Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Top 10: Fun (low cost) things to do on staycation

This summer we had no family vacation plans, but I did have two fabulous weeks off with Lila. After a busy semester and summer session, I was definitely in need of a break and some real quality time with my girl. I was thrilled not to have a plan or a schedule. Every day we would wake up, get ready, and hit the road. I decided we would act like we were on vacation and enjoy all the little things there are to do near home. We had a great time! Here is our top 10 list of easy and fun things to do on staycation:

10) Have a picnic in the park. Lila and I share a love for picnics. It is a wonderful way to lounge and enjoy the weather on a beautiful day. The fun starts with preparing the lunch, which I let Lila take the lead on (after all, she is an aspiring chef). We usually pack PB&J, fruit, and other snacks, grab a blanket and head to our favorite park (or even just stay in the backyard).

9) Visit a mall in another city. We live down the street from our mall, so we tend to go there often. We have our regular routine-- we'll usually get a truffle from Godiva, sample various teas at Teavana, test out cool gadgets at Brookstone, flip through a few books at Barnes & Noble, and Lila runs around the kids' play area for a bit. We did this, as usual, during our staycation, but we also took a trip to another mall further away. It was kind of exciting to check out different stores and a new play area. This one even had kiddie rides!

8) Make s'mores. Whether you make them over a fire or pop 'em in the microwave, s'mores are just pure, messy fun. We sometimes like to treat ourselves to the s'mores at Cosi. Roast the marshmallows over a tabletop fire pit, assemble them with all the fixin's, and enjoy!

7) Paint your own pottery. We spent one afternoon with a friend at a local ceramics/pottery studio. You could pick out a piece of pottery ranging from $5-$50, choose your colors, and paint to your little heart's desire. Both adults and children can have fun and be creative. When you're finished, they will fire and glaze it for you to preserve your unique piece of art. Lila made a pretty trinket bowl for her dresser.

6) Thrill ride at your local amusement park. The merry-go-round, the "whip," kiddie coaster, giant slide, cotton candy, funnel cake, ice cream... need I say more?!

5) Check out a free (or low cost) movie. In the summer, Bowtie Cinemas offers free kids' movies on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. They also offer $6 movies all day on Tuesdays. Regal Cinemas offers $1 kids' movies also on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings and $5 Tuesdays all day.

4) Surprise dad on his lunch break. My poor husband had to work all during our staycation. Boo! One day Lila pointed out that "daddy's missing all the fun." So, to brighten his day, we popped in to take him out to lunch. Lila was a star at her daddy's office and got lots of attention (and a lollipop). It was great to sneak in some QT during his workday.

3) Keep cool at the pool. We were invited by friends to hang out at one of the public pools in their area. We had a blast in the lazy river and splash playground and enjoyed a picnic lunch.

2) Browse your local farmer's market. This is a weekly ritual for me and Lila (and sometimes dad). Lila, being a miniature foodie, is like a kid in a candy store at the farmer's market. She always gets her gourmet olives and mushrooms (which barely make it home). We stroll through the market to sample delicious fruit and veggies and we always come home with a bag of goodies. YUM!

1) Be a beach bum. As mentioned in a previous post, Lila is a total beach baby. We are so fortunate to live near the water (and that Grandma has a place on the beach). I feel like the water and sun have healing, rejuvenating powers that allow me to return from "staycation" totally relaxed and refreshed.


Monday, August 12, 2013

The Wonder of Summer Camp!

When my husband first suggested that Sarah attend summer camp full time, I baulked.


Not stay home with me? That’s just crazy.

Beside the outrageous expense of a full-time summer camp program in our area, she would be so tired. I just couldn’t imagine my girl handling the demands of such a long day. Of course, my husband knows me better than I know myself at times and suggested that I think about what I would do with the free time. With such an inviting demand for self-reflection and the prospect a few spa days thrown in, what could I do but sign her up and hope for the best.

Put this in the record books – he was right!

Once I got over the initial sadness of watching her load the bus on her own, without a tear, I eventually reveled in hearing about her adventures each day. Sarah grew exponentially at camp! She rode the bus without fear, running up to the door in the morning and bouncing down the steps each afternoon, waving at her new friends or high-fiving the camp counselor who accompanied them each day. She came home with art work, friendship bracelets and tie dyed shirts. AND, she learned so many new things . . .swim without a floaty, dribble a basketball, hit a baseball, run the bases, play gaga (a politically correction version of dodge ball), make up a cheer, swing across all the monkey bars without help and spit out watermelon seeds and plethora of new nature facts . . . to name a few small milestones!

I learned it was time for her to begin developing her own life – that spanned far beyond the walls of our playroom.  As a result, she is ready and excited for kindergarten, plays school nearly every day with her spotless new backpack and regularly asks how many days remain before she can go. I couldn’t have asked for more. I realize that she and I both needed to grow in our independence, and now our quality time is even more high quality as she leads the activities and teaches me new things. These are the exact big-girl adventures we’ve been preparing her for, and I’m so proud of both of us!


Thursday, August 8, 2013

A cute care package from your "aunt flo"

I know this is a loooong time off for us but when you have a daughter you know that "the talk" is inevitably in your future. I never really had "the talk" with my own mom, so I'm not quite sure what I will do when the time comes. I remember my information came from Catholic school health ed class (cringe), my peers who knew just as much (or as little) as I did, and one of my all time favorite books, Judy Blume's "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." Classic.

When I came across the commercial on YouTube hailed as "the best tampon commercial ever," I had to check it out. It is brillant!

The commercial is for an online company called "Hello Flo" (adorable!) which sends care packages for girls when they have their period.

Each care package contains:
  • Light and regular tampons
  • Pads and liners
  • Get Ready Guide for Parents
  • Get Ready Guide for Girls
  • A canvas pouch for carrying supplies
  • A Do-it-yourself Feby Kit (Female Empowerment Bracelet)
  • And other surprise gifts and goodies
What a super cute idea!! I am totally keeping this idea in mind for the future. For my mama friends with tweens and teens, this is for you!


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

I am never ever going to die... right, Mama? (1 of 2)

I don’t know when I thought the right time to start talking about death with my five-year-old would be, but I wasn’t expecting it to happen in the deli line at Whole Foods.
As the deli worker weighed the pound of turkey we just ordered, Clara asked in a clear and much louder voice than usual, “What happens when we die?”
The woman to my side looked over, curiously awaiting the answer. The deli guy looked bemused, spending a few extra seconds at the scale as he listened in to the conversation.
I paused for a while. This felt like an important question and it seemed like I had an audience of at least three awaiting my verdict.
Finally, I employed one of my favorite tactics as both a mom and an educator. When someone asks me a tough question I turn the tables and ask the asker the same question.
“Well, what do you think happens?” I asked.
“I think it’s dark like when you close your eyes,” Clara said, closing her eyes to demonstrate.
“That’s a good guess. It’s interesting that you chose darkness because other people describe heaven as being very light and white. There are lots of different ways to think about what happens when you die,” I said.
I was gearing up to say more, but Clara just shrugged her shoulders and said, “OK”, satisfied with these two scenarios of death as complete darkness or complete lightness, and asked if she could have some ice cream.
I was relieved that this conversation was short and to the point and figured that we were done talking about death for a while.
I was wrong. The next day at home, as we were making cards for Papa’s upcoming birthday, Clara began a more sophisticated line of questioning about death.
“I’m never ever never going to die. Right, Mama?” Clara looked up at me with wide eyes, so hopeful that she would be the exception to this thing called death that maybe just happened to other people.
My throat closed for a moment. As a mother, every day, I help Clara in practical ways like giving her food, getting her dressed, and driving her places. I help her in psychological ways by helping her to grow as a person, to believe in herself, and to dream big. And yet, sometimes I feel like I am no different than a cave woman mother from thousands of years ago with my main mission, underneath all of the modern responsibilities, being to just keep my child alive, to protect her from death.
For some people, I imagine death seems like a far away something that will happen someday way yonder in the future. To me, death has always felt tangible, present, as though it is lurking just around the corner. On a regular basis, I find myself murmuring a prayerful plea, don’t die, in situations big and small. When I was nine months pregnant, and there was a day that I couldn’t feel Clara kicking. Don’t die. When she was two years old and swallowed nearly an entire bottle of Tylenol. Don’t die. When we crossed four lanes of highway traffic in our car and almost crashed. Don’t die.
And so when she asked in her little plaintive voice about her own death, every part of me wanted to scream, “No, no, my dear, Clara, not you, of course you will not die.” And yet, I knew I had to tell her the truthful answer as much for her as for me.
“Yes.” I swallowed. “Some day a long time from now, you will die. Everyone dies. When you go to heaven, you will see all of the people you love.”
“Well, if I have to die, I’m not going to die until I’m like 40… or 100,” Clara said with the assurance and confidence of those ages being far away in the distance.
I mention that there is a big difference between 40 and 100 and reminded her of some of the people we know who are 40 years old. I tell her that it is more common to die closer to 100 years old than 40 years old.
“Alright, she says, I choose 100 years old then. I will die when I am 100,” she decided.
Wouldn’t it be nice if death felt like a choice, a decision that we could make with assurance at age five? As someone who likes to have control in my life, death has always felt like the biggest unknown. I remember reading “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” in high school and resonating with a passage where Tess wonders what day her death will be. We celebrate our birthday every year, but our death day passes us by unknowing. I was surprised when Clara asked me last week what day her death will be. It seems that like her mama, she might prefer to have the date and time self-selected in advance.
How do you tackle unknowable or uncomfortable topics with your child? How do you handle questions of life and death with your child? 
What would you say if your child asked “I’m never ever going to die. Right, Mama?”


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Top 10 Random Things That Scare Us the Most

Lila is known as the “brave one” amongst her friends. If you need a volunteer to try something, Lila’s your girl! Dare or double dare her? Ha! No prob. Lila is up for everything and anything. This little warrior will climb to the top of a tree or the monkey bars, dive into pool on the deep end and even throw in a trick for dramatic effect, dig up worms with her bare hands for the perfect mud pie topping, eat a cricket (preferably sea salt and vinegar flavored) or any other disgusting thing guaranteed to gross out family and friends. But, as extreme as Lila’s desire is for danger and dares, she also has these sudden intense emotions sparked by the few rare things that scare her. A chicken myself, I admit that in most situations I am absolutely no help, which is just one more factor contributing to my ever growing mom guilt. As mothers, isn’t it our instinct, better yet our duty, to protect our young? What happens when your daughter screams and you’re screaming even louder? I need to get it together. Perhaps the first step is to recognize and own our fears.

Lila... Danger is her middle name.

Here are mine and Lila’s Top 10 Random Things That Scare Us the Most:

1) Birds (Me): I don’t know where this came from exactly. Maybe it’s from watching Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds as a child or having a pigeon poop on my head? I just don’t trust birds. A little bird on the ground is fine, but a flock, a few, or even one flapping around me? Eek!! My heart rate’s increasing as I’m typing this. So, what happens when you’re at a nature center and a not-so-friendly goose starts squawking and biting at your kid’s clothes? If you’re like me you immediately jump back and try to hide behind someone while you desperately wait for one of the staff members to shoo the big bad bird away. When the commotion is over you feel ashamed because you realize you did nothing while your daughter got attacked by a bird. All you can do is try your best to make up for it by comforting her with tons of please-forgive-me hugs and kisses. (Yet another dent in my “mom of the year” trophy.)

2) Robots (Lila): Every time Lila gets an invitation to a birthday party she asks “will there be any robots or cheesecake?” The type of birthday cake is important because Lila has an aversion to cheese, but the robot thing is really random. She just decided one day that she did not like robots. I didn’t realize just how much she did not like robots—that, in fact, she was horrified of robots, until the four BFF’s (Lila, Sarah, Elisa, and Clara) had play date during which a toy robot was brought into the mix. The laughter above soon turned into frantic cries, which is really hard to detect at first. So, unfortunately poor Lila was stuck facing her fear while I kept chatting over coffee downstairs. By the time I realized what was going on, Lila demanded “Let’s get out of here! NOW!” And the play date was over.

3) Dolls (Me): The Twilight Zone’s “Talkie Tina” could be to blame or maybe it was the rumored news story about the little girl’s Cabbage Patch Kid that became possessed, but some dolls really creep me out to this day. My mom used to own a country crafts and antique store and the vintage dolls with the glass eyes were the worst. Eew! I get the shivers just thinking about them. As a child, every night, I had a ritual of putting each and every doll in the closet. I couldn’t fall asleep until I knew they were locked away and couldn’t “get” me during the night. My mom recently tried to give me back my old dolls and I politely declined. No thank you!

4) Supermarket Singing Vegetables (Lila): There is a store in our region that has lots of “fun” animatronics and costumed characters to entertain the children while parents shop. Who would guess that Lila would be terrified of them? Annabelle soon learned this herself when she tried to take Lila to that particular supermarket. Despite the promise of ice cream, which at least got Lila there, at the last minute fear took over and soon came the tears. “Vegetables shouldn’t sing” is her explanation. Makes sense. I have to admit that I was never fond of the costumed characters as a child. I get it. However, for a while, before every grocery store trip we had to convince Lila that “this is not the one with the singing vegetables” to calm her nerves.

5) Heights (Me): As a child, I had a reoccurring nightmare that I was falling. It was horrifying. In my dream I would never actually hit the ground, I would wake up suddenly with my heart pounding. I think it goes along with my personality—I like to have both feet on the ground at all times. No risks for me. So, what happens when your adventurous toddler decides to climb up into those netted indoor juggle gyms and you have to climb up and get her? You go up there and shake and pray the whole time trying to control the panic in your voice- “Lila, come down, please, NOW!”

Lila rock climbing. Luckily she doesn't share my fear of heights.
6) Certain Bugs (Both of us): Lila is fascinated with most bugs. She will collect beetles in a bucket and catch fireflies in her hands. She has no qualms about picking up worms or caterpillars. But some bugs FREAK HER OUT! One rainy night, we were on our way home from Ellyn and Clara’s house when we both noticed a big brown spider in the car. There were a few seconds of silence and then Lila let out a blood curdling scream! Honestly, I wanted to scream too, but I had to try to remain calm for Lila’s sake. I pulled over, took a deep breath and swiped the spider out of the car. I jumped back in, now soaked from the rain, and sped off (as if the spider was going to chase us). Lila wasn’t convinced that he was gone and her continual screams and cries made me unsure that he was gone. We spent the entire car ride (which seemed like an eternity even though I live only a few miles away) thinking the spider was on one of us. We took turns—“I feel him on me!" "Is he on me!?" "AHHHHH!” It didn’t help that the rain drops trickling down my skin felt exactly like spiders crawling on me.

Creepy crawly things have never really phased her. 

7) The Dark (Lila and me too sometimes): This is a pretty common one, right? Lila must have a night light, every night. Currently, it is a groovy lava lamp. For extra illumination her entire ceiling is full of glow-in-the-dark stars, courtesy of dad. As for me, I am scared of dark but only when outside. If I come home late, I am sure to hustle to the door and I get myself inside as quickly as possible.
8) Strangers (Both of us): Once I am in the house, the alarm is reset. I’ve seen too many Lifetime movies and news reports involving home invasions, so I’m not playing around. Our house alarm is not to protect our stuff— it’s to safe guard us! Another reoccurring nightmare I’ve had as a child involved being kidnapped by a stranger and not being able to scream for my parents. Terrible! And I have passed the fear of strangers onto Lila. After our talks about “not talking to strangers,” Lila will sometimes whisper to me when out in public—“That was close! Did you see that stranger walk by?!?!” I haven’t figured out how to teach a child to be safe without making her paranoid of everyone who walks by.
9) Inadvertently Saying a Bad Word (Lila): Lila does not approve of bad language which she refers to as “bathroom words.” If she is asked to repeat something fresh that another child has said she will downright refuse. I’m not talking the major four letter words here— I’m talking about innocent words like “stupid” or “fart.” Oh no! Don’t talk that way in front of Lila. And because she sets such a high standard for politeness, I have learned that if you point out that she shouldn’t use a certain word she will get VERY upset with herself. It will trouble her for the rest of the day, even if she says a bad word unknowingly. Sweet Lila. I wonder how long this stage will last.
10) Bad Dreams (Lila and me too sometimes): The curse of having an active, vivid imagination is that you are susceptible to bad dreams. Lila knows this all too well. There was a period of time when her bad dreams occurred almost every night. It got so bad that she was afraid to fall asleep. It wasn’t one reoccurring dream. Each night it was something different and more outrageous. The bad dreams have subsided now thanks to her dream catcher and angels in her room. Additionally, Lila sleeps in a certain part of her bed where the “bad dreams don’t get her.” Hey, whatever works!

One way to embrace your fears...

be a little scary yourself!



Friday, August 2, 2013

The Ten-Minute Tea Party

Deep down inside, I knew that my vision of a lingering, leisurely tea party with four five-year-olds and their American Girl Dolls might be a figment of my imagination. The first clue was that one of the girls still hadn’t taken her American Girl doll out of the box even though she had it for over a year.
Nonetheless, we persevered with the plan. Clara set the table with the big tea cups for the girls and toy cups for their dolls. We took out little plates and bowls for the sweet and savory snacks. Clara set up the silverware and the napkins. She even set up a little cup on the floor for her American Girl Doll’s doggy. 
The menu
Sweets menu
*Chocolate chip cookies
*Cherry pastries
*Fruit salad

Savory menu
*Annie’s organic snack mix

*Potato chips 

*Iced herbal peach tea 

*Assorted juices

The dolls
Even though there are allegedly a thousand and three variations of the American Girl dolls, they all look rather the same to me with their bright, wide eyes and stiff yet slightly movable bodies. However, I was genuinely impressed with some of the accessories that the girls brought for their dolls.
Sarah’s doll had crutches, a tiny cast on her leg, and even a hearing aid. Lila’s doll rolled into the party on rollerblades, but Lila decided to take the shoes off before the tea party because she didn’t think they were appropriate footwear for the event.
Tea party rules
The girls reviewed what they know about how to conduct a tea party. 
1. It’s all in the pinky. Sarah started with the helpful reminder to keep one’s pinky properly flexed up in the air. Each girl practiced their pinky extension.
2. Proper etiquette. Lila reminded the group to be polite and put their napkins in their lap.
3. Tea mother. I shared with the girls my experience of going to a fancy high tea at the Empress in Victoria, Canada. Our waiter asked who would be the Tea mother and explained that that person’s job is to pour the tea for the others. Each girl took turns pouring the tea for the dolls.
4. Everything sounds better with an accent. I tried to get the girls to talk with a British accent, but since I can’t even do one myself, this tip didn’t go very far.
Gender roles
In the end, our tea party seemed to be shorter than even the underwater tea parties that Clara and I conduct in the swimming pool. The girls ate their snacks, drank their tea, and then they were eager to move on to other games.
Running around the house playing hide and seek, watching “Bedtime for Frances”, and reading books were more engaging for the girls than the tea party.
The old-fashioned pioneer woman in me was a bit disappointed that the tea party was not more of a hit. On the other hand, though, I am happy we are raising girls who find joy in play that transcends traditional gender roles, that it takes more than dolls and tea to satisfy these free spirits.