My BFFs — Hillary and Barak

I’m signed up on both Hillary Clinton’s and Barak Obama’s email lists. I’m fickle that way, having not made up my mind for the Democratic Primaries just yet. I must say that I am a bit turned off by the false intimacy that comes through in their emails. I just got a message from Barak (I can call him that because he emails me regularly) with the subject line : “Hey!” Yesterday, Hillary (again, we’re on a first name basis now) emailed me to tell me if I win the chance to watch the debates with Bill to make sure he snacks on carrots instead of chips.

Obviously, they are trying to bridge the gap between the political and personal. I don’t care for a friendly leader, though. Gosh, look at GW. He can be a pretty friendly guy. I worked for the paper during the 1994 Gubernatorial campaign, so I got to meet Ann Richards and George W. Since it was the college paper, the sports guys wanted me to get football picks from each of them. Ann Richards (God rest her soul) refused. Good ‘ol George was as nice as can be and happily gave me his picks.

Of course, Richards got my vote!

Knotty Girl

How the curse of “I hope you have one just like you” is visited upon me.

We’ve been battling this hair twisting for a long while now. It’s a battle every morning to get the knot out of her hair. I cut her hair shorter, hoping that would eliminate the knots. It seems that shorter hair just means TIGHTER knots! We’ve gone out in public two days this week because I didn’t have the time, energy, or nerves to untangle the nasty knots.

WFMW: Getting the last of the peanut butter

Such a simple, obvious idea that just never occurred to me until I read it in Natural Home magazine (a wonderful bday gift from my wonderful SIL. Thanks, Liz Beth!)

To get the last bit out of the peanut butter jar, use a rubber spatula as a scraper. Frugal and environment since you get more peanut butter from the jar, and the jar is then easier to clean out for recycling.

For more Works for Me Wednesday tips, visit Rocks in My Dryer.

Tuesday Teach ‘Em: Favorite "Educational" Toys

Forget what the marketing folks say about “educational” toys — all those flashing lights and loud sounds don’t make a kid smarter (but they do annoy parents.) Apparently, to those toy marketing folks, something the sings the alphabet song or plays tinny classical music is “educational.” Hogwash!

Kids need toys that open their imaginations. Toys with multiple uses. Toys that foster concentration. Here are a few of our favorites:

Natural (not pained) Wooden Blocks — Buy lots of wooden blocks and put them in an easily visible and accessible spot. Our are in an open basket in the living room. John’s theory is that you can never have too many blocks. Wooden blocks are a bit expensive, but they’ll be used for years, so consider them an investment. We certainly enjoy playing along building towers and castles, ourselves, which is a nice bonus. Blocks encourage critical thinking — what happens if I stack this block on this one. What happens if I push them over. The open-ended play blocks allow facilitates creativity. As kids get older, blocks are a great venue for cooperative play.

Puzzles — Puzzles are a great pre-reading / pre-writing activity. Assembling a puzzle require focus, eye-hand coordination, and critical thinking. Secondary to the skill exercised in putting together a puzzle is the knowledge of the puzzle’s theme — animal puzzles, musical instrument puzzles, alphabet puzzles, number puzzles, shapes…colors…etc. Naming the objects builds vocabulary.

Playdough — Lately, we’ve been pulling out the playdough every day! It is a great sensory activity — the child can feel and manipulate the playdough. Children can be creative with it — snakes and ice cream cones are favorite creations here. If you feel the need to incorporate a more academic level, you could use shape cookie cutters or talk about and work with specific colors. (Use homemade playdough or be sure to buy brand-name non-toxic playdough.)

edited to add some informational links that better explain my views on toys marketed as “educational.”

A cave, right in our own backyard!

When construction workers were preparing a home site in our neighborhood, they discovered a “small, but highly decorative” cave. The area was given to the Texas Cave Conservancy to manage, and they open it a couple of times a year for tours. The family and I went to the inaugural tour a few months ago but neglected to bring a camera. A neighbor created this flickr slide show, and it is just so cool and beautiful, I had to share. Oh, and it was the visit to this cave that began Caroline’s fascination with caves.

Hello, My name is Amanda and I have a problem.

I drink about half a gallon of diet coke a day. I have one first thing in the morning. I look forward to my coke breaks throughout the day. When I travel overnight, I make sure to bring along some diet cokes in case the place I am staying doesn’t have any handy.

With subtle pressure from my husband (in the form of information) and not-so-subtle pressure from some friends, I’ve decided to kick the coke habit. Now, I don’t plan to become a T-tolarer, but I want to be more in control of the consumption. I aspire to become a person who has an occasional coke when out for a burger or with popcorn at the movies. I aspire to no longer be that person who has to hide diet cokes in her suitcase.

I went back and forth on deciding between a slow weaning — cutting back from four a day to three to two to one to half… but decided instead that method might continue my cravings for the sweet-that-isn’t-so sweet. I instead quit cold turkey. I drank my last diet coke Friday morning. For my morning fizzy-fix, I drink orange juice mixed with ginger ale. For the headaches (from caffeine withdrawal) I take ibuprofen. I drink lots of water and have another OJ in the afternoons for another pick-me-up. Saturday, I took a nap while Caroline napped. It was like a drugged sleep — I was restless and fidgety, but I didn’t want to get up.

My reasoning behind suddenly giving up my habit has to do with the research John pointed out to me — that diet cokes make you fat. The theory is that sugar consumption makes your body crave more sugar. You drink a diet coke, though, causing your body to continually crave more sweets but that original carving isn’t satiated, so you crave even more sweets and end up consuming even more calories.

So there. It’s in writing, published for all the world to see. And hold me accountable. Kicking the diet coke habit — let’s hope it continues to WORK FOR ME!
For more Works for Me Wednesday Ideas, visit Rocks in My Dryer.

Tuesday Teach ‘Em: No "School" for my 2-year-old

Last spring, not knowing what life with a two-year-old would be like, I signed Caroline up to start a two-day-a-week Mother’s Day Out program this fall. I toured a Montessori school and our church’s school, as well as the program I chose , and though they were amazing, they were too far and too expensive. I just wanted to have a place in case I was going crazy. Well, I’m not going crazy, and Friday was the Open-House / Meet the Teacher Day at the MDO. Caroline and I went.

I now understand a bit more the reason many parents choose homeschooling. Though that is not a path I plan for us (I have learned never to say never, though), I see how a school program will probably never fit the ideal for my daughter, or for her picky mother.

This particular school seems fun and caring. The school handbook and teacher’s welcome letter were both full of punctuation errors and misspellings. The director made some off-hand comment when going through the handbook about yelling at your kid, assuming that all parents yell at their kids. There was a computer in the two-year-old classroom. And the teacher and teacher’s assistant both repeatedly told a crying two-year-old (whose mother wasn’t in the room because she is also a teacher at the school) that they would not pick her up. None of that made me happy.

So, mother doesn’t get a day out this year. We have plenty to keep us busy, and between John and some great friends who can help me out when needed, I can still do things like get my hair cut or go to the dentist.

Tuesday Teach ’ems: Music

This summer, Caroline and I participated in a mini-session of music classes at Heartsong Music Together. My sister-in-law had raved about the music program her kids are in, but I wasn’t sure it was worth the expense. After seeing the fun songs Liz did with the kids and how much Caroline loved them, I decided we’d try out a couple of classes. We did a trial class with a traveling Music Together class near our house. The class was held at a church, and the instructor was fabulous. From just that trial, I learned not to manipulate Caroline’s hands to force her to clap to the beat. Then we tried a class at Hearstong Music Together and signed up for the mini-summer session.

I was amazed — with the program, with the school, with the instructor, and with what Caroline got out of the classes.

Music Together is a franchised curriculum that is research-based and child-centered. The director at Heartsong is Montessori trained and has the school set-up as a Montessori environment. The kids are welcome to play and explore before and after class. From what I understand, most Music Together classes are held at community centers or churches. Heartsong’s school is unique.

The Music Together program rotates songbooks each session, with three books a year, different books for three years. Ideally, one would participate in the classes for three years to experience each book. The course includes the weekly class (50 minutes at Heartsong), two cds (one for the car and one for home), the music book, a parent-guide on the philosophy of the method, and a parent-education night. At the core of the philosophy is the parents’ involvement. If mom or dad is participating and enjoying music, the child will take it in.

Caroline bursts into song frequently now. She recognizes musical instruments, mimics tones, and knows the do-re-mi scale. I realized how much she learns from song, so I bought a Christian praise cd for kids that includes the Lord’s Prayer to help her learn that. We’ve also checked out Putamaya’s World Playground from the library and are enjoying listening to that. Exposure to the music of different cultures and the complex beats involved is also important, according to Music Together.

We signed up for a full session for the fall, and Caroline and John (and sometimes, I) will attend that together on Saturdays. Heartsong is holding free trial classes this week September 5-7. Check them out!

Paint — a home makeover in a can!

We added some color to our house this Labor Day Weekend — Behr’s Centaur Brown in our breakfast area and one hallway. I LOVE IT!

Brown, I know. I could hear my Nanny’s disgust on the phone today when I told her I painted a room brown. Who would have thunk it! It works really well, though, as the area is large and open. The lighting makes a big difference in how the color appears, though. The two areas pictured are the exact same shade. The lighting changes the look.

Next on the to-be-painted list is the rest of the main house (almond toast) followed by the office (forest ridge) and then the guest bedroom (rhythmic blue, we think).