Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Real Von Trapps

If you love the Sound of Music, then you probably will want to read this - but you probably shouldn't. It turns out, the story of the real Von Trapps has very little in common with the movie.

Still. It's fascinating.

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Family Activities

My daughter is finally old enough to want to do things as a family - or, really, she's finally capable enough to do some really fun things.

And recently, she's been requesting a family night - her idea was to make bead bracelets, which, unfortunately, was a disaster because the cheap plastic string in the kiddie kit kept breaking. She was in tears when her bracelet fell apart and all the beads went dancing across the floor.

I'm going to look into better materials, but now I'm on a roll, trying to think of things for us to do. I probably don't need to say that my husband wouldn't join - he was less than thrilled with the venture of a bead bracelet. Can't say I blame him, although, really, he was a bit of a spoil sport.

The problem is, it's winter and cold here. We seldom get snow - which is, by the way, a serious impediment to most of the 'family winter activity' suggestions you find online - but we get a lot of cold and rain and gray. So, finding things that are fun and warm is a bit of a challenge. For instance, we could go to the Y and swim every Friday night, but it is a huge hassle trying to dry off before the Y closes. Plus, it's just miserable, being wet and then going out in the cold.

I'm agin' it.

So, here's a list of ideas I've found thus far:
  • About.com published a list for fathers and kids, which is silly, because everybody could do anything on this list. It's got tons of snow-stuff - snowboarding, etc. The ideas I like are: Baking cookies (you could do bread, too), make a bird feeder, learn chess - complete with a link to a site that shows how parents can teach chess to kids - and the ever-popular build an indoor fort.
  • There are the usuals, too, like playing games, or painting, or some such. I do scrapbook, and I suppose I could share that - but, again, the husband is the problem. He'd probably do it, but he'd be looking for an exit as soon as he could find it. Perhaps I'll just switch this concept to mother/daughter night.
  • This family decided to learn how to fish and spent a whole day doing it - another great idea for spring or summer, but not the dead of winter. (Unless you live somewhere you can ice fish.)
  • This family did indoor putt-putt - nice fun, if you can get it. But I don't think they offer that around here. Bowling, maybe. (Assuming you can squeeze in past the leagues!)
  • Here's an idea from 365 Unplugged Family Activities: Set up a small town, dress your child up as a monster and make your own Godzilla film. We are totally doing this, just as soon as I can netflix Godzilla so she'll understand the concept.
  • Apparently, some families enjoy beer chugging.

Not a lot to choose from. I mean, really - it takes, what, an hour to bake some cookies? And then you've got nothing to do but eat them, and I so do not need the sugar.

It's just difficult to find something that's engaging for a five year old and two adults in their late 30s. Everything is either too kid-centric or too adult-focused and boring for the child. Plus, we only have the one child, so lots of otherwise fun things loose their joy when you're dealing with just one child and two adults.

Maybe we'll just work our way through a hobby list.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Carnival of Family Life Posts

The Carnival of Family Life posted at All Rileyed Up. Looks like there are tons of good Christmas craft ideas. Gifts for Grandma, anyone?

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Tis the Season for Sickness

Starting with me, everybody in my family has been sick since last Sunday.I had a stomach bug. My husband has a cold. My daughter has chronic stomach problems that I keep fearing is not the usual problems, but my stomach bug - plus it looks like she's caught her father's cold. So she stayed home today.

Nothing cramps holiday plans quite as quickly as an illness. It got me thinking, though: Should I be more aggressive about cleaning after minor illnesses? I mean, I'm having a hard enough time getting the basics done as it is.

I found this post about cleaning a baby's toys - which becomes a much bigger deal when you're dealing with a five year old instead of a baby. One woman posted this piece of advice about 10 times:
"I clean the toys at my church. The way we were taught, was to wash them in soap and water, then rinse them in a bleach solution. I fill a deep sink with hot water and add 3 tbsp bleach (the ratio should be 95% water, 5% bleach.) The trick is to let the toys dry with the bleach on them, don't rinse! If you are cleaning something big like an exersaucer, try putting the 95/5 solution in a spray bottle."


But I think I'll just buy some Lysol and go to town spraying the doorknobs and light switches.
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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Save Money with Family Gifts

If you're looking for a way to cut down on the holiday hassle and possibly save money, why not consider giving family gifts this year? By family gifts, I mean one gift for an entire family that encourages family togetherness.

I wrote about the idea in 2006, but I didn't mention at the time that it could be a way to cut your gift expenses. After all, you can buy a very nice family gift for everyone to share for less than you would spend on each individual.

Here's a list of family gift ideas to get you started.

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The Value of Relaxing

I was perusing the early posts of this blog and was amused to discover some posts from when I was trying to give up TV. I had to smile, because it's three years later, and I'm still debating whether or not to give up TV.

Sometimes, though, everybody just need to relax: You, the spouse, the kids, even the dog. And frankly, TV is a great way to do that.

I know, I know. Technically, it's not a great way to do that. Studies have shown there are a lot better, more efficient ways for your brain to relax. But nothing feels quite as laid back and low key as just chilling in front of the TV.

We watched Air Bud and then Hercules, which has what I consider to be cartoon violence and for some reason, my daughter gets a kick out of it. Mostly, I don't let her watch it, but every now and then I watch and episode and she claims to watch it, but mostly she plays.

At one point, I asked my daughter if she wanted me to read to her or just watch TV. She loves reading, but she opted for the TV. I think she needed to feel free to do her own thing and chill, too.

Just last month, I said I wanted to cut back on the TV. And we have. But this wasn't mindless, "hey dinner's over so we now watch TV." This was a deliberate decision to call off the work hounds, call off my errands and just be together. None of us felt up to much - I suspect my daughter might be on the cusp of a stomach flu - so we watched TV, with Sweatpea sitting in my lap while I rocked and hugged her.

I think what matters is not so much the TV itself, as the message it sends my daughter - which is that even her parents are going to be 'off' for tonight. She knows we're relaxing. When we read or do other things, I get antsy and end up doing work or otherwise being busy. When we watch TV, we all slow down, sit and just be together.

Of course, my daughter and I also have the ability to talk and interactive, even with the TV on. My husband does not. Plus he was sick, so he went to bed early.

It was a relaxing evening, and I can't help but think TV was a part of that. Are there better ways? Sure. But nothing says total sloth like TV night.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Family Friendlier: Working from Home or Normal Job?

One of the reasons I've sort of dropped off the map here is I've really tried to increase my for-pay writing. I'm a freelance writer, which has been my dream forever, and since my child is now in Kindergarten (full day), I'm trying to build my business.

But I'm worried about the summer and how family friendly freelancing really is. It's always listed as a top job for moms, but mostly, it feels like I'm kidding myself. For instance, I took a nap once my husband came home and got up about the time my daughter went to bed. Why? So I could work and then be home with her tomorrow, because it's getting harder and harder to work with her at home.

I'm wondering how I'll juggle childcare with working from home during the long summer months, and, increasingly, I'm questioning whether it's really worth it. It's not like I'm writing anything I care deeply about, plus the pay is meager. Maybe I'll make $20,000 this year - maybe.

Of course, I don't work full-time. And if I had a full-time job out of my house, I'd have to give up things like being there on days off, picking her up from school, and those wonderful afternoons at the pool during June.

On the other hand, I need to make more money, and I can't help but think it would've been nice to spend tonight and tomorrow night with my family, instead of napping and working.

Plus, this schedule is hard on my healthy.

Am I robbing Peter to pay Paul? I think I may be, in more ways than one.


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Monday, November 24, 2008

No Time For Anything

Lately, I've had no time for anything. It's been all work, work, work. And sick, sick, sick. And no sleeping.

I did manage to spare some time to do a craft with my daughter yesterday, after taking her shopping to get the craft - and, yes, a few scrapbook supplies for myself.

I seriously need to put the oxygen mask on myself. On airplanes, they warn parents if the oxygen mask sign comes on, they should put the mask on themselves first and then the child. That's to ensure they don't pass out. Passed out parents are no good to children or airlines.

But I forget to put the mask on myself first ALL THE TIME. I forget it when I don't eat right, get enough sleep, exercise or just take time for myself. Before I know it, I've passed out and can't take care of myself, much less my daughter, husband, the hamster, dog or house.

Today's my day to put on my oxygen mask again. Step one: Get enough sleep and water. Get back on the diet track.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

What Do We Want Our Children To Learn?

I'm contemplating a career change to teaching. In an effort to get a feel for what teachers do, how they think, how they prepare and so on, I'm reading a lot of books, blogs and articles.

Yes, I like to be prepared.

Lesson plans are particularly confusing to me. How do you make sure you're really teaching kids what they need to move on? Curriculum guidelines aren't as specific as you'd think - which makes me wonder if that's one reason why teachers end up teaching to standardized tests. I mean, love them or hate them, at least they offer a structured way of organizing all the material you could teach at a certain grade.

I started thinking about what I've needed to live and work in life. Then I realized that much of what I learned in high school I actually needed for college - and then haven't needed since, because if you're a liberal arts major, you specialize after college. If you're not a liberal arts major, you probably didn't need a whole bunch of the stuff you learned in high school.

This made me wonder if it'd be more efficient to work backwards from college. For instance, if you know a college calculus class or English class teaches at this level, what do you need to teach in high school to prepare students for doing that level of work?

I'm sure this varies by universities, but I also know universities are offering more and more remedial classes - so, clearly, students aren't showing up with the tools they need to do college level work. Remedial classes are a problem, because it extends the time you're in school and they cost way more than if you'd learned that stuff in high school - and I bet they play a role in the large student debt of which so many graduates complain these days.

This lead to me to think about raising my own daughter and I realized you could use this same approach in your day-to-day life with your child. I guess it's obvious, but it's easy to forget. We're raising children to be adults, so shouldn't we ask ourselves what kind of adults we hope they'll be? And then use that ideal as our "course outline" for what we're doing now?

I have to say, I'm not too pleased with what I'm doing as a parent when I think about what kind of adult would emerge from our day-to-day lives. It's not that she'd be a bad person, but here's a look at what we do many days, particularly in winter:
Too much technology, too little interaction. First, there's TV. True, she mostly watches educational programs - if you count Arthur as educational - but between her shows and our shows, the TV is on many, many hours. And when she's watching her shows, one or both of us are on the computer "quickly" checking email or looking something up or - ahem- blogging. Even when we put her to bed, we stay up to watch TV.

We do, at least, turn it off for a sit down dinner - but even sit down dinners are not something we do religiously. Not infrequently, we eat in shifts, with one person watching TV while another's eating. It's not deliberate - someone's not hungry or I need a nap because I was up too late. But it's not good.

Why do we do this? This is both how we were raised - the TV was on constantly at my house. If you didn't like what was on, you went in another room and did your own thing. So, safe bet that she'll have this same bad habit as an adult, since that's how I got it.

I hate this, but I'm not sure how to break out of this mold. I've played with getting rid of the TV, but what about movies? Lost? I know. Sad.

Not exercising. I hate to leave to exercise at night because that's family time and also because I seldom feel like it. But then again, wouldn't I rather teach her that nights are for exercising instead of TV? Wouldn't I rather teach her that an important part of adult life is taking care of yourself. I never saw my parents exercise. Never. Mom did a few sit ups and this weird pilates-esque circuit she'd learned somewhere once in a blue moon. When Dad was young, he did push ups and head stand push ups - which are a crazy sight to see, let me tell you. But otherwise, it wasn't an issue for them since they tended to get exercise through work. So, I never thought of it as something you made time for.

Eating bad food too quickly. On our best nights, we cook a healthy meal and sit down for a long meal and after dinner conversation. When I'm tired, someone's sick or other times when we're just not motivated, then we eat quick meals or my hubby brings in carry-out. Carry-out, I've decided, is not nutritionally better than fast food. Most of these meals look healthier, but have hidden salt and fat. We also will eat quickly and then migrate to our own corners of the world.

I did not learn this from my family. My mom cooked home meals and we seldom ate out. However, I didn't learn to cook, I don't like cooking, and so, it's a lazy habit.

No chores. This is another bad habit. We tend to clean in spurts, rather than using routines. I do teach my daughter about cleaning, but I'm not teaching her a discipline of teaching. I've tried routines. I hate them. So exactly what skills will my child have for handling things like laundry and house chores if I don't model them? None.

Overall, part of the problem is I don't have the energy I need to create the family I want. And it's not likely to improve in the next few years, since I'm thinking about returning to school for my teaching certificate. This will put us dangerously close to her pre-teen years. I'm open to ideas.

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Twitter and Mothering

This NY Times piece is too priceless. A mother who can't escape constant text messages from her children - with demands about where she's going - decides Twitter is the perfect technology answer to her problem.

And her kids hate it. They simply don't get it. These Web 2.0 spawn rebel.

In the process, though, she finally manages to break free of their technology tethers, so there's a happy ending.


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Awesome Show About African American History

My husband and I had just turned off the DVD player from our nightly viewing of The Tick and caught a few minutes of African American Lives 2 on PBS. Well, we were totally hooked and spent the next two hours watching it, despite plans for an early bedtime.

It traces the family lines of 16 people, including Maya Angelou, Chris Rock, Tina Turner, Morgan Freeman and Peter Gomes (one of my favorite religious writers) plus the show's host, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In addition to looking into old records, they do a DNA test and are able to tell people what their racial percentages are! That was pretty surprising, I can tell you.

Gates, who considers himself black and grew up black, ended up being 50 percent European! He was pretty shocked. Turns out, he's related to some Irish king. There's a great scene where he goes to Ireland, meets some Irish people and introduces himself as this king's relative and then - how's this for a stereotype - the next scene is him in an Irish pub, drinking ale with the locals. It was awesome.

There was also this segment on how African Americans tend to think they have Native American ancestors, but in fact, only a small percentage do. Tina Turner just knew she was Native American, but it turns out no. Not even a little bit. The same with Morgan Freeman - who noted the Choctaws in Oklahoma were going to be upset when they learned he'd misrepresented himself. As it turned out, the features they attributed to being Native American were, you guessed it, European.

Which makes me wonder about the traits white people attribute to Native American ancestry.

There was also an interesting bit about indentured white women who had children by black (and, they assume, slave) men. That's a story you never hear about - but it turns out, that was the situation in Gates' family. (I think it was Gates; they skipped around a lot.) And they'd always figured the woman was ... you guessed it ... Native American.

They were able to tell several people which one or two tribes they would've decided from, as well. Experts helped Gates actually narrow down to about seven ships his African ancestor may have been on for the middle passage.

I'd love to have some of the DNA work they discussed in the series. Apparently, there have been lots of country-specific DNA studies that make it possibly to really pinpoint people's genetic origins now. Fascinating stuff.

We were in tears during some of the stories and it was just so powerful, watching these people learn about their past through slave records and DNA.

I'd definitely recommend this series. There's also a teacher's resource on the site.

This site says it's sister company, AfricanDNA.com, was used in the show.

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