Friday, April 29, 2011

friday's five

Oh boy, what a Friday it's been. Due to a doctor's appointment that had me out of the house for a while in the morning, a day-long FIOS installation that had our internet off for much of the afternoon, followed by a late afternoon filled with re-opened head wounds, an irate call to the bus lot, two calls to police and one visit from our friendly, local EMTs, I'm a little late to the Friday picture book love session this week. Better late than never, right?

(And for the record, JAM is okay, although he's out of commission for yet another baseball game, which had him bummed. Dude wants to wear a hat , play baseball and ride his bike again!! And yes, there will be more drama, I'm sure, once we get to communicate some more with the county bus folks. Fun, fun.)

Without further ado, here's five of the books we've enjoyed this week:

1. Say Hello to Zorro! by Carter Goodrich -- Have you seen this cute new book? While we're not a dog family ourselves, Red and Pudge have been enjoying this cute tale of a content dog, Mister Bud, whose life is turned upside down when a new canine family member is introduced. Zorro and Mister Bud have some initial territory issues, but in the end, they find that life is more fun with a friend. I love the illustrations, and Zorro's grumpy expression just cracks me up. If you happen to be in a dog-owning family, this is a picture book for you and yours!

2. Dog and Bear by Laura Vaccaro Seeger -- In the vein of Frog and Toad and George and Martha, these two characters are loyal friends, who have the occasional misunderstanding but always end up happy with each other. This, and the two follow-up picture books that we also have from the library right now, features three short stories of friendship. A stuffed bear and a weiner dog- delightful characters who make these simple tales perfect for young readers, with both laughs and tender moments.

3. I'm Not by Pam Smallcomb and illustrated by Robert Weinstock -- You ever feel like your friend is all things that you're not? Fashionable, mysterious, confident? Well, that's how one of these dinosaur/alligator/unidentifiable animal characters feels, and it's clear that her pal Evelyn is pretty cool. It's even cooler when Evelyn affirms her talents and how they complement each other. Hands down best line: "If Evelyn was a car, she would get a speeding ticket." I love this quirky little book, and I imagine that when the kids (especially Red) are in school in the fall, we may look back to this book for its messages about friendship.

4. Falling for Rapunzel by Leah Wilcox and illustrated by Lydia Monks -- Oh, what silliness! Poor Rapunzel seems to be having trouble hearing, so when the Prince comes to rescue her (mistakenly, since he thinks she's crying, when she's just whining about her hair), she keeps hearing him incorrectly, and the things she throws down instead of her hair get crazier and crazier. I'm a fan of Lydia Monks' illustration style that incorporates bits of collage into cartoonish picture backgrounds. The ending is fun and refreshing compared to the slew of other "princess" stories kids are more familiar with.

5. Mary Ann by Betsy James -- Okay, this one is a little... odd. It's got a message about friendship and how it hurts when a friend moves, and that's nice and something with which kids can often relate. It's also got this side story about praying mantises, that's really quite accurate and informative. But the ending? Well, it freaked hubby the hell out, and I can't say that I was left feeling terribly comfortable, considering the fact that we're waiting on our own praying mantis egg case to hatch. The author's note at the end includes even more information, making it a cool fiction / nonfiction hybrid for our praying mantis book basket.

Hoping late really is better than never,

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

now posting regularly

Time to talk NPR, but given the fact that I'm in the middle of day two of a blazing headache due to some funkiness in my neck, I'm going to be brief and just pop up the links from this week.

  • "'Selfish Reasons' For Parents To Enjoy Having Kids" -- From Morning Edition: I was surprised to see that the professor who penned a book on this topic has only three kids, since I was expecting to see a giant brood. But, I guess there was a time (ten years ago) when I thought three kids was a giant brood... ah, perspective...
  • "There's More To Books Than Words" -- From All Things Considered: Loved, loved this story about an antiquarian book festival. I so understand the "smell" of old books and its appeal.

Off to ice my neck some more,

              Tuesday, April 26, 2011

              nightstand notes/ wanna view some reviews?

              Another month down, another look forward to the book pile awaiting me. In honor of 5 Minutes for Books' What's On Your Nightstand?, I'm sharing with you today what I'll be reading in the next few weeks. I've made it a habit to be pretty modest with my goals, focusing on just five books each month. Last month's goals were fulfilled 4/5 of the way, but that's just because some other novels bumped one that was releasing later. Not too shabby. This month I'm going for a couple of novels that look fabulous, a memoir and a piece of unique nonfiction.

              *Skinny by Diana Spechler -- Here's my repeated title, which I do now have in hand and is holding my current bookmark. Last month, I oohed and aahed in excitement to get this one, and from the little bit that I've read so far, I know I'm not going to be disappointed. I'm in great need of a deeply engaging novel right about now, so I'm hoping the weather stays nice this week so I can sit outdoors with this one!

              *The Last Letter by Kathleen Shoop -- I'm going out of my contemporary comfort zone again with this one, which is sometimes challenging for me. I don't recall much from the pitch of this piece of historical fiction, but something must have called out to me since I requested it. I believe there's a twinge of mystery and a significant plot point about a mother/daughter relationship. Looking forward to it.

              *Planting Dandelions: Field Notes From a Semi-Domesticated Life by Kyran Pittman -- Oh, this memoir sounds like it's going to be just what I like about parenting/family memoirs: funny, self-deprecating, and honest about the dirty details of married life with kids. I sneaked a few pages when it first came in, and I was giggling right away. This will probably be one that I pass around to my pals.

              *The Ninth Wife by Amy Stolls -- Yeah, I have to admit that I was initially intrigued by the title of this upcoming novel, and once I read the premise, I had to think on whether or not I wanted to request it. I decided to go for it, because really, the story of a woman who seeks out the previous eight wives of the man who has just proposed to her? Who could resist? That, and I'm a sucker for books that take place (even just a little) in the DC area.

              *The Art of Roughhousing by Anthony T. DeBenedet -- Yay! I sought this one out for several reasons, mostly because the premise is one that I think I need. I'm the parent who is too often telling the kids to calm down, but as an early childhood educator, I know that "rough and tumble" play is important and necessary. I'm hoping this book has something to offer this conflicted me!

              We'd love to hear what you're reading, too. Head over to 5 Minutes for Books to share What's On Your Nightstand!

              If you're so inclined, you can check out my reviews from the past few weeks:

              *Baseball Season in Picture Books --three really cool books just in time for baseball!

              *An Apple a Day --a cute book about the origins of many familiar phrases and idioms

              *Pirate vs. Pirate --love this funny picture book

              *Life From Scratch --a novel about a woman trying to restart her life, and there's blogging, too!

              *What Do You Believe --amazing and informative DK book about world religions

              *I Spy Spectacular --twenty years of I Spy!

              *Press Here --my new favorite, totally unique picture book

              *The Fourth Stall --a wacky middle grade novel that JAM and I both enjoyed

              *The Loud Book --companion picture book to last year's The Quiet Book, of course

              *What Does the President Look Like? --nonfiction picture book with an interesting premise

              *The Girl Who Was On Fire --this month's if-you're-only-going-to-click-one-link-make-it-this-one link. Fabulous book of essays about The Hunger Games series, and it's a giveaway that closes tonight!

              *Attachments --fun, fun, fun new novel with a surprise depth

              *We Were Not Orphans --a collection of personal stories from decades' worth of former childhood residents of a state home for children in Texas

              *Monday is One Day -- a new picture book perfect for families with working parents, and another giveaway!

              Happy reading,

              Saturday, April 23, 2011

              staples... that was NOT easy

              Oh, Thursday.

              The day began with such promise. Cool temperatures accompanied by bright sunshine made for a lovely morning playground jaunt, which was much more entertaining than usual thanks to a good sized group of families from town meeting up. Everyone from babies to tweens graced the mulch that morning, since Spring Break caused me to not be the sole mom in town who desperately needed to see other grown-up faces. It was going along just fabulously, until Pudge asked me to watch him slide down his favorite, albeit somewhat steep and "bumpy" slide. In hindsight, I guess it's better that I actually saw what happened, so that I didn't have to wonder why he was screaming his head off a couple seconds later. But the downside to watching is that I now have the image of his foot getting stuck as he tried to sit down at the top, but instead barreled forward onto his face, which banged down several times until he did a complete somersault at the bottom and landed on his face in the mulch.

              It's like an animated .gif that won't stop playing and replaying in my head ever since.

              Thankfully, he didn't fall over the edge of the slide, which would have been a much scarier fall for his whole body's safety, but this way down wasn't too pretty either. He cried for a couple minutes, just out of fear, but then once he calmed down, he wanted to immediately go back to playing, which included more trips down the same slide. It was just an odd thing to happen, the way his shoe got stuck, so I warned him to be really careful about how to sit down at the top, and to do it a little further back than he had before... but I didn't stop him from returning to it, even if I wanted to wrap him in bubble wrap for the rest of the morning.

              It took a while for my stomach to settle down after that, but soon enough we were back home so the kids could nap. JAM had a couple friends over, and when they all left to gallivant around town on their bikes, I was able to sit down and have a few quiet moments, something that I really have become accustomed to having during the little ones' nap time. My lazy gene kicked in, and I called hubby to inquire about the last time we all went out for dinner. We mutually agreed that it had been sufficiently long enough ago (as in a week since IHOP... woo!), that a dinner out that evening would be budgetarily acceptable. Since he needed to shop for some new sneakers, we opted to head out toward a shopping center with a couple options for him and eat at JAM's favorite chain restaurant.

              The restaurant (which will go unnamed, except to say that it's name includes a day of the week, and it's not Ruby Tuesday's), isn't necessarily known for its fabulous cuisine, but we hoped that by not going to the one in our own town, we wouldn't suffer the fate of terrible service that we usually do. Eh, no such luck. Unfortunately, that meant that we weren't leaving the restaurant until almost 8 pm, but I pooh-poohed hubby's concerns that it was too late. It's spring break after all. The kids didn't have to be up early the next day, even though they inevitably still would be, and we had driven out there so he could shop in the first place. With that, we headed over to the first shopping area. He and the boys headed into Sports Authority in search of basketball sneakers, and Red and I went over to the Target next door so I could pick up some lotion. With our gender-specific-stereotypes in place, I hoped we would soon have our purchases in place, and we'd be home tucking the kids into bed in no time.

              Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

              When Red and I met back up with the boys, JAM suddenly looked down and said, "What's all over my hands?" Um, that looks like blood. "Did you hurt yourself when you fell?" hubby quickly responded, and suddenly our night went in a whole different direction. Apparently, someone had been playing around with some weight equipment that was set up and had fallen backwards off it. But when it happened, neither of them had realized he had cut himself, so they had moved on to other stuff, while blood trickled down the back of his head. I took him into the bathroom to wash up and check it out, and I was immediately grossed out by what appeared to be a small vertical cut on the back of his head.

              While hubby and I were looking at it trying to determine if it merits a doctor visit, the two sales associates were trying to put all their ducks in a row, having us give our contact information and describe what happened, although there wasn't much in the way of details since neither of them knew what he hit his head on. We put an ice pack on there, and one of the sales associates said that she used to work in some medical environment and took a look. In a very blunt tone, she began to loudly declare that he most definitely needed stitches because you could see this or that, to which hubby quickly responded by asking her to tone it down a little since JAM's eyes now appeared to be ready to pop out of his head. Ah, standing in the front of the Sports Authority getting gory detailed medical advice from a stranger while trying to staunch the bleeding from the back of your son's head while he cries in fear... just the right way to finish off a day.

              Except that we were nowhere close to being finished. The cashiers began to give us directions to a late night urgent care center, but hubby and I politely cut them off with a simultaneous, "Yeah, we know where that is."

              Now is the part where I give some major kudos to the Bowie Health Center for their emergency services, because we were being seen within ten minutes of checking in. The folks that we saw were friendly and professional, although our Physician's Assistant's dry bedside manner didn't seem to include an understanding of the comorbidity of ADHD and anxiety. Oh, my poor son. I could feel his intense worry physically radiating from his body. For about an hour and a half, JAM and I sat in the back together as his cut was cleaned, discovered to be bigger and deeper than initially thought, numbed by cream, numbed even more by injections, and eventually partially closed by three staples.

              Yes, my son has staples in his head.

              When it was announced that staples would be the better option over stitches, I was certain he was going to have a full-blown panic attack. Honestly, my gut was churning, and I felt so utterly helpless as I watched his reaction. During the treatment time, we did a lot of waiting, and the only thing I could think to do was play upon my biggest talent- talking. I talked to keep him distracted in the hopes that he wouldn't spend the entire time stressing out. And with my own level of stress kind of high in the moment, I opted to tell stories that are so enmeshed in my brain that I didn't need to do much extra thinking-- classic family stories of days gone by.

              I told the one about when my dad broke my grandma's toe after chasing her around the yard with a hose. (The description is intentionally inflammatory... don't worry, there was no premeditation.) I had to include the tales of playing Balderdash, quite possibly the coolest avid-reader's-favorite board game ever, with my wacky extended family, especially when Grandma (of the broken toe) would provide such detailed answers as "a plant" or "an animal." (The story is much, much funnier if you know how the game is played, trust me.) While he sat on the bed, head wrapped with gauze to hold the cottonball in place, I talked and he giggled, until the next step of the treatment would come. During those times, all I could do is hold his hand and tell him that it would be over soon. He's too old to try to calm with kisses and snuggles, but I tried to simply be close. In so many ways on most days, his ten years of age make him appear adolescent and jaded, but when in pain and scared, his ten years seemed just a blink of an eye.

              I discovered that he and I have one thing in common, though, and that's an admirable amount of manners, even under such terrible circumstances. When the PA was finally ready to do the final act of putting in the staples, JAM's terror suddenly quadrupled, and all the calming and distracting efforts of the previous hour-plus were wiped away in an instant. He began to physically struggle, but stopped himself, thankfully. He did, however, begin a verbal repetition that hit close to home. He enthusiastically called out, "No thank you, I don't want this. No thank you! No thank you!" and I was immediately reminded of my own long labor with him almost eleven years earlier. After three exhausting hours of hard-core pushing, I was ready to give up and I clearly remember saying, "Can I just go home, please? Please, I'd really just like to leave." My twenty-four year old brain obviously knew that there was no going back at that point, but for whatever reason, I felt compelled to give the polite request a try. (Also, to my credit, for each f-bomb and other spicy word uttered during that long day and night, I do remember apologizing to the midwife and nurse in the room. Nice.)

              Three clicks later, it was done. Once he was told that it was done and that he could sit back up, I could see the weight lift off him in his facial expression, his posture and his general demeanor. "I'm SO glad that's over now." Yes, that made two of us.

              As we prepared to leave at 10:30 pm, I was pleased to find that Red and Pudge had held up pretty well with hubby in the waiting room. Many hugs were shared among siblings, and Red was sincerely compassionate and concerned for her big brother. Pudge gave a hug and was ready to go home... eh, he's a three year old boy. It was a relief to see that the whole ordeal didn't do a thing to JAM's sense of humor. He and I were looking over the discharge papers, and one line said to seek immediate medical care if he experienced confusion, dizziness or other abnormal behavior, to which he quickly mocked, "Um, I'm bringing my son back in because he cut his head and now he's acting good, which is abnormal for him." Funny guy. When I said goodnight to him once we got back home, he reached out for my hand, and in a serious tone said seven words that made my heart warm: "Thanks for being there for me, Mom."

              Two days later now, "Staples" is doing just fine. He even listened to my reassurances that he could indeed take a shower today (please, please, please!!), so now he's on the road to recovery and, bonus, no longer stinky. He's bummed, though, that he's out of commission for baseball this week until he gets the staples removed on Friday.

              Yes, that's right. We're not in the clear just yet, since he'll be sitting on another exam table in a few days, most likely getting anxious and worried all over again. I'm getting prepared though. Perhaps I should call my parents later this week to restock my family stories.

              Hoping to have fulfilled our ER quota for the year,

              Friday, April 22, 2011

              friday's five

              Picture book time, again! When I get a comment or an email from a friend that they've just put a book on hold at the library after seeing it on one of these friday's five posts, it seriously warms my book-loving heart. I love to hear what you think about the books you and your kids are reading, so feel free to share away! This week's five balance some classics with some newer books to love!

              1. Scaredy Squirrel Has a Birthday Party by Melanie Watt -- My 5M4B editor Jennifer adores Scaredy Squirrel, and after checking a couple books out of the library, now I know why. Oh, this anxious little yard rodent is truly endearing. Just one look at the cover image of his blue tux and "Chandleresque" smile, and I knew this one would make me giggle. Oh yeah, the kids like it, too. If you're going to read this one, don't let the slim size fool you- there's a lot going on and lots of text to read in a nontraditional storybook format. But it's all great fun, and totally worth it!

              2. Manuelo the Playing Mantis by Don Freeman --Best known for his Corduroy fame, this more recent book by Freeman is a lesser-known piece of beauty. Honestly, I'm loving this book, and not just because it ties in with the egg case that we're waiting to open and hatch a couple hundred praying mantises! It's really a lovely story with beautiful watercolor painting illustrations. Manuelo is on a quest to make music of his own, and with a little help from some friends, he finds his own special way.

              3. Monster Day at Work by Sarah Dyer -- When a little monster goes with his dad to work one day, he narrates how he is experiencing all the "same" things his dad does each day. Of course, his child perspective of a work day is a bit skewed, which will make parents chuckle. (My favorite part comes at the very end with his assessment of his stay-at-home-mom's level of responsibilities!) Since my own two kids think their Dad sits at his desk and types on a computer aimlessly all day, this is a cute book for them.

              4. If You're a Monster and You Know It by Rebecca & Ed Emberley -- To the tune of that familiar kids' song, this is a unique take that keeps the monstery-fun theme going. If you're familiar with Ed Emberley's illustrative style, you'll recognize the bold colors and collage format. My kids love books that are meant to be sung, and this one even has a recorded version that you can download here. Kids and parents can't help but sing along!

              5. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper and illustrated by Loren Long -- You can't get more classic than this story. I love this version with its beautiful new illustrations, and I love that this gorgeous hardcover book was given away to all visitors to the National Book Festival a few years back. I'm going to be reviewing an animated film version of this classic story for a cool giveaway on 5 Minutes for Books in coming weeks, so we've been revisiting this fun story.

              Happy Friday and wishing you fun reading,

              Thursday, April 21, 2011

              can I get a knock, at the very least?

              This afternoon, the kids and I, along with a couple of their pals, were returning home from the playground down the road. When we were walking by the parking lot, I noticed a UtiliQuest truck parked and also a series of white spray-painted lines on the lawn going from the FIOS box toward our house. When we signed up to have FIOS installed next week, the fine-print included a note that someone would come and mark up the lines about 24-48 hours before installation. Or, 8 days ahead of time, apparently. As long as the lines stay there, that's fine, I guess. The notice said that we didn't need to be home for this part of the installation process, either, so I figured the guy was doing whatever he needed to do.

              As we got closer to our townhouse, I see a man walk out of our fenced-in patio area. JAM was already home, hanging out with a friend, so I figured that he'd let him in there. Or, my next thought was that maybe we had left the gate unlocked when the kids got out the bike and scooter that served as transportation that morning. But, the guy wouldn't just walk in there, I figured. Right?

              Here's the actual exchange I had with the gentleman:

              Me: "Excuse me, can I help you?"

              Him: "Yeah, I'm just marking stuff, um, are you still having FIOS put in?"

              Me: "Yes, next week. Do you need to be in our patio area?"

              Him: "Um, I was just marking up the gas line, but it looks like you don't have that."

              Me: "Okay. Did my son let you in the back area?"

              Him: "No, the gate was unlocked."

              Me: "Did you knock on our door first?"
              Him: "No, the gate was unlocked."

              Me: "I understand that, but as a homeowner, I would expect that you would knock on my door before entering into my private, fenced-in property."

              Him: "Oh, I always just check the gate, then if it's locked, I knock on the door."

              Me: "Well, if I looked out my window and saw you in my back area without having knocked first, I probably would call the police."

              Him (chuckling): "Yeah, that wouldn't be the first time."


              (incredulous pause)

              Me: "Well, then maybe you should think about making it your practice to knock on the door first, huh?" (head in hands) "Wowee zowie."

              End scene.

              What in the world?! My first issue is that we were explicitly told that we had to do nothing to prepare for this part of the installation, and that we didn't even need to be home for the process. So, did this guy really need to be on our patio? Am I crazy for expecting a representative of a company to first make an attempt at seeing if someone is at a residence before barreling into a fenced-in area of the property? Especially in our area, I would not be comfortable seeing some guy, wearing no uniform or other type of clothing to indicate a company affiliation, walking around my patio if I had been inside the house.

              So, I went inside, shaking my head and left this genius to continue spray painting lines on the lawn. I can only hope that our actual installation workers will have more sense than this guy.

              Wondering how others would have reacted,

              Wednesday, April 20, 2011

              now posting regularly

              Some weeks go by with only a handful of NPR stories getting saved, and then there are the other kinds of weeks. This week was one of those, and my cup runneth over, as they say. Interesting topics and top-notch reporting, as usual.

              • "'The Bippolo Seed': The 'Lost' Dr. Seuss Stories" -- As a children's lit lover, anything that talks about the genius that was Dr. Seuss grabs my attention. This All Things Considered piece brings to light some of the "minor works" of the beloved children's author/illustrator, from before he was famous.
              • "Parents' Ums And Uhs Can Help Toddlers Learn Language" -- From one of my personal favorite parts of the NPR site, Shots: NPR's Health Blog, comes this story that was shared all over Facebook last week. I love the idea that this study puts forth, and this could perhaps explain my children's, umm, precocity when it comes to language. :) 
              • "Egypt Finds Its Own 'Jon Stewart'" -- I strongly believe that each and every country in the world deserves its own Jon Stewart, so this All Things Considered story made me really quite happy the other afternoon.
              • "'Food Revolution,' L.A. Schools Spar Over Lunches" -- We're late to the Jamie Oliver party, but hubby started recording this season, and we've been interested in the brouhaha over that first episode. Another story from All Things Considered about the ordeal.
              • "The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We're All Going To Miss Almost Everything" --Wow. This is the winner of the week, and if you're only going to click one link, let it be this one from the NPR blog Monkey See. I love this premise, which I can so relate to. I definitely am good at "culling," and I think I do surrender my fair share at "surrendering," too, even though it's painful to admit sometimes. Wondering what I mean? Click away, my friend.
              • "Our 'Toxic' Love-Hate Relationship With Plastics" -- Another thing I push back into the recesses of my mind that are dedicated to worrying about things that I simply can't fully control. Could one truly live in our society today and protect themselves against all the potential chemical exposure dangers that plastics may pose? Just one glance from where I'm sitting right now puts the answer squarely in the no category for me. Ugh. Interesting story from Fresh Air.
              • "Dear Lice Guy: What's Bugging Me?" --And yet another All Things Considered story will round up the pack this week. This one made me giggle a little, because with a decade of preschool teaching under my belt, I've had to deal with the lice issue at school here and there. And honestly, once you even hear the word lice uttered in your school, it's impossible NOT to scratch at the base of your head for the rest of the day. I've been convinced, mistakenly so, more than once that I had lice crawling all over my head. Yuck!

                          From one NPR lover to you,

                          Tuesday, April 19, 2011

                          the return of the blahs

                          After an evening out with some friends recently, two of us decided to ignore the fact that we each have children who wake us up early in the morning, and we opted to head to a local diner instead. At 1:00 am. We shared a plate of fries and relished in a conversation that continued for an hour and a half uninterrupted by demands from the short people in our lives.

                          One topic that came up, among the many that went all over the map, was about the journals we've kept over the years. I don't know where all of mine are, but as I remember back to the little diaries (probably purchased from the Scholastic school order form) that I wrote in as a child or to the composition books that I scrawled in as a college student, I am confident in one memory: the emotions poured onto these pages was overwhelmingly negative. Apparently, even as a snotty-nosed eight year old, I was most compelled to put pen to paper when I felt badly. I have sometimes feared that a comprehensive look at the last four years of this blog might reveal the same thing.

                          The difference between those tear-streaked pages (seriously, for I was a bit of a dramatic child) and the online collection of thoughts that is my blog is simple: a level of self-censorship. As hard as that may be to believe, I do hold back from putting the deepest and darkest of my thoughts here. For as much self-doubt that I may express, there are truckloads that remain unwritten, especially in the parenting realm where I continue to feel uncertain on a daily basis. But really, when my mood turns especially dark, I tend to just avoid opening this space at all. Why say anything nice, when you can say nothing at all?

                          A look at the holes in between posts over the last year or so reveals these "blah" periods, one of which is currently in full swing. In the physical sense, I feel crappy- headaches and back issues are occurring regularly again, but I can't seem to find the motivation to get moving in any way that might be beneficial. I would like to get more sleep, but I've been having emotionally-charged dreams every night that leave me exhausted upon waking up, which doesn't do much in the way of motivating me to get moving either. During the day, I stare at my to do list and at the things that need to be done all around me and feel overwhelmed by the lack of time and the never-ending home projects.

                          Blah. That's where I'm at, and I thought I'd kick it old school and put the negative down on record. I'm hoping that with the next month's worth of excitement- including a fifth birthday celebration for the wackiest redhead in our family and a family trip to Florida- there will be a brightening of the mood and more reasons to blog away happily.

                          Blah blah blah,

                          Friday, April 15, 2011

                          friday's five

                          Friday brings happiness all over the world, and in my little bloggy world, it's also a lovely day to celebrate another week's worth of picture book fun. Thanks to our fabulous public library system, these five books have brought smiles and giggles to my littlest ones.
                          1. Mini Racer by Kristy Dempsey and illustrated by Bridget Stevens-Marzo --Silly rhymes, colorful illustrations reminiscent of Richard Scarry, and a whole bunch of crazy and goofy vehicles. Guess who in my family LOVES this book? From the moment he ran up to me at the library grasping it in his hands, I knew this would be one that would get renewed several times and reread even more. I happen to like the little frog who appears in most of the illustrations as a referee of sorts for this race, waving his red flag and calling out some racers on their less-than-stellar driving skills.

                          2. Cars Galore by Peter Stein and illustrated Bob Staake -- Are you sensing a theme here? Yup, here's another Pudge's Pick, and I gotta say that I'm so enchanted by Staake's illustrations. The blocks of bright colors, the wacky depictions of people- love it all. Here, the focus is directly on a whole bunch of cars, traditional ones and others that are very much nontraditional. These are the ones that get the big laughs, and the pictures and text complement each other just wonderfully. My car loving child is in heaven this week.

                          3. Imogene's Antlers by David Small -- Red was perusing the paperback book boxes this week, and this was one of the classics that came home from the R-S-T collection. What an adorable story that wholly embraces the unexplainable and fantastic in a realistic context. Some might say "Poor Imogene," but she and those around her (discounting her prone-to-fainting mother) find wonderful ways to embrace the gigantic antlers that suddenly graced her head one day. The ending brought Red to a fit of giggles. Fun stuff.

                          4. Time for Bed by Mem Fox and illustrated by Jane Dyer -- Another classic, and one that we've read before naptime several times in the last few days. The quietness of the word choices and soft, muted illustrations makes it perfect for pre-sleep reading. Each animal caregiver (nicely, not specified Mom or Dad, so as to be inclusive for all) gets his/her baby ready for sleep in each two-page spread with a rhyme that children will quickly memorize. I mean, it's Mem Fox-- does it really need my endorsement?

                          5. The Truth About Fairies by J. Angelique Johnson and illustrated by Carolina Farias -- Okay. I've got some mixed feelings about this one, but I'm not sure how well I can articulate them. It appears that this book (as well as the others in the Fairy-Tale Superstars series) is coming from a 'debunking' perspective, since it opens by answering the question of "Are fairies real?" with a strong-feeling "Of course not!" It then proceeds to share stories of fairies from literature and folklore, and finishes with a page devoted to "Fun Facts About Fairies." Am I the only confused one here? Regardless of how I might feel about it, Red loved it and doesn't seem discouraged in her love for fairies.

                          Wishing you a week of happy reading,

                          Thursday, April 14, 2011

                          MTE reviews: The Hub

                          I don't remember exactly when it happened, but sometime last fall, we became aware of a new channel on our television lineup. The Hub came onto our radar when someone, probably JAM, discovered that they were airing the original episodes of Fraggle Rock. Thanks to the magic of the DVR, the kids were enjoying this wacky show that hubby and I remember so fondly from our own childhood, and it wasn't painful to watch a show with the kids for once. (I'm looking at you, the not-to-be-named irrationally-large-headed cartoon shouter. Adios.)

                          Since The Hub is positioned on our satellite TV channel lineup right in the midst of several other kids' channels, the shows it features caught the eye of the only child of mine who can read the onscreen guide. Soon enough, he was asking for permission to record the old episodes of Transformers, followed by a multi-episode special of an updated version called Transformers Prime. He was beyond thrilled when that special parlayed into an actual series with the same title, which is now another regular on our DVR. And I have to say that I love that all three kids watch recorded episodes of Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? together on the weekends. Pudge and Red have especially come to love two of the shows on the channel for younger kids- My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake.

                          Now, I should really preface this with the statement that we as a family are TV watchers, not that our set is always on, but we do all appreciate the entertainment that it can provide. I applaud some families' decisions to raise their children in a TV-free environment, but it's just not for us. I have fond memories from all stages of my life that include television shows that I watched with my family as a child, comedy stand-up and sketch shows with my parents as an adolescent, sitcoms that brought entire dorm floors together on weeknights, and series that still bring hubby and I to the couch in the evenings. For our kids, we opt to use a limited approach-- JAM can watch his shows on the weekends during naptime, and Red and Pudge each get to pick one show in the morning. Sure, I still battle a little mommy-guilt about this approximate 45 minutes of shows for them a day, but I'm usually right in the room with them, and I have to say that I've been pretty pleased with the content of the two shows they love- My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake.

                          We tried a couple other shows out, but some, like Pound Puppies, didn't make the cut for content that was a little too rude for my tastes. Some others are a little wacky and just not our style. The biggest downside to watching kids' programming on The Hub, in comparison to say Disney Junior, PBS or Nick Jr. is the commercial breaks throughout. They mostly consist of ads for their own shows or related toys and products, or those odd products like the ridiculous 'teach your infant to read' program or this fold-up portfolio that can hold an entire desk's worth of contents (which is actually kind of cool and would be a fabulous stocking stuffer if one's life partner really wanted to plan ahead...). I'm still very much anti-commercials for kids, and I've tried to explain to the kids how their sole purpose is to make them feel like they need to buy things. (Like that super cool portfolio. Just sayin. It's an effective ad, and I'm the perfect target audience.) So, we opt to watch only DVR'd shows, and the remote stays nearby.

                          I've actually talked a bit online about the fun the kids have had with The Hub, so I was excited to take part in a blogger online chat this week with Margaret Loesch, President and CEO of The Hub. While I've done a few product reviews, I felt like talking about this network is probably the most authentic review I could do, since it's already a part of our life. We received nothing in the way of compensation or expectations, but it was interesting to hear her talk about the mindset behind the network.

                          • The network was born on 10/10/10, as a partnership between Discovery and Hasbro, taking over when Discovery Kids went off the air. 
                          • The main intention behind the network is to provide programming that children and families can watch together. Loesch emphasized this especially in relation to some of their evening programing that includes good old shows like The Wonder Years, Happy Days and Doogie Howser, MD. 
                          •  While she couldn't share specifics, it's clear that the network is continuing to grow and seek out additional shows for which to provide a second life. May I humbly suggest Family Ties or Growing Pains?
                          I'm not without my hesitations, though. The fact that the network is partially owned by a toy company means that there will only be more and more pushing of products that tie-in with the shows. When she was asked about this very point, Loesch framed it as a way to engage children and extend their play. As an early childhood educator, I thought this answer fell a little flat, personally. My own four year old daughter does indeed have a couple My Little Pony toys, and thankfully, she is the type of (wacky) creative kid whose play is constantly dramatic and inventive, but there is the trend for kids to use TV tie-in toys to simply play out the episodes they've watched, which actually stunts their play rather than extending it. I'm opting to simply keep the toys to a reasonable amount and encourage her to continue drafting her own adventures.

                          I guess I came away from the chat with a realistic view of the network as a business-- commercial breaks and all. Like most things, I feel happy treating The Hub like a buffet-- there's a lot out there for consumption, but it's probably best to be moderate and take just the pieces you like best. For us, that means a couple of shows for the youngest of our bunch that focus on friendship, honesty, kindness and other pro-social messages important to their stage of development that are entertaining as well. The pre-teen gets to indulge in some shows that are perfect for him as well, and I've had the joy of being pleasantly surprised at the positive aspects of the content there, too. And maybe we'll even get to share some of our old childhood favorites with JAM sometime, too!

                          From one TV fan to you,

                          Wednesday, April 13, 2011

                          now posting regularly

                          It's that time of the week again, when I share with the two of you out there who might be interested the NPR stories that piqued my interest, either via my local station, the fabulous WAMU, or from the NPR Facebook feed. A whopping seven stories made the round-up this week:

                          • "Rachel Lloyd: "Girls Like Us"" -- I was immediately intrigued by this segment on The Diane Rehm Show last week, without having any prior information about the book or the author. She was so articulate, well-spoken and passionate about the cause of assisting girls in surviving a history of sexual exploitation. Her personal story is heartbreaking and makes it clear how much she has invested in this work. The day after I heard this piece, I was thrilled to read Elizabeth's insightful review of her book Girls Like Us on 5 Minutes for Books, on which even the author herself commented!
                          • "Couple Plans To Walk 2,000 Miles To Their Wedding" -- Who needs premarital counseling when you and your spouse-to-be plan to walk a couple thousand miles just before tying the knot? This All Things Considered piece tells the story of a Michigan couple who is planning to walk to Las Vegas to get married. The things some folks will do in the of love. 
                          • "150 Years Later, America's Civil War Still Divides" -- Another All Things Considered piece, but this one much more serious. I have a hard time understanding the need to "commemorate" anything about the South's succession and subsequent war on their former country, with a motivation of wanting to retain the ability to own human beings as property. Nothing about that seems worthy of commemoration to me. Teaching history is different than celebrating it to me, and this story delves into differing perspectives on this with the 150 anniversary upon us.
                          • "In N.C. Town, Whistling's No Idle Pastime" --A third All Things Considered story (must have spent a lot of time in my kitchen during these afternoon/evenings!). This one's pure fluff and definitely worthy of a listen versus a read. Some of those folks' whistling is incredible!
                          • "Planned Parenthood: A Thorn In Abortion Foes' Sides" -- Back to the political side of the news with this Morning Edition story on the recent congressional attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. Lots of rhetoric abounds on this topic, and I just wish that politicians could find a way to articulate their stances without trying to play with numbers or make ridiculously untrue statements. (Yeah, I'm talking to you, Sen. John Kyl (R) of Arizona. You can't throw out numbers and then later say that it wasn't meant to be a factual statement. Outrageous!) I know that I am personally hugely grateful for the years of Planned Parenthood services that I received during my college years, which were local and affordable for this out-of-stater. Without them, I doubt my 19 year old self would have sought out a private gynecologist, leading to several years without check-ups which would have resulted in those pre-cancerous cells on my cervix possibly not getting caught while they were still in the 'pre' stage.
                          • "Women's Health and the Budget" -- For more on the same topic as the last link, today's The Diane Rehm Show hosted a panel of guests talking about it with varying perspectives. Rehm herself was not moderating, but her replacement, Katty Kay of the BBC, does a great job keeping the conversation flowing.
                          • "Tina Fey Reveals All (And Then Some) In 'Bossypants'" -- Okay, okay, I know I mentioned Tina Fey last week, too, but she's on Fresh Air today and I can't help but include that in the round-up because honestly, she's the face of comedy today. I can't help but love and admire her. And it gives me a much lighter note to end on!

                          NPR goodies on a rainy day in my world,

                            Tuesday, April 12, 2011

                            Cybils KidLit Challenge review #2

                            Over on 5 Minutes for Books, Jennifer and I had the pleasure of sharing many reviews of the Cybils Award nominated titles we read in our respective judging categories last fall. Jennifer had the fabulous idea to extend the fun to our readers, and thus the Cybils KidLit Challenge was born. Readers can set their own goals in connection to reading Cybils-nominated or winning books, and each month we ask folks to link up their reviews or round-up posts.

                            I opted to go down a relatively easy path-- I pledged to read the twelve winning titles across the variety of categories. In March, I shared my impressions after reading the winners in the Fiction Picture Book, Easy Reader and Middle Grade Fiction categories, in my first Cybils KidLit Challenge review.

                            This month, I continued to go slowly, and I continued to be impressed by the fantastic winners!

                            First up, the Short Chapter Books category. Jacqueline Jules' Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off was crowned the winner, and it features cute comic-strip style illustrations by Miguel Benitez. I have to admit that I haven't read this with any of my kids yet, just on my own, because I don't think any of them are the right age for it right now. But, when the time is right, I imagine this fun little story of a boy and a mysterious pair of purple sneakers will delight both of my younger ones. The chapters are quite short, making this perfect for newly independent readers, and this only the beginning of the series, so children can follow along with Freddie's adventures even longer!

                            Let's move onto an absolutely remarkable book, the winner in the Poetry category, Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Rhyme by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josee Masse. Wowie zowie, this is just beautiful. The concept for each of these free form poems is that they can be read two different ways. Presented the first time as one character's perspective from a familiar fairy tale, the poem is then 'flipped' and read backwards, bringing to light a quite different perspective. I adore the concept for it's amazing creativity. Young children can appreciate the gorgeous illustrations and the lovely poems, while older children will surely be awed by the differences that can be conveyed simply by changing the order of the same set of words!

                            I've saved the very best of this month's Cybils reading for last- a title nominated by 5 Minutes for Books' own, Jennifer Donovan! The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy) by Barbara Kerley and illustrated perfectly by Edwin Fotheringham was named the winner in the Nonfiction Picture Book category, and I am so, so happy that this book is out there to give kids a little taste of the fabulousness that is the Mark Twain story. Twain's daughter Susy kept a journal for over a year in which she was recording stories about her father, a biography written from a teenaged daughter's familial perspective. This incredible picture book presents the background of their life at the time, including actual snippets of Susy's writings in smaller-sized "journal" insets between the traditional-sized pages. Everything about this book is fun- the quotes, the observations, the illustrations that perfectly capture Mark Twain. And, having attended college in Twain's wife's hometown, the very town in which he and his family spent their summers as well as where Twain is buried, I was DELIGHTED to read the section about his "special octagonal study" where he worked on Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I spent four years of my life walking by that study on the campus of Elmira College where it now stands, and I was constantly amazed at how close I could get to a place of such wonder. I literally yelped with glee when I turned the page and saw it depicted in the book!

                            If you've been reading some Cybils nominated or winning books lately, we'd love to hear what you thought. Link up with us or comment on our Cybils KidLit Challenge!

                            In love with children's lit,

                            Monday, April 11, 2011

                            is this what passed for guidance back in the day?

                            I happen to love this graphic illustrating the various ratings assigned to movies by the Motion Picture Association of America. I love it for its subtle humor, even when I question the biases present in it. Look closely at PG- the daughter and son are apparently held to different standards... while I thought them to be similar in age, perhaps he's just short for his age. And look, he only has to have one eye closed for even a PG-13 flick, too. How can you not laugh at the fact that the mom and dad even got dressed up for the R rated movie- night out on the town, huh? Too bad that when they head for an NC-17 film, they have to share the theater with the shady-- and creepily enthusiastic, if you ask me-- older teen. Ick. Oh wait, I'm pretty sure that NC-17 dude is the same guy that was uber-excited to go see a PG-13 on his own a few years back. He must be a real movie buff, huh?


                            Last week, I spent some time during a weekday to watch a movie, all by myself. I guiltily watched about a half hour during the morning while folding laundry, effectively banishing the children to play upstairs for that block of time. I finished it up during naptime, once again free from the prying eyes of the young, impressionable ones. Because after all, this was the 1985 movie Fletch, starring Chevy Chase in all his hilarious adorableness. (I don't care if that's not a real word, Chevy Chase certainly had it... I was reminded of my childhood crush on him while watching!) Clearly this was not a movie for kids, considering the plot (investigative reporter trying to crack drug dealing business on city's beaches uncovers an illicit police connection), action (beatings at the hands of police, violent car chases, shootings), and language (just a selection of the vocab words introduced: dick, balls (not the playground kind), bitch, Jesus H. Christ, asshole, herpes and the more vernacular "the herp"). Now mind you, while watching the movie, I resembled the smiling mom in the R-rating section in the above illustration, laughing my head off at what I considered a humorous and smart comedy for adults.

                            Except that it was rated PG.

                            When that flashed on the screen as I started the DVR'd movie on my tv, I briefly wondered if I had recorded a censored-down version. Nope, this was the full theatrical release, played on a premium movie channel. In addition, I remember seeing this movie when I was a kid. Where, I'm not sure... surely not a movie theater, but maybe at the drive-in? Was this a second movie, during which I was expected to be asleep in the sprawling backseat of our fine, American-made sedan? Was it on VHS? Was I supposed to be seeing it, or did I hide behind a piece of furniture when my parents thought I was playing in a different room? (Not that I ever did that, of course. Ahem.)

                            My memory fails me, but with a 1985 release date, I was only ten when it came out, and if I did see it then, what in the world did my ten year old brain think of it? Even more, what does it say about our society at the time that this type of content was determined to be worthy of only slight "guidance" and only possibly unsuitable for children? Was there anyone out there who thought this was just fine for children's entertainment consumption?

                            Now, if you know me, you certainly understand that I'm no prude. I have a colorful vocabulary, but also a (usually fully-functional) switch in my brain that regulates usage in the appropriate venues and around favorable company. Unfortunately, it hasn't been unknown for one of my children to utter "Dammit!" when frustrated, but that's about as bad as it gets. But really, even by my standards, looking at this movie and considering it in the PG light was crazy to me.

                            I looked briefly at the history of the MPAA ratings system, albeit the history according to Wikipedia. Ironically enough, the PG-13 rating was adopted in 1984, so this film even had the option of being rated PG-13, but apparently folks looked at it and thought, "Nah, PG'll do."

                            Weird, isn't it?

                            All of that is to say that regardless of what you think of what's being produced and marketed these days, at least it appears that we've made a tiny bit of progress in evaluating what has been made. Seeing as Diary of a Wimpy Kid shares the same PG rating, "for some rude humor and language," I'm going to go out on a limb and say that even Hollywood has tightened its standards in the last 25 years.

                            Lest you be left to conclude that I didn't like Fletch, let me reassure you that I, as a full-fledged adult, was enamored with Chevy Chase and his jauntily unbuttoned shirt, fabulous head of hair, and absolutely seamless delivery of hilarious lines. His fake Spanish responses to every Spanish-speaking character in the movie left me in hysterics, and his chemistry with just about anyone on screen was simply perfect. I'm already trying to figure out how to make a Chevy Chase film fest happen at home this summer, and you're all welcome to join me, as long as you bring some snacks and your ID.

                            I'll make sure the children stay guided away from the room.

                            Always up for a comedy,