Monday, August 31, 2009

Pat & Anton

I met Pat when we both were training for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, I think summer of 2007? We bonded instantly over our shared experiences as Montessori teachers, cat lovers, and fellow igrants from distant lands that no one would guess by just looking at or listening to us (she was born and raised in the Philippines). She's one of those people where the friendship developed easily, conversation flowing freely as we walked practice mile and practice mile clad in our pink gear. She lives a little ways up the peninsula so we don't see each other as much as might be nice, but it's always fun when we do.

She and her long-time boyfriend got engaged earlier this year and are planning a huge Philippino wedding in Manila for January, but decided to have a smaller, casual civil ceremony this past weekend. And she asked me to be their photographer. I was more than a bit nervous, wanting to make sure I did a good job. I rented a Canon 24-105mm f/4L lens, asked her about poses/photos she really wanted, then just kinda let the day lead me. Lighting was a bit difficult, as the ceremony was outdoors at 12 noon, but we found some shade and I think it worked out ok.

Zach took care of D most of yesterday afternoon, so I was able to sit down and go through about half of the pictures in Lightroom. It was fun, and I discovered a few new tips and tricks so that was cool. Here are some of my favorite ones so far, and I think they give you a peek into why I am so fond of these two. None of the poses were really my idea, Pat had sent me a few that she'd seen elsewhere and others just sort of... happened. I kinda just was there with my camera, snapping away at everything as best I could.

The rest of the ceremony/park photos are over here. Hopefully this afternoon I can start on the reception/lunch...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Have you gone thirsty today?

Water. The essence of life. I turn on the tap a hundred times a day, never thinking of it. I drink water, I water the plants, I put water in the kiddie pool outside for Donovan to play with, I try to remember to give the cats fresh watwer every once in a while, I wet washcloths to clean Donovan's hands and face after meals, I wash my own hands, I wash clothes, I wash dishes (ok, sometimes).

And it's always there. Pure, clean, crystal clear, drinking water. I never even think twice about it. The few times that our water's been turned off for a few hours because of maintenance, it seems like a horrible thing-- how will we wash our hands? Or flush the toilet??? It seems inconcievable to do without, even for a short period of time.

Yet a billion people worldwide don't have access to safe, clean drinking water. Many have to walk miles every day just to get access to crappy, muddy, bacteria-infested water. Thousands die every day because of this. "Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of all sickness and disease, and kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war." How can you live without water?

Yesterday I watched this video. It literally brought tears to my eyes. It is a lovely reminder of what we human beings are capable of when we seek to unite and help, rather than conquer and destroy. We can make a big impact, by simple actions.

My birthday is coming up, in just over 2 weeks. Sure, there are plenty of material things I'd like to recieve. None of which really matter that much. What would be really nice? Building a well somewhere in Africa, for people who truly need it. $20 can give a single person in African with safe, clean drinking water for 20 years. Now that's a wise investment.

I have set up a fundraising site at I am asking you to donate. I'll use their idea, of asking for $29 for my 29th birthday, but feel free to give whatever amount seems just to you. It all matters.

By the way, 100% on all donations go directly to building water wells for people in need, so you know every penny is going to this amazing cause. Over time we should even be able to track exactly where the money has gone, with maps of the wells themselves and everything. Find out more about charity: water here.

Thank you.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Letting go of the illusion of control

A few months ago I started reading P.E.T.: Parent Effectiveness Training by Dr. Thomas Gordon. I got about halfway through, and then for some reason or other put down the book and didn't pick it back up until a couple days ago. It's been a really interesting read, and I really like their ideas and hope to be able to implement them, even if Donovan seems a bit young still (though I have a feeling he really is not). I may also look into seeing if any P.E.T. training classes will be happening in our area anytime soon.

Last night I got to a chapter where the author talked about when you get to the teen years, when kids are a bit older, and all the things that cause conflicts between parents and children based on a difference in opinion, in values, in core beliefs. How these are things that, try as you may, you cannot force someone to change into. This becomes all too clear when you think about your own childhood, all the things we did in spite of, or perhaps even because of, our parents' disaproval, and that we did no matter how hard we had to work to hide them. The author mentioned how annoyed parents get when they talk about this in classes, asking how they are supposed to teach their kids their values then?

A quote that stood out to me in my friend's book was, "Be the person you want your children to be." This is basically also what the P.E.T. book author also said-- that the best way to pass on your values to your kids, is to live them and lead by example. That you can show them what you believe, and you can talk to them about it. And beyond that, you then have to step aside and just watch to see if your kids ultimately take up your values, or forge their own path. Beyond that, all that's left for you to do, as a parent, is to love them unconditionally, and accept whoever it is they are to become.

Intellectually I think I have always known this. One of the things that attracts me to Montessori is its ideas on fostering early independence and responsibility in children. However I am also very aware that I have inherited my mother's tendency of giving copious amounts of advice and information (whether desired or not) out of a benevolent desire/need to help others make the best decisions they can (based, partially, of course, on what I think might be best). I've been working on this for a while, and think I've done pretty well- learning to say my piece once or maybe twice and then dropping it, trying not to meddle in other people's business, etc.

To do this for friends and acquaintances is one thing. Last night, for the first time, I sat down and thought about what this means as a parent. How Donovan may will one day make decisions I'll strongly disagree with, whether they may be refusing to study for a test, taking up smoking or drugs, dating or even marrying someone I don't like, etc. And that I may be able to share my thoughts and beliefs with him, and try to give him guidance, but in the end it's up to him and I'll have no control whatsoever on what he chooses to do. And that thought is TERRIFYING. Utterly and completely terrifying. Last night, this realization of how little control I have over this person that I love so dearly, over his wellbeing, was easily the scariest moment I have had yet as a parent.

So I keep this in mind now, when he's young and still so malleable. I will try to teach him as best I can. And I will love him. And I will accept him. No matter what.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


It's amazing how quickly Donovan can pick things up when given the chance. Around his first birthday we've been using a bit of sign language to help with our communicating, and although he doesn't use that many signs, that's really something that is more my fault than his. Every time that I consistently use a sign over a couple days, and give him opportunities to use it himself, he picks it up right away. It's really, really cool. Just this past week he's learned to sign "open" (although his version is more him waving his hands in towards each other and then back out again) and he's kinda figuring out "hurt" as well.

Way before getting pregnant I remember hearing about using sign language with babies and toddlers and loving the idea. I tried to start several times when D was younger, but I didn't expect it to be so tough. Not so much the signs themselves, or even learning them, but just incorporating them into our days. Up until he was 1 and walking it seemed like my hands were always busy doing something else (like holding him) right at the times that I wanted to show him signs (many of which required 2 hands).

But then around his birthday I finally started getting more serious about it, and was rewarded pretty immediately. He quickly learned "more"(pic above), "water", "eat", and "all done." More has broadened in meaning so he uses it almost any time he wants us to do/repeat something (like reading a book again, or undoing the buckle he just clipped together so he can do it again), in addition to when he's eating. All done has also expanded to all situations, not just meal times. He knows that "water" is the same whether he's drinking it, watering the plants, or swimming in it, which is pretty darn cool if you ask me. Even just these few simple signs have been EXTREMELY useful in helping us figure out what he wants, and so even if you don't want to bother with any of the rest of it I think these are worth teaching to your kid.

Since then he's also learned "cat", "milk", "open", "hurt", "bath", and "toilet." Some signs take some figuring out before I realize what he's saying, but others are pretty spot-on. There's a couple schools of thought on what kinds of signs to use-- there are books called Baby Signs that have their own signs made up under the idea that ASL (American Sign Language) signs are too hard for babies to use, or they tell you to make up your own signs. I personally feel like that's kind of trying to re-invent the wheel, and have just chosen to use ASL signs in large part because they're so easy to find. I use this website often to look up words, and if they're not there usually a search on google for ASL and the word I'm looking for finds it for me. It's also nice that any of our friends or family who want to learn these signs can easily look them up, too. I know I'd never be able to remember signs I made up, and seems odd to have to go buy specific books to look up their made-up signs. Some signs are a bit difficult for D to make, but I recognize his version and keep signing the regular version back to him, the same as you do with speech. All that said, this is the system that works for me and that may not be true for everyone. As neat as it would be, I don't intend to keep teaching ASL to the point of fluency when he's older so the exact signs used are kinda arbitrary.

I keep trying to think of words that are useful to him on a daily basis that I can introduce signs for, like for specific foods he likes so he can ask for them (rather than just point to the kitchen when he wants something different than what's offered). He seems to really like itn when I show him a new sign, and tries to imitate it right away. I know some people think that teaching kids signs means they aren't motivated to talk, but I don't think that's the case with D. I think his verbal language is just developing at its own pace, and am grateful that he knows these signs so he can communicate with us in the meantime-- and it's reassuring to me to see him understanding and communicating this way, to know that his language development is going great even if he's not speaking much yet.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Proof that TV is Evil (or, what we get for wanting cable)

Prompted by the upcoming football season, Zach talked me into going ahead and getting cable TV. He called Comcast over the weekend and talked them into getting us a decent deal on a "triple package" with internet, cable (with DVR), and a digital phone (which we've been desperately needing anyway because my T-Mobile cell phone gets reception literally about 1/3 of the time when I'm at home). We're kinda curious to see what our bill will end up at ultimately, though, as he talked to 2 different people and when he called the 2nd time (and got the deal) they didn't have a record of the first call. Huh.

So they had a guy scheduled to come out yesterday to set everything up. He was scheduled to come sometime between 3-5pm. He shows up at about 4:59 (apparently he would've been there sooner but when he tried to call my phone I didn't answer... b/c I didn't have coverage...). I was dealing with a cranky Donovan and so didn't think about it when the guy took our previous, wireless modem (which we'd bought ourselves rather than rented from Comcast) when leaving our new (non-wireless) modem. The TV worked ok, thought channel info didn't seem to be downloading, phone worked ok, and internet was there but without wireless access. When Zach comes home he calls the guy, who says he'll come by later that night to return our modem.... never does, we call again, says he'll be here first thing in the morning... we wait 2 hrs, call his supervisor, an hour later finally someone shows up. But we'll need a different splitter to use the wireless modem again, and the DVR/channel set-up never got working, so we'll need a different one of those, too.

So then the guy from last night arrived at 1pm to finish this stuff off, and now we have the internet all fine again and the phone is still working fine, but are still having trouble with the cable stuff. So now (at 3:45pm) he's outside replacing all the cable hook-up stuff to see if that makes a difference. Thankfully D is asleep and chose this afternoon to take a nice long nap (even slept through the guy needing to go through the trap door in D's bedroom to crawl under the house).

Needless to say... a bit of a headache. But the guy's been very nice and apologetic. I'm just hoping everything's done and over with by the time he leaves and we don't have to schedule further return visits.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Nev the Entertainer

The little Nev continues to be awesome. She's very entertaining, especially as she plays with the Ikea cat house (similar to this one) we bought years ago and sends it catapulting across the room just from the weight of her body jumping inside it. She also appears to think global warming is a silly myth and expressed her distaste for canvas grocery bags. I swear she already looks bigger to me. Sierra seems to havfe transformed, seeming so much more solid and thick in comparison to the new, tiny, svelte kitten (which is to say something, and Sierra while not undernourished is certainly not overweight). I actually caught the 2 of them playing this afternoon, swatting at each other in a way that I'm about 90% sure was playful and not aggressive. They tell you that cats tend to tolerate newcomers better when they're younger, it seems really they need to tell people to bring a baby into their homes and THEN the new furball, in comparison the older cat will be pleased that the new kitten doesn't scream all night long and accept it. ; )

Donovan had his last swim lesson of the summer session today. He's been doing so great, feeling so much more comfortable in the water. He's not minding the backfloat as much anymore, and I think he even managed to close his eyes once before jumping in. Now I just need to work on getting him to hold his breath, too, and not swallowing half the pool's water during the half-hour lesson. The fall session starts up in a couple weeks, I plan to take advantage of the Y's pools between now and then to keep all this stuff fresh in his mind.

Donovan took a single 30min nap today instead of his usual 2 1hr naps. Luckily we had a play date in the afternoon, which kept him in a decent mood. The silver lining is that he conked out in about 10 minutes at bedtime. I'm now resolving to sit by his bed, but not let him grab my chin, as he falls asleep. The idea is that I'll then slowly sit farther and farther away from the bed till he doesn't need either of us in the room anymore to stay in bed. I'm hoping we can acomplish this before he turns, say, 10.

Met up with a few friends this afternoon for a park-and-frozen-yogurt afternoon date. D had a good time, and it was fun to catch up with the mamas. Reminds me I have other people I want to try to schedule playdates with soon...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

picnic, etc

Yesterday my friend Pat came over and the 3 of us (Pat, Donovan, and I) went on a little picnic. The school in our neighborhood hasn't started back up yet, so we went to one of the smaller playgrounds within the schoolyard knowing it'd be calmer than the park down the street. There was a tree providing just enough shade over the grass next to the perfectly-Donovan-sized play structure. We laid down a blanket, spread out our selections of cheese, foccacia bread, grapes, peaches and sprakling pink lemonade. It was fabulous. =) Donovan, of course, only spent about 2 minutes playing on the play structure. The rest of the time he was begging food off us, drinking my lemonade, and playing with his stroller. ; )

I finished the 7th Harry Potter book last night. It felt almost painful to read the first half, as things kept seeming more and more bleak... then it started getting really good in the second half, and then you get to the end and it's blow-your-mind amazing. Zach's working his way through book 6 right now. I kinda talked him into starting to read them (he started with book 3, though) and at first I think he just found them amusing, but now is getting just as addicted, staying up late into the night reading.

The crib situation is still the same. I'm still unsure. Last night D woke up around 10pm and it took a good hour for him to fall back asleep and stay that way. I don't know if that was because of the open crib or the cold he seems to be fighting. He fell asleep easily for this morning's nap, but his naps kinda seem shorter than they were before... although part of that might be that I'm now counting from when I KNOW he's actually asleep, when before he might very well have spent 20+ minutes laying in his crib still awake before finally falling asleep and he just couldn't get out so I didn't know it. He does seem more tired these past few days, though again whether that's because of changes in sleep or that he's fighting a cold, I don't know.

Gotta go, little man's awake...

Monday, August 17, 2009

crib change-up

Friday night I started a new transition that I'm still debating whether was/is a good idea or not.

For the first 3 months after he was born, Donovan slept in a moses basket by our bed. After that, he moved to his own room, on his own little Montessori-style floor bed (I talk here about my reasons why). We childproofed the room and set up a baby gate across the doorway, and it all worked out really well for about 4 months. Then we moved back to the US, where for a good 6 weeks our stuff was crossing the ocean and we were in temporary abodes and thus D had to make do with a pack-n-play as his sleeping quarters. At the same time he was learning to crawl and then to pull himself up to standing, so that by the time we finally were in our house, and he in his floor bed again, he was way too interested in practicing his new moves to even think about taking a nap. It would have been comical if it hadn't been so frustrating at the time-- I'd put him down for a nap, and he'd be drawn like a magnet to his shelves or any other furniture in his room to practice pulling up, instead of sleep. We'd try this a few times, and finally, defeated, I'd stick him in the pack-n-play again and he'd go right to sleep. You could almost hear him say, "Aaah thanks, Mom, now that I don't have access to the other stuff I can FINALLY get some sleep!"

So I said good-bye to the floor bed and we got him a crib. But I've always still had the thought in the back of my mind of trying to transition him back again at some point. It's been on my mind a bit more lately, as I see him starting to make movements like he wants to climb his way out of the crib (a big fear of mine, and one big motivator for trying to avoid the crib to begin with). I also look at him and think, he looks nothing like a baby anymore, so why does he have to sleep in a baby's bed?

Then we got Nev, and I kept seeing her going into D's room while we played in there and she could so easily climb up onto his furniture and then jump into his crib, and it was unclear she knew how to get out. The door to D's room doesn't shut all the way (it won't latch closed, something about the door frame), and the slats on the child safety gate still blocking the doorway are wide enough for her to pass through, so I can't keep her out of the room. My fear is that she'd go in there while he's sleeping, jump into the crib, then not know how to get out and freak out at D.

So, since I'd already been thinking of trying this anyway, I decided to go ahead and lower one side rail of D's crib (his is a kind that converts to a toddler bed, so you can take one side down really easily while still keeping the other 3-- one side and the foot and head of the crib-- in place and secure). When I showed D his new bed set-up he immediately loved it, thinking it was really really cool that he could climb in and out of bed on his own.

My worry was what this would do to his sleep now, since he could get up out of bed without help. Putting him down for naps and bedtime for the past year (since we "Ferberized" him at 6 months) has been ridiculously easy-- we literally just go through a short bedtime routine and then lay him down, and 90% of the time he goes right to sleep w/out a peep. Since Friday night it's required a bit more invovlement than that, though not as bad as I'd feared. He'll stay in bed if Zach or I are sitting next to him, and eventually fall asleep-- sometimes only 15 minutes later, other times as much as 45 minutes later. Most of the time it's gone ok, though Saturday night took a really long time (it might have been 1.5hrs, though we also switched strategies a couple times don't know if that helped things any) and this morning he didn't take a morning nap at all. He also is having trouble staying on his bed overnight, as in we'll check on him before we go to bed and he'll be either half-off or entirely on the floor next to the bed (which is very low, so not much of a "fall" and he sleeps right through it).

So I'm still unsure about this move, though I guess we're sticking to it for now. I'm hoping he eventually moves to not needing us to sit with him although I don't know how realistic that is, without some intervention. I don't know what he does with Zach but with me he insists on holding my chin, which I think is what he's chosen as his "lovey." I wonder if I should try to encourage taking on a separate object and if that would help things or not, like maybe if he has a real lovey he won't need us as comfort anymore? I looked in my sleep books and neither mentioned anything about transitioning a kid to a bed, which seems odd to me.

I will say, it's pretty darn cute to hear him walk up to his door after a nap, open it up, and stand by the gate and call out to us. =P

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Harry Potter

While in Austin last month I picked up one of the family copies if Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and finally got around to reading it. I'd of course heard tons about the book series, and even seen a couple of the movies, but never got around to reading the books. Luckily, since I was at home and thus had multiple very eager family members to watch D for me, I was able to read the book very quickly. As in, it took me about 2 days. I then read through books 2 and 3 in the week that followed, before heading back here to California.

I've continued with the series since then, plowing through about a (700 page) book a week, reading during naptimes and before bed at night. I can't help it, they are highly addicting. The writing manages to be simple enough to be read easily and quickly, but the plot lines still are incredibly complex and always interesting. Of course, you all know this already, as I appear to be the last being on earth to read these books. But once I started I almost literally could not put them down. The reason there was no Etsy Fridays post this week is because I devoted Friday to finishing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (crying like a baby through most of the end, btw). I went out that afternoon and got the 7th book, which I have yet to start. Part of me can't wait, and part of me is almost scared to because of where the story is going. But I know it will be just as incredible as the previous 6 books. I am in awe of J.K. Rowling. Seriously. As I devour each book of this series, I am keenly aware of how excited I am to one day share these books with Donovan.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cheap Ways to Go Green

It is often taken for granted that taking the more ecologically conscious route is more expensive. This is true a good bit of the time-- organic and natural options for items like food, clothing, and beauty products usually costs a good bit more than the conventional alternatives. There are plenty of things you can do to your home to make it more energy-efficient, but even though many pay themselves back (and then some) over the years, they still tend to require a hefty initial investment. And so, it is assumed that "going green" is something only those with money can afford to do, an unrealistic goal for those who have to watch their spending.

Which is, of course, completely untrue. There are plenty of ways to be more ecological and reduce your carbon footprint by also saving money. Many of them mean reverting to slightly more "old fashioned" ways of doing things, and might mean a little more effort, but you get the double reward of knowing you're doing something that's good for the planet as well as for your wallet. So I thought up of a new examples to share:

1. Reuse. Such a simple idea, can be used so many different ways. This is a double-whammy, as it a) keeps stuff out of landfills, and b) means not having to use resources and energy to make as much new stuff.
  • Try to take care of things better so they last longer, and not have to be replaced as often.
  • Fix things instead of buying new. Our 3yr old laptop has lately been acting reeeaaalllyyy slow, annoying me to no end. We'd been talking about getting a new one, but decided to first try adding more RAM to see if that would help. It has, significantly. Think of how many fewer computers you might buy over your lifetime if you kept each one even one year longer than you otherwise would. That adds up to a lot of big pieces of eletronic equipment not needing to be manufactured or disposed of. This advice also serves for other things, like fixing the heel on a broken shoe or sending a ripped pair of jeans to Denim Therapy.
  • Use hand-me-downs. We have several family members and friends who have young kids, and there have been many bags of baby and maternity clothes that have exachanged hands. My 6yr old niece's clothes are currently on their 3rd owner, and still going. We also have several outdoor toys that we've managed to snag as hand-me-downs from neighbors about to throw them away.
  • Buy used. My grandmother worked for a while in a second-hand shop in her well-to-do retirement community. She bought all our birthday and christmas gifts from the shop, which often were brand-new looking (sometimes with tags still on!) brand-name stuff. A friend recently told me of someone she knows who buys all her kids' clothes off, and manages to find all these great deals on super cute clothes. I've started looking, and have been pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to find ads with pictures (so you can see the clothes ahead of time). This afternoon alone I went to 2 houses answering craigslist ads and came home with an entire 2T wardrobe for a grand total of $80. Each item averages out to be about $1.50 each. A lot of the clothes are cute enough that I would've probably bought them new for a good bit more money, anyway. Awesomeness.
2. Grow Your Own Food. Neither Zach nor myself have ever had much experience with gardening. Yet we're currently enjoying a nice little crop of cherry tomatoes, and some herbs including oregano, cilantro, and rosemary. It's tough to do this if you don't have outdoor space, but you can still find indoor herb kits to try in an apartment, and you can also look into community gardens in your area where you can reserve a plot of land to grow stuff on. A quick google search will give you plenty of resources on how to start your own organic garden. And while you're at it...

3. Start a Compost Pile. So much of the trash we throw out isn't necessarily trash at all. Recycling and reusing already cuts down your trash output, and composting will lower it even more. Amd if you've got a yard or garden, your compost will grant you nutrient-rich soil to use, instead of having to buy it elsewhere. It might cost a little to get started with a compost bin (check with your city, they might have special deals-- we got our bin for cheap that way), but then again maybe not... my parent have a compost pile in their backyard in Texas, and it is quite literally just a pile in a corner of their yard. Here again, google is a great friend when getting started. Master Composter is another good resource. Oh, and check out this article for 75 surprising items that are, in fact, compostable.

4. Make Your Own Cleaning Products. The number of eco-friendly cleaning products on the market today keeps growing, but there's also still some super cheap ways to get your cleaning done-- try baking soda, lemon juice, and vinegar. A straight 5% vinegar solution is a great disinfectant killing 99% of bacteria, 82% of molds, and 80% of germs/viruses. Here's an article on with many, many uses for baking soda, lemon juice, and vinegar in basic household cleaning, and here's yet another one listing 27 different ways to use baking soda. You can even opt to ditch your usual (often chemical-laden) shampoo and conditioner, and wash instead with baking soda and apple cider vinegar. I myself have been surprised at how effective baking soda is at clearing up smells-- a few months after moving into our current place he got a somach bug, and puked all over one spot of the carpet. I didn't have any carpet cleaner in the house, so I feared we'd forever have to deal with the lingering smell of vomit just beside our kitchen table. Nevertheless, I cleaned up as much as I could with a towel and then covered the area with baking soda and let it sit for several days before vaccuming it up. I swear to you, you cannot see the spot at all now, and even if you put your nose up to the carpet you won't smell it.

5. Conserve Energy. This is a fairly obvious one, and also fairly easy to implement. There are loads of articles online with tips of how to reduce the amount of energy and gas you use, such as changing the settings on your computer to it powers off sooner, turning off lights, walking more, air-drying your clothes (I'm about to try the vinegar-as-fabric-softener trick to see if I can avoid the unfortunate stiff feeling of air-dryed clothes), unplug electronics from when wall when not in use (or use a power strip and turn it off, does the same thing), etc. Another option here is to see if your city allows you to select to use only green power generated from renewable energies, but even then lowering your use is still a plus especially since it helps you save money.

Anyone else have ideas to contribute on how to be green on the cheap?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Getting him started early on chores

Now that Donovan's a good 18 months old, I've been thinking more about "Practical Life" activities to incorporate into our days. Practical Life is arguably the most important area of Montessori education, at least for these younger (toddler & preschool) ages. Basically, it's activities to teach the child to take care of himself and his environment, which at the same time are also aimed at helping him develop better coordination and motor skills. In my training, aimed at kids 3-6 years of age, these included things like learning how to button clothes, tie laces, use a zipper, put on a jacket; sweep the floor, wash dishes, set a table for meals and snacks, polish metal objects or your shoes; learning how to wash your hands, comb your hair, blow your nose. Very specific items are used for twaching these skills, with defined steps to follow, and in practicing them the child leanrs not only how to do the process itself but also is practicing using his body, hands, fingers, etc, in more defined ways.

The exercises I learned for the preschooler, though, are still a bit advanced for an 18 month old. But, the idea of Practical Life is to use things and activities that are part of everyday life, and teach him how to do them so he can be a bit more independent. So I've been figuring out what kinds of things to set out for him to try. We're working on drinking from a cup instead of sippy cups. I'm about to order some small toddler-sized pitchers so he can also learn to pour water into his own cup, along with a toddler-sized broom to he can help "sweep" the patio.

Today I had a spur-of-the-moment idea-- why not let him help me unload the dishwasher? I wad a dishwasher full of clean dishes. He can only reach the bottom rack, so no glass for him to handle (though eventually we'll build up to that), and our plates are all the cheap-o (and easily replaceable) Ikea variety so even if he drops one it's not a big deal. I always found it so cool to watch 3 year olds at my old school use real glass plates and cups to set the tables for lunch, and figured D might just be up for a similar task.

He immediately loved it, of course. I showed him first how to grab one plate out of the rack, and then he walked a foot or 2 to hand it over to me so I could put it away. He then went on and brought me each plate, one by one, untill the only few left were ones he coudln't reach anymore, and then I helped him get them out and let him then hand them back to me. He remembered to hold the plates with both hands most of the time, and over time we'll work on stressing how to hold the plate (horizontal to the ground with one hand on each side, not hilding it by the top and letting the bottom droop) but for a first time he did awesome and didn't drop a thing. And, again, he loved it. He then kept wanting to load things into and out of the dishwasher. And this is perhaps my favorite part of Practical Life exercises, that you take things that most of us view as boring or dull and you give it to a child and they just think it's the coolest thing they've ever done. =)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

the kitten & the kiddo

As a cat update, last night we did the "cat switcheroo" also known as step 4 of the introduction process-- when closed Sierra off in our bedroom (with litter box, food, water) and then let Nevada come out and explore on her own. After about 30 minutes we put her back in the office and let Sierra back out... and she acted as if nothing had happened. As yet another testament of how much more chill she is this time than last time, when we did this step with Charlie she KNEW something was up and was right at the door of our bedroom, sitting and waiting. They actually met then for the first time, as when Zach went in to the bedroom to check on her she darted out and came face-to-face with Charlie. This time, however, she was hanging out by the bed the whole time.

I repeated step 4 this morning, for about an hour or so this time, and again when Sierra came back out she kinda sniffed around but didn't act at all different or wierd. So Then we proceeded to step 5-- I opened the office door 1-2inches, blocking it there with a door stop, and let them "meet" throgh the crack. Poor Nevada hated this, as she desperately wanted to come out so started meowing pitifully. Sierra came over, hissed and growled a bit (though never raised her fur), then walked off and went along her usual business. I'm starting to wonder if this is her coping mechanism, to just pretend nothing's happening and ignore the intruder... lol So I'm considering step 5 "done" and in the next day or 2 we'll go ahead and let them meet casually, full on, out in the open. Needless tosay, we decided not to worry about the "10 day" rule. Nev seems healthy enough. I know it's potentially a risk, but I'm sure they'll be fine.

As for Donovan, he's been acting kinda wierd lately. Super happy and content a lot of the time, then other times super grouchy and just tough to please. He's got a bit of a cold, I think, not much of anything but his nose is a tiny bit runny and yesterday morning he had a small cough. He's also got all 4 canines coming in all at the same time. So that might be triggering the grumpiness. He's also decided diaper changes are TOTALLY UNCOOL and whines, kicks, cries, and wriggles all over the place whenever I try to change his diaper. I've been having to resort to the throw-one-leg-over-him-to-strap-him-down trick a lot the past few days. But, as a cute story, this afternoon he was freaking out about something, screaming and crying and nearly hysterical, and when my attempts to soothe him all failed miserably I looked at him and said, "Do you want to go see Scarlet?" (his friend down the street, whom I'd been planning to have us visit at about that time). He immediately stopped crying, his face brightened up, and he went straight to the front door and got annoyed at me when I didn't open it RIGHT THAT SECOND. He played happily over there for a good hour before we had to come home for dinner. So cute to see him making friends and really remembering them, forming bonds, and having fun playing with them.

We went to swim class again this morning. He's been doing really well lately, really enjoying it. After thinking about it a bunch I decided to keep up with the classes, since he is enjoying them so much and we both also really like this teacher (she seems rather fond of Donovan, too) and want to keep up that connection. So I went ahead and signed us up for the fall session. Yay! =)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mademoiselle Nevada Norcier de Quatre-Pattes

*As a note, the M key on our keyboard is all of a sudden is acting up, as of this morning. So while I tried to watch the m's in this post, there may be a bunch missing. Just FYI. ; )

We'll call her Nevada, or Nev, for short. So yes, our cats names are Sierra and Nevada. Which seems extremely appropriate when you're married to someone who lusts after mountains. I also enjoy the irony of naming my black cat "snowy." (hey, it's better than the name the Humane Society staff had given her: "Cotton Candy." Then again they'd named Sierra "Sparky"...)

We've been talking for a while about getting a second cat, but have been hesitant to do so. On the one hand, there's Donovan who already takes up a great deal of our attention, time, and effort. But on the other, we kinda miss having two cats who can play together. And as odd as it might sound, Sierra was actually one of my biggest motivations to get another cat. Not only might this kitten attract D's attention more, meaning he'll leave Sierra alone more, but it'll also give her a companion, since we can't give her as much attention as we used to.

Sierra's always been an extremely sweet and loving kitty. She loves to sleep in bed with us at night, and misses us terribly when we're gone. If we go away even for one night, we're met by furball of purrs and meows and desperate attempts to get as much attention as possible to make up for the hours spent alone. But, back before our ove to Switzerland, for the year and a half that we had Charlie, our other cat (who, long story short, had to go live with Zach's parents before we moved), she was uch less needy. We'd go away for a week and upon our return she'd barely look over as if to say, "Oh, you've been gone? Well, it's nice to have you back, I suppose." It took her a good 6 months or so before she seemed to feel comfortable around Charlie, but after that she seemed to really enjoy having a kitty companion. I'm hoping it'll be that way again with little Nev.

So, after waffling for months, we decided about a week ago to just go for it. I picked up supplies at Target, and we ade a plan to go visit the Humane Society on Saturday to pick out a kitten. We waited till Donovan had woken up from his morning nap, gave him a good snack, then set off to get us a new kitty. They've upgraded buildings sonce our last time there, into a new one that's gorgeous and has great little roos where the cats hang out instead of all being cooped up in tiny cages. Part of me feels guilty seeing cats living so well there when there's also so many people who only drea of such plush conditions, but I'll also be honest and say that it made me really happy to see that these cats have such a nice place to live while waiting for a home to go to.

It ended up taking us nearly 4 hours before we were actually walking out with our cat. We first went and looked at the kittens, and I fell completely in love with this GORGEOUS tortoiseshell kitten (about 8 months old, so on the older side) and Zach really liked this other black and white kitten (2months). But when we sat down with the staff, they suggested against both because apparently the behavior specialists didn't think they'd do so well in a home with such a young kid. We said ok, though the credibility of the behaviorists kinda flew out the window when one of the kittens they specifically suggested for us had a bit of a biting problem that was clearly stated on its bio sheet. Oh well. There were still plenty of kittens to choose from, but when we were looking at Nev the woman helping us mentioned that black cats are pretty hard to adopt out, I guess most people don't like them. I've kinda always wanted to have a black cat, so that right there kinda sealed it for me. We ade our decision, signed the papers, handed over the money, and were finally out the door. Thankfully Donovan was a dream this whole time, wanting to run around rather than be held but not coplaining at all over the fact that he missed his nap AND lunch (we did go through most of my snack stash) thanks to the process taking so long.

We moved Sierra's food and litter box out of the office earlier in the week, and when we got home on Saturday afternoon we put Nev in there with her own litter box, food, and water. The Humane Society gave us a sheet with a 6-step process for intruducing 2 cats, which I've never before managed to complete (never even attempted it whenever we got new cats as a kid, and with Charlie we tried but at step 4 they et by accident, and well, it turned out fine). The sheet warns that it might take weeks to work through the steps, but within 24 hours we were already at step 3, where the cats are able to eat on opposite sides of the door from each other. Sierra has been remarkably calm about the whole thing-- I remember her being much more agitated when we brought Charlie home, sitting outside the closed bathroom door on watch, refusing to come to bed and abandon her post. This time she's shown interest, knows something's behind there, but isn't very concerned. There hasn't been any hissing, growling, nor even the raising of a single hair on her back or tail. I'm sure we'll see some of that when they actually meet face-to-face for the first time, but from their current behavior I'm hopeful that they'll get along quickly. We're also supposed to keep them separate for 10 days in case Neve is carrying any type of disease that she caught from the shelter, but I'm not sure we'll follow that rule... especially since they're moving through the steps so quickly and honestly I hate the thought of keeping that poor kitten locked up in the office for another 8 days-- she's already making more movements towards the door when we come in or out, wanting to explore. With all the cats we've adopted from shelters over the years we've never had a problem with one of them getting sick, either.

So I think tonight we might try step 4, where we isolate Sierra in a room while we let Nev out to walk around and explore (and leave her scent in the house) and see how Sierra reacts to that. Step 5 is to let the see each other with limited access (like through a babygate or a cracked door), and then finally to let the meet freely. Hopefully it all goes well. =)

BTW, Nev and Donovan are already quite a pair. It's so cute to see them together, as they kinda match size-wise. He's been really gentle with her, and she's not at all afraid of him and will even come up and nuzzle against his legs. It's really ridiculously cute.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Muffin Tin Meals

One definite challenge for me as a mom is figuring out meals for Donovan not only each day, but several times a day. I'm not a cook. Never really have been. I'll find dishes that I can make (usually with short ingredient lists and instructions, lest I become overwhelmed) and I dare say when I do decide to make something it turns out fairly decent, but I'm just not one of those people that enjoys cooking. I am very, very lucky in that I married a man who does, and he often makes a point of making large batches so there's leftovers, especially since D's started eating solid food. But even then, with 3 square meals plus numerous snacks inbetween (D seems to have inherited his Aunt Criss's appetite, requiring small but frequent meals all day long) I often feel like I'm scrounging to put something together, the line between "snack" and "meal" often blurring quite a bit. Many days cheese and crackers seem a perfectly acceptable lunch offering.

Luckily D is a pretty decent eater-- he doesn't always eat much at once, but he's not terribly picky in what he'll eat. He likes Zach's cooking, most of the time devouring our leftovers and not minding too much if they're offered repeatedly for a few days in a row. I do occasionally manage to cook something for us (um, grilled cheese sandwiches) but even that's tough since our kitchen is so cut off from the rest of the house, so it's hard to do anything in there while also keeping an eye on D at the same time. But as long as I keep certain staples stocked (crackers, hummus, cheese, bread, yogurt, avocado, strawberries...) I'm usually able to pull together semi-decent meals for him.

I think it was on Danielle's blog that I first heard about "muffin tin meals," the idea where you use a muffin or cupcake tin to serve a bunch of small servings of a variety of different foods as a meal. I've tried it a few times, and it's a pretty nifty idea. I remembered it today as I was trying to figure out what to serve D for lunch today, and ended up with a pretty nice spread of leftover chicken, black beans, cheese, crackers, blueberries, and strawberries. These somehow would not have looked all that great mixed together on a single plate, but presented in the tin they looked a lot more impressive, and I think the novelty aspect of it alone makes it more interesting for D and more likely that he'll eat it. ; ) And as D's getting better at using utensils and even dipping food, I can start putting things like yogurt and hummus into one of the spaces, too. So yeah, I think the muffin tin idea will become a regular part of our meal repertoire. =)

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Animals & Projects

This morning Donovan and I went to a nearby farm, located inside a nature preserve. It was a nice, fairly short hike in to get there, and then D was able to run around to look at the goats, sheep, rabbits, chickens, and ducks in the different pens. I think he had a good time. =)

After coming home, having lunch, a nice nap, and a bit of playtime, we then walked over to Home Depot so I could pick up some paint. A while back we bought D this set from Ikea of a kid-sized table with 2 chairs, that's made from unfinished wood. I've been trying to think of what to do for painting it and then got this idea that I'm really excited about because I think it's just super cute. And so now I kinda can't wait to try it out, but also am hesitant because I'm worried it won't end up nearly as cute as I envision it. But, gotta try, right?
I picked up a large can of The FreshAire Choice paint (a new paint that's supposed to have no VOCs and thus no nasty fumes) for the base color, and then 2 sample sizes in different colors for accents (settled for the smelly stuff since the other kind didn't come in sample sizes). I put the paint cans in the underbasket of our stroller, then once we got home I led the stroller into the patio, closed the gate, and let Donovan out so he could play while I got our stuff settled. I was getting the paint out from under the stroller when I noticed that D had picked up one of the small sample-sized cans (perfect size for his little hands) and carried it over near the front door, and placed it on the ledge by the door. He then came back and picked up the second sample can and put it right next to the first on the ledge. Then he looked at the cans, grabbed one and brought it back over to me. Then went back for the other and brought it back. And he proceeded to repeat this process, bringing them one by one to the ledge then back to me, for I swear a solid 10 full minutes. Just back and forth. over and over again. Until he was done, and then he flashed me this big grin as if he were really proud of himself about it, and then went off to play with something else.

Those are some of my favorite moments to watch. =)

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Dirt & Sunshine

The first time I remember meeting Kathy was at a mutual friend's party. She was there with her husband, Paul, and 2 their boys, who must have been about 6 and 9 at the time? (they are now 9 and 12, I believe) I didn't get a chance to talk to her or Paul much that day, but I do very much remember at one point at the party looking over and seeing that her kids were both sitting on cushions on the floor absorbed in books they had brought, and being blown away at 1) how much they seemed into reading and b) how calm they were. Now, I've certainly seem them be more boisterous and do their share of wrestling, too. But they seem to know how to behave themselves, to know what kind of behavior is appropriate, and don't go around bouncing off the walls each chance they get (at least this is my impression).

I say all this to give some prespective as to why, then, I was pretty darn excited to hear that she was writing a book of advice to parents. As a mother I still spend much more time feeling utterly lost than feeling like I have any inkling of an idea of what I am doing, so seeing someone who herself seems such a lovely person and who seems to be raising such well-balanced boys is not only refreshing but makes me want to pick her brains to figure out how she's done it.
Dirt & Sunshine
Last time I saw her she gave me a copy of her newly published book, Dirt & Sunshine, as a gift.* When I got home I opened it up and read it cover to cover (easy to do, as it's only about 30 pages long-- one of its many assets since it's easy for even the busiest parent to sit through and read at nap time). The book is made up of 25 bits of advice that she's learned through her own personal experiences, or had passed on to her from other parents: let your children spend as much time outside (in the dirt and sunshine) as possible; be the person you want your children to be; read to your children, early and often; use "close range" discipline; teach your child to cope in an imprefect and unfair world; etc. Most are so common sense that you'd think you'd know it all already, expect many of us don't or forget or just don't take the time to remember. She also gives some examples of how to implement some of these pieces of advice, to help you out.

To be completely honest, this is the most down-to-earth and refreshing "parenting book" I have ever read. I plan to keep my copy easily accessible as a daily reminder of these little nuggets of wisdom. I have already sent a couple copies out to fellow new mom friends, and may get some more for Christmas... we'll see. Dirt & Sunshine is available for purchase on, and should soon also be up at its own website:

*As a disclaimer, Kathy did not ask me to write about the book or give a review. I'm writing this simply because I think her book is that kick ass and hope lots of you will buy it and read it. =P

Monday, August 03, 2009


So last week we joined the local YMCA. A big motivating factor was that they have both an indoor and outdoor swimming pool. I like D's swim classes, but don't think I want to keep shelling out money to do it year-round. However I also don't want him to lose his comfort with the water. We've been practicing a lot of the same skills in class the past several months, so should be easy enough to keep doing the same, and maybe next summer we'll pay for a session again to refresh and see what else to work on. In addition, they also have a mommy-and-me class that sounds a lot like how Gymboree works, which I'd planned to quit anyway (he's moved up to the next age level and the class times are no longer very convenient). And Zach might even be able to sneak off to play basketball there from time to time.

Another big motivator is the included child care. They'll take kids for up to 90 minutes for free, as long as one parent stays at the Y. Believe me, it has most definitely crossed my mind to drop D off and then go read by the pool. I do hope to also get a bit of a work-out routine in as well (it'd be nice to build up some muscle) but even if I don't it seems like it'll be easy to get our money's worth from the pool and child care aspects alone. ; )

So D and I went today for the first time, a sort of "fact-finding mission" if you will. I wanted to see how he'd do at the child care room (ok, cried a little but seemed appeased by the vast number of car toys available), get my picture taken for my member card, check out the locker room and shower facilities, etc. I'm aiming to go again on Wednesday and try to actually get a work-out in while D plays. We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


Zach and I watched HOME last night. He'd heard about it a while back, I think listened to an interview with the director, Yann Arthus-Bertarand, and heard that the cinematography in the film was supposed to be amazing. It's the first movie ever that is 100% aerial footage, the whole thing filmed from helicopters, all fairly close-up, too, the shots incredibly smooth. We got the DVD from netflix, but the film is available and free to watch for everyone, up on YouTube and also the film's website.

In a similar vein as An Inconvenient Truth, HOME tells the story of our planet and how it was formed and then goes on to show how we humans have changed it. How we managed to figure out how to dominate the various habitats and environments accross it. And, finally, how in the past 50 years we've caused more dramatic changes than in our entire history beforehand, and are basically in significant danger of shooting ourselves in the foot as we consume resources at a pace much faster than they can be renewed. The website sums the film's message as the following paradox: that "we have never been so dependent on natural resources and yet we have never cut ourselves off from nature to this extent."

As I watched the beautiful footage, and listened to the narrated script, I often felt like something was tightening around my chest. There are entire ecosystems (wetlands, mangroves,etc) that have been reduced by 50% from our immediate actions just in the past few decades... they very well may not even exist by the time Donovan is my age. We continue to pump oil and mine minerals out of the earth, things we have become so dependent on, at a rate that is impossible to sustain. Water resources are running low, major rivers no longer flowing out to the sea for several months of the year now, because we're consuming their supplies faster than they can be replenished. A billion people worldwide don't have access to clean drinking water. It goes without saying that a large part of the film was incredibly depressing, thinking about what our future might look like.

Yet it was also incredibly motivating and inspiring. They ended the film with examples of countries and communities that have made changes that made a huge difference. I had no idea that Costa Rica no longer has a military, deciding instead to funnel that money into preserving their forests and environment. I am once again seriously considering giving up beef altogether, since cattle are such a huge drain to our water and food stores (something like 70% of the grain grown worldwide go to livestock feed and biofuels, not food for people). I am even more comitted to try to make the changes I can make, as an individual, to help do my part. Will it have any significant effect? I have no idea. Probably not. But by choosing to live our lives a certain way, and make certain choices above others, I can hopefully lead by example, and also instill these values in my child as he grows up. It is for him, after all, that I fear the most. It will be he and his children who will have to face the consequences of our actions, who will inherit a world where all the easily accessible resources will be gone.


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