Monday, August 31, 2009

Seashells by the Seashore--and More!

On a recent trip to the Toledo Museum of Art (over our family vacation to Northwest Ohio--please, try to contain your jealousy) the Little One and I explored the Eastern Art Wing. We mused over Buddhas, laughed at some monkey statues and were wowed by a spectacular Ganesha icon.

In the gallery housing the Japanese collection, we found some intricately and beautifully painted clam shells. The pearly insides were decorated with unmistakeably Japanese scenes of bucolic bliss: Streams and plants and tiny, kimonoed figures taking tea in the sunlight. They were lovely.

And they gave us an idea.

Upon returning home to the East Coast, we visited our local beach for some late summertime fun. We filled our bucket with every shell we could find. Then we brought them home, cleaned and dried them, and got out the paints.

Her painted shells lack some of the detail found in their Japanese counterparts, but--at least to this Mama--they're no less wonderful. And in addition to the fun we had setting about our natural and artistic explorations, it was also a wonderful way to make a museum visit tangible and memorable for her.

Next stop: The Met. Next project: Who knows? A rendition of Washington crossing the Delaware? An exploration of Expressionism? With Halloween not too far off, maybe we'll try something more seasonal and turn Barbie into a mummy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Grandma's House

A single two week stay with the Little One's grandparents has undone 3 years of good eating, a strictly enforced television ban, and almost every other good habit I've shed blood, sweat and tears trying to instill in my Little One.

Proof? At 6:30 this morning, while at the breakfast table, we had this exchange:

Little One: Mama, can I have chocolate chip cookies for breakfast?

Mama: No.

Little One: I finished my oatmeal. Can I have a cookie now?

Mama: No.

Little One: Please?

Mama: No.

Little One: Can I watch a Pooh movie?

Mama: No.

Little One: Stuart Little?

Mama: No.

Little One: BBC Kids? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeez?!

Mama: No.

Little One: (Grimacing intensely, dramatically) Oh no!

Mama's Mama: (Handing the Little One half a chocolate chip cookie) Go ahead into the family room, sweetie. Pooh's on.

Thanks, mom.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Preschool Prep: Get Organized, Mama!

When I get past all of my angst and anxiety about the Little One starting school in a few short weeks, I start to get, well, a little ambitious about what I will be able to do with my new found free time: I'll double my freelance workload! I'll make some real headway on every single one of my book ideas! I'll retile my bathroom! I'll take on more volunteer work! I'll be a class mom at her school! More yoga! New recipes! I'll finally have some time to relax!


My to do list for the extra 12 hours a week I'll have to accomplish non-kid stuff is kind of stressing me out, especially because every time I think of something new to put on it, I'm driving, or carrying a week's worth of groceries, or trying to fall asleep. I never seem to have a pen and paper handy when I need it.

Witnessing a particularly prolific burst of remembered tasks while I was negotiating traffic on I-75, grandma asked me if I'd heard about

"It's an online service that you can call when you remember something to put on your to-do list," she tells me.

Apparently, you sign up for a free account and create an online to-do list. You can phone in additions with their toll-free number and--abracadabra--Jott turns your voicemail into text and updates your to-do list.

Now if I could just find a free way online to clean off my desk...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Preschool Prep: Fun & Games

Most of us learn better and more quickly if we're having fun. Of course, kiddos are no different. The more fun they're having, the more they'll learn.

With Grandma's help, we've found a few games and workbooks that the little one loves to use, with minimal frustration factor. While she's playing and exploring, she's developing her fine motor skills and her memory, she's learning letters, numbers and sounds. All of which will give her a little more confidence as she transitions into a preschool setting.

A few of our favorites:

This matching game from Haba exercises your little one's memory with 16 pairs of pictures printed on wooden tiles. And when your kiddo makes a match--"Look, Mama! I found it!"--that sense of accomplishment and capability is pretty terrific to see. And clean up is a breeze with the sweet little tin box the tiles come in. Find it at Padilly.

We've also found some fun workbooks that help encourage letter recognition and develop fine motor skills. Two that we like because of the fun pictures and worthwhile activities are:

Little Kids...Trace from Scholastic

and The Complete Book of the Alphabet from School Specialty Publishing.

We love Melissa & Doug toys and puzzles around our house. We've found two in particular that are fun for learning upper and lower case letters:

Interlocking alphabet puzzle cards

and this alphabet stamp set, which offers a great interactive, creative way to promote letter (or word!) recognition.

What fun and games are going on at your house as you get ready to head back to school?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Preschool Prep: Booklist

Even as we're enjoying a family vacation, the ubiquitous Back-to-School messages are everywhere. So I've taken my cue and have begun prepping the little one in earnest. This week, I'll share with you what we've been doing to get ourselves ready for the big day.

Reading about school and what to expect has been quite helpful. The more we read, the more questions she asks and the more we're able to talk about it in ways she's beginning to understand. I've found a few good books to help us along:

Marley Goes to School, by New York Times Bestselling Author John Grogan, is a funny, fanciful story of Cassie's first day of school and how Marley, her beloved dog, joins her there. Madcap adventures and hilarious antics ensue. The book is warmly illustrated by Richard Cowdrey in a style reminiscent of mid-twentieth century rosy-cheeked sweetness. It's a fun way to explore school with your little one.

Perhaps our very favorite, is from Anna Dewdney's Llama Llama series, Llama Llama Misses Mama. It's Llama Llama's first day of preschool and Llama Llama couldn't be happier, that is, until Llama Llama realizes that Llama Mama isn't staying. This is the story of what I imagine will happen on our first day of preschool, in hardcover. Funny, sweet and, ultimately, reassuring for both Little Llamas and Llama Mamas, this is a must-read for any preschool bound-kid and her Mama.

Perhaps one of the sweetest explorations of dealing with the differences that seem to get highlighted in a school setting is Yoko by Rosemary Wells. Yoko's just like the other kids--until lunchtime, when her sushi causes quite a stir. It's a lovely lesson in appreciating differences.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

This Sucks

My absence over the last two days was due to my little one's stomach bug that appeared out of nowhere and, um, erupted all over the backseat of my brand new car.

Fever, puking--it's all part of the Mama contract, I know. But I feel like my little one has had more than her fair share of these foul experiences. Wondering if it's actually true, or if I'm just feeling sorry for us, I asked a Mama friend, who is also an M.D.

Me: The Little One pukes more than your kids, doesn't she?

Dr. Mama: Yeah, I think she definitely does.

Me: WTF?

Dr. Mama: She doesn't have a really long recovery time though, right? She recovers normally?

Me: Sure, she bounces back like a Tigger. Sorry, I'm tired and my new car smells like old vomit.

Dr. Mama: Does she still suck her thumb?

Me: Yep.

Dr. Mama: That's it. Get that thumb out of her mouth and she won't puke half as much.

Get that thumb out of her mouth? With what, exactly? Plastic handcuffs? I know she's right. And breaking this habit will likely make school easier (and less infectious) for her, too. But I don't know where to start.

When the whole thing started, she was about 3 or 4 months old and it seemed like a great idea. No more chasing around after fallen pacifiers. It was actually the more sanitary option. She hardly touched anything, while the pacifiers would always seem to drop on the floor of a public restroom or some equally disgusting location requiring Hazmat clean up on the pacifier. The day she started sucking her thumb, I felt like throwing a party.

But here we are, multiple fevers, upper-respiratory infections and one rotavirus later and I'm more than ready for this to stop. I'm open to advice. What works better? Reward? Punishment? Amputation? I'll take whatever wisdom you have to share, Mamas.

Because this thumb sucking? It sucks.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Baby For Sale

Every blogging Mama wonders if the information or photos she is sharing will somehow be misused. And most are careful about exactly what they're sharing.

It isn't difficult to imagine, then, Jenni Brennan's horror when she discovered that her 7-month-old son's photo was being used in a Craigslist adoption scam. She received an email from someone who wanted her to know that a photo of her son was being circulated by a Craigslist user, claiming to represent an international adoption agency.

Brennan did some investigation of her own, sending a query to the email address offered in the Craigslist add. Minutes later, a photo of her baby boy arrived in her inbox, along with a claim that he was currently living in an orphanage in Cameroon. For $300, the email promised, she could start the adoption process. As she scrolled her arrow over the photo, she saw the address of her family blog, making it clear that this is where the scammer found and copied her boy's photo.

Brennan then took the necessary steps to alert authorities and reset the privacy settings on her blog. Presumably, this one scammer will be caught and prosecuted. But the implications of this loom pretty large, and not just for Mama bloggers, but for any Mama who shares photos of her family anywhere online, including social networking sites.

In a world that is increasingly lived and experienced online, it's hard to imagine not using electronic communication to share our thoughts and photos. Since the beginning of time, people have always chronicled their experiences. And the Internet is unquestionably the format of choice for the 21st century.

Regarding predators, the world online is no different than the world offline. Actually, that's not altogether true. The world online is different. It is newer. It is less regulated. It offers unprecedented anonymity to people looking to exploit and prey upon others. So, at the risk of sounding like a Luddite (a charge that's been leveled against me many times before), how do we negotiate this rather lawless frontier while keeping our kids safe?

It's a question that's been asked before. But Brennan's experience requires that we ask it again. Most people I know think nothing of putting photos or video of their kids on their Facebook pages. But when you stop to consider the relatively tenuous privacy settings available on social networking sites, and the large numbers of people with whom we connect online--many of whom we haven't known for 10 or 20 years--the implications are frightening.

Information has never been as available or ubiquitous. And private information has never been so, well, public. I'm not sure what the solution is, other than the old-fashioned vigilance of a mother. But even this will only take us so far. Nothing stops others from photographing our children at birthday parties or other gatherings and sharing those photos on their social networking pages or blogs, often viewed by hundreds of people we don't know. We can only control our own privacy settings.

In many ways, Brennan was lucky, if only because she was alerted to the exploitation of her son's image. But scams like this must be fairly common. And there is simply no way to know if our kids' images are being misused. Brennan's story has a relatively happy ending. But how many other babies are there out there "for sale"? And what can we do about it?

CNN has video on this story here.