Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Inspiring Kids to Read & Write Stories – 4 Fun Tips November 13, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — rjlacko @ 6:18 pm

Words are the foundation of any great story. Whether eloquent, blunt, allusive or rudimentary, words are the playthings of those new to the alphabet and MFA students alike.

photo by David Browning

I have two children, ages 5 and 7; both alphabet aficionados and no strangers to playthings. Like any book nerd, I do my best to feed their literary minds-in-training, beginning with picture books, and moving onto chapter books. I’ve had success; they can’t go—won’t go—to bed without bedtime stories, no matter the hour or my exhaustion. But I want them to love books, and—dare I dream?—writing, as much as I do. I figure my best hope is to reveal the magic of words.

  1. The Word Hunt: I picked up a book about palindromes and quite unexpectedly, ignited unbridled excitement for this surprising word configuration. Most children are intrigued by puzzles, and even early and pre-readers can get in on the action. Have your child scan the patterns of letters comprising a sentence; if they find a word or series of words that reads the same forward and backward, it’s a palindrome! Once my kids got the hang of it, they would spontaneously shout from the back seat of the car if they overheard me using a palindrome while talking to my husband up front. (*note: kids listen to everything you say. The only words which fall on deaf ears are your instructions and/or rules.)
  2. Compound words: My kindergartner is always on the lookout <<see? for two words glued at the middle to create a new word. Again, strong reading isn’t necessary to begin, but do point out compound words when you come across them in a book, or on signs and buildings during car rides. The one who finds the most compound words wins! (Note, my older son prefers instead to find words with prefixes and suffixes. My kindergartner doesn’t get this concept yet. To each his own.)
  3. Synonyms: This is another game we play in car or the grocery store, or anytime I need to keep the boys occupied. Choose a word they really like, and have them think of as many synonyms for it as they can. (Mistakes will happen—they will rhyme, for instance, or come up with a homonym without knowing it, but that’s fun too!) My children have a giggly blast thinking up synonyms for vomit, I regret to admit. Whatever it takes.
  4. The Human Condition: As a small child, I used to think stories were merely series of events. I didn’t think much about character  motivation, but understanding why a character responds one way or another when faced with conflict is essential. For young kids, character motivation can be taught simply by getting on the floor with them and asking questions during imaginative play. My boys have a Fisher Price jungle toy with an orienteering type action figure we’ll call Hemingway and a bucket of miniature animal figurines. They wanted to play a game where the Hemingway character searches for lost gold treasure in the jungle, and another action figure was to assume the role of “bad guy.” Awesome, we have the beginning of a plot. I asked the boys, “How will Hemingway find the treasure?” Boys: “The animals in the jungle are his friends! And they know where the treasure is!” I love their positive outlook, but here is the moment when an OK story gains momentum—with character motivation. Me: “How did the animals become his friend?” Boys: (thinking I’m crazy but trying to come up with a reason) “…he helped them find the baby tiger when she was lost and brought her back to her mommy?” To gain a clearer vision of the animals’ friendship and desire to help Hemingway find gold, we acted it out. We hid the baby tiger, the Hemingway action figure was posed through many heroic and dangerous stunts to save her, all the while the rest of the animals in the jungle fretted and cried out for the lost baby. Such gloom and doom among the animal kingdom, when wait! Hemingway returns with baby, safe and sound! The tiger mommy and daddy are forever grateful and vow to help whenever they’re needed. At the tiger’s homecoming celebration, my sons got the idea that the animals tell Hemingway about the bad guy hunting them. This was fantastic, because it added another stake to the race to find the gold, and further invests the animals in helping Hemingwat achieve his goal and overcoming the bad guy/hunter.

Create a balance of fostering independence while demonstrating interest in their activities by asking questions and brainstorming ideas. Throw your own palindromes, synonyms and compound words into the ring. Most importantly, have fun and laugh. Words are for play!

What games or techniques have you used to inspire a love of words in your children?


Twelve Tips for Handling Conflict with a Coach (Part II) October 16, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — rjlacko @ 10:03 am

Last week we talked about spotting coaches and teachers who are negatively affecting, or, in fact, harming children using bullying tactics in an effort to “motivate.” (Part I: When Your Child’s Coach or Teacher is the Bully – What Makes a Good Leaders) At some point over the course of your child’s athletic career, it may become necessary to confront a coach with a problem. Todd Patkin suggests twelve things to help you turn “the talk” into a score, not a fumble.

Understand that it might be stressful. This may sound obvious, but the fact is, people are often surprised by how stressful a tough conversation with a coach can be. Especially if the coach gives vehement pushback or is less than civil, something as seemingly simple as, “Since I’m around him all the time, do you mind if I share with you how my son best receives feedback?” can turn into a tense, nerve-wracking confrontation. Just be prepared for the possibility!

Let your child go to bat first, if possible. If the situation isn’t too serious, and if you and your child are comfortable, allow her to talk to the coach before stepping in yourself. For instance, it’s realistic for a child to approach her coach on a simple issue such as, “Hey, Coach, what can I do to get more playing time?” It may even be the case that the coach will respond more constructively to her than to you. (As always, it’s appropriate to still keep a close eye on the situation to make sure that your child isn’t in over her head and that there are no adverse effects.)

Get your child’s permission. If you think it’s best that you be the one to approach your child’s coach, get the go-ahead from him before you have “the talk.” You don’t want him to feel blindsided or embarrassed, and it’s smart to get his take on how the conversation might affect his relationship with his coach and teammates.

Keep the focus on your child. Even if your day job happens to be sports-related, it’s best to limit the conversation to issues that concern the well-being of your child. For instance, you’re well within your rights to talk about your daughter’s mental and physical treatment, as well as to offer insight into what motivates her. However, try to avoid giving general advice regarding how the coach manages the team, determines playing time, or relates to other  players. And (as is common knowledge in the relationship realm), always use “I” statements like “I feel” or “I think” instead of “you always” and “you never.”

Walk a mile in the coach’s cleats. It’s true: There really are two sides to every story, and coaching can sometimes be a tough and thankless job. If you’re having an uncomfortable conversation with a coach, make a sincere effort to understand his perspective. Try to listen as much as you speak. Remember, some coaches are volunteers who don’t get paid. Others may have to answer to bosses or administrators. And still others may have been placed in a tough position while trying to accommodate other parents and/or players.

Don’t be impulsive. In virtually every situation (not just those that involve your child and his coach!), it’s best to think before you speak and act. Give the coach a chance to get to know your child before stepping in, and try not to speak up until you determine that the undesired behavior is a pattern that doesn’t seem to be changing—unless, of course, it is harmful. Not being impulsive also means refraining from making snide comments or yelling criticisms during games. Handling yourself appropriately will set you up to receive respect and civility when and if you do  have the talk.

Say no to gossip. Especially if other parents have similar grievances, it can be tempting to criticize the coach as a group behind his or her back. Resist this urge! You don’t want the coach to hear your complaints from someone else; and remember, gossiping does nothing to change the situation for the better. If you have shared grievances with other parents and decide to confront the coach directly, refrain from listing off the names of other moms and dads who feel the same way—you don’t want the coach to feel that all his players’ parents have ganged up on him. And along these lines, don’t get involved in issues that concern other children and their parents.

Especially if it’s serious, schedule the conversation. Don’t assume that your child’s coach has time just before or immediately following the next practice or game. At these points, the coach may be preoccupied or stressed, and the conversation might accidentally become a public event. Instead, let the coach know that you’d like to discuss something important, and ask her to suggest a good time. (Remember, face-to-face is usually best, as email exchanges and even phone conversations can foster misunderstandings.)

Be polite. You’re always reminding your child to be polite and respectful, so make sure to model that advice yourself! Remember, this is not an excuse to be aggressive or to attack the coach. Instead, think about what you’d like the ideal outcome to be, and tailor your words and actions to help achieve that end. Also, don’t make threats—including threatening to quit the team! (In fact, if there are aspects of the coach’s leadership that you admire, it’s a good idea to start the conversation with those sincere compliments so the coach knows you aren’t just “out to get him.”)

Be sure to explain the problem. Asking a coach to stop a certain behavior or to relate to your child in a different way is important, but it’s also wise to explain why the current behavior isn’t working. Make sure the coach knows that your child is being adversely affected, and how. In many cases, the problem may simply be that the coach doesn’t realize that her way of doing things is causing harm.

Offer solutions. After talking about the problem, offer solutions if you feel comfortable doing so. A coach who truly cares will want what is best for your child too, and he’ll probably appreciate your advice if it is offered in a nonaggressive and respectful manner. Also, be sure to give him a chance to apologize and fix the problem after your conversation.

If you have to turn in the jersey, do so respectfully. Sometimes, your child’s relationship with a coach might not work despite your sincere efforts. Don’t make a hasty decision in the heat of the moment. But if, after taking some time to think and discuss the situation with your child, you feel that your last resort—quitting the team—is the only option left, have a private meeting with the coach to explain why.

Have you had “the talk” with a coach or teacher? What were the results?

Todd Patkin is the author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In. Todd lives with his wonderful wife, Yadira, their amazing son, Josh, and two great dogs, Tucker and  Hunter.


When Your Child’s Coach or Teacher is the Bully – What Makes a Good Leader October 9, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — rjlacko @ 11:02 am

“Every year, we all hear stories and read headlines about overly intense, aggressive, and even abusive coaches,” points out Todd Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In. “These men and women are so focused on winning at any cost that they bully, berate, embarrass, and insult their players, which can cause great damage to these young people’s self-esteem, confidence, and overall emotional well-being…on and off the field.”

Patkin urges parents to stay aware of how coaches interact with their children and what type of influence they’re having, and most importantly, to hold them accountable.

“I like winning as much as anyone, and I definitely think that one of a coach’s goals should be to help his or her team hone their skills and perform at as high a level as possible,” he says. “But parents and coaches alike should remember that what constitutes a great coach isn’t a winning season—it’s a leadership style that builds up, nurtures, and mentors young athletes in a way that makes them more  confident, motivated, and capable human beings.”

In our family’s case, the “coach” in question was the music teacher. My son was rehearsing afterschool and weekends for a school production of Cinderella. I was shocked to observe how the children were treated during these rehearsals. Both this tenured teacher and his aide made sarastic, shaming comments when children missed lines or cues, and berated those waiting impatiently for their scene. Yelling at the kids and name-calling carried on throughout every rehearsal. It was downright ugly. More surprising, I wasn’t the only parent attending the rehearsals. Several moms sat observing this but said nothing. Have we become complacent in our goal of a “winning” result?

Here, Patkin offers some tips for parents to use when evaluating their children’s coaches, as well as standards of behavior every coach should strive to meet:

Realize that harsh coaching methods do cause damage. There’s no question that harsh coaching methods, such as calling players out, getting in their faces, and “motivating” them through fear, do more harm than good. In the short term, these tactics cause anxiety, shame, and low self-esteem. Over time, a bullied athlete’s weakened confidence and sense of self-worth can eradicate motivation and love for the game. And worst of all, it can transfer to other areas of the young person’s life, making him or her less confident  socially and academically. After all, it’s a short step from believing I’m not good enough on the field to I don’t have what it takes to succeed at all.

“I believe that some coaches may think that their tactics are working if their teams are performing well or improving,” Patkin shares. “But what they don’t know is that their star player dreads practice and has a knot of anxiety in his stomach for days before a game. Remember, it’s your responsibility as a parent to make sure that your child’s coach is not negatively impacting her love for the game, and much more importantly, her overall self-esteem in all areas  of her life for years to come.”

Think about what a coach’s job really is. The coach’s goal is to teach and guide young people who are in the midst of their mental, emotional, and physical development. Ideally, what a coach teaches during practice will also help kids develop the skills they’ll need to succeed in many other areas for the rest of their lives. When you look at it that way, coaching is as much about growing children through positive motivation and attitude as it is about imparting the mechanics of swinging a bat or kicking a ball.

“I know from personal experience that success in any area of life is achieved mainly through encouragement and positive reinforcement,” Patkin explains. “It’s every bit as important for your child to feel valued as it is to make sure they’re learning the rules of the game.”

Watch a replay of the coach’s motivations. Is she in it for winning (and only winning), or does she want to make a difference in young people’s lives? While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to win, make sure that your child’s coach does not use her position primarily to brag about her successful seasons and coaching record.

“To some extent, a coach’s goals should match the level of athletics in which your child is engaged,” Patkin adds. “For instance, if he is doing  coach-pitch baseball, his coach’s main motivation should definitely  be centered around having fun and helping kids. But if your son is a high school baseball player and his team has a legitimate chance to go all the way to the state championship, it’s okay for the coach to put more of an emphasis on winning vs. losing…as long as the players’ physical and psychological well-being are still a firm first priority.”

Has the coach done some emotional intelligence warm-ups? Everyone knows that a coach should have a broad knowledge of his or her sport. But were you aware that coaches should also strive to possess a high level of emotional intelligence? If you aren’t familiar with the term, emotional intelligence is a quality that enables you to be empathetic, an effective communicator, to navigate conflict, etc. If you’re emotionally intelligent, you’re better able to manage your own emotions, pick up on what others are feeling, and react constructively  to setbacks—all of which are qualities that coaches should strive to have.

“Remember, everyone, but especially the young, can be made or broken by others’ words,” points out Patkin. “A coach—who is also a leader and mentor—has the responsibility to make sure that he or she is setting kids up for present and future success, not filling them with self-doubt and hurting their self-esteem. If you come to believe that the coach’s words aren’t benefiting the players and may even be hurting them, don’t be afraid to act, whether you speak to the coach or even try to find a different team for your child.”

Does the coach score points through caring? It’s true: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And in sports, it’s crucial that coaches care about athletes as people, not just as players. Watch to see if your child’s coach gets to know her on an individual basis and incorporates that knowledge into their regular interactions. It’s always a good sign if, for instance, a coach keeps tabs on your daughter’s academic achievements and compliments her for doing well on a test, or her abilities in other aspects of her life.

“Coaches should always show love, because most people simply don’t get enough of it!” Patkin asserts. “Showing genuine interest and caring is the greatest motivator I know of because people, kids included, will do anything to keep getting those things. And when players know that they mean more to their coaches than the numbers on their jerseys, they’ll naturally have a greater desire to excel.”

Does the coach strike out through criticism? Criticism: It has to happen in order for improvement to take place. But there’s definitely a right way and a wrong way to go about it. Many famous coaches in sports history have chosen the wrong way: berating players and shaming them in front of the team, insulting them for making mistakes, and delivering advice in anger. Unfortunately, these approaches tend to only alienate players and make coaches an object of fear rather than respect.

“Here are a few rules of thumb I suggest following to evaluate a coach when it comes to criticism,” shares Patkin. “First, he should criticize only in private, not in public. A coach should pull a player aside for a one-on-one discussion, not yell at him in front of the whole team. Also, a good coach should make sure the player knows he cares about more than just  the mistake. Ideally, he’ll try to accompany each criticism with a few compliments. Remember, we all tend to be our own worst critics—even kids. Many young athletes will tend to focus on what they’ve done wrong, not the many things they’ve done well. The ratio of compliments to criticism they receive from their coaches can shape their self-perception for a long time to come.”

Does the coach scout each practice for all-stars? It’s practically impossible for anyone to hear too many good things about themselves. On the sports field, compliments act as confidence—and thus performance—boosters, and they also improve motivation, team spirit, determination, and more. With that in mind, a good coach will always start each practice with the intention of catching as many players as possible doing well, then praise them in public and  in private whenever the opportunity arises.

“And if she wants to go the extra mile, a great coach might even send out a team newsletter that includes short write-ups of players who improve, who are team players, who give their all in practice, etc.,” Patkin adds. “Again, kids will work hard to keep getting recognized because it simply feels good. Who knows—they might remember a coach’s praise for the rest of their lives!”

“Here’s a great saying I’ve found to be true: People generally perform at the level that is expected of them,” reports Patkin. “So without putting negative pressure on the athletes, your child’s coach should let them know that she believes in their ability to accomplish great things.

“If you’re still not convinced, consider the well-known study conducted by Harvard’s Robert Rosenthal in the mid-sixties. Teachers were given a list of students in their classes who were supposedly on the cusp of an academic growth spurt—but in reality, the children on the list had been randomly selected. Now, here’s the interesting part: That school year, the children who had been identified as ‘special’ performed much better than their peers because the teachers had expected them to achieve and treated them accordingly. Look for a coach who expects the best from her players and you won’t be disappointed.”

If you are concerned  that a coach’s attitude or actions are harmful to your child, discuss the situation with your child before approaching the coach so that your child doesn’t feel blindsided or betrayed by your involvement. Ultimately, no sport or tournament or trophy is worth sacrificing your child’s self-esteem and emotional well-being.”

Has your child experienced bullying by a coach or teacher? What did you do?

Next week: Twelve Tips for Handling Conflict with a Coach


Batman The Dark Knight, and Helping Kids Achieving Goals September 6, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — rjlacko @ 11:45 am
Tags: , , , ,

“They started so young,” thwarted competitors lament, when a young phenom bursts on the scene and quickly claims the highest rewards. We’ve all been awe-inspired by at least one, maybe a fresh-faced 17-year-old swimmer from Colorado earning a gold medal at the Olympiad, or a university student building a the world’s most popular social networking platform, perhaps.

Unsurprisingly, there is a nervous, hopeful energy among parents on the sidelines. Where I live in Southern California, there is, quite literally, no limit of opportunity. Should my child whisper a curiosity about culinary arts, ballet, soccer, rock climbing or outrigger canoeing, there are several programs in each discipline vying for my registeration form and tuition payment. Will animation become my child’s lifelong passion? Acting? Software design? Will he become a great gymnast, baseball player, taekwondo expert? Do we have the best coach for the job?
My boys are ages five and seven. They have run the gamut of activities–dabblers in much, experts in little. My husband and I are, paradoxically, on a frantic search to help them find their bliss–because we love them, and because we would deny them little outside our resources. This Summer my older boy was invited to join seasoned. pre-teen fencing competitors under the tutelage of a visiting Italian champion. I actively hid how much pride this brings me, while the ongoing spectacle of the 2012 Summer Games only spurred my secret satisfaction.
Who knows if he will continue his path in the sport of fencing? In the meantime, I am pondering the mysterious; I wonder whether high achievers are simply inevitable, merely realizing what they are “born” to become by inherent character, predisposition and good genes, regardless of the odds or obstacles. Or do we really have a hand in our child’s future?
Sometimes inspiration comes where we least expect it. When Michael Uslan (Originator and Executive Producer of the Batman franchise of motion pictures) was a boy during the 1950s and ‘60s, he was so obsessed with comic books that he collected thousands and didn’t hesitate to send corrections to editors when he spotted a mistake in a story line.

“My origin story – what formed my character – is entrenched in comic books,” he shares in The Boy Who Loved Batman: A Memoir ( “When I was 8 years old, I wanted to see if I could get my name in print, next to Bruce Wayne and the rest of Gotham’s characters.”It wasn’t luck, fortune or an accident that Uslan grew up to produce the most successful comic book-based movie franchise of all time, he says.

Now, his goal, like many parents, is to inspire kids and young adults to pursue their own dreams with focus and dedication, “because you can make them come true.” Here’s how:
• Know your passion: Uslan wasn’t the only kid on his block who loved comics – but most of the others probably never dared to dream that they could have a hand in influencing their favorite character, he says. It’s important to ask yourself, “What do I really, really care about?” The answer to this question will be the seed from which dreams sprout.
• Don’t be a passive bystander – participate: His passion for comics blossomed through several steps, including a general interest in reading and writing and active participation with the world’s first ComicCon in New York City in 1964, when he befriended comic writing legend Otto Binder. These days, there are plenty of opportunities for kids to be proactive, he says, citing blogs, websites and social networking. “A teen raised with today’s technology can create a video, for example, that rivals those created by professionals,” he says.
• Identify objectives that will take you to your goal: In high school, Uslan became essential to the yearbook staff, developing media skills that would benefit him later. In 1972, as a junior at Indiana University, he created and taught the first college level course on comic books. After graduating law school, he had the legal knowledge and Hollywood credentials necessary to purchase the film rights to Batman and start repairing the super hero’s image. He wanted to get away from the campy sitcom version of the crusader and reintroduce the Dark Knight to his roots for a movie-going audience.
“You don’t have to bend to the expectations of everyone else,” Michael Uslan says. “If you love something enough and are willing to create favorable circumstances, others will bend to you.”
• Learn from problems instead of allowing them to distract: Most people never realize their dreams because life gets in the way. Problems and new priorities arise and detract you from your course. The trick is to figure out how to respond to these in ways that help you reach your goal. For instance, learning how to negotiate, how to efficiently manage your time or how to become very self-disciplined are skills you can apply in pursuing your dream.In his 36 years in the film and television industry, Michael Uslan ( has been involved with such projects as “National Treasure,” “Constantine,” and countless animated projects. His projects have won Oscars, Golden Globes and Emmy Awards. He is the author of his autobiography, The Boy Who Loved Batman: A Memoir.
What was YOUR childhood dream?

RIE Conference Unites Parents, Caregivers and Educators! June 4, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — rjlacko @ 1:41 pm

Will you be in the Los Angeles area Sunday, June 6, 2010?

Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) is hosting its 21st Annual Infant/Toddler Conference, “RIE and Attachment Theory: Why Earliest Relationships Matter” at The Skirball Cultural Center.

The conference will feature for the first time in the U.S., internationally recognized attachment authoritySir Richard Bowlby, who will give the keynote address, “Becoming Attached,” providing parents, teachers, and caregivers with hands-on information that can be put into practice immediately to strengthen, nurture, and heal adult-child relationships.

“RIE and Attachment Theory: Why Earliest Relationships Matter” is open to parents and early childhood professionals, who will gain insight and knowledge about how to foster healthy attachment between baby and caregiver.

Children need to develop a trusting, reciprocal relationship with at least one primary caregiver in order to achieve healthy social and emotional growth. A child unable to establish a secure attachment may face difficulties that can follow him or her into adulthood. “RIE and Attachment Theory: Why Earliest Relationships Matter” explores the issue from the lenses of the scientific to the personal. Come, “see” and understand infants like never before.

Click here for more information about the RIE Conference and to register.

Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90049

Sunday, June 6, 2010, from 8:45 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.


Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) is a non-profit worldwide membership organization, dedicated to improving the quality of infant care and education through teaching, supporting, and mentoring parents and caregivers. Based on respect, the RIE Approach helps raise authentic infants who are competent, confident, curious, attentive, exploring, cooperative, secure, peaceful, focused, self-initiating, resourceful, involved, inner-directed, aware, and interested. The late educator and infant specialist Magda Gerber and pediatric neurologist Tom Forrest, M.D, founded RIE in 1978. For more information, please visit


Green and healthy grocery shopping on a budget – 8 Tips February 24, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — rjlacko @ 1:00 pm

In this economy, the food budget is one place you may be able to cut expenses. But what is the wisest way to accomplish that goal? Making poor food choices actually increases your risk of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure; so when you cut your food budget, don’t cut out necessary nutrients. Moreover, the healthiest foods have fewer (or edible!) packaging–fruits and veggies, or buying nuts and grains in bulk are excellent ways to increase nutrition while decreasing waste. Dr. Kristina L. Sargent, D.C., offers the following tips for low-cost nutrition:

* Stay on the Perimeter: To choose the healthiest foods, stay on the perimeter of the store. You don’t really need to make your way into the aisles – where the processed stuff is located – why tempt yourself to spend your money on food without nutrients, that stresses your body.
* Cut out processed foods: foods, chips, muffins, cookies, soda, sports drinks and other beverages. Most of those foods don’t have many nutrients, like vitamins and antioxidants, and they actually rob your body of nutrients as your body tries to process them. Fitness expert Dustin Maher reminds us not to eat anything from a bag or box, and I think the landfills would agree.
* Meal Plan: Start by planning a week or so’s worth of meals, be sure to include breakfast, lunch if you pack your own, dinner and snacks. You can save time by building up a recipe file with your favorite dishes. You can use cookbooks, print out recipes you find online or keep copies of recipes in a special folder on your computer. Grab the advertisements for your local grocery store to see what’s on special — you can save even more money by planning some of your meals around those sale items.
* Buy frozen foods: With frozen foods you don’t have to worry about spoilage and you will be getting more of the nutrients your body needs to combat stress.
* Buy in bulk: Buy chicken and ground meat in bulk, freezing it in family-sized portions. The same goes for nuts, seeds, grains, flour and snacks.
* Cut Coupons: Look for online coupons as well as the coupons in newspapers and magazines.
* Go veg: Add more vegetarian meals to your diet–a meal consisting of beans or tofu with a grain and vegetables fuels the body, helps the budget and preserves our environment.
* Use your own Water: Buy a water-filter pitcher instead of expensive individual bottles of water. More importantly, the bottled water industry is not regulated–you may be paying more for water that is not even as purified as your own tap water. Read more to learn.


Observing How Your Baby Learns: Getting Back to Basics March 20, 2009

It’s easy to get caught up in the “shoulds” of parenthood: what should the baby eat, how long should the baby sleep, at what age should my baby roll over, sit, watch an educational DVD, crawl, walk, talk, or poop in the toilet. Our overwhelming love and urge to protect and teach drives us to push all sorts of well-meaning toys and activities on our children in an effort to encourage early learning, to give their already gifted genius the challenge it needs to excel.

No matter how many books you read or people you speak with, nothing prepares you for the wonder of parenthood. Most moms and dads will agree that the sleepless nights, the soiled diapers, fluids from all orifices, and unpredictable outbursts,  do absolutely nothing to dull the pure joy and pride of watching your little cherub smile, recognize you, recognize his or her own hand, and begin discovering the world around them.

When our Noah would repeat “heh-wo” to the word “hello” in his first month of life, I was (and remain!) convinced (like all parents) that my child has a phenomenal little mind. He will be two years old next month, and is now clearly attempting to read words. He identifies numbers, and is practicing counting to 100 (thanks to a song I made up for bedtime, originally intended to be so boring and repetitive as to leave no reason to remain awake). He can identify shapes and colors, and knows the difference between a whale, a dolphin and a shark. He blows my mind. 

kids-and-iphone2When our first was born, my husband made some very attractive flash cards, with the hope that we might nurture his intellect from infancy.  Our boys both like them enough, but watching them grow has taught me a very basic lesson in parenting: Our parents and their parents had it right (more or less.) I say “more or less” because my sons would not be able to categorize animals, for instance, if we did not provide a plethora of tiny plastic replicas, or read about them in picture books regularly (i.e.: parental involvement and learning materials required). However, the flash cards are kind of silly (no offence to my better half, we’re learning all this together.)

noah-in-basket4While we are diligent about providing our children with educational toys and books, and offer them trips to local parks, the zoo, museums, and libraries, their particular “aha!” moments come from the most elementary sources—digging in dirt or sand with a shovel, flying a kite, banging on one thing using another to make a loud sound, building a tower from blocks, kicking a ball or pulling something on wheels (pretty much all the same things our grandparents did when they were little and weren’t yet acquainted with Playhouse Disney or Baby Einstein.)

We’ve been visiting potential schools our children might one day attend (We live in a community where school options are plentiful and we want to be confident in our decision when the time comes. Yeah, right.) During this process we’ve been presented with a variety of teaching methods, yet one thing remains absolutely clear—a child will “get” something if he or she is ready, and if the interest is there. Some kids are far better served by waiting until first grade to learn the alphabet, instead experiencing the world through imaginative play, and other children are fiercely determined to write their own name in nursery or pre-school.

One thing is certain: I need to pare down and keep it simple. This week, a day after a trip to Santa Ana Zoo (where the kids had a lovely time), I decided to go check out a park I’d driven by a hundred times. The Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park completely surprised me with its 3,879 awe-inspiring acres of green serenity. I’ve lived in Orange County for over two years now, and our venture made me crashingly aware of the peace we’ve been missing. Nowhere were noises of traffic or endless bustling bodies or cement boundaries. More importantly, as I chided myself for not having sought out this place long before, my child was receiving his surroundings in an entirely powerful way. He has visited the woods in Canada on trips to see Gramma and Grandpa, and he has enjoyed numerous days at the beach and neighborhood parks, but I’m embarrassed to admit how overcome he was by the dirt path and the rocks. How citified we’ve been! Our own backyard has recycled tire chips beneath his playhouse and slide—environmentally friendly, but not, well, environment. As we walked along, we listened to birds chirping and insects calling and water running. Again, no traffic in the background. (Even the waves at the beach echo traffic noise.) We came across the occasional jogger or mountain biker, and Noah shared his excitement with them. There were some bushes humming loudly with insects, sending him running to grab my leg, but the best of all were the caterpillars. “Pill!” he squealed (his word for caterpillar)—he recognized them right away, he knew exactly what they were from books, but this was astounding, for both of us. Within seconds we were on our knees, observing, gently touching, smiling excitedly at one another. He even chased one, being careful not to block its path. In a few weeks, they will be butterflies. He “knows” that from Eric Carle, but he won’t really know it until we come back and witness it.

I know I must sound horrible, aren’t these experiences so rudimentary? But, if I had “forgotten” to get away from the noise and business of life and into nature, maybe other moms and dads have been pounding the pavement too? Having a kid means being tight on time, and those jogs or hikes we used to take when we were solo can slip away with the demands of parenthood. But, while we are too busy running our household, our children are also missing out. Let’s make time for nature (and its learning materials), remembering our own childhoods, and leave the concrete world behind for a while.