Thursday, February 28, 2008

More on creative play

If you followed last Thursday’s link to the NPR story on creative play (how it’s eroding in our society and how it’s key to building kids’ abilities to self-regulate), there was a sequel to it on today’s Morning Edition that you can listen to here. It focuses on an early childhood program called Tools of the Mind that focuses on self-regulated learning. I’m still deciding whether or not I find the whole notion of filling out paperwork before engaging in creative play spooky or not. But maybe it has gotten to the point where some children have been so untrained in creative play that they need to get some real scaffolding in order to learn how to do it productively? I definitely like the notion of working on play -- or regarding play as work -- as a key piece of a pre-school or kindergarten program. There’s also an interesting little online question-and-answer session at the site between listeners and experts on cultivating creative play in children at home and in school. It includes a plug for Vivian Paley, an early childhood teacher and author whose work I admire.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Just call me Sam-I-am

At dinner this evening I found myself following some advice from Aviva Goldfarb, of Six O’Clock Scramble fame, that I’d already set down in print in my article on her family-friendly meal-planning service. As she put it then: “Instead of making a big deal if they don’t like something, say ‘Well I’m glad you tried it. Our taste buds mature as we get older so maybe next time you’ll like it.’”

So tonight, as I set a Scramble meal before Will – comprised of tri-color rotini, and a sauce with crushed tomatoes, red onion, garlic, red pepper, eggplant, squash and spices – he gobbled up the parmesan-covered pasta but turned up his nose at the pepper, eggplant and squash. This was no surprise, as Will has been rejecting all three of those vegetables for several months now even though I keep presenting to them in different combinations and in various dishes here and there.
So I said, “Just try one bite of this eggplant. You know, as you get older you start to like more and more things. So you might be old enough now that you’ll like it this time.”

Will looked at me skeptically for a moment, and then he must have thought to himself, I AM older. Because soon he was trying that eggplant and expressing great satisfaction at its taste. And then he went right on to gobble up some squash and red pepper too.

“I used to not like squash or red pepper, but now I like squash and red pepper!” he exclaimed. And looking at Rob, he explained: “But see, as you get older you get to like things you haven’t tried. You say, “Hmmm…” (dramatic pauses as if considering a flavor) “That’s yummy!” And then he turned to me, the mom he knows is all too frequently trying to feed him leftovers the night after I debut a new meal. “So tomorrow you can give me this again!”

Then I thought, why not push my luck and suggest that he actually eat one of the token pieces of Romaine lettuce that I’d put on his plate (as I very often do along with a few slices of carrot) just in case tonight is the night that he suddenly realizes he can tolerate raw greens. I knew I needed an extra edge here, so I mentioned the very true fact that he might not like it yet, but that his four-year-old friend Ella LOVES to eat salad.

Will was sold. Granted, he only ate one piece of lettuce but it was a whole piece and that’s more lettuce than he’s eaten all year.

“I like it!” said Will. “Daddy I like the lettuce that Ella had. Ella likes the lettuce too.”

And to top it all off, just minutes after he finished dinner, I caught Will in this teetering pose. “Wow, where’d you learn how to do that?” I asked.

“Ella taught me how to do ballet,” he said.

So tonight, I send out a hearty thank your to nearly-five-year-old Ella who has taught our crude son to appreciate some of the finer things in life – whether it be salad greens or demi-pliĆ©s.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A toy for Owen

Scene before breakfast:

Me: “Will, do you think you could get a couple of toys for Owen to play with while I make your oatmeal?”

Will: “But I AM a big toy.”

And he plops himself on the floor within Owen’s grasp so that Owen can commence playing with his favorite toy.

Monday, February 25, 2008

15 moments

At the risk of being supremely cheesy, I’m going to do a little list of happy moments from my day -- a little exercise to remind myself that being a mostly stay-at-home mom is as much endless little gifts as it is endless little chores. (You’ll notice that dish-washing and processing Owen’s cloth diapers didn’t make the list.)

It’s the little stuff:

That last kisses and bear hugs Owen and I shared with Will as he nearly hopped with excitement at the prospect of spending a morning with his friends and his beloved Miss Jodi at school.

Using Rob’s grandmother’s roasting pan for the first time in my life to roast a chicken.

Drizzling olive oil over a whole chicken, laid on a bed of sweet potatoes, onions and baby carrots. Then sprinkling paprika, rosemary, kosher salt, pepper and rosemary over the top. (Even though I don’t do it often, I kind of like cooking a whole bird.)

Smelling that chicken and those spices mingling in the oven and wafting through the house for a couple morning hours.

Reading another woman’s autobiographical journey, so different from my own. Finding pockets of time (mostly while nursing Owen) to actually read a book. (“Eat, Pray, Love” is an entertaining romp through one woman’s search for meaning and love in her life. I’m in the “pray” portion of the book now. And I think it’s all the Yoga/Buddhist-influenced talk about living in the now -- rather than brooding about the past or fretting about the future -- that inspired me to do this list. All ideas I’ve read and found wisdom in before, but I always need reminding.)

Dancing and singing Owen to sleep just before noon, knowing he’d had a too-short morning nap and that this midday nap he was on the brink of slipping into would set him back on track.

Discussing with Will, as we set off in the double stroller to the park, the meaning of the word “glorious,” (the adjective I’d chosen to describe today’s cloudless, windless 70-degree weather, this touch of springtime before the mosquitoes and cockroaches descend on Columbus. Ooops. There I go into the future.) And how “glorious” sounds a lot like “Gloria,” the dog hero in this book we are currently borrowing from the library.

Spotting my friend Terese from a quarter mile away, not because I was close enough to discern any physical characteristics, but because she was hiding behind a tree. (She is the only mom I know who reliably and consistently plays hide-and-seek with her daughter at the park.)

Receiving this gift of a red-bud bouquet from Terese’s daughter, Breigha.

And then this red-bud petal offering from Will (who enjoys following Breigha around).

Watching Owen explore the park on his own level. (Grass, leaves, and dirt are so fun to explore with little hands. And miraculously the kid can go almost a minute without trying to ingest it all.)

Eating dinner on our back deck for the first time this year. Listening to Rob and Will make up stories about how they saw each other at work: Rob was out in the field and Will was driving a tractor.

Listening to Rob’s nonfiction dinnertime stories of happening upon deer and watching parachuting soldiers jump from an airplane during his day in the woods at Fort Benning.

Listening to the laughter from the bathroom as Rob gives Will and Owen their nightly duo bath.

Taking these moments to put it all down.

Try your own list today or tomorrow or one day next week. And if you’re in the mood, share your moments right here.

Miss Linda’s distracted student

I sort of dread the day when Will stops making life at home a world of make-believe. He is always role-playing and asking us to join in. He’ll scold me for calling him Will after he’s already told me a couple times that he is Gibby, the dog. We spent most of this past weekend calling each other Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Brother Bear and Baby Bear in Will’s presence – or else getting scolded because we’d forgetten to use those proper names.

And yesterday Will decided he was a teacher as he sat on a chair reading books to me and Owen in the kitchen. Since I was just a kid now, he chose to call me Annie. (He kept having to tell me to "Pay attention!" as I busied around the kitchen, trying to multi-task but really just being an exceptionally lousy student.)

As teacher, Will called himself “Miss Linda.”

“Miss Linda’s a boy,” he said. And then looked confused. “Or maybe I’m a girl.”

“You could be Mr. William,” I offered (such a boring suggestion). “Boys can be teachers too.” (Granted, there’s no evidence for that fact at Will’s pre-school).

“No,” Will said. “I’m Miss Linda. Miss Linda’s a girl.”

And the lesson went on – interrupted only when ADD Annie had to be told to focus again. Or when Miss Linda stopped reading for a moment to check to see if Annie needed to go to the bathroom. (“There’s one down the hall,” Miss Linda said.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Backing up, and starting over

After introducing solids to Owen at 6 months, we soon realized that we had also introduced him to constipation. I’d started him on little bits of super-diluted rice cereal because I’ve always read that babies need some extra iron after 6 months. I opted for brown rice cereal, then switched to barley cereal, which is supposed to be less constipating than rice. And all the while, we were giving him baby food prunes, blended pears and peaches, little doses of apple juice, extra water. All of it in small doses and introduced a few days apart, but none of it enough to get the kid going properly and without little squeals of pain.

Then I remembered that one of the lactation consultants who’d advised me with Will had waited until 8 months to introduce solids to her own children. And after talking with her, another lactation consultant and my pediatrician I decided to go back to square one. For a week, I did nothing but nurse Owen. And I watched the little cold he had developed disappear and his digestive system readjust. It’s amazing to me how the introduction of just the tiniest amounts of solid food into a breastfed baby’s diet suddenly breaks down that invincible wall of immunity. It’s nice to know you can build back that wall if you need to.

Now we’re starting all over, trying solids again at seven months very gradually and avoiding almost all processed baby food and cereals. Turns out iron deficiency isn’t a concern for most breastfed babies even after six months. Another reminder for me that a quick check in the handiest reference book isn’t always the best recipe for an individual baby -- and that what worked for Will may not always be the best path for Owen.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Let 'em play

Check out this story, “Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills,” featured on NPR’s Morning Edition today. Reporter Alix Spiegel looks at how imaginative play helps children develop good self-regulation (a solid predictor of their future success in school). As children play make-believe, they engage in “private speech,” laying out rules of play for themselves that ultimately help them develop a cognitive ability called executive function that helps children self-regulate and control their emotions and behavior. Researchers argue that the less we “set up” play for children, the better we facilitate true imaginative play. So it’s an argument for limiting TV and video-game time; buying fewer toys (a stick makes for more imaginative play than a toy Star Wars light Saber, they say) and especially fewer battery-operated toys; encouraging kids to play outside -- with nature and their imagination as their only props; building more play time into pre-school programs; and generally descheduling kids (because too many lessons and programs rob children of time to imagine on their own).

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Duped again

It is nights like these that test the limits of my maternal patience. After an otherwise pleasant day, Will became fiercely determined just before bed time to sleep with a water-proof pad under his mattress. This we soon realized was because he knew Aunt Alicia (following my suggestion) took some extra precautions for the bed Will slept in over the weekend since his last nighttime accident was only a few weeks prior.

Like a royal fool, I finally relented and told him I’d put a small waterproof pad (all we have) under the mattress pad, explaining all the while that this would only protect part of the mattress if he had an accident, that the sheets and his underwear and his pajamas would still all be soaked and in need of changing. We made a deal: I’d put the pad on just so he could have that under him like he had at Aunt Alicia’s and he would NOT intentionally pee in the bed.

Never make a deal with a three-year-old.

15 minutes after bedtime Will emerged, grinning from ear to ear, underwear and PJs soaking, and announced that he had peed on the pad.

I know. I had it coming.

It was all I could do to contain the curses and instead talk gently with Will about how he’d made a difficult night for me – with laundry to do now – and about how yucky he felt in those pee-soaked PJs. He apologized genuinely and agreed that it would be the last time he peed in the bed on purpose, and I really do believe him this time (although I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a genuine accident or two ahead of us before we retire our hats as potty trainers once and for all).

But geez, why do we have to teach our kids even the most ridiculous lessons??

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Songs for kids

On our way to pre-school for the past couple weeks Will and I have been singing along full-volume (and hitting repeat) to the song ““Wild Wild Party in the Loquat Tree,” by the Indigo Girls – our favorite kids track of late. It’s on this Mary Had a Little Amp album that our friend Ann gave us for Christmas. Many of the tunes on the CD are really just nice mellow poppy songs that adults might actually like better than kids but that maybe have a sort of dreamy kid theme to them – but the Loquat Tree is pure kid fun. Go here for the lyics. Will and I like to try to sing along and we CHATTER, CHIRP, SQUEAK, BUZZ with the animals.
One of our all-time favorite kid albums is probably Country Goes Raffi – in terms of finding that middle ground where adults and kids can have fun with the songs. On that album it’s “Shake my Sillies Out” out that gets played again and again, per Will’s request – with “Baby Beluga” as a distant second. And the Philadelphia Chickens CD by Sandra Boynton makes us laugh too.

Rob especially likes to dip into the old traditionals – like Leadbelly and Pete Seeger doing kid tunes.

So I’m thinking…. Maybe it’s time for a story reviewing the top 10 albums for kids (and, possibly, their parents too). Let me know some of your favorites kids CDs and I’ll try to put something together.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Will's weekend away -- and ours

This weekend Rob hauled Will up to his sister’s house in Atlanta for a weekend with Aunt Alicia so that we could then haul ourselves down to the beach for a nearly kid-free weekend with our friends Carey and Brant (nursing Owen comes with the package on this adult).
At two nights, this was our longest separation from Will to date – and I will admit two things: 1) Saturday, which was so miraculously warm on the beach that we could sunbathe in shorts and T-shirts and even brave the water for a minutes-long swim, was the most relaxing, renewing day I’ve enjoyed since Owen was born; and 2) By the end of it, I was missing Will with a quiet ferocity. I just really, really wanted to be able to give him a tight-squeezing goodnight hug. (This is probably a sign that we need to send him off for a weekend or longer more often – for my own detachment work if not for his.)
Today when Rob and Will came in from their rainy drive back from Aunt Alicia’s, I finally gave Will that big hug and told him how much I’d missed him, how glad I was he’d had such a good time. (Aunt Alicia turned her house into a kingdom of toys, towed Will to Barnes and Noble one day for some book shopping and to the Georgia Aquarium the next day for some marine encounters and generally kept Will highly entertained every hour of his time away).
And soon enough, Will had crumpled in my arms, and was crying and crying about how tired he was. I chalked it up to some leftover exhaustion after some nightmares had apparently kept him up a good bit of the night Friday night. Or maybe he’d missed Rob and me that much? But no. Once he’d recovered he suddenly announced his own realization that he was really crying because he missed Aunt Alicia.
I couldn’t help but think, well you might be justified in those tears because tomorrow I’ll be distracted by grocery shopping, piles of laundry and other mundane chores and you’ll have to readjust to life as a self-entertainer. And I suddenly wanted a whole weekend to direct all of my attention to Will – it’s something I haven’t managed to do since well before Owen was born. Probably I’ve never done it as fully as Aunt Alicia did this weekend.
And as a mom, it is good that Will and I are not constant playmates. I have my work; he has his play, which is of course his work – and we work well side by side in that context.
But I do think that I’d like to eventually institute a little trip-taking schedule with the boys like my parents used to do with my brother and I. Here and there we’d enjoy a weekend together just two of us: My mom and I would take a trip to Santa Fe while my brother and my dad stayed home; my dad and I would take a springtime college-visiting trip while my mom and my brother stayed home; my brother and my dad would go on a camping trip to Yellowstone for part of the time that my mom and I were backpacking in Europe. And for just a brief little span of days we’d have some one-on-one time. One day in the future I’d like to have a little adventure – just Will and I …. and another one, just Owen and I, with Rob doing the same of course. Because even with just two kids, it’s nice to take time out to focus on one of them from time to time.
I felt that even this weekend as Owen and I explored the beach together and read more books and shared more pat-a-cakes and itsy-bitsy spider songs than we normally get in over the course of an entire week.
In the meantime, we’ll be hitting Aunt Alicia up for weekends with Will with a tad more regularity. He’s already ready to go back.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Battling ear infections

Look in Saturday's Ledger-Enquirer for my story about ear infections, including how to help prevent them and how to manage them once they hit.

Here are some additional links on the subject:

Clinical Practice Guideline for Diagnosis and Mangament of Acute Otitis Media, published in the May 2004 issue of Pediatrics (Scroll down to recommendation 3A to get the full details on when the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Family Physicians suggest that observation without antibiotics may be appropriate for an early-stage ear infection)

Trends in Management of Acute Otitis Media Since the Release of the 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics/American Academy of Family Physicians Clinical Practice Guidelines August 2007

Get more Otitis Media facts here.

And a final item of interest. This excerpt from the 2004 Clinical Practice Guideline gives some risk factors for acute otitis media:

A number of factors associated with early or recurrent AOM are not amenable to change including genetic predisposition, premature birth, male gender, Native American/Inuit ethnicity, family history of recurrent otitis media, presence of siblings in the household, and low socioeconomic status.

During infancy and early childhood, reducing the incidence of respiratory tract infections by altering child care center attendance patterns can reduce the incidence of recurrent AOM significantly. The implementation of breastfeeding for at least the first 6 months also seems to be helpful against the development of early episodes of AOM. Avoiding supine bottle feeding ("bottle propping"), reducing or eliminating pacifier use in the second 6 months of life, and eliminating exposure to passive tobacco smoke have been postulated to reduce the incidence of AOM in infancy; however, the utility of these interventions is unclear.

Source: Clinical Practice Guideline for Diagnosis and Mangament of Acute Otitis Media, published in the May 2004 issue of Pediatrics

If you have other advice for coping with ear infections, please share.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Our Valentines

Will and I decided it would be fun for him to make a heart-shaped book for Rob’s Valentine’s day present.

“I’m the author!” Will said.

He wrote a book entitled – “A Doggy, Cat, Crocodile, Alligator Book” – perhaps the sequel to his debut murder-mystery “The Doggy Cat Book.” In this one, rather than killing the cat on the final page, he ends with a note of religious/astrological inspiration.

Here’s the story (minus the illustrations):
Page 1: The fishies swim in the water
Page 2: Little bugs come to the crocodile. That’s their mommy right there in the hole. The crocodile says, “Kooky kak, I see a cat!”
Page 3: Fishies, fishies swimming in the sea. Twinkle twinkle little star. We love Jesus for the moon.
Back cover: About the author: William Thomas Addington really loves his dad.

And he does.

Meanwhile, I made a heart-shaped pizza (using this recipe for a thin whole wheat crust) for dinner and I spent all of 10 minutes concocting a Valentine’s treasure hunt since I didn’t have an idea for a very impressive card. So Will got to lead Owen around following the rather obvious clues on heart shaped construction paper, and collecting a few very minor treasures along the way until they arrived at their big heart-shaped homemade Valentines (with a few treats and a book attached for Will and a Valentine’s board book for Owen). Will tiptoed from one treasure to the next (“so the foxes don’t hear us”) with Rob, Owen and I close behind. This may be a tradition to continue for a while.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

This weekend, count birds

Here’s a fun weekend activity for the family. It’s The Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society. Go to the web site to learn how you and your kids can participate. You can print out a bird checklist for your area, then spend 15 minutes counting birds in one location anytime between February 15 and 18, then go online to submit your results. If you’ve got a weekend getaway planned you can do multiple bird counts in different locations and at different times, so that your children see how different kinds of birds are attracted to different kinds of habitat. (If you’re not a seasoned birder that’s okay. You can grab a bird book, do your best to identify as many birds as possible and when there’s some little brown bird that baffles you, simply don’t count it and check a box on your submission form letting count organizers know that you are not reporting everything you saw.)

There are kids activities and bird facts on the web site too. If you choose to do this, feel free to leave a comment on this post after your weekend count and report the birds you saw and where you did your count. We’ll be counting here on Monday and I’d love to let Will compare our bird sightings with families in other locations – even if you’re just on the other side of town.

**One other note, for local moms to be: You can spend Valentine's day at this event:
birthNetwork-Columbus presents "What is a Doula?" 7 p.m. Thursday Feb. 14 at North Columbus Branch Library. Learn about professional labor support and how they can help you have a safe and satisfying birth. Meet local doulas and enjoy free chocolate.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Room sharing

It took us over three years to get Will sleeping through the night. Even after Owen’s birth, Will was still popping up four or five times a night asking to be tucked in again, needing to pee (usually just a few scant drops) or complaining of nightmares. But what finally put all that restlessness to rest was simply moving Owen into a crib in Will’s room. Now Owen sleeps a little more soundly, and Will -- who thinks of it as his duty to protect Owen, but is also obviously very comforted by the presence of his little brother in the room -- stays put most nights.

And Rob and I have our bedroom back to ourselves. The only down side is that when Owen wakes up to nurse (which happens at least two or three times each night) I get grumpy at the thought of having to heft myself out of bed and march into another room to feed him rather than just reaching into the co-sleeper beside our bed. Of course as soon as I see his sweet face all that resentment turns to bliss. But before that, when I’m still trying to wake myself up, Rob gets to hear the nightly grumblings about why men too should have breasts – real big milk-producing ones.

I’m imagining that one day several months from now (our pediatrician recommends waiting until Owen’s at least a year old) we may consider putting Will’s double mattress back down on the floor if he and Owen want to sleep together. I’ve heard it’s a good strategy for sibling bonding, but I’ll also be wary of changing anything up if we’ve got them both sleeping well in their own beds by then. For now I’m just happy to have the two little guys sharing a room and sleeping better because of it.

Any strategies for sibling room-sharing that have worked well for your family?

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Valentine’s production line

I like to make holidays a homemade affair. So when I saw the Thomas the Train pack of Valentines in the grocery store, the idealist in me said, “Nope, Will’s going to paint construction paper hearts for his friends.” Then I imagined with what joy Will would go through the Thomas cards picking out trains to bestow upon his classmates – and how easy it would be – and I caved and went the pre-made route.

A wise choice. Because there were still all these Valentines to make for grandparents, great grandparents and an aunt and uncle– we worked at Will’s whimsy over a couple of days whenever he was in the mood, dabbling in paint and marker and spelling W-i-l-l from right to left and left to right and top to bottom and every way in between.

And then we baked heart-shaped sugar cookies for his classmates too – plopped in sandwich bags and tied with red ribbon with a no-hassle Thomas the Train Valentine attached. (We turn in valentines on Tuesday at his preschool so that the super-organized teachers can dole out the cards and treats to the appropriate recipients and avoid a bunch of chaos in the classroom).

It’s a fun excuse to send cards and bake for others, to discuss all the kids in Will’s class – but by the end of a holiday prep weekend, even with our pretty minimal project load, I feel a tad bit tuckered out. By the time Owen’s got classmates to greet and feed, we’ll probably be handing out nothing but store-bought stuff.

**Here’s a sugar cookie short-cut I discovered: Try this food network recipe, which suggests that you roll the cookies out on a surface dusted with powdered sugar instead of flour. Then you can skip using icing entirely and the sweetness is just right, for my tastebuds at least.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Get dangerous with kids

Here’s a fun TED talk by Gever Tulley, founder of the Tinkering School. He talks about the importance, in this often hyper-paranoid era of overprotecting children, of letting kids do “dangerous” things that allow them to explore the world and feel some power over it. Among his suggestions for dangerous things you should let your kids do: Play with fire (“you can think of the open pit fire as a laboratory” where they’ll learn about “intake, combustion and exhaust,” he says), own a pocket knife (“it’s a powerful and empowering tool”); throw a spear (practicing throwing things improves visual problem solving, concentration, and predictive abilities among other skills, he says); and deconstruct appliances.

As I listened to him talk he evoked some of my most treasured memories of childhood: There was nothing I loved more than sitting on my dad’s lap as I steered our car down some dusty mountain backroad. And I always enjoyed poking sticks around in a campfire (although it was my brother who was the real pyromaniac and fire builder – his passion for fire has survived to this day). And one of my fondest memories of middle school involved taking apart and trying to understand an electric pencil sharpener with my friend Stacie in sixth grade. It was part of a little science project we invented (I think we were examining how graphite conducts electricity).

The hyper-paranoid mom in me will probably stall for a year or two, but I’m seeing pocket knife in Will’s not-too-distant future. And the next time the toaster breaks, we're breaking out the screw drivers.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Rain barrel workshops

It’s hard to make issues like water conservation and drought tangible for children. We managed, although it was a bit of a struggle at one point, to teach Will not to flush the toilet for no reason. But I think the most convincing lesson for Will that water is a valuable resource involved watching Rob save his bath water and carry it out by the bucketful to water outdoor plants during the warmer months.

Of course, with a little upfront effort there are more efficient ways to save water. Rain barrels for outdoor watering are one easy place to start. And if you live in the Columbus area there are a few workshops in the upcoming weeks where you can learn how to build one (and, if you go to the Callaway Gardens workshop, actually come home with a ready-to-use rain barrel). See my article in today’s Ledger-Enquirer for more information about building and using rain barrels.

Rob and I are planning to try to construct one ourselves so that Will and eventually Owen can get more hands-on lessons in conservation (although we are notorious procrastinators on projects like these, so I need to set a deadline for myself or we’ll never get it done).

In case you decide to make water conservation a project for your family too, here are some useful links:

For instructions on how to build a rain barrel, complete with photos, go to
this Walter Reeves Web site.

Go here to read the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service publication “Xeriscape: A guide to developing a water-wise landscape.” Click on “Durable Plants for Xeriscape-type Landscapes” in the Contents for a list of drought-tolerant plants.

For water conservation information go to

To purchase a rain barrel, the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream Program recommends these sites:, and

And in case you missed it in the article, here' the details on those workshops:

“Drought-surviving tips for your garden”
When: 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 10)
Where: Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center, 3535 South Lumpkin Road, Columbus
Details: Katie Cook, interpretive horticulturalist at Callaway Gardens, will discuss water conservation techniques for your yard and provide information about drought-tolerant plants. Learn how to use a rain barrel to collect rainfall runoff from your rooftop for indoor or outdoor use.
Cost: Free
More information: 706-687-4090

“Sustainable Landscapes and Rain Barrels”
When: 9:30 a.m. to noon Feb. 23
Where: Callaway Gardens
Details: Discover plants that perform best and maintenance practices that require minimal resources. Create a rain barrel by recycling a 50-gallon drum adapted to catch, store, and distribute rainwater as needed in your garden.
Cost: $50 per rain barrel. Workshop fees include admission to Callaway Gardens.
Registration: Enrollment is limited and pre-registration is required for all programs. Call the Education Department at 1-800-CALLAWAY (225-5292) ext. 5153, 706-663-5153 or email

“Learn to Build a Rain Barrel”
When: 1 p.m. Feb. 23
Where: Rocky Branch Garden Center, 248 S. Main Street, Pine Mountain
Details: Learn how to make your own rain barrel as Amy Waite from Oxbow Meadows shows you how.
Cost: Free
Registration: Pre-registration is required. Call 706-663-9940.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Meet my morbid author

I keep meaning to mention that this book is a good one for inspiring your child to try his or her hand at authorship (the protagonist is a mouse who lives in the library and becomes a prolific author, sneaking his self-published books onto the shelves for patrons to enjoy and eventually inspiring kids at the library to become authors and illustrators too).

After we read it, Will thought he’d like to write a book. The result was a gruesome tragedy dedicated to his friend Creight. I was so tempted to censor his morbid ending (we make a point of not allowing Will to watch anything but benign gunless, commercial-free TV shows on PBS and we don’t have any toy guns in the house, but viewing the documentary “Raising Cain” a while back made me realize that a little semi-violent fantasy is probably normal and maybe even healthy for boys). Still I did offer my apologies to Creight’s parents.

Here’s the manuscript for Will’s debut novel, page by page. Plus the final bloody illustration, which I don’t think Will actually intended to make bloody at all. He was just enjoying his red marker.

Cover Page: “The Doggy Cat Book” by Will

Page 1: This book is dedicated to Creight Lawrence. I love Creight.

Page 2: I’m the cat of the colors.

Page 3: I’m the drawing and I can talk. He just says, “Dear Will.”

Page 4: The cat dies because someone hunted him down.
About the author: Will Addington is 3 years old. (This was all the information he was willing to reveal).

So grab some construction paper for a cover and some white paper for the pages, staple it all together, and see if your kids want to write a book of their own. Maybe theirs will end more pleasantly. I need to try this again because just this weekend Will made a giant leap from furious scribbling to drawing giant-bodied people with tiny stick legs and arms and nearly imperceptible dots for eyes.
And if you have any suggestions for channeling Will's gun-toting, hunting-down-animal instincts -- or if you think these things are best left unchanneled and uncensored, let me know.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Voting for our kids

I’m generally not wishy-washy when it comes to politics, but as I headed into the polling booth this Super Tuesday I was still feeling deeply conflicted. I took a deep breath, voted for a candidate and was half-filled with regret about my decision. This year I’d like to support two of them.

I’ve made a decision not to be blatantly political on this blog, but I will say that being a mother makes me more passionate about politics than ever before. I want to think about how to leave a better world for my boys since their future is at stake even though they have no say in the matter now.

How do I help support a world for them that is peaceful, that is headed on a path toward environmentally sustainability, a world where people are committed to caring for one another and to putting their children and their grandchildren before themselves? How do I find someone I trust to repair our standing in the world and to fix our bungled budget so that we’re no longer hundreds of billions of dollars in the red and relying on future generations to pay the taxes that we’re not willing to pay now?

There I was, with Owen in the front pack, trying to vote for my baby who can’t yet talk. After debating the issue internally, and with friends and family for weeks now, I was still feeling hazy about it all.

I won’t say where I came down, and I can’t even be certain if I made the best choice (although I know I’ll feel quite certain come the general election in November). But as a mother, I’m glad that I voted. And I hope you will to.

Feel free to share your own convictions here about the candidate who best represents your children’s future. I’m going to try to stay quiet but I’d love to hear your voices.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Weekend in pictures

It was my kind of weekend. Balmy for early February and no big plans so on one day we triked to the park
and had a picnic lunch by the creek, while Will took nature photographs with a baby food jar.And the next day, Owen went on his first real hike on Pine Mountain
which inspired Will to want a backpack ride too
until he realized walking is more fun
especially when you can stop and shoot moss with your "woodpecker finder gun." We heard a woodpecker but failed to see it -- all of which prompted Will to invent this tool.
We admired the occasional longleaf pine seedling still trying to make it in an under-burned forest of oaksand Will got chummy with FDR.

Friday, February 1, 2008

William Thomas The Train Addington

Sometimes when Will’s antics summon up a firm tone from me, I call him William. It’s nothing intentional, just some kind of habitual formality I can’t quite kick.

But I never do the double- or triple-name thing. So he never hears William Thomas unless we’re having a discussion about his name, which we often neglect to do for fairly long stretches of time. Sometimes I wonder if he will have forgotten that his middle name is Thomas (my dad’s first name) when the topic arises after a month or two in dormancy. Today when Will and Rob started discussing full names Will recited his, “William Thomas Addington” no problem. Then Rob asked if he knew why he had his middle name – who he was named for.

“Thomas the Train!” Will exclaimed with certainty.

We told him of course, as we do on these too rare occasions, that Grandpa’s name is Thomas.

“Remember how Grammy sometimes calls him Tom," I said.

“Yeah,” Will replied, “and Percy and James and Gordon,” he said rattling off all of Thomas the Train's friends in his memory.

(This, by the way, is all my mom’s doing. She bought Will his Thomas the Train track and two books to accompany it – never even considering how she was subverting my dad’s place of honor in the center of his grandson’s name.)