Friday, December 21, 2012

book pick: Are You Grumpy, Santa?

we don't "do" Santa in our house, although we do share the story of Saint Nicholas with our kids to explain where the idea of Santa came from. and we're sure to let them know that it's fun to pretend about Santa, just like it's fun to pretend about fairies and talking cars.

now, if Santa were real, i'm sure he'd have bad days like all of us. even saints suffer, after all. and since when are the holidays a smooth sleigh ride full of jolly smiles and ho-ho-ho-laughter? yeah, right. more like party after party with obligation after obligation and, with kids, too little sleep and too much sugar begetting two big crankypantses. about the only thing that's likely true is that fat tummy from eating too much. coal for the lot of you! bah and humbug! ... and then we watch our kids unwrap a little gift, or enjoy time with our grandparents, and we remember what the season's about and settle back into that happy cozy Christmas feeling. ah, that's better.

enter Are You Grumpy, Santa? by brotherGregg and Evan Spiridellis, they of JibJab fame. Santa is having an epic-bad day. but there's work to be done, delivering all those presents. so off he goes. and things still continue to go wrong. itching, sneezing, and rubbing a bruised bum, Santa finally arrives at his last stop and finds a surprise gift waiting for him: a plate full of cookies, of course. and he finally smiles.

here's hoping your holidays are filled with many smiles. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Banishing the Mommy dark place in a dark world

The news from Connecticut is tragic. There's no overstating that. I know I'm not alone as a parent in having my mind "go there," imagining what it would be like -- what it must be like for those grieving parents now -- to lose a child through such senseless violence.

Even before kids, my mind often wandered to the Land of What If. I would envision myself either kicking the arse off any would-be baddie, or ending up dead and mourned in the valiant effort thereof. When I became a mom, the Land of What If became a darker place, a less heroic place -- and a much harder place to avoid. No more novels involving abused or lost children. No TV crime dramas. Normally a cover-to-cover newspaper reader, I'm now more selective.

Our house was burglarized some weeks back. The girls and I were home in bed at the time. And instead of the heroic arse-whooping of my daydreams, my reality saw me fumbling to find my effing glasses and later watching as my 5-year-old gave a statement to the police. I barely slept that first night. The rest of the week, I was afraid to leave my daughter at school but equally afraid of kissing her goodnight and leaving the room. I felt something I hadn't felt before ... that I honestly never imagined my cynical, facts-based, get-'er-done sense of self feeling (even in the Land of What If) ... potent fear. Too close a call.

I felt in my heart what I've always known in my head -- that we do not have control over our lives.

And then Sandy Hook. The lens on life can rapidly narrow to one dark spot after something like that, casting everything else in shadow, as if there really is an inevitable downward trajectory to our collective history. We grieve for the parents who have lost children, because we know how much we treasure our own. I was reminded how precious my girls are after the burglary, and I'm reminded again after this school shooting.

The real world contains little of the heroic drama that our daydreams conjure, although we look for heroes and laud them (as we should). The real world continues where the daydreams end with a quick credit role, as we seek control by reviewing family safety plans, debating reforms to gun control and fumbling over deficient mental health care (as we should). Neither heroism nor bureaucracy dispels the cold finality of death, but they do help bring back some light. Life goes on. We focus on the beauty around us in the here and now, avoiding the black hole of the Land of What If and the equally black hole of wall-to-wall coverage of the Real World.

So I thank the police who responded. We install a security system. I get to know my neighbors better. I hide the pictures in this morning's newspaper from my girls. And I turn off this stupid computer and go have a dance party in the kitchen with them.

These folks say it better:
How Can We Find Hope in a Time of Tragedy? from Creative With Kids
Another mother's thoughts from a different tragedy over a year ago, smaller in scale by media standards but no less heartbreaking

the ugly doll

we went over the top this year with our Christmas tree. literally. our new house has nine-and-a-half-foot ceilings, so we figured we'd maximize that glory and go big! we ended up going a bit too big and hacked off about three feet of the trunk to make it fit. she is a beauty, though.

the place where we bought the tree had a "gift shop" of mostly second-hand goods and other things the owner has found at wholesale for resale. we let the girls each pick something from the 25-cent box. Little One picked out a miniature horse on wheels. we found a lovely giraffe collectible for a friend's daughter's first Christmas. and Sweet One picked out an older doll from some timeworn dollhouse set.

wait a minute. what? the girl who is pining for a Yellow-Dressed Barbie Doll With Yellow Birthstone Jewelry New In Package On Sale But Sold Out is passing up shiny trinkets for this ugly doll? it's the kind of doll even a Goodwill shopper passes up.

i take a closer look at this thing to see what i'm missing. it's a grandmotherly doll whose white hair is Einstein-like (if Einstein had grown his hair even longer, that is). the paint is flaking off her white pumps, and she could use a facial. there are green paint splotches on her body and dress. the outfit is dowdy and falling apart. she looks tired, worn, and unwanted. yet our daughter wanted her more than anything else in that box. she loves the thing. this ugly little doll is already the center of many stories (she is currently taking a nap in the wardrobe with a quarter).

i get so caught up this time of year with coveting what i don't have — even if i don't particularly want it. this extends especially to my kids. i want to buy them everything they could ever want, even if i'm not a huge fan (we are up to our eyeballs in princesses, y'all). we typically don't buy the girls much for Christmas anyway. so many relatives are generous enough, and quite frankly it's not in the budget to do much more than a book, CD and a few added dollar-store craft items. but i waste time every Sunday morning paging mindlessly through all the toy catalogs anyway. it reminds me of being a kid, circling everything i wanted in the advertisements to give my parents. (nowadays, of course, we just click to add it to the wish list on Amazon.) i knew even as a kid that it was ridiculous to want or expect some of those toys.

i've been reminded in more ways than one recently that simpler is better, that the mundane can be extravagant, that imagination is golden. my kids ask for things for the same reasons i want to buy them: because of those glossy advertisements and packaging that make everything seem so shiny and desirable (we're like raccoons, seriously). then i see how excited the girls get over a cardboard box, over cushy star ornaments from the '80s, over draping ourselves in sheets and falling to the ground like melting snowmen...

our tree is a bit sparse at the bottom. not in branches, but ornaments. Little One has commandeered all the stuffed fabric stars for carrying around in a basket and throwing across the room at random intervals. she's also prohibited all "candy cones" from the branches — these are the property of her basket as well. Sweet One has enlisted the help of all the angels she can reach in her stories. the Martha Stewart-brand bows i carefully staggered are crunched and invariably not where i left them.

it is, of course, the most gorgeous tree we've had yet.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

snowless snowmen: easy winter activities

let it snow! well, unless you live where we do. then, well, not so much. but fret not, fellow maritime dwellers (and those who prefer to stay warm and dry inside, thankyouverymuch). today we've got some kid-tested, slacker-mom-approved snowmen-sans-snow activities for you!

snowmen in the living room

being a snowman is
surprisingly toasty
who doesn't love to build a snowman? we sure do, even if it's a pint-sized gal. but no snow? no fret. build one in your own living room with a willing model and a white bedsheet.

first, grab some props—boots, hats, scarves, mittens. see what the kids come up with. Sweet One wanted to give her snowman a backpack. Little One thought it was the neatest thing ever to throw yellow burp rags at her snowman's feet. the key material, of course, is snow! for that, we turn to a white bedsheet (or maybe yellow if you have that sense of humor?). a fitted sheet works best, with one corner going over the head like a hood. the larger the better: our king-size sheet left plenty of room for loosely wrapping ourselves in "snow." then give your snowman some flair. the girls thought this was the funnest idea ever.
oops, she melted!
melting snowman
as a finishing activity for the bedsheet snowman, you can also act out this fun rhyme about a melting snowman. the King County Library System has an amazing online collection of fingerplays, rhymes and songs. there's even a category for holiday rhymes, which includes some Christmas and winter-related gems. one that generates some giggles, and fits our theme, is I'm A Little Snowman. i'm including their YouTube demonstration, but see their original webpage for some nice variations on the words. (i like a blend of the two versions, substituting a carrot for the broomstick.)

to save you some digging, here are a couple other winter rhymes from the collection:
Ring Those Bells
We're Going on a Santa Hunt

cotton ball snowmen

looking for an activity that focuses on more fine-motor skills? me neither. looking for a craft that will keep the kiddos busy for five freaking seconds and may even draw you in? ok, then! i had a huge bag of cotton balls that i haven't drawn from in two years or so. hm, they look like snow! we started (and continue to enjoy) a cotton ball-snowball fight (or ten). then we lumped them together into bigger balls for some floppy snowmen. we glued a couple cotton balls onto green-paper trees for some easy Christmas cards. and now we're eyeing our growing stockpile of upcycle-worthy thingamabobbers to create our own snow model Christmas town (where their cottonball snowmen look a bit more put together than our slackers).

and to get in the mood...

see our favorite story about snowmen (what do they do at night?) and enjoy this video of caspar babypants' "i wanna be a snowman."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

book pick: Merry Un-Christmas

do you ever find yourself overjoyed that Christmas day has finally arrived — if only because it means it will soon be over? there's so much build-up to the actual day in our over-indulgent society. i don't know what your community was like, but the Christmas product and decorations went up in some of our stores before Halloween. Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday until it was co-opted by Christmas (you did hear, it's now known as Grey Thursday?).

of course, like any good kid, my daughter would love to have Christmas every day of the year — or at least have the holiday alternate every other day with her birthday, to the point that she'd be 200 years old by the time her 6th birthday rolls around (and the decorated tree has spontaneously combusted).

Merry Un-Christmas
here is a silly holiday book pick to fit just this mood. Merry Un-Christmas is written by a former Simpsons writer, which i take as an endorsement of its worthy humor. well-known illustrator David Catrow has already made an earlier appearance on this blog. in this book, Noelle and the other citizens of Christmas Town wake up 364 days of the year to celebrate Christmas. what does this mean for Noelle? a backyard full of ponies, a garage overflowing with bicycles, and an elaborate dinner each night that has become so boring it may as well be a TV dinner. the children of Christmas Town — but especially Noelle — look forward to one day of the year: Un-Christmas Day. no tree, no elaborate dinner, no presents. instead, a single magical day of school, mail, and — well, TV dinners. Noelle wishes every day could be Un-Christmas Day!

if i see one more advertisement for a sparkly princess toy that will break by New Year's, i'll be wishing every day was Un-Christmas Day too!

this post contains a lonely affiliate link, although this book is out of print so i'd recommend trying your local used book store first!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

There’s a New Sheriff in Town

Stick 'em up! It's a guest post from Jes...

Who's the real law in this town, anyway?
When the house grows from one child to two children and perhaps more, eventually someone receives the highly coveted bossy boots. For most homes, the boots typically go the oldest child, a natural fit given their birth order. In our home, this has certainly been true until recently. The youngest is sure giving child number one a run for his money.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

book pick: Bob

only with Sandra Boynton do you get a Christmas with a hippo under the tree (and on top of it).

this week's silly holiday book pick from our private stash is Bob and 6 more Christmas stories, which has tabs to let kids choose which story they want to go to. Bob the pocket-sized reindeer kicks things off, and pops up in the other six tales as well. most are silly, although the board book ends on a sweet note with a "Christmas Lullaby" (musical notes provided!).

most anything by Boynton is bound to be ridiculously fun. see our previous Pajama Time bedtime Boynton pick for another fave in our house, although there are many more of course.

happy reading!

this post contains an affiliate link

Thursday, November 29, 2012

a book pick with beat

well, i posted too soon! here's another book pick for you that just appeared on Books 'n' Beats over at the Studio3Music blog. i wrote this post when there still was zucchini to be found and the sugar pumpkins were still ripening. and although peas may no longer be in season, reading this book is a fun time no matter the weather! we love this book and hope you will, too. learn more about it over at my other blogging home!

one postscript: this book is out of print and needs to come back! luckily, though, there are enough in circulation to find a good price if you lean that direction (and Half Price Books comes up short). to wit:

that right there is what we call an affiliate link, which you can learn about on my disclosures page!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

here, there, everywhere

woohoo! another of my posts has appeared on the Studio3Music blog, this one about marrying mommy music with kids music. one of the goals of my Books 'n' Beats posts is to recommend kids music that won't drive parents batty in the minivan. this is the first of those recommendations. loyal silly readers, you may know where my radio dial is heading on this one...


for those who missed my post about missing the fort we created under a stairway, we got a mention on the Fort Friday feature over at All For the Boys. yippee! (we're Fort Friday fans, can you tell?) and for those keeping track, my fort hunt continues. but i am getting closer to a location and theme. that laurel hedge is definitely going to be part of things.

this post contains this here affiliate link doohickey:
Caspar Babypants: More Please!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

christmas book pick: Snowmen at Night

until Christmas, i'm going to try and make my book picks around a wintry, holiday-ey theme (and, of course, silly). this first book pick has to do with snowmen.

a snowgirl made of twigs and pebbles
Sweet One and our "snow girl"
with twig hair, mouth and arms,
and pebble eyes.
we don't get a lot of snow here in the Pacific Northwest. but when we do, one of the first things we do is make snowboys and snowgirls (there's usually not enough of the powdery substance for a snowman or snowoman, you see). in our maritime climate, we pretty much watch them melt before our eyes. but, we know you Midwesterners and Canucks and others have a more long-lived relationship with crystalline water ice. and maybe you wonder (as the wife-husband author-illustrator team behind this book did) when you come out the next morning and find your scarved and carrot-nosed creation looking a bit slumped: "What do snowmen do at night?"
Snowmen at Night imagines the snowfriends on quite a romp in the park by the light of a full moon. there's ice-cold cocoa, skating, sledding, an epic snowball battle, and the long but happy limp home. the story is written in verse, and the illustrations are a crack-up. we enjoy the board-book version as a winter-time tradition at the grandparents' place.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

a little revolution stuffed into that stocking

stocking stuffer fit for a princess

we're music fans around here, but it takes a lot for me to actually buy kids music. there are very few that graduate to the level of making our budget spreadsheet! and even then, it's usually tied to a special milestone. we got Little One the latest from Caspar Babypants for her birthday ("baby-pants!") and plan to do so again for her stocking this Christmas.

princess revolution cd cover
one that will go in Sweet One's stocking this year is Princess Revolution!, a gem of a girl-power album from a New Yorker who goes by the nickname Moey. not a huge fan of the Disney-variety princesses (although we own almost all of the movies) i was pleasantly surprised by this album (and look forward to the balance it will bring to the Princess Force). both of my girls have most of the album memorized already from listening to a library loaner on near-continuous loop. i didn't renew the check-out (i was sold on the first listen too, and i need some anticipation to build for the appropriate Christmas morning reaction, you know). yet even the 2-year-old is still requesting "p-incess relooshun?"

Moey's Music Party (as the band is called) mixes Broadway-like writing with a pop-punk vibe for mostly high-energy beats. the girls love the pint-size rock-out. as a mom, i adore the lyrics – especially when i know my princess-loving girls are going to be singing the songs around the house. i want the words coming out of those little mouths to be good.

the album is a compendium of songs about princesses who are more likely to:
  • kick off the glass slippers for some light-up sneakers
  • settle for a futon and give one of those 20 feather beds to a needy child
  • kiss themselves rather than wait for some prince
they are "readers and leaders" who are into "science, self-reliance" and are confident enough to believe in themselves rather than aspire to some false ideal of femininity.

there's also a tale about a princess who doesn't live happily ever after, in which The Little Mermaid gets an alternate ending: the prince marries another woman. the moral: don't sell off part of yourself just to get a guy. and i like to think that the messages behind all of the songs will help raise girls to be the kind of women who don't go to college for an MRS.

these are twisted fairytales with even better than-happily ever afters.

my soapbox aside, the album also is simply fun. there are goofy songs like "20 Mattresses" ("this true princess won't be woken by a pea!") and "Go Away Monster!" (in which the girl warns the monster she knows karate, "kiai! kiai! kiai!"). the title track "Princess Revolution" and its bookend companion "Princess Rock Star!" are enjoyably over-the-top.

moey of moey's music party
in an interview, i asked Moey – a mom of an elementary-age son – how she found her niche in girly kindie rock. most of her young students in music classes were girls, she said. “I wrote those songs from that place of really wanting to empower those girls. I wanted them to have fun and dance and dress up and play but also feel really proud about their individuality, joy and self-confidence," she said.

“We can embrace the femininity and the pink and the sparkles and the bling – but really what it’s about is their strength and their confidence.”

the band is sponsored by Oriental Trading Company, which provides plenty of commercial bling gratis for the little princesses moshing at her East Coast concerts. and the momma rocker has aspirations to take things beyond the New York tri-state area. in her hot-pink ballgowns, she's certainly confident in her own attitude and goals.

“I don’t think the girls understand how empowering this message is right now. They enjoy singing, dancing and jumping. But I believe this will stay with them and they’ll hear in their head later, ‘I can do it. … This is me.’ ... I want these girls – so full of joy and confidence at age 2 and 3 – to keep that.”

the stocking photo comes from CarbonNYC. this post contains affiliate links, including this jazzy li'l box right down here:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

book pick: 'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving

vegetarians rejoice! 'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving is a funny fave just in time for the turkey-day holiday.

a group of youngsters takes a field trip to a turkey farm, where they learn the awful truth about their new fine-feathered friends. in the end, the kids go home looking a bit pudgy (hmmm). let's just say the turkeys have the most to be thankful for on Thanksgiving!
Dav Pilkey (he of Capt. Underpants fame) tells this tale in verse, echoing the more famous Christmas poem. it's in our regular "fall books" rotation, and now that my daughter is in school and bringing home those Scholastic book catalogs, i am seeing it in there too.

have a wonderful holiday! gobble, gobble!

just so you know, this post contains affiliate links.

Friday, November 16, 2012


i've been slacking in the word of the month category. so to make up for lost verbiage – and in honor of PMS WEEK here at silly = sane – i offer you my top 5 non-swears. i know "that time of the month" is near when my already frail internal check system starts to fail in the four-letter-word category. i've been turning to silly yet satisfying alternatives as a solution. and although you might not teach these to your kids, at least you won't mind them repeating them.

5 @#$! (ampersand-pound-dollar sign-EXCLAMATION POINT)
we all know what this means in comic strips. but have you ever read it out loud literally? LOL!

you know, like daffadowndilly (which is a satisfying way of saying daffodil), but uh, not as cute.

3oh, for crying in the beer
because that would be sad. very, very sad.

2shiitake mushroom!
a loyal reader shared this one, and i've been using it ever since. it's the satisfaction of the about-face.

1Scheibenkleister! So ein Mist!
the German translation for this is "window putty." so said my German prof. (i am sorry to say, Herr Lamse, that it is pretty much all i remember.) some native German speakers confirmed that it's an old-fashioned way of not swearing and that it isn't used much anymore. ... except, of course, by stir-crazy mommas hell-bent on at least gaining verbal satisfaction in an otherwise angst-inducing day. (a rough pronunciation: shy-bun-cly-stuh! zoh eyn mist!)

in the time it takes to say some of these, i've either calmed down a bit or i'm outright laughing at myself.

what's your favorite non-swear?

art credit: "The Bureaucratic Screams from Hell"

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hi, My Name is Mt. Momsuvious

it's PMS WEEK here at silly = sane. today, we share a laugh with Jes, whose thoughts on patience are applicable to every day of the month! ... also, quick apologies for the tardiness of recent posts. i am currently without home computer. now, on with the words...

I think Pat Benatar has it right when she wails love is a battlefield. If we are not declaring “for the love of Pete” in exasperation over one more crazy thing – like telling our child for the sixth time to get their shoes on – then we are urgently trying to channel the saintly love of Mother Teresa to remind us that our children are worthy of our humanitarian support.

There is that moment, though, when a volcano explodes inside your brain and you think, “I can’t take this anymore,” sending your normal down-to-earth, easy-going demeanor into a fit of screams that would intimidate a drill sergeant. The children instantly do exactly what you’ve been trying to get them to do, all along causing another rush of rage in its wake. Seriously, is it not infuriating when you get to the point of yelling that your children finally listen?

I know the experts say the key to effective parenting is to remain calm. but when Mother Teresa fails to inspire our help and compassion, we need to find another solution. Otherwise, we may find ourselves in an anger management support group one day saying, “Hi, my name is Mt. Momsuvious.”

Recently I heard my boys’ teacher explain that when adults often lose patience with their children, they have lost understanding. I have contemplated that single sentence for a few weeks now and it has inspired me to stop and observe the dynamics rather than react to them.

I watched my children for a few days and noted my trigger points and then I asked myself, is this a control issue or is there a real roadblock to success? My findings were rather sad. Most of my trigger points are organizational and approach issues that are ALL on me! Not a defeatist by nature, I decided it was time for positive change.

For example, morning routines had become an issue with all three children in school and I found the biggest hurdle were the final moments of getting out the door to seat belts fastened, and it all revolved around transition from free time to “go” time. Now if my children want time in the morning to play or even watch a TV show (if time allows) before they jump in the van, they must have eaten breakfast, brushed their teeth and hair, gotten dressed complete with shoes and jackets on and placed their lunch snacks in their bags. Once everyone in the house has reached this goal (great way for natural peer pressure to stay on track), then there is time for open play or a cartoon. Getting into the van is no longer a stressful event. They are ready to go! No transition from play/cartoon to putting on shoes and jackets followed by stress affecting their ability to get into the van.

I encourage you to think about pressure points in your home that cause your normally peaceful
personality to explode and what you have done to gain understanding… and do share! Tips from fellow parents are a constant source of inspiration and encouragement! Your idea and solution may be exactly what another parent needs.

want to read more quality writing on momma rage? head on over to Creative With Kids, where Alissa has been keeping up an immensely helpful series on parental anger. my favorite post is Evolution of a Mama Tantrum - and How to STOP One.

credit love: the photos making up our Mt. Momsuvious image come from the public domain and "The Look" by Trinity, both via Flickr.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

book picks: all about emotions

just about every week here at silly = sane, i offer up a fun picture book recommendation. something silly that both parents and kids can enjoy together. for PMS WEEK, the silly is still there but it's backed up by a fairly serious thought: how do we raise emotionally healthy kids, especially during those times when we're battling our own feelings?

with my own kids, i try to acknowledge what they're feeling – put words to it – and understand that sometimes emotions need a physical outlet. but as a parent i also have to give parameters. "i understand that you're angry. and it's ok to shout. but if you're going to shout, you need to go into another room," or "i can see that you're crying. i understand that you don't want to take a nap, but your body is telling you that you need to rest."

i find myself having to take my own advice when a hormonal whirlwind hits. it helps to put words to my own emotions for my kids, and by extension gives me a good dose of perspective. "mommy is feeling a bit red today," or "i gotta shake my crazies out!"

there are a lot of awesome picture books out there about feelings, emotions and moods. here are three of our favorites:

one of my favorite picture books for helping put words to feelings for kids is Janan Cain's The Way I Feel. the vibrant pastel illustrations hold interest, and the use of different colors and text styles underscores the feelings being explored, from happiness to jealousy. it helps to build an emotional vocabulary, so that kids can evaluate how their feelings rather than get lost in them.

another colorful favorite in our house is My Many Colored Days written by Dr. Seuss and published after his death. the book also matches colors to moods, with animals playing a role, from a fish swimming deep in a dark green sea to a bright blue bird flying high in the sky. i especially like the fact that he recognizes moods aren't always neatly outlined: "Then comes a Mixed-Up Day. / And WHAM! / I don't know Who or What I am! / But it all turns out all right, you see. / And I go back to being ... me."

a recent discovery for us was bell hooks' Grump Groan Growl. this is a poem about a child who has a "bad mood on the prowl" – a fun recurring line – that takes the form of a monster. it's less about explaining emotions to kids and more about providing a mood-packed way of understanding a complicated emotion (you know, the one where you want to bite people's heads off for no apparent reason). as i understand it, hooks wants us to accept even our moodier moods. not to try and fight a losing battle – "can't stand outside / can't hide" – which might only make things worse. but instead to "just let those feelings BE / just let them pass / just go inside/ just let it slide."

what are your favorite books for kids about feelings or emotions? how do you talk to your kids about their moods – and yours?