise. I was once driving out of the grocery store with my 3 year old, and I saw one of the mothers from my boy’s school out having a jog with another mom. A jog! As of next week I can go for a jog if I want to - ALONE. I am going to look HOT and my house will be CLEAN within a few short weeks.  I am so psyched.

I look after my boys from about 5:45 am, when the older boy wakes up, until sometimes 9 pm at night, when the little guy is finally wrestled into bed. Hubby does his bit, but still, I’m the go-to gal. I’m their main comfort, the person who knows them intimately, the one who they usually run to when they have a problem. I love them like they are a part of my body, like they are in fact inside me and are my own soul. And I can’t wait to share them with their teacher. Enjoy!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Review of Your Child's Writing Life by Literacy Expert Pam Allyn

Your Child's Writing Life: How to Inspire Confidence, Creativity, and Skill at Every AgeA review of Pam Allyn’s latest book “YOUR CHILD’S WRITING LIFE: How to Inspire Your Child’s Confidence, Creativity, and Skill at Every Age” published as a Paperback Original by Avery and available from August 2011. It retails at about $11.00.

This is my second review of a Pam Allyn book, the last one was on Pam Allyn’s Best Books for Boys. Pam has the ability to synthesise and present the latest research on literacy, teaching and our children in an captivating manner. And the woman is prolific. Best Books for Boys came out earlier this year, and now in August, we already have a second effort from her.

While Best Books for Boys was aimed more at the classroom teacher rather than the parent, Your Child’s Writing Life is aimed at parents – though teachers will gain from reading its pages.

If you’re a writer, like me, you know that good readers make good writers. What Pam drives home in this book is that good writers in turn make good readers. There is a positive feedback cycle between these activities. Readers make writers, and writers make readers. In her introduction, she outlines why writing matters:

1. Writing fosters a child’s emotional growth
2. Writing helps develop critical thinking skills
3. Writing leads to GUARANTEED improvement in academic achievement

And what really piqued my interest in this book is that “far earlier than the start of formal schooling, your child can begin to have a writing life...the human instinct to connect through language begins in a baby’s first smile.” Allyn wants to help us to help our children “write from the youngest age.”

Studies show that “the early childhood years, from birth through the age of eight, are the most important period for literacy development,” Allyn explains. The book is filled with both wisdom and with practical tips from Pam Allyn for mothers of pre-schoolers on how to nurture their children’s writing life. Her wisdom includes concepts such as “be a dedicated listener to your child and what she has to say;” and “believe that he has something worth saying.” This sounds simple, but how often do you ignore what your child is saying to check an email or read a message on your phone? I’m guilty of it.  On the practical side, Pam includes discussions on children’s developmental progression so that you can check to see if your child is off track, and get the help you need if she is.

Pam Agreed again to a short Q&A with me, and I’m so pleased to be able to include our exchange here:

1. Why did you write this book?

I wrote this book because the two things i love most in the world are children and stories. And i don't think children get enough credit for two things: how much they naturally love to write from a very young age, and how many stories they have inside them that will compel them to really want to write forever.
2. Who is the target audience?
The target audience is parents and all caregivers, but i hope teachers will read it too. And i've already had people tell me they love it even if they don't have children in the home! That it's inspiring them to want to write too!
3. Is it ever too late, as a student, to start learning to write analytically?
It's never too late! But it requires mentors, both in terms of people who write well and also in terms of texts that are knockouts. Students need to see examples of what we mean by great writing.
4. Case Study: My Older boy is 5 1/2. He's only just starting to write his name and such. He can read a small bit. What are a few simple things I can do to encourage him over the summer?
Go with him to the store and purchase a writers notebook. It can be something as simple as a composition book. Then bring it home and decorate it together, with pictures of things he loves and is passionate about. These become springboards for his writing life. Save even ten minutes a day for writing together. You should have a notebook too. Tell each other stories, then encourage him to write his down and you write yours. Don't criticize his spelling. Let him spell his own way. The main thing is to get him to learn to write in volume, and to enjoy the ritual of it every day. Make sure you allow time every day to read aloud to  him from a variety of books and stories and poems. Reading aloud helps our children fall in love with language.
5. What about mothers of 2, 3 and 4 year olds - kids who barely know their alphabets - what three things can mothers of children in this age groupd do to encourage "a writing life"?
Great question! Three things:
1. Make sure to allow lots of time for play. Play is the base for all storytelling and for the child building her capacity for narrative.
2. Read aloud at least two to three times a day. It is just essential, like fruits and vegetables for the growing mind. Good delicious ones!
3. Make sure to have all kinds of paper and writing materials available and handy for your young child. Create a writing corner in the kitchen or wherever you are as a family a lot. Provide lots of fun, safe tools for writing, scribbling, drawing. Your child will start feeling like a writer immediately!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Drowning in Baby Accessories

I'm Drowning in Crap - and although I am potty training a certain 3 year old at the moment, the crap I’m talking about isn’t the poo kind. I’m referring to all the baby and toddler accessories my husband and I (more I than my husband, to be honest) purchased in the last several years. It’s everywhere, and most of it is unused. Or, it was lightly used. Or, it has been used, but not for the purpose to which it was intended. I don’t mince words: I’m drowning in crap.

Do I need this? photo by Tratong
Where do I begin with this stuff? Uh...let’s start with the high chair. It was quite useful in its day, but has since become a climbing frame – dangerous and annoying and loved by the potty training three year-old. I’ve put it up for sale on a website (for cheap – it’s an Italian mamas & papas jobbie, cost me almost two hundred and all I want is 40 - I know, don’t berate me about the cost, times were better for us all then, weren’t they?).

Then there’s the booster seat. At least the high chair has been used many times. The booster seat was used a grand total of twice in 6 years. The high chair pulls up to the table, you see, and by the time they’re ready to get out of it, they don’t want to be strapped into something else. They just want to sit at the table. Right, that was a waste of 30 bucks, or whatever it was.

And the walker. Turns out they learn to walk even if they don’t have a rolling toy with flashing lights. They hang on to furniture, the walls, your legs, a tree – in short, anything. Now, the baby walker takes up space in the kitchen or utility room. Occasionally, one of the boys finds it and races it back and forth downstairs. It’s very annoying. It must go.

What’s next? Oh yes: The travel bottle system. Such a stupid idea, I can’t believe I opened my wallet for it. I bought it for the occasional long trips we take to see the grandparents or make other visits. When they’re little babies, they feed often. Even when they’re toddlers they like to have drinks at regular intervals. I bought this device with a straw system that helps the baby drink the bottle while on the go. I figured I could pump and put the breast milk in there, and later juice. I could never figure it out, so I never used it. I just gave up and stopped to breast feed or, later, bottle feed or use a sippy cup. So the trip was longer than usual – fine. That thing is now clogging up my shelves.

One great thing I really always loved using was the travel bottle / food warmer. It’s like a warm insulated pad you plug into the cigarette lighter, then wrap around a bottle of milk or small tub of food. You can drive along and in ten minutes the good is warm. I LOVED that thing. I used it often.

Of course I’ve looked everywhere and I have no idea where it is.

What’s clogging up your house?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Chef jeff “dinneRevolution” Giveaway

I’ve been blogging in this space for almost a year, and I thought I’d run my first giveaway as a fun way to say thanks for reading. I’m giving away an E-copy of Chef Jeff’s “dinneRevolution.” It’s a family-friendly cookbook that contains “Healthy and Modern recipes, made simply with 10 ingredients or less in under 30 minutes.”

In the words of Cheff Jeff, a US chef and author with an interesting and diverse cooking background: “I realize that in today’s busy lifestyle people simply don’t have the time or desire to spend all day in the kitchen. My hope is that these recipes bring more time and joy back to your life because only when we prepare our meals do we truly know what we are putting in our bodies.”

I’s that last sentiment, “when we prepare our meals do we truly know what we are putting in our bodies” that I’m glad he expressed. That’s my feeling exactly. I try to prepare all my children’s meals myself so that I know what they’re getting. I prepare ahead in bulk and freeze in portions so I have quick meals to hand. The recipes in this book are based on popular family favourites, some of which will hopefully appeal to you and your kids. Examples of some of the ones that appeal to my family are:

Chicken and chickpea soup
Balsamic Glazed Salmon
Crabcakes with mango
Oven baked fish sticks
Spaghetti with Shrimp and snow peas
Crispy Black bean burritos
Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

  1. Post a Comment below telling me you did the above.
           Get an extra entry by liking my facebook page AND following me on Twitter

          Get two extra entries by also adding me to a circle on Google+
I will generate a random winner in one week, on July 29th!

Looking forward to hearing from you.
-          Lory
Disclosure: I received a free copy of DinneRevolution

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What Motherhood has Taught me about Management

I wrote about the Mommy Brain in a previous post as well as in a 17 June Irish Examiner newspaper article titled “Mum Knows Best.” As per National Institutes of Mental Health neuroscientist Dr. Pilyoung Kim, women’s grey matter actually GROWS after childbirth. We become smarter. Raise your mugs of coffee and say a toast, mommies, because your muddled brain is attributable to exhaustion and not to some post-partum depletion of your faculties. Hormones actually work in your favour.

Manage that Baby! photo by CapemayL
I’m positive this whole motherhood thing has improved not only my brain but my managerial skills as well.  And I’m not the only one who thinks so, either. Read this article by Liza Kent in the May 2003 publication “Women in Business.” In it, Kent says “the lessons a mother learns are unique, and I have found that mothers often are surprised at what they already know about being an effective manager, based on the everyday experiences in their homes.” And, yes, our articles have the same title. It’s a coincidence (thought of mine before I saw hers and I’m keeping it. It sums my main idea up perfectly).

Women, tell me: aren’t you better at managing after kids? One of the brain areas which Dr. Kim discovered improve after childbirth is a part that deals with planning and judgement - key components of management. I used to hear about people who could see one step ahead; about tennis players who were good because they knew the next step their opponent was going to take; about people who could manage staff very well because they understood human behaviour; and, most importantly, about people who could see the consequences of their own behaviour – and that of others. I’m now one of those people.

I know EXACTLY what my three and five year olds are going to do next. I have an intimate understanding of their behaviour and understand exactly what the consequences of every interaction will be. I know that if I find a promotional packet of stickers in with the cheese stick bag and I give it to one of them, there will be war in the living room. So, I wait until we buy another bag of cheese sticks and get a second promotional packet of stickers. I don’t distribute any stickers until that time. This is a simple example, but it’s all about understanding human psychology and behaviour in a way that I didn’t before.

Knowing consequences makes you a better planner and organiser. You see what’s coming, and prepare. You don’t leave the house without baby wipes and a change of pants for your kids, do you? Of course not, because if you did it would ensure someone wets themselves and has to spend the rest of the afternoon wearing nothing but an old towel you found in the back of the car.

A great deal of this understanding you develop as a mother seems to come from paying attention to the needs of others and being a good listener - key management skills. But understanding what someone is articulating – his wants – doesn’t mean you’re going to give it to him. Think of how many times you have to say no to your child in a day. It’s healthy. They can’t have every toy they see or every sweet they want. Saying no and meaning it, being honest, is also a good skill for a manager. You have to know where to draw the line.

Some of this improvement in my managerial skills probably comes with age (don’t ask mine, it’s not polite); or maybe it comes with motherhood. More likely it’s a combination of the two. In either case: I win! Oh, by the way, since the improvement in brains is partly due to hormones and partly due to interaction with the new baby, scientists postulate that adoptive parents and fathers also experience some brain growth due to interaction with new infants and the challenges presented, even though they don’t get a dose of post-partum or breastfeeding hormones. Dads: as long as you interact loads with your kids, your management ability can improve, too.

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