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Take Me Out to the Ball Game (But Leave Your Bad Attitude at Home)

19 Apr

Chip’s first experience playing a team sport was practically ideal.  One of his best pals was on the team.  That kid’s dad—an affable guy named David—was a truly talented and caring coach.  Plus the games took less than an hour, followed by snacks, and Chip’s Kindergarten teacher came to watch.  It doesn’t get much better for my 6-year-old.

I loved it, too.  Watching Chip interact with his teammates, take direction from his coach and grow as a player proved a constant source of delight.  The only thing preventing the experience from being an all-around winner was Madame BS as in Bad Sport.

Her son was one of the better players on the team—not the top talent but close.  She clearly knew the rules of the games; I could tell as she screamed from the sidelines practically non-stop.  To her credit, she only yelled at her kid.  (Only cheered for him, too, while the rest of us moms rooted for everyone on the team.)  But here’s the kicker: Whenever one of our players made a mistake, Madame BS would put her head in her hands and groan.

Shame on you, Madame BS.

A couple weeks back, one of our less gifted players was struggling as goalie.  (Coach David plays all of the kids in every position—it’s about learning and fun, he says.)  In the third period, this particular boy let four goals score.  He didn’t seem all that shaken up by this unfortunate turn of events—until, that is, he caught sight of Madame BS.  With her beet-red face, she looked like someone had socked her in the gut.  (A tempting idea, I admit.)

Who cares if a team of 5- and 6-year-olds win or lose?  Why send such a negative message?  What are you teaching your kid in the end?

We’ll play soccer again.  We’ll try to win, too.  And we’ll keep our chins up and eyes on the ball, not caring whether or not someone is making sour faces by the sidelines.

Merry Thriftmas!

17 Nov

My daughter with autism has 27 teachers, aides, therapists and bus drivers who interact with her on a daily basis. My son has 16 teachers from school, church and various activities. With Christmas around the corner, I’m trying to think of creative ways to stretchy my giving dollars so that everyone feels the appreciation they truly deserve.

Last week, I caught my dad chucking a bunch of old sheet music; his mother was a piano teacher and church organist. I snatched the weighty stack out of the recycle bin.

“What are you going to do with these?” he asked.

“I’ll think of something,” I said with a slight shrug.

Here’s the something thanks to google and the design guru behind the blog “Primp,” I have inspiration! Behold!!

Vintage Sheet Music Wreath Tutorial

I thought a vintage sheet music wreath would be a perfect addition to my evolving piano room. This one turned out similar to my first book page wreath. It was a very fun and addicting project, made with supplies purchased from either the dollar or thrift store. Total cost= $5!

Here’s what you need:

  • foam wreath
  • cream ribbon
  • glue gun
  • vintage sheet music
  • masking tape
  • a small cup

Let’s get started.

You could use any size foam wreath but the only one the dollar store had the day I went was this really wide one, so…

I just cut it right in half with a knife.

If you buy a thick one like me, just save the other half for when you want to make another book page wreath. Trust me you will–they’re addicting.

Wrap the wreath with a wide ribbon, glueing occasionally as you go. Or you could skip this whole step, especially if your wreath is white or cream.

This one was made out of florist foam and flaked every time I touched it so I definitely wanted to wrap it.

Now tear out about 50 pages of vintage sheet music. This is where it gets really fun. Once you get the idea of how to form each sheet into a cone shape it goes really quick.

This is how you do it:
Take a sheet and place your fingers on the two corners on the long side of the paper.

Keep your left hand still and with only your right hand wrap that corner around.

Continue to wrap in a forward motion.

Twist.

Twist.

Twist.

Keep twisting.

Now twist your left and right hands in opposite directions to tighten the cone.

You can twist a lot to make a skinnier cone or twist less and leave the cone opening bigger. Then secure with a small piece of masking tape.  I used a combination of skinny and big ones.

Once you have a big pile of these you are ready to glue.

Put your cup right in the middle.  This will help you get a nice size circle opening in the center.  You can vary the cup size depending on how big or small you want the opening to be.

Go all around the wreath hot gluing a single layer of cones to the wreath form.  Don’t worry if there are spaces or if it doesn’t look perfect, this layer will be covered up.  Continue with a second layer.

Hang using a piece of ribbon or fabric threaded around the back of the wreath form.  Right now my wreath hangs simply from a small nail but I envision it one day hanging in the middle of a shabby door or gate hung just above the piano.

Thanksgiving and Beyond: Easy Entertaining Tips

10 Nov


My mom made it look so easy.

She’d whip up a four-course Thanksgiving dinner with the bird thoroughly cooked and yet not dry, gravy with nary a lump and nothing scorched.

Alas, not so with her only child. I sweat, swear and singe my way through the biggest meal of the year. When it’s over, I want to take a 6-hour nap.

But my mom’s failing health has meant the mantle (or, rather, oven mitt) has been passed. In this terrifying new world, I decide the menu, buy the ingredients and cook like crazy.

I’m getting better, too, if only for having three successful Thanksgiving Meals under my belt. But I’m always looking for shortcuts and quick tips. Check out these…and please say a quick prayer for me the morning of November 24!

Make a plan

Take some time to really plan out the event. How many are coming? What’s on the menu? How should the house look? Make a to-do list and set deadlines. Doing as much as possible in advance will make the day of the party that much easier.

Gather your tools

Once the menu is set, review your tableware, serving dishes and cookware to make sure you have what you need. Borrow or purchase what you’re missing. Among today’s options is a growing array of cookware designed to go seamlessly and beautifully from oven or stovetop to even the most formal table, saving time, money and clean-up.

Make the most of your space

The size of the meal may expand during the holidays, but cooking and serving space doesn’t. A countertop toaster oven or high-wattage double burner can be a lifesaver for expanding oven and stovetop capacity. On the buffet table, tiered servers hold appetizers and desserts vertically, rather than horizontally, saving valuable space and creating an attractive display.

Decorate for the senses

Involve all the senses in your decorating scheme. Enlist a spouse or older child to come up with a holiday music playlist or CD. Be sure to include instrumental pieces to play during dinner so it won’t impede conversation.

Fill the house with holiday scents, such as cinnamon, mulberry or evergreen. Scented candles are an easy and attractive way to provide fragrance and a warm glow to any room, and candlelight makes your guests (and one weary hostess!) look 10 years younger.

Enjoy the results

Don’t be so busy playing hostess that you forget to enjoy yourself. Forget about perfection and keep the focus on what matters – family and friends. You may find yours is the party that people look forward to throughout the year.

Welcome Home, Charleston!

3 Nov

Two-and-a-half weeks ago, we brought a new being into our home: a black-and-tan Shiba Inu named Charleston.  Unlike Sami, our 7-year-old female red Shiba, Charleston is a rescue pup.  During the summer, we’d applied to the Shiba Inu Rescue of Texas to adopt a shelter dog, in large part because so many are in need.  Why the fascination with Shibas, a small Japanese breed with a reputation as headstrong yet loyal?  Because they don’t make much noise, a big consideration for our teen daughter with autism.

Charleston has transitioned almost seamlessly into our family life.  He’s playful, sweet and loves love!  (He’ll nudge you if you forget to pet him.)  Our 6-year-old son is utterly besotted.  Princess Sami seems to enjoy sharing her domain with this new, furry pal.

Now with Halloween behind us, I’m thinking toward how he’ll react to Christmas and the attendant hullaballoo and décor.

I’m not alone.  According to CSA International, a global testing and certification organization, 60 percent of pet owners are concerned about their pet’s safety when leaving them alone in a house.  Three in 10 Americans have either experienced or know someone who has experienced a holiday decorations-related accident with a pet that required a trip to the vet’s office.

Here are thoughts on safeguarding your home:

  • Up, up and away: When decorating a tree or other indoor areas, place breakable ornaments and electrical decorations up high to protect both small children and pets.
  • Other potential problems: Keep potentially deadly ingestible items out of pets’ reach like chocolate, poinsettias, tinsel and colorful ornaments that may look like a ball or toy.
  • No sparks for Sparky: Whenever possible, protect family and pets from electric shock by connecting all outdoor lighting into receptacles protected by weatherproof ground fault circuit interrupters.
  • Cat and canine candle concerns: Don’t leave lighted candles unattended.  Pets may burn themselves or cause a fire if they knock candles over.  Be sure to use appropriate candle holders, placed on a stable surface, and keep away from combustibles.  And if you leave the room, blow the candle out.
  •  Safe storage: Keep pets away from packages as well as your gift wrapping area.  Swallowed string, ribbon, plastic, and even wrapping paper can lead to intestinal blockage and require a trip to the vet.

Have a Happy, Safe Halloween!

26 Oct

My love of Halloween is no secret among my friends. I adore all of the rituals, from decorating the house and baking pumpkin-shaped cookies to carving jack-o-lanterns and handing out candy. To make sure your family has a great October 31st, check out the following safety tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Halloween Safety Tips

ALL DRESSED UP:

  • Plan costumes that are bright and reflective. Consider adding reflective tape or striping to costumes and Trick-or-Treat bags for greater visibility.
  • Because masks can limit or block eyesight, consider non-toxic makeup and decorative hats as safer alternatives. Hats should fit properly to prevent them from sliding over eyes.
  • If a sword, cane, or stick is a part of your child’s costume, make sure it is not sharp or too long. A child may be easily hurt by these accessories if he stumbles or trips.
  • Obtain flashlights with fresh batteries for all children and their escorts.
  • Do not use decorative contact lenses without an eye examination and a prescription from an eye care professional. This can cause pain, inflammation, and serious eye disorders and infections.

CARVING A NICHE:

  • Small children should never carve pumpkins. Children can draw a face with markers.  Then parents can do the cutting.
  • Consider using a flashlight or glow stick instead of a candle to light your pumpkin. If you do use a candle, a votive candle is safest.
  • Candlelit pumpkins should be placed on a sturdy table, away from curtains and other flammable objects, and should never be left unattended.

HOME SAFE HOME:

  • To keep homes safe for visiting trick-or-treaters, parents should remove from the porch and front yard anything a child could trip over such as garden hoses, toys, bikes and lawn decorations.
  • Parents should check outdoor lights and replace burned-out bulbs.
  • Wet leaves should be swept from sidewalks and steps.

ON THE TRICK-OR-TREAT TRAIL:

  • A parent or responsible adult should always accompany young children on their neighborhood rounds.
  • If your older children are going alone, plan and review the route that is acceptable to you. Agree on a specific time when they should return home.
  • Only go to homes with a porch light on and never enter a home or car for a treat.

Because pedestrian injuries are the most common injuries to children on Halloween, remind Trick-or Treaters:

  • Stay in a group and communicate where they will be going.
  • Carry a cell phone for quick communication.
  • Remain on well-lit streets and always use the sidewalk.
  • If no sidewalk is available, walk at the far edge of the roadway facing traffic.
  • Never cut across yards or use alleys.
  • Only cross the street as a group in established crosswalks (as recognized by local custom). Never cross between parked cars or out driveways.
  • Don’t assume the right of way. Motorists may have trouble seeing Trick-or-Treaters. Just because one car stops, doesn’t mean others will!

HEALTHY HALLOWEEN:

  • A good meal prior to parties and trick-or-treating will discourage youngsters from filling up on Halloween treats.
  • Consider purchasing non-food treats for those who visit your home, such as coloring books or pens and pencils.
  • Wait until children are home to sort and check treats. Though tampering is rare, a responsible adult should closely examine all treats and throw away any spoiled, unwrapped or suspicious items.
  • Try to ration treats for the days following Halloween.

For more information, visit www.aap.org.

Rant of the Week: I Want to Resign as Family Manicurist!

18 Oct

Like most mothers, I wear many hats:  cook, stylist, chauffeur, coach, nurse practitioner, psychologist, cheerleader, maid, pharmacist…you get the picture.

The one I hate hands down (pun intended!) is manicurist and its evil twin, pedicurist.  My children whine, fight, scowl, complain, and verge on tears.  Me?  I assure you I’m attempting nothing fancy.  No perfectly shaped “squovals”; nothing to do with cuticles.  I’m talking plain old trim so they’re nails aren’t sharp as one of those Japanese ceramic blades!  I don’t fancy the idea of either kids’ fingers doubling as weapons!

I quit.

Of course I can’t quit.  Sheesh!  What I can do is ask your advice?  How do you do it??

Help!

Write On!

11 Oct

On Friday and Saturday, I attended the NC/NE Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators annual Editor and Agent Conference.  I have spent several years writing and revising a middle-grade novel.  And I would dearly like to sell said project.

I approached this conference like a job interview.  I read up on the participating professionals (stalking a couple of them on Twitter and Facebook).  On the advice of a friend, I came up with a 30-second “elevator” pitch about both my work-in-progress and a YA novel I hope to write.  I lined up babysitters and activities for my kids, and made up an hour-by-hour schedule for my husband as to who was doing what, when.  All that enabled me to spend two working days—from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. both Friday and Saturday—full engaged in the conference.

On top of that, I vowed to meet other writers.  Now, I like other writers.  With the exception of three years in TV news (where I did a ton of writing, BTW), I’ve spent my entire career as a writer.  And I value the relationships I have with my editors, especially.  But fiction feels like a whole new world, these kids’ authors a whole new animal.  Plus I’d rather listen than speak in almost any situation.

Nevertheless, I promised I’d chat up six separate folks.  I’m delighted to report that I exceeded my goal.  I spoke with THREE literary agents and THREE editors (one from Random House; the other two from Scholastic).  I plopped myself beside an agent the first night at dinner.  And I offered my opinions on various books, some of which didn’t gel with hers.  On the other side of that agent was her client, Oklahoma-based author Sonia Gensler; her YA debut novel, THE REVENANT, was published this summer, and it’s terrific.  She’s lovely, too.

Personal meet-and-greet goals aside, I most benefited from a shot of “you-can-do-it!” enthusiasm.  My heart beat faster to hear high-powered pros talk about how they love (love!) working with new talent.  Recession aside, children’s fiction is experiencing a boon, both creatively and in terms of market share.  (Unless you write or sell picture books…more on that, perhaps, another time.)

As a mom, it’s gratifying, too, to realize teams of professionals are working like crazy to put out quality, enriching material that will educate, excite and inspire babies to older teens. It’s all the more motivation to put the polish on my piece!

Tips for Breathing Easier this Fall

28 Sep

Last Saturday evening, my husband and I attended an outdoor wedding at the Dallas Arboretum.  The setting was gorgeous—as was the bride and her party.  During the ceremony, I found myself getting teary.  No, I wasn’t overcome with emotion.  Rather, ragweed was the culprit.

Unlike many who suffer through the pollen in spring, my allergies rear their gunky heads every fall.  I’m the one dabbing her eyes, honking into her hankie and swallowing my sneezes this time of year.  I don’t take allergy meds because they often have a reverse reaction, making me hyper.  My most useful strategies are showering at night and changing my pillow case every day so I’m not making myself worse while I sleep.

I’m not alone.  At least 40 million Americans suffer some kind of seasonal allergy.

In this case, the nose knows.

“Sinus health is the foundation for good respiratory health,” says Mike Tringale, vice president at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).  “And we are increasingly finding that relieving nasal congestion makes a huge impact on the quality of life for people of all ages.”

AAFA offers some tips for reducing sinus symptoms, whether they’re caused by allergies, a cold or the flu:

  • To reduce your chance of catching a cold, avoid touching your face or nose.  Wash your hands with hot water and soap regularly, especially after being in public places like stores, schools or offices.
  • Get a flu shot each year to try to avoid getting the flu.  However, if you feel flu-like symptoms, talk to your doctor within the first few days to get medications that will reduce the severity.
  • Manage your seasonal allergies by reading daily pollen counts and limiting your outdoor exposure on high-pollen days, and keep windows and doors closed during the morning hours before noon, when pollen tends to be most prevalent in the air.

Good luck!  Here’s hoping we all thrive this autumn outside and in!

Celebrating Grandparents (Particularly Those in Special-Needs Families!)

20 Sep

September is National Grandparents Month, and I’m overwhelmed once more thinking how much my parents have done for my family, particularly my 15-year-old daughter with autism.  My mother flew from California to join us for Paige’s neurology appointment in the spring of 2000, the horrible one during which she received the definitive autism diagnosis.  A year later, my parents moved here from the Silicon Valley to support us.  Five years after that, when I gave birth to Paige’s baby brother, my mom came over every school morning before 7 a.m. to watch Chip so I could get Paige off to school.

My dad’s no slacker, either.  He’s provided boundless financial and emotional support—neither of which I can imagine doing without.  He has bonded with our neurotypical son, Chip, to the extent that they have LEGO playdates, go see movies together and just talk.

All grandparents who choose to involve themselves (in a thoughtful, encouraging way) in the lives of their children’s kids deserve high praise.  It can be tricky sometimes with a disabled child, especially one like my own who is non-verbal.

In honor of National Grandparents Month, Autism Speaks (the nationwide nonprofit founded by grandparents of a child with autism) has created A Grandparent’s Guide to Autism.  This family support tool kit is designed to help guide and encourage grandparents to establish positive and successful relationships with their grandchildren and the rest of their families.

Click here to read A Grandparent’s Guide to Autism or visit Grandparents Autism Network at www.ganinfo.org.

Party Prep: Why this is going to be the best birthday ever!

13 Sep

My son turns 6 next week and I’ve planned three days of festivities to celebrate the milestone.  Per his request, we’re having a “home party” on Saturday for his best pals.  Sunday, we’ll have dinner and cake (plus presents, of course) at my parents’ house—a.k.a. Grandma and Granddaddy’s.  Monday, Chip’s dad, babysitter and I will bring cupcakes to his classroom.  And we’ll take him to dinner at the restaurant of his choosing.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the years pondering what makes a great party.  I’ve thrown fab fetes as well as gatherings that have fallen flat—and I usually post-mortem both to figure out why.  Here are a few of my personal thoughts and conclusions.  If you have a minute, please share yours!

  • Unexpected foods: I incorporate two or more unexpected menu items simply because one of my favorite things to do as a partygoer is to sample unusual foods.  I tried tapenade for the first time at a party several years ago and thought it was superb!  This year, I’ve taken that notion a step further by building Chip’s birthday party around the idea that his friends probably never eat sugary cereals.  So what are we serving?  Captain Crunch, Apple Jacks, Trix, Cocoa Puffs, etc. (along with healthier fare like fresh fruit and mini-quiches).  I know the kids will love the cereal sampling stations—but I also expect more than a few of their parents to indulge, too.
  • Unscheduled time: I once went to a kid’s party where every second was orchestrated.  The mom literally had a flow chart designating the attendees’ every move and seemed downright stressed when the kids fell behind!  I don’t think that works for children younger than age 10 (if, frankly, it works at all).  To that end, this Saturday we’ll have one activity for the kids plus the food.  After that, it’s just a big playdate where the kids can run around and do what they want.
  • Environmental studies: We spent the last few months cooped up because of the punishing heat so we’re partying on the patio come Saturday.  I think children and their folks enjoy outside time, particularly when the weather cooperates.  As my husband and I spruced up our backyard this spring and our hot-pink crepe myrtle is in full bloom, I’m looking forward to having a chance to enjoy the outdoors, too!
  • Gifts: I go back and forth on whether kids like seeing the birthday boy/girl open presents or not.  I often think it’s a waste of good party time for all concerned.  Every year I play this one by ear but invariably Chip tears into his booty while surrounded by his besties.  I’ve decided that’s fine as long as the kids know they don’t have to sit at his feet, oohing and aahing over his gifts.  If they want to watch, great.  If not, great, too.  The only thing I really care about is that I know who gave him what so I can properly thank each person.  I always appreciate the mom who volunteers to log the loot—a true gift to me!
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