Monday, April 29, 2013

Saturday, April 27, 2013


 Starboy has just started paying attention to filling the edges and corners of his paintings in art class. Miss Molly says this is a developmental milestone, that aligns with the child learning about his own space bubble: where he ends, and where the rest of the world begins.

Which is also why there is a lot of boundary pushing at three (um...and beyond). I'm sure some of it has to do with some of the meltdowns we've been having as well.

But it's fun to see his growth as the artwork progresses.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Reading Roundup 2013.04.26

Another big reading week. Enjoy!

Watching Movies with the kids is a mixed bag, New York Times, (Apr. 19, 2013)
Still another reason why Starboy doesn't watch TV or movies.

Do e-readers inhibit reading comprehension? Salon (Apr. 14, 2013)

Standardized test questions kids have to answer that don't even count, Washington Post (Apr. 23, 2013)

How my job went from great to infuriating, Washington Post (Apr. 21, 2013)

New Standardized tests feature plugs for commercial products, Washington Post (Apr. 20, 2013)
It was only a matter of time. Bastards.

NCTE Position on machine scoring of standardized tests, National Council of Teachers of English (Apr. 2013)
Hint: They don't like the idea.

5 Benefits of Sportscasting your Child's Struggles, Janet Lansbury (Apr. 25, 2013)
Lovely article. H/T to The Thumbstumbler

10 Things that are More Important than Discipline, Positive Parents (Jul. 19, 2011)
In case you need one more "do this" article on parenting.

What pro-spanking research misses, The Attached Family, (Oct. 2, 2012)
""Spanking kids does not deter behavior. Like beating a dog, it just makes them mean. "

The Curse of Fertilizer, National Geographic (May 2013)

Commuting Wild Dogs on the Subway, The Sun, (Jan 12, 2011)
Totally random.

Vivian Maier documentary in the works, Messy Nessy Chic (Feb. 18, 2013)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Light Table Letters

A couple of weeks ago, I saw Play at Home Mom's fantastic letter templates. I downloaded them immediately. What a fun way to play with letters!

Starboy had a great time with them, but the activity lasted maybe ten minutes. He chose these particular letters. I'll be interested to see how much of the alphabet we can make it through. I want to try the dot stickers as well—that might be a great restaurant activity!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Reading tent

 I'm just smitten with all of the ideas for play tents that are going around. I made one last fall for Starboy's fairy party (then forgot to photograph it), with the purpose of bringing it inside for reading. But there's a dresser and a mountain of outgrown clothes in that back corner, that I haven't been able to resolve. Long story for another day.

 But Starboy requested a "fort coming down from the ceiling," and I've been under the weather for a few days so he's been feeling a little neglected. So: The fort goes in front of the dresser and the mountain of outgrown clothes. And the Beatrix Potter festival begins.

Butterfly fairies flutter around inside. You know you want a tent like this.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Lolly, lolly, lolly get your honey here....

Starboy loves homemade lollipops, so I made some for our Moms Club bake sale. We raise money to buy pajamas for kids who come to shelter downtown. Each child gets a backpack with a stuffed animal, a story book and a pair of PJs, to help out a tiny bit during a crappy time. The lollies were a big hit, and we sold a bunch!

They're also great for a sore throat or a cough (for kids over age 1—honey can cause botulism in babies).

Friday, April 19, 2013

Reading Roundup 2013.04.19

Big wordy week! Here are a few things that caught my eye. Happy reading!

In Time of Tragedy, Look to Yourself First, Bonnie Harris Connective Parenting (Apr. 16, 2013)
Really great article about refusing to let fear overtake your parenting in these sometimes disturbing times.

What if Everybody Understood Child Development?, Huffington Post (via Not Just Cute)
(Apr. 5, 2013)
"Most people, I imagine, would be surprised to learn that understanding child development is not one of the standard requirements to become a teacher. Or maybe not. Maybe most people, including those who decide what teachers need to know, are unaware of the incontestable connection between how children develop (not just cognitively but also socially, emotionally, and physically)and how they learn."

Lessons in Domestic Diplomacy, New York Times (Apr. 12, 2013)
How to argue more effectively, with less drama

Good Teachers are a Flaw in the System, Teacher Tom (April 15, 2013)
"How does anyone expect teachers to work under these conditions?"

Six Vintage-inspired Animations on Critical Thinking (Brain Pickings)
Great graphics

How Nature Makes Kids Calmer, Healthier, Smarter, Aha Parenting (Apr. 15, 2013)

Exercise, friendships, and puzzles beat back dimentia, NPR (Apr. 15, 2103)

My So-Called 'Post-Feminist' Life in Arts and Letters, The Nation (Apr. 29, 2013)
Hat tip to Scott Lewis Photography
"...Nearly every review refers to me as a stay-at-home mom. One such article is entitled "Battlefield Barbie," which calls me a "soccer-mom-in-training." ....The general consensus is that the book is good, but I suck. ...Talkasks if I'm worried I'll be labeled a slut. I object to both the word and the question; the journalist prints them anyway.Brill's Content and The Women's Review of Books insinuate that I brought on my own rape and various other crimes that I experienced at the hands of men—armed robbery, a knockout blow to the skull from a crack addict.Salon resorts to slut-shaming and libelNew York thinks I'm an insult to feminism for having left a promising career behind."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Butterflies and birdies

Butterfly sandwiches and a birdie cookie from the Moms Club bake sale for lunch today. Big hit. I was e-chatting about butterflies with Sparkle Story maven Lisabeth, and Rye saw a photo of a past butterfly sandwich and needed one Right. Now. Even though it was right after breakfast. He reluctantly waited until lunchtime.

That cookie is super simple—store bought candy eyes, a triangle of orange frosting on a yellow cookie. Frankly, it would make a great English muffin, with two kinds of cheeses. Wish I'd thought of it.

And guess what? If you're three and you don't play Angry Birds, and your mom keeps you away from Angry Birds junk, and you hang out with like-minded families. then a birdie cookie gets to be just a birdie cookie—not an advertisement, or a ready-made script.

I'm disappointed that, with school coming up, that's not going to last as long as I'd like.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sun Moon Clock

Techman said, "We're one step away from putting him to bed with a laser light show...and, like, fog."

Earlier this week, my Moms Club asked me to participate in a panel discussion on kids and sleep. What a riot! When the mail came in, I was already into 90 minutes of post-bedtime-routine negotiation with Starboy. We've tried a lot of things: earlier bedtimes, the "right" bedtime, wearing him out, star light (above), Mr. Sun/Moon clock (pictured), routines, stories, songs, yelling (totally ineffective, duh), baby gates, shutting the door (trauma-inducing), homeopathics, and I don't know what else.

We don't do cry-it-out, because...we just don't. It's not in my beliefs. The teen years are hard enough without planting the seed that no one's got your back when you feel really lonely. In the end, the things that have worked the best for him are: Looking for his needs, soothing him even when it seems ridiculous, trying to hit the magic "tired window," and just waiting (ugh, brutal) until his body is simply ready to do it. We co-sleep, which is great, and occasionally not great (but surely would be great-er with a king-sized mattress and a room big enough to fit it in.).

Starboy was two before I got a proper night's sleep, and by "proper" I mean five hours of sleep in a row—he was only waking up two or three times, instead of eight or 10. He is so afraid of missing out on the action. That, for sure, didn't come from Techman's side of the family, where pretty much the whole party is sacked out about the living room by 9:30, mouths agape, snoring in symphony. (Whereas, when we woke up after Thanksgiving with my family, we discovered my dad and his friend had been up until 4:00 a.m., partying it up)

I also discovered recently that Starboy has a lip tie, that I'm fairly certain affected his ease of breastfeeding and therefore his sleep (and mine. And Techman's). It was a real heartbreaker to discover—oh, if we'd known! The sleep deprivation causes so much frustration and stress. But somehow everyone on our granola team missed it, or didn't know. Starboy gained weight so quickly, it didn't seem to be an issue (except for the frequent feedings, the pain, and the sleeplessness, but whatever. He was plump and otherwise happy). But in hindsight, I'll bet having it clipped would have been a real game-changer. 

Our bottle-fed culture is having to re-learn obvious natural signs that grandmas had known for generations—midwives used to keep a fingernail sharpened for a quick frenulum snip. There are some kinds of progress that aren't always an improvement, are there? It's a thing to think about in these fast-paced times.

The panel discussion went fine, and since all three of us had creative comprehensive handouts on our own experiences, I felt really good that, regardless of what was discussed, the other moms had a lot of ideas to take home and try, to pick and choose. That's not the research-based way to do it, exactly, but that's pretty much what most of parenting is, isn't at? Except for the times when you are so fed up you manage to pull something genius out of the clear blue, just out of desperation.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Reading Roundup 2013.04.12

Here are some stories I found interesting this week.

Wow, don't miss this version of The Cure's "Lovesong" from this week's American Idol. Chills.

How can you set limits if you don't use threats to enforce them? Aha Parenting (Apr. 2, 2013)
Boy am I ready for these reminders.

Where ideas come from, Starlighting Mama (Apr. 3, 2013)
Hint: not from screen time.

10 Tips to raise a persistent child, Aha Parenting (Apr. 8, 2013)

Cursive handwriting bill passes the NC house, News & Observer (Apr. 4, 2013)
Hooray! I didn't realize Common Core has no cursive requirement. I guess you can't bubble-in to test it.

Creating fear in children with lockdown drills, Motherlode (Apr. 8, 2013)

Dutch kids get "driver's ed" for bikes at age 12, FreeRangeKids, (Apr. 8, 2013)
I love the common sense, and the absolute lack of faux terror that we propagate here.

"Glass Gem Compilation," Play at Home Mom (Apr. 10, 2013)
A great round-up of activities you can do with light tables and glass gems. Good resource.

Johnny Cash Columbia Catalog—63-disk box set, NPR (Apr. 10, 2013)


I'm disgusted with last night's Glee episode. I could just spit.

A faux Sandy Hook-style plot shows ten harrowing minutes of terrified students and teachers, who believe a shooter has entered the school and fired two shots. The choir room locks down. Students text, weep, profess their love for each other and their families, and especially worry about the friends out of the room. A SWAT team explores the building.

The next day the school is set up with x-ray machines and scanning wands. No one complains about this.

What benefit could this type of story on this type of entertainment show possibly offer, only four months after so many families were devastated?

How is it that that horrible tragedy can be reduced to a 40-minute script?

In the end, it's revealed that Cheerio Becky has brought the gun to school. "I was scared, Coach, about graduating, being out in the real world. With no one to protect me. I wanted to be prepared and protect myself. I need help." The gun goes off and Sue Sylvester protects her by claiming the gun is hers, which costs her her job (but somehow she's not arrested).

"The safety net of the public mental health system is gone. Parents with troubled kids are too busy working three jobs to look after them," Sylvester says.

Because there wasn't an actual shooting and no one was shot, the plot line is supposed to be "okay"—it all was just a misunderstanding, right? But what about the harm to our understanding of society, of each other? Why are we all okay assenting to the creation of a culture of fear with shows like this—such that an innocent like the character of Becky feels that the only tool she has for protection is her dad's gun, which she doesn't even know how to use?

It's no wonder that people who watch more television are more likely to be fearful of the world around them. When television offers a menu of fear, and without offering solutions to combat it—and when you consider Americans spend 34 hours per week in front of the tube (maybe more if you factor in the Internet), what else would people think? (Incidentally, children under age two average 53 minutes per day of television. Why not indoctrinate into the fear culture early?)

Aren't our real lives filled with stress enough? Why should we allow our escape time to magnify the worst moments our community can create—and with little commentary or solution? Glee's episode last night dangles in two salient points, but allows them to flutter away quickly:
(1) Kids are scared. Scared of how big the world has become. (You know, that world we adults have created and supported, and propagate in the media and television, and socially, by not allowing kids to walk to school alone, or play in the yard unsupervised.)
(2) Our mental health system is challenged and overloaded.

However, the show spends so much time focusing on the terror of the students, that their fear is glorified and made as an acceptable part of high school life. Is this really the picture we want to create of school culture, something that just happens one day then in the next episode, is forgotten? Maybe we really will homeschool, after all.

It's not Glee's responsibility to offer an idealistic school environment to aspire to, obviously. It's an entertainment show, not a parenting class or local government. But as a culture, why have we embraced fear to such an extent—given away our personal power—that tragedy and trauma are offered as the fabric of our daily lives? Or is that the commentary Glee offers, through Becky's fear?

We need to actively focus on building our own supportive communities, both locally and at large. Each of us. In our homes, in our neighborhoods, within our favorite small groups. And I would guess this was one of Glee's intents, in the episode, to show the support of friends within the choir group. We all need to empower our children to feel secure with themselves, to give them the judgment skills to both avoid tragedy and to endure it.

But just a blink of an eye after an entire community was under siege, first graders slaughtered within their safe school community—this show comes on too hard, too soon.

This episode of Glee underscores one of the reasons why we haven't offered TV to Starboy at all. (All he has seen has been in restaurants and Target, where it's impractical for him to wear a bag over his head to avoid it.) We want his stories to come from his imagination, rather than adult-written scripts that can gloss over solutions (or offer impractical ones), while focusing on fear and tragedy. That offer stereotyping, both new and stale. We want to focus on problem-solving rather than victimization. We want to offer Starboy security and a solid foundation of real skills—not snappy comebacks—to handle tough situations with grace and courage.

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts—about the show, about the media, about community building.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sparkle Stories has an ebook, a contest and a free story!

We don't do electric books with Starboy (though I enjoy reading them), but for those of you who do, Sparkle Stories now has a line of Kindle stories! Plus crafts by Annie Reichmann, of Alphabet Glue and Rhythm of the Home fame! It's a can't-miss combination. Check it out!

Kid-friendly hiking

The great thing about Los Angeles is the open space and hiking. There's lots that's close, and quite a bit that's kid-friendly.

 The Audubon Center at Debs Park is fantastic—great trails and great visitor support. They loaned us real binoculars, a bird guide and a nature bingo game in exchange for my car keys, which I didn't want to carry, anyway. They're also very supportive of the community, offering rental of their grounds and meeting room at super-reasonable rates. They have a play area that would be an ideal preschool grounds: lots of sand digging, ponds, a stream, a stream you have to pump—gorgeous natural setting.

Our trail loop was three-quarters of a mile. Not short enough to avoid whining completely, but a pretty quick satisfaction factor once it started. Pretty heavy in poison oak, however, in some parts.

If you do any hiking in southern California, it behooves you to learn about poison oak. It's basically the bully of the weed world, and there is no arguing with it. Starboy kicked some along the path, but I stripped him down before we got back into the car. If you touch any of it—leaves, stems, sticks, or even dead sticks—you have only 10 minutes to try to get the oil washed off before entertaining a nasty rash. Even on a short trail, that's not really enough time. Once the oil is on your clothes (or, as a friend found out a year later: inside your sleeping bag), you can get re-exposed repeatedly. Better to avoid it—and the dogs that obliviously play in it—in the first place.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Local hike

We'd hoped to see the renown Millard Canyon Falls, but it turned out the whole trail has been closed since the Station fire, for regrowth. After driving all that way, we tried the Brown Mountain fire road instead. Since it was cloudy and cool, it was a nice hike, save a buggy snack stop.

There was lots in bloom, despite a dry, la niña-ish year

Starboy got a close look at things with his magnifying glass. It was all his idea, the hike, down to the suggested snack of apple slices with peanut butter. Eating them in the rain: Not his idea. But we naïvely thought that "20 percent chance" of rain might not rain. It turns out it meant that it would rain only about 20 percent as hard as in a real storm. 

More news links at Newsish!

I run across a number of articles to share around each week, and in an effort to diminish my image as a militant pro-BF, AP, anti-circ, education aware, pro-teacher, anti-testing, natural (except for the Cokes and cookies), empathy parent spammer — and to simplify the inboxes of my friends — I've started a blog / feed that is articles-only called Newsish.

You may find some duplication here, and hopefully you can suffer that offense silently, with my apologies.

Should it be a Twitter feed instead? Probably. But I'm not dealing with Twitter. I don't need another format to manage; I spend too much time online as it is.

Hop over to Newsish by clicking here.

Monday, April 8, 2013

We officially are artists

It's official. Starboy and I officially are 3D artists participating in a group show at MOCA's Geffen Contemporary

 Seriously! Urs Fischer needed our help. You know, friend of a friend. We couldn't leave him hanging.

Urs (above, right) has been really excited about all of the great clay work over the last month. It was a great idea he had, bringing together an esteemed collection of artists (like ourselves) to literally fill a museum with creativity, exploration and work.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Travel lantern

Towards the end of our vacation week, we tried for an all-family night out at a restaurant, but Starboy had hit the wall. He was into his third or fourth nearly-full-meltdown when we pulled the plug, as soon as we got to the restaurant, and took him back home (and had sandwiches for dinner instead). He was really disappointed that his missed out on a night out, and said that a Lantern Walk in the dark with Daddy would be nice.

We didn't have any of our Waldorf-style lanterns with us (glass decoupaged with tissue paper, and beaded wire handles), but we did have some construction paper and Spring paper punches. And a plastic tea pitcher.

So I punched a few holes in the paper and stuffed it into the pitcher with a headlamp. It was surprisingly cool for a spur-of-the-moment solution, and it was great that Starboy could carry it vertically or horizontally.  It's too bad he was so cooked, or I would have had him do the punching as a project. But it was too late in the evening, as it was.

I was glad he could have some special time outdoors, even though he was too tired for the full-family late night.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Reading Roundup - 2013.04.05

Here are a few articles that caught my eye this week:

Introverted kids need to learn to speak up at school, The Atlantic (Feb. 7, 2013)
I totally agree with this—with the caveat that scaffolding and support is offered to teach speaking up, rather than demanding it.

Family Inc., Wall Street Journal (Feb. 10, 2013)
Run your family like a business, with a mission statement. Sorry I'm not sure if the link will work.

What does an iPad do to a child's mind? New York Times (March 31, 2013)

The opposite of play isn't work, Teacher Tom, (Apr. 5, 2013)
Discussing the effort of the de-professionalization of teachers

Parents talking about their own drug use to children could be detrimental, EurekaAlert (Feb. 22, 2013)
via Attachment Parenting International

Atlanta test cheating: tip of the iceberg? Washington Post Answer Sheet (Apr. 1, 2013)

If you don't support breastfeeding in public, you don't support breastfeeding, Huffington Post (Apr. 1, 2013)

The new kindergarten: Kids write 'informative' reports, Washington Post Answer Sheet (Apr. 3, 2013)

Is organic milk healthy? Homemade Mommy (Dec. 4, 2012)

Today's quote, via Literate Kids on Facebook:
"The problems many children have are actually generated by too much time spent in environments in which children are expected to "behave." When a restricted environment isn't balanced out by an hour or more a day when children can run hard, laugh hard, wrestle, be daring, and engage in spontaneous play, the strain shows in their behavior." —Patty Wipfler, Hand in Hand Parenting

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Faux Colonial daytrip

 On our way back from the desert, we stopped in Oak Glen, hoping to find some berry-picking. But it was too early in the season. So we stopped at the Hawk's Head Public House at Riley's Farm instead. It is set up as a glimpse into Colonial history, but if you've ever been to Williamsburg, you'll realize it's only just a glimpse.

They did have a pig pen (the pig sounded like it had kennel cough) and a handful of chickens, and an authentic-ish store with a big flat screen showing the TV show that was shot there. There were people yelling, and intense voices, and the whole thing freaked Starboy out, so he never noticed the inviting salt water taffy, sugar-crystal lollipops, or slingshots. We got off easy.

The tavern had an old feel to it, with wood floors, candles, and simple settings. It all looked a little newly redone, though, perhaps for the TV show that was shot there.

This was fun. We also saw a guy in period costume with button-up britches and a vest that laced up in the back, and a tri-corner hat. 

This may have been the only heat for the place. Though it must be brutal in summertime.

The food was okay, not great. The applesauce was fantastic, actually. And the bread was delicious, though it didn't stand up in the sandwiches. The potato salad really was good. I didn't love the plastic condiment cups. The pewter drinking glasses were great, though. No glass in the bottom, so you could get drafted, easy. And the Mexican Coke gave a real authentic feel. (It went right along with the kids at the next table playing games on an iPhone.)

We did not take on this monster. Pity.

Miss Diane was our server. She curtsied a lot. Unless you really have a thing for the time period, working there strikes me as being a whole level of pain-in-the-ass higher than regular waitressing.

The bill came in a vinyl cover, with a faux fountain pen.

The Rileys own acres and acres and acres of Oak Glen, and we saw just a postage-stamp-sized piece of it. But in that small yard, it was easy to see how much daily nature many of today's kids miss out on: trickling brooks, bugs that are red on the underside, floating ducks, stone fireplaces, sticks, pig poop, and running free, just running. I'm a city girl, but if we could find some country land close to town (and some hearty hired help), I'd be up for it.

In the meantime, I'm thinking of a trip to Williamsburg with Starboy when he's 8 or 9 or so. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Our own Spaceman Spiff

The jetpak propulsion tank design was Starboy's, offered in specific detail, with a few materials modifications from Mommy. It may or may not resemble the model given to us by meerkats. We'll never reveal those international trade secrets.

 The tank apparently is water-powered. And diesel.

 The propeller, which must be at the top, not the bottom, is what makes it go.

 He's a meerkat astronaut. As if you didn't know.

Starboy-the-meerkat-astronaut was genuinely disappointed when his jetpak would not fly him over the house. "Why isn't it going?!"

He demanded "real buttons" as a means of solution and troubleshooting. We have an old remote for this purpose (Techman's helicopter that goes with it is broken), but Starboy insisted that this obviously dysfunctional device was what was causing the flight issue. I suggested a change of venue.

The meerkat astronaut put on his protective speed suit (which, curiously, was not made of space-age felt as previously described, but did meet the color qualifications described in the interview) and we installed an additional jetpak tank on his space vehicle.

Despite living a stone's throw from JPL, we honestly don't talk about space much at home, with the exception of the Space Shuttle, but even then, not in great detail. Not for any reason. Just hasn't really come up. During a visit to our storage locker, I mistakenly offered Starboy some Tintin books to look at on his own, forgetting about the stereotypes, racism, guns and other big-kid stuff that's the backbone of the series (ca. 1954). Ugh. We quietly disappeared them after an abridged reading, which had resulted in Starboy tearing around the house shouting "blistering blue barnacles!" like a maniac, at bedtime.

This must be his source of inspiration. I wonder if he'll remember the story when he sees it sixth grade.

Look out, John Glenn. You're going to have to read books on the side, to keep up.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Letter recognition

Starboy is still letter crazy, even though he guesses that nearly all of them sound like /n/. I hope the madness lasts, we've got a long way to go.

I'd given him a paperclip to use as a tool for poking extraneous pieces out of foam stickers, and he bent it into a W, an M, an E. When he saw all the possibilities and wanted more paperclips to make other letters (while he threatened to scratch up my antique desk with the W), I pulled out the pipe cleaners.

I cut them into straight and curved lengths that would fit into the grooves of the Montessori letter tiles. Big hit! The added bonus is he has to focus on differentiating between the lengths of each piece, which vary from capital to small (and vary by letter, e.g. the crossbar in A).

The trimmed pipe cleaner pieces are currently being stored in a half-egg-carton, so he can sort as he uses them as well. Unfortunately I don't have Montessori "shelves," as there isn't really space for them.

I also don't have a strategy for attacking all of the letters. It's clear he's still trying to understand the differences between the "name" of the letter and the "sound" of it, between capital and small, and between cursive and print. I'd prefer to focus only on cursive, but there is very little supportive cursive script to offer additional teaching in our computerized world. So the approach so far has been haphazard. I'm surprised he's able to remember any of it.

I'm going to have to do some research to offer a proper strategy.