Friday, May 9, 2014

Do You Wanna Get a Frosty?

My 17 year old is on a bus returning from New York City where she saw Of Mice and Men on Broadway with her Honors English class.  She got Chris O'Dowd's autograph and James Franco was in the play, so it's been a memorable experience.  We've been texting during her long drive home and ended up writing a parody of Do You Want to Build a Snowman based on our trip to Wendy's last night.  She told me the last part made her sad... which wasn't my intention.  I just kind of changed the words from the original.  So anyway... this is how I entertained my kid on the ride back from NYC this afternoon (and a pretty good indication that I need to do something more productive during nap time):

Do you wanna get a Frosty?
C'mon, what do you say?.
You know it really could be fries
With real cute guys
...oh darn he's gay.

You know that they're so yummy
In a cup or cone
I wish you would share that fry.
Do you want to get a Frosty?
It doesn't have to be a Frosty.

(Get a life, Mom)

Okay... bye...

(Knock knock knock...)

Do you wanna get a Frosty?
Or drive my car down to the mall?
I think some conversations over due
I've started talking to
Your old discarded dolls.
(Eat a burger, Barbie)
It gets a little lonely
All these empty hours
Just watching your years fly by...

Do you wanna get a Frosty?
And a side of fries....?

Why I Didn't Buy Into Teacher Appreciate Week... again.

Dear Teachers:

Please don't think that you're not appreciated.  I show my appreciation by sending you a kid with his
homework done and spelling words studied.  I show you my appreciation by teaching him manners and setting the bar high when it comes to respecting you, the school, and the rules.  I show you my respect when I try, time and again, to make sure you're getting the best kid I can assemble for you.  

The lack flowers/candy/mugs/hand stamped greeting cards isn't a sign that I don't appreciate you.  It's a sign that I'm doing my best to make sure my kids are an asset to your classroom.  And I would hope that's more important than all the Hallmark gifts combined.

With Highest Regards,

Mama Jacques

Friday, April 11, 2014

DIY Alphabet Book

It's been a busy six weeks since I've found time to write anything worthwhile.  My big project has been this:

Using the Memory Mixer program and a great coupon from Walgreens, I was able to make Connell a hard bound, personalized alphabet book for $18.  It wasn't nearly as hard as it sounds, but it does take a little time.  I found that by working on it slowly made it a very relaxing way to have a little "me" time.

Step One.

Organize your photos.  I created a new folder and went through all the photos I've taken since Connell was born.  Luckily, I was able to find the difficult letters. (V - volleyball, U - Ukelele, X - X-ray, Z - Father Zenon, one of our favorite priests.)  Had I not had those, I would have had to add a step and fill in the blanks.  I ended up slightly less organized than I would have liked, but this is how my folder looks:

I found some great additions while looking through my husband's Facebook photos.  I didn't save them as intentionally as I had planned, but you get the idea.  Rename the pictures with the letter you plan to use them for.

Step Two

Find a photo program you like.  Shutterfly, Walgreen's, and other online photo sites have albums you can create online.  I didn't care of those because they didn't allow for must flexibility. I purchased the Memory Mixer program.  (Please note, Memory Mixer has an affiliate program.  I am not part of that and I am not advertising for compensation.)  It took me about an hour of fiddling and futzing to learn the basics.  They offer great tutorials on Facebook and YouTube.  It's fairly straight forward and I can definitely see myself using this program for many projects in the future.  I accidentally deleted the first book I made, so I ended up recreating it.  (Completely user error.  Memory Mixer is great at saving things logically.)  I like my second attempt much more.  

The first two screen shots are from the first book I created.  The templates in Memory Mixer come pre-made, but are entirely customizable.  

When I made the second book, I decided to tweak the layout so each page had letters in the same place.  Memory Mixer allows you to add a ton of layered embellishments, but for this book I was more interested in simple pages with the focus being the photographs and easily identifiable letters.  I chose the Chalkdust font because the "a" looks more like a traditional hand drawn letter that Connell will learn to write.

Step Three
Build your book.  I try as hard as possible to be thrifty, so when Walgreen's sent out a 50% off coupon for their photo books, I jumped.  I was able to export each Memory Mixer page as a .jpg.  You can do this by selecting the "Share on Facebook" option.  Each page will be saved to your hard drive.  Then you can upload them to Walgreen'

The tricky part at this point is making each photo page span the entire page rather than fit into their pre-sized template.  To do that, drag the photo into the template and then select it.  A menu will pop up and will have the option to span the left, right, or entire layout.  Choose accordingly.

I chose to use one of the "same day delivery" books. I sent it to them, feeling very nervous, at 1:30.  By 2:15, I had email confirmation that it was finished.  I am thrilled with the results and very impressed with how well Memory Mixer and Walgreen's worked together so seamlessly. 

Connell and I read the book several times a day.  He recognizes the people and places in it and I'd like to think he's beginning to recognize the letters, too.  My next project is going to be a counting book, but that is going to take some very intentional photography!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Dr. Seuss Party

I'm a terrible blogger.  We had a great toddler party and I didn't take nearly enough photos.  I will share the few I did take and resolved to do better next time.

So first, let me explain my party philosophy:  Don't hide in the kitchen.  Don't have an agenda.  Don't spend a ton of money.  And most importantly, have fun!  So with that in mind, I set up some play centers around the house using our Seuss theme.

My grandfather retired from Random House, so I have quite a collection of Seuss books.  I gathered them together and put them with some of the alphabet toys we've collected over the years.  Another area I set up (and didn't photograph) was based on "Mr. Brown Can Moo".  I had my older kids bring the Little People barn out of storage and set it up with all of the farm animals I could find.

You can't have a Seuss party and not include a One Fish, Two Fish activity.  (Shouldn't that be "an One Fish, Two Fish"?  Grammar police, please help!)  Using a tri-fold board (Dollar Tree - $1), a yard of flannel (Jo-Ann Fabrics - $3), and 4 sheets of felt ($1 for all 4 - Jo-Ann), I made a quick felt board.  Most of the kiddos at the party were around 2 years old, so generally they pulled the fish off the board and giggled, but they had fun.  If we hadn't had such awful weather for the weeks leading up to the party, I would have picked up a plastic fish bowl to keep the pieces in, but Mother Nature had other plans.

A Cat in the Hat bulletin board set worked as the backdrop for a table of yummy food that I forgot to photograph. (Pinterest has oodles of ideas.  I went with quiche and small sandwiches since it was bunch and other kid-friendly snacks.)

Brown paper protected the train table nicely as it became the craft station.  Since they were mostly toddlers, we did simple crafts.  They put animal stickers on a zoo print out ("If I Ran the Zoo"), stars stickers on Sneeches, apples on a tree (apples = pom poms, "Ten Apples Up On Top"), and they made a cute Cat in the Hat craft.

Party favors are always fun, but of course I didn't take a picture.  I was able to have a friend order a copy of The Napping House through Scholastic for a dollar a piece.  I would have preferred a Seuss book, but that would have completely ruined my budget.  I added Dr. Seuss pencils, crayons, erasers, and bookmarks all found in the dollar section of Target last fall.  Wrapped them in striped tissue paper and voila - fun favors.

I hung streamers for Valentine's Day and left them up for the party.  They initially looked something like this, but without the polka dots.  (Check out this adorable birthday party theme):

After about 45 minutes, the kids discovered them and they very quickly became the best dollar I've ever spent on an unintentional party game. 

Once they'd finally pulled them all down, they spent 15 minutes giggling and shouting "Hooray!"  It was a wonderful end to a very fun party.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

What to do with a Wonderful One Year Old (Finger painting... again.)

Before I share a wicked cute series of finger painting photos, let me first tell you I fail more often than I succeed.  My initial attempt at the famous Pinterest finger paint project is proof of that.  This is true of my attempts at not only toddler crafts, but at many things in life:  housekeeping, baking, sticking to my grocery list, making it to the gym often enough, walking up stairs without falling.  But sooner or later I manage to figure most things out or come to the realization that it wasn't that important in the first place.

For our second attempt and this project, I used some heavy drawing paper stolen borrowed from my oldest daughter's art supplies.  I decided to shed my slightly obsessive need for things to be straight and symmetrical and went with a funky off kilter design.  (Cutting myself some slack is on my list of 'ways to be a better person'.  'Mastering stairs' is on that list, too.)

Popped a diapered baby in the tub and let him have at it.  Finger painting in the bathtub works well.  It limits the mess and results in a clean tub, clean baby, and cute art.  The finger paints were purchased at the Dollar Tree.  I couldn't find my homemade, cotton candy scented, organic finger paints.  The potentially poisonous, made in China out of Lord only knows what, cheap paints worked just fine.  He didn't put them in his mouth.

As you can see, Connell doesn't limit his artistic efforts to just his canvas. 

Hanging the finished art on the mirror to dry worked well.  The mirror needed to be washed anyway (as you can see), and the paint came right off.

The finished project will be a fun addition to our already growing collection of Valentine crafts!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What to do with a Wonderful One Year Old (Cat in the Hat Edition)

This is the view of the tree in my front yard.  We're possibly going to lose my favorite branch.  Connell and I have spent hours peeking out the window, watching the bird feeders dangling from that branch.  When he was brand new and fussy, we spent even more hours standing in the sunny window, watching the shadows cast by its leaves.  I'm trying not to begrudge Mother Nature, but please, lady, just leave my branch, okay?  We won't even discuss the lilac situation.

To continue to fight the mid-winter blues, I've decided to have a little gathering of playgroup friends in a few weeks.  We're going to throw Dr. Seuss a birthday party.  Selfishly, it gives me something to think about while we're trapped in the house by the evil weather.  The trick will be figuring out what activities the 'under two' crowd can handle in our limited space.  I decided to start with a simple Cat in the Hat craft and do a bit of a beta test.

Instructions:  Using red card stock, I cut out a rectangle to make the hat.  White card stock worked for the stripes.  Construction paper circles made the face and whiskers.  Leftover foam heart stickers worked for the nose and beads (stolen borrowed from my daughter's bead bin) made great eyes.

I found the key was to talk him through the activity.  He wanted to touch the glue, which was fine.  He enjoyed sliding the "stripes" around a bit.   We talked about "stick".  When we put the face together, we talked about nose and eyes.

It's fun to find ways to work new language into fine motor skills.  At this point, he will focus on things like this for anywhere from 3 - 5 minutes, so I find having everything handy and ready to go helps.  Eye contact, reassurances ("Good job!"), and encouragement ("Keep trying!") keep him engaged.  And his smiles keep winter from driving me completely insane.

What to do with a Wonderful One Year Old (Valentine's 1.0)

Winter seems pretty endless these days, so I've been trying to keep Connell engaged and busy.  After he settled in for a morning nap, I sifted and sorted through craft supplies to see what I had on hand to entertain him.  Luckily I tend to stock up on and squirrel away lots of odds and ends.

We focused on the color red and the words 'heart' and 'stick'.

(Finger paints still terrify me... we didn't touch those.)

I decided we'd start with "stained glass".  Using wax paper, I let Connell pour the glue and spread it around with his fingers.  Luckily, Elmer's has an adjustable spout and is nontoxic.  We sprinkled glitter on one piece of wax paper and covered the other with small squares of tissue.  (Baby wipes are great for quick clean up.)  Foam heart stickers made the frames festive and in a matter of minutes, he was ready to move on to the next craft.

He was still raring to go.  Using coffee filters (Do people still make full pots of coffee?  Probably.), I cut a quick heart shape.  We used My First Crayola Water Colors.  By the time he worked his way through 3 of the 4 colors, he had painted a mustache on his face.  Of course, I washed it off before I snapped a picture.  

A few hours later, he found the pom-poms and stickers (and by "found", I mean, "Mom left them within his reach and he carried them all over the house saying "STICK!  Momma!  STICK HEART!"  I tried really hard not to have visions of him someday becoming a vampire slayer.).  We tried a bit of counting and color sorting.  A little more glue, and voila!  A pile of toddler crafts to brighten up our dreary mid-winter blahs!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Dear Target

Dear Gregg W. Steinhafel (CEO, Target):

This isn't okay.  Blurred Lines is the name of a song about date rape.  You did not designed the shirt.  And I  understand your buyers chose it.  But you, sir, are untimely responsible for promoting the idea of blurring the lines even more.

You are selling the idea that date rape is cute.

According to University of the Sciences, 1 in 4 college women are victims of date rape.  84% of those women knew their attackers.  The Center for Family Justice  reports that every two minutes a women in the United States is sexually assaulted.  55% of gang rapes happen at fraternities where this song is likely to be played during parties. (One In Four)

The long term effects of rape are devastating.  Depression, borderline personality disorder, sleep and eating disorders, just to name a few.  We won't even get into the impact unintended pregnancy due to rape has on society.

Article after article dissects the lyrics and their meaning.  The bottom line is this:  As a major American retailer, you are responsible for the messages on your clothing.  You are responsible for knowing what you're marketing to little girls.  You are responsible for making date rape cute.

You are a father, Mr. Sheinhafel.  Would you let your daughter wear this shirt?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Doing Hard Things

This is my 14 year old daughter.  See that bracelet on her arm?  The thick black one she insisted on wearing in family pictures?  It says, "HAVE FAITH".  In big, bold letters Katie declares to the world every day that she has faith.  What you can't see in that photo is the necklace with the shield and cross on it that says, "I can do all things through HIM who strengthens me".   She's an alter server at our Catholic Church and volunteers to serve for funerals, even though they make her cry.  She's a kid who lives her faith in ways I'm not able.  A little light that shines from her, inspiring me to be a better person.

She's a pistol, though, to borrow a phrase from my grandmother. Katie will always be the kid who keeps us on our toes and makes us question the world around us.  We will fight back when the world feels it's necessary to push its own morals and values on her.  We know we won't always win.  When she's gotten through these teenage years, whatever she chooses to do will be incredible.  I have faith in her.

Right now she's angry with us.  And that's okay.  My job isn't to be her friend.  We've put our foot down with the school (again) because of questionable song choices (again).  This time it's in choir.  She's part of the select show choir, which is a big deal and we're very proud of her.  The song choices for the spring concert include "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (oldie but a goodie), "Home" by Philip Phillips (beautiful harmonies), and "Edge of Glory" by Lady Gaga.  That's where we said no.

This child is not trading her morals to be part of choir.  She's not compromising her values to make her music teacher happy.  She wants to... oh, does she want to.  And she's furious that we're setting limits.  There will be no public performances of songs that include lyrics about being taken home or doing shots or needing "a man who thinks it's right when it's so wrong".

And this is hard.  VERY hard.  I don't want to make her "the girl who can't sing that one song in choir" or "the one with the crazy parents".  I don't want to be the crazy parents.  But I'll wear the crazy crown if it means standing up for her innocence.

Now, the next question is why did Pennsylvania tax dollars pay for a song about doing shots in the first place... but I'll leave that up to the school board to figure out if that's what it comes to.

Edited to add a bit of snarkiness...

The school handbook clearly states that students can not wear articles of clothing with references to drugs, alcohol, sex, etc.  So to prove my point, I put the lyrics on shirts.  They'd get kicked out of school for wearing the words, but not for singing them?  Hm.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

On Our Way

The day I left the hospital with Connell I was desperately ready to go home.  The last time I had spent the night in that maternity ward I went home empty handed and heartbroken.  Andrew's stillbirth was still as raw as my midsection.  We rushed to pack things, shoving socks in bags and hair clips in pockets.  We'd done this before.  We knew that we didn't really need all of the paraphernalia the new mom magazines suggested.

The nurse scurried in and out, sensing our urgency.  She glanced at me from the corner of her eye when she thought I wasn't looking.  I signed papers, moving as quickly as my cesarean would let me.  There was always just one more thing to do before I could leave the labor hall and get on with our lives.

David treated me gingerly.  He remembered my last recovery.  The tears, the shock, the unexpected surgery.  He didn't understand that the pain from this delivery was welcome.  It reminded me I had survived and our youngest son was alive and healthy.  David gently asked me to sit down.  My pacing was making him nervous.   But I was afraid to sit down.  If I did, I may have ended up back in that bed for another night and I couldn't have that.

The nurse returned.  She removed my IV.  She checked my incision one more time.  She cooed at my well bundled newborn.  And she looked at me again, with an expression I'd come to know over the year before Connell was born.  She must have read my entire chart and she knew what had happened.   She was watching me with the eyes of someone who had also suffered a loss.  She was waiting to see if I'd be able to handle this transition from mourning-mother to new-mother-again.  She was giving me time to change my mind and stay the extra day our insurance company would pay for.

The orderly came to my room with a wheel chair.  After she'd bent down to adjust the footrest, the nurse looked me in the eye.  She held my gaze for an extra second.  "I can do this" I tried to tell her with my eyes.  "I can start to move on."

She handed me my 8 pound miracle.  She put her hand on my shoulder as she gave final instructions to David.  "Follow up appointment in 5 days.  Pediatrician in 7.  Make sure she takes her iron and stays very hydrated.  Let her rest.  Enjoy these moments."  She squeezed my shoulder as she said those last words.

We're a sorority of the worst kind, we grieving mothers.  We know each other as we stutter when
sharing how many children we have.  We all wince slightly when we hear a newborn cry.  We all share the same broken purple heart of child loss.  And we comfort each other.  A gentle squeeze.  A willingness to listen.  A different view of family and priorities.

The orderly whisked me through the hospital halls.  He was young and insensitive, taking bumps and turns at breakneck speeds.  Connell let out a yelp as we zoomed out of the elevator.  "You need to be more gentle." I told the orderly.  "We need to get home safely."  He slows down and apologized.  The bright August sun blinded me when I met David at the curb.  He settled Connell in the carseat with care and made sure I was buckled safely.  We drove toward home with our newborn looking forward to moments to enjoy.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Out of Their Loop

I watch them walk out the door, into the mid-day cold.  They laugh as they slide on the ice, her Converse having much less traction than his sensible Clark's.  They flash the same smile over their shoulders at me as they wave, their identical blue eyes shining in the winter sun.  And they're on their way.

They speak their own language now.  He shares his twenty-mumble years of programming and computer science experience with her.  Ruby on Rails, Rust, C++, Java, Linux.  She soaks it up and adds her own spin.  Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram.  He stresses the importance of structure and form.  She focuses on communication and connectivity.  All in a jargon I don't fully comprehend.

I keep an eye on their progress toward the shop on the GPS app.  The ice has made traveling conditions less than ideal, so watching them arrive safely makes me feel a little less out of their loop.  They're meeting with the rest of the team today to continue on their project.  Kids come from two counties and a dozen school districts to be part of this award winning team.  No amount of ice could keep some of them away.  They come to build, program, design, and test.  They come to learn about engineering, physics, public relations, and team work.  But mostly they come for one thing:  Robots.

Then the texts start.  They're really meant to reassure me.  He knows I'm a momma bear and I worry.  But also because he's proud of her.  And he's proud of himself for raising her.  She's building a rig, he tells me.  She's using power tools, suggesting design ideas.  He's mentoring other students and sharing his knowledge.  He often finds himself in awe of what some of them are already able to do at only seventeen years old.  He's enjoying these rare moments of spending time with his teenage daughter.  She was just a little girl a few seconds ago and now she's holding her own as part of a robotics team.  He's creating memories for her to pack along with her college supplies next year.  He's building a foundation of confidence and experience, giving her a launch site for what we know will be an incredible journey into adulthood.  He's teaching her to choose to spend time with people who respect her and to settle for nothing less.

Jill with last year's robot.
This year's is under wraps.
I'm grateful they have this to share.  Fathers and daughters don't often find common ground at this stage.  Robotics has given them something that belongs to them.  This team has given them something they can belong to together.  I'm grateful he is willing to step outside of his quiet comfort zone and get involved.  I'm thrilled to watch her bravely walk into a shop filled with tools and computers and all things "manly".  She gains confidence from the other women and girls in the shop.  Together, they chip away at stereotypes.

The end result of their intense six weeks of building a robot really isn't important.  (Although they will disagree.)  Whatever the team builds will be incredible.  Last year's team gave them an award winning robot to inspire them toward greatness again this year.  Competition season will add a new dimension to the team and to their relationship.

The National Weather Service extends the ice warning.  Fog rolls in.  I watch the GPS app again as they make their way up the icy roads.  They come in smiling, tired.  And they continue to speak in a language I don't understand.  It's theirs.  And I'm glad they share it.