Seven Ways I’ve Made Reading to My Baby Even More Fun for the Both of Us

I am not an early childhood education expert, but these are some things I’ve done:

  1. Whenever a word comes up like nose or foot, touch that part of your anatomy of hers.
  2. For shorter books, have a basket of objects close by that are mentioned in the book.  I do believe my daughter has associated the 2-D Minnie Mouse with the 3-D, as Minnie is one of her favorite toys and she gets excited whenever I break out, “5-Minute Minnie Tales”.
  3. If a word comes up that reminds you of a song, sing it.  Incorporating a song within a story breaks up the cadence of your voice and helps keep their attention.
  4. To keep it interesting for you, you can make up little stories about the pictures.  She will enjoy it, too.  You can be as serious or as silly as you like.  Pointing to certain animals and making animal noises is great fun.
  5. Use different accents.  For instance, I always take on an English accent whenever I read a nursery rhyme set there; whenever I sing, “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”, I do my best Irish brogue.  Also, when coming across words like fast or slow, I say the words in fast or slow motion, respectively.
  6. Use objects or hand gestures to help tell the story.  I’ve been teaching myself baby sign language and it really holds my daughter’s attention when I incorporate signs into a song.  I never realized how dexterous a hearing-impaired person has to be.
  7. Let her turn the page.  It’s okay to abbreviate, or improvise a story.  I’ve always been a creative person, but a new side of my creativity has been tapped while doing this activity with my daughter.  Encourage interaction, and take her hand to point to things, to help build those associations.

Reading...

Seven Reasons Why Brownies Beat Cake (and even Cookies)

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  1. The frou-frou factor.  Give me a blondie brownie any day over a fancy schmancy slice of wedding cake.
  2. Frosting.  Brownies don’t need it.  I, for one, hate cake frosting.  The only exception is a very light smear of coconut pecan on German chocolate.  I never buy a cake from a grocery store, because I end up scraping all the icing off (which is more for décor anyway, and justification for charging an exorbitant amount).  Icing, almost always, overpowers the cake, and is almost always too sweet.  (Nuts also taste better in brownies than they do in cake.  They complement, rather than taste like someone’s baby teeth got baked into it.)
  3. Brownies are more satisfying.  They are denser (I never understood why someone would want to make “cakey” brownies).  One brownie=3 cupcakes (on a satisfaction level, according to Sarah’s Almanac).
  4. You can eat brownies with your fingers.  Cakes have to be in cupcake form to even accomplish this and then you’re stuck with the stupid wrapper.
  5. Brownies last longer (than cakes) and don’t tend to burn on the bottom (like cookies).  Cookies have a much smaller margin for error.
  6. You can cut away the edge of a brownie (unlike a cookie).  I get peevish looks when I’m checking out at Firehouse Subs, foraging for the sought-after center piece.
  7. Brownies are a simple melt-and-pour exercise.  Cookies take longer, because you have to scoop them out and sometimes even shape them.

~

Places that have the best brownies:  Firehouse Subs and Steak n’ Shake (just ask for the brownie by itself).  The brownies are pretty much the only thing Steak n’ Shake doesn’t mess up, and that’s because the brownies come in frozen and aren’t made there.

Cake’s sole redeeming value:  You can substitute unsweetened applesauce for the oil called for in a cake mix.  I never could figure out why my boxed brownie mixes weren’t turning out until I realized brownies must have oil (however, you can substitute canola or vegetable with coconut oil; just be sure to melt it first).

Submission for the Mary Ballard Poetry Chapbook Prize

So I am working (feverishly–after all, isn’t “genius” 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration?) on finishing up a collection of “medical poetry” for the aforementioned contest (I found it through a scholarship website, but I don’t think you have to be a student; it’s not a lot of prize money, but the entry is free).  The submission had to fit a theme, and since I had the most poetry written about medical anomalies, I went with it.

I’ll admit, I’m not much of a “theme” person–I like to just “write whatever” (as evidenced in this blog), but this was a real challenge and I love challenges (writing ones, that is).

The collection must be at least 20 pages, so this, I believe, would cover it.

Complexities of the Mind and Body

Table of Contents

The Last Dance (Huntington’s disease)
Petals in the Wind (Capgras delusion)
The Moon is Blue (depression; lobotomies; electro-shock treatment)
Raining Bullets on the Fourth of July (PTSD)
Ace in the Hole (compulsive gambling)
Jeremy Johnson (autism)
The Memory Thief (Alzheimer’s)
The Hells of St. Mary (multiple personality disorder)
The Daily Mirror (body dysmorphia)
The Annexation of Angela (chimeras)
Her Fearless Symmetry (OCD)
The Color of Happy (synesthesia)
Seven Beautiful Days with Genevieve (bi-polar disorder; suicide)
Chasing Summer (seasonal affective disorder)
Waiting for Huntington (self-explanatory; I did a lot of research on this disease, and there was enough material for a book of poetry)

The Parable of the Owl and the Wheel

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An owl and a wheel were traveling quietly by night,
minding their own business,
when along came a jay,
out of the midnight blue,
tsk-tsk-tsking them for still living in their mother’s basement.

The jay, with a loud yawn, said,
“Don’t you know the early bird gets the worm
and the squeaky wheel gets the grease?”

And the owl,
with a ruffle of his feathers,
replied,
“Will you, please, Mr. Jay,
go away,
and do not come back another day?”

“I’m either right or I’m right,” the jay said
with a flip of his flapper,
laughing and flying away.

“Rather handsome fellow,” the wheel finally spoke,
and the owl,
wise as the wheel was round,
kept thinking about what the Jay had said,
and made a somewhat indecent proposal.

“Why not, Wheel, my well-spokin friend,
let’s give it a try.
It can’t be any worse than green eggs and ham.
I’ll be early, and you be squeaky.”

“But I’m an introvert,” the wheel said,
and the owl went on to say,
“Try it for a day and I daresay,
a worm sounds good right now.”

“If you say so,” said the wheel,
and so they both decided they would try out
how the other halves lived.

The next morning,
after having sat up all night,
the wheel having sat out in the rain to get rusty,
the owl taking the red-eye,
leaving him red-eyed,
were ready to roll and eat.

The wheel was cranky,
causing a little Derrick spilled fish oil on him,
making him slippery,
leaving him smelling a bit kippery.

The owl, feeling less than pert,
managed to catch a worm,
only to spit it out,
for it tasted like dirt.

And from then on,
the owl and the wheel went back to being their best selves,
their lives all the sweeter for knowing the difference.

Let’s Have a Truce from the Mommy Wars: A Bit of Memoir

The other day, a friend posted a blog by someone who was bothered by “crafty moms”.  Once in awhile, I’ll read a post that stays with me, positive or negative.  This was the latter.  It wasn’t so much the message (which I think was to make not-so-crafty moms feel better about themselves), but the mean-spirited tone in which it was written.

There seems to be a cultural shift in our country to call bad things good and good things bad.  I’m not saying being an uncrafty mom is a bad thing (I don’t consider myself a terribly crafty person—I like simple, relatively cheap projects, due to time and money constraints), but having a crafty mom is just a bonus.  Different people have different talents, and they pass those interests on to their children.  Some not-so-crafty moms prefer to do other things with their kids (can’t go wrong with any activity away from a screen), and that is totally fine.  Right now, one of my focuses is fostering in my daughter a love for books.

Artwork I made for my daughter's nursery.

Artwork I made for my daughter’s nursery.

Personalized alphabet book I made for Hannah through Shutterfly.

Personalized alphabet book I made for Hannah through Shutterfly.

A glimpse inside the ABC book.  For C, I used a picture of my parents' beautiful cat, Half-Face.  For D, I used my daughter's 25 inch Raggedy Ann doll, and also, my parents' dog Ray.

A glimpse inside the ABC book. For C, I used a picture of my parents’ beautiful cat, Half-Face. For D, I used my daughter’s 25 inch Raggedy Ann doll, and also, my parents’ dog Ray.

Being crafty has never been considered part of good mommyhood.  Spending time with them is.  However, there are blogs out there that will overwhelm you, saying things like, “Being a mom is the hardest job in the world”.  It really isn’t.  It’s the most important job, but not that hard (even though it does have some stressful moments, like when I’m tearing the house upside-down looking for a paccie while the baby is crying, etc.).  You don’t have to go to school for forever and you do get quite a bit of down time (even though you’re always on call).  The hardest thing for me has been to adjust to not being able to pick myself up and go somewhere alone, unless my husband is home, or I have a baby-sitter.  Of course, there are those times I’m dealing with a migraine, and the last thing I want to do is do anything but watch reruns.

(Now ask me again if motherhood is hard in fourteen years.)

Good moms can drive themselves crazy trying to “have it all” by doing it all.  There are memes about “Messy House, Happy Kids” (can’t you have both?; does this also mean, “Clean House, Unhappy Kids”?) and “Real Women Have Curves” (so women who don’t have curves are artificial?).  It seems like if a woman is lacking in one area, instead of accepting themselves, they have to diminish the other side to make them feel better.  Let’s just say that everyone has a talent, and generally, that talent will be where one’s interests lie.  Houses get messy, and that’s fine (that’s what clean-up is for).  Messy does not equal dirty.  However, how much happier I would’ve been if my mom had kept a cleaner and/or neater house so I wouldn’t be embarrassed to bring friends over.  That said, my mom is a veteran of Operation Desert Storm.  That I was, and am, pretty proud of.  She was and is a good mom despite not being a cook (only thing she knows how to make, or will make, is goulash) or a housekeeper.  Because I do remember how it felt to have a not-so-nice house (bed sheets rarely matched the pillowcases; men just don’t care as much about those things), I am more like my grandmothers, one of whom was a full-time SAHM.  See, I don’t have a messy house because I have a husband who helps and because I’m lazy.  I don’t like to spend hours cleaning or picking up, so I just do a little bit here and there all day long.  Sometimes I’m tired, especially if I’ve just worked five hours waiting tables while the A/C was out, and that’s fine.  It can hold.  If I don’t feel like washing dishes, I’ll let them soak overnight.

My dad, who was a SAHD, burned everything (just the smell of medium rare meat makes me want to throw up), but yet I’ve always been pretty healthy.  I don’t think you have to be a great cook to be a great parent, and you don’t have to have a perfect house.  My dad was notorious for putting my dress on backwards or giving me Vienna sausages and Almond Joys for lunch.

I’m a woman with curves (some not all in the right places), but I don’t put down those who work out harder or eat better than I do and have “earned their physique”.  If I ever get to the point where I’ve had my children and managed to get flat abs, I’m not going to post a picture of my stomach with a caption emblazoned over it that says, “Three Kids, No Excuses”.  A Facebook friend of mine did that, and I won’t call it “fat-shaming” (it isn’t), but it wasn’t an effective message.  Now later on, when my FB friend posted a picture of a woman in a bikini who had a belly (but was a good size everywhere else), and then a photo of her three weeks later with flat abs, that inspired me, because this woman gained weight like I did (all in the middle).  I’d always heard that you have to lose everywhere else first, but now I know that is not necessarily true in all cases.

This all ties into the truth that we all have different strengths and weaknesses.  I’m not a great cook because I don’t like to cook (that much).  I’m a much better baker, which is funny, considering cooking is an art (I’m a creative person) and baking is a science (I may be studying science, but it’s an acquired skill for me).

I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t much of a housekeeper till I had my own house; I didn’t change my habits because I compared myself to others, I just wanted to better myself (and yes, please my husband, as he tries to please me).  However, I’m still the kind of person who uses clean dishes out of the dishwasher rather than putting them up, or leaves clean clothes in the dryer till it’s time to use them.  There is a pile of clean clothes on the loveseat I will get to…eventually (usually when I want to sprawl over it like a cat with a good book).

As for the child rearing thing, I’m better at reading and singing and playing simple, silly games than coming up with more elaborate activities.  My parents never really did crafts with me (except for a diorama of the Revolutionary War I had to do for school, which I got a C+ on), but they allowed me all the paper and crayons I wanted.  I wiled away the hours creating snowflakes as unique as the real ones, I stapled together sheets of construction paper and wrote books about the future, I created different backdrops for my Barbies, or “scenes”, as I called them.  They bought me all the books I wanted, they let me play in the park, they let me make forts out of sheets and all the living room furniture. In short, they allowed me to foster my creativity, and I do believe that’s a part of why I am so creative today.

My parents allowed, encouraged, supported, and taught me both by word and example how to become a compassionate, worthwhile human being.  They didn’t teach me that shyness was bad—it was just a character trait—but they did teach me to stand up for myself when necessary.  They taught me not to beat my own drum; I don’t feel comfortable doing that today, but in this modern era, it’s sort of expected.  I know I don’t come across as confident as I would like in interviews.  I like my work or work ethic to speak for itself.  There is a quiet dignity in doing that.  I don’t post a photo or story online and say how great it is, and I accept praise with humility (though inside, I’m secretly doing backflips).

Instead of begrudging those who have talents I don’t possess, I’ve appreciated all the lovely handmade gifts people made for my daughter before she was born.  I’ve always thought it would be nice to be able to make something so lovely, but if the desire isn’t there, why care so much?  (I once tried to learn how to crochet at my husband’s church with their Prayer Shawl ministry and by the end, I had a headache).  Everyone has a talent—mine is capturing things, whether it’s moments, images, stories, etc.  Mine isn’t necessarily in the kitchen, and I’m about the unhandiest person you could imagine.  I walk into a Lowe’s and I am totally flummoxed.  It also took me awhile to learn how to work the Xbox controller.

So the gist is this:  Let’s not put down other moms for being crafty or not being crafty.  As a friend of mine once said about eating/issues with food, “Just keep your eyes on your own plate.”

I’d had no idea until I read this particular blog post (the one that sparked this one) that there was a new ailment called “Pinterest Stress”.  I just know I waste too much time on it.  Not so much a time or money issue, more like an energy and patience issue.  I’d rather write anyway, but crafts are great for getting away from the screen.

So the next time, if a mother hands you something cute and craftsy, maybe the appropriate reaction is just to thank them and let it bring a smile to your face.  When a friend makes me something, I proudly show it off, whether it’s a poem or a picture (I like to say I have talented friends).

Framed baby shower announcement my friend made for me, complete with elephant (general theme of my daughter's nursery) and Victorian pram.

Framed baby shower announcement my friend made for me, complete with elephant (general theme of my daughter’s nursery) and Victorian pram.

Crocheted doll a friend of mine made for Hannah.

Crocheted doll a friend of mine made for Hannah.

I had one friend in particular whom I wrote a nursery rhyme for after she had her last child, and I can’t say how glad it made me when a friend of hers told me how she showed it to everyone in church and then her mother telling me it was one of the best things she ever got.  That, that right there, is one of the reasons I love to make things for my friends, in addition to the experience of making it myself, but no matter how nice it is to make your friends or children things, the most important part is just being a friend, and being a mom, not just a mother.

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My wall of photography.  I take them, my husband hangs them.  Each picture is supposed to sort of tell a story.  We begin with the past:  my wedding veil, then progress to the cameo (not sure how that fits in), then Hannah's pewter baby rattle and brush, and then the future:  her dancing shoes.

My wall of photography. I take them, my husband hangs them. Each picture is supposed to sort of tell a story. We begin with the past: my wedding veil, then progress to the cameo (not sure how that fits in), then Hannah’s pewter baby rattle and brush, and then the future: her dancing shoes.

My soaps.  I don't do the hard stuff, like cold process.  I prefer to do the melt-and-pour, but I have since found that humidity collects on it here like raindrops, so I have to make it on demand.  Can you tell I love cameos yet?

My soaps. I don’t do the hard stuff, like cold process. I prefer to do the melt-and-pour, but I have since found that humidity collects on it here like raindrops, so I have to make it on demand. Can you tell I love cameos yet?

Your children will remember how you made them feel about themselves far more than they’ll remember a specific activity, because that is the foundation for making wonderful, lasting memories.