Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Kids' Book Series You Might Not Know About

After finishing kindergarten, Eliot worked hard all summer to meet his reading goals by filling out a reading chart. Sometimes kids are ready for the next step in reading before you even realize it. On a whim, my husband suggested that we buy Eliot his first chapter book while walking through Target one day. We chose the first Magic Treehouse book, and, sure enough, Eliot ripped through the book in two sittings.

Ever since, Eliot has been devouring books at a rate that I couldn't keep up with. I'm always looking for new chapter books series for him, but I couldn't find much "new" online other than Captain Underpants and The Boxcar Children. Don't get me wrong. I love The Boxcar Children, but I wanted to see if there was anything more recent out there. So, here are some book series that Eliot and I have loved so far!

The Bad Guys. I think this series might be our favorite. The Bad Guys is about a team of "bad guy" animals who decide that they want to be good. A wolf, shark, snake, spider, and piranha team up in this graphic novel. And the books are really, really funny. The books have lots of pictures, but also a lot of words per page, so kids aren't too overwhelmed with all the words. There are currently four books, and Eliot and I have already pre-ordered book five!
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The Last Firehawk. The Last Firehawk series is rather new. The first book came out in September and the next one will be out at the end of November. There are four books announced in the series (so far). When I saw this book on the Scholastic website, I immediately thought of the Redwall series. I mean, who doesn't like talking forest animals? I really appreciate books published by Scholastic. The books are labeled by "interest level" and "reading level." Also, each page has a picture to keep readers engaged. The font is large and easy to read. 
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Dragon Masters. We have just read the first book in this Dragon Masters series, but we have two more on the shelf. We're planning to start Book Two tonight! It is also published by Scholastic, which helps us keep going with pictures and large font. I also like the series because it poses questions of character development. The reader can draw parallels between Drake (the protagonist) and his dragon. By the end of the book, the reader is questioning who is "good" and who is "bad." As the series continues, I am sure that we will see changing character dynamics and analyze conflicts other than external conflicts.
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Doodle Adventures. I also bought this on a whim at Target. Doodle Adventures tell a story in a comic and allow the reader to participate. It's kind of like Choose Your Own Adventure except you get to draw yourself into the story. The speaker addresses you (the reader) and you create a "file" on yourself, give yourself an "agent" name, and engage in the story. For example, if you need to cross a river, you might draw rocks to step on or a bridge or a rope--whatever you want! It helps keep the reader interested and creative by working on drawing and spelling as well.
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Narwhal and Jelly. These graphic novels are a quick read. Eliot read the two books in one sitting each. Eliot actually read the whole first book to his class, and all of the kids loved it. The drawings are simple and aesthetically pleasing while the story is about two unlikely friends--and it's rather funny. The next book comes out in March!
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My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish. According to Amazon, this series is suggested for ages 7 to 10. It has less pictures and many more pages, so when Eliot gets reading fatigue, I read a couple of pages too and encourage him that, yes, this is harder, but he is doing something BIG. We're just a few chapters in, but Eliot thinks it is funny and really likes it. These books might be good if your early reader is looking for a challenge.
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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Why I Tolerate Excessive Body Humor from My Sons

When the nurse heard I just found out that I was expecting a boy, she said, "Your troubles are just beginning." I thought it was rude and discouraging. Who says that? However, I continued to receive those reactions and I learned they were referring to many "boy" issues, like fighting, loudness, messiness, and more. And body humor.

I'm not a fan of body humor. Or slap stick. Or sexual humor. It isn't because I think it is vulgar or offensive, even. No, it's too easy. A person can burp loudly and we're expected to laugh? There is no cleverness in it. I didn't expect to have to endure excessive body humor when my boys were babies. I mean, I was dealing with plenty of poop in their diapers, right?

I have learned, though, to accept body humor because beginning these conversations can lay the foundation for helping them in the future. You see, sometimes we joke about things before we feel comfortable enough to discuss them seriously. We test the waters to see a reaction before we continue the conversation. My boys fortunately don't make fart jokes (thank God) or laugh about poop much, but if they do, I don't tell them we don't talk about poop. There have been times when they have given me extensive reports on their bowel movements, including notes on its texture, smell, color, and more. Yeah, pretty gross, but I do not want to shame them about their bodies and how they work. If I can encourage open communication, they will feel like they can tell me or their dad if they have a problem or something is wrong without shame.

To be honest, I had an infection when I was 10, but didn't know it. I assumed that I had leprosy. WebMD and Google didn't exist back then, so I couldn't diagnose myself. I didn't tell my parents. It wasn't their fault, but I was too embarrassed. I suffered until it cleared up on its own--and I was lucky that it did clear up. If I had told my mom, I could have easily gotten relief quickly with the appropriate medication. But, as I said, I thought I was going to be sent off to a leper colony.

I also have to teach my sons that there is a time and a place for certain jokes and conversations. Around me is a safe place. It is not appropriate at lunch, school, or at soccer practice. I currently am trying very hard to teach Jack that it is not OK to repeatedly try to burp every time he drinks. I have to admit, though--it is pretty funny when he burps and blames it on the tree frog in his belly.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Coming Back from the Silence

I have really fallen off of blog world. It has been partially a measure of privacy for my boys. I didn't mind sharing their milestones, our adventures, and my thoughts when they were babies, but as they grew into kids with social lives, I felt like I was making choices for them. I didn't think it was right for me to share their struggles. Even stories about our accomplishments are incomplete without also mentioning where we can from.

Also, our little family has been working through questions and where we want to go in life and how we should get there and responding to challenges in "adulting". I am happy to say that Chris and I have always worked together for the best for our family and while we've had to look at a lot of different options, we're generally on the same page. We will hopefully be having some changes come fall with additionally opportunities, but I will write about that as it all unfolds. (No, we're not quitting our jobs. We love our jobs. No, we're having another baby.)

So, what to do with this little space on the internet? I have been blogging since I was 11--that's 19 years--so I don't really want to stop. Much of my identity is wrapped around mothering my boys, and I don't want to overshare too much information about them. I'm not sure what I'll write all the way, but I will write from time to time.

Lately, we have been very busy with the boys and I have been working on trying to be a better, healthier "me". The garden is in full swing with bulbs returning. Chris is constantly tidying up the yard by cleaning up pollen, fertilizing the palms, and more. The boys are both in school (and doing great! Eliot can read and is excelling in math!), playing soccer, and taking part in the Healthy Kids Running Series. More thoughts and posts to come!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Summer Meets Fall Meets Indian Summer

It's been a long time since I've updated. A lot of times, I plan to write something, but then time keeps going. And I ask myself, "Who really cares?" Well, I know I will be happy to look back on all of this.

The summer went by rather quickly, I suppose, but our family squeezes everything out of summer that we can get. We usually open the pool mid-March and it is still open now. In fact, we are having an oddly warm week this October, so we've been able to swim rather easily.

In the middle of the summer, I sprained my ankle pretty bad. It still hasn't healed all the way, but for a long time, I couldn't really walk anywhere, so we weren't able to enjoy the beach as much. I couldn't swim in the pool either (just stand around) and had to take six weeks off of running. I was so frustrated because I could hardly even walk downstairs. I never realized how horrible it can be to have to rest--and also how impossible that is with to two little boys. Chris tried to do his part in taking the boys on adventures, though, and they went peach picking, blueberry picking, and all of that.

Our biggest adventure lately has been adjusting to school. Whoa. I didn't realize how hard it would be to juggle all of the schedules in the house. Eliot goes to afternoon kindergarten and Jack goes to preK3 three days a week. They are both in school at the same time for just one hour three days a week. It makes working from home rather difficult, but I know it'll get easier from here after this year (kind of). Eliot decided that he didn't want to play soccer this fall, and while I was disappointed at first, I am glad to have our weekends open and also not have to worry about practice in the evening. I do miss soccer and I might tell him he has to do SOMETHING in the spring, but it has been nice to take a season off.

Eliot loves riding the bus to kindergarten. My biggest worry was the bus for him, yet it is his favorite part of school. He's doing well and never complains about going. He gets really excited about all of the rewards systems, like earning "pennies". He's recognizing words and loves to write books. He recently wrote a book about all of our crazy pets for a Reflections contest. When I was a kid, I wrote lots of stories and drew pictures, so it has been fun to watch him grow and trend toward writing as well.

Jack had a slightly rough start to PreK3. He cried the first few times, but now he just goes without looking back. He adores his teachers, which I think makes a big difference. Jack just turned three at the end of June while Eliot was a few months shy of four when he started preschool, so I try to keep that mind. Eliot had trouble adjusting too--and it took longer as well. Jack always comes home with a smile and stories to tell about school. He is always excited to show me the crafts he's done at school.

I am still teaching English full-time online and also adjunct at the community college. In fact, in just six weeks, I will have been teaching at my community college for two years! I've come a long way from the days when Jack would cry at the front door each morning when I left to drop Eliot off at PreK3, head to teach, and get home in the afternoon when Jack was napping. When I think back to that, balancing work seems like it has gotten easier. I'm always trying to balance being a great professor, a good wife, a decent housekeeper, and (of course) an excellent momma. Some days, it is harder than others when I'm tired and met with constant backtalk and having to say, "No no no. Stop stop stop." The boys tell me I'm "the best mom ever," which I know is a hyperbole probably mixed with some manipulation, but I'll take it.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Preschool Graduation

Preschool graduations always seemed a little silly to me. The kids aren't actually getting a degree. In fact, we are celebrating the kids entering kindergarten with the event that follows finishing high school. It's this weird, circular, backwards tradition that makes me feel dizzy. Really, though, I'm probably the only one who overthinks it.

Anyway. Eliot had his preschool graduation this past weekend. He still had two more days of school left, though. It was nice to have an end-of-the-year program and recognize how far he has come since I wrote my blog entry two years ago about enrolling him in preK-3. And then I look back at the photos of him on his first day, and, man, he is like a different kid. Truly, in two years, they grow so much.

I remember being so nervous about him starting school when he was three. I felt a bit guilty too, always second-guessing if it was the right choice. He cried when I dropped him off for the first couple of months. Looking back, I know it was worth it. These past two years have helped him to grow socially, get used to school structure, and learn a TON. Now he loves school and walks down the hall by himself. He is excited to start kindergarten and got tour a school bus. I am not worried about him moving on to kindergarten at all--he is ready.

Friday, May 20, 2016

You Can't Be Anything You Want When You Grow Up: Cultivating an Interest in Science

People complain about how millenials all think they are special rainbow butterfly snowflakes, and part of that is we were all told that we could be anything we wanted to be when we grew up. That is a nice thought, but it isn't necessarily true and can be damaging. We can't all be the President. I probably couldn't have been a mathematician. Everyone has limitations, whether it is intellectual, financial, physical, and so on. With enough will power, I believe people can overcome many obstacles, but I try to be more helpful in a practical sense as my boys grow up.

I don't tell my sons they can be anything when they grow up. I tell them that they will have to work very hard and I will do my very best to help them achieve their dreams.

Growing up, my parents always took a great interest in my passions. I loved to write and draw. They would read my stories, tell me how great they were, and also give me suggestions for revisions. Their praise didn't end with saying, "You're such a special, unique snow flake." Instead, they tried to help me grow. When I was 10, I took an interest in computers and developing websites. This was 1995, so the internet was quite new. I watched part of some documentary on O.J. Simpson in which the narrator said O.J. was following in his father's footsteps. One night while I was loading the dishwasher, I borrowed the phrase and told my dad that I was following his footsteps by hoping to work with computers when I grew up. I expected him to be happy, but he replied with an abrupt, "No." His career centered on computers, which we all benefited from financially, but he knew that wasn't me. My parents always told me that I was either going to go to college or had to have a clear, specific alternative plan for a career.

Obviously, I didn't go into the tech field. Instead, I continued writing and reading. I majored in English at a small liberal arts college, earned my M.A. in English, and then also my doctorate in Education. Now I am an English professor by day and a writer and doodler by night.

Like my dad, I want my boys to find their own passions. I read to them, write stories with Eliot, and we love to draw together. However, Eliot says he wants to be a Paleontologist. I don't just say, "You can be whatever you want to be." Instead, I tell him, "That's really great. If you truly want to be a Paleontologist, go to school, and work hard, I believe you can. And I'll do whatever I can to support you."

It doesn't stop there, though. I have been working on teaching Eliot to read over the past few months. As an English professor, I can teach him all about literature and writing, but I hope to inspire in my weaker areas as well. I honestly did not excel at math in school. I found zoology and marine biology to be incredibly inspiring, but most other sciences bored me. Give me the animals, please. If Eliot is going to be a Paleontologist, he will need to double major in both Geology and Biology. He will need to have an understanding of computers and statistics. I can read to him, help him draw, write stories together, and even explain statistics, but there is much more to learn in other fields. And I'm not trying to fully invest in this one career idea--didn't we all want to be Paleontologists?--but I think it is important for me to try to help inspire an interest and understanding outside of my own comforts.

While school is out this summer, I'm trying to give him some scientific experiences. I'd love to send him to a dino day camp, but the only local one I found is for eight-year-olds--and it is full anyway. Eliot and I went to the planetarium this week and learned all about Mars. I'm not too concerned with him retaining all of the information--it's a lot! More than anything, I want him to have positive engagements with science to spark his interest. My hope is that if I can ignite a passion for learning in him, he can use that to intrinsically motivate himself when school gets difficult. So, here are just some of the science-y summer activities I have looked into.

The planetarium
In our area, we are very lucky to have a planetarium open to the public. Each month has a different "show," so I plan to take Eliot once a month.

Netflix documentaries
Netflix has a ton of documentaries, especially animal ones. We usually end up watching a few a week in the evenings after dinner.

Day camp at the Virginia Aquarium
We are members of the aquarium and go quite a bit. They have three-hour "day camps" for five-year-olds for only $30 a day. I plan to sign Eliot up for at least one session.

Day camp at the Virginia Zoo
We are also members of the zoo. For kindergarten students, they have a couple of three-hour, week-long day camps to explore various aspects of animals and the zoo. This is $180 for members, so I'm not sure if I am going to sign him up, especially since it is a week long. Maybe I can find a different "behind the scenes" option for him because he just loves animals.

First Landing State Park
At the bay, the state park has lots of small educational activities for kids. In the summer, there is something going on almost every day. They even cast nets in the bay to see what they can catch (and of course release again).

NASA Kids Club
NASA has some supplemental material for kids as well to work through:

Our own nature walks
Of course, we don't necessarily need a "guide" to engage with science and nature. We can do it on our own as well. We go for walks in the woods and try to make observations. I tell the boys everything I know from identifying trees, how trees reproduce, what kinds of animals could live there, and so on. We've had a good time catching critters in our little nets at the Narrows and learning about crabs, mollusks, jelly fish, and more. When we go kayaking, I give the boys binoculars and tell them to keep an eye out for wildlife. We often see osprey, sparrows, cranes, and all kinds of birds. I tell them that they are being like Wild Kratts.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Walking into 30

The past couple of months have been a swirl of changes. I will turn 30 in July. I haven't felt too bothered by the number, really, but lately I have watched the symbols of my youth fade away much earlier than I expected.

It started with a car. My car. 2003 Volkwagen Golf. I bought my first car in high school. I worked at a Fuddruckers to make my car payment and pay car insurance. One day on my way to work, the Golf sputtered and the engine light started flashing. It actually would cost more to fix than the car was worth. We traded it in and bought a Tacoma. It seemed so odd because the Golf was only about 12 years old. It had low mileage. I thought it would last much longer.

Losing my car wasn't necessarily an emotional event. It was just a car. It stood for a lot more to me, but it was just an object. I just didn't realize that my car had gotten old on me. And that kind of meant that I was getting old too.

And then there was Bendy. Our dog. I got Abed-nego as I was entering my senior year of undergrad. He was my and Chris's first "baby" before we had babies. We took Bendy with us everywhere. We went on hikes, camping, and trips to the beach. Since he was a dachshund, we knew we needed to keep him thin and fit to avoid back injuries. We did not allow him to go down stairs or jump off furniture. Chris and my dad even made a ramp for him to get on our bed. The dog was so feisty and stubborn, but he loved us fiercely. He accepted our babies as our family grew. Then again, out of nowhere, he showed signs of a back injury. We tried everything, but he had nerve damage, affecting his right hind leg. The vet said all we could do was try to manage his pain. We gave him four different medications, but the damage kept spreading. He was constantly crying. We fought to get him to drink and eat. He quickly lost all use of his back leg. He couldn't even stand, let alone walk. He started losing control of his bowels. So, just one month before his tenth birthday, we said good bye. I thought he would have lived much longer.

I didn't know how to not cry all the time, so I started renovating our kitchen. I painted all of our kitchen cabinets, the doors, and the trim. I sat in the garage painting cabinet doors while the boys slept in their beds. I thought of our Abed-nego as a puppy and also in our last days together. I gritted my teeth and wanted to ask him why he had to go and get hurt. Why did he have to end this way so soon, so fast? So early. Ten years is OK, I guess, but I really thought we'd have more time. And then I looked at my hands and wondered how I got here. So much of who I was has gone. My car. My dog. My roles. What is left of me as a "twenty-something"? I am nearly thirty. I am stepping into a new chapter. It isn't a bad thing, but I had hoped to bring some things with me. Like my dog...

This point in life is so full of joy and also so hard. I'll just keep doing my best.