Thursday, October 11, 2012

Reading to my kids

I didn't used to feel comfortable reading to kids. I really think until you do it a lot, like every day, you won't be comfortable with it. You might feel silly making the voices or doing the motions. But if you put yourself out there, you'll find out how much more the story (and the time spent together) means to kids when you really get into it.
One of our favorites right now.
Perfect for Halloween! 

I love reading to my kids now. We have been very successful in making story time a solid part of our family time together. Natalie loves to read, and Jack is getting there. When I bring home a book from the library, it's like I just brought in a plate of cupcakes. "I brought some new books from the library!" "You did?! Let me see them!" I'm so proud of my kids for so many reasons, but I'm extremely happy that we've been able to impart our love of reading to them.

If you haven't started story time in your house, carpe diem folks! Below are some tips to get you started. If you're getting stuck on finding titles that interest you (and your kids), you might want to check out the Book List page on this blog (find it under My Pages at the top right).
  • Get a library card. You never know which books are going to strike a chord with your kids. A library card gives you access to thousands of books all for free. If any of them end up being really popular, you can avoid overdue fines by buying those for your home library.
  • Just do it. You might have to force yourself to do story time sometimes, especially in the beginning. You might feel like your child isn't getting a lot out of it and doesn't really enjoy it. Keep trying. When you find a book they like, it will change.
  • Let them choose. If your child has attached himself to one book in particular, read it every night. Read it multiple times a night. Read anything he wants (that is content-appropriate), and don't underestimate his comprehension level.
  • Pay attention, and play to her interests. If she's dressing up as a pirate all the time and pretending to search for buried treasure in the backyard... if all of her art projects turn into "treasure maps", go to the library and ask the librarian to suggest some good pirate books.
  • Use books to introduce new ideas. Are you going on vacation to the beach? Find some books about beachy things, plane trips (if you're flying there), how to pack for vacation, and even beach safety. Bring home anything (if you have a library card, it's free!). Out of all the books you pick, the one your child attaches to might be the last one you'd expect.
  • Read to yourself, too. And let your child catch you reading. Read as often as possible. Read a magazine while she's playing in the pediatrician's waiting room. Take a lawn chair out and read a book while he's playing in the sand box. Read at soccer practice, read the paper in the morning. Get books for you when you go to the library. Talk about books with your friends and family. Your child will notice. Kids should see both parents reading, by the way. If more little boys saw their fathers reading, it might be easier to get them interested in books.
  • Leave books laying around. The toys are in toy boxes so kids can easily pull out what they want to play with. Don't put books on a high shelf. Invest in some board books of your own that kids can treat like toys: chew on them, put them in backpacks or purses or play shopping carts, build towers with them, make tents with them. The more accessible books are, the more inclined kids are to be interested in reading. Even a low bookshelf may inhibit exploration. Remember that kids can't read (duh right?) so how will they become interested (or even recognize) a book if all they can see is a quarter inch spine?
  • Create an environment. Especially if you're trying to get kids into reading, make story time a special time. Sit on the floor with her, pull her into your lap, get a fuzzy blanket and a stuffed animal friend. Even pull her into your bed. Don't read in front of the TV while the game's on, and you're more distracted than present. Your child will notice. She'll ask questions or make inferences or point out something in the book, and your job is to make sure you're interacting with the book with her.
  • Get into it. Do voices, make faces. The story teller can make or break a book. But don't give up if you're not comfortable with it yet. You'll get there. And when you do, you'll enjoy it as much as we do.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My favorite souvenir

We returned about three weeks ago from our overseas adventure. We spent most of our two weeks in the South of England with a couple of days in North Yorkshire and one long weekend in France.

I have so many memories from the trip, but we didn't buy a lot of souvenirs. Having a good bit of foreign travel under our belts, Matt and I know from experience that we are not really souvenir people. Little knicknacks are not really our thing. We lose them or they get broken. They sit untouched in a dusty box, because we don't want to throw them out, but ... so they just sit there.

We made a few notable exceptions to this rule of course. We bought guidebooks almost everywhere we went. All of the English Heritage and National Trust sites have pretty extensive books about the sites. (Dover Castle had more than a few about different aspects of the site and its history... we bought two of them!) Matt skived three souvenir glasses for his man cave (a tradition carried over from Germany, and before that from my last trip to England). We bought the kids some little trinkets... a mini-teapot emblazoned with the Union Jack for Natalie. A toy double-decker bus for Jackson. British flags for both of them. Things like that. We bought some gifts for friends and family who had asked for things.

Most of our souvenirs are the memories we have, though. Like Natalie and Jack on the first beach they had ever seen... in Normandy. At the ruined medieval abbey complex we explored, it was drizzly all day (a passing native said, "How'dyou like our North Yorkshire drought?"). Natalie took the opportunity to splash in every puddle we crossed. At the tea room that day, Jack made a new friend - Charlie - and they "talked" to each other all through lunch. Natalie stuffed her pockets with rocks everywhere we went, so we saved quite the collection. Every passing bus, truck, taxi, or golf cart, Jackson was beside himself with glee (you can only imagine his wonder during our day in London). We took photos of everything. We have over 1,700 pictures that I'm still going through. I kept a journal that, okay, I'm still actually working on completing before I forget everything. Those are going to be my most precious souvenirs.

New Keep Calm and Carry On Trolley Coin Token Keyring
I did actually buy one souvenir that I carry with me everywhere. It's a trolley token on a keyring. (Pictured at left. Sure it's cliche by now, but I still like the message.) If you're not familiar with trolley tokens, think Aldi's grocery carts. They cost a quarter to pull one out and you only get your quarter back if you return the cart. Well, in England they cost a POUND. Bet you'll be returning that cart, eh?

 I added another trolley token to it that I snagged in France. A local Frenchwoman took pity on me outside the supermarket and offered me an extra of hers. It's the size of a Euro... grocery carts are expensive to rent over there! It isn't nearly as cute, but feels more authentic.

And now, that is how I can now confidently rent grocery carts around the world. The end :)

Monday, August 27, 2012

hey you... kid

As I mentioned in my last post -- a long time ago -- we are super happy with the daycare we chose for our kids. We still are. And I'd still recommend it to people. The last few times I've left her, Natalie has cried for me at the door. She hasn't done that since we left Old School, but I think it has something to do with neither of her regular teachers being in her room at drop off.

But that isn't the problem.

The problem is that one of Natalie's teachers cannot pronounce her name correctly only pronounces her name correctly about 25% of the time. Most of the time, Ms. M pronounces it "ne-la-dee" (rhymes with melody). Ms. M is a fantastic teacher and caregiver otherwise. She talks beautifully, but with a very obvious accent. I believe she's Jordanian. When she pronounces Natalie's name correctly, it sounds like Nedalie, which is fine. A name that is pronounced correctly with an accent is perfectly okay with me, and in fact I'd expect it.

I work pretty closely with a woman of Indian ethnicity. Natalie's Papa George is full-blooded Irish. And Matt and I have traveled enough separately and together that we consider ourselves to be pretty darn culturally-minded individuals. (That's not really a term. I just made it up. You know what I mean though, right? :) I mean, we're taking the kids to England and France in just two weeks (omigosh, two weeks already?! so much to do!!). We intend to expose them to as much culture as possible. It would be irresponsible of us to teach Natalie that everyone will talk, look, or believe the same way she does.

But recently, Natalie has mispronounced her own name. She started out joking that her name was Neladie. When I said lightly, "That's not your name silly goose. What's your name?" She tripped over it. She's known her name for a long time, but she tripped over it because she was calling herself Neladie. She's done that twice in the last month or so. Not a lot, I'll grant you.

Sometimes I lightly ask her, "That's not your name, who calls you that?"
To which she replies, "Ms. M calls me that."
"And what do you say when Ms. M calls you Neladie?"
"I say 'my name NAtalie'."
That's right you do.

I mentioned to the director of the daycare that Ms. M was mispronouncing Natalie's name, and she implied that I was judging Ms. M based on her ethnicity. She literally said to me, "Just because she talks a little bit differently, I want you to know that she's one of my very best teachers."

I'm getting hot-headed and I don't want to. I hate drama, and I don't want to get on the bad side of Natalie's teachers or the administration. I need help. Should I pursue this? Should Natalie -- at age 2 -- have to correct her own teacher? Should I let it go or make it a lesson about how we are all unique? I need help.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My daycare story

I love my kids' daycare. Not very many parents can say that, and I'm so grateful every day that I can. It makes such a world of difference. But we took the long way to get where we are. Here's how we finally made it.

Before Natalie was born, I read article after article about how to choose a daycare for your child. There were lots of criteria outlined, I'm sure, but one sentiment stuck with me: Send your kids to the best possible daycare you can afford. Even if it means pinching pennies, and even if it means driving out of your way. We tried Natalie with a home caregiver for a few months, based on the recommendation of my manager at the time. She was okay, but Natalie required a lot of attention when she was an infant. I think she was colicky, poor thing. And her caregiver couldn't give that much attention to her. So we started looking at daycare centers. The one we liked the best was also the most expensive (of course!): The Goddard School. We crunched the numbers and decided we could afford it if we buckled down. Infant care is expensive! Like over $200 a week expensive!

But Natalie thrived. She was given the attention she'd been missing. Her teachers were genuinely concerned when she didn't sleep or cried more than usual. They asked us for tips and tricks to make her life (and theirs too) easier at daycare. They thought of things like rearranging her crib so it would be darker and quieter for her to sleep. They wrote out careful and attentive descriptions of what she ate and how much, when she slept and how long, and what she was like when she was awake. For a mother whose commute was 45 minutes each way, who was devastated at spending so much time away from her baby, it was nothing short of amazing. Switching her to The Goddard School saved my sanity.

But it wasn't sustainable. Pinching pennies as we were, we couldn't afford things like wedding gifts for our friends or to do anything fun with Natalie like go to the zoo. I thought, sacrificing a little bit of daycare quality would be worth it if it means we can do fun things with her when we're together.

So we switched her into another home-care situation, but this time the caregiver was family. My father-in-law's cousin lived pretty far from us, but charged a lot less for care. And I reasoned she'd be attentive to Natalie, given that (1) Natalie is family and (2) Natalie is amazing. And she was attentive. Natalie made friends there and enjoyed being there. But of course there were caveats (there always are). The kids Natalie was in daycare with were older than her. She learned things quickly, like how to walk, and it had a big effect on her language skills. But she also learned to use violence when she didn't get her way. She started kicking us and hitting us, because that's what the oldest boy in daycare did. 

So we started looking again. I got a new job, and so did Matt, so we had a little extra pocket change. Plus, with Jackson on the way, we knew we'd be taking both kids to the same daycare, and adding an infant to an already full house was going to be a little much on any caregiver, no matter how experienced or attentive. So we had to switch. 

After much debate and consideration, we made our choice. The teachers were wonderful, but there weren't enough of them. You get what you pay for I guess. There weren't enough teachers to give full attention to the kids, so Natalie was experiencing no small amount of physical violence at school. She was bitten 9 times in the less-than-8-months she was there. At first, we believed the daycare when they said it was normal at that age to have some biting issues. Then we did some research, talked to other parents, talked to some other daycares. It wasn't normal. Not that much. And we weren't happy with the disciplinary process. Clearly it wasn't working. And in addition, I felt a little bit like Jackson -- because he's such a good-natured baby -- wasn't being engaged as much as I would have liked him to. Teachers could leave him in a bouncy seat or jumperoo and he'd entertain himself, sometimes for a long time. A couple of times we went in and the teacher said, "He just loves that jumperoo! He was in there for at least an hour today!" Great.

Back on the hunt we went. Luckily, The Goddard School was one of the first places I toured. I made a surprise visit and spoke with the new owner about the changes to the building and staff, and also the tuition. Everything met my expectations and more. The tuition was only $11 more per week than we were already paying, because Natalie would start in the next room up. (Each year, tuition gets a little cheaper, because fewer teachers are required -- bonus!) Old daycare provided free lunches for both kids, but The Goddard doesn't, so that was an added expense and a lot of extra time, but SO WORTH IT. Natalie didn't often each what Old Daycare provided for lunch, and it was hard keeping Jack on the diet I wanted him on (we introduced allergens slowly and systematically, but Old Daycare had a set meal plan that he could either be on or not, but not halfway).

So we gave our two week notice to Old Daycare. They wanted to meet with us to discuss the change. They were sad to see us go (told you my kids are amazing) and wanted to know what they could have done differently. I applaud their interest in evolving, and I hope they do. I really feel like the teachers (especially Natalie's teachers) bonded with her in a way they didn't with some of the other kids. I wish them all the best. 

But since leaving, we haven't looked back. Natalie used to cry when I dropped her off. Every day. Even after 8 months. I'd talk to her about her friends at school, and she'd tell me she didn't have any friends. The first thing she'd say every morning when she got up was, "I don't want to go to school." She doesn't do that anymore. At Goddard, she might cling to me a little bit, but she never cries. She's potty trained already, almost from day one at Goddard. She thinks her lunch box is really cool, and Goddard lets her bring a blankie and her Knuffle Bunny to school with her for nap times (Old Daycare was concerned about bed bugs, so they put a moratorium on snugglies).

And Jack? Jack is so much happier. He hasn't spent one minute in a bouncy seat as far as I can tell, and he's almost never in the jumperoo. The teachers actually interact with him, and one teacher especially has taken a shine to him. Yesterday when I picked him up, she said, "When Heather told me we were going to rearrange the cribs, I said, 'I know just where I want to put Jackson! He's going in the corner!' And it's worked! He slept so much better today!" They nicknamed him Big Brother, because he crawls around to the other kids and snuggles them (and because he's a chunker :) 

At Old Daycare, the infant rooms never went outside. Never. Not until the kids transitioned to a toddler room at 18 MONTHS. That was one thing I had a problem with from the outset, but I thought it would be okay as long as we played outside with him. But when I took him outside at home, he hated it. He hated the feel of the grass on his skin. Goddard takes the infants outside every day, weather permitting. I've already noticed he's more comfortable outside.

So there you have it. My daycare story. Some months we have to charge groceries because we go a little bit over budget, but it's worth every penny. My sanity is intact. Matt's happier because I'm finally happy. And I'm more effective at work, because I'm not constantly focusing on if the kids are okay at daycare. 

There are some caveats of course. It's expensive. They have scheduled teacher in-service days for training, which means a day off work just to be with the kids. (I treat that one like the blessing it is!) A big caveat for some parents is that Goddard won't allow children for part-time care (at least not the ones near us). Nevertheless, I recommend Goddard to everyone. But if you can't afford it (or if you can afford something even better for your kids), do the very best you can. You won't be happy with less.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Happy Father's Day

I had to work this weekend, so Matt got to celebrate Father's Day with several hours of solo parenting. At one point on Saturday, I called to check in and found out that Matt had taken the kids on a field trip to the Riverwalk along the Great Miami River. Judging by Natalie's reaction every time she sees water, she must have loved it. In fact, on my way back to work from an errand, I drove by the Riverwalk to spy on them. Matt was pushing the stroller and Natalie was running along side him. She looked so excited. They were having so much fun.

So as much as I hate working weekends, I know it's good for the kids to see this side of their Daddy. Solo time, just them and him. They love it, and they always have a cool adventure.

Happy Father's Day!
(Natalie had a hard time keeping her hands
away from Daddy's special cupcakes!)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Kitchen makeover

I used to hate my kitchen. It used to be my own personal pit of despair. But now, for less than $400 worth of fixes, we have come a long way. We're not even done, but it looks so super fantastic (and we are so overextended on other jobs around the house) that we're going to take a break and enjoy it. And brag about it. (hee hee!)

The day we closed (April 2008).
When we moved in, we were faced with wallpaper border. We tore it down and painted it (what I thought at the time was) the perfect shade of sagey green. The window treatments that came with the house matched, and all the appliances were included (and worked beautifully). Not much changed except the color and lack of wallpaper border.

Shortly after we moved in (April 2008).
Between April 2008 and June 2012, there were several small things that happened in the way of kitchen renovation and/or redecoration. Our dishwasher died, so we replaced it. The sun rises on the back of our house, also known as right in your eyes when you're trying to make breakfast. So I bought fabric and made a curtain to replace the valance. The cabinet handles were like something out of the middle ages, so I replaced those. The chandelier above our eat-in kitchen table was lovely, but we decided to replace it with a ceiling fan for functional reasons. Lastly, the ice maker on the fridge quit, so we got a new fridge.

But that wasn't enough. So we changed a few more things, and this is what our kitchen looks like now...

Our kitchen now!
What a difference, right?! First, I painted. The old sage color was dragging me down. Along with the dark cabinets, it made the whole room feel smaller and darker than it actually is. Up went the beautiful and versatile Asparagus from Behr. After the paint color was on, it didn't quite gel with the dark cabinets. We used Cabinet Transformations from Rustoleum to paint the upper cabinets white. It worked beautifully. No sanding! No scraping! No dust! It took a lot of time and several coats to cover the darkness, but I am very pleased with the results.

We also swapped out the hinges to match the new brushed nickel handles, removed the weird wavy thing from between the cabinets over the sink, and applied a cute little decal over the stove. And I enjoyed buying a teapot to match the walls. (P.S. I'm delighted that I own a teapot!)

The original plan was to paint all of the cabinets white, then get a dark counter top and wood floors. However, I'm kind of loving the dark base cabinets. What do you think?

What is still on our list?
  1. Paint the base cabinets. If we don't go with white, they still need to be painted. The stain has worn unevenly, making them look pretty awful up close. 
  2. Paint the stove. It's in good condition, but the almond color doesn't really fit. We'll either paint it to blend in with the stainless look or maybe I'll paint it black to match the base cabinets or white to match the uppers. What do you think?
  3. Do something with the floors. I like the easy cleanup of vinyl flooring, but I also like the look of hardwood. So we'll probably go with something like wood laminate. What color flooring would look best? Honey colored? Dark wood? Blonde wood? What would look best if we painted the base cabinets white? What if we decided to leave them dark like in this picture?
  4. Do something with the counter top. Whatever color or material we decide to go with, it cannot stay the way it is. Even a new laminate option would be welcome.
  5. Eventually, we'll put the microwave above the stove. Matt wants it that way. I'd rather have a range hood, but it's a compromise I'm willing to make. At least we can get ride of the microwave cart (bottom right hand corner).
As I mentioned, we have a lot of other projects going on right now. There are outdoor projects aplenty, and we've almost finished putting a built-in bookcase/entertainment center in the basement. After the built in is framed out, I picked a lovely shade of greige to paint the walls (yep, I'm painting wood paneling... more on that as it progresses). So with all of that (and a one-year birthday party to plan, and a full time job to juggle, and a trip to Europe just for funsies), the kitchen will stay as-is for a little while. And I couldn't be happier with that!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jackson's first (real) hair cut!

My little boy is growing up! He was born with a head full of hair, and it's only gotten thicker and longer since then. A few months ago, I trimmed the hair over his ears by myself. We kept those small locks in a special place as his first hair cut. But yesterday we took him to a professional. He looks so much older!

5/29/2012 -- almost nine months old!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Natalie stories

We read books every night in my house. Every night before bed is story time, and it's a big treat for Natalie. So much so that if she's being disagreeable, she knows story time might be on the chopping block. But she and we never let it get that far, because we all cherish that time together. Jack goes to bed 30-60 minutes before Natalie, so he isn't involved in our story time yet. Instead, I try to read him little pieces during the day. Because when the boy is ready for bed, he isn't in the mood for anything else!

Natalie has loved so many stories in her two and a half years. I've created a list of the books we've loved as an attempt to hang on to their childhood while I still remember it. (Because journals and pictures and artwork might not be enough!) I combined the kids' favorites into one family favorites list, because there is so much crossover. Right now Natalie is loving animals. Especially bunnies, dogs and crocodiles. Right now, Jack is loving chewable books with interactive parts.

Recently though, Natalie has started asking for more and more Natalie stories. I started with one about how princess Natalie was going to go to a new school where she made lots of friends and loved her teachers. When she asked for more, I told her about ballerina Natalie who danced the Nutcracker as the most beautiful sugar plum fairy. Yesterday when she asked, I told her about a little girl named Natalie who had an amazing adventure in England. I'm running out of material, but it's been really good for introducing her to new concepts. And although the situations are new to her, having heard it before gives her an idea of "how the story will end."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


My nails are terrible. They are extremely thin and brittle, and they have unsightly ridges. My cuticles peel. It doesn't help that I have a tendency to bite my nails when I'm stressed, which is too often the case.

To remedy a recent bout of nail-biting, I had acrylic nails applied. (Because I can't stand long fingernails, I asked the nail tech to cut them really short. Shorter. Shorter than that. Yep, that's perfect. I thought she'd give me a look, but she didn't really seem to care. I guess short nails really are the new long nails?)

Anyway, the acrylics stayed on for a long time. Like 4 weeks. And they only came off because I took them off. Despite my constant cutting, shaping, filing and painting, they were starting to get annoying. But it did allow my nails to grow out. I took advantage of my longer-than-usual nail length to get a gel manicure.

I LOVE IT. I can't stop looking at my nails. It looks like a clear coat finish that you'd see on a car. So smooth. So shiny. Jury's still out on how long it will last or if it will actually make my nails stronger. But for now... totally worth it!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Plan To Eat

I struggle with finding time for everyday tasks like vacuuming, dishes, laundry, and grocery shopping. I would love to outsource these tasks, but I can't justify spending the money on a maid or laundry service. I actually researched grocery shopping assistants in the area, but I didn't find much and they all charge exorbitantly anyway.

Enter Plan To Eat ( This handy website takes all the planning and calculation out of grocery shopping and streamlines the meal planning process. To start, PTE lets you put in your own recipes or choose from theirs. I started off with about 18 recipes. Once you have a set of recipes that you like, you can drag and drop the recipes onto a calendar to create a menu for each day. You can specify breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and even snacks. So far, I've only used it to plan dinners, but then my free trial only started a few days ago.

Once you've got a calendar full of recipes (I worked a week in advance) PTE creates a grocery list of all the things you need for your recipes. You can drag and drop ingredients into the pantry section if you already have the ingredients on hand. Pantry items are set to delete after 2 or 7 days (or never). Because I plan to use PTE once a week or so, I set the items to delete after 2 days. After you've finished your shopping list for items on your menu, you can then add grocery items that aren't related to your recipes. I added breakfast cereal, bananas, coffee creamer and toothpaste. PTE even breaks down your list into manageable categories like dairy, meat, produce and dry goods. And it provides a recipe key to let you know which ingredients go to which recipe. PTE has thought of everything.

Matt and I investigated PTE together. Occasionally he'd say something like, "I wonder how long the pantry items stay in there. Because we won't have egg noodles on hand all the time." A couple of clicks around the site and I had set the items to auto delete after two days. Then he said, "It's weird that minced garlic is considered produce. I'd put that in the spices section." A couple of clicks and voila, minced garlic is lumped in with all the other spices. PTE is completely customizable.

PTE will save me hours every month and will virtually eliminate the, "Any ideas about dinner?" conversation we have every evening. It's so easy anyone can do it. It will also save money. At $39 per year, PTE is completely affordable. If it saves me just one dinner out per year it has paid for itself. Who knew meal planning was so much fun!