Friday, August 31, 2007

Haiku Friday: Arachnophobia

Dear neighbors, I am
sorry to inform you that
you should RUN FOR IT!






















Thanks to Christina and Jennifer for launching Haiku Friday!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Wearing my Food Sheriff badge with ambivalence

I like to think I am moderate, erring toward healthy, when it comes to my diet and my kids'. I try to make sure we eat a variety of foods, whole grains (yay for whole-wheat Eggo waffles), fruits and veggies, yada yada. Luckily, the kids are not particularly picky. We don't eat a lot of organic stuff because it's not readily available where we live. (I could get it but I am a little too cheap and lazy to do so). But we shop at our farmer's markets as often as we can. I let the kids have candy and other treats sometimes and about once a week or so I give in to their begging for a snow cone after school. Otherwise, I try to limit the amount of processed crapola that they consume and the use of food as a reward.

And I have to say that even this small set of rules is really tiring to enforce. I feel like I am being undermined at every turn. Every time Jo goes to play at one particular friend's house, she has mac-and-cheese, juice, candy, and ice cream for dinner--no thought of any fruit or vegetables, ever.

My husband created the tradition of "cookies, Nukkies and bookies" when it's time for bed. Gee, thanks. Now he's giving out cookies every night regardless of whether the kids ate any dinner or how many other sweets they might have had the rest of the day. When we arrived at my mother-in-law's a few weeks ago, there was a giant box of "fruit" gummies waiting to greet us. Her co-worker had given them to her because the kids were coming to visit ("I wasn't sure if it would be OK, but I didn't know what to do with them"--so displaying them prominently in the living room seemed wise??). I let them have a couple of packs a day but in this as in every scenario, I am forced to be the bad guy just to maintain some semblance of health. I have no problem at all saying no to the kids. I just resent being forced to do so because no one else is paying attention.

I can't imagine trying to insist on a fully organic diet or cutting out processed foods altogether--because we don't live in a bubble, we live in a community. We live with other people who have different beliefs and value systems about food, and since eating is a communal activity much of the time, we have to work this out. How do you do it?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

I'm a schmoozer baby, so why don't you link me

power of schmooze award So I never did score one of those Thinking Blogger awards, but I did get two even better ones recently. First, Lady M says I'm a schmoozer (which I like to think means I'm a good bloggy neighbor) and Lara says I'm just plain nice. Big kisses to these two dancing girls for singling me out--I am honored! And celebrating these awards by passing them on sounds like the perfect way to kick off the week ahead.

First, the schmooze, a meme which originated with this post defining a good schmoozer as someone who effortlessly weaves [her] way in and out of the blogosphere, leaving friendly comments, happily making new friends along the way. I am sure that some of these picks are repeats, but I'm going to award the pretty ba-loooo (as Opie says) button to the following:

Jenny, of The Bloggess and Mama Drama: Besides being knock-'em-dead hilarious, Jenny has one of the biggest hearts in the blogosphere.

Magpie: The best cure for NYC-homesickness and a wise and frequent commenter (here and everywhere).

Scribbit: Michelle is always ready to spread cheer through comments, links, and even weekly giveaways.

nice matters awardSecond, the nice, which is for those bloggers who are nice people and good blog friends--those who bring good feelings and inspiration. Also for those who are a positive influence on our blogging world.

Movin' Mom: For sharing the real scoop on raising teenagers--leaving me not only scared, but also inspired by her example.

Mom Ma'am Me: For her actions in both the real and bloggy worlds--just read a few posts and you'll see why.

L.A. Daddy: Because once I idly asked him a question in a comment and he responded with a truckload of useful information (useful for my next life as a pirate). He may be a biker dude but he's a nice one.

Jen of one plus two: For her Just Posts and for the way she's opened my eyes about homelessness and just being an all-around good egg.

Grace of so, what do you do all day?: For having a genius blog title and tagline, for throwing a kick-ass party in the midst of a stomach virus, and for saying she'd read my blog upon meeting me at BlogHer.

LetterB: For being the brains behind Momku which I think is just so fun and cool (and I am sorry that it's too late at night at the end of a long weekend for me to describe it so lazily). I still stand by my thoughts on Twitter, but Momku is an inspired use of the medium.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Will you ever forgive me, poor dented station wagon?

An open letter to my car, and a fervent effort to turn a moment of stupidity into a cool prize from CarBlabber via today's Blog Blast.

I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry. Please don't hold a grudge. I need you to take me and the kids to day care, play dates, the flippin' orthodontist, and the grocery store. I know you don't want to go back there, and I wish we didn't have to, but it is inevitable. The bike trailer can only hold so much.

I promise I won't be as dumb as I was that day. It's just that the cart was sitting up on the sidewalk by the store when I pulled up. I took it inside and filled it with liquid crack Honest Tea, diapers, and a few other essentials. It was only natural that when I finished my shopping, I put the cart back where I'd found it. I mean I knew it wasn't properly corraled in one of those iron chutes. I hate it when people leave carts randomly strewn in the parking lot. But I thought I was safe. I thought you were safe.

I promise you I cringed when, just as we were backing out, I saw that cart roll ever-so-slowly, but unavoidably, unstoppably, across the sidewalk and off the curb, slamming right into your rear passenger door. I never meant to hurt you. You were the car we bought because we had a baby. You've served us well for over five years and 70,000 miles. I'm just sorry that karma bit you on the ass side instead of me.

How can I make it up to you?

Grovelingly yours,

Mayberry Mom

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Time, wastage of. In three acts.

orthodontia clinic, 1928 I. How much of a kickback are these guys getting?

At Jo's last checkup her dentist strongly urged me to take her to the orthodontist for a consultation. It's obvious that five years of thumbsucking have deformed her bite. But I've researched this and every source I've checked says that nothing can or should be done about it until her permanent teeth come in. Still, after futzing around for a couple of months I made an appointment with the ortho. The only one in this area code that takes our insurance is a good 20-minute drive away (which sounds like nothing but around here, we are used to getting everywhere in 5 or 10 minutes).

So today I stop working an hour and a half early, pick up Jo, drive her all the way to the ortho's office, and eventually see the Doogie Howserish practitioner. He spends about two minutes looking at Jo's mouth and then informs me that there is nothing he can or should do until her six-year molars come in. I ask you. Wouldn't the regular dentist be aware of this fact? Why then would he refer my five-year-old to a specialist who, even if he thought that giving her an appliance to correct her habit and her bite was indicated, could not do so because she does not yet have the teeth to anchor it to? What was the point in spending two hours of my day in this manner?

III. Welcome to bureaucracy

I filled out registration forms for kindergarten back in February and turned them in. Why then am I invited to a spaghetti dinner next week, at which I am advised to "pick up registration materials"? Is this like when you give all your information to one customer service representative, and then they transfer you to someone else, who says "let me just get your file up on my screen" and then asks you all the same questions all over again?

III. Police blotter = neverending source of amusement.

"Disturbance, police were dispatched to the 900 block of ABC Road, where a caller reported hearing screaming coming from the house. Upon arriving at the scene, officers discovered that the homeowner was yelling at the navigational system in his 2008 BMW."

I don't know whether to be disturbed by this flagrant misuse of police officer time, or relieved that this is the best the newspaper could come up with for the blotter, or amused at the subtle dig of including the car's luxury pedigree.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Oh my word

Word World DogAfter a long day of nonstop playing and learning at child care, my kids--especially Miss "In the school-age room we don't take naps"--usually want nothing more than to veg in front of the TV for awhile. I can't blame them. But I do feel bad parking them in front of the tube after we've been apart all day.


So when I can, I at least hunker down and watch with them. Recently, thanks to the Parent Bloggers Network, we got a sneak preview of an upcoming PBS Kids show: Word World. Its clever premise is that the six main characters, as well as many of the places and things in their environment, are made up of letters. Check out the cute puppy and house above to see what I mean.

To learn what we thought of the show, visit my brand-new review blog, The Full Mommy! I've joined forces with six other fabulous bloggers and together we are going to keep you posted on the latest and greatest (and not-so-greatest) products we've discovered. Please come visit!

And also: As you've guessed, the ninjas are the lie, photographic evidence notwithstanding. 'Cause they don't have masks or throwing stars. But I still keep my distance.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Gratitude, edition 2

After these trips I need to remind myself how lucky I am. That despite four days of being force-fed like a foie-gras goose, and despite a particularly obnoxious freak-out by our utterly tactless sister-in-law, we are blessed. One for each day:

1. Listening to conversations like this:

"His name was Rinaldi, he's married to, you know, that Nardelli girl."
"No, i'm thinking of one who's married to a Bertucci."
"Is it the one with the twins?"
"What was his name? Dominic? Frank? No, was it Nick?"
"Who did that Alunni marry, was it a Crespi?"

Seriously. Like being in the back room at the Bada Bing, only with 80-year-old women.

2. Very smooth travel. Scary smooth. And that's including the two-hour delay on our very last leg. The kids were amazing. Jo kept busy for hours with movies on DVD plus an extremely dopey Precious Moments coloring/activity book she received as a gift. Opie played with a 25-cent plastic airplane and on one car trip, a tiny flashlight.

3. Besides their awesomeness at traveling, their overall awesomeness.
a) Opie, on seeing an airplane (one of hundreds): "Ooh. It's PWETTY."

b) New art from Jo (mama elephant with baby):

elephants












4. Three cousins, one slip-and-slide.

slippin' and slidin'











Back soon to discuss truths and lies.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Off like a dirty shirt

We're on our way outta town. Not to eat grapefruit in France or show off our undies in Disneyworld or even stalk Elmo at Sesame Place, though. No, we're headed to the home of the Steamtown Mall, the Anthracite Heritage Museum, the St. Ubaldo Day Festival, and the (sadly fictional) Dunder Mifflin, Inc. (oh I'm glad I googled that, otherwise I would have missed out on Dwight's advice on protecting yourself from ninjas). Did you know that Avoca "International" Airport (serving Scranton-Wilkes Barre) does not stock any "Office" goodies? Don't you think that is a terribly missed opportunity?

Anyway. Heading out tomorrow to visit the mother-in-law, grandmother-in-law, great aunt-in-law, and other assorted -in-laws. Somehow my suggestion "Why don't you take the kids to visit your mother while I'm at BlogHer" became "Why don't we all go see my mother for a nice long visit for her birthday." I am nothing if not dutiful (snort) so we leave tomorrow. Plus the tickets were hundreds of dollars less for this particular weekend (why do you tease me, Northworst Airlines?).

I didn't line up any guest posters, so here is a round of "two truths and a lie" to keep you busy.

1. There are ninjas in the park by my house every Tuesday and Thursday evening.
2. Put together, my grandmother-in-law's maiden and married names contain 8 syllables.
3. When I was a kid, our local airport (not in Mayberry) had two gates ("in" and "out") and the waiting area was a few folding chairs in a trailer.

Take your guesses in the comments, and post your own truths and lies if you're game.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Come on, vamonos!

The Bilingual EdgeMy daughter listened to a great deal of Spanish in her first two years of life. We lived in a predominantly Spanish neighborhood in New Jersey and the child care center we chose for her was run by a Spanish-speaking family, staffed mostly by Spanish-speaking teachers and attended by Spanish-speaking children. While we didn’t select the center specifically for language learning, I always believed it was a pretty nice fringe benefit.

I didn’t realize how nice, though, until I read The Bilingual Edge by Kendall King, Ph.D., and Alison Mackey, Ph.D. (received courtesy the Parent Bloggers Network). In this thorough, persuasive book, King and Mackey spell out (as their subtitle explains) the “why, when, and how” of teaching your child a second language.

The why is pretty obvious; who would argue that knowing a second language doesn’t broaden career opportunities, or open our minds to other people and cultures? While I felt the authors went a bit overboard in justifying why they wrote the book, I found it fascinating to learn that “people with advanced knowledge of more than one language seem to be more creative….Something about knowing more than one language seems to make children both more creative and what researchers describe as more mentally flexible.”

Some of the when facts were new to me. I’ve always believed the conventional wisdom that the younger the child, the more easily she will pick up a second language. I took rudimentary French lessons as a child, and later became very proficient in the language; native speakers often commented on my excellent pronunciation. I credit my early exposure (not any innate talent) for this. King and Mackey, while agreeing that young children can learn two or three languages easily and simultaneously, also stress that it’s never too late for a child—or an adult—to learn a new language. Younger children have the advantage of discerning different sounds more easily, and they aren’t afraid to make mistakes when they talk. But older children can still become very proficient, provided they receive explicit instruction (vs. the osmosis approach you might take with a baby or toddler) and lots of encouragement.

The how chapters in the book are strongest, outlining dozens of different methods families can use to raise a bilingual child—joining a playgroup, hiring a nanny, singing songs together, language immersion schools. The authors take a stand (backed, as is everything in the book, by research studies) against teaching via “edutainment.” In other words, Dora no es buen profesor. Kids, especially the youngest ones, learn only from meaningful interactions with parents, caregivers, and other children; while they may pick up a word or two from Dora, Boots, or Elmo, real language learning requires a human touch. Interestingly, though, school-age kids do benefit from TV shows or computer games designed to teach language—as long as it’s a supplement to more hands-on instruction.

Jo’s kindergarten curriculum will include Spanish instruction, which I’m pleased about—not just because I want her to learn the language, but because it shows that her school places a value on foreign language learning. Opie will receive some Spanish lessons at our day care center starting this fall as well. It won’t be like the old days in New Jersey, but he’ll at least have some exposure. The book has convinced me, though, that if I want them to become more proficient, I’ll need to do my part at home. Simply reading books or singing songs in Spanish regularly will help, as will trying to include more Spanish in our conversations (maybe by speaking only Spanish during dinner once a week, for example). This works for me because I still remember some of my high school Spanish, but if you don’t, no te preocupes (don’t worry): King and Mackey have plenty of sage advice for you too.

What I liked: The book is comprehensive—these authors have thought of everything, from how to decide what language to teach, what to do if kids (or grandparents) resist, how to choose a tutor, and more. They cite research studies to support their claims, but don’t slip into academic jargon. They also include an appendix stuffed with helpful resources.

What I didn’t: These two needed to lay off the exclamation points. Call me a quibbler, but as a writer and editor it’s been slammed (that’s a little copy-editing in-joke for you) into my head for years that you only use an exclamation point (aka a slam) with extreme caution. The authors spent too much time in the early chapters defending their need to write the book, which only undercut their argument. And the few exercises scattered throughout seemed like little more than filler—they weren’t necessary.

Who it’s for: Any parent who wants to raise a child proficient in more than one language—and the authors make a strong case that that means any parent, period. No matter your child’s age or your family’s background or circumstances, you’ll find applicable, actionable suggestions here.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

If I were a-twittering

I don't Twitter. But if I did, here's what you'd get.

*

I need to find a productive use for hickory nuts. There are approximately 14 bazillion of them in my backyard.

*

What Opie is doing now: Eating an apple only slightly smaller than his own head.

*

How is it that no matter what I am doing all morning, I always eat lunch precisely at 12:45 p.m.?

*

I want my free Harry Potter book! WHERE IS IT?

*

So. You see you're not missing much. And when I look at other people's Twitter pages, I am seriously underwhelmed. Especially with the posts that are in response to someone else's post -- it's like listening in on half of a phone conversation.

But as I asked Aimee today (because she seems like an early-adopting kind of gal), is it Twitter that's the problem, or me? I read this provocative "blogging is dead" post and it pretty well freaked me out. I don't see the appeal of any of the social networking sites. I'm busy enough reading the 100 blogs I follow (to the exclusion of exercise, cleaning, reading real books, etc.). I certainly don't feel the need to wonder "Hey, what else is out there -- let me see what's on the front page of Digg today."

Does this make me old? Or un-visionary? In danger of losing my job someday (remember I am basically a content provider for a decidedly Web-1.0 kind of site) because I can't move with the times? I wonder.

If any of you are into Twitter or Facebook or Sk*rt or (...), I'd love to know why they're meaningful to you. Am I missing something?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Flirting with disaster

In addition to my self-appointed efficiency expert mantle, I've decided that I (and all parents really) can also claim the title Incident Prevention Specialist.

At the end of every workday, rushing to finish one last thing before I put away my laptop and pick up the kids, I contemplate leaving the laptop plugged in and sitting on the table. Then the IPS corner of my brain starts shouting: What if someone trips over the cord and yanks the laptop onto the floor (notice I don't care if any human sustains an injury; my only concern is for my precious rainbow-adorned laptop)? What if somebody spills milk into the keyboard? What if I have to spend a half-hour deflecting requests to "play a gaaaaaaaaaaame on the ca-puter, Mommy, pleeeeeeeeease?" I take the 48 seconds to unplug the laptop, move it to an out-of-sight, out-of-mind location, clear the junk off the table and leave. Incident, prevented.

Later, I notice with horror that there is only one more ice cream sandwich in the freezer. There are two children, and because the freezer is at floor level they can open it up anytime they want. I immediately eat the ice cream sandwich or at least hide it under a bag of frozen broccoli. Incident, prevented.

Preparing for an outing, I give the kids healthy snacks to eat in the car so I can stave off requests for unhealthy ones later (or I--oops!--neglect to bring any money so that I can't buy any junk). I plan my route so I won't pass the snow-cone place or the Dairy Queen or even the pool. I bring a stroller, aka traveling toddler cage. (Yes, I do know how to say "no." Trust me, I do it often. But it's nicer just avoiding the whinefests whenever possible.)

It's like a chess game dealing with these wily kids. You always have to think at least 5 moves ahead. Or else there might be an Incident.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Does anyone else find this disturbing?

It's a new toy from Fisher-Price called the Smart Cycle. It's a "stationary bike, a learning center, and an arcade game system" all squashed into one freakish amalgam. Am I crazy to think you'd be a hell of a lot better off spending your $100 on an actual, not-stationary bike and some, I don't know, books? Just a thought.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

I'm surprised the piano didn't move itself

Photo from Modern Mechanix All this talk about the political candidates reminds me of a little story. Gather 'round, kids!

Back when I was a magazine editor, I worked for a smallish publication with an accordingly small staff. This meant we had to do everything ourselves, including stuff way out of our/my league. Once a year we put out a big story, one of those lists that are designed to garner lots of media attention and may or may not be based on fact. It was our version of the swimsuit issue (and in our case, it really was based on a tremendous amount of research and hard work--which I know because in later years I oversaw that project too).

To get the maximum bang out of this particular buck, we always had an event to promote our story when it was published. And somehow in 1996 I wound up in charge of this thing. Me, the young, green editor with less than zero event-planning experience. Me, the totally conflict-avoidant delicate young thing. Taking the lead on this breakfast honoring lots of multi-billion-dollar companies, attended by all our own corporate VIPs and advertisers. And the guest of honor: was the current vice president of the United States, Al Gore. Who also happened to be running for re-election at the time.

At one of the pre-party walk-throughs, someone from the campaign was there to check out all the arrangements. She was a fast-talking, take-no-guff, totally stereotypical New Yorker. She barked orders about security (yes ma'am, there would be bomb-sniffing dogs) and press access and what he'd say and how long he'd stay. She told us exactly how the room should be set up, and that included moving a grand piano across the room (because otherwise it would interfere with the TV cameras' shots).

The banquet manager gently demurred on moving the piano, explaining that doing so would require extra staff time and also a charge for retuning the instrument. Our magazine was so poor that we used 5-inch floppy disks and didn't have voice mail--I had an ancient answering machine with a cassette tape so old that callers would frequently inquire whether I was landing helicopters on my desk. So keeping costs down was absolutely essential.

For a few seconds I tried to broker a compromise with the scary campaign lady, sputtering out lame alternatives as quickly as I could come up with them. She, of course, was having none of it. Almost immediately, she wheeled to face me and yelled "He's the vice president of the free world! MOVE THE PIANO!"

So yeah. We moved it. I voted for Clinton/Gore that year anyway. But I'm still kind of afraid of that campaign staffer.