Making Christmas memories with salad

Part of my renewed commitment to enjoying the holidays is to make a few memories with the kids. I wanted to take them one evening during the week to look at Christmas lights. While sitting in the car to gaze at lights used to be a pastime of mine, I wanted the kids to get outside since the chilly air temp has a lot to do with creating Christmas memories for me.

So we headed to Reston Town Center. Not the most unique set up, but it was close by and free. So if the plan went bad we had an easy escape plan. The kids were floored by the lights. All the trees were fully wrapped in white lights from top to bottom. Anna ooed at the big Christmas tree. Alex stood fascinated by the ice skaters. It was a mini wintery wonderland for preschoolers. Done, I thought! What an easy outing. It was well past dinnertime and since everyone was happy, I decided to stop in for dinner at Panera. I pitched a ham sandwich for dinner and both kids’ faces lit up. But when I walked to the door and saw they were “temporary closed” for cleaning I was sorely disappointed.

Now as every mom knows this is a tricky situation. Do I repitch a new dinner idea? Find something with the same theme to console those saddened by the disappointment? Or abandon the whole trip and go home? Now, a smart, experienced mom would say a kink in the plan means a chance that the rest of the outing will go south so choice C (go home) is your best bet. Did we do C? Nope, we found someplace sandwichy to go instead. Live and learn and follow gut next time, I say in hindsight.

I’m guessing since you’re still reading you’re curious about dinner. Well, we walked to the La Madeline across the street. As we walk in, the man entering in front of us lets the door slam on me, my son and the stroller once . . . and then again. Grumbling mom of two small kids enters. Menu reads ham sandwich, perfect. Done. We wait in a very, very long line of customers. (Go home, my brain says. Stay or else you’ll have meltdowns, my heart says.) We wait. The kids are surprisingly good. Just as the guy says “next in line,” Alex asks a question. I must have missed the next “next in line” and the lady behind me says, “EXCUSE me” in that nasty tone, and I shoot her a dirty look. Hey, lady, lighten up. Do you see me struggling here?

We move through the line and my kids are starting to lose patience. I have a tray with food on it, a stroller and another child. People are passing by me at rapid speed. I’m wondering how I will get to a table with everyone since the woman behind me keeps sighing at my pokiness. Finally, the guy comes with our food, while I’m in still in line and just stands there. No offer to help. Just stands there staring at me. (Note to self: Next time ask for help.) We finally find one of the last tables left that seats more than two people. It hasn’t been cleaned yet and the man is standing drinking his coffee with his dirties on the table. He offers the table. We grab it. He stands and talks to my kids, while I bus his table. Meanwhile, I have to go grab our tray from the cash register area. (I had to leave it to get kids settled.) I get them set up with food. The man is still yakking away. I go back and get forks/spoons for the kids. I get everyone settled, get coats off, split the sandwich and breathe a sigh of relief.

Anna starts screaming bloody murder because there's lettuce on her sandwich and it starts to fall apart as she eats it. Ok, problem fixed. I take a bite of my salad, and she insists since it’s on her plate it belongs to her and forbids me to eat the Caesar salad I had been craving. So, my child who NEVER eats salad, eats the whole thing. As I start eating my soup, Alex starts crying that he has to pee right that minute. We put down our forks (Anna cries because she loves her salad) and we run to the bathroom, praying my stuff is still there when we get back. Alex pees, singing the whole time. We come back and sit down. I take a bit of soup. Anna decides she wants some. She takes a bite and loves it and insists on eating it. Alex finishes his water and asks for more. I stall on getting up again,and finally she insists as well. I get more water. I sit down, take a bite of something since most of my dinner was eaten by my daughter, and Anna spills the whole glass of water over the table. No offer from busboy looking on (who still hasn’t bussed the table from before). I groan and mutter profanity under my breath and say, "Hey, guys. We’re out of here." Alex grabs the rest of his sandwich and we walk back to the car.

My memory of what could have been a magical Christmas evening, will forever be the disaster at the Reston La Madeline (not a kid friendly place at 6 p.m.) I will never take my kids back there, except that Anna keeps going on about the salad. Perhaps the memory is not Christmas but that Anna learned to love lettuce!

Band aids are the new stickers

Every child I know is addicted to Band Aids. I don’t think they even need pictures on them to like them. My son took a while to warm up to Band Aids, but once he realized they came with a cuddle and a kiss, they became the new thing to whine about when nothing else was wrong. I'm sure Johnson and Johnson knows this and is raking in the dough on us moms buying Band Aids every trip to the store. I think I'm going to start buying them in bulk. We have them in all characters—Dora, Diego, Hello Kitty, Backyardigans, Spiderman, etc. I don’t even think my kids know half of these characters.

Recently, I think Band Aids have replaced stickers in my house. I find them on the floor, in towels, on lovies, in the bathtub, in the toilet, in the car and everywhere else but on the boo boo. Luckily, I have a special box stored away in my bathroom out of the sight in case we ever really have blood since we’ll certainly be out of Band Aids if we really need them.

Oh, and kudos to my neighbor Heather for thinking to put them in birthday party goody bags. I was able to let my kids go to town on Band Aids just for the sake of it.


A homemade Christmas

It’s not that I need projects to do. God only knows I have enough things to do between my kids (with a husband who travels all the time), my blogs, my book that I’m trying to get published and all the other daily household chores I’m expected to. But I need to feel the Christmas spirit in me again. For me, that means turning this Christmas into a homemade one, as best as I can.

So, I’m trying to balance getting more involved in the Christmas season with enjoying it more too. It’s been hard, but I think it might more a state of mind. Going against what I said back in October about starting Christmas the day after Thanksgiving, I decided to ease into Christmas even before Advent begins. [Gasp] That’s usually my official “green light” to start with the preparations, but then I get swamped and before I know it I’m days behind and deep into stress.

Since I’m making my cards this year, which I know seems crazy, I started them this weekend. Surprisingly it has taken less time than I expected, and I’m enjoying it more than I thought possible. But each evening while the kids play or watch a DVD, I sit with them and work on Christmas projects. Sometimes they craft at the same table, sometimes I have to run from them to keep yogurt-covered fingers from my red paper. It actually has turned into a fun thing to do with the kids. Perhaps some creativity will pass on to them. They don’t seem to mind that I’m working on something else as long as I’m sitting with them. So it works.

To add to my own craziness, I’ve decided to make a few of the gifts this year. And those that I don’t make, I want to personalize. Not sure how that will go, but I figured if I finish my cards this week that will leave me time for the rest. Since I enjoy the creative outlet, I’m hoping it will help engage me more with the season. I will do more baking and decorating since for the past four years (due to moving or babies) I have just let that slide.

I’ll keep you posted on how this goes. Come mid-December I might be frantic like I was back in October trying to make costumes.


Conversations of babies

This was the discussion at the breakfast table earlier this week:

Alex: Daddy, I think I want to have a new baby.
Daddy: Really. Where did that come from? (My husband looking at me as I shrug.)
Alex: I just want to have a new baby.
Mommy: You do know that would mean you’d have to share your toys with someone else. It would be like having another Anna.
Anna: I am Anna. We can have two Annas.
Daddy: Well, we can't just have a new baby. Mommy and daddy have to decide to make one. Then we have to wait while the baby grows in mommy's tummy.
Alex: What does that mean.
Mommy: We have to cook one up. Make a baby.
Alex: But God makes you.
Daddy: Yes, God does make you. (Starts muttering about something here and Alex's eyes glaze over)
Daddy: If we had a baby what would you like a brother or a sister?
Alex: A sister.
Daddy: Really, what should we name her?
Alex: Isabella.
Daddy: Why should we name her Isabella?
Alex: Because we don’t have an Isabella. (Alex smiles) Mommy, can I have more cereal?

No, I am not pregnant!


Ow, my head

The inevitable finally happened. Today, in our VERY wooded neighborhood playground, I was hit in the head by a falling acorn. Damn, it hurt. How are there not more dead squirrels from that?


Thoughts of Thanksgiving

This week I’m putting aside the Christmas cards I started addressing, and the Christmas presents I started shopping for. This week would be what it is: Thanksgiving. This is a very important Thanksgiving for our family. My parents and my brother and his wife will make the trip to my home this year and join our four. In previous years we’ve been abroad or too far away, so this year will be the first that my family comes to my house for Thanksgiving.

It is also a special holiday because of my parents. I don’t use this blog to talk about it, but I feel it warrants mentioning in light of the holiday. I am thankful for so many things. I am thankful for my parents being able to make the trip this year, inshallah. (God Willing) My mother had her fourth chemo treatment last week and seems improved—in both body and spirit. I am thankful she has only two more rounds before she is granted a temporary reprieve. I am thankful for my father who is taking care of her during this time. I am thankful he has hobbies and projects to distract him from cancer and chemotherapy. I am thankful that my parents built the bond with my kids very early on and that my son asks about her daily. I am thankful that his favorite place to be is at Grandma’s house. I am thankful for my husband who will lets me drive down to see them at the drop of a hat without the kids to spend time with her or help out when I can. I am thankful for all they still do for us.

I am thankful that this thanksgiving we will all be together.

I want to spend this week remembering this and being thankful for the blessing that I have. I want to take a step back and enjoy the food I make and savor the memories.

Thanks to fellow DC Metro Moms blogger who inspired me to start a new tradition. From their first Thanksgiving as a family, they used an inexpensive table cloth to write down what they were thankful for. And each year that table cloth is used for the dinner. I’m going to spin it a different way with napkins. (Quite honestly because I’m not up for decorating my Damascene table cloth I bought in Syria for my rather large table.) Each member of my family, including the kids, must write what they are thankful for after dinner. And we’ll reuse them year after year until there is no more room.

For Christmas he wants anything . . .

For Christmas this year, Joey wants anything Thomas the Train. And Sally wants anything Dora the Explorer. Ok, I have real issue with this line of thinking. How is it that our children want things, anything, with some character on it: shoes, towels, clothes, dolls, blankets, hats, etc. Is our world so full of commercialized product that we can’t have toys for the sake of learning, exploring and creating?

Someone puts Dora on the Candy Land game and suddenly that is going to make a child want to play it more. Perhaps a parent will choose to buy that since Sally loves Dora, but shouldn’t we be buying toys for a purpose other than to clutter up our homes with more crap. Have we really learned nothing from the year of toy recalls? We are a culture consumed in commercialized products and I’m astonished that by this every time I step into Target. I wanted to find a bike helmet for my son without a character on it. Luckily, a local bike store stocked enough non-Dora/Diego helmets for those of us avoiding the cartoon character takeover of our world. Sometimes a set of colorful blocks can be something to stimulate a child, help them learn and grow. Putting Thomas the Train or Elmo on the blocks does nothing but endorse our need for this type of stuff in the marketplace—mostly, if not all of it, made in China. It’s even on my kid’s diapers. I really don’t need Elmo in my face every time I change her.

So this is for you Disney, Nick Jr, Sesame Street, Hit Entertainment, Marvel Comics—I am not buying any of your commercialized stuff this year. If my kids want to watch your DVDs, fine, but I don’t need the cast of High School Musical, Big Bird or the Wiggles (no offense Wiggles, cuz we love you) hanging around in my living room, kitchen, playroom, bedroom, bathroom and car.


Simply Fall

I love Fall. I love the light, the beautiful colors on the trees and the cooler temps. I can’t compare it to the other seasons since I think each has its own special qualities. This afternoon, the kids and I enjoyed fall the simple way. The weather was just perfect—fleece only weather—to take a walk in the surrounding forested trails near our house. This is one of the things I love about Reston. A short walk will take you into a whole new, calming world away from the crazy life of suburbia.

The kids hopped in the wagon—Radio Flyer with all-terrain wheels (I knew this would come in handy eventually)—and we started our nature hike. No destination just a walk through the trees to enjoy the weather. We stopped along the way to watch the squirrels, play at the playgrounds, throw rocks off bridges into the streams. So often we walk and I have to hurry them along to get here and there. But today, we just walked.

The kids took turns pulling the wagon full of random stuff we picked up along the way. I turned around now and then and would catch one of them squatting on the ground looking at something or staring off into the distance. I wondered what they might be thinking. My son stopped, looked up at the sky, sighed and said: Mommy, the trees look so beautiful. I love fall. Let’s collect some pretty leaves to take home.

And that was just what we did.


Going it alone

I am the wife of a traveling husband. After almost eight years of marriage, I have gotten used to the whole routine. In the beginning it was bad. After children it was worse. But now that the kids have gotten a bit older it's really become easier for all of us.

Since he works late most evenings, which forces me to be creative with our evening activities, it's not the witching hour that is difficult when he is away. It's the mornings. Since he leaves late in the morning to compensate for coming home after the kids are in bed, he gets up with the kids, gets them fed, reads them some books and helps get us ready for the day. When he's gone, it's the 13-hour shift for me. (As all you moms know.)

Traveling husband might mean a evening of extra laundry or packing for him. But for me, it's at least a day-long process to mentally prepare and plan for the week (or two) alone.

Many moms do this. The wives of pilots, consultants, military, doctors (who are on call all week), politicians have to deal with trip after trip on a monthly, or for many weekly, basis. Someone asked me last week how I manage my time without the extra hands, dinners for three and bath/bed.

1. Keep busy and make plans. Have at least one big activity planned for each day. It helps break up 'what-can-be' a very long day.

2. Make time for yourself. Get a babysitter or a friend to stay with your kids so you can run the errands you need to run or just sit and have a coffee. It's hard going it alone without a break. Get some help if you can.

3. Make easy dinners you can all eat. It's tempting to order pizza or make mac and cheese every night. Do that a few nights. But after a week you'll feel gross. Make a big salad or a big pot of stew for yourself (or your kids, too) and eat off of it during the week. Buy pre-made or pre-mixed things to make your evenings easier. There's nothing worse than dealing with kids alone all day then having to race to make dinner, clean up and do bedtime.

4. Go to the grocery store solo before your husband leaves. Or better yet, send him! It's hard for me to take 2 kids to the store so I try to get there before so I only have to run in and grab milk and bread if necessary.

5. Do baths every other night so you're not bogged down with this extra chore every night.

6. Consolidate bedtime rituals as much as you can. Don't knock yourself if you have to use a DVD/music to keep them occupied while you put the other child to bed.

7. Put kids to bed early. Sometimes at the end of a long day alone, I prefer to get them in bed 30 minutes early. I know they will wake earlier, but somehow it seems easier to manage everything in the morning.

8. Try to make everything fun. It can be hard to make the whole week a game, but we try to "mix it up" a bit when dad's away. I do breakfast for dinner, have a movie night, let them wear whatever they want, make pancakes for breakfast, or go out for dinner at a real restaurant.

Really, it's about having a plan. Everyday involves a well-planned out list of activities that take us from the morning to the late evening. Busy is better when we're going it alone.


Lovin' Chick-fil-A

Ok, while I do try to limit our fast food intake to once every couple of weeks, more times than not it's about a once-a-week treat for the kids. The one thing Chick-fil-A has going for it is over McDonalds is the kid's meal toy. They are not toys, but books or CDs. Most of the time they make great car activities, and if they are destroyed, no big deal. But a few months back, on the way to the playground for a picnic we hit the Chick-fil-A kid meal jackpot!

With my two meals, I got two different Between the Lions CDs (a green and purple one). Now I know my kids haven't seen the show, since we don't have TV, but I think somewhere along the way I must have seen this on PBS. But the CD is great! It's full of songs about the alphabet, rhyming and word structure, and contains fun stories that even I knew from childhood like the Gingerbread Man.

When Alex needs quiet time or wants to build with Legos, he retreats to his room, turns on the CD and listens to the songs/stories over and over again. Today he asked me if we could get another one to add to our collection. I thought about FreeCycling to see if someone had one lying in the back of their car. How could I get another one? He loves it so much, and it seems to amuse him for good chunks of time. I knew I would have to locate one . . . quickly.

A friend came over to play this afternoon with her twins and we were talking about the CDs. She says to me: Wait a minute, I think I might have one in my bag.

Sure enough, she pulls a red one out of her bag that he doesn't have. (We only need the orange one to complete our collection.) She admited she was prepared to just toss it. Alex was delighted to have a new one for his collection. Thank God for mommy friends and diaper bags.


Preschool Gift Ideas: Toys

So the holiday-buying season is here again. I swear I thought it was just Halloween. There have been a few discussions on my Yahoo mom groups about good gifts to give kids. I thought this might be something to investigate, starting with looking around our house at the toy favorites. My kids are in the two to four range, but many of these were purchased when they were even younger so they ended up being good toy "investments."

By far the number one favorite in my house these days are the Legos--Duplos and big kid Legos. They love them. They don't build big elaborate things, but they love building. Which then led me to think they might like some different kinds of blocks like Bristle Blocks/Krinkles. Do you remember those?

Dress up falls a pretty quick second with my kids. Both of them love to dress up. We have animal, princess, knight, Elmo, dragon and Buzz Lightyear costumes--shoes, hats/crowns, and accessories to boot. They may not do anything in their costumes other than run around the house, pretend to shop, build or eat, but the costumes seem to change the tone of their play. One of the favorite accessories for Anna has become her "clip clap" shoes. Those are the cheap plastic ones with pictures of princesses on them, butterflies or flowers. She loves them. In fact, every girl loves them so much that I bought an extra pair on sale after Halloween to fill our dress up corner for friends who come to play. Alex and Anna both love the foam swords when they're playing dress up. I know weapons in the house are probably not a good idea, but I figured if they were foam would could reduce the rate of injury. I bought ours at Tree Top Toys, but the Lego store in Tyson's had some fun ones.

While we're talking about pretend, both kids love Anna's little tea set. Believe it or not they both will sit down to the table and have tea. How very civilized they look until someone throws the cup at the other. The stroller and shopping cart have become a favorite for Anna. She doesn't necessarily put the doll or food in, pretty much everything goes in it. But in her mind she has a mission and is playing some kind of game with all of it.

We bought our daughter a cash register for her second birthday, and it gets a lot of use by both kids. They have started to combine the play of the cash register in with the shopping cart and play food. Anna just likes to sort the money in it. The one we have has a scanner and a little microphone. It also is a working calculator.

Lately my kids have fallen in love with books on CD. An aunt sent a few Curious George books along with the accompanying CD. My kids love to sit down and listen to the story. For them it's good downtime without the TV.

Musical instruments tend to dominate a noise level in our house--besides the clip clap shoes and screaming. Turn on the music and immediately the drums, xylophone and recorders come out. Last year someone gave Alex a Saxoflute. Great, great gift. Also it's one of the few toys not made in China!

Arts and Crafts are fun for kids of all ages. Anna tends to be my little Picasso and will spend quite a long time crafting and drawing, but Alex still enjoys the process of art time. Last year, we got them a Melissa and Doug easel for Christmas. While it does take up a lot of space on our main living level, they do like to stop and draw on the paper/chalkboard. You can never go wrong with a MagnaDoodle. They are inexpensive and grow with your child. I still love to draw on ours.

Alex is a puzzle pro. Before he was even two years old he was into 24 to 48 piece puzzles. The ones from Melissa and Doug are really our favorites. We have so many of these, and he still enjoys putting them together. Since they're designed for the floor, you need a bit more space, but the cardboard is almost indestructible.

One toy that we're still growing into is the marble run. It's a toy that requires some adult supervision in order to get the marbles to run properly, but both love to watch the marbles and Alex is starting to try to build some of the runs.

Here are a few other suggestions for preschool gift ideas:

Woodkins--I saw these at the toy store and they looked a lot of fun for 3 to 4-year old girls.

Wedgits--I have not seen these, but they look fun as well.

Play kitchen, Play tool bench--We have the tool bench and it's used quite a lot. Not a real favorite, but still fun.

Mr. Potato Head--My daughter really loves this toy.

Stay tuned for more favorites: books, CDs and more.

Sibling love . . . today

After dinner this evening, my kids disappeared to the basement while I cleaned up the dishes. (Yes, husband works late again.) I come down to find them playing dress up--he's Buzz Lightyear and she's a fairy complete with wings. They are taking flying leaps off the steps (an approved activity if it's from the third step).

The playing continues rather nicely until I finish cleaning up. I slip into the next room to check some email and all is quiet. I hear these words:

I'm not going to ask you again.
I will help you.
Good job, Anna.
No, you should turn it around this way.

I walk into the room and see them both sitting on the floor in their underwear/diaper working on a puzzle. Alex is master of puzzles, and Anna has quite the time trying to get just two pieces together. But seeing them working together on anything was a nice change. Who are these kids?

Every once in a while I am relieved that my kids are spaced so closely. How nice for me that I have some time to do a few things and they can play together.

That's not to say everyday is like that. Yesterday I found Alex pushing Anna against a wall and trying to gouge out her eyes with his fingers. Ah, yes.....memories are always being made in this house. There's nothing like sibling love. Or is that rivalry.

The holidays crept up on me

I fear the shopping season may be upon us quicker than I expected. I didn’t realize that Thanksgiving was next week. Normally, I wouldn’t flip out but since Thanksgiving dinner is at my house this year, I figured I should get it together a little sooner than I usually do. (Thanks to the Washington Post Food section for the friendly reminder with lots of yummy recipes.)

Plus, this weekend starts my husband’s extensive travel schedule taking us well into the full-blown holiday shopping season. Yay for me! There’s nothing like getting ready for Christmas with a three-and-a-half year old and a two-year old.

Luckily I can check one thing off my list which is getting the Christmas card pictures taken. Thanks to Portrait Innovations those were done two weeks ago. I apparently beat the holiday rush on a Friday afternoon and knocked that item off my list. It was much less painful than doing it myself.

But I looked at the calendar and realized I needed to actually get those into cards at some point. Some sooner than others since I send to many friends overseas where mail takes two, sometimes three weeks to get there.

I haven’t even gotten to the present list this year. Not even a thought on anyone, except my kids. Plus, we have a trip to Texas to make during December which always adds an adventure aspect to the craziness since it means presents have to go in the suitcases.

Perhaps the retailers have the 'holiday bunching' thing right. Maybe I should have considered Christmas back in October.


Am I ready for the Big Girl Bed?

When my son was ready for the crib-to-big-boy-bed transition, it was an easy one to make. He asked one day, we bought the bed the next weekend and within a week the transition was done. Our only problem became early wake up time meant he was get out of bed instead of hanging in the crib because he had to.

Now we’re about ready for this same transition with my daughter; however, this time around I have very different feelings about getting rid of her crib. Part of it is nostalgia since this crib has been part of our décor for almost four years now, but part of it is fear. Fear of her never wanting to sleep once she upgrades to a big girl bed.

My son is very independent and very well-behaved when it comes to bedtime. We tell him it’s time for bed and 99 percent of the time, he stays in his bed with no question. My daughter is a very different breed. I anticipate the movement from crib to big girl bed will be a whole new opportunity for disobedience. Is that horrible to say about your child? Right now, we put her to bed and she sings herself to sleep. I hear her in the early mornings talking, but she tends to fall back asleep until a more reasonable hour.

Many friends who had to give up a crib for a new baby, lost the toddler nap when the crib left the room. My daughter, who never seems to need near as much sleep as her brother, I feel may go this route if the crib makes a grand exit. But on the other hand, I worry about her curiosity and her strength in scaling the sides of the crib. She hasn’t done it yet, but Alex has shown her how to do it.

I know we can always put up a gate at her door or even a door-knob cover to keep her in her room. But she has some pretty strong lungs, and I don't think a gate will stop her from screaming her way out of the room.

Is it safe to leave a two-year old in her crib? Should I take the leap and give her the freedom that I fear might temporarily throw off everyone’s sleep? Should I trust that since we had an easy go with my son, this one might go well, too? Is it really the parents that have the harder time with this than the kids?


Do I really look under 21?

I love Trader Joe's. I love that it's super kid friendly. I love that they provide snacks at the store. I love that most of the workers there know me. I love that I can get wine for $3.49 and Ritter Sport for $1.99. And yet, I do NOT love being carded for my 'Two Buck Chuck.' (aka Charles Shaw Chardonnay)

Today at peak rush hour--4:30 p.m. on a Saturday--when the lines were snaking back through the food aisles, and they were calling out "man overboard" every few minutes, I was asked for ID. Standing there with my two kids--one who was climbing out of the cart--the checker actually had the nerve to ask for my ID. OK, I may look younger than my age, but seriously, do I look under 21? I'm 32! Thirty two with two kids. Surely the two kids factor is some kind of rite of passage.

If you saw a woman struggling with her kids, trying to keep them all together in the middle of grocery-store madness on a Saturday afternoon, wouldn't you just open the bottle of wine and offer her a glass instead of asking for her ID? I think so! Stupid check out lady.

Lost in education: Need directions

This was cross posted on DC Metro Moms a few days back when our topic of the day was education.

I was visiting my neighbor yesterday who has a kindergartener. She finally said they had to go inside and start homework. Homework for a five-year old? Yep, that's right, for those of you who don't have kids in school yet, apparently the schools give five-year olds homework. And at this school, homework means worksheets.

I cringed and flashed back to my elementary, middle school and junior high years when teachers thought mimeographed (remember that purple ink?) worksheets meant they were teaching us something. Please tell me kids are not still doing worksheets!

I'm a mom of a three-and-a-half year old and a two-year old. They will be in school fairly soon, so it's something always on my radar screen. The worksheet news wasn't good. It's bad enough kindergarten has gone to full day, which I understand makes sense to teachers and for most students. But the thought of my rambunctious preschooler having to spend an entire school day at school without a rest period quite honestly scares me. Then to think that there is homework on top of a full day at school. . .and not anything interest, but worksheets. When do kids get to be kids and learn by doing and exploring?

Quite honestly, I'm frightened by what I see coming out of the public education system year after year:

More emphasis on testing and less on learning in creative ways. The focus on paperwork means less time to teach. Sure, there are fabulous teachers out there, but when I think back on my whole public education career, how many good teachers did I have and how many bad ones? I can count the good ones on one hand. How scary is that?

When I hear other cultures are learning things like cooking, gardening, piano, or violin in school, I wonder what we've done with our education system where children drill on basics and still don't know the basics when they get out.

Fairfax County has one of the best public school systems in the country, which is one of the reasons we agreed to pay the high real estate prices when we moved here. But quite honestly, I find my attention turning toward private schools. The costs are insane, but when I think about my kids, especially my son's individual needs (my husband is sure he's a genius), I can't help but think that private school might be where he will excel the most.

The argument for public schools by many people is the increased diversity. Well, it's not like this area isn't diverse already with all the transplants from, well, everywhere. You can get diversity in just about every location in every neighborhood in the DC Metro area. It's one of the most diverse places--outside New York City--I would imagine you could live. We are fortunate enough to live in a community with not just the normal ethnic demographics, but we also get the diplomats and expatriates from new and exciting places. I wouldn't be surprised if they tend to send their kids to private schools as well.

I was hoping the Washington Post Magazine article a few weeks back would change my mind with the public vs. private decision, but it only solidified my leanings toward private schools.

The thing is, due to finances, we might be able to foot the bill for private school for a few years, but eventually our children will probably have to return to the public school system. Is that even worse? Perhaps there's a career out there for education consulting?


Thursday's Dish: Pasta Fagioli Soup

It’s been a long time since I posted a recipe. Why, you ask? Because my kids haven’t been eating what I make. That’s right, wasted attempts at trying to feed my monkeys something beyond pizza, chicken nuggets and meatballs. We’ve made a few attempts the last few days (or weeks) at trying to get everyone back on track with real food. Today we had a winner with my kids. Surprise, it was soup!

Pasta Fagioli Soup (From Cooking Light’s Weeknight Cookbook)

12 ounces of sausage (I used chicken, but wished I’d gone for mild Italian)
3 cups chicken broth
½ cup uncooked small pasta (I used the wagon wheel ones and convinced my kids it was training wheels.)
2 cups of coarsely chopped zucchini
1 can stewed tomatoes, undrained
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 can of white kidney beans
½ cup Asiago and/or Parmesan cheese

Heat a large saucepan over high heat. Add sausage and brown. Add the broth and pasta. Bring to a boil Simmer for a bit. Add zucchini and tomatoes. Simmer a few more minutes. Add the basil, oregano and beans. Cook for another few minutes. Serve with cheese.

(Alex ate the sausage and pasta and Anna actually tried most of it.)


Finding light (and fun) in winter’s dark

The end to daylight’s saving time always offer a challenge to moms. For those of us who tend to migrate outside in the evenings to help pass the witching hours, darkness at 5 p.m. means we either have to park the kids in front of the TV sooner or be a little more creative.

I have to remember that it’s never as bad as our northern friends have it where it gets dark--and I mean pitch dark as early as 3 p.m. (dawn is usually around 9 a.m.) Only six hours of a daylight can be difficult and throw off your whole mental well-being. I took away a few things from my year in Sweden where I saw kids go to school and come home in the dark.

Here are a few ideas to help bring the fun indoors (or even outside) during the dark.

--With small kids (who still nap), see if you can play with naptime a bit and put kids down for a nap earlier in the day so you still have daylight on the other end of it. Waking up at 3 p.m. can still give you two hours or so of potential sunlight to play outside.

--Get your craft supplies ready. Our house is doing inventory on the playdough, markers, coloring books, stickers, beads, paints, foam crafts, etc. It helps if you can have them all in ‘see-thru’ bins near your kitchen/dining room. Mine are in a separate cabinet labeled and ready to play with and put back easily. If everything is right there at your fingertips you can go through all the crafts in one session sometimes—a good hour of fun!

--Use the evening hours to do preschool workbooks with the not-quite-school-aged kids. They think it’s fun and they are getting a little education at the same time.

--Even if it’s dark, go outside. Load them in the stroller, wagon or go for a walk and bring flashlights.

--Bake together. There are lots of great kid’s cookbooks with simple baking recipes for you and your child to do together.

--Bring out the instruments. Put on some fun music and get all the instruments in your house together and put on a show.

--Dress up. Snatch up a few leftover Halloween costumes now while you can at reduced prices or Goodwill. They make great dress up outfits.

--Host or attend evening playgroups or a play date. It’s OK to play in to the darker hours. Order a pizza and make it dinner for everyone.

--Let the kids play in the backyard even in the dark. Drag out the tent and hand them some flashlights so they can pretend to camp.

I’m not saying these few ideas will keep you busy all winter long, but every once in a while throw them a curve ball for a little fun.

Enjoy the dark.


Mesmerized by the 'Animals'

My kids love music. In fact, we’ve started using music as a substitute for the DVDs (since we don’t have TV) when my kids need some downtime. Children’s music is wonderful and there’s such a beautiful assortment to chose from. But strangely enough, Alex and Anna both seem to enjoy classical music in the background. I expect this from babies, but not necessarily from my overly active toddler/preschooler.

As an amateur musician (from years ago), I wanted to make sure that my kids were exposed to all types of music at an early age and instill in them a love for it. For Alex’s second birthday, he received a book/CD from one of Andrew’s aunts—Carnival of the Animals, by French composer Saint-Saens.

The piece is a musical suite of fourteen movements—lasting a little less than half an hour. Accompanying the CD is a book with wonderful illustrations of the animals played in the piece by flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, bass, glockenspiel, xylophone and piano.

When we first got the CD and book, we sat down to read the text with the CD playing. It was one of his favorites. Now, when we put the music on, he grabs the book and sits down to listen to the enire piece on his own, many times talking through it with Anna.


The longest day with no beginning

Ah, the end of daylight savings time. I’m not sure which I hate more, the end—when all the world grows dark for another six weeks—or the beginning—when I have to wrestle kids to bed because it’s still light outside. Nevertheless, the end/beginning of daylight savings means readjusting bedtime rituals and having low expectations on morning wakeup times.

But this morning, or better yet, last night brought some surprises. Planning ahead as I usually do, we let the kids take a little less nap and stay up extra late to compensate for the extra hour of sleep. This was to ensure that they didn’t get up at 5 a.m.

Alex put himself to bed at 8:30 or so claiming he was tired. (Note: We were spending the night at Grandma’s house last night in Richmond.) So after a full day of grandparents, complete with fishing other activities, he was well beyond tired. At 10 p.m., I climbed into the bed next to Alex. I heard him wiggle, cough, sneeze, snore, breathe, sigh, yawn and then start all over again. I lay there realizing he wasn’t really asleep.

With my own thoughts racing, I also lay there for a good while and each time I started to drift off, I would hear wiggle, cough, sneeze, snore, breathe, sigh, yawn occasionally with a kick from the trundle bed below. At midnight, Alex sits up with snuffy nose and asks to go to the bathroom. I lead him to the bathroom and finally cajole him into taking some Children’s Sudafed. His response: Can I have a treat? I knew at that moment, this was not a sleepy kid.

For two more hours, I listen to the same. At one point he was whimpering because he said his thumb was tired of him sucking on it. My response: Go to sleep and it won’t be tired anymore. Finally, at 2:30 a.m. I awakened my husband who was sleeping with my daughter in the next room and asked to switch. I finally fell asleep, kind of, around 4 a.m. At 5 a.m. I hear Alex sneezing and coughing in the hallway. He was ready to start the day apparently. What day? My day turned into night and now it was almost day again. And so began my first day of standard time, or was it yesterday or today? Who knows.

After a very long ride home to Reston and brief nap from everyone, my afternoon of picking up the pieces of the longest day ever—with no beginning—began with Anna puking last night’s spaghetti’s sauce all over my tan loveseat. I nearly passed out when the clock showed only 3:30 p.m.


Cold season and no cold medicine: Is that so bad?

This is not medical advice. I am not a doctor. I don’t have a medical background or training. However, living overseas forced me to become educated in basic health matters. (Many times it was hard to find a doctor right away or one that attended to a particular need.) So health care is a hobby and an interest more than anything.

Here it is cold and flu season. My kids are coughing, sneezing and sniffing already, and this week was the millionth article I’ve read (this time in the Washington Post) about pulling infant cold formulas off the shelves.

I have mixed feelings on this subject. Because we didn’t have children’s medicine overseas, we ordered them from home—mainly decongestants. It’s obvious a community can survive without them, and we did have a few more natural medicinal options in a few places we lived. Now that we’re back in the States, we can get children’s cold medicine, but one has to show ID, give fingerprints and take an oath that you won’t turn PediaCare into liquid meth in order to get some decongestant for a toddler with a runny nose.

I have several random thoughts with the current infant cold medicine recalls. The reason for the recall suggested by the FDA is two-fold: complications from unintentional overdose and the effectiveness in children.

I’m going to start with the latter issue. I don’t know what all the studies say about decongestants for children, but I will tell you pseudoephedrine--the now controlled drug in decongestants--does help my kids with their stuffy noses. It dries up extra boogies at night so they can breathe. It’s not perfect, but it helps. We do have a humidifier, and if I can get them to squirt saline, we do that too. But even I know a few Sudafed can least alleviate the stuffiness a bit. Another drug that is an active ingredient in almost all “cold medicines” is dextromethorphan. It’s in NyQuil, DayQuil, Robitussin, Dimetapp, Delsym, Tylenol Cold—both kid and adult formulas.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I will say this stuff that knocks me out and leaves me feeling in a haze the next day. It’s a cough suppressant that actually signals the brain to stop coughing. When you have a cold, the goal is to cough up the bad stuff so it gets out of your system faster. Taking away this natural inclination is obviously counter-productive. Suppressing a cough at night will help a child rest though—something a little Benadryl would probably do too. You’ll notice this is the ingredient of all but two of the medicines being recalled. Benadryl, however, was not one of the recalled medicines.

Now unintentional overdose. Since so many of these cold medicines have dextromethorphan them, I can see how it would be possible to administer two medicines—a decongestant and a cough medicine—that a parent thinks are a completely innocuous combination and wind up with an overdosed kid. But my question is this: is recalling the medicine the appropriate action to take? The number quoted in the Washington Post article this morning was 123 deaths between 1969 and 2006. While I’m sure those were horrible for the parents, I’m not sure 123 deaths in 35 years warrants all the media attention in the past few weeks. Perhaps educating parents at the doctor’s office is a more appropriate way to handle this, which I hope is the next step now.

One other interesting thing to note is that when a cough suppressant was advised by our doctor, it was just a smaller dosage of an adult cough medicine. I find it interesting you can still get the medicine you need . . . just not in the fancy, cute containers available in the children’s cold remedy section.

Perhaps the mistake is in the marketing here and not the actual medicines. As consumers, we’re sucked into packaging and assume the companies have done research for us. Pick up the liquid form of Delsym, a cough suppressant, and you’ll see the dosage recommendation for children over the age of two. This suggests you don’t need a separate kid’s cough medicine, except maybe for the “yummy” flavor. Many people don’t do research on what’s in cold medicines for themselves or their children.

So where does this leave us parents? Cold and flu season is upon us and there are no cold medicines? Stock up on your Tylenol and Motrin. Grab whatever decongestants you can from the pharmacy, while you can. Make sure your kids are hydrated. Have a humidifier ready just in case. And know that if your child really needs a cough suppressant, your doctor will suggest some kind of relief. No one wants your baby to suffer.

This article is also cross posted on DC Metro Moms.

Halloween Takeaway

Halloween was a huge success in my house--almost two hours of trick or treating. My kids loved the scary costumes and the spooky music.

Here are a few thoughts from the night that had me thinking:

The candy has gotten better—what happened to Smarties? My kids got nothing but the good stuff. Yay for them and us—Snickers, Milkway, Butterfingers and Reese’s.

Kids over 10 still should to dress up if they want candy. They are still kids too.

But 15-year olds shouldn’t be dressed as slutty Strawberry Shortcake just to get candy.

Daylight savings time makes for a shorter Halloween and over anxious kids.

Kids now take candy, as much as they think they should have sometimes, instead of waiting for neighbors to give it to them.

We only went to the houses of the people we knew instead of everyone on the street.

The majority of costumes are no longer imaginative. Old Navy and Target has replaced our creativity for costumes, even if it meant combining costumes pieces instead of just slapping on one. (I’m guilty of it too.) It’s a lot easier to spend $15 on a costume and just be done with it.

For the little kids, there is so much hype and pre-Halloween festivities (carnivals, fests, parties, parades) that by the time the day arrives, kids are tired of their costumes.