Sunday, December 30, 2012

Great Family Game!

Stuck inside during a storm can get tedious. If you're like us, you also don't want to spend the afternoon watching movies or television.  So, we've been trying to spend more active family time together playing games and doing unique indoor crafts and activities.

One of our favorite recent purchases is the family game, The Best of Charades for Kids. It's fun for the whole family since kids can roll dice, count spaces and then have a blast acting out various charades. For kids who aren't reading, there is even a picture option. The charade choices range from recognizable tasks, like brushing hair, to more challenging concepts to act out, like being a vampire. It's fun for the whole family and always results in a lot of laughs. You should have seen me have to represent cartwheel! We found the game at our local toy store, but it's also available at for around $12.95. It's a great way to spend family time together!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Snowflakes for Sandy Hook...

When thinking about the tragedy that occurred on Friday, December 14, 2012, I can only hold my own little girl tight and thank whatever powers that be that she breathes another day healthy and happy.  As  a mother and a teacher, this horrific event affected me in so many different ways.  I cannot begin to imagine what those families are going through... having to resume some sort of normalcy...or not.  My heart weeps when I think about the children who are changed forever and their reentry back into school.

As you know, Sandy Hook will be closed indefinitely and the children will be relocated to a different school...where teachers and parents are already hard at work recreating a familiar environment to welcome them back to.  If you are looking for a way to help, the National PTA and the Connecticut PTSA are asking schools and families to send along handmade snowflakes that will decorate the school, creating a "Winter Wonderland." Snowflakes are due by January 12, 2013 to the address listed below.  

What better way for those children to feel the love and support both locally and nationally.


A message from the National PTA:

December 17, 2012
It is with heavy hearts and the deepest sympathy that we express our condolences to the families and communities affected by the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We have watched with profound sadness, pained that school violence has again claimed so many beloved students and educators. As you read these words, the families in Newtown, Connecticut are enduring unspeakable heartache and loss. Together let us pray that they will receive the comfort they so desperately need.
National PTA and the Connecticut PTSA pledge our unwavering support to the Newtown community. In the past few days, we have met with PTA leaders of all of the schools in Newtown, including the Sandy Hook PTA, and community leaders who have requested our help in supporting the families. For those of us who are looking to be of assistance in the aftermath, we share the following projects in need of your support:
Welcome Students to a Winter Wonderland
When school resumes for Sandy Hook, it will be in a new building. Parent-volunteers are working to ensure that the students are welcomed back by a winter wonderland with the entire school decorated with as many unique snowflakes as possible. We encourage senders to be as creative as possible, remembering that no two snowflakes are alike. Please make and send snowflakes by January 12, 2013 to the Connecticut PTSA address at the end of this email.  
Donating and Organizing Fundraisers for Sandy Hook Elementary School
Donations will be accepted indefinitely to the Connecticut PTSA “Sandy Hook Fund” to provide ongoing support to the community. Please send checks to the Connecticut PTSA address listed at the end of this email. Group fundraising projects may include walk-a-thons, spirits days, pajama days, etc., which may be scheduled at your convenience.
For student-run coin drives, please submit all donations by February 14, 2012.
The Newtown community has requested only monetary donations at this time. For service or product donation inquiries, please contact To contact Sandy Hook PTA, please email
National PTA Advocacy
Toward the end of the week, we will be prepared to share with you how best to advocate for school safety at the state and federal levels in response to this tragedy. As we said on Friday, National PTA prioritizes the protection of children in all schools and believes it is fundamental to learning. We have several position statements and resolutions related to school violence and child safety, which we will package and share widely very soon. Rest assured, we fully plan to engage our powerful network of nearly 5 million dedicated members to make a difference on this issue.
Many parents may feel at a loss about how to approach the subject of school violence with their children. For information on helping your child cope, discussing issues of violence and hate, and keeping your school safe, please visit our website at
Thank you for your generous support and dedication to the children and families of Newtown, Connecticut.
Warm regards,
Betsy and Jim
Betsy Landers
National PTA President    
Jim Accomando
Connecticut PTSA President
Please send all snowflakes and donations to:
Connecticut PTSA
60 Connolly Parkway
Building 12, Suite 103
Hamden, CT 06514

Top 10 Tuesday: Accomplishments of a "big girl"

Lila ran into the bathroom bursting with the most exciting news. "Mama! Listen..." She proceeded to whistle "Jingle Bells." Preoccupied with getting ready for work, I almost didn't realize what she was showing me that was so special. She stood there, clenched fists, huge smile, practically shaking with excitement, anticipating my response.

"Ohhhhh! Lila! You can whistle!!" It finally dawned on me.

Whistling was something that Lila would try and try, again and again, and it would only lead to frustration and disappointment. The "give a 'lil whistle" song on Pinocchio would seem to mock her each time she would hear it. Now, look at her. Whistling away.

"Good job, Lila. You're such a big girl."

"I AM a big girl." She agreed and, right then and there, Lila came up with her own "Top 10."

Lila announced the "Top 10 Things I Can Now Do As a Big Girl," holding up each finger as she counted them out. Here they are:

10) "I can whistle."    
9) "I can brush my teeth by myself."                           

8) "I can clean myself in the bath."

7) "I can chew gum." 

6) "I can write my full name."                                          
5) "I can play with a yo-yo."

4)  "I can play catch."

3) "I can swing up high on the big girl swing at the park."

2) "I can put on my own coat and even zip it up."

1) "I can hold things that could break... as long as I'm careful!"

You go, big girl!


Lila: a girl of many accomplishments!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Taking a moment

"MAMA!!!! I can't find my cupcake book!"

I check the clock. It's 7:39 on Friday morning. On school/work days, our mornings are scheduled down to the minute. We must be in the car, buckled in, and on the road by 7:45am at the latest in order to get to school and work on time.

"I want to bring my cupcake book to school today!"

Lila hasn't read her cupcake book for months but for some reason, five minutes before we have to leave, she needs her cupcake book now. I quickly weigh out my decision-- a few minutes of looking for the cupcake book would be much better than a cranky, crying child for an entire car ride. I quickly join Lila in her room and we go through each and every paperback book on her shelf.

No cupcake book.

At this point, it's 7:50am.

"Lila, we will have to find the cupcake book after school. We have to go... now."

Lila's face scrunches up, bottom lip pokes out, and her eyes fill with tears.

"Lila! Don't start. Pick out another book and let's go!" I say firmly, very aware of the minutes flying by. We are definitely going to be late.

Fastforward to drop off. We arrive at 8:30am. I am supposed to be in my office at my computer at 8:30am. I fly out of the car over to Lila's door. I quickly unbuckle her and the tears start up again.

"But Mama, I don't have a book for school today!"

I pick up the first book I see on the floor of the car and thrust it into her arms. "Let's go!"

I rush into the building with Lila dragging along behind me. I hang up her bag and coat in her cubby and sign the sign in sheet. Lila is lingering outside of the classroom door, looking down at the floor.

I kneel down in front of her. "Lila, Mommy has to go to work now, okay? I will see you later." I give her a kiss on the forehead. She starts crying again.

"Lila, look at the clock. It's late now. I really have to go, but I will be back early today to pick you up."

She continues to cry. At this point, her teacher takes over. I give her one more hug and zoom out the door.

At work over coffee, I complain to my co-worker, another working mom, about how Lila gave me a hard time this morning. I go on with my busy day.

Then, I hear the news-- Twenty children (and six adults) are killed in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty children woke up that morning, got dressed, brushed their teeth, said good-bye to their parents/caregivers, and went to school like any other morning. But, on this day, they won't be going home.

I am no longer aware of the time. My mental to-do list disappears.

My mind immediately goes back to Lila-- her crying and me rushing out of the door. All I want to do is hug her. I want to go back in time and give her those few extra moments that she obviously needed from me.

My heart aches for the families and community affected by this tragedy. I find myself hugging and kissing Lila a little more than usual and staying in her bed after storytime a bit longer than before.

The minutes do seem to fly by in our busy lives, but my hope today is to create moments with my family that are lasting.

...And not so rushed.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Fun with veggies

Lila loves her veggies. I realize I am quite lucky, because apparently not all kids do. According to other moms, many fight with their kids to eat their veggies. If you are one of those moms or are just looking for new ways to make veggies a little more fun, check out this cute idea.

At a recent holiday party, one of my co-workers brought in an adorable plate of veggies in the shape of Elmo. So cute! I plan to steal this idea and make an Elmo for Lila very soon. Hey, I might just make one for myself.



Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Nutracker: "We love you meeces to pieces!"

Audition jitters... Rehearsal exhaustion... Back stage chaos... Pre-show butterflies... you would think that I was the one performing in the Nutcracker!

Nutcracker season has come to an end and while Ellyn and I wonder how we were able to pull off managing the girls' rehearsal and show schedules plus volunteering back stage to dress and prep ten little meece, it was all so worth it. It was an amazing experience for Lila and Clara-- and they were truly amazing. (Broadway, here we come!)

I'm sure Ellyn has her own stories to tell, but I will give a glimpse of one of mine...

The first performance was full of drama-- not on stage, but behind the scenes. It was my first day volunteering. My assignment? Wardrobe. I received my instructions and hestitantly entered the Meece dressing room-- a tight, narrow space filled with ten bouncing, crawling, and giggling little ones. And they were everywhere! The mission? Dress them all within 45 minutes. "Okay. Deep breath. Let's do this."

They were dressed with time to spare. Phew.

"15 minutes before showtime!" The Meece lined up, each grabbing the tail of the one in front of them (so cute), and headed to the Orchestra Room, off stage. They began their "warm up" which was simply running around the room and laughing. The coordinator explained that this helps them to get the sillies out before going on stage. Makes sense. But then it happened...

Whack!!!! Lila collided with another Mouse.

"It's okay. It's okay." I hugged and rocked her as she screamed. After a few tight hugs I pulled back to look at the damage... Blood and tears and smeared make-up. Lila had busted her lip.

"10 minutes before showtime."  

Just moments before, in the dressing room, Lila had spent a good 5 minutes carefully applying her lip gloss and then making kissy faces in the mirror. She was quite cute, I admit.

"Could someone bring us a tissue?" I pleaded.

"Get me a mirror!!!" Lila demanded.

Lila took one look at her lip and slipped into a classic diva moment-- "I want to go home! I'm not doing the Nutcracker!!! I want to go home... NOW!!!"

Crap. All of the practice and hard work had gone out the window. All of the fun and excitment had vanished. Was this it? Would the show just go on without Lila? Would we go home?

Rolling up my sleeves, I decide right then, "Absolutely not!"

I looked Lila straight in the eyes and she stopped crying long enough for me to give her the best pep talk I could muster up in that moment. I can't remember exactly what I said, but shamefully there was a promise of candy or cookies or something at the end. Who cares? It worked!

Lila went on stage and was fabulous! As was Clara, who also proceeded to get sligthly injured on the stage. (But the pro that she is, the audience had no idea and the show went on.) Lila, Clara and the entire Meece cast totally wowed the audience performance after performance. There were many smiles, "awwww's" in unison, and laughter galore when the Meece took the stage.

I think Ellyn would agree, the feeling of seeing our girls on stage was unbelievable. I laughed, teared up, felt butterflies, and was just simply blown away.

Congrats Lila & Clara! You make us so proud.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

December Dilemma

The December Dilemma

As an interfaith family, it’s been fun to celebrate two December holidays. But we are very aware of the focus that is spent on Christmas compared to Hanukkah. While we plan many Hanukkah celebrations and have great fun at synagogue, it is hard to ignore the plethora of Christmas trees, Santas and Reindeer all around. Even at Sarah’s preschool, kids and teachers are talking about behaving nicely to ensure a visit from Santa. Recently, however, I’ve come to notice how broad Sarah’s perspective has grown without much prompting from us at all. She is quick to tell her friends, child and adult, that she celebrates Hanukkah. Recently, she even said to another child, “families can celebrate all kinds of things like birthday parties or Hanukkah.” I suppose that’s the best thing a parent can ask for – a kid who can recognize difference and find it cool. Perhaps she can teach that same openness to us all!
Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

From Clara's Point of View: Take 2

Clara continues to take more photos and videos than I can keep up with. Look here to see some of her photos from last summer.

Here are some of my favorite recent shots of hers. I thought the lighting and positioning of the dolls below was quite creative, and I love the starkness of her portrait of her foot.

I have always been a fan of close-ups in photos and video. It's fun for me to see her experimenting with close-ups and perspective in her photos and to see that she takes after me in the way that she sees the world through a lens.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Top Ten Things I'm Thankful For In My Imperfect Life

I’ve been particularly stressed and cranky these days. Winter is approaching; it’s getting cold and dark earlier and I’m lacking much needed sunlight and vitamin D. Like most working moms, I’m overwhelmed with juggling work, home, mommyhood and everything else. I am more scattered-brained than ever, losing my cell phone, check book, wallet… my MIND on a regular basis. But Thanksgiving is coming which means some much needed R & R is on the horizon. Hooray! It’s also time for me to stop complaining and to be grateful for a change. Things are certainly not as bad as they seem. In fact, as I think about it, life is actually quite nice.
10) When I am in a glorious deep sleep and suddenly jolted awake by “MAAAAMMMMA!!” at 4am, I am thankful that my daughter still needs me and wants me to cuddle with her. (I shall remember and cherish this when she is a pre-teen and is too cool to be seen with me.)
9) While I normally would obsess about the extra five pounds I’ve gained (that perpetually sneaks up on me), I realize that I am fortunate to have enough good food to eat (which I really enjoy eating).
8) Speaking of food… yes, the cost and frequency of my grocery store visits has increased, as Lila seems to grow overnight (I swear those 4T shirts just fit yesterday), I am so thankful for a child with a healthy appetite who enjoys really good, high quality food (i.e. steak, exotic produce, lobster etc.) rather than the typical junky kid foods. (No boxed mac and cheese for her!)
7) Now, back to my extra 5lbs… when (in my mind) I am cursing out my trainer during TRX, Rip Trainer, or whatever other physical torture I am allowing to be done to me that day, I am grateful that I have the health and ability to move my body and exercise. (My dad sadly spent his last days as a quadriplegic.)
6) As Lila asks a million questions (mostly beginning with “why”) in the back seat of the car while I am trying to remember my mile long to do list, I am thankful for her curiosity, genuine love for learning, and the fact that she is smart and witty enough to know how to drive her mama crazy. (Uh huh. She knows exactly what she’s doing!)
5) While I have a few sprigs of grey, am referred to as “ma’am” on a regular, and no longer get carded, I am thankful that I am much wiser than I was in my 20s (thank goodness). That’s right, this ol’ broad knows a thing or two. However, I know that I still have a whole lot more to learn and I’m excited for that!
4) Although I am convinced that they are conspiring to steal my baby from me, I am totally indebted and grateful to Lila’s amazing, involved, lovin’, spoilin’, grandma and nana. Yes, I believe if they had their way, they would take me out of the equation and split custody of Lila, however, I am so fortunate to have their help, support, and free weekend child care services  when I need a break! (Thank you!)
3) I long for the days when I could spend hours chatting on the phone or over coffee with my girlfriends, but I am grateful that despite our hectic adult lives, our relationships are strong and lasting despite the distance or time apart.
2) Although my husband and I really know how to push each other’s buttons (and regularly get on each other’s nerves), I am thankful that we “get” each other and have grown from high school sweethearts to lifelong partners.
1) Our condo has seemingly become smaller and more cluttered as we have grown from a couple into a family, but I am thankful for my little tight knit family as we trip over each other in our messy but warm little home… that is all our own!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Favorite Thanksgiving Recipes from my Grandmas

As I get older, I wish I had paid closer attention to my grandmas when we were cooking together in the kitchen. Fortunately, Thanksgiving was a relaxed time in which I had more time to pay attention to what they were making, and probably the repetition of making these same dishes together year after year helped to reinforce the recipes more than others. So, I'm sharing with you two of my favorite Thankgiving recipes from two of my favorite people- my grandmas.

The pumpkin bread recipe is from my maternal grandma and the cranberry orange relish is from my paternal grandma. The pumpkin bread serves as an excellent appetizer to have out before the big meal, and this cranberry orange relish is very tart- a different type of flavor than most cranberry relishes I've tried. We often serve a sweeter cranberry dish as well, but Thanksgiving is not the same for me without this tarter version.

15 oz can of pumpkin
1 tsp nutmeg
3 cups sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup oil
4 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup water
2 tsp. baking soda
3 cups flour
walnuts (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Beat spice, oil, sugar, eggs, and salt.
3. Add pumpkin, soad, water, flour (add water separate from flour or clumping will occur- I learned this the hard way one year!)
 4. I usually add walnuts to some of the loaves and keep some of them plain.
5. Bake for one hour at 350 degrees.
The pumpkin bread is good by itself or served with cream cheese.

2 cups cranberries (1 12-oz bag is also enough)
1 medium orange, quartered (ends removed)
¾-1 cup sugar

  1. Slice unpeeled orange into eighths and remove any seeds.
  2. Place half of the cranberries and half of the orange in food processor. Pulse until evenly chopped.
  3. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the other half of orange and cranberries.
  4. Stir in sugar to taste and store in refrigerator of freezer.

I like to store my cranberry relish in mason jars because it 
reminds me of how my Grandma used to store it.
 I hope you get to enjoy some family recipe favorites this Thanksgiving, too.

 Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday...Ten Things Husbands Need to Know about Mom's Night Out

I've tried to explain to my husband, as dear and wonderful as he is, that mom's night out does not mean I've run out for an errand without a kid in tow. As most moms already know, mom's night out is usually the result of feeling overworked, overmomed or overtired, in need of a little private time to do something just for yourself. Sometimes, however, we still need to clarify the mom's night out concept. Tonight's top 10 should help.

It's Not Mom's Night Out If...

1. You're at the DMV.
2. You're pushing anything that resembles a grocery cart, wagon - or worse, flatbed.
3. What you're eating was storred in a plastic baggie.
4. You have a pen or pencil in hand.
5. Your outfit is spandex.
6. Your purse is a tote bag or includes a waterproof mat.
7. You didn't shower.
8. You stop at Carters, CVS or Home Depot, not even for a minute.
9. Your husband wants to come along.
10. You're sitting across from your therapist.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Our Favorite Restaurant

Clara and I love to go to restaurants. I admit that I led Clara on this path. Ever since she was about three years old, I would prompt her to tell her Papa that she wanted to go to a restaurant as soon as we saw him at the end of a day. Even though I was initially the mastermind behind the restaurant requests, before long, Clara decided that she wanted to eat out, too. My incredulous husband had to deal with the two of us begging to go out to eat nearly every night after work. Despite my deep love of eating out, even I could admit, however, that for financial and health reasons, it was not feasible every night.

One stormy night this fall after a long day at school when I was too tired to even go out to eat, Clara and I devised an alternative to going out to a restaurant. We decided to bring our favorite elements of eating out at a restaurant to our home. I compiled the following list of reasons we like to eat out:

  1. We like being served.
  2. We like fancy drinks with straws.
  3. We like the ambiance of restaurants- lit candles and music playing.
  4. We like different meals than we normally would cook at home.
  5. I like not having to clean up.
With these goals in mind, we created our home restaurant, which Clara named MNMO Restaurant. I grabbed a frozen pizza and put it in the oven. I made a salad. I cooked some ground turkey just to have a little bit of protein even though it didn't really go with the Italian vibe of our restaurant. I made a fizzy drink with lime and mint and seltzer, and, of course, I made sure we had straws. The meal preparation took less than 15 minutes. Meanwhile, waitress and restaurant owner Clara got to work designing a menu. She helped to light the candles. She took my order, and the ordering process went quite quickly since there were only a few options on the menu.

Clara presides proudly over the first night of MNMO Restaurant. I'm not sure why she thinks that waitresses should wear hats, but this was an important part of her outfit that night. Note the lit candles and her homemade menu on the table.

Since that first night of our restaurant in September, Clara and I have created restaurant night at home about once a month. The name of the restaurant is never the same, and the menu offerings change every time. And sometimes, there is not even real food at our restaurant. Instead, we create a restaurant using toy food.

Clara's menu with made-up words and drawings
A healthy (albeit fruit-heavy) meal of lemon, apple, and pear.
Doll Natasha is served her dinner.
I'm a fan of our home restaurant so far. It's not that hard to mix up our meals, light some candles, or add a straw to a drink to help our dinner feel a bit more special. And, it's pretty adorable to see Clara taking my order by writing down a bunch of scribbles on a pad, even if the end result is that she's going to serve me a dish that I just made.

 The only thing I still haven't figured out is how to get someone else to do the dishes.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It’s not a new debate: public vs. private school

It’s not a new debate: public vs. private school

I never imagined that I would be considering private school for my daughter but living in an area with no shortage of choices, I found myself curious about our educational options. Interestingly, I had also been in contact with several private school parents whose enthusiasm for their respective schools was incredibly convincing. Thus, my husband and I have begun the task of touring, reviewing and debating our school choices.

First, let it be understood that there is nothing wrong with our neighborhood public school. As a public school educator, I am especially devoted to the idea that we all contribute to successful public schools by remaining loyal to them and involved in them. In fact, my neighbors speak very positively of their experiences there and on a tour; we found the teachers and administrators to be pleasant, motivated and knowledgeable about the issues that are most important to us: ability grouping, otherwise known as tracking, budget cuts that impact the arts, classroom management, innovative use of technology and promoting math and science. However, for us, the debate is a bit more complicated as my husband attended a prestigious prep school, and frankly, I wish I had such opportunity when I was a kid.

So, here we are. Our first private school open house was at a local and highly-acclaimed prep school. The tuition is in the $30,000 a year range, but the school boasts significant financial aid opportunities, which we would need in order for Sarah to attend. In the back of my mind, of course, is an awareness of the ridiculousness of spending so much money on kindergarten and on the end result of a private school education costing almost as much as Harvard. At the same time, I liked the beautiful campus, the small classes and the nurturing, academic environment.

Our second open house was of a religious-affiliated, private, day school whose tuition runs significantly lower than others in the area. It was yet another beautiful campus and also boasted small classes and individualized education. This particular school, however, had a different feel. It was warm and energetic, although less prestigious than the school we’d toured the week before. Is that why it felt different?

Of course, different tuition ranges attract different clientele. The more expensive school appeared to attract a more diverse population  in both the student body represented at the open house and in the other families on tour. Ultimately, neither school could hold a candle to the diverse population our urban neighborhood school provided, but in the age of testing and political pressure, diversity comes with a fair share of challenges. Diverse schools must bring all students to a performance standard within a specific amount of time in order to avoid being pegged an “F” school or “in need of improvement” according to No Child Left Behind. If a neighborhood school is already rated, chances are they’ve suffered reductions in funding for important programs like counseling, special education and support for English Language Learners – the very groups that are ‘bringing down’ the test scores. This ‘catch-22’ is further complicated, as we all saw in the recent Waiting for Superman, by the quality of teachers in a particular school who are supported by a powerful teacher’s union and protected by a flawed tenure system.

What does all this mean for us – incoming kindergarten parents? We want to make a choice that represented the least amount of politically-motivated decision-making and the most student-centered decision-making. Ironically, we only see what the schools show us on special days. Thus, we need to explore all of our options and be as knowledgeable about what we think good education looks like. After all, we can only see what each of the schools shows us. So, we will continue on in this debate as a family. All I know is we’re immensely lucky to have any choices at all . . . more to come on this topic, for sure!


Monday, October 22, 2012

Who's the child here? One blog entry I am ashamed to post

It was almost so perfect— one of those quintessential New England autumn weekends with cool, crisp weather, colorful foliage, pumpkin picking, homemade pumpkin bread, delicious apple cider, and best of all some much-needed QT as a family.
On Saturday, we went to a fall festival. Lila had hoped to get her face painted but the line was way too long.
“Don’t worry, Lila. I’ll paint your face at home,” I happily suggested. Mama saves the day.
Lila’s face lit up as she debated out loud whether she should be a skeleton or a jack-o-lantern. Sunday morning, she was so excited to get done up as a spooky skeleton and I was happy to help create this magic for her. And so our Sunday family day began.
All was good, until what seemed like a fun suggestion turned so wrong—“Let’s stop in the Christmas Tree Shoppe.”
My husband was outwardly not interested and announced that he would wait in the car. Lila, thumb in her mouth and sleepy eyes, was reluctant at first until it dawned on her—“Is that the place with the toys?”  Then she was totally game. Cool. Mama and daughter will go in together. Dad can wait in the car.
My agenda was to just browse. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular and really had no business buying anything that we don’t need (which is easy to do at the Christmas Tree Shoppe.) I didn’t need to go in the first place, but there is just something about that place that draws me in. “Don’t you just love a bargain?” Why, yes, I do.
Well, the Christmas Tree Shoppe on a Saturday in the fall is apparently the place to be… or not to be. I found myself being jerked, pushed, and elbowed. So much for browsing—I couldn’t stay in one spot for too long because of the never ending flow of traffic and the murmured “excuse me’s” down each aisle.
Lila was in rare form. She had the uncontrollable urge to touch and look at everything. “Mom! Wait! I want that! And I want that! Look here! Go there!” and the dreaded “Can you buy me that?!” 
Lila had managed to grab a few things that kept her somewhat occupied as I finished looking around. I had snagged a couple good deals, items I figured I would need for Lila’s big Halloween bash next weekend. Of course, when I went to check out I realized there was no express line in sight. Every line looked like it was miles long. It suddenly felt like they had cranked up the heat in the store. Nothing is worse than having just a handful of items and being behind several customers with full carts and a cashier in need of a price check. UGH!
Lila was clamoring on about something she wanted and I was desperately scoping out the front of store for the fastest moving line and exit. After an eternity, it was finally my turn and my mission was to check out as quickly as possible. As I placed my items on counter, Lila proceeded to do the same—a few cheaply made toys that would inevitably wind up at the bottom of her toy box and a high-fructose-corn-syrup-artificially-flavored candy thing.
“No. Lila, you don’t need that stuff. You can pick ONE thing.”
Lila was NOT happy. The whining and beginning signs of a temper tantrum quickly ensued. And I could feel my temper rising just as quickly as I tried to focus and remember the pin number for my debit card.
“Lila! Please! I can’t even think straight. I said NO.”
And then came the tears and the cool skeleton face paint started to smudge.
In my own frustration, I failed to realize how Lila might be feeling at that moment. She was in that crowded store too. She waited in a long line and felt the relief and excitement when it was our turn to check out. Only, she was told, “no.” In hindsight, I get it. In the moment, I was annoyed, frustrated… mad!
Of course, trying to get a crying, unhappy four-year-old out of a shopping cart is nearly impossible. A kind, empathetic mama took pity on me and held the cart steady. Lila lost a boot as I pulled her out. “MY BOOT!!!!!” More crying... my head started pounding.
My husband, cool and calm, innocently inquired “What happened?”
“Nothing.” I responded sharply. (Nothing I thought was worth rehashing.)
He insisted, “Tell me what happened!”
After a little back and forth, this is when the brief, yet memorable episode of “mom gone wild” happened. I snapped. I snapped at him. I snapped at Lila. Suddenly, I was the child and I wanted to go home!
At the time, I felt somewhat justified. Afterwards, I felt horrible and totally disgusted at myself. This is not how I planned for our weekend to turn out. A picture perfect family memory had turned into one of those traumatic childhood moments (when mom totally loses it) that I vowed I would never cause.
Shortly after we all calmed down, apologies were made and hugs and kisses were given.  This is one of those moments that I desparately want to forget and more importantly pray that Lila will forget. As I recognize my need to develop more patience and the ability to carefully pick my battles, the lesson learned here (for me) is that we are all human. We make mistakes. But we also make up. We admit our fault. And it doesn’t mean we don’t love each other.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Out of the Mouth of Babes

Have you ever experienced a proud mommy moment that instead turned into disappointment? And that disappointment was all the more deep because of the pride you had mistakently felt just a moment before? Well, let me walk you through just such a moment in our lives.

Last weekend, we attended an exhibit about animation at a local art museum. Clara got to make an animated robot and participate in a stop-motion video. (She is the first one in line in the video, and her robot is the last robot that flies off the top of the screen.)The big event of the day was that the museum had invited one of the lead animators from Blue Sky to present a workshop about drawing. 

Many of the people in the audience were adults or older children. As one of the youngest children in the audience, I was proud of Clara as she sat with her lap-size easel and sketched the characters along with the animator. She seemed so confident and comfortable, in fact, that I decided to walk around the rest of the exhibit while she continued to draw under the watchful gaze of her father.

Here are some of Clara's sketches of "Scrat" from the Ice Age movies.
When I returned to where Clara was sitting, I was surprised to see her eagerly raising her hand to ask a question. Other older children had been asking questions, but she was definitely the smallest person trying to ask a question, so small in fact, that the animator couldn't see her extended hand above the heads of the people in front of her.

"What question are you going to ask?," I inquired eagerly.  (Clara is often shy in front of people she doesn't know well, and I was overjoyed to see that she was stepping outside of her comfort zone to ask a question in front of so many strangers.)

"No, Mama... the question is not for you... it's for him," Clara replied pointedly.

"Uh- OK," I thought. I wanted to encourage her to speak out more in general, and so I urged her to stand up and raise her hand high so that the animator would see her.

The animator finally called upon her. 

Clara got nervous, and she paused for so long that I thought she wasn't going to ask her question after all.

"Go ahead, Clara- what's your question?" I inquired. (Sometimes when she does speak in a situation where she is nervous she is so quiet that she can't be heard.) I urged her to ask her question loud and clear.

Finally, she spoke- loudly and clearly...


The audience laughed. The animator took her question in stride and said that Clara's question was just the type of line they look for in animation- something that will get the crowd laughing. I turned fifteen shades of red and sunk, embarassed, onto the floor, holding Clara next to me.

After the presentation, my husband laughed and laughed... at me. For him, the funniest part of this event was not Clara's question itself but the eagerness with which I encouraged her to ask the question followed by the look on my face once she did indeed ask the question. 

When we asked Clara later on why she asked that question, she explained that she had initially thought of another question, but when put on the spot, she got nervous, and asked the first thing that came to mind. Her question made sense given that Clara often wonders about why something is taking a long time, and so it's a default question that she can easily recall.

 I will continue to encourage Clara to stand up and speak out and ask questions... but next time, I will be sure to have her tell me what exact question she is thinking about before encouraging her so eagerly to speak out!


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Top 10 Baby Items That I Can't Let Go

As Lila grew from baby to toddler, my husband had to practically pry the onesie out of my hands. According to him, if he didn't intervene Lila would be "ten years old, going to school in a onesie under her clothes." So what. I love onesies. Lila could stretch, roll around, and play and her belly wouldn't be exposed. They're one of my favorite baby items. I eventually had to let them go, but there are several items that I refuse to give up. It is mainly for practical reasons, but I will admit, it is partly sentimental. With each baby item I hold on to, in a small way I can deny the fact that Lila is growing up. (sniff sniff)

10) Baby lotion: I remember my mother telling me that she loved the smell of baby lotion. I never understood what was so special about it until I had baby of my own. Snuggling with Lila after her bath, the scent of baby lotion (particularly Johnson's & Johnson's) brings me back to when she was a little, bitty baby in my arms. Awww. So sweet! But besides smelling great, baby lotion is actually a really good moisturizer. The whole family uses it. Love it!

9) The diaper bag: Don’t worry. I don’t actually still carry my diaper bag, but I did for a while after Lila was out of diapers. Now, I still bring a huge bag with me at all times. We need stuff—snacks, crayons and coloring books, a water bottle, a change of clothes in case of an accident…  Even if we are just running a quick errand we pack like we’re going on an adventure. Let’s face it. Everyday is an adventure with a four-year-old! After a full day with Lila, I dump out the snack wrappers, broken crayons, works of art on the backs of paper place mats, dirty clothes, sticky, crumpled napkins, and rocks, leaves and whatever other “treasure” found in our travels. Wonder if I will ever go back to carrying a cute, small purse again? My magic eight ball just responded “Ask again later.”

8) The stroller: We are relying on it less and less, but my husband and I still keep the umbrella stroller in the trunk of the car just in case. To think when I was childless, I used to shake my head at “big kids” riding around in strollers—“Mmm. Mmm. Mmm. That kid needs to walk!” Now as a mom, I am forced to eat my words. True, Lila is perfectly capable of walking most of the time and she does. But she is small. Her little legs get tired or she gets exhausted suddenly and needs to take a nap. Then what? One of us has to carry her. So, in desperation, we break out the stroller. Yes, her knees are a little high up and her feet can touch the ground. Are you judging me? Okay, YOU lug 40 pounds of dead weight (along with shopping bags and the huge purse mentioned above) through the mall and out to the parking lot. Uh huh. Yeah. I thought so.

7) Gerber puffs: Yum. This was one of Lila’s first and favorite snacks. She loved them as a baby in her high chair and still enjoys them now. Strawberry, sweet potato, apple cinnamon-- they are light, tasty, and totally addictive. And if you’re like me and mindlessly munch on your child’s leftover snacks, no worries. Puffs are a low calorie/low fat (low WW point) treat. YAY!

6) Cheerios: Again, another babyhood snack that never gets old. We always keep a box of Cheerios in the house. Now we’ve graduated to more advanced flavors such as Honey Nut and Multigrain. Lila still eats them the way she did as a baby-- no bowl, spoon, or milk. Cheerios are the ultimate finger food. Pop a handful and keep it movin’.

5) Sippy cups: Speaking of being on the move, I still consider sippy cups to be essential. Yes, at the dinner table, Lila uses a big girl cup, but any other time she is just too busy and active to be given a cup with no lid. That’s just asking for trouble. We use sippy cups around the house, in the car, playing outside, and when we are simply on the go.

4) Baby books: I have managed to donate or pass down most of Lila’s baby toys, but the baby books still remain. You know the ones— mostly pictures and just a few words on each page? They take about three seconds to read. We have advanced to longer, more complex storybooks, but every once in a while, at bedtime, Lila reaches for an old favorite. Even though it wasn’t that long ago that she was a baby, she seems to get nostalgic when I read these familiar little books to her. The cool thing is she is starting to read these books to me. As she is learning her letters, sounds, and basic spelling, she will often practice her words by reading these books aloud. Timeless treasures, they serve a whole new purpose as she develops her early reading skills. That’s right— My baby can read!

3) Lullabies: Despite Lila confusing me with Alicia Keys, I can not sing. But that doesn't stop Lila from requesting her favorite baby lullabies at night. It's a special part of our bedtime routine. Lila, my audience of one, is probably the only person who will request an encore of my vocal performances.

2) Wipes: What would I do without wipes? Whoever invented this wonderful all purpose cleaning item should be honored. I keep them in the huge purse, in the car, in the bathroom... everywhere! And use them to clean everything from sticky hands to spilled juice to dusty furniture. This is one baby item I will probably never give up. 

1) Baby blankets: Sentimental, warm, and comfy, Lila still uses the same blankets she did as a baby. Sure, she is no longer swaddled in them, but they still keep her secure and cozy. When she wakes up in the middle of the night and comes to our room, her blanket comes to. She won't let go of her blankies. The best one was hand knit by a family friend. Can't get more special than that! 


Friday, October 5, 2012

What's for Lunch? 5 days of School Lunches

At Clara's school, PreK students are required to bring their own lunch. I can't wait until next year when Clara is allowed to join the school lunch plan, but in the meantime, we are doing the best we can to make healthy, colorful meals for Clara. I feel lucky that she goes to a school where the lunch plan provides healthy choices. I still shudder when I think of Jamie Oliver's tv expose of some school cafeterias where the only large utensil in the kitchen was a box cutter because all of the food was frozen and came out of boxes!

When I first realized that Clara would have to bring her own lunch every day, I panicked a bit, and then I looked online to see what other parents were packing. One of my favorite mama food blogs is the Full Plate blog. I loved looking at the variety of meals, and so I'm sharing with you a week of Clara's lunches in case it might be of help to you, too!

Monday: Barbecue chicken with dipping sauce (Clara loves to dip!); green beans; nectarines & grapes ( The BBQ chicken was from the previous night's dinner. Many of Clara's lunches start with leftovers from dinner the night before.)
Clara's verdict: Yum! She ate it all.

Tuesday: Pork; sugar snap peas; mozarella/tomato/basil salad with balsamic vinegar; plum
Clara's verdict: She said, "The plum was too juicy and too hard to eat." Clara prefers her fruit cut up. She loved the mozarella salad, but didn't love the basil. (I was a little sad about this since the basil is from a plant we have been growing in our back yard since the spring- one of my only successful herb plants- ever!)

Wednesday: Turkey and provolone cheese roll up on whole wheat wrap; salami; sliced apples (with a little lemon on them to prevent browning); sugar-snap peas; Annie's cheddar bunnies mix
Clara's verdict: Yum! She ate it all.

Thursday: Ground turkey; tortilla chips & shredded cheese; grilled green peppers & tomatoes; grapes
Clara's verdict: Everything was good except for the grilled green peppers. She liked them the night before at dinner when they were hot, but not cold the next day.

Friday: Sunbutter & Jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread; fresh corn on the cob from our farm share; organic applesauce (you'll notice that by the end of the week her meal got a little less colorful and creative- I think the quality of her lunch is in direct proportion to my energy level.)
Clara's verdict: She loved it. This was a happy surprise because it was the first time she had Sunbutter. Her school has a strict nut-free policy, and so I was afraid the teachers might confiscate her sandwich thinking it had nuts (this did happen last year!)... so I wrote a note to the teachers explaining that it was nut-free Sunbutter made of sunflower seeds.



I knew I wanted a container with multiple sections for Clara's lunch, and I loved the variety of bento boxes that I saw other moms using online. We ended up purchasing the Anchor Hocking 4-cube lunch box at the Container Store

 We bought these cute Crocodile Creek ice packs this summer. 

And then, it all fits snugly into an REI lunch bag. 

Oh, and I can't forget one of our favorite purchases- the "Light My Fire" spork that Clara uses proudly. Clara likes to use a spoon for many food items, so it gives her the choice of always having a spoon or fork on hand. And, it's pretty cute to hear her refer to her spork.

As I mentioned, Clara's school is nut-free, and so I put together a list of nut-free snacks that I can easily reference to make sure the snacks are OK for school. I usually put two small snacks in her lunch each day. This year, I'm trying to organize and bag enough snacks on the weekend and keep them accessible on a counter so that I can easily pack the snacks without too much thought throughout the busy week.


Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies
Tortilla chips
Pretzels/pretzel sticks (not Snyders)
Rice cakes

String cheese
Babybel Cheese circles
Veggies and white bean dip
Veggies and hummus
Organic Unsweetened Applesauce
TJ's Applesauce Crushers
Back to Nature Honey Graham Sticks
TJ's Fruit leathers
TJ’s freeze dried mango, pineapple, banana chips

Happy Eating!