Baby Bee chirps from the back seat as we drive, her little voice just a babble of sounds over the music.

“Mama!”, she calls out.
“What, baby?”, I ask catching her eye in the rearview mirror.
“I’m pawayin’!, she informs me, returning to whatever game involved someone named Mama. In the car, she takes off her shoes to involve in her game if a toy hasn’t been provided or isn’t in reach. They take fantastic trip over the window ledge and the seat back. She coos at them as if they were babies and then bark directions at them.

I am the mother of an imaginative child.

“It’s Pluto’s Birthday!”, she announces.

It’s always Pluto’s birthday! She cuts paper into tiny shapes that she wraps up into more paper and presents as gifts.

We spent nearly a full year being called by names other than our own and Baby Bee spent so much time and effort insisting she be referred to as Mickey Mouse that I started to worry about how that may be affecting her developmentally. She gave it up in the winter and I kind of miss her calling me “Deeesee” (Daisy).

Our house is a place of tableau. Nothing is exempt from being taken into Baby Bee’s fantastic world.

That is a tiny mouse in a tiny Croc hanging being suspended by Littlebit’s belt from the handle on the credenza.

All my children have imagined. I’ve played games with my voice Barbie squeaky high as Barbie drove off to the grocery store to buy bananas for her babies (any smaller toy would do regardless of brand or species). The Princess turned our bookcase into a dollhouse (she actually owned a dollhouse) but neither Littlebit or the Princess imagine like Baby Bee does. She stands alone there.

It’s hard to pull her out of her little world, sometimes. She’s so encased in her imagination that we have to, sometimes, literally carry her out of the house. I understand that. I like to be inside my own little world, too.

Being the mother of an imaginative child means playing “gotta say” for minutes upon minutes as she engages you in the exact game she wants you to play. It means that you must hold the wooden cookie in your hand and no one else may pretend to eat it. You are served pretend food on plastic plates before your eyes open all the way in the morning. You not only respond to your other name, but call your family members, house and car by their other name. You consider if your dog would actually come if you called for Pluto. You respond to anxious cries of “mama!” only to be shooed away because you interrupted a game you weren’t invited to.

Yes, that window is missing curtains.  Why?  She was using them and pulled the bracket out.  It’s on Big Daddy’s to-do list.

It can be frustrating being the mother of an imaginative child.  She uses the curtains to wrap up her toys, the commandeers the ottoman to build a tent and no one is allowed to touch it. She gets upset of her elaborate playscapes are moved or touched.   Goodness help you if you don’t react or respond during one of her elaborately scripted games.

But, being the mother of an imaginative child is usually full of enough sweet and funny moments that it more than makes up for being yelled at for consuming your pretend cookie too soon.


So, after I confessedreminded everyone, last week, that I’m a reader, I realized that I needed to do a better job of sharing my love of reading with others. Reading can be a very solitary activity and it is one of the things I love most about it. I love the time I spend just me and a book. It’s refreshing and rejuvenating for me. 30 minutes of reading can cut stress. It will enhance your vocabulary, increase your ability to concentrate and will help you ability to comprehend complex materials and ideas.

Maybe you’re a Reader too and you’re searching for your next favorite book or maybe you’re not a reader at all (either anymore or ever) and you want to get into (or back into) the saddle. I’ve added six books to my “read in 2014″ list this month and here are my favorites:

The Chaperone by Laura Moriatry. This book is loosely based around the life of Louise Brooks, a popular dancer and actress from the 1920’s. The book is really about the life of Louise’s chaperone, Cora Carlisle, a very proper woman from Louise’s hometown of Wichita, Kansas. Louise has been given a dance try out in New York City and Louise’s dysfunctional family determine that she’ll need a chaperone as she’s only 15. Cora has business in New York and agrees to accompany Louise.

The vast majority of the book deals with Cora’s summer in New York with Louise. It does follow Cora until her death, which I think was a mistake and the reason why I only gave it 4 stars. I think the ending drug out far longer than it needed to and a little more brevity would have made this a 5 star read.

 

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.  This book is a 2008 Newbery Honor Book, meaning it was chosen as one of the best books for younger readers that year.  I do read books for “kids” and “young adults”.  There’s no shame in my game.  A good book is a good book and it doesn’t matter how thick it is or for whom it’s written.

On Long Island in the 60’s, everyone in Holling Hoodhood’s seventh grade class leaves on Wednesday afternoon for religious education.  Everyone but Holling is either Jewish or Catholic, but Holling is Presbyterian and thus he’s left alone on Wednesday afternoons with his teacher Mrs. Baker.  At first, Holling is convinced that Mrs. Baker hates him and is trying to kill him or at least have him maimed for screwing up her Wednesday afternoons, but as the year progresses, Mrs. Baker turns into Holling’s biggest fan and supporter and he begins to understand her, too.

Holling is a great character and you really begin to see him grow from a boy convinced his teacher is out to kill him, to a young man who is sympathetic and supportive to others.  Written during the end of Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency, the undertones of war settle upon the book in a way that’s persistent, but not overwhelming.  This book would be a great option for more reluctant readers as it’s got some very good, relateable humor well interspersed with more serious themes.

All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  This book is probably going to be my Book of the Year ™
I don’t even know where to begin to talk about the wonderfulness that is this book. It’s written so well in flashback and flashforward and it’s full of rushing urgency and beautiful stillness. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s the truth.

Marie-Laure goes blind when she is six. With the help of her father, who is a key maker in Paris at the National Museum of Natural History, Marie-Laure learns to navigate her neighborhood and her life. When she is 12, the Nazis storm Paris nad Marie-Laure and her father escape to a small town on the sea called Saint-Malo. There they live with her eccentric, but wonderful, Uncle and his fiesty housekeeper. It is in Saint-Malo that the life of Marie-Larue intersects with a German soldier named Werner. Werner is young. Too young, really, to be at war but his genius ability to use and fix radios has won him not only a trip to the front, but an elite education that has taken him out of an Orphanage in a mining town in Germany.

I want to tell you that this is a love story, because it is, but it’s more than that. It’s a slice of history. It’s a mystery and it’s just about the most beautifully, gently written book I think I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

This past week, at our house, it was all about the Crock-Pot. My trusty Crock-Pot was a gift from my parents for Christmas after I broke my first trusty Crock-Pot. We can go months without using it and then when I pull it out again it’s like I’ve discovered it new! How were we living without this marvelous invention?

Look, I know every single home and family blog that has ever blogged about cooking has probably blogged about their Crock-Pot and their favorite recipes. But, if you’re like me, your slow cooker gets tucked away some place and it’s just not working for your family like it could.

And by working, I mean slaving over the hot stove for you. That’s where I was last week. Chuck Roasts were on sale at the grocery store and I did a little more planning to include other slower cooker recipes on our menu plan.

Can we talk about how low stress dinner time was? Because, well, it was. Even though we had a few nights where we had to be someplace at 6 p.m., I still had dinner served and cleaned up before we had to leave. This is way different from other nights where we had semi-early obligations and it ended up with a hot out of the pan dinner being served 10 minutes before we walked out of the door.

Sound familiar?

It happened at our house. A lot. And I wanted to avoid that strife and air of bad feelings and hurry-it-up before we walked out of the house to do something that was supposed to be fun.

And, then came the Crock-Pot and I did manage to put together the kind of nights I wanted us to have; a home cooked deal, dishes in the dishwasher and happy faces before we walked out of the door. It was so easy! How is it that I don’t do this all the time?

Well, I don’t like a lot of Crock-Pot recipes. There, I said it. I feel like the variety and technique is lacking. Things get chewy or fall apart or just don’t turn out the way I’d like them. Oven baking browns and crisps things that a slow cooker never will, but with some experimentation, I’ve found some recipes that fit the bill and I hope you like them as much as we did.

  • Crock-Pot Spaghetti and Meatballs. Don’t make my mistake. Mix up your spaghetti sauce, water and spaghetti!
  • Three Envelope Pot Roast Sliders I think this is the Princess’s favorite home cooked meal. She was very enthusiastic of her praise of it when we had it last week, and she’s 14 so enthusiastic praise is tough to come by.
  • Crock Pot Potato Soup This purports to be a Weight Watchers recipe and I think it comes it at 4 points per serving (but don’t ask me how much a serving is. I don’t know). I use potatoes o’brien and the pepper and onions give it a little extra flavor. It heats up well from refrigerated.
  • Salsa Chicken serve over rice (instant or microwavable for a truly quick dinner) and control the heat with your favorite salsa.
  • Crock Pot Chicken and Gravy Comfort food to the max. Serve over mashed potatoes (if you have time, you can make your own, but refrigerated mashed potatoes available at the grocery are a tasty time saver).

I have read 46 books this year. I have a goal to read 100. I’m not setting the world on fire, in regards to reading books these days because I have other demands of my time. Often, when I talk about books people often say that they don’t know how I find the time to read or that they wish they could find the time to read.

For me, finding the time is easy because I am a reader.

Being a reader is the one description of myself that I have carried the longest. Who we are, to ourselves, changes a lot over the years. Of course, I’m still blonde (well, mostly. I’m the color that a true blonde’s hair turns as they get older so now I’m something like ash blonde with some roots) and I still have green eyes. I’m still short in stature and chubby in width. But, once you remove the physical descriptors (things that don’t change much) you usually don’t have a lot of the tags on you that you adopted when you were young.

But, I am still a reader.

I was a reader at six when I finally was able to read to myself instead of relying on others or making up my own story.

I was a reader at 8 when I read a book and then read it again and then read it again (and again and again. Oh, Ramona Quimby, Age 8 I knew you inside and out).

I was a reader at 9 when I got collections of books for Christmas and read them all before Boxing Day.

I was a reader at 10 when I tackled Gone with the Wind over summer vacation.

I was a reader at 12 when I would pedal the back roads to the little white library and check out a bag of books that I would read in a week and then return so I could check out more.

I’ve been a reader every single year I can remember and I find time to read books because, well, it’s who I am.

My tastes have changed over the years. I imagine I don’t like much of the same things I liked when I was six save books and cats. My reading tastes have changed, too. Little House on the Prairie and then Trixie Belden (but never Nancy Drew). Lurlene McDaniel’s romantic tragedies and V.C. Andrews. I’ve read Stephen King and John Saul and Danielle Steel and Nora Roberts. I’ve read Anna Quindlin and Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve read books from the best seller list, I’ve read smut (actually, I read a lot of smut from 16-18). I’ve read trash. I’ve read things that were so beautiful, I couldn’t help but cry.

I’ve read things so horrible, I couldn’t help but cry.

I’ve read things so frustrating that I’ve slammed the book shut and walked away.

I’ve had words collected into sentences and paragraphs that have touched me through every stage of my life. I’ve written those passages longhand and then typed them out and now highlight and press share. I’ve changed as a reader, but I’ve never stopped being one.

How do I find the time? How do I not? As runners run and writers write and people who are movie people find time to watch their movies and indulge their passion, I read. I can’t not. It’s simply who I am. It is the one thing I didn’t throw over when I became a new mother and it’s the one thing that depression and anxiety haven’t taken from me; the joy of sinking into a book. It is one of my most simple and abundant joys. I hope it always is.

I am a reader.

Hey, so remember this little project?

Well, I have.  I’ve been working on a few parts of my Forty before 40 project since I posted about it April.  I’ve made progress on a few things (like, being able to sleep with the TV off!) and am in the planning stages of some others.  But, one thing we were able to do this summer was to visit my sister in New Jersey, thereby crossing one state off my six states to visit task.

My sister has lived in New Jersey for the last year and a half, but this was our first good opportunity to visit.  Sadly, my brother-in-law wasn’t home so we missed out on visiting him.  He arrived home the day we left.  We’re hoping that they are able to make it into town this fall.

But, we were lucky enough to get some good beach time…

…including an incredible dolphin siting that I wasn’t able to get pictures of, but was so super cool.  We were lucky enough to be able to use the Coast Guard beach which was not crowded and was super clean.  There weren’t a lot of shells, but you can’t win them all. Also, people in New Jersey take off their shoes before they go on the beach? This was new to us.

We also got to visit the boardwalk in Wildwood which was…well..it was a boardwalk.  It was okay.  The lines were long and the girls ended up disappointed because the rides didn’t pan out.  It was crazy busy (a Saturday night), but we had a good seafood dinner and it was fun to show the girls something they hadn’t seen before. And, probably won’t see again because it was totally NOT Big Daddy’s thing and I got him there with the “we have to do it once!” line.

The little girls also ate hibachi for the first time and it was the biggest hit ever. I didn’t think Baby Bee would eat a thing (she’s sooo picky), but she wanted to eat everything they served her off the grill. We do have hibachi in Ohio, we just haven’t been, but it’s on our list now, for sure!

Earlier this month, Baby Bee started her third year of preschool. Baby Bee tuned five at the end of June and could have started Kindergarten this fall, but we decided last fall that there was just no way that Baby Bee would be ready for Kindergarten in a year, so with the support of her teachers and therapists, we decided to give Baby Bee one more year to catch up to her peers and another year that would allow, we hoped, more of her delays to melt away.

Baby Bee is not our first ride on the Kindergarten “redshirting” merry-go-round. We opted to “redshirt” Littlebit as well. I’ve wanted to write a post on this for a while, but Monday morning, I was sitting on the porch when an article about “redshirting” popped up on my Facebook newsfeed. Inside the PopSugar.com article was the following quote as given to the New York Times

“While some children really do need that extra year to mature, I’ve found redshirting often isn’t about what’s best for the child,” Meg Meeker, a pediatrician and author of Strong Mothers, Strong Sons tells The Wall Street Journal. “It’s about what’s best for the parents.”

I had typed up a response in the article comments that I let die. I figured there was more merit in explaining here why we opted to “redshirt” the two little girls and maybe it would help others make a hard decision.

With Littlebit the decision to “redshirt” was very easy.  Our district has full day, all day Kindergarten and Big Daddy and I decided first that starting a program of that at four years of age (we have a 9/30 cut off and Littlebit has a 9/12 birthday) was just too much.   I thought an 8 hour day for a late four/early five was too much and I drew this conclusion from how the Princess adjusted to First Grade after her half day Kindergarten.  It was a tough, emotional, exhausting transition and I felt Littlebit was too young for it.  I don’t think that was about me, but maybe it was.

Secondary to that, was Littlebit’s delays.  She and Baby Bee have a similar diagnosis, a host of speech, physical and occupational delays.  Big Daddy and I hoped that one more year in her preschool program with supportive teachers and familiar therapists, at the very least, would not hurt Littlebit at all.  In truth, Littlebit exited ahead of the curve.  That was a very nice benefit and she is a very good student and has been.  I think she would have been successful had we not “redshirted” her, but I think she would have struggled more.  Littlebit is a very hard worker and I have no doubt that she would have worked had, but the extra year of preschool and therapies found Littlebit’s delays nearly vanished.  She finished with physical therapy her Kindergarten year and Occupational therapy her First grade her.  She’s still in speech therapy due to her “r” issue (pahk the cah in havahd yahd), but her speech therapist admits that he’d never take Littlebit on if he was called to evaluate her now.

When Littlebit was 3 her speech was assessed at being at a 12-14 month old level.  That tells you how far she’s come.

Then there was the matter of Baby Bee, who could be in Kindergarten this year at just over five years old.  I said above that we made the decision to hold her back a year ago.  Baby Bee, quite simply, needed the extra time.  It was obvious she was not a year away from Kindergarten.  She just wasn’t. We all knew it.  Big Daddy and I knew it.  Her teachers knew it.  Her therapists knew it.  When I approached her teacher at fall conferences and told her we wanted to hold Baby Bee back a year, she was visibly relieved.  Every professional connected to Baby Bee felt she needed an extra year of therapy in her preschool setting.

That wasn’t about me at all.

Do I believe that some parents hold their children back to give them an unfair advantage?  Oh, probably.  If you can imagine it, it can probably be true, but giving our children an unfair advantage was never our goal.  We just wanted them to be as successful as they could be and in this case it meant an extra year in their fantastic preschool where they could grow to their full potential before we moved them on.

So, should you “redshirt” your kid?  I’m not an expert, but I would consider the following criteria:

1) Is your child emotionally young?  Baby Bee is. Socially and emotionally.  Littlebit was not. This is absolutely something I would look at closely with “young five” boys. School definitely caters better to girls than boys, as boys tend to mature more slowly in matters of reading, writing and speech. I am not saying all boys will fall into this range, nor that age will even be a predictor.  I’m simply urging youto consider whether or not your child is emotionally ready for school.

2) Does your child have delays or other needs that might benefit from a little more catch up time?  For our girls?  Yes. My hope was to have both girls enter kindergarten on the same level as their peers.  I had no desire for them to be either ahead or behind.  Just equal (or close to it). If your child has different health concerns and delays, it’s really worth giving some thought to and be sure to ask the professionals in your child’s life.

3) Do you feel like the current Kindergarten schedule in your district might be too much for your child’s emotional and physical maturity?  My kids don’t nap, but if yours comes home from half day preschool and naps for two hours she may not be physically ready for a full day of Kindergarten.

4) What is your goal for delaying Kindergarten?  I mean, if it’s Football domination when he hits high school, you’re probably making the decisions for the wrong reasons

5) To reiterate a point I made above, what are the professionals involved with your child saying?  Your child’s preschool teacher has seen hundreds of children. Some preschools will administer a readiness assessment, but you can ask at any time if it’s time for Kindergarten or not.  They will be kind.  And honest.  They want the best start for your child, too.

 

 

 

This weekend, like a lot of the country, we slid into fall. I pulled out my sweater and the air was brisk and cool. I can’t say I’m sad, of course, considering my long love affair with Fall. I don’t mind the cooler days and brisk nights. We leave the windows open all night long and snuggle down under the duvet like a couple of bears ready to nap. My thoughts turn, as always, to thick soups and hearty stews and pumpkin.

I know, I know, every has a pumpkin something these days. Pumpkin cookies and cakes and coffees and pies and chilis and food of all kind. I don’t have to explain why pumpkin in the fall is natural and how our ancestors would have eaten pumpkin in the fall as that is when they ripen. Right now, in gardens, pumpkins are slowly turning from green to orange and it won’t be long before they’re all picked and being used or eaten by someone or something.

But, back to this recipe. I woke up on Sunday morning, buried under the cover and knew that it was a day for pumpkin pancakes. I’d turn on the oven to make bacon (not making bacon the oven? You should!) and the house would be filled with delicious smells and we’d have our breakfast with hot chocolate and coffee. I left Big Daddy sleeping still and went to the store for maple syrup and whipped up a double batch of pumpkin pancakes.

Pumpkin Pancakes
Author: 
Recipe type: Breakfast
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 1.5 c of milk
  • 1 c pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling!)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp melted butter (plus more for greasing your skillet during cooking)
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 2 c all purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp all spice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
Instructions
  1. Mix wet ingredients together with a mixer
  2. Add in dry ingredients. Mix into well incorporated.
  3. Heat a griddle over medium high heat and grease with butter.
  4. Once the griddle is hot, spoon batter onto griddle with a ¼c measuring cup. Wait to flip pancakes until the are bubbly.
  5. Flip to allow them to finish cooking
  6. Serve with maple syrup and butter.

I doubled the recipe and we got enough for breakfast plus 8 to throw into the fridge or freezer for breakfast next week.  They weren’t overly sweet, but had a delicious pumpkin flavor.

 

The Menu Plan

Sunday-Beef Burgundy over mashed potatoes.  I know I usually don’t start my menu plans on Sunday, but this recipe is a favorite and it’s such a perfect Sunday dish.  It cooks slow, but requires little tending.  Put it on before the big game starts and enjoy it afterwards.  We never have any leftovers.

Monday Out. The girls have started dance and we’re moving our usual Friday night dinner out to Monday to see if that works with the new schedule.

TuesdayCrock Pot Chicken and gravy over mashed potatoes with veggies

Wednesday Roasted chicken with carrots and potatoes

ThursdayCreamy chicken and rice

Friday Game Day for lots of families around the country. We’re no different! Crockpot Turkey Meatball Sammies with chips and veggies with dip

My kids don’t look alike. Not even to me, their mother, who has spent hours and days and weeks and months and years staring into their faces. The are all fair skinned with small scatterings of freckles across their noses, but that’s where the similarities end. The Princess is blonde and blue eyes and Baby Bee has hazel eyes and honey colored hair and Littlebit’s eyes are as dark brown as the yummiest chocolate you’ve ever eaten and her hair is nearly black. Sometimes I wonder where she came from, genetically, as Big Daddy who brings the brown hair and eyes is not as dark as Littlebit.

She’s probably a changeling. A little fairy child. That would make sense.

She jumps and spins and twirls and sings.  She never just walks or talks.  She will interrupt you 77 times a day to tell you she loves you.

She has been given a great gift in life. Happiness. True, soul deep, bottom of her feet to the top of her head happiness. She loves life. Life is sunny and rosy and no one is a stranger, just a friend she hasn’t met yet. She’s sweet with other people. Strangers love her in seconds.

I worry about her. Maybe more than the other two. I KNOW that Littlebit is going to get her heartbroken. She’s not going to be careful about it. It’s not in her nature. She’s going to run head long into love and friendships and she’s going to cry over things that don’t work out for her. There’s not a cynical bone in her body. The Princes and Baby Bee both have healthy doses of cynicism in their nature, but Littlebit? No.

Least you think she’s just a pretty face wrapped up in a sweet little package, she’s not. She’s a famously hard worker, a good reader and very good at math. She’s overcome a lot of obstacles and I think that will serve her so well as she grows up. She won’t shy away from a little hard work.

Happy Birthday, little love. We couldn’t ask for more than your sunshiney happiness.

My philosophy on how to raise children is usually contradictory.  First, I believe that children do better with a predictable schedule and we do work to maintain one in our house, particularly around school mornings and bedtimes.  However, in the next breath, I’m likely to tell you that being too much of a slave to the schedule isn’t good for anyone.  Children need predictability, but they also need to learn how to be flexible.   You don’t want your kid pulling  Dante Hicks because the potty lid is down and he can’t put it up because it’s against the grain of things.

I’ve made up printed schedules in the past and in some ways and in some times, they work very well.  The problem always came up, for me, when I needed the schedule to be flexible.  Or, really, when I realized that no two of our week nights are the same during the school year.  That would mean creating five different schedules to deal with our Monday-Friday after school evenings and that seemed really counter intuitive.

I’ve seem a few schedule ideas using Post-Its floating around Pinterest, namely this one that I found super appealing.

I liked how easy it would be to change things, so we could customize our schedule by day, which is what we were missing from our printed schedules all along!

 

I encourage Baby Bee to check the schedule each afternoon, so she has an understanding of our day.  I wanted to keep it very visual with supporting words.   Littlebit liked it so much, I decided to go ahead and make one for our evenings!  Baby Bee thought the playroom tab meant we were off to the toy store.  To be honest, it’s pretty much the same thing.

These also make it easy for Big Daddy and the Princess to have an idea of what our evenings look like. I like how easy they are to change. I have sheets printed out with our evening activities so I can just swap out my Post-Its tomorrow!  It takes just a few minutes to peel off the previous notes, stick them to their sheet and place the new ones.

Printing on Post-Its is pretty easy, as well. I started by making a template document in Open Office Writer (but, you could do the same with Word or any other word processing program you had). I created 3×3 boxes and then used a text box to insert both the title and some of the graphics (more than half of the graphics used are free dingbats from dafont.com and the rest are free clipart).  I kept my daily plan simple with just four items (though, there’s always more than four steps to each afternoon and each evening).

 

It’s really very easy to print on Post-Its and I’ve seen some adorable ideas for teachers and families. I’m kind of sorry I didn’t discover the idea of using Post-Its a long time ago.