Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: How Tall this Fall?

Submitted by Rachael

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Book Review: Milk Diaries A Fun, Kleenex-Worthy Read

By Elizabeth
Get any group of mothers with young children together- or even just two of us—and the stories start coming. Labor stories, teething stories, blowout-diapers-in-public stories, the list goes on. It’s refreshing to hear someone reassure you that no, you’re not the only one who has experienced the joys, fears, and constant battle with bodily fluids that mark the first few years of motherhood.

Maggie Singleton’s compilation, Milk Diaries, does in print what we do naturally. It tells stories. The beauty of the book is that these stories are fresh, honest, and completely uncensored. These women have laughed, cried, struggled, smeared on the lanolin, and soldiered on, doing exactly what we mammals were designed to do: nurse their babies. Anyone who hasn’t been through the experience cannot truly understand the myriad of emotions, pressures, and sheer exhaustion that nursing entails. Yes, it’s natural, but no, it’s not instinctive. And in the West, we have a few generations behind us who were almost entirely raised on formula, so for a time there, it was almost a lost art.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Library Love: Endings and Beginnings at Story Time

 Two-year-old Megan,
with a puppet made at story time.
My oldest daughter was not quite a year old when we began our relationship with the library.

I was still somewhat new in my role as a stay-at-home mom, and I had not lived in the area for long. As an introvert, I was hesitant to sign up for some of the local moms’ groups that spent their meeting times playing icebreaker games or, worse yet, scheduled karaoke moms’ nights out at bars. I also didn’t want to spend a lot of money. We held our own financially that first year I was at home, but there was little room for indulgences.

But I have always loved libraries.

So we showed up one brisk January morning for a newly formed baby story time – or lap time, as the library called it – and were greeted by an enthusiastic, curly haired youth services specialist named Ms. Jennifer. My daughter, Megan, sat in my lap clutching a doll and observing with curiosity as Ms. Jennifer read a few books and then popped open some cans of play dough for the little ones to poke with their fingers.

We gradually began attending more. Ms. Jennifer is quite possibly the Best Children’s Librarian Ever. She laughs easily, wears long flowing skirts, has a daughter Megan’s age, has fine taste in kiddy lit (one of her favorites is Pete the Cat), and occasionally plays the trumpet during story time. She’s also good for discussing the latest teen bestsellers, one of our personal favorites being The Hunger Games.

In addition to meeting the Best Children’s Librarian Ever, Megan and I made good friends among the other moms and kids at lap time. It was uplifting for me to chat with the moms there, and I formed a Facebook group so we could communicate outside of lap time.

Together, we enjoyed play dates, mornings at the Butterfly House, and Halloween and birthday parties. One mother and I were due with our second babies the same week, and we compared pregnancy notes. Another mom watched Megan for me one morning so I could get to an OB appointment when I was pregnant with daughter number two, and she brought a gift after Abigail’s birth. Fellow blogger Heather C. is from the lap time group as well. Heather had her twins in the same hospital where Abigail was born; in fact, she was on bed rest there at the time I gave birth.

Megan graduated to “big kid” story time at age 3. She was among the oldest in lap time and the first to graduate from our close-knit group, and I mourned the end of our time there.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Time Reclaimed: What We Learned On Our Own

By Katie

All smiles on her first day of Pre-K
When my first daughter was younger she went to daycare. It started as a single person that watched her two days per week for me when she was an infant and morphed into a four-day-per-week child care facility in downtown Chicago by the time she turned two.

Like many working moms, I both loved and loathed daycare. As a single mom at the time, I appreciated my adult support group outside of the home and enjoyed going to work everyday. As my daughter's solo parent, I disliked leaving her for long periods of time somewhere other than home. She really didn't seem to mind going and was telling me the difference between lower- and upper-case letters by her third birthday. She was growing and flourishing despite my absence and maybe that was what really bothered me.

I think since I never felt that I had the "choice" between working or not working, I resented that my only option was care from someone other than a family member. I was lucky enough to have my mom come over one day per week to sit with her - saving me a few minutes in the morning and some money too. Still. I talked glowingly about the staff at the daycare and all the things she was learning but deep down, it bugged me.

When I got married 16 months ago, that all changed. I did not go looking for a full-time office job so I did not go looking for a daycare for my daughter. When my stepson started Pre-K, I toyed with the idea of finding a part-time preschool for my then-three-year-old daughter. She seemed bored on the days that her stepsiblings were not here and I did not want her to fall behind her peers in things like letter-learning and fingerpainting.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Mommy Money: School Fundraisers

Photo via artfire.com.
Check out all of the posts in the Mommy Money series.

Schools have been in session for a few weeks now, and my Facebook newsfeed is filling up with requests to buy knick knacks, wrapping paper, and popcorn. If we all buy enough stuff, my friends’ kids will earn a cheap rubber duck, a limo ride, or maybe a free iPad.

It’s open season for school fundraising.

My daughters are young, so they have yet to be pressured to work as unpaid salespeople for all the professional fundraising companies with whom schools sign on. My 4-year-old is fast approaching the age of salesmanship, though.

I participated in a few fundraisers back in the day. I sold Girl Scout cookies for nearly 10 years, and I retain a special place in my heart for the sugary orbs. Even though I can purchase pretty good imitation Thin Mints at the grocery store for half the price, I will buy a box or two of Girl Scout cookies from the first girl who shows up at my door each year. My husband even printed a handy note card we taped to our door: “No soliciting, except Girl Scout cookies.” It repels all but the boldest of construction contractors and home security salesmen, and it confuses young Girl Scouts who stand on the doorstep trying to figure out what soliciting means.

But most of us know that even Girl Scout cookies don’t provide the best bang for your buck when it comes to money the local troops actually receive. The same goes for other school fundraisers, for everything from frozen cookie dough and pizza to Butter Braids to Yankee Candles to coupon books to … Well, you get the idea. Schools get a fairly small percentage of profits from these sales.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Living with Autism: What Other Families Should Know

A Guest Post by Lindsey Nichols

Read the rest of the posts in this series here.

Don't say "I'm Sorry" because parents of
autistic children are NOT sorry.
I recently posted about how I knew my son was autistic. I said that I would also write about other responses I hear when people find out.

If you are unsure how to act around a family with an autistic child, take a few tips from me.

Here is what not to say or do -- and what to do instead. This may not be the opinion of every family with an autistic child, but this is my take on it:

Please, pretty please think before you speak.

This may sound like common sense, but I will share a few examples of things said and how I take it.

"I am so sorry." This is usually meant well and I get that. I never respond back negatively, but this is what I think -- "I'm not!" Really, I don't need your pity and that is exactly what this conveys. Pity means that you think that it is OH SO HORRIBLE. In the beginning, these words would cut like a knife reminding me that my life would forever be looked upon as sad. We don't need pity.

"That must be so hard." Again with the pity. This says "Wow your life must suck." And yes, it is hard sometimes, but you find a new kind of "normal" and because you love your child it isn't as hard as everyone else thinks it is. We are indeed Super Parents, but you would be too if it was your kid.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Place for Ferris: When Stepkids Become Your Own

By Katie
He's a good kid

A stepparent-stepchild relationship is not love at first sight. In some cases, the genuine love that parents have for their biological kids is never duplicated with those acquired through marriage. I've known many other stepparents that will deny this but even with the best of intentions, it happens.

In my case, a bond with my stepdaughter came easily. She was going on two years old when I married my husband and she was still just a baby in many ways. She reminded me of my own daughter, but a year-younger version. It has been pretty easy to cozy up to her and I cannot tell you the exact moment when our bond was cemented.

My stepson has been a harder sell. He was already four years old when I married his dad, moved into his house and began insisting that he sleep in his own bed every night. He tolerated me because he loved his dad and my daughter. That tolerance grew a little bit in May when I brought his youngest sister into the world. Still. He and I have never shared a "cozy" relationship. After a year a half of being his stepmom, I would often wonder if there was hope for a genuine love between us outside of the silent territorial battles.

Then something happened two weeks ago. Ferris got home from school on a Thursday and immediately started ruffling the feathers of his sisters. After a relatively calm day with just the girls, his grumpy dynamic was especially noticeable. I simply did not have the patience for it -- and was rather unsympathetic when either girl retaliated.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Mommy Money: Kids Savings Plans

Check out all of the posts in the Mommy Money series.

By Heather C.

Lily doing one of her chores -- feeding her sister
I feel It is safe to say that my husband and I are financially sound minded. No, we do not have extraordinary savings accounts but we have some emergency money. We buy used vehicles instead of new. We make large purchases only during sales. We save up for new extras that we want rather than putting them on credit. And the larger majority of our clothes were purchased on clearance or second hand. We are frugal. We live within our means.

With that said, we agree on one very important factor, we are not saving for our children’s’ college. Or their weddings. Or a new car for their 16th birthdays. We DO set aside money every month for each child and maybe when they are older they will choose to use the money on one of these things. That will be their decision when they are responsible enough to make it.
When they receive Christmas or Birthday money it goes into their accounts. We don’t use it on diapers or groceries or for our date money. It goes directly towards their personal accounts. We do not touch their money. Our three year old is now old enough to help with some chores so she will start earning a small allowance as well. Half of her allowance will go into her account and the other half will be used to teach her about giving and spending and savings.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Mommy Money: Should Kids or Parents Pay for College?

Check out all of the posts in the Mommy Money series.

By Maddie

The cost of college has been all over the news lately. Perhaps it has to do with it being election season…but maybe not. I really don’t think anyone can deny the skyrocketing costs of higher education.
He's only four -- but saving for college is on my mind

My husband and I both have bachelor’s degrees. I went to a community college, spent one year at a private college, and then finished up at a state university -- all over the course of about five and a half years.

My husband attended a private college for the entire six and a half years it took him to get his undergrad degree. My parents had a 529 plan for me that they paid for starting when I was just a baby. They paid cash out of pocket to cover what the plan would not for my year at the private school.

My last semester of state school was no longer covered by the 529, so they generously paid cash for that as well. I graduated from college with 0 student loan debt.

My husband’s parents did not have college savings for him.They chose to let him finance his education through scholarships, grants, and loans. He escaped the first few years of school with very minimal loan debt,using mostly grant and scholarship money. But when he changed his degree several times and suffered the loss of his dad, his momentum slowed and his grades dropped. This caused him to lose scholarship money and have to take on more student loans.

He graduated with about $70,000 in student loan debt. About 1/3 is in subsidized Stafford loans. The rest is in unsubsidized Staffords and private loans. We pay about $450 per month in loan payments.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Milk Diaries: A Book Excerpt

Courtesy of Maggie Singleton

Milk Diaries is a compilation of stories from real moms who share their trials and triumphs in the hopes of helping other moms reach their breastfeeding goals. These stories of determination, humor, wisdom, and confidence are sure to warm your heart as well as help you through any challenges you may encounter along the way. This book is great for expectant moms, nursing moms, and seasoned veterans alike.

(entire book available for purchase on Amazon)


Buy the paperback or Kindle edition
on Amazon
Now I need to be honest with you right from the beginning. I'm not a breastfeeding expert. I'm not even a lactation consultant. I'm just a typical mom who decided to give breastfeeding a whirl. And despite all of the classes I took and self-help books I pored over, that's not where I discovered the secret to breastfeeding success. Success isn't lurking in the perfect latch or determined by how much milk you can make. It's not even measured by how long you decide to breastfeed. Instead, "successful" breastfeeding lies in your heart, in your will, and with a great deal of encouragement from your friends and family. (Of course, having your body cooperate is a big plus!)

I thought I was simply making the more healthful, cost-effective choice when I decided to breastfeed. What I didn‟t realize is how that single decision would affect every facet of my life. All of a sudden you are not only caring for a new baby, you are basing your entire life (what you eat, what you drink, when you sleep, what you do—everything) around this hungry little bundle.

So why do I bring up these disadvantages in the midst of trying to encourage you to breastfeed? I bring them up so you understand that it IS difficult. It IS a lifestyle. It IS a commitment. But once you transcend those truths, you can embrace the challenges and face them head on.

And I‟ll let you in on my little secret, my source of power, when facing these challenges: my girlfriends. Just as they shared their trials and tribulations of pregnancy and delivery, they were there through breastfeeding too. And they all had a different perspective. I hope you appreciate the following stories as much as I have enjoyed the support I received from the women behind them.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Thursday Three: Childhood Toys to Play with Again

Fun with American Girl
Last week I shared some of my favorite childhood books that I’m excited to reread with my daughters. To continue the retro theme, this week I present three toys from my childhood that I’m eager to bring back out for my own girls. No Disney princesses here.

1.       Barbies. Barbie can be a bit controversial, with her generous bosom and numerous skimpy outfits. Still, I spent more time playing with Barbies than any other toy as a kid. For me, Barbie wasn’t about dating and fashion. My best friend and I organized the dolls into families with babies, little kids, and teenagers. My Barbie Dream Cottage was transformed into a duplex for the doll families, or sometimes a school, church, or theatre. I had a Barbie mall (yes, a mall!) and a van, and I had several pieces from the 1980s Heart Family collection, including a swing set and a pop-up camper. It was Barbie heaven and kept me occupied for hours. My 4-year-old is just starting to play with Barbies. Don’t tell her, but I’ve been looking at Barbie houses and may arrange for Santa to bring one this Christmas.
2.      American Girl dolls. Yes, these dolls are expensive, but my sister and I each received a historical doll, books, and accessories when we were kids, and we learned volumes about history. I have pioneer era Kirsten, who has sadly been discontinued, and my sister has World War II era Molly. The dolls are well made, and Kirsten and her furniture and accessories currently have a special spot on display on the dresser in our spare bedroom. My sister and I spent hours dressing our dolls, braiding their hair, arranging their belongings, and reading the books. Christmases and birthdays were special times when we got a few American Girl items to add to our collections, and our grandmother is a handy seamstress who sewed new clothes for our dolls. My oldest daughter is too young for American Girl dolls, which are recommended for ages 8 and older, but we enjoy browsing the catalogue and looking around the store that recently opened near our home. She will get her own doll someday, and I'll also pass my own Kirsten doll along to my daughters.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Preschool Diaries: The First Month

By Heather C.

My Cool Preschooler
Earlier this month I discussed being a back-to-school virgin. Here I am back with some updates.

Open House was on August 9th. I wasn’t sure what to think as I was unfamiliar with the building my daughter’s class was located in. (There was some confusion on my part about which school she’d be going to. The preschool follows district lines of course but I didn’t realize that the location that’s on the same street as me just a mile down the road is not in fact the elementary school district we live in. Instead, we go about 1 ¾ a mile – still not far at all! – to Lil’s school.) Once we saw the building and classroom we were much more at ease. It’s a huge open classroom. There was a wide range of stations to play at. Lily very quickly noticed a few popular toys her old daycare also had and played with them as we chatted with her new teacher.

It takes a very dedicated, amazing person to teach preschool. Her teacher is absolutely perfect for her job. She has a teacher’s assistant and there are nine kids total in the morning class that Lily attends. Her teacher is organized to my level of OCD so we get along just wonderfully. And best of all, Lily just loves her teacher. She connected to her right away and almost every day I pick her up, Lily has chosen the spot right by Mrs. R in circle time.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Mommy Money: Why I'm Sour on Lemonade Stands

Check out all of the posts in the Mommy Money series.

Kids and high-pressure sales tactics?
My husband, daughters, and I go to garage sales almost every weekend during the warmer months. We live in a large suburban area where we can hit dozens of sales without driving more than a 10-minute radius from our home. We go partly for the entertainment and to browse, but I also buy many of my daughters’ clothes at these sales, my husband likes to look for random tech and guy gadgets, and we all like picking up the occasional secondhand book. A few toys somehow find their way into our home, too.

A common sight at these garage sales is the humble lemonade stand. Most of us operated our own stands when we were young, and they’re pretty much the same now: Kids put on their best cute faces and hawk overpriced sugary drinks of dubious quality.

Admittedly, my husband and I are fuddy-duddies. We don’t buy the lemonade.

Lemonade stands tend to be overdone where we live. We commonly come across half a dozen on one Saturday alone, and we are such practical bargain hunters that lemonade stands seem like fluff on the side, something we don’t really need, especially when we stock our car with refillable water bottles and snacks from home on Saturday mornings.

So we mostly ignore the lemonade stands. Live and let live.

Except, setting foot on the driveway at some garage sales with lemonade stands is akin to visiting a used car dealership.

This is what happens. The kid is slouched in a lawn chair at his lemonade stand. He has no customers. He complains to his parents that no one is buying his lemonade. The parents loudly lecture the kid, saying, “Have you asked anyone if they’d like to buy some? You won’t sell any if you don’t put in a little effort. Go on and hustle.” 

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