Monday, April 28, 2008

Tuesday Ten: Turn off the television

Tuesday Ten: National Turn Off Your Television Week

We participate. Not because we're hopping on the all-television-is-evil bandwagon, though I've certainly got some concerns about the impact of television and screen time on developing brains. (But we won't go into that beyond mentioning that I was raised without a television at all, and loving husband grew up in front of one. We've reached a workable balance for our family.) We already have screen limits in place, so we aren't trying to make a point. We participate simply because it usually gives us a chance rediscover pastimes, individually and as a family, that may have been neglected in favor of the easier screen choices. And we have fun together.

Ten ways ways to occupy time, Poohsticks style.....

1. Watch insects.

The praying mantises are growing. We did an emergency release into the garden despite the still-chilly weather at the beginning of the week. Apparently praying mantis young are not as cannibalistic as we were led to believe, and we simply had no way to feed them all. So they were let go to fend for themselves.

The remaining mantises are well-fed and housed in middle young gent's bug habitat. They're getting longer and creepier by the day.

2. Play all things to do with knights, castles and swords.
That's pretty much been our week around here, boys running around with swords. I wonder if medieval mothers said wearily, "If I've said it once, I've said it umpteen times: No swords in the kitchen."

3. Ask Mom incessantly, "When is no-screen week over? Is it over tomorrow? Can we watch a movie anyway? How many more days? Can we play on the computer? Why not?"

4. Start a business.First-grade gent tried selling flowers off the front porch a few weeks ago, and the fifty cents or so that he raked in made him hungry for more. He'd mentioned selling worms like the boy in Where the Red Fern Grows, and we've been so busy that I've been putting him off. Sunday he and his brother made signs: "Worms for Sale--25 cents a cup" and "Duck Food 75 cents", picked worms out of the compost while I turned it, and off we went to the park. They sold two cups of duck food and six worm cups. I suspect that the folks fishing were kindly interested in supporting a fine young entrepeneur more than they were really in need of worms, but hey, whatever sells, right? Now I've got to take them to the store to buy Hot Wheels with the $3 they earned.

5. With the leftover product, feed the ducks yourselves.

6. Birdwatch.
Then enter the results at

We saw canada geese, mallards, rock pigeons, crows, a scrub jay, American wigeons, and an American coot. I love the wigeons. They're a dainty little duck, with a narrow head and a cry like a cross between a whistle and a beep.

7. Go to the library.
We spent a lovely forty-five minutes between choir and piano at the library with friends. The library has a beautiful children's courtyard. It's a work of art. The benches and ground are inlaid with beautiful tile, with animal and nature poetry printed in some of the tile. We had a scavenger hunt, searching for riddles and poems and sayings.

8. Learn to ride a bike.

Mommy-guilt: I realized that I had a seven-year-old who didn't know how to ride a bike because I hadn't taught him. Pure laziness on my part. So I geared up for a grueling afternoon of grinning my face off and cheerfully saying, "It's all right, get up and try again!"

I gave a push and he sailed around the yard.

9. Ride bikes all around the neighborhood.

10. Play games, read stories, snuggle, garden, play chase, go for a walk, listen to music. We intended to try each of the activities on the activity list we'd picked up from the library when then boys signed their no-screen pledge. But we were too busy playing to look at the list.

Bonus, #11. What teens do when they're disconnected from their lifeline:
Listen to music.
Talk on the phone. A lot.
Play games with the family.
Invite friends over to draw, play Cranium, talk, goof around. (Then go to a movie.)
Draw and paint.
Read magazines.
Talk to their parents.....maybe we should do this every week. (Just kidding, girls.)

Suck it up, buttercup

I was at the park. My middle gent fell down and got a little tiny scrape. Tears and much wailing and gnashing of teeth over barely any blood. So I said....

"Suck it up, buttercup."

A mother gasped in horror and fled with hands clasped over her child's ears.

Ok, so she didn't really gasp in horror and run away. She did kind of look at me funny, though. You know the look, like, "Um, what kind of mother are you? Who says that to a child?"

(In the interests of full disclosure, I should also mention that, as usual, I'd forgotten to brush his hair, and he'd been digging in the dirt, also as usual, so his fingernails were filthy because I don't carry a nail brush in my purse. Plus his pants had a hole in the knee. Doesn't bother me to take him out like that, but I'm not exactly looking like a nominee for Mother of the Year either.)

Anyway, back to "Suck it up, buttercup."

It's not like I said, "Quit your crybaby whining, you little wimp" and socked him in the arm, but I realize that taken out of context it's not exactly the most....P.C. ...thing to say, especially to a little boy.

Here's the context: A friend and I were talking about trying not to baby our children when they get hurt because they're getting older and more capable. When we were kids we were expected to get up, brush off, and try again. She told me about a friend of hers who used to say, "Suck it up, cupcake."

I thought it was funny, So I told the kids about it. And the next time one of the fine young gents fell down--nothing broken or gushing blood--I said, "Suck it up cupcake." And he laughed. After much experimentation, we decided that "buttercup" was the perfect partner to "Suck it up" so we've stuck with it. Although "cupcake" has a nice ring to it, too, so we sometimes go with that one so as not to get in a rut.

Now it's a kind of inside joke. "Suck it up, buttercup" has become a mutually-agreed-upon multi-purpose phrase that means it's not going to hurt forever, I love you, practice makes perfect, I'm sorry you're hurt, do it even if you don't want to, you'll feel better in a minute, "you're braver than you think" (from Pooh's Grand Adventure), and I think you're pretty cool. All rolled in to one.

Life is good. Even when the kids have dirty fingernails and messy hair and holes in their clothes and fall down and cry.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


The praying mantises hatched today. We got out magnifying glasses, microscope, fruit flies in a jar, and watched for a while.

The manual suggests that we keep a few bugs for observation and release the rest into the garden, where they'll provide natural pest control. Problem: Snow, clouds, rain, sun, hail. Repeat in random order, with below-freezing temperatures at night just for fun. (Hellll-ooooooo! Mother Nature, it's mid-April, for goodness sake!) It's too cold to be releasing little critters into the wild. So I'm left with the dilemma of how to feed and water over one hundred babies. I've only got so many fruit flies in that little fruit fly vial.

Well, the food part isn't much of a problem. Praying mantises are predaceous and voracious. And cannibalistic when necessary. No one will starve to death.

Want a praying mantis or ten? Stop by my house--you can take some home in a jar. (I'm not joking, by the way. We sent some home with dear friend who was unfortunate enough to stop by this afternoon with her young bug-lover.) They're really cute and fun and cuddly! Er, sort of. In a weird space alien don't-crawl-on-me sort of way.

I lied. I don't think they're cute. Fascinating, yes. Good for the garden and interesting to watch, sure. Creepy, absolutely.

Not cute.


Here's a link to a really cool site: Using Live Insects in Elementary Classrooms. The lesson plans are written for grades K-3, and include lessons with praying mantises, crickets, ladybugs, and more. Even if you're not interested in actually teaching the lessons, it's a valuable resource. Each lesson plan includes a "Set-Up" section, with links to an informative fact sheet and a care sheet for the insect covered in that lesson.

ABC Teach has a Bug Theme Unit, lots of activity and coloring sheets, many with a praying mantis theme.

Praying mantis care and development:,%20Mantids.htm

And if you get a chance, try to watch Alien Insect: Praying Mantis on the Discovery Channel. I think it'll be on again in May. We watched the show shortly after the egg case came in the mail. Way cool. You get to see a praying mantis eating a snake. Actually, the whole show is pretty much praying mantises eating. Bugs, mice, snakes, birds, each other. 'Cause that's what they do, attack things and eat them. Fascinating. (But not cute.)

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you. ~Augustine of Hippo

Last week I took the fine young gents to the park to play with friends. They took off roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble to roll in the green grass while I poked along behind. A woman crossed my path on her way to sit on a bench in the sunshine. I smiled. I thought she looked lonely.

I glanced her way from the top of the grassy hill a little later. It looked as though she was wiping her eyes a little.

While playing in the sandbox, one of the fine young gents stepped in...something...and I ran to the car to get wet wipes for his foot. The woman was still there on the park bench, watching the birds and the clouds.

"Isn't this sunshine gorgeous?" I said with a smile and a wave.

"It is. It's nice to get outside," she replied. "I like to come here." She went on to tell me that the park was one of her favorite places to relax with her husband. Then she quietly told me he'd died of stomach cancer the week before, and that she'd be travelling out of town soon, so she'd come to sit in the park they'd enjoyed together. Of course I told her I was sorry for her loss, and added that I was glad that we had good weather so that she could come to that spot and remember him.

I wanted to give her a hug.

But fine young gent had something nasty on his foot, and besides, one just doesn't hug strangers. They might think it's frightening or creepy. So I headed back to the sandbox. But I wished I had been brave enough to give her a hug anyway.

Time for choir. The fine young gents ran to the car, zig-zag through the daisies, stopping to pick the little purple flowers scattered across the lawn even though I was insisting as gently as possible that if we didn't hurry we'd be late. As we approached the bench, the woman smiled at me. And I trusted what my instincts had been telling me: This woman needs to connect, that this is a moment when kindness and comfort will be welcome, and I have that to offer. So I approached her and asked if she could use a hug, and she nodded her head and opened her arms. The sweet wonderful young gents filled her hands with the tiny flowers they'd picked. As the boys climbed into the car, I stopped and just listened to her. She told me about her husband. She told me a little about their marriage. She said that they never went to bed angry, that his philosophy was "Let's teach and learn from one another when we disagree." Lovely. What a little gem, a gift, that thought. She told me her name and a little about her Native American heritage, about her grandfather and about her plans for the near future.

We only talked for about ten minutes, but it was ten minutes well spent. We were late for choir, but it didn't seem all that important.

I'm not sharing this because I want you all to think, "Wow, she's so cool. She hugged a stranger in need." She's just been on my mind ever since. I'm sharing the story for three reasons:

One, Well, it's on my mind. In my head, out on the blog. Blog therapy.

Two, Why don't we reach out to strangers? I think it's not only because of the whole stranger-anxiety thing, or "what if they think I'm weird." We're social creatures meant to build lasting relationships with those around us. It's one thing to chit-chat with the gal behind you at Starbucks; it's a whole other ball of wax to form a meaningful connection with a person you'll never see again.

Three, I finally realized yesterday why she'd affected me so much. I was driving down the street, doing driving thinking-- you know, the time you can let your thoughts spin around in your head because you're not distracted by "Mom!" and the phone and stepping on a Lego or tripping over the dog. Sometimes a thought surfaces that's been patiently lurking for a while waiting for your brain to be not busy. Anyway, driving along. I started to cry, because I realized that the woman made me think of my dad and his loss. Our loss. I'd recognized grief the first time I saw her, the tiredness and loneliness and sadness. I wanted to offer comfort when I heard her story partly because she's a human being, and partly because I can't hug my dad because he's so far away. So I hugged her instead. And listened to her talk of someone she loved.

Hug your loved ones. Smile at the people around you. Help when you can.

Life is good.

Rainy Day Garden Project

Rainy Day Garden Signs

We planted more seeds in our garden last week. The weather was beautiful. The sunshine and warm days left us eager for more, but alas, this week it rained. It was cold and wet and nasty, and suddenly our planned nature outing with our sketchbooks into the garden wasn't quite so appealing.

So we painted.

And wrote names the names of our garden treasures: Peas and carrots and salad and spinach and lemon balm. Raspberries and nasturtiums and four o'clocks.

Then the fine young gents got to hammer. Hammering is way cool when you're five and seven.

We spent an entire afternoon making garden signs, and we were so delightfully occupied that we didn't mind the rain a bit. We didn't bother with whether our materials will weather the weather. We just enjoyed our indoor gardening.

This evening we put them in the garden.

See the teeny-tiny spinach leaves??

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Down the rabbit hole

Wonderland was Wonderful.

Anything can happen, and often does, we were reminded before the performance. As I sat there in the audience, I knew that the last dress rehearsal, less than a week ago, was reportedly the very first rehearsal in which no one had a meltdown. The unique nature of the cast of this play means that we will have to be comfortable rolling with the flow.

The play went off without a hitch. The actors remembered most of their lines, the costumes were wonderfully creative, the story was charming. Lovely lady was glowing afterward. I proud of her. Proud of all of the actors, and of their teachers-facilitators-directors-helpers. The production was a challenging one, expectations were set pretty high, and they outshone themselves once again.

Not only did the troupe perform beautifully, they performed beautifully the very first time they'd performed the play in front of an audience, the first time ever on a stage for some. Imagine for a moment that you are a young person with a disability that can make crowds seem overwhelming, or sounds seem too loud, or lights too bright. New situations or people can be frightening. Imagine trying to perform in front of a crowd of people, rustling and whispering and shifting and coughing and even crying. Or imagine just trying to sit in a crowd in a strange place in the dark. Many of the audience members were on the autism spectrum too. One child in the audience had a crying meltdown. Another young person wanted to go home, wanted to leave now.

Here's where the cast really shone: They kept right on going. Not a hiccup. Like actors. Not "actors with autism". Actors on stage, rising to the challenge of performing in front of a live audience.

It's important to involve our children with disabilities in projects that allow them to shine and to stretch and to achieve. Well, all of our children, really, no matter what their abilities. Not just for their sakes, but for our own. Projects like this one serve as a reminder: When we set the bar high for our children, no matter what their needs, and we provide them with the support they need to achieve their goals, they can be successful. That's what being a parent, or a teacher, or a facilitator, or a friend is all about.

The highlight for me: Seeing my lovely White Rabbit's face as she came out of the theater.

She tried theater camp two years ago. She'd performed in her school play and wanted to try more. The camp was too much for her. The instructors were very kind, but their focus was teaching children performance, and the activity and noise and pace were overwhelming for lovely lady. She had a hard time learning the dance moves. She didn't understand the directions for some of the acting exercises. She didn't get the part she wanted. And the final blow, she hated the t-shirt she had to wear for the final performance-- she felt self-conscious and it showed.

When we found out last year that Bridgeway House was starting a theater group, she jumped at the chance. (You can read about last year's performance here.) And she loved every minute.

So, Wonderland went off without a hitch, and it was lovely. The cherry on top of the cake was the cast party afterward. Children with autism have difficulties with social behaviors, it's a part of the disability. Making friends and keeping them can be a challenge. Rehearsing weekly, working toward a goal, stretching limits and boundaries together--that's a great way to form friendships and make meaningful connections with other people. It was delightful watching the children play and talk and giggle together.

Getting the opportunity to participate in a production that allows lovely lady to blossom at her own pace, gives her a chance to shine and to feel successful.....priceless. Forming friendships and connecting.....perfect.

Life is good.
Lovely lady's bio from the program:
Hannah is quiet and shy but energetic. She loves singing and dancing and acting. It is her dream to be famous.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


Bridgeway House theater production: Wonderland

Bridgeway House provides a variety of programs and services for children with autism and their families. The cast of the play is made up entirely of children with autism and related disabilities. Last year they put on a performance based on Jan Brett’s The Mitten. This year they’ve taken on an even more ambitious project, a longer production based on Alice in Wonderland.

Let's fill the theater! $5.00 at the door

Incredible cast of a dozen actors
(Lovely lady, 12, is playing the part of the White Rabbit. It looks like a lot of fun!)

The performance of Wonderland will be presented at the Richard Wildish Theater (630 Main Street, Springfield, OR) on Saturday, April 12th at 1:00 p.m.

Sponsored by Wildish Sand and Gravel

For more information, call Bridgeway House at 541-345-0805.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


P.S. I have to get this off my chest: Loving husband poured me coffee in the middle of breakfast the other day. So I'd already had a teeny-tiny sip of coffee by the time lovely lady started shrieking. But for effect, the story just sounds better if my dilemma is not interrupted by "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah. Coffee."

That's me. I'll bold-facedly (Bold-typedly? Bold-facedly? Bald-facedly?) lie to you for dramatic effect. But it doesn't count because I always 'fess up.

P.P.S. I have no idea where the fine young gents learned the word "boobies." My sister said that was the first thing she thought too, when she read my post: "Boobies? Where did they learn that?" We've always called them by their real name. Or, when they were little, we said "mee-mees," which in their little baby language translated to "the fount of all things good" or at least "the fount of all things breakfast."

P.P.P.S. You would not believe the weird Google searches I've gotten since my last post, usually searching for some variant of the word "nudes." For heaven's sakes, folks. Go read something wholesome or have a conversation with a real-life person or play Yahtzee or something.

I know I'm just wasting my breath. Typing space?'s not like they'd get this far into a post anyway, since there are no pictures. Sheesh.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


So, there we are this morning, eating breakfast, and the fine young gents start squabbling over whose turn it is to change the page-a-day calendar. For Christmas, my mom gave me a beautiful daily art calendar. A great school resource, by the way, as we have almost daily discussions about the different works of art pictured.

Today's work was this painting, Nude with Hexagonal Quilt, George Bellows. No big deal. There was another nude in the calendar a few weeks before, and no one even noticed, and today's painting is quite lovely, especially the quilt. Then....

Seven-year-old gent, giggling and pointing: "Look, boobies."

His middle brother immediately covered his mouth and started giggling. "Boobies. Hehehehe."

Sigh. Really?

I have to decide how to handle nudity in art before I've had my coffee?

In this split second, because that's about how much time I've got to handle this smoothly, I've got to decide:

Are paintings of nudes inappropriate subject matter for young children?

If so, how do I go about removing the picture gracefully, without making it seem naughty or forbidden?

If not, how to address the giggling and pointing? And do I need to launch into a lecture about proper names of body parts? At breakfast?

Sigh. Did I mention I had not yet had a single drop, not even a whiff, of coffee?

"It's just a body," I said in a matter-of-fact tone. Loving husband agreed. "Lots of painters find the human body beautiful so that's what they paint. That's what this painter wanted to paint. It's just a painting."

And believe it or not, that was that. All it took was "It's just a painting." And toast. I think they were distracted by the toast and jam and eggs.

And then lovely lady, 12, chimes in. Late as usual, she's finally tuned in to what we've been talking about. "Ew! GROSS!" she shrieks. Never a dull moment around here. Keep in mind that this is the way she reacts to hangnails, bad hair, worms and pretty much anything to do with little brothers. We're used to it. But the fine young gents, of course, note her reaction with great interest.

Really? We're dealing with this still?

Where the hell is my coffee????

"Does it make you uncomfortable?" I asked her.

"YES," she huffed indignantly.

"Lots of people feel uncomfortable with nudity in art. It's okay."

"Fine. But I won't look at it," she said.

Hey, okay. That's a great solution. I was going to offer to move it, but she came up with a solution that works for her.

I've thought about children and nudity in art as an abstract issue, but hadn't really formed a firm philosophy that translates into action and discussion in the real world with my very real children. My conclusion in the abstract was that the human form is a work of art blah blah blah. But it's a little different when faced with the issue at the breakfast table, complete with giggling and no coffee.

I don't know if I made the right decision. I certainly believe that it's just as appropriate to say "We've decided that these kinds of paintings are not for young children" as it is to say "The human form in art is a thing of beauty." Maybe I should have quietly taken the calendar off the table. Or not let the discussion get derailed by toast, and kept talking about appropriate names for body parts and about nudity in art. Should I be checking ahead each day and removing paintings of nudes? Or leaving them and discussing them openly as they appear? I want to come to a mindful conclusion so that I know what I want to say if...when...this comes up again.

One issue I'm rock solid on, though. No one changes the calendar until I've got my coffee.