Monday, September 26, 2011

A Lesson In Manners

One thing that I absolutely do not want to have is rude kids. I have tried to make manners a priority in things that I teach my children. Table manners, in particular. Every day, three times a day, my three year old learns how to properly use a napkin, how to ask politely for items to be passed, how to politely sit quietly (we are working especially on how to properly handle bodily functions such as-dare I say it- farting and burping at the table) and most importantly, how to ask to be excused from the table. Evelyn is introduced to these things but obviously not expected to follow social rules at age one.

Over the weekend, we were visiting the in-laws. We had a nice dinner in the dining room. Jonah announced he was "all done." I said to him "What do you need to ask me when you are done with your dinner?" This is our moment to shine, I thought. I am going to look like such a great mom, with such a well mannered young man!

His response: "MAAAAY I PWEASE BE SCOOOOOOOOSED??? BUUUUUUUUUURP!" It was the biggest most atrocious burp I have ever heard come out of such a tiny person.

We'll keep working on it....

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Under the Sea Literature

I found a lot of books with an under the sea or ocean theme, that I was able to tie into other activities. I love it when I am able to do this because it really gets Jonah excited about a book and a theme. Here are the "Under the Sea" books that we enjoyed!

Wiggle Like an Octopus by Harriet Ziefert and Simms Taback:
 I think Eve picked this book because of the neat holographic cover. But once we got it home and read it, the kids were hooked on what was inside! This book has simple colorful illustrations of many sea creatures, along with descriptions of how they move. We had a lot of fun getting out of our reading chair and moving around like the creatures in the book! This book is great if you're looking for some gross motor ideas.

The Whale's Song by Dyan Sheldon and Gary Blythe:
 This book is a beautiful tale that sparked a lot of discussion between me and Jonah. The story is very simple, yet has a magical tone to it. Lilly's grandmother tells her tales of when the whales would sing to her. Lilly follows her heart and her grandmother's dreams, to experience something magical and mysterious. Jonah enjoyed the story, but I am not sure if he understood a lot of it. We might be waiting to revisit this book until he is older.

A House for Hermit crab and Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle:

Jonah loved these books. Once again, Eric Carle has captured my kids' attention with his brightly colored pictures and his ability to tell a story portraying the ways in which the world works.

Fish Eyes by Lois Ehlert:
My kids really enjoy counting books. Lois Ehlert took them on a colorful adventure, counting fish along the way. Beautiful patterns, shapes, and colors really captivated both kids on every page. We integrated a cooking activity with this book, making sugar cookies and decorating them to look like the fish in the book!

Sea Shapes by Suse Macdonald:
This book is very simple, and points out what different shapes you might see in the ocean. As I discussed earlier, we used this book as an inspiration to use shape stamps to create an underwater scene. It would also be nice to pair this with a shape collage activity. We also used foam shape blocks to build an underwater world right in our living room!

Little Turtle and the Song of the Sea by Sheridan Cain:
Jonah really enjoyed learning about what a sea turtle is through this book. He enjoyed the activities about sea turtles that stemmed from us reading the book. But again, I don't know if he fully understood the plot of the book. He did enjoy it and the topic that it presented!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Under the Sea Art

One of the things that I enjoyed about this theme is that it is so easy to get creative with art projects. It was hard to pick just a few ideas, but the projects I chose gave us a chance to practice skills and concepts that I would like to work on with Jonah.

Sea Shapes, a lesson in geometry:

This idea came from a "take home bag" that I borrowed from the lending library at the preschool where Jonah has speech therapy. The bag came with the book "Sea Shapes" by Suse Macdonald, several foam stamps that corresponded to the book, and an ink pad. The book named several shapes, and then gave an example of how you would see that shape in the sea. For example, the crescent shape can be seen in a dolphin's body, and some fish are shaped like hearts! After we looked at the book and discussed the creatures and shapes that we had seen, I let the kids use the stamps to make their own ocean pictures. At first we used a light blue paper, but we weren't happy with how the blue ink looked on it, so we used plain white printer paper to make the shapes really stand out!
Evelyn was delighted that she could participate as well. Make sure you have WASHABLE and NONTOXIC ink pads while doing this project with little ones! And also, keep a wet wash cloth near by to clean wandering inked up hands (and feet.)

Textured Star Fish, a sensory activity:

Jonah won't touch certain textures, and a lot of times if he gets something such as paint on his hands, he wants it cleaned off right away. So I am always looking for sensory integrated activities that will entice him to touch different textures. We used nontoxic washable poster paint, cereal boxes that I had cut into starfish shapes, and bubble wrap.

I let the kids pick out what colors of paint to use and spread a thin layer of each color onto a plate. I showed them how to dip the bubble wrap into the paint and then use it to "stamp" a textured pattern onto the starfish. Jonah did not want to touch the bubble wrap at first, especially once it got paint on it. But as soon as he saw how much fun Evie was having, he (reluctantly) jumped in. I liked this one in particular because it required him to hold a large portion of the bubble wrap. He wanted to just barely hang onto a corner, but quickly found out that didn't work. Once he got started, he began having fun mixing the colors of paint to get colorful patterns on his starfish.

Paper Bag Octopus, cutting skills and fine motor activity:

Sadly, I have no pictures of Jonah doing this activity as the battery in my camera died. However, here is the original site where I got the idea (and adapted it to fit our needs.)

I had Jonah crumple up bits of newspaper and stuff it into the bottom of a paper lunch sack. Then I helped him put a rubber band around the middle of the sack so that it created a "head" for the octopus.

I let him pick out a color to paint the octopus and we used our texture brushes to paint him. The octopus dried during nap time, and was ready for a face and legs after snack!

I used a sharpie to help Jonah draw a face onto the octopus. Jonah only wanted to put eyes on him, because he didn't see a mouth in the picture of the octopus in his book. Then I let him use safety scissors to cut the bottom of the paper bag vertically up to the rubber band. This was a slow going process, but with patience and time, our octopus acquired legs!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What Do We See, Under the Sea?

The last couple of weeks, we have been exploring ocean life. I got thIe idea to do this "unit" because Jonah really had a lot of fun at a recent trip to the aquarium. He sat at each exhibit, wide eyed and taking in all of the colors and combination of shapes and textures, as I kept a very simple conversation with him about the names of the creatures and what he thought they were doing.

We started the theme by discussing what animals swim in the ocean. We had this conversation a couple of times: At breakfast, in the car while driving to speech therapy, while we were shopping and he was sitting in the grocery cart. I simply asked him "What do you think swims in the ocean?" He could come up with a pretty impressive list on his own- fish, seahorses, whales, sharks. Then I asked him about various specific animals "Do cows swim in the ocean??" or "Do jellyfish live in the ocean??" He thought this was a hilarious game!

Later in the week, we added to our conversation: "Where is the ocean?" We looked at a map and various pictures of coastal beaches, boats, and harbors. We talked about how we would get to the ocean if we wanted to go (plane, car), and looked at pictures of a vacation we took to the ocean.  We also talked about what to bring to the ocean/beach on a trip! If only it were possible to follow this particular lesson up with an actual trip to the ocean.

I wasn't sure how much Jonah would be interested in a whole lesson plan geared toward an Under the Sea theme, so I had originally planned for it to only last a week. He was so interested, and Eve was also having so much fun, that I extended it and we are just now wrapping it up after two and a half weeks! This might be something that we will visit again if we have time later in the year.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Ten years ago, I was at Ft. Hood Texas. It was an absolutely beautiful day, I remember that with great clarity. But it felt odd, no one was outside, the streets were empty, there was a heavy silence in the air, even on the bus I rode to work which is normally buzzing with morning gossip. I went to work and had to open the music store alone because no one else had come in yet, which was also really odd. An hour after opening, my boss walked in the door with a small portable TV. He looked at me after I greeted him with a cheery "Good morning!" and said "Oh.. you don't know yet..." and put the TV in front of me right as the second tower fell.  "We're under attack. Someone attacked the Pentagon. And the twin towers, that's what you just watched." We're being attacked? What does that mean? We're under attack, I was really disoriented. I remember sitting down on a small step, and staying there most of the day. We had no customers, so that was just fine. My boss asked if I wanted to go home, I didn't want to, I didn't want to think about what it meant. My (now ex) husband was locked on base and me and my neighbor were locked off base away from our husbands. We bunkered down together in her apartment, ate dinner, and then came the hardest part of my day.

I had to face my second job. I was able to walk to the school, and with each step I thought about how I was going to talk to these children. What questions were they going to ask. Would I be able to answer them. I opened the door to the tutoring room where I had helped children with their homework before and after school. They needed a different kind of help today. I was greeted with tears. Children terrified that their military parents were in danger. Confused. Shaken by what to them seemed to be a very sudden and violent turn of events in their otherwise stable and routine lives. Although they were military children, the majority of them had lived at Ft. Hood or its surrounding areas for most of their memorable lives. All they had known was peace time.

And of course, the questions came. I handled them one by one and we got through them. Some of the questions were about changes in their personal lives, as children had learned that they would be very quickly going to stay with relatives, and they didn't know when or if they would be back. Some of the questions were about the individual people in the towers. What were they like, were they good people, why would someone kill them all if they were good people? Some of the questions were about what was happening on the base, the extra gaurds, the traffic, the security check points.

But to be honest, although it was hard to be open and blatantly honest (saying "I don't know" when I really didn't know,  or "that frightens me a little too" when I really was scared about something, for example) not only helped the children, but it helped me to wrap my head around the events I had seen fall into place. It helped me cope with the images we were seeing day after day in the weeks following, as the rescue mission on ground zero began to turn into a recovery mission. It helped me cope when, for days I had no word from my husband. The kids continued to ask, and I continued to answer. Little by little, we dealt with it. We dealt with the deployments. We dealt with the news that was trickling in. We dealt with the feelings of helplessness as we watched images flash across the television screen and the repercussions of those images trickle into our living rooms as we said goodbye to our loved ones each morning, not knowing if they would be coming home for dinner or sent somewhere untold.

I often think about those kids today. I wonder where they are at. For many of them, the weeks following September 11th were the last weeks we saw each other. I wonder how they continued to cope, I pray for them and their parents who I know were deployed to dangerous areas. Sometimes I wish that I could see them all just for a few minutes, just long enough to ask "Are you okay now?" and give them a hug. Those children are adults now, or the youngest of the group are very close to becoming adults.  I wonder how the experiences that we went through together have shaped their view of our country, of our world. I hope that they found compassion and strength, and learned to let go of the anger and fear.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Feel Your Boobies!

Yes, you read that title right. But you can go ahead and read it again if you're a little confused. In fact, read it over and over until the message sinks in. Feel your boobies!

Ladies, AND MEN, the best defense we have against breast cancer is early detection. A self breast exam takes only moments. You can do this when you take a shower, or before you go to bed; I promise that it won't impede on your schedule. You should examine your breasts every year, and according to the Susan G. Komen foundation, get a clinical screening every three years starting at age 20 and a mammogram every year starting at age 40. states that simply "feeling" your breasts, or using the pads of your fingers to press into the skin, examining the underarm and collarbone areas, may be just as effective as a formal self breast exam. The founder of detected a cancerous mass in just this way. Feeling her boobies saved her life.

So instead of wasting time trying to pretend that you are pregnant on Facebook, playing on everyone's sensitive emotions of joy, disappointment, and possibly even grieving, please take those few moments to feel your boobies. Then, tell someone you love to feel their boobies. If you have a teenage daughter, talk to her about the importance of self breast examination. I promise you, those few moments you take to do this will raise much more awareness about breast cancer detection than pretending that you are pregnant on online social media. (If you don't know what I am talking about, there was a game recently on facebook where women were pretending to be pregnant. The idea was, when anyone would ask about the post, the woman would say "Just kidding! Breast cancer awareness!" But most people never got that message, they simply had their feelings hurt. To add to the ineffectiveness, the message of just "This is for breast cancer awareness" doesn't really DO anything, now does it? We all know breast cancer exists, what we need to be aware of, is how to prevent it, and how to defend ourselves against it.)

And most importantly, if you feel something that concerns, tell your doctor. Don't feel silly or embarassed. March into that doctors office and say "I felt my boobies... and I'm concerned." If you don't tell your doctor what you've felt, then they may miss something important that could save your life!

This weekend, I will be running the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5k race at 8:00am on Saturday. I am challenging myself to make a personal record during the race. I am challenging YOU to feel your boobies, and to let someone you love know about the benefits of feeling their boobies too. Before I lace up my running shoes, I will be feeling my boobies!

I feel my boobies, do you?
For more information, please visit
and Susan G. Komen for the Cure (this page has instructions for formal self exams, and also what each thing that you may find means)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My Great Big Canning Adventure: Zucchini Pickles

This year, I decided to add a new layer onto my canning experience. I learned a lot last year, canning jams and tomatoes. This year I am going to take it to a new level and try my hand at pickles. The first pickles I made were Zucchini Bread and Butter Pickles. This is a modified recipe from what can be found in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.

6 medium sized zucchini, sliced how you prefer (I did half spears and half round slices- you should have about 16 cups of sliced zucchini)
7 small onions, sliced
2 medium sweet green peppers, finely diced and partially seeded
1/3 cup canning salt
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons whole mustard seed
1 tablespoon powdered mustard seed
1 tablespoon pickling seasoning
1 teaspoon tumeric
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon peppercorns
2 cups white vinegar with 5% accidity
2 cups apple cider vinegar with 5% accidity

First I sliced the zucchini. The original recipe called for 16 small zucchini, but I was not able to find any small ones. So I used fewer medium sized zucchini instead. Half of them I cut long wise, similar to making carrot sticks, to make pickle spears. The other half, I sliced into rounds so that we could have pickles for sandwiches. I placed all of the zucchini and the other vegetables in a very large bowl together, and sprinkled the salt over top of them. Then I attempted to stir everything so that the salt was evenly distributed through the veggies. There wasn't enough room even in my larger bowl, so I took some out and salted them in a smaller bowl before adding them back to the larger bowl.
After mixing the salt through the veggies, I covered them with ice and let them stand for about four hours.
I drained the ice water off of the veggies and combined the remaining ingredients into a large stock pot. I brought it to a boil and added the veggies. At first I had only used 2 cups of white vinegar and one cup of cider vinegar, but I was concerned that there wasn't enough liquid once I added the veggies to the pot. So that is when I added another cup. I brought the liquid back to a boil and turned down the heat to simmer for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the vegetables had been sitting in the salt, I sterilized the jars in the dishwasher and did not open the door, to keep the jars hot. I packed the veggies into the hot jars, separating the spears from the slices. I left 1/4 inch headspace between the veggies and top of the jar. I ladled the hot liquid over the vegetables, making sure to include stray onions and spices, leaving 1/4 inch head space. I used the opposite end of the head spacer to slide down the side of the jars and release air bubbles. There were quite a few of them, so I don't recommend skipping this step!! I wiped the rims with a damp cloth and positioned the lids and the rings. I processed the jars in a boiling water canner for ten minutes.

The pickles will need to brine in the jars for at least four weeksbefore they acquire their full-on flavor. We took a sneak peak taste as I was putting them into the jars, and they tasted fantastic (albeit weak) No one can wait until they are done and we can open our first jar four weeks from now!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Week In Training Review: First Half Marathon

The last couple of weeks of half-marathon training have been pretty standard. My hours on the treadmill have steadily increased, as the sun is going down earlier every night and it is difficult for me to get out before dark. It was nice at the height of summer, to be able to step out my door after the kids went to bed and the air was cooling off. My route took me past several farms, and it was encouraging to look across the fields to see trees silhouetted against the red and purple evening sky.

It's a different story now if I try to go out after the kids are in bed, when Daryl is home to watch them. Bright headlights in my eyes, honking horns zooming past, the feeling of being trapped between a steep drainage ditch and a car traveling 6o mph. I am not sure why people become so rude after dark, but it can be downright dangerous.

So I keep my outdoor runs for the weekends, or for days when I know the kids will cooperate in the jogging stroller. Luckily, my longest runs occur on the weekends! I finally reached a personal record for distance, running 12 miles in 145 minutes. That was one minute slower than I had hoped (I was aiming for 12 minutes per mile) but that was not enough to discourage me. When I stopped running at the 12 mile mark, I was still feeling like I could have gone another mile, but I made myself stop, not wanting to overdo it. A week later, I went to face my first half marathon, the Buckeye 1/2 marathon. I was confident that I could finish, although I was still sore from my previous 12 mile run.

The course went through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.Many, many years ago I had lived near here and in an attempt to get fit my room mate and I started jogging. The course overlapped the route that my friend and I used to take, and I really enjoyed it. It was very scenic and beautiful. Throughout the race, we ran along views of the Cuyahoga River, catching glimpses of scenic river bends and trees just starting to turn colors. Memories flooded back of canoing along the very same bends. It was peaceful and beautiful. But it was also hilly. It felt like 90% of the course was going uphill. I kept waiting for the downhill portion, but it never came. Although the grade was gradual at points, it was still uphill.

I had told Daryl to wait for me at the ten mile mark, knowing that is a point where I would need some encouragement. The kids had made signs to cheer me on, and Jonah was wearing a shirt emblazoned with the words "Don't Give Up." I tried to take a picture of them as I came around the curve for the 10 mile mark and saw them waving and cheering excitedly, waving their signs, but just as I reached for my phone to get the picture, Jonah bolted out into the road towards me. Luckily the other runners saw him and avoided him, and I was on the side of the road closest to him so car traffic wasn't an issue. It was really great to see them standing there. But soon after I passed them, my muscles did begin putting up a fight. My chest got tight, and I could feel my breakfast sitting in my stomach as if I had swallowed a bowling ball.

I started to slow down. I saw the runner ahead of me begin to walk. I looked behind me and saw the two runners behind me begin to walk. I didn't come here to run ten miles, I told myself. Another runner passed me, and then slowed down to a walk. I gave in. I walked. Around mile 11, I looked around and realized that for the first time in the whole race, I was alone. There was one neon yellow shirt trailing behind me. This was also discouraging. It felt like I was dead last, besides the one runner/walker behind me. She began to jog and caught up to me. Great, now I *am* dead last, I was certain.

Are your legs cramping up?" She asked me. No, my stomach and chest. We jogged into the 12 mile marker and took our water cups. We're almost there, we can make it, I told her. We jogged on, just over this hill, she encouraged. Another uphill run, fine. I can see it, I can see the orange cones! I had pulled a bit ahead of her and had turned around a corner. We came into the last leg of the race, veering off the loop and into the complex where we would soon reach the finish line. We can keep running this little bit, I told her, We can do this, she also encouraged. We finished together, hugged and laughed about what a trial we just went through, two complete strangers.
running to the finish line

As we came into the finish line, I could see Jonah and Daryl standing along the side, and Eve in the stroller. Jonah was holding his plastic microphone and shouting cheers into it for me. Jonah wanted to run through the finish line too, and the race staff was nice enough to allow him to go through the arch. He was thrilled, and has told everyone "Jonah raced too! I went to the finish line and I won!" I gave him my finishers medal. He was so proud!

I finished the 13.1 miles ten minutes slower than I wanted to. In all, my goal for this race was just to finish it. My time goal is actually for the Akron half marathon. So I am not upset with myself other than I caved and allowed myself to walk, when I am pretty sure that I could have continued to run. I did learn a few things about race days, which was another purpose of running the Buckeye. I know I need to be more patient in the beginning. Shooting out and doing a ten minute mile right off the bat is not a good strategy if your goal is to make 12 minute miles. I know I need to slow down and pace myself, especially in the beginning of the race, it will pay off in the end. I also know that I need to re-evaluate my pre-race routine and make sure that I eat breakfast at home, to give enough time to digest, rather than shoving a peanutbutter sandwich in my mouth while driving, ten minutes away from the race site.  And finally, I will give myself more recovery time between a personal record long run and a race day. My body is not used to running these distances, so while I might see others who run these routes every week, my body needs time to adjust to the new expectations. A week was not enough time for my body to recover from a 12 mile run and then be expected to make a 13 mile run in race conditions.

So all in all, I think this race was positive. I got my feet wet and learned more about what to expect for the bigger race in Akron. There will be twice as many people, and the spectacle will be greater. I am really glad that I made the Buckey 1/2 a pittstop in my training, just for the experience before throwing myself into the Akron marathon!