Rudi & Daisy

Last year, the BlogHer conference was in Chicago. I don’t know a soul in Chicago. This year, BlogHer was in San Francisco. And I have all sorts of friends and relations in San Francisco. Which is wonderful. And which means I spent about half my conference time visiting family.

On Friday afternoon, my dear Aunt Robin K, my cousin Scott and his darling girlfriend
, all stopped by the St. Francis — the hotel hosting the conference. We chatted in the ballroom and ate free conference candy bars.



On Saturday, Jordan and I spent a lovely morning at Grandma Rudi’s house in Menlo Park. She is all about whatever is in the news, so basically she just wanted to check out CNN on my iphone. And talk about Obama.



From Grandma Rudi’s, we headed to Grandma Daisy’s house in San Carlos. Daisy still lives in the house where my father grew up, and I love to be there. Daisy is regal and her favorite color is purple. Happily, it was kind of a bonus visit — my super-cool uncle Mark and Aunt Robin S were also there. A great visit. Too short.

It’s fine by me if BlogHer is held in San Francisco forever more. I don’t see my California family nearly often enough.

Side note: on the way to see the Grandmas, Jordan and I swung by the Ferry Building so we could pick up some Recchiuti chocolates to give them. Mmmmmm. You should probably go get some right now
(try the Fleur de Sel caramels). Plus, I kind of want to move in to the Ferry Building. It is a happy place.

Strengthening Sibling Relationships: An Easy Idea for Summer Vacation

A few years ago, as summer was approaching, I was concerned with some of the one-on-one relationships my children had with each other. I’m a mother of four and my biggest concern was that my oldest (8 going on 9 at the time) and my five-year-old had NO friendship. They often bickered and fought. So I came up with a plan based on the well-known thought “you love those you serve” and created a schedule for my children to serve each other. It worked so well we have done it every summer since.

Create a Simple Schedule for Siblings to “Serve” Each Other Through Fun Activities

This is how it works: every child is paired with every sibling every morning. The combos over the years have included activities like: -11-year-old daughter and 10-year-old-daughter write and produce a play (including script, costumes and sets). -10-year-old daughter and 5-year-old-daughter make up dances together. -5-year-old-son reads an easy reader to 7-year-old daughter. -7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old-son play jump rope, hopscotch, basketball or soccer. -5-year-old son and 4-year-old-daughter color a picture together.

As Your Kids Grow, The Activities Can Become More Advanced

As my kids have grown we have continued the tradition and the activities mature as my children do. This is what we did last summer: -13-year-old daughter and 12-year-old-daughter prepared dinner each morning (including a weekly menu and shopping list). They did all the prep work they could in the morning, together, then one of them did the actual cooking each evening. -13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old-son played board games each day. -13-year-old daughter read Alice and Wonderland and The Chronicles of Narnia to my 9-year-old-daughter. -12-year-old daughter and 10-year-old-son practiced timetable flash cards. -12-year-old daughter taught 9-year-old-daughter piano basics. -9-year-old-daughter practiced her reading with my 10-year-old son. The kids love this part of the day — and thankfully, they love each other. I will continue to do this as long as I can. I feel like this is one of the best things I’ve done for my children.  
Credits: By Sara Urquhart, photo by Katrina Davis for Design Mom.

Is My Child Too Young to Start Piano Lessons?

best age for starting piano One of the big topics of discussion among parenting groups in my neighborhood is music lessons. What’s the best age for starting piano? Violin? Guitar? When I wanted to know, I went straight to my sister-in-law, Erin. Percussion teaching was her major in college, and she’s currently a piano teacher. (Did you know piano is considered a percussion instrument? It’s in the same family as drums!) Here’s what Erin says: As a piano teacher, the question I am most asked is: “When should my child start piano lessons?” Keep in mind that my goal for my students is that music will be an enriching part of their lives, a creative outlet, a useful skill and playing the piano may serve as a bridge to other kinds of musical education and instruction. I do not approach this from a competitive viewpoint.

Question 1: Has your child learned to read?

After a child starts to read is an excellent time for them to start playing the piano, around age 6-8. The mechanics of reading come in handy when learning to read music and it’s helpful if they can read practice instructions. By this point they are also learning how to be responsible for their own homework and gaining greater independence in completing tasks. But there isn’t necessarily a “magic” age. I have students that started to play the piano at age 10 and 12 and they progress more quickly than the younger student and have the strength and dexterity to play more complex music from the beginning. I also have students that started much younger who do beautifully partly because of the time their parents spent helping them practice:

Question 2: Do you have time to help your child practice?

The younger the child, the more time you will need to spend helping them practice. If they can’t read you will need to sit down with them everyday. If they can read you may just need to help them for a few minutes at the beginning of practice the first few days after lessons. Of course, this is also dependent on personality. My daughter started at age 5. I had more time to spend with her and once I got her started, she was able to do some practicing on her own. My son is turning 7 soon and I tried to start lessons with him. He wants me with him every time he practices, but I don’t have the time right now, so we’ll wait until he’s a little older and begin again. He also wasn’t very excited about playing the piano, which brings us to question three:

Question 3: Does your child talk about playing the piano or try to play the piano?

If they are excited about it, they are more likely to be self-motivated to practice and the better they practice, the more successful they will be and the more they will enjoy playing the piano. If you can answer “yes” to two of the above questions, consider starting piano lessons with your child. —- Thank you, Erin! I really appreciate definitive advice like that so I’m not forced to guess. What about you, Dear Readers? Have you found success starting your kids with piano lessons at a certain age? What’s your advice? P.S. — Painting a piano. And my favorite ukulele for kids.  
Credits: Photo by Kristen Loken for Design Mom

Instead of Allowance, Try this “Family Bank” Idea

teaching kids about finances Wondering if you should be paying your kids an allowance? Not sure what works and what doesn’t? You’re not alone. Talking to kids about money can feel complicated — especially when your own grownup finances aren’t where you wish they were. My sister Sara has 4 kids a few years older than mine and she’s come up with a financial training system that seems to be working for her family. I asked her to share the details. This is what Sara says:

Incoming funds are a chance for kids to learn budgeting.

Twice a month our Family Bank opens for business. Each child is given a generous amount of money and a sucker from the Bank (me) and then learns to budget the money. Each child takes any money earned on their own since the last Family Bank day, plus the new money received, and splits it into five categories: 10% Tithing 10% Long Term Savings (LTS) 10% Charitable Contributions 50 % Short Term Savings (STS) 20% Spending

Categories help kids learn the difference between long-term and short-term saving.

-Tithing goes directly to our Church. -LTS is set aside for some future purchase, like college or a house. -Charitable Contributions goes to something meaningful like rebuilding someone’s house or a tsunami relief fund or to the teacher at school with cancer. -STS is something more immediate: a video game, a new bike or a baseball glove. Something they want and have to save for, but can be earned in weeks or months not years. -Spending is stuff that disappears: a movie, a candy bar or a balloon. We started this plan years ago, and we have stopped paying the older kids who have started babysitting and earning money outside of the home. Happily, the budgeting seems to have stayed in place.

Use this Family Bank activity as an opportunity for all kinds of money discussions.

This has also been a good platform for other money discussions like “Good Debt vs. Bad Debt” or “how and where to use credit cards” or even “getting a higher yield on your long term savings.” Our ten-year-old just asked his dad to explain Certificates of Deposit to him and asked if that is where he should keep his LTS. Which hopefully means the conversations are working. From what I can tell, it doesn’t seem to matter much what your plan is for teaching your kids about money, as long as there is a plan. —- Thank you, Sara. I really appreciate the clear advice. I love hearing about the discussion that have come from this Family Bank system. Now it’s your turn, Dear Readers. What are your favorite methods for teaching your kids to be money-wise? P.S. — A homemade budgeting game for teens, and how to turn $100 into $1,000,000.

Ask Design Mom: Tips for Being Artsy/Craftsy with Your Kids

Question: I want to be more tactile with my kids, meaning I want to be literally more hands-on with them in the day as well as figuratively, I want them to spend more time creating with their hands and feeling the joy of a project conceived and completed. I’m ready to bump it up a notch, and you have ideas and materials that never cross my mind. Your young daughter knits? Your little boy paints onto shirts? Sign me up! I know you’re crazy busy, but if you get a chance, I’d welcome advice. — Amanda Answer: Hi Amanda. What a great question. Thanks for submitting it. Last Saturday I taught a small class about this very topic. I’m going to include my handout notes here because I think they will answer your question fairly well. Design Mom’s Tips for Doing Crafts or Art Projects with Your Kids 1) Admit to yourself it’s going to be messy. If that stresses you out, cover surfaces with newsprint or butcher paper to catch bits of paper and glitter and drops of glue. Use materials (adhesive, markers, etc.) that are washable. Then relax. If you get paint on your hands, it’s okay. If your child gets marker on her shirt, it will wash. When you’re finished, roll up the newsprint and discard the mess easily. 2) Don’t present one firm example of how the craft should turn out. Either don’t present an example at all, or present several options, so your child knows he can use his imagination. If he glues the eyes where the ears should be, good for him — think of it as an opportunity to introduce cubism (wink). Their idea is more important than how they execute it. 3) Look for crafts that are age appropriate and play to your child’s strengths. If the craft is complicated, break it into steps and figure out which ones your child can do. For a Harry Potter Celebration we made wands out of paper, hot glue and paint. My 6 year old could choose the paper, tape the rolled paper, plug in the glue gun, and paint it with craft paint. I did the hot-glueing, the rolling of the paper that required more dexterity than her little hands could muster and handled the metallic highlights we added with permanent marker. My older kids could do more. My younger kids were napping — this wasn’t a craft appropriate for 2 and under. 4) If you really enjoy crafting yourself, set aside a portion of the craft that is just for you to make. I find when I don’t do this, I hover and am tempted to control what my kids are making. If I know there are some craft materials reserved for me then it’s easier to allow the kids to do their thing. (For example, every year at Easter, I set aside a dozen eggs that are just for me to decorate.) 5) If you’re crafting on the kitchen table and the craft isn’t finished, but it’s time to use the table for dinner, it can be frustrating to clean it all up and start again later. If you don’t have a dedicated craft space, plan your craft to be done in an allotted time. 6) You don’t have to keep it forever. Crafts are often 3-D and can quickly accumulate and take up lots of space. Not everything your child makes is a masterpiece. Say goodbye to some old crafts when new crafts come into your life — before you start resenting crafts in general. Much of the value of crafts is in the making. 7) Remember Tim Gunn and “Make it Work.” It’s not worth running to the store to get the perfect paper/trim/detail. The enthusiasm for the project will evaporate if you have to break for errands. Use materials you have at home. 8) Not every child likes glue and glitter and cutting paper. Don’t force it. If you’re looking for specific ideas, following is a list of crafts my kids have done in the last year or so and loved (including links to my sources or instructions). If you’ve been reading for awhile, you’ll recognize these from earlier posts. Note: I especially love crafts that are practical. That can be used or worn or played with. If you’re looking for decorative crafts, this list won’t be helpful. Also, the ages are just meant as a loose guide — if it says 4+, it means there are lots of steps in the project that a typical 4-year-old could do. It doesn’t mean you should leave your 4-year-old alone with a glue gun and sewing machine and sharp pair of scissors while you run to the grocery store. painted shirt, age 4+ potholders, age 6+ recycled crayons, all ages artwork calendar, all ages sculpey beads, age 4+ bubblebath, age 4+ jello or kool-aid playdough, all ages romper stompers, age 4+ round loom hats & scarves, age 7/8+ bean bags, age 4+ knot a quilt*, age 6+ magic wands, age 5+ barrettes, age 4+ ipod cover, age 7/8+ garlands, age 4+ decoupage eggs, all ages *I don’t think I’ve posted on Knot-A-Quilt before but it’s a kit filled with fringed squares that your child can tie together to make a blanket. Great concept and a good quiet project — my daughter loved making it. But. The fabric it comes with is not the best. I’ve been experimenting with alternative fabrics that are better looking and higher-quality to see if we can make our own squares. I’ll let you know how it goes. . .

Round & Round Party

Oscar’s 3rd Birthday Party was Saturday. It was a hit! I have a million pictures and ideas to share. I asked Oscar what kind of party he would like. His answer involved blue cake and circles. So we decided “Round & Round” would be a good theme.This is the invitation. I sent it out via email instead of snail mail — because I had procrastinated. The decorations: Circles of course. My older kids helped me make circle garlands. We hung them all over the place. Oscar started adding circle to the door, so we went with it. Maude remembered we had a few round lanterns in our holiday storage bin so we added those too. We added colorful round confetti to the table.
 
   
For the garlands we used construction paper, curly ribbon, glue sticks and two borrowed oversize hole punches (thanks laura!). We used regular hole punches to make confetti from the scraps. The garlands were easy to make and turned out wonderfully, so after the party I wrapped them up for storage on a spare piece of foam board. (These would be great for other parties as well — you could make them more sophisticated by using origami paper with subtle patterns.)
 
The round menu was geared toward 3-year old appetites: round pb&j;, cucumber & carrot rounds, circle crackers and pineapple rings.
Blue cupcakes with circle sprinkles.
The party favors: bags of super balls in pretty marbelized colors. For activities we did “round” things. Danced to “You Spin Me Right Round, Baby Right Round”. Walked around a hula hoop while singing “The Big Black Bear” song. Sat in a circle with our feet together and rolled a ball around. Plus lots of free play so they could build with the duplos and try out the puppets in the playroom.
The 3 year old birthday party is always my favorite one. It’s the first year they really get it. How to unwrap a present. What a present is. How to blow out candles (they’re not very good, but they know how to try). They have no expectations and are just delighted with the whole thing. I recommend keeping it small and short. 6 or 7 kids for an hour and a half is just about right. You can see a bazillion more pics here.

Oscar is Three

Oscar turned 3 years old last Wednesday. He is so charming it’s all I can do not to eat him up. He says “bawindow” instead of window, as in “Let’s look out the bawindow.” He calls any body of water an “ocean of the sea,” as in “Hey, there’s the ocean of the sea!” when we come upon the Hudson River. Ben found this list of “Toddler Rules” and we think they fit Oscar perfectly. Especially these three: If it does not open, it must be screamed at. If Mommy’s hands are full, I must be carried. If it is pointed, it must be run with at top speed. We are having a Round & Round party for him this Saturday. All about circles, polka dots, wheels, and balls. With music by JT and Dead or Alive and Ratt. I’ll share details next week.

Donna Jean Pack

My sister Rachel recently posted a photo of my Mom as a young mother. Isn’t she stylin? The necktie. The awesome lamp. And I totally remember the suede couch. It was gorgeous — super simple, with clean lines. Man. I have good genes. Mom, which baby are you holding?

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever



This year, my sister Sara’s family sent gifts to my family (like many big families, we only send gifts to one sibling each year). It’s such an amazing gift and such a smart idea that I have to share. Knowing how much my kids love to put on the Nativity pageant on Christmas Eve, she scoured her local thrift shops and came up with perfect costumes for all the main parts.

These costumes have all the right details. Great jewelry for the wisemen. Special containers for the gold, frankincense and myrrh. The shepherd has a super cool belt. The angel has a beaded halo. Sara embellished and altered her bargain finds as needed.

It is such a wonderful gift idea — and it’s not too late if you know the perfect recipient for this sort of thing. You could even start with Mary & Joseph and the Angel this year. Then add the Wisemen and Shepherd another year.

The packages arrived this weekend — marked Open Upon Receipt. And my kids have been in and out of the costumes ever since. They’ve been working on an “improved” script for the special production and there has been lots of debate about who will be which parts. Luckily, we’ll be sharing Christmas Eve with two other families this year, so we have plenty of people to choose from.

The costumes came stacked and folded with cards identifying the character and any applicable notes on the back (like: wear bracelet on the upper arm). Here they are in all their glory:









And here they are on the models (with the shepherd featured above):



Thank you, Sara! And thanks to Steve, Zella, Ruth, Ike and Lucy — who I’m certain contributed in many ways. We love the costumes. They’re just right.

Christmas Card Photo



Remember
these awesome photos by Jan Von Holleben I linked to a couple of weeks ago? Well. I also shared them with my kids. Up on seeing them, their brains almost exploded with the possibilities. They immediately started suggesting scenarios and similar photos. So Ben and I figured we could use Jan’s brilliant technique and create an image for our Christmas cards — satisfying our kids and checking our cards off the holiday list in one fell swoop.

We’re not sure if this is the final shot yet, but I share this with you now in case any one out there wants to try something similar in time for Christmas. Very fun. Very satisfying. And it gets better with each try. Here is the progression of our attempts and a few tips we learned along the way.


1) The content. We wanted to take advantage of the flying aspect, so we decided the angel speaking to the shepherds would be perfect. We call the image: Unto You a Child is Born! We also immediately decided the babies wouldn’t get to be in this particular image. Neither one can hold still for even 2 seconds.


2) We practiced without a real backdrop, standing on the couch and staging the kids on the area rug, just to see if we could get the hang of it before we committed to more work.






3) Next we attempted the photo with the backdrop. Initially we tried to use the black pavement of our driveway for the night sky, and the grass that meets the driveway as the ground. But it was just too cold the day we shot the photo, so we moved it inside.




4) We shot indoors in the afternoon and there was still plenty of light. We used rolls of black garbage sacks for the backdrop. (The garbage sacks were kind of hard to work with. I think the driveway would have been easier.) We stood on a ladder to take the shots. One thing I really liked about Jan’s pictures is his use of every day objects as props. We tried to do the same, using diapers for the angel wings and keeping the costumes simple.

5) We love our little Canon Elph. But it’s not a real, real camera. So we could only get the photo so clear. At which point, we called for a favor from Guest Mom Sara’s husband, Travis Stratford. He came with his awesome camera and awesome camera skilz and we shot again. This time at night. Can you believe how much clearer his shot is? Awesome.




6) We are trying to decide if this is the final shot or if we should make one more attempt. Things we would change at Travis’s smart suggestion: make Ralph’s clothes more contrast-y against the black. And mess with the light sources so that angel Olive looks like she’s illuminating everything else.

7) A few last notes. The kneeling and standing were harder to pull off than the flying. The whole project would have been easier if we’d changed the title to “Angels We Have Heard on High” or something like that and had all the kids flying. And if we’d kept shoes on our shepherds that would also have helped. The shoes help keep their feet straight.

If you attempt one, I hope you’ll share. We can start a flickr group of Jan Von Holleben knock offs.

Big Day for Ben Blair




It’s true. It’s a very big day for Ben Blair.


Tonight, from 5:00 to 7:00, he’ll defend his doctoral dissertation. (It deals with the tensions between teachers and schools — in case you’re curious.) I’ve read it. All 230 pages. And it’s super smart and very well written. Full of interesting words and terms like: Dialectic. Institution. Discourse. Trajectory. Cultural Form. Mythos. Logos. Bracing. Phronesis. Bureaucracy. Objectifying Consciousness. Rationale. Deliberate. Conception. But mostly “dialectic.” I think it says dialectic 1 million times.


He also refers to loads of interesting thinkers and philosophers. People like MacIntyre, Dewey, Rousseau, Van Manen, Plato and on and on. The whole thing is very impressive and academic, as it should be. He’s worked incredibly hard on this for an incredibly long time. In fact, we originally moved to New York, over 6 years ago, so he could accomplish this very thing.

And unlike his fellow students — or even professors, in most cases — he’s done this worthy thing while also adding three kids to the family of four we had when he started. While taking turns as primary bread winner and stay-at-home dad as needed. While teaching 3 of his kids to ride a bike and snow ski. While being an exceptional father. An exceptional husband.

He even sends me cool links to share with Design Mom readers. Just today he sent a link to these too-great-for-words photos by Jan Von Holleben.

Ben Blair is a good man. No doubt he will do an amazing job tonight (but feel free to wish him luck anyway). And then he’ll have a PhD from Columbia University. And then I’ll call him Dr. Ben Blair.

Tonight, after his defense, he is meeting me at Grand Central Station and we are heading to a hotel for the weekend. A well-deserved weekend without any kiddies. So I won’t be here tomorrow. But I’ll be back Monday (well rested!) with big news about my week of Holiday Giveaways.

Hooray for Ben Blair!

Headlight Dancing



We had some friends over for dinner the other night — delightful company — with three beautiful children. And as they were leaving my kids came outside to wave goodbye. We had to rearrange the cars in the driveway so they could pull out, and (who knew?) it sparked the best finale to a good day we’ve ever had.


When my husband pulled our car back into the driveway, the headlights were focused on the garage door, lighting it up and we could hear the car stereo blasting something with a good beat — I’m thinking it was JT. The music was rocking enough that the kids were feeling it and started dancing in front of the headlights and watching their shadows on the garage door.
We did this for a good half hour. The baby, sleeping soundly in her bed, missed the whole thing.






When everyone had their fill of dancing, we came inside, and Maude, the eight year old, (and the child with the best dance moves, by the way), climbed into her pajamas summing up what we were all feeling, “I loved that, Mom. That was my favorite night. It’s great to be in this family.”

Letterboxing

Last week I mentioned an end-of-summer adventure I was going to try with my kids: letterboxing. I’ve received a bunch of questions about letterboxing, so here is my rudimentary explanation of what it is: People all over the world put together boxes containing a blank book, a pen, a rubber stamp and an ink pad. They hide the water-proof box in public place (like a park) and then post clues on how to find it on the internet. Letterboxers look up the clues and search out the book, stamping their own books with the stamp they find and making a mark with their own stamp in the letterbox’s book. I hear there are over 20,000 boxes hidden in North America alone. (You can find lots more information at letterboxing.org. This article was especially helpful.) I was supposed to go with three friends — local letterboxing experts. But I was slow to get the kids up and going that day and we missed our chance to meet them. (Next time girls! Really.) So that my kids wouldn’t collapse from disappointment, we ended up letterboxing on our own. And we’re hooked!! We packed a letterboxing kit before we left: stamps ink pads blank book pen a canvas bag to carry our kit Luckily, I had all of this on hand. If letterboxing had required a trip to the store that day, I’m afraid it wouldn’t have happened. Apparently, many letterboxers prefer to make their own stamp — just the kind of project I love — but was glad I had these pretty insect ones on hand for our first try. We found the box after following all the clues — which happened to lead us on an in-depth walk around one of our favorite parks. We stamped our book, and made some notes and added a green leaf and a red leaf to our book as reminders that our adventure was at the end of summer and start of fall. We put a snail stamp into the letterbox’s book (because we were so slow to find it) and our thumbprints as well. We especially loved realizing there was a letterbox hidden in a place we already knew and loved. And further realizing there were probably letterboxes at many of our favorite haunts. For our family, I can imagine this being a perfect Sunday afternoon hobby.  

Yard Games: Bocce Vs. Petanque. Which One Do You Prefer?

bocce vs petanque During our Memorial Day bar-be-que, some of the guests gathered in a corner of the yard for a game of bocce. I love this game. Actually, I really know very little about this game, but I think the equipment is probably the most beautiful of any sport, and therefore I’m a big fan. I was first introduced to the game under the name petanque by my brother-in-law Mark Sabey. He walked into the yard with a worn bucket full of heavy, etched, metal spheres and I quickly made a mental note that a petanque set needed to go on my wishlist asap. After the initial introduction, I started seeing bocce sets all over the place and eventually figured out they were the same thing. Or sort of the same thing. From what I understand, bocce is the Italian name for the game, and petanque is the French name. Bocce balls are traditionally red and green and much bigger than the petanque balls, which are metallic silver. (If there are other big differences and I’m making a big sport faux-pas here, my apologies.) This is a perfect yard game. Great for all ages, and really easy to involve the kids. You kind of meander around the yard as you play which is lovely. You can find sets pretty much anywhere — here’s a good-looking bocce set, and a handsome petanque set. What I really want is an aged, metal petanque set like the one that captured my heart initially. I guess that means we need to get playing! P.S. — The most charming video of petanque in action in Normandy, France. —- Photo source: Petanque player is from Someday Somewhere.

Graduation Gifts Ideas

I received two graduation related questions — one for males, one for females — that I’ll try to answer in the same post. Question #1: My sister (who I’m very close to) is graduating from high school next week. I’m a little late to thinking about it, but I wondered if you had any ideas for not too expensive gifts that would be nice and meaningful as she steps into another phase of her life. I was going to make her something that celebrated our relationship, but time is running out, so I’ll have to find something that is meaningful that I can purchase and mail. Thanks! — Laura Question #2: I guess my question is this: I’m looking for a graduation present for my husband who is graduating from medical school. I think presents for guys are hard in general, but congratulatory presents always seem to stump me. You want them to be something nice that he can remember he got for graduation, but he’s not especially sentimental. We’re moving soon, so I don’t want something I have to work on or put time into creating, I just want to buy something nice that he can keep, not ridiculously expensive, but I’m willing to spend money if it’s worth it. Got any ideas? Thanks a ton! — Jen Design Mom Answer: Graduation gifts! So fun! Thank you for the questions, Jen and Laura. The comments are full of brilliant ideas. I have only 2 things to add: First, for my high school graduation I was given a 1/2 gallon of my favorite ice cream (Snelgrove’s Canadian Vanilla) and I didn’t have to share a single bite with my siblings — which was luxurious. My point? Even a simple gift, if thoughtful, is memorable. Second, I was just introduced to a book called Get A Hobby. It’s very well put together and well designed with a basic introduction, history and sources on 101 hobbies. Plus you can take a personality quiz to see which hobbies would be a good fit. There’s something about graduating, going to the next phase, being a little unsure of what’s coming, that brings to mind possibilities. Like, “I’ve finished what I committed to. Now. If I could do anything, how would I spend my time?” that seems like the perfect moment to introduce a hobby. Perhaps this book, plus the materials to start a new hobby could make an excellent gift.

What It’s Like to Parent Two Deaf Children

Hailey Meyer Liechty is a parent of 5 kids — and the two youngest are deaf and have cochlear implants. I asked her to share her thoughts on parenting deaf children. Here’s what Hailey says: Let’s start with the DMV. I went there dreading the ordeal. The photos. The test. The waiting. None of that happened. I didn’t need the test, the lines were reasonable and the woman who took the photo was very nice, cracked a joke or two, smiled and commented on my first photo. She showed it to me and then asked if I wanted to take it again. She loved my scarf. My mom gave it to me. I love all the colors — and it sparkles too! She took my picture 3 times and let me choose the best. I like the picture. I really like pulling out my ID. She asked me questions on the Drivers License application. Address correct? Yes. Age? Yes. Donor? Yes. Is it correct that you want to donate $2.00 to the blind? Yes. At this point I became a bit more friendly, taking her cue, and said, “I wonder why they don’t have a donation spot for the deaf? Why the blind and not the deaf?” I wondered out loud. Her response was, “Yeah, I don’t know. Especially since it is much, much, much, much, much, much, much worse to be deaf than blind.” I paused, then said, “Well, I think it is only much worse. You can keep a few of the much-es.” She went on to explain the social barriers of deafness. She was kind. Finally I said something like, “Two of my children are deaf and it can be a drag, a big repetitive drag, but it is not the worst thing and I don’t think it is worse than being blind. My children can do anything — play, read, use the computer, run, draw, cook. With fantastic modern technology they can listen and with therapy speak very very well, and eventually drive.” She gave this friendly apology/explanation for what she had said, and for me having 2 deaf children. She then asked a few more DMV questions, collected my money and I went on my way. This story perhaps is unusual because it is about a kind and generous DMV worker, but it is so typical of my daily experiences. I meet many friendly people, others who stare, or let their children stare, at my children until I explain to them they my children are deaf and have COCHLEAR IMPLANTS. The cochlear implant helps them hear. Other people, not professional speech therapists, act as though they know more than I do; as in a relative telling me my son has “bunched Rs,” he doesn’t. Many people like to share their opinion about deafness and how beautiful sign language is. Why don’t we sign more? I explain that a child can really only learn to talk in the first 6 years of life, the earlier the better. After that spoken language will always be like speaking a foreign language. My children will probably learn sign language at some point and that is fine with us. People like to share assumptions about a deaf person’s abilities, comparisons to other disabilities and stories of family members. I hear dire stories of unethical audiologists selling over priced hearing aids and self-interested insurance companies denying coverage to children, and adults, for anything related to deafness. (We personally have dealt with medical insurance issues a lot.) Whether it is deafness, cochlear implants, how cochlear implants work, why and how my children need them, genetics and our family history, or schools my children attend (Nathan, age 6, is the top of his mainstream class), it can be tiresome. I really don’t mind. I have to explain everything to everyone, all the time. My favorite, and perhaps the most surprising thing, I need to explain to people is why we want to give our deaf children the gift of spoken language and why, when at home and out and about, I must repeat myself over and over, again and again, with speech and sign. This is not redundant. It is educational, to help my children (hearing or not) perceive the subtle nuances of sound so they can learn to express themselves beautifully and at the same time educate everyone who asks, or looks at them askew. —- Thank you for the beautiful, informative write up, Hailey. Tell me Dear Readers, do you have any children in your life who experience deafness or extreme hearing loss? How is your experience similar or different than Hailey’s?  
Sources: Antique ear illustration.

Teacher Appreciation Week Ideas

teacher appreciation week ideas For those of you with kids in school, you may already know that it’s Teacher Appreciation Week. If you’re in the mood to make something special for the educators in your life, there’s a really great list of 39 ideas here. A few examples: – “You are out of this world” tag attached to a Milky Way or Mars candy bar – “You deserve an extra payday!” tag attached to a Payday candy bar – “There is no ‘sub’stitute for you!” tag attached to a gift card for the local sub shop – “You are ‘extra’ special” tag with a pack of Extra Gum – “Thanks for helping Blake ‘bloom’” tag with a bouquet of flowers – “We appreciate the ‘mounds’ of work you do!” tag attached to a Mounds candy bar – “Thanks for giving Blake a hand” tag with hand lotion “Thanks a ‘latte’!” tag with a gift card from local coffee shop, special coffees or travel mug That’s 8 from a long list of dozens of Teacher Appreciation Week ideas. Lots of good options! Go see. P.S. — These DIY Monogram Soap Bottles also make a cute teacher gift.

A First Birthday Celebration for a Fifth Baby

Amazing. Betty Blair was born a year ago today. I can’t imagine an easier baby. She has been nothing but a delight. These pictures are of Betty feeding herself Cheerios this morning (and trying to share with Daddy, the camera man). When you’re celebrating your first baby’s first birthday the party is fantastic. A big bash where baby is the star, eating cake and generally charming everyone, and the guests are all adults. And you can put in as much time and energy into the celebration as you’d like . When you’re celebrating your fifth baby’s first birthday, you almost forget to do anything at all until your older kids remind you. Not that Betty is aware of it yet, but being a fifth baby is not always a picnic. So Ben and I and the kids want to do something extra-fun for Betty’s birthday. We’re thinking maybe a party based on being the fifth. Held at our home: house number 5. Where we can celebrate all the good things associated with the number 5. Of course, it won’t happen today: cub scouts and a daddy-daughter kickball game are already on the schedule. But it will happen soon. And for today, these photos and a sweet little birthday cake to share with her brothers and sisters, will be just right. Happy Birthday Betty Blair! P.S. — A round and round party.

Design Mom Feature in Popular Brazilian Parenting Magazine

Awhile back I mentioned meeting up with Paula, the Editor-in-Chief for Crescer, the big parenting magazine in Brazil, and how she asked me to write an article for their publication. Well, the issue with my article came out today. (Hooray!) I can’t believe I have a byline. I can’t wait to get my hands on a hard copy. My kids are going to think they’re famous. Hah! Since I don’t read Portuguese, I’m going to need to look up the essay I sent over and remind myself what I wrote — I hope it was good. P.S. — Don’t miss our family photo shoot in Central Park.

Stone Barns

Last weekend, we took the kids and met some friends at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills — about 30 minutes outside the city. Housed on the stunning grounds of what was once a Rockefeller farm, Stone Barns is a working farm attempting to be as self-sufficient as possible. I’m not exaggerating when I talk about the grounds. They’re spectacular. And there is a generous courtyard where the kids could run free. After some initial exploring we ate lunch at the Blue Hill Café. Everything they serve is grown on the grounds or purchased from nearby farms. It’s the best lunch I’ve had in ages. We just devoured everything. I haven’t had a backyard garden for years, and I was surprised how good fresh-from-the-farm salad greens taste. When lunch was finished, we hiked and hiked and hiked and hiked. The kids loved it. We hiked to a lake to search for turtles. We dared Ralph to dunk his head in the very cold water — and he took the dare. We searched out the pigs and gave them water. We saw picturesque views of rolling farmland with cattle grazing. It was one of those outings that was great for the kids and great for the parents. No lines, no hurrying, no shushing. In addition to roaming free around the farm, you can take gardening classes, cooking classes or guided tours. On my next trip, I’d really like to hit the Weekly Farm Market. And if I can remember to make reservations two months in advance, I’d love to go to dinner with Ben at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
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