Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Try a Twist on the Advent Calendar Tradition, Free Printable Christmas Stories November 27, 2013

Filed under: Fun Family Weekend Ideas,Lacko Family Chronicles,motherhood — rjlacko @ 4:21 pm

adventcalendarAs a child, I loved advent calendars. The countdown to Christmas Eve was marked on a calendar sent to me each year by my Auntie Janet. Growing up, I was happy to open a little paper window each day to see what Christmas-inspired image lay behind. She never missed a year, straight through to college.

When I married my husband, he bought a beautiful puzzle version, in the shape of a Christmas tree, with drawers hiding chocolate treats. My children can’t wait to open it year after year. To strengthen the tradition, when my children were born, my mother sewed this  fabric one (see left) with pockets.

So our family displays two calendars each year. Being an obsessed chocoholic, I love treating my children to fine dark chocolate during the holidays. (You can never have too much chocolate in the house!) By age four, my youngest son could tell the difference between a Valrhona and a Scharffen Berger.

But two calendars means too many sweets. Rather than put away one of my beloved calendars, I’ve decided this year to fill my mother’s fabric pocket calendar with miniature scrolls, each printed with a part of a Christmas story.

I collected a series of free short stories from the web, and created a document so that I could cut out each “mini scroll,” marked with the day it is to be read, and roll it and tie it with a ribbon. Each day they’ll receive a new part of a story, until they finish with a little book.

There are three stories in all, followed by two poems.

If you’re interested in trying a new tradition, please feel free to print my Christmas Stories PDF.

**It’s important to note that I altered the stories a bit. Everything I found was ancient–and many of those old Christmas tales have surprisingly tragic endings!  I felt compelled to sweeten them up somewhat, and I did try to make the language easier to understand–but be assured the overall messages remain intact and preserved.  Merry Christmas, one and all!


Is Time-Out a harmful method of discipline? November 24, 2010

Filed under: health,Lacko Family Chronicles,motherhood — rjlacko @ 10:53 am

We are not spankers. Certainly, there have been times when my boys have pushed me to the point where I’ve given it serious thought. But what does hitting teach? Only that hitting is OK. And it’s not, in my opinion. What’s more, a smack in the rear doesn’t resolve the initial conflict.

Over the last five and a half years of parenting, my husband and I have relied heavily on time-outs, using the age-to-minutes ratio often “recommended.” It has done precious little to alleviate undesirable behavior and offers more to us as parents in the form of a moment to clear our own heads (which should not go undervalued.)

Kimberley Clayton Blaine, , MA, MFT, is the executive producer of the online parenting show TheGoToMom and author of The Go-To Mom’s Parents’ Guide to Emotion Coaching Young Children, and The Internet Mommy, says too many time-outs may be ineffective at best, and downright harmful at worst. She suggests kids subjected to repeated time-outs may develop poor emotion control because they are left alone without support and validation when they need it most. “Empathy is truly the foundation for effective parenting, and it is also necessary in creating a stronger bond between parent and child,” she adds. “Time-outs are the antithesis of that.”

Blaine advocates an alternate method that takes into account a child’s developmental limitations and that serves as guidance rather than punishment. For children over two, she suggests using a “cool-down” or “thinking time” instead. Not only is this method gentle, it keeps the parent by the child’s side to help him learn to calm himself down and think through what happened. (Incidentally, for babies two and under, Blaine recommends distraction and redirection instead. At this age your baby is simply too young to understand the concept of a thinking time; instead, give him a new item of interest or move him to an exciting location.)

Here are Blaine’s steps teach you how to use a cool-down or thinking time successfully:

Get down at your child’s level. Be sure to maintain good eye contact; give a warning and ask if what she is doing is “okay” or “not okay.” If your child doesn’t calm down or stop the unacceptable behavior, then lead him to a “quiet area” or “thinking area.” Sit with him and offer assistance and love. Remember, this is not a punishment.

Be aware that time is not important—having your child calm down is. Disregard the “one minute times your child’s age” stance that most use as a guide. Don’t give a five-year-old “five minutes to think”; sometimes the older child needs only a minute or two to come up with a better solution. On the other hand, a younger child may need to cuddle or sit with you for ten minutes until she’s calm. As you’re sitting there, empathize, validate and reflect what you see. An understood child is less likely to be fraught. Once your child is calm, ask him to tell you “what’s wrong” or “what’s going on.” Restate the problem again more clearly if he has difficulty.

Ask your child, “What will you do differently next time?” Name the expected behavior if she doesn’t know. Thank your child for helping you come up with a solution. It’s important that he hears this positive reinforcement.

Set the expectation for the future by wrapping up with, “If you don’t listen next time, what will happen?” Inform your child that you will take actions to help and that you will not tolerate unacceptable behavior.

“Responding to your child in a reasonable, calm and patient manner is absolutely vital in building a connection,” says Blaine. “And, after all, connection is the key ingredient in helping guide our children. Punishment, on the other hand, forces a disconnection that undermines the goal of helping them someday become independent.”

On the surface, I really like this approach, but it might be unrealistic. Blaine seems to overlook that some behavior is not just inappropriate or undesirable but downright unacceptable.  I have to wonder if my child would mistake my “validation and positive reinforcement” for a direct signal that it’s OK to use bad behavior, because there really are no consequences. Mommy will be right there with a hug and a kiss when rules are broken, just like she is when good behavior occurs. So what’s the difference?  He is rewarded either way.

Perhaps it is only my short-coming, but I am driven to great sadness when my boys are unkind to one another. Hurtful deeds including punching, pushing or “you’re-not-my-friend-ing” make me so upset. My worst fear is that, as they grow in muscularity and power, they may one day do actual harm to one another. And on a deeper level, I want them as siblings to be close throughout their lives, to stand up for each other and hold one another in the highest esteem. We are family and we love and encourage one another, at all times. At least, that’s what I keep telling them! So, when this happens I separate them through time-out. From where I stand, you can’t continue to play with someone you are harming. When we’ve all had a moment to calm our heads, I do go and talk to the perpetrator and reinforce our loving, gentle treatment of one another and after they hug, say sorry, and accept the apology, they may continue playing together again…until the next infraction, that is.

Do you have an effective, loving method of discipline? Please comment below!


Toy Story 3, the end of preschool and holding on and letting go June 24, 2010

Laden with teachers’ gifts and a sense of anticipation for what the summer might offer, my little boys joyfully ran to their preschool classrooms for their final day before summer break.

Much like the first day I left them at preschool, I cried the whole drive home. I’ve planned a rather complex web of summer activities for us, so they have much to look forward to. My sadness comes from how quickly it is all passing by.

In September, my oldest will enter kindergarten. I can’t help but recall the countless hours I spent researching and visiting preschools, understanding what a significant impact his first five years will have on the rest of his life, his approach to education, his ability to socialize, his future success…

I know it seems cliche, but it really does seem like such a short time ago that I gave birth to my oldest son Joseph, and now his younger brother is three and leaving little bits of his baby life behind him every day as he leaps toward little boyhood. In fact, I’m beginning to cry again as I write this. My babies are growing up!

Last night, we went to see Toy Story 3, and if you are going through anything similar with your children, it might be tough to watch. I remember the first time I saw the original Toy Story movie. It was 1995, and I was 24 years old. I was babysitting the niece and nephew of my boyfriend at the time, and we watched it on VHS. I sat there for the length of show with my jaw hanging. I couldn’t believe how much children’s movies had changed since I was a kid! I loved it.

At the beginning of my career, I was old enough (more or less) to be Andy’s mother, but at the same time, I could perceive the story with warm memories of being a child. Seeing Andy last night as a 17-year-old boy preparing to leave for college was an emotional blow I had not in any way expected. Enough time had elapsed for that character to grow up, and I had gotten older along with him. Yes, I’m aware it’s just a movie with a fictional character, thank you.

However, with my youngest perched in my lap, and my oldest at my side I was suddenly aware that my first experience of Toy Story hadn’t seemed so far in the distance, yet when the exact amount of time elapses again, my children will be 17 and 20 years old!

TS3 is about change: the agony of watching the toys long for the carefree joy of children’s imaginative play (with the understanding that their playmate would and should continue to his next milestone) and the support of Andy’s mother who is proud of her son’s succession toward college, while also wishing she “could be with him all the time.”

Don’t we all want that? To hold our children in our arms forever, while at the same time teaching them independence, encouraging them to make  and achieve personal goals, to be courageous, forgiving, and to grow in maturity?

As the poet Kahlil Gibran said about raising children, “For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”

With the summer ahead, I intend to savor each precious day. Before long I’ll be helping them pack for college.

On a side note, I do agree with Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald; this movie was more for adults than children. My husband and I were in disbelief about how it could ever have received a G rating. There is a prolonged near-death scene with the threat of violent, hopeless demise, the toys are imprisoned and in some cases tortured. Yes, I remember Sid Philips tortured and imprisoned toys in TS2, but among the toys themselves (who have always been peers) there was a cruelty and meanness we haven’t seen before in the TS trilogy. Lotso’s turn toward the dark side as a result of a singular incident was so complete and utterly terrifying when you consider that he is a child’s plaything. In the other movies, tough times happened and the toys always found a way to learn from it and grow from the experience.  From our perspective, Toys Story 3 should be rated PG.


Noah’s our Allstar: “I do my by self!” June 14, 2010

Filed under: Lacko Family Chronicles,motherhood — rjlacko @ 10:43 am

When I woke up yesterday morning, Noah was singing Smash Mouth‘s Allstar so clearly, I thought it was his older brother. I quickly grabbed our new Kodak zi8 (a family gift to celebrate our wedding anniversary!) Here he is, singing a much quieter, shyer version, but I like his intuitive finale—raising his shirt. An authenthic rock star move, wouldn’t you say?

He is becoming increasingly independent. While his big brother runs directly to the action (hi! Can I play?) Noah always marches to his own drum, all the while observing the other children. Inevitably, they are observing him too, and often try to come join his game or project. (He’ll gladly welcome them, as long as they don’t try to touch his toys!) At school, if Noah is dancing, he soon has a crowded dancefloor around him; but, before long he’ll duck out and run off to find his next solo adventure.

His new mantra is:  “I do my by self!

He doesn’t want anyone to help him, but he hasn’t quite got the grammar down to express it. I haven’t been correcting him because it always cracks me up, and besides, I know he’ll soon get it right. I still miss “I can’t want it!”, his older brother’s past retort from younger days.

And while I am trying to teach him the difference between wildflowers and manicured landscaping, I adore his habit of always wanting to give me a “fwower.” He picks it “wif my stwong muscles” and expects me to put it behind my ear—always delivering it with a kiss. Ahh, he steals my heart every day.


Catching up with the kidlets: Spring 2010 June 7, 2010

It’s been far too long since I’ve posted pictures for Gramma and Grampa in Canada to see. These little gems are from Spring 2010.

Just last week, my 5-year-old Joseph surprised us all by suddenly passing Level One after only FOUR swimming lessons! He has always been a big fan of his bath, and he loves to go in pools and to the beach, but he has always been very nervous to try to leave the edge and try to learn to swim. When he was a baby, I took him to parent-and-me classes at our local rec center, but it was mostly water-bonding and blowing motorboat. And fun, of course!

This summer, I made the commitment to put the boys in “real” swim lessons and signed them up to work together in semi-private lessons at Waterworks Aquatics, thanks to a referral from my friend Kristianne Koch. Waterworks is amazing, but costs a pretty penny. Kristianne’s son Merrik went there as an infant and with his parents’ help and encouragement, was boogie-boarding and beginning to surf last summer at age four… for hours!

Anyway, Joseph was very excited and curious about swim lessons–but I could tell he was nervous. His little brother Noah was beyond excited. When I put Noah in the water, I need to stay right next to him because he will simply leap forward into the deep water, fully expecting to be able to swim. He is confidence personified. In order to get the boys prepared for swimming (and to bring Joseph’s courage up to his little brother’s level) I began listing all the things they’ll be able to do once they can swim:

  • Pretend you are dolphins!
  • Pretend you are sharks!
  • Pretend you are mermaids! (hey, who isn’t curious about mermaids at some point?)
  • Have swim races for prizes!
  • Dive for treasure!

OK, for the first four items, they were cheering! With each new idea the cheers grew louder and louder until I said, “dive for treasure.” Noah’s joy came to a crashing halt. Joseph continued to bubble with enthusiasm: “I know! We can put treasure into a treasure box, and put it at the bottom of the pool, then DIVE for it!!”

All the color drained from Noah’s face.  He did not share these dreams. He did not want to go to the bottom of the pool, not for any treasure of any kind. I’d overshot the mark, and toppled the confidence meter. Now Joseph was desperate to get in the water and Noah was clinging to the edge in fear. What was I thinking?

Over the first two lessons, Joseph worked very hard, and while I could see that he has reservations, he set aside his fear and powered through. Noah cried and cried, so I’ve let him sit out until he tells me he wants to try again, and transferred our pre-paid lesson package to Joseph. If there’s one thing about Noah, he has an uncanny ability to figure things out. At age three, he is almost as good at riding his bicycle as his older brother.

I’ve never seen Joseph so focused. I sit where I can see him and give the “thumb’s up” when he looks my way, but I am otherwise removed from his lesson. From the beginning, he was equally cautious and determined. I am so pleased to see him resolve his own inner conflict of fear, choosing to try instead. His teacher is very matter-of-fact. She doesn’t overflow with positive reinforcement, but she doesn’t appear disappointed either when he doesn’t get it right the first time. She simply offers more and more chances to try, in different ways. When I saw him swim down almost four feet to get a toy, I just knew how thrilled he must have been.

I’m so proud of him–It is incredibly rewarding to watch your child decide to meet a goal, and to make his own efforts to achieve that goal. I always reward the spirit of “never giving up” because if we persevere, we can do the things we want to do. I have seen him be frustrated when building with his Legos, and the huge sense of accomplishment that arrives when he figures out to create what he sees in his mind. But learning to swim requires trusting the capabilities of your whole body, entering an unfamiliar world and letting go. When success comes, it is sweet indeed.

Healing gallstones naturally, a closer look April 16, 2010

Yesterday I posted my story of an emergency laparoscopic appendectomy that left me reeling with the news that I have large stones in my gallbladder. I saw them on my CT scan film, and of course my surgeon didn’t help when she said, “it could rupture tomorrow, or you may not feel symtoms for some time. Either way, it needs to come out.”

As I stated yesterday, I simply don’t accept this as the solution and I’m certain there are other ways to treat it. I announced immediately that I would undergo a gallstone flush using a fast, which clearly alarmed my husband. He called and had an earful for me about how there are dangers involved with such flushes, and that my gallstones have a lot of traveling to do before they are evacuated and there is a risk of pancreatitis–something that occurred to one of his employees’ relatives when she tried a similar measure.

All drama aside, I do need to approach my health rationally and thoughtfully. I’m still shocked that this could even happen to me. I have finally found an MD who shares my ideals for food as medicine, alternative natural treatments before pharmaceuticals and surgery. She is as surprised as I am to hear of my condition, and when we meet next week for the first time, we’ll be discussing other causes of gallstones, besides the usual suspects: high cholestral/high fat diets, multilple pregnancies, being over the age of sixty, being obese, etc. I am entirely atypical. There is a possibility I have too much estrogen? We’ll look into it.

As I recover from my appendectomy, I am resolute about this: I don’t want to have to recover from a similar surgery in the future. I am also suddenly, for the first time in my life, afraid of food. Not in the way one might be afraid after watching Food, Inc., Supersize Me, or Fast Food Nation, but genuinely afraid my gallstone might rupture if I eat the wrong thing. (My perforated appendix didn’t exactly tickle.) If you’ve read my other blog (UnassumingFoodie), you know how tragic this is for me. (As it would be for anyone.) I’ve spent half my life eating a highly nutritious, all natural diet, so I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can adopt a new eating lifestyle. The first step is going to be to learn everything I can about a gallbladder-friendly diet and begin making changes.

A good, gallbladder-friendly diet includes:

  • A lacto-vegetarian diet is best: Only non- or low-fat dairy (Thank goodness I’ll be able to hold onto my favorite 0% fat Greek yogurt and non-fat frozen yogurt!). But, that means no eggs–and no other animal products, even lean chicken or pork. (If I have trouble in this area, I’ll just have to rewatch any of the movies mentioned above. That’ll crush my craving.)
  • Daily consumption of fresh veggie juices, 100 ml each of carrots, cucumbers and beets. Hmm.
  • Plenty of apples, pears, watercress, grapes, and oranges–YUM
  • Plenty of veggies–YUM
  • Nuts, lentils, beans, etc. No problem! Love it!

Things to avoid:

  • No animal products: No meat, chicken, pork, high-cholestral seafood, eggs
  • No high-fat dairy: butter, high fat cheeses, ice cream (may lose some tears over this)
  • No refined carbohydrates: No problem! I only eat super-high-fiber/high protein breads, tortillas and cereals. And then only in moderation.
  • No sugar: I don’t eat refined carbs, so this isn’t SO much of an issue… But what about birthday cakes? Christmas treats? Is anything sacred?
  • Processed or de-natured foods: Yuck, good riddance!

On the fence/Needs more investigation:

  • Chocolate. Well, let’s be serious now. I’ll need to talk to my doctor, but this is an area of highest importance to me. I love chocolate with 70% or more cacao, and I’m not about to wave bye-bye to it forever. I’ll have to investigate how much I can get away with, and how frequently.
  • Coffee. Some of the information I’ve read say that 2-3 cups per day help patients avoid the formation of stones. Other info states that coffee causes stones. Must do more research.
  • Alcohol. Same as above. Some information claims that half a glass of red daily should help. Others say that alcohol is a big no-no. I’m wondering if the “alcohol” that causes the problem is high-sugar alcoholic beverages such as white wine or mixed drinks, hard liquor, 0r malt/carb-laden beverages. Like the health properties of chocolate, red wine offers more than a complement to a good meal.

Emergency appendectomy?! And how to heal gall stones naturally April 15, 2010

This week has been a tough one. And it’s only Thursday.

On the weekend, we realized our boys had gotten lice. Eew, I know. I don’t think it was from school, because they have checked everyone and washed everything, and no lice were found. We did go see How To Train Your Dragon, so it’s possible we could have gotten it at the movie theatre. All it takes is a strand of infected hair. Let me emphasize: lice is the last thing you want your children to have. Our boys are both sporting buzz cuts now, and we are (fingers crossed!) lice free.

Beginning Monday, we were of course housebound, which means the kids were bouncing off the walls. And then they started to develop coughs. And then suddenly my side started to hurt. I just wanted to go to bed, and the pain got worse and worse. I went to see the doctor on Tuesday morning, and it was difficult to diagnose what was happening because I was presenting symptoms of acute appendicitis, but the pain was around my gallbladder. So, off to an ultrasound. Same problem. The tech was looking for my appendix, but I was complaining of pain around my gallbladder. So, off to a CT scan. We find out my appendix has traveled up and was next to my gall bladder–which happens to be filled with large stones.

Nearly everyone has gallstones, but mine are pretty large. This is very unusual for me, because gallstones are typically the result of a high-fat, high-sugar diet. But, I digress. By the time I was out of the CT scan and back in my clothes, the radiologist and my doctor were making plans to admit me to the hospital to have my appendix out that evening. Fantastic!

So, here I am, a day and half past my laparoscopic appendectomy. I’m tired, sore and I look like I have three bullet holes in my tummy. (I’m told the scars will be very small, however.) This weekend, we are celebrating Noah’s 3rd birthday at a waterpark–I guess I’ll be poolside with a full cover up. Or maybe I shoot bite the bullet and just buy a one-piece for once?

Anyway, they want me to go back in to remove my gall bladder. I’m having none of it. Surgery is no small walk in the park. Full anesthesia? no thanks! Scary stuff. And just why has this happened? Gall stones are the result of excessive intake of refined carbohydrates, especially sugar. I haven’t eaten refined carbs in years. And sugar? Only on special occasions! I absolutely hate fried food, and I don’t think I overdo high-cholestrol foods such as eggs or cheese. (Maybe I eat too much chocolate–but even then, I only eat 70% or higher cacao.) I wear size 4 and sometimes 2, which means I’m not over-eating, especially not bad-for-me foods. I’m not a candidate for stones! And I’m not going to take this lying down… especially not on a surgical table. 

Upon further investigation,  I learned that other causes of gallstones are chronic constipation (ahem, that’s me), hereditary factors (I was adopted, so I really don’t know) and stress (I think I live a pretty peaceful life. Well, up until this week.). The Chinese relate gall-bladder disorders with the emotion of anger. I have two beautiful sons and a wonderful husband who loves me. I wouldn’t describe me as “angry.” Oh, and usually gallstones patients are over the age of sixty!

I also found a website that says: “An estimated twenty million Americans have gallbladder disease and approximately 750,000 of them will have their gallbladder removed this year.  The gallbladder  has become a prime target for surgical intervention; in fact, this is the most common type of major surgery….Approximately 80% of all gallstones show no symptoms and may remain”silent” for years. Once symptoms arise, they persist and increase in frequency. The most common triggers for gallbladder attacks are caffeine, chocolate, eggs, dairy products (especially ice cream) and greasy or deep fried foods.”

Some reports claim homeopathy is an effective method of getting rid of gallstones, citing nux vomica, berberis vulagaris and lycopodium as extremely effective. Dandelion and rosemary are effective herbal remedies for gallstones. These two herbs should be added to your meals on a daily basis and you will notice a remarkable change in one to two weeks.

I found a cleanse and fast on several websites that is more or less identical (just slight variations on different sites) that I intend to try. It involves eating 4-5 apples every day for 5 days (to soften the stones) and then on the 5th day, fast on nothing but apples and raw, pressed apple juice, and then at bedtime warm two thirds of a cup of virgin olive oil to body heat and mix with one third a cup of fresh raw lemon juice. The addition of a kidney bean sized peice of raw garlic finely sliced and added to the olive oil and lemon juice mixture will help further. Slowly sip the entire mixture, and then go straight to bed lying on your right side, with the right leg drawn up. In the morning stones will be passed in the stool. Testimonials on several of the sites I read stated that I will see between 40-100 stones! And, once the stones were gone, patients said overwhelmingly that they had more energy and clarity. One problem with gallstones is fatigue. I thought mine was from preschoolers–I could certainly use more energy for parenting!

This procedure may need to be repeated several times for complete clearance of the gall bladder and the liver. I’m going to try it. What have I got to lose, except an(other) appointment with the scalpel? Better go eat another apple!

Curious what happened next? Read, Healing Gallstones Naturally, A Closer Look.