Saturday, December 31, 2011

Just for Fun - Interview with Author Monica O'Brien

I recently came across this new author, Monica O'Brien.  She has just completed her first novel, Silver Smoke.  As some of you know, I am a avid reader and a lover of entertaining book series.  Check out the interview that I conducted with Monica below.  And at the bottom of this blog, you'll find a link to Monica's web site which tells you how to take part in a contest she is running, in celebration of her new novel.

What is your all-time favorite “classic” book?

I really love Emma by Jane Austen. I think I saw the movie first, with Gwyneth Paltrow, then read the book. It was my first Jane Austen book. I moved on to the other greats, like Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion.

How did you come up with your novel’s character’s names?

Well, I just thought about how celebrities always give their kids dumb names like Apple (I just referenced Gwyneth twice in this interview) and then copied that idea. Pilot's name just came to me out of thin air (no pun intended). Then came Breeze, which was later changed to Brie because Pilot and Breeze is just too comical. So then I decided that Brie is short for Gabriella and that her mother named her after one of the archangels, Gabrielle. And Rykken is a derived from the word reich, which is German for rich empire or kingdom.
Were you an avid reader or a creative writer (or both) as a kid?

I read 2 to 3 books a day when I was between 7 and 13 years old. I'm assuming I didn't have a ton of friends or a social life! I did write a couple stories but nothing of substance until I wrote this novel.
What is your favorite “beach read?”

I like the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries. I won't typically keep up with her series as the books come out, but when I'm on vacation in Mexico I'll bring two or three of her novels with me to read on the beach.
Who would play Brie in the movie adaptation of Silver Smoke?
Well, I have my eye on Vanessa Hudgens--but let me explain! Brie is one of those characters that just has a sparkle about her. She's popular and people look up to her and she doesn't know why, and she doesn't really care or notice because it's been like that her whole life. She hasn't done anything to earn that--she's not talented, and she's not particularly nice, and she's not always easy to like. I would equate her with the popular girl at school who isn't a bully, isn't outwardly mean but also isn't outwardly friendly, doesn't actually do anything of note, but manages to steal attention because there is just something about her, that X factor, that you can't stop watching. I can see Vanessa Hudgens playing that well, for whatever reason.

Regarding Brie, I should mention that I was not that person at all in high school! I knew a lot of girls like her though, and I found myself wanting to be accepted by those girls even though I couldn't come up with any logical reason I should be friends with them. They were the girls you hated mostly because you were jealous. Brie's fairly vacant and glassy-eyed at the beginning of the book, but eventually you see what really motivates her and she becomes more of a human being by the end.
What is the first step to getting a novel published?

Deciding whether you want to go the traditional route or do things on your own. There are advantages to both. I think a lot of people would say that the first step is to write the novel. You honestly can't get a sense of whether the novel will generate any interest until you write it. There are so many factors to consider.
What has been your favorite Halloween costume (as an adult and as a kid?)

I've always wanted to be Snow White, but for some reason I never did it! I guess my favorite costume is from when I was a kid. I had waited until the last minute to make something, so I found this huge box and wrapped it in birthday wrapping. I cut out two holes for my arms and went as a present. It was pretty tough to navigate in that thing.
To celebrate the release of a new novel to the Seven Halos series, Monica is doing a Kindle Fire giveaway for Silver Smoke, the first novel in the series! 
Check out the contest details here and enjoy this very informative web site.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Toddler Advice - A Fun Food Idea

I am constantly trying to come up with new snack ideas, new lunch ideas, new dinner ideas, ETC for my picky and very vocal son.

One of his favorite lunch side dishes is Ants on a Log.  I recently made Ants on a Log for a play date and my friend had never heard of this delicious snack!  And she certainly had not heard of my invention - Ants on a SNOW COVERED log!

Ants on a Log are celery sticks, with peanut butter and raisins on top.  And Ants on a Snow Covered Log are celery sticks with cream cheese and ants on top.  They are both a sure-fire way to get your kids to eat a vegetable.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Just for Fun - Rainy Day Activities Part IV

I am loving this time of year because the weather has been glorious.  And by glorious, I mean unseasonably warm!  My family and I have not had many 'rainy day activities' lately.  We have been at the botanical gardens, the apple orchard and the pumpkin patch.  

My son and I both obsess over Halloween (he chooses his costume 9-10  months before October).  So currently, we are in preparation for the big day.  Over the weekend, we went to the Halloween store (the one that just opens up for the month), decorated our house with all the spooky decor that I bought the day after Halloween LAST year AND we even made pumpkin bars. 

Whether it is raining where you are or not, this is an easy and delicious recipe.  I took it from my Parish's web site, so you know it is a classic.  It is listed amongst chicken salad and potato casserole recipes.  Comfort food!

(11 x 15 pan)
Spray or grease a jelly roll pan.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together:
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs

Add and stir together:
1-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp soda
1 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 tsp cinnamon 
Add 1 (16 oz) can of pumpkin.  Stir until well combined.

Bake 25-30 minutes @ 350 degrees. Let cool.

Mix together 3 oz softened cream cheese and 3/4 cup butter.  
Add 1/2 tsp vanilla.    
Add 3 cups sifted powdered sugar.  
Mix with beaters until smooth.  
Spread on cooled bars.

Enjoy and happy fall!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Preschooler Advice - When You Need to Start Disciplining

I just received a need for help with a 3-year old boy.  My friend said that her son has always been very physical (likes to rough house, etc) and when frustrated or mad, tends to hit, flail or even bite.  She and her husband used to ignore the behavior and just redirect, but that has stopped working. 

I specifically remember when, around 3, my son started hitting me when he would get frustrated.  Kids at that age have such emotions, and are starting to process so much, but they don’t know how to express themselves yet.  And they certainly can’t reason through the problem. 

My first suggestion was that she should no longer ignore the behavior.  A 3-year old needs to learn that hitting is not OK, and therefore some mild, but firm discipline is in order.  And secondly, never retaliate.  Never spank, pat or even playfully hit back.  This just shows your child that his role model hits as a solution.  So you hit your kid, he hits his baby sister.  Or worse, a kid at school!

There are 2 phrases I learned from our wonderful preschool director. (They are cheesy and sooo not me, but they work!)

1. Find my eyes and
2. Use your words. 

Over time, these phrases will really help you nip any inappropriate behavior.  And will also help when teaching appropriate behavior and manners.

Let's say you tell your son to do something and instead he hits you.  You need a special (stern, calm and not loud) voice, and you need to make eye contact and so does he.  "MAX,” pause, pause, wait for him to look at you.  If he doesn't, say his name again.  Kids have a hard time hearing you/concentrating when they are doing something else, or caught up in aggression, so if you say their name and pause, often, they WILL look up.  That little pause can do wonders.  If he doesn't look up after a couple of tries, say, "Max, find my eyes please."  And don't say anything until he does.  Once he looks up, give him one command (“we do NOT HIT.”  OR “it’s time to come to the dinner table.”)

And now that my son is almost five, I use this phrase a lot because we are teaching him manners - when we recently ran into a family friend at Whole Foods and she was asking William questions and he started answering towards the bottom of the cart.  Or every morning when he is dropped off at school, I whisper in his ear, "remember, find Mrs. Smith's eyes and say good morning."

Anyway, once he has found your eyes, you continue in your stern voice "WE DO NOT HIT."  Now that might be enough, you decide.  Or maybe you say that hitting hurts people and he needs to please use his words instead.  If not, or if he throws a tantrum, I have found counting to be MAGIC.  In fact, there is a book called something like 1, 2, 3 Magic. 

You would say, in your stern, but not loud voice, "Max, you need to calm down, not hit, whatever, or I am going to count."  And then I repeat it "Max, if you don't stop hitting, I am going to count to 3."  (The first time I just say I am going to count, then the second time I say "to three."  Then, if he doesn't calm down, you say "Max, I am going to count to 3, if you don't stop hitting by the time I get to 3, you will have a timeout."  Or have to go to your room, etc.  And our MOST DRASTIC, is taking away books at bedtime. 

Then, you must immediately start counting.  Don't ever threaten to count, and then keep threatening it.  DO IT.  And I would say 95% of the time (still), my son stops what he is doing before I get to four (I count to four now since he is four.) 

Then, you thank him and redirect him.  "Thank you for not hitting, let's go color."  OR, “thank you for brushing your teeth, let’s go put our PJ’s on and pick out some books!”  And you'll have to do this a million times before it sinks in.

And if you DO get to 3, and you want to do a timeout, it has to always be in the same spot.  I would pull a chair over to a corner of the kitchen and tell him he has to sit there for 3 minutes, and then set the microwave timer.  The key is that there is no talking during timeout.  So if he tries to talk to you, ask if it’s over, etc. say "no talking during timeout" ONE time, and never say anything else to him.  If he gets up, you walk over, put him back, and then go back into the kitchen and continue to fake organize the pantry, or in other words, stay close to him so you know if he is doing the timeout, but look busy so he doesn't bother you.  Be a robot during timeout.

This all might sound crazy to you, or too stern, but trust me, NIP ALL THIS NOW.  Discipline gets sooo much harder as they start to reason, manipulate, play with other kids, etc.  Get rules in place so he knows you are the boss.  And just figure out what works for you.  If he doesn't care that you put him in a timeout, then take away books at bedtime.  All of this will be painful on both of you at first, but eventually, it works!  Just remember, you are doing your child a disservice by not giving him structure, routine and rules.  Mild discipline is a GOOD THING.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Just for Fun - Rainy Day Activities Part III

This project was something that my son actually did at preschool and then they sent the directions home in each child's backpack.  We tried it out recently and it was EASY as can be, quick from start to finish, and so much fun (for both of us!)


What you'll need:

white bread
4 juice cups
food coloring
a new paintbrush

Pour about 1/4 cup milk into each juice cup.
Add 5-10 drops of food coloring to each cup of milk and mix well (to make 4 very bright colors.)
Decorate white bread with rainbows, letters, polka dots, etc.
Lightly toast bread.
Butter Toast.
Eat your creation!

Mixing the milk (the 4th color we made was green.)

The final creation below (mom got into it too!)

Have fun and email me photos of YOUR Rainbow Toast!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Just for Fun - Rainy Day Activities Part II


My son and I actually did this project on an unbearably hot day this summer.  I found it on, which is a TERRIFIC resource for fun and easy craft ideas.


Cereal box
One piece of felt or construction paper
Food coloring
Pinwheel pasta (O game pieces)
Farfalle Pasta (X game pieces)

  1. Mix 2-3 drops of two different food coloring colors in two separate bowls, with ¼ cup water each.  Add Pinwheel pasta to one and Farfalle pasta to the other (about 6-10 piece of each.)  Let them soak for 20 minutes.
  2. Cut the back of a cereal box (use the entire rectangle, then recycle the rest of the box.)  Glue a piece of felt or construction paper to the piece of cereal box.
  3. Glue spaghetti to felt or construction paper, in the shape of a tic-tac-toe board.
  4. Let Pinwheel and Farfalle dry on a paper towel for several hours after soaking is complete.
Good luck and have fun!

Email me photos of any of your projects and I’ll post them here! 
Christina’s email:

Monday, August 29, 2011

Just for Fun - Rainy Day Activities Part I

Rain or shine, sun or snow, I feel like on most days, I am trying to think of activities for my preschooler.  We usually do something out of the house in the morning and he has "quiet time" in the afternoon, but there are still lots of pockets of time to fill - after breakfast, and before dinner, for example.  We play board games, watch PBS shows and play tic-tac-toe, but some days, it isn't enough!

This "Just for Fun" blog will be devoted to a fun activity that you and your kid(s) can do around your house, and you should have all the equipment that you need.

Today, my son and I made a book (sort of.)  I found a white binder I hadn't used since I attended meetings oh so long ago.  I took computer paper and three-hole punched a bunch of pieces.  Our book was called "Anything Alphabet."  My son is obsessed with the alphabet and writing words and "Anything Alphabet" is a game we usually play on his Doodle-Pro.  I always wish that we could save his Doodle-Pro pictures, so this was a perfect solution. 

The first page was a title page that I made and slipped into the front of the binder.  Then, we went through each letter and he picked a word (sometimes I helped to think of a good one) and then he drew the word and the picture.  He also did a "The End" page where we wrote the entire alphabet with his name.
My plan is to continue making "books" and adding them to this binder.  His other favorite game (that he created) is called "Stinky Alphabet."  I think we will do that next.  I can't imagine what pictures he will draw!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Toddler Advice - Getting Your Child to Eat "Growing Foods"

Almost every mom has stressed about getting their child to eat certain foods.  I have a friend whose daughter loves vegetables, but won’t eat fruit!  My son has always loved fruit, but for the longest time, would not eat most veggies and never chicken or beef. 

I talk to a lot of my mom friends when I have a dilemma.  For this issue, I asked all the moms I know to give me good ideas that worked for them.  How do you get your child to eat those dreaded “growing foods?”

  1. Use toothpicks – stack 3 things on a toothpick.  For example, cut up small squares of tortilla, then put a small piece of ham, and then a square of cheese.  Stick a toothpick in it and call it “Tortilla Squares.”
  2. Mini wraps – wrap a square of cheese around an asparagus tip.  Also works with a piece of deli meat.
  3. Ketchup – make a smiley face out of ketchup on child’s plate.  My son loves tilapia with ketchup.  Whatever works!
  4. Smoothies – put frozen veggies in the blender with your favorite smoothie ingredients (frozen yogurt, fresh or frozen strawberries and a banana.)  You really can’t taste the veggies!
  5. Cookie cutters – my son loves when ne make “moon sandwiches.”  I cut the bread and the cheese in a crescent moon shape and then add some ham or turkey.
  6. Don’t ever say your child can have a treat if they eat their veggies (or any growing food.)  BUT, if he wants a second piece of cheese, bread, etc, then tell him he has to eat two bites of broccoli first.
  7. Once in a while, have “same color meals.”  Make omelets with pineapple and yellow squash as your sides.
  8. If you hide pureed veggies in your Sloppy Joes (a la Jessica Seinfeld), make sure to also put a side of the veggie on your child’s plate. 

The tips above easy and fun ideas for you to try.  But the most important tips I can give you, now that my 4 ½ year old eats almost anything (after being INCREDIBLY picky for 2 years or so,) is, don’t give up.  It is true that if your child sees it enough times, they will try it.  And give them plenty of variety every night.  And make sure they see you eating it.  AND, it is OK if they go without dinner a few times a week until they learn that they get what they get and if they don’t eat it, they’ll go hungry!

Do you have a great tip that worked for you?  Let me know and I will add it to this post!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Just for Fun - My Summer Reading List 2011

I am in a great book club that reads a lot of thought provoking books.  In addition to the book club book, I read 2-3 others a month.  I love getting suggestions from friends, and even more, I love giving suggestions of good books to read.  I enjoy reading historical fiction and memoirs, but also the occasional "beach read" which means it is easy and fast.

Whether you are an avid reader, or just need to find a book for your summer vaca, here are my suggestions.
My All-Time Faves:
Memoirs of a Geisha
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Cutting for Stone
Outlander (8-book series)
The Help
Water for Elephants
The Forbidden Garden

Angela's Ashes
The Glass Castle
Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust

Historical Fiction:
The Paris Wife
The Other Boleyn Girl
The Apothecary's Daughter
Girl with the Pearl Earring

House Rules
The Hours
White Oleander

Wives and Daughters
The Beautiful and Damned
A Moveable Feast
Animal Farm

Just for Fun:
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
Secret Life of Bees
Bridget Jones' Diary
Valley of the Dolls
Hunger Games (3-book series)
Twilight (4-book series)
Harry Potter (7-book series)
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (3-book series)
Any Chelsea Handler book

All the Fun Books I Hope to Read this Summer:
Stories I only Tell my Friends
Lies Chelsea Handler Told Me
Place of Yes

Do you have a suggestion for me?  Please let me know, I love a good book! 
Happy Summer Reading!!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Family Advice - Nutrition: Going Organic & All-Natural, Make Small Changes!

I recently visited my friend Sara who is UBER healthy.  She makes every effort to eat organic, well-balanced meals, and she shops "local" as often as possible.  Every time I see her, I roll my eyes at her obsession with food (she eats figs dipped in almond butter for breakfast!)  But once I get home, and process (ie weed out) her suggestions, I always take a few of them to heart.

I am an "everything in moderation" mom.  I try my hardest not to buy anything with hydrogenated oil (a chemically processed fat source) or high fructose corn syrup (a hidden form of sugar derived from corn, found in MANY products).  I buy organic for some things, and I limit my son's intake of sugar.  But I also realize that he will always get that sucker open from the hairdresser before I can stop him.  And if he goes to a birthday party and has grocery store birthday cake, that's OK, because it has to be.  I certainly can't tell him he can't eat cake with his friends.  And other parents might snub me if I brought a healthy alternative for him!  

I decided that I would share a few things I have learned from Sara, as well as what I have learned after reading up on " going organic," plus suggest small things you can do to better your family's daily nutrition.  And I'll conclude with my grocery store adventures.  I go to 3-4 different stores a week!

First, are you overwhelmed by the thought of "going organic?"  I still fret at the price of organic produce!  Never fear, it is better (for your sanity) to do it gradually anyway.  Here are the top suggestions on what to buy organic next time you are at Whole Paycheck... I mean Whole Foods.  Google any of the things listed below for a more detailed explanation.

1. These fruits and veggies are believed to have the highest level of pesticides - apples, grapes, pears, strawberries, nectarines, peaches, cherries, spinach, celery, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and leafy greens.
2. Raisins, Ketchup & Peanut Butter - raisins should be thought of as just like grapes, organic ketchup has much higher levels of antioxidants and the peanut starts as a flower which can often have mold on it, which is treated with a fungiside.
3. Milk - most adults drink small servings of milk, but families are switching to organic because they worry about their kids having future effects from the antibiotics, artificial hormones and pesticides used in the commercial dairy industry.
4. Meat - after watching Food, Inc. (LOVED it, please watch it!) I now buy only grass-fed, hormone free beef and air-chilled, hormone free chicken.
5. Coffee - many of our coffee beans are produced in countries that have not yet begun to regulate use of pesticides.

What about "all-natural?"  This is the first thing I did alter once my son was born.  I buy Annie's Cheddar Bunnies instead of Goldfish, for example.  Read labels!  Stay away from anything with hydrogenated oil or corn byproducts.  Unfortunately, there are a ton of different names for corn byproducts.  The two most common I have seen are high fructose corn syrup which is a sweetener and xanthan gum which keeps a product's ingredients from separating (like salad dressing.)  Others include corn syrup, cornstarch, glucose and dextrose.  Why do you need HFCS in Heinz ketchup?  Surely when Heinz was invented in 1876, it was "all-natural."  Have you noticed the NEW product, called "Simply Heinz?"  It is Heinz ketchup without HFCS.  Manufacturers ARE listening to us! 

Another thing to keep in your back pocket is “fresh is always better.”  Cut up an apple for a snack rather than a fruit roll-up.  Put out organic mini carrots with “dipping sauce” which can be homemade hummus or quick and easy “ranch.”  (see very bottom of this article for EASY hummus recipe.)

And finally, what are some easy things you can do in your kitchen to cook and bake healthier?

1. Use olive oil - if a recipe calls for butter or vegetable oil, use olive oil instead
2. Use coconut oil - this is a great substitute for butter.  Whether in baking, on toast, or added to your oatmeal, coconut oil is a "god fat."  It comes in a jar, hard as a rock, so skim some off with a spoon and microwave to liquid form, then measure.
3. Use honey - cut the sugar in your cookie recipe in half and use sugar.  OR, if you are Sara, take out the sugar completely and use only honey.
4. Eat almond butter over peanut butter - almonds are a much better fat source than peanuts.  If you can't give up your PB, make sure you buy all-natural or organic.  The Reduced Fat PB has high-fructose corn syrup and the peanut flowers were probably treated with pesticides.
5. Find great web sites with easy, kid-friendly, healthy meals like, my personal favorite!

You want to live as long as possible.  You want to instill good eating habits in your kids.  And raising good, healthy children is your most important job in life.  So if it takes a little longer to find healthy recipes, or if it costs a little extra money to eat organic or all-natural foods, do it.  Or start to do it.

And if want to keep reading, listed below are the grocery stores I shop at and some of the healthy items I buy (as cheap as possible!)  The last two are local to Omaha, my current hometown.

Trader Joe’s – I get a lot of my son's treats there (I think it is important for him to not feel deprived at home and therefore want to binge on treats at a friend’s house.)  We get the all-natural vanilla cookies there and the all-natural graham crackers.  I also like their Mac-N-Cheese (more flavorful than the Annie’s that he used to eat.  And CHEAPER.)  I also get the chicken nuggets and tilapia fish nuggets there.  He LOVES all the typical kid food, so I try and do it in moderation and buy healthy brands.  My husband and I love the hummus and kettle corn from Trader Joe’s.  And the Irish steel cut oats are sooo cheap.  I do read labels at Trader Joe's, after seeing that their salad dressing contained Xanthan gum.

Whole Foods – this is sooo pricey!  But I love the fresh meats and chickens, plus I get the organic hot dogs there with whole wheat buns.  And I am personally obsessed with their chicken salad but that is exorbitant, so that is once in a while.  I get the 365 Peanut Butter and 365 Raisins there too.  Some things ARE cheaper there like quinoa, raw nuts and organic yogurt.

Target – I think the only thing we get there is the Annies Natural Cheddar Bunnies (a substitute for Goldfish.)

Wal-Mart – believe it or not!!  They have GREAT prices on organic cereals, yogurts (Yo Baby for example) and the Elmo cookies are super cheap (in baby aisle.)  I also get our jam there (it is the 100% fruit kind by Polaner.)  I also get 100% Maple Syrup there.  They also have Amy’s Frozen foods (veggie lasagna is good.)
Hy-Vee – I get my son's apple juice there.  Hy-Vee is the only place that has a large-sized jug of “Not from Concentrate” AJ.  It is made by Musselman’s.  Even Whole Foods 365 is from concentrate.  I also like a few of the products in the Health Market by Amy’s and Annie’s.  We also love the Indian Curry Sauce (Patak’s is the brand.)  We get the Smart Chicken there and the white turkey made by Honeysuckle.  After watching Food, Inc. (which I was surprised that I LOVED) I have become crazy about what meats/chicken/fish to buy.  
Wohlner’s – this is in Aksarben and is family owned.  We love their bread, bagels and AMAZING frozen pitas.  But I get all our lunch meat there because there are no nitrates in the brand that they carry (Boar’s Head.)  Broadmoor in Countryside also has Boar’s Head, but it is more $$.  Wohlner’s also has fish flown in every day.
Easy Hummus:
Combine the following in a blender or food processor-
chick peas/garbonzo beans (1 can, rinsed and drained)
tahini (2 tbsp)
EVOO (3 tbsp)
garlic (2-3 cloves)
lemon juice from half a lemon

Monday, February 21, 2011

Preschooler Advice - Learning to Count, Write, Spell, Read, ETC.

Every preschool director will tell that the key to getting 3 and 4-year olds to learn is through play.  Many preschools set up learning centers around the room.  You’ll walk in and see a kitchen, a reading area, maybe a dress-up area, an art easel and a sensory table.  And believe it or not, all of these centers are helping to teach your child how to do fundamental, but beginner things like counting, sorting and reading.

So what can you do at home to supplement what’s going on 2-3 mornings a week for 3 hours a morning?  Make it fun, never call it work and don’t force it if the time isn’t right.  I am using “learning to count” as an example below, but these ideas can apply to anything you want to practice with your kids.

Choose something your child loves and thrives at.  For example, if she loves puzzles, get her one with numbers and then sit on the floor and do it with her.  Count out the number puzzle pieces as she puts them in the slots.  Or does she like to sing and dance?  Buy a CD with counting or just play background music and make up counting songs.  Maybe you say "ONE alligator!" and then she yells "TWO lions" and you name it the Animal Counting Game.

With my son, he brought us his tubby numbers (the foam letters that stick on the bath tub wall) and
asked us to show him how to draw them.  We had his easel in the dining room at the time and we just did it a million times a day.  And his other love is books so we would count with number books.  He also loves workbooks so I have bought tons at various stores including Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens and The Dollar store.

The other key is you'll need some one-on-one time with her, but don't tell her "now we're going to work on numbers."  Just make it play time like any other day.  Or while your cooking dinner, ask her to hang out with you in the kitchen and do a sing-song game.  We also do this a lot after dinner as well.  My son loves to play on our bed and the latest thing he is into is rhyming, so we play "Rhyme Time."  He says "bed, fed."  Then I say "dog, frog."  We used to play a number game, then an “Animal Alphabet” game we made up, and now it is a LITTLE more advanced with rhyming.

And when you’re child starts to show an interest in reading, buy the BOB Books, and ask me for more advice!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Toddler Advice - Bedtime Tantrums, Make it Stop!

I just received this question from a dad via email, and figured I would share it here.  I am sure LOTS of parents out there can relate!
Hey Mommy Wisdom, do you have experience with bedtime tantrums? Sure, what parent doesn’t, right? Just wondering if you had any secrets. My almost 15-month old daughter can be a lot of fun during the day but is so damn stubborn at night - she sleeps through the night most of the time, but getting her down is the tough part. We’ll start around 8pm, she will scream and we go back in with the unfinished bottle once or twice, then she’ll finally give up at like 9:30. I am more into letting her cry it out, but one of us always ends up going back into her room wondering - is she still hungry, does she have to poop, is a new tooth coming in...?  One other thing that I’ll mention is she has just recently gone from 2 naps to 1.
Where do I begin?  I have so much to say!  Going from 2 naps to 1 is hell and would definitely cause upheaval.  I remember my son eliminated his morning nap very gradually, but it started at 14 months.  He didn’t totally give up his morning nap until about 17-18 months.  And even then, if in the car around 12:30pm, he would fall asleep.  He gave up naps altogether a year ago at the age of 3.5, it also took 6 months, and still, if he is in the car at 4:30pm, he’ll fall asleep!!!
I wouldn’t go back to 2 naps, but you could do it gradually.  Like give her a morning nap 3 days a week depending on mom’s schedule and your daughter’s mood.  OR, you could skip morning nap completely, but do her afternoon nap earlier.  For example, if your ideal afternoon nap starts at 1pm, for one week, have her go down at 11am (know that the time from nap wake up and bed will be hell).  Then, the next week, 11:30, then the next week 12, etc, until she is napping at 1pm without being overly tired at lunch time. 
Sooo, even though we probably know the cause of the bed time tantrums, that doesn’t mean they should be happening or you should be playing into them.  Now here is where the tough love comes in.  SHE’S NOT A BABY ANYMORE!  It doesn’t matter if she has a poopy diaper, is hungry or has a tooth coming in.  All these things will happen periodically and she’ll survive until morning!  Or she should at least be able to fall asleep with those things.  If she gets up in the night, that is when I would wonder about those things.  Just wait, she will be going to bed hungry a lot once she is a picky pre-schooler!
Bedtime is bedtime, let her cry it out!  And when I say that, I don’t mean that you totally ignore her crying for two hours.  Not yet anyway!  If it were me, I would go in every 10-15 minutes, not pick her up, and say the same exact thing every time.  “Isabella, it is bed time.  You need to go to sleep now.  Mommy/Daddy is going to leave now, I want you to get your rest.  I love you (pat, pat the back.)  Goodnight.”  And do that every 15 minutes until she falls asleep (and say it before she goes down that first time too). 
And if you do it for an hour plus, and she gets MORE agitated, then it isn’t working, and I would spread out the amount of time in between each of your visits (maybe let her cry for 20-30 minutes.)  And if that doesn’t work, then I would let her cry it out until she falls asleep and not go in at all.  My pediatrician would tell you to do this from the get go – he told me that when his daughter was about 2, she would cry to him from her crib and actually said something like “daddy, why don’t you love me.”  And he wouldn’t go in at all!! 
She CAN manipulate at this age.  And so try and tell yourself that by hugging her, feeding her, etc. you are doing her a disservice – this helped me a lot when I was in a similar situation with my son.  She needs to learn to self-soothe because this will go on (or come and go) FOREVER.  I just went through a phase with my son who is 4.  He would come into our room several nights a week to give us an update on things – like tell us he was going to go the bathroom.  OR, he would even come in just because “he loves us so much.”  Talk about manipulation!!!!! 
And the last thing I’ll mention, and this is my opinion of course, but based on experience, 8pm is too late for her bedtime.  Now if 8pm is the only option because of your work schedule, then you’ll just have to power through this until she gets used to her days with just one nap. 
Even when my son was taking 2 naps a day, he went to bed BY 7pm.  Of course, he has always been an early riser, but still, I think under 2 should be in bed at 7, 7:30pm at the latest.  She is obviously over tired from not taking 2 naps – which is fine.  It will just be that way until she gets used to it, which could take 3-6 months.  But another option, if all the above ideas fail, you could try an earlier bed time for a week and see if her tantrums subside. 
Just remember, every phase is very, very gradual.  She will get used to her new routine, don't expect any of these ideas to work over night.  BUT, also, keep in mind that your CHILD is no longer a baby, she is a little evil genius!!!  So, buck up, and show her some tough love.  She’ll thank you for it some day!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Toddler Advice - Coming into your room at night!

A mom of a 2.5 year old boy recently came to me with a dilemma, one I had experienced with my own son.  Her child comes into her room every night around 2 or 3 in the morning, wanting to snuggle with her for a few minutes.  He falls back asleep right away, then she takes him back to his bed, and he sleeps through the rest of the night.  BUT, she doesn’t.  The act of taking him back to his room keeps her up for a couple of hours.  She wanted advice on how to get him to STAY in his bed from the get go.  Here is my reply to her.

I have been here from time to time with my son, and as someone who needs a lot of sleep, it can be miserable!  Here are your four options to deal with this dilemma.  Using a lock or gate, a sticker chart, a special goodnight clock or having a rational conversation with your child.  I think that using a gate or lock is premature at this point.  It could definitely come to that, but at this point, it would confuse him and possibly upset him since it IS kind of a punishment.  And right now, you are welcoming him into your bed for the snuggle, so he wouldn’t understand the lock/gate.  And therefore it wouldn’t work.  I also think the sticker chart and clock could work for him, but I think the first thing to try is the rational conversation.

Here are the steps to take:

  1. Since you and your husband both take part in bedtime, you each need to do this every night at the end of your bedtime routine.  You say the exact same thing to him, every night – “Max, you have been coming into mommy’s bed in the middle of the night.  But it is very important for Max to sleep in his bed, and mommy to sleep in her bed.  We both get very tired when you wake up in the night.  So tonight, I want you to try your hardest to stay in your own bed.”  (side note – I do think leaving the door open with the bathroom light on might help this too.)  And that’s all you say before kissing him goodnight and leaving.
  2. Then, he will probably still come into your room at the same time (2 or 3am).  You must immediately say similar words.  “Max, remember what mommy said?  It is important for you to sleep in your bed and mommy to sleep in her bed.  We both get very tired when you wake up in the night.  Let’s go back to your bed now and I’ll give you a BIG hug and tuck you in.”  Then you do that, WITHOUT letting him into your bed.  And he might come right back in, and he might do it again and again for two hours.  But you MUST stand your ground.  And I would do this for two weeks.  You have to break this current routine with him with this middle of the night snuggle, and now it is all about setting a new routine for him.  You’ll be exhausted and crabby, but better to break the habit now!
  3. If that doesn’t work, I would move on to the sticker chart.  He is a little young for it, but you can try, if the above fails.  Buy an 11x14 piece of brightly colored poster board and then draw in colorful markers at the top “Max’s Sticker Chart.”  (it is horizontal.)  Then, you make about four rows with a ruler that will be about three inches tall.  And you buy about three different packs of kiddy stickers.  And you tape the poster board to the outside of his door, at his eye level.  Make sure to keep the stickers out of his reach, but always in the same place.  And you put one sticker on it, in row one.  And you tell him that this is his very special sticker chart.  And every time he stays in his bed from bed time until morning, he gets one sticker.  And if he can get 5 stickers (or 3 or 7, whatever you want), he gets a NEW book!!!  And you have a supply of books hidden and he gets to pick one from a special drawer or wherever.
  4. And if he messes up, and comes into your room, say the same words you have been saying every time he comes into your room.  Then, the next morning, you take him to the chart and explain that you are starting a new row b/c he came into your room.  Maybe he already has three stickers in row one, then you put a new sticker on a new row, and explain he is starting over with his goal of getting a NEW book (or a new toy, whatever you think will motivate him.)
  5. You could also do the goodnight clock in conjunction with the sticker chart.  Tell him that if he comes into your room before “sunny bunny” is up, he won’t get a sticker.  I think that this clock is better suited for a child of about the age of three, but this process could take that long!  You know your child best and probably know if the clock and sticker chart would be effective or maybe too overwhelming.
Goodnight clock that we use, and we call the bunny “Sunny Bunny.”

Remember, kids love routine.  Sometimes, they create or add something to their routine that us parents don’t want.  It is our job to alter their routine so we all can have the best possible day.  Kids need to eat right and SLEEP WELL!  Sometimes, this means being a little stricter than is in our nature.  But just keep in mind that kids look to their parents for this stability.

Good luck and let me know what works for you and Max!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Funny Kid Stories - Just for Fun!

Kids say the DARNEDEST things!  Here are just a few that you shared with me.  Keep them coming and I'll add them to this post!

Lily (6) began selling Girl Scout Cookies today and I asked David (4) if he was going to buy a box from her.  He promptly responded "Nope, I can't afford it."
While driving in the car one morning, out of the blue, my 4-year old son said “Mom, how do GIRLS pee?”

Another day, he said "Mom, if a Portuguese Man-o-War (type of jellyfish) stung a vampire, would the vampire die?"

I was just telling funny kid stories with my coworkers, and one told me a really good one! When her daughter was 3, their cat died so she and her husband told little Anna that the kitty was in Heaven now. Anna looked at them and said "what would Jesus want with a dead cat?"
I just asked my son what he wanted for Christmas.
Son: "A bird."
Me: "A bird....why a bird?"
Son: "Cuz I've never had a bird before."
Me: "Huh." 
My son Jack had a substitute teacher last week for kindergarten.  Before school that day, I told Jack that his substitute teacher was one of my teachers in high school.  He got to school and told Mrs. G that Amy B… is his mom and she told him that she was my English teacher in high school.  That night, Jack asked me if I spoke Spanish before Dad and I got married.  Why else would I need an English teacher?
Here is the conversation that my son and I had on the home from school.
David: "DANG IT!"
Me: "David, little kids shouldn't say dang it."
David: "I'm really mad cuz I forgot my gloves at school"
Me: "You should say 'Oh,no....or I'm mad' instead of dang it."
David: (after thinking a bit) "Nope, I have to say dang it.....those other words don't sound mad enough."
I have two stories.  The funny thing is that they are not from my own children.  

Nanny Mom (Ruth) and I took my nanny kid (Caitlin) to get her hair cut for the first time.  She had really curly hair so an official cut was not necessary until she was close to three.  She sat through the entire hair cutting appointment silent and smiling as if something amazing was going to happen to her appearance.  I was shocked because she was so opinionated and dramatic about certain things but she completely surprised me on said visit.  After the stylist was done doing her "thing", Caitlin welled up with tears which surprised us all.  When Nanny Mom (Ruth) asked her what was wrong she said, "I wanted my hair cut LONG like Nanny MoMo's!"

I used to care for these kids in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.  One of the kids was a boy named Griffin.  He was the oldest at four years old.  He eventually had a brother named Graham and a sister named Avery.  This story is about Griffin.  The family I babysat for (every weekend) had a lawn like a putting green and a fantastic view of the Pacific Ocean.  Dr. Nanny Family was an avid golfer so he made his lawn a place of relaxation.  The eldest son, Griffin, took a liking to golf and spent a lot of time on the lawn paying golf.  When you said the phrase' keep your eye on the ball' he would lean down and put his actual eye on the actual golf ball.  It was complete innocence of instruction.
I just said to Anna, "I'm hungry for breakfast."  Her reply, "I'm not hungry, I'm just beautiful."
My 3-year old came into my room at about 5:47am, asking for macaroni for breakfast.  I told him we eat macaroni for dinner.  There was a 2 second pause and then he asked if we could go downstairs and eat dinner. 

I came home from work and my son had put two of his Thomas Trains in time out.  He slid the chair over to the nook where he serves his timeouts and had made my husband set the timer.

My almost 4-year old ran into the room where I was, and very urgently said "mom, can you help me put my tutu on!!"  I was staring at him stumped (and a little worried) and then he said, "you know, my baseball tutu."

"OH, tattoo!"  I said.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Toddler to Big Kid - Help with Potty Training

A friend recently asked me for advice on potty training.  She said that her 18-month old daughter was showing interest in sitting on the potty.  Here is my reply to her inquiry.

WELL, I'll start by saying (just from experience, not to be annoying,) that all kids show interest around this time, but might not be ready. It is great to respond to the interest by having them sit on the potty, explaining the process of going the bathroom on the potty, etc.  But that doesn’t mean you should or need to complete the potty training process yet.

It can be a very, very rough and long process to potty train so I wouldn't WANT to do it early. It means staying home a lot at first and then taking an extra outfit/portable potty seat everywhere you go for weeks or months.

I do know that there IS a big theory about doing it before your child turns two, and there are books about it. The parenting columnist from the Omaha World-Herald is a BIG proponent of this and writes about it regularly. He also doesn't believe in giving rewards.  If that sounds up your alley, go to the bookstore and research this approach.

OK, with that said, if you want to follow my method, keep reading.  I waited until two months before my son’s third birthday.  I was told to try it for 3-5-7 days and if it didn’t work, wait a few weeks and try again.  The last thing you want is to become neurotic about it which will in turn, paralyze your child (figuratively of course.)

I stayed home with him for 3 days (took a day off of work and then the weekend.) I put a cute towel and a cute, kiddy soap dispenser in our powder room. And then I got a big clear jar with a tight lid and put a HUGE bag of M&M's in it. I waited until it was hot out and put him in a short t-shirt and nothing else.  Side note: I had initially put him in a t-shirt and cute underpants, but he didn’t care, or notice when he wet them.  He just asked for a new pair of super cool underpants!

We went on the potty every 15 minutes ( he is a camel, so this was too often for him, so we upped it to 30-60 minutes) and every time he sat on it, he got an M&M. If he went pee, he got 2, and if he went poo, he got 3. Some moms told me they did 1 for pee, 2 for poo and nothing for sitting, but he wouldn't even sit on it.  I should mention that the M&M approach was done after the sticker method didn’t work.  He didn’t want to sit on the potty just for a sticker.

And then he just stayed half-naked all day (inside and out) and the first day was HELL. He peed all over the wood floor multiple times and I cried.  One of my closest friends who is my voice of reason told me to commit to 3 days and if there was no progress, then wait another month and try again. She said I couldn’t give up after LESS than one day!

It was a little better by day 2 and by day 3, he was great. He did have accidents out and about (he peed in the sculpture garden at our local art museum), but they were few and far between. And then I did pull-ups at night for a couple of months, but he only wet them a handful of times, so I stopped after one box. I was very lucky and still am b/c he hardly ever goes during the night.  I never did Pull-Ups during the day.  I had heard that kids think they are like diapers, and then they regress (or just go ahead and go in the Pull-Ups.)  I was willing to risk a few "in-public" accidents to avoid Pull-Ups.

As for number two, that was harder because he is on Miralax and doesn't notice the feeling sometime! But I trained him to go poo in the potty about 1-2 weeks after we had completed the pee-pee training.  I bought him a big toy and put it out of his reach. I then told him he would get it when he went poo in the toilet. And he actually did it while I was at work - for a babysitter!  And that Doodle Pro is still his favorite toy!!!!  We have bought three total because he wears them down from excessive use.

As you can see, my way takes an older child because there is some reasoning involved. But I think no matter what age, the key is to stay home with her or him for at least a couple of days... And relax during the process.  I am not mentioning the time he went number two at Mom’s Day Out, all over his clothes, or the time he went number two in his glider without even noticing.

The other key is that when she sits and tries, you just let her sit for 1-2 minutes. Don't let her sit and read books, etc.  It shouldn’t be a game, a comfortable hangout or excessively fun.

And just remember, it won’t work if the child isn’t ready.  So don’t stress if the deadline in your head passes.  Just try again a week or a month later.  Don’t worry, have you ever seen an 8-year old in diapers?

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Baby - Baby Milestones for the First Six Months

I found this article in the "new baby" packet that I received from my pediatrician.  I really enjoyed reading it as my son grew from newborn to six months of age.  Don't worry if your baby doesn't hit these marks at the month suggested.  Some babies will be ahead with some milestones and behind in others.  Just talk to your pediatrician if there are many on the list that your baby has not done yet.  And always follow your gut.  If you are worried, it doesn't hurt to check in with the experts.

One Month -Two Months

-Responds to sounds and voices by turning head
-Prefers the human face to all other patterns
-Stares intently at faces
-Makes eye contact
-Keeps hands in tight fists
-Brings hands to mouth
-Grips your finger
-Makes eye contact
-Sees objects 8-12 inches away
-Recognizes mom's voice and scent
-Responds to loud sounds with quiet, crying or acting startled
-Smiles or coos when you talk, smile or play
-Recognizes your voice
-Blows bubbles
-Eyes track objects
-Studies hand movements
-Looks for source of sounds
-Stretches legs and kicks while lying down
-Moves head side to side while lying on tummy
-Can hold head up for a few seconds

Three Months - Four Months

-Understands he can capture your attention
-Smiles at the sound of your voice
-Swipes at dangling objects with his hand
-Starts to babble
-Perceives color differences
-Starts using eyes and hands in coordination
-Stops sucking to listen
-Brings hands together
-Sucks on fingers
-Opens and shuts hands
-Holds head steady
-Lifts head 45 degrees while on tummy
-Turns head towards voices
-Makes sounds in response to you
-Might frown at strangers
-Smacks lips
-Laughs when tickled
-Vocalizes to initiate play
-Tracks moving objects
-Grasps rattle with stronger hand muscles
-Rolls over both ways
-Lifts head 90 degrees while on tummy
-May move arms in a swimming motion while on tummy
-Splashes and kicks in bath

Five Month - Six Months

-Shows positive reaction to different sounds
-Smiles spontaneously
-"Talks" to gain attention
-Explores objects by tasting them
-Imitates your facial expressions
-Mimics sounds and gestures
-Repeats strings of syllables
-Babbles to get attention
-Might be able to hold a bottle with both hands
-Reaches out with one hand to trap an object
-Raises chest with arm while lying on tummy
-Sucks toes
-Cries when parents leave the room
-Feeds himself a cracker
-Objects if you take a toy away
-Responds to his name
-Reaches toward a favorite toy
-Says vowel-consonant combinations
-Discovers himself and talks to himself in the mirror
-Places things into mouth
-Compares two objects
-Pivots and creeps on tummy
-Begins teething by drooling
-Bears some weight on legs when held upright