Monday, June 27, 2011

Teaching Self Worth

Bullying is a hot topic for sure but if I'm being honest I would say that it's a topic I never thought I would have to deal with as a parent of an extremely happy and outgoing son. He isn't the type of kid who sits shyly in the corner and waits for someone to engage him. Those are the types of kids who are bullied. Not my social butterfly. Or so I thought.

This weekend Brian and I were watching out the kitchen window as William played in the backyard with a neighbor boy who is two years older than him. William hasn't played with this boy all that much in the past mostly because he goes to daycare during the day preventing William from having the time to develop much of a relationship with him. But this boy is in the three-house radius of the neighborhood kid circle so he does show up every now and again in the evenings and on weekends.

I admit that in the past my interactions with this boy have left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I didn't like the way he played, the way he spoke or the way he treated others. It was nothing overwhelmingly obvious, just a subtle gut reaction. And those are usually the most accurate, aren't they?

The biggest thing I noticed was the absence of his parents. I am very good friends with all the parents of the kids William plays with. But I've met this kid's parents only once and that was last summer. I doubt they even remember me, my kids or our names. Which always leaves me wondering: Where do they think their 6-year-old son is while he's spending time in our backyard and why have they never swung by to say hello or see how things are going? A little weird for a six-year-old, right?

So back to this weekend when Brian and I witnessed some uncomfortable play going on between William and this boy. This boy clearly knows he's older and bigger than William. He also clearly knows that William looks up to any and all older kids and will put up with anything to have an older playmate. And he takes full advantage. He pushes William around. He makes William plays games where William is bound to lose before the game even starts. He engages William in pretend play where William is always the victim and the boy is the aggressor. He also isn't very good at following assumed house rules. For example, for no reason he turned on our garden hose and started spraying it around. This isn't a declared rule at our house but William knows he shouldn't do this at his own house and especially not at anyone else's house.

The parenting dilemma Brian and I ran into here was that William was not complaining. He didn't say anything to the boy and he didn't say anything to us. Easily either one of us could have stepped outside and put a stop to things or asked that the boy go home. But, we wondered, would that really teach William anything except that his parents would always be there to rescue, protect and swoop in?

Of course my mother bear instincts made me want to go out there and slap the kid. Hey, I'm just being honest. Rarely does a parent act on these instincts but I think we'd all be lying if we said we've never felt this way.

So what happened was this: Brian asked me to sit this one out. And I could see his point. This was boy's play and this was a matter best dealt with father to son. Had this been Lucy and another girl, I can guarantee the scenario would have unfolded much differently. That's just the nature of boys verses girls.

So after the boy went home Brian took William upstairs for a long talk. A long, stern talk. There was very little sympathy conveyed from Brian to William. And I think that was the right way to handle it. William wasn't in trouble, but Brian wanted William to know his self worth was serious business. And really, don't you think self worth should be at the center of every discipline lesson?

He asked William how he felt when he played with the boy. What did he like? What didn't he like? What did he think was right? And wrong?

And then Brian gave William the rules and tools for how he should proceed in the future. What he should say, what he should do and when it might be time to ask for help from an adult. But trying to emphasize first and foremost that William could do most of this on his own.

We didn't have to wait long to test out the effectiveness of Brian's lesson. A few hours later the boy pushed William off a skateboard in the alley behind our house. William nonchalantly came home a few minutes later and mentioned the incident in passing.

What did you do about it? Did you say anything to him? Brian asked.

Yes, but he just ran home. William said.

Later in the day the boy came over to deliver a piece of folded paper to William. William opened it. Scratched in 6-year-old letters were the words: "I am sorry."

I smiled and Brian smiled back at me.

Here's what I learned from this: Parenting is tough. It isn't all cut and dry like you think it's going to be. It's hard not to over-parent. It's hard not to be a helicopter parent. It's hard to first watch your kids get hurt or beat down so that they can then learn to stand up for themselves. I think we underestimate our kids. We try to be their protector and voice. But by teaching William that he had his own voice and could protect himself, he called someone out on their unacceptable behavior and it worked.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sometimes I Cheat in the Kitchen

When the summer months roll around I find that I don't have much motivation to turn on my oven or stove.  And my family doesn't have much of an appetite for big, hearty meals anyway so it works out nicely.

Instead of soups and roasts and casseroles that are so popular around here in the colder months, I opt for cold throw-together pasta dishes or meat -- any meat -- on the grill.  We definitely consume more meat in the summer months.  For veggies we love cherry tomatoes and new potatoes just plain with a little salt or butter.  If I only served tomatoes or potatoes for dinner my kids would think they had died and gone to heaven.

Lately there have been two items in particular that have steered me away from my make-from-scratch ways and have been oh so easy and oh so delicious.

The first is rotisserie chicken.  Do you ever buy these?  At first I turned up my nose thinking it was a serious crime against the homemade.  But now I'm learning to love the ease of pulling meat off the bone and sticking it in a chicken salad (just add celery, halved red grapes, mayo and a squeeze of a fresh lemon) that lasts for days in the frig.  My kids love it plain and Brian loves it on top of toasted whole wheat bread.

And here's the thing that really won me over: There generally isn't a cost savings to buying a whole chicken raw anyway so why not let the deli do the cooking for you?  Now that I'm paying attention I've started to notice deals popping up all over.  Our fancy schmancy grocer sells these babies for $5 each on Fridays.  And I can usually squeeze three meals out of one chicken depending on what I'm using it for.  It's a total winner.

The next item on my cheater list makes me want to put my tail between my legs and hide in the corner.  I'm a little ashamed of it.  It involves the word box which is pretty much banned from my kitchen.  And I really wouldn't even fess up to it except that it's so incredibly delicious I feel it's my duty to pass on the recommendation.

There is a story behind how I stumbled upon this little gem.  One day I was wandering through Trader Joe's when I had a huge hankering for chocolate.  I blame the bun in the oven.  I decided I would make brownies that afternoon but I couldn't remember if I had baking chocolate at home and I didn't want to risk buying Trader Joe's baking chocolate because I'm kind of a chocolate snob and if it went wrong I would have wasted an entire pan of brownies.  So there it was, a box of Trader Joe's Brownie Truffle Baking Mix staring back at me from the shelf.  Just begging to come home with me.  Just this once, I promised myself.

I added the melted butter and couple of eggs as the box indicated and 30 minutes later -- Oh. My. Stars.  Insanity is the best word to describe these brownies.  The next day I ran out and bought two more boxes.  Two because what if they ran out and I had to wait for them to restock?  I wasn't taking any chances.

One word of advice: Bake these for the minimum amount of time required.  They won't look done but once they are fully cooled they will be so much more fudge-y.  Anyway I'm not going to say any more.  Just go buy a box and see for yourself.  And if you don't have a Trader Joe's near your home, I'm so sorry for dangling this carrot.

And to finish this post, so I don't appear to be a total sloth in the kitchen, I should mention that last week I took the long way and made a large batch of iced coffee concentrate from scratch.  I love a good iced latte with hazelnut or vanilla in the summer but they get expensive!  This one totally tastes like I got it from the posh cafe down the street for a fraction of the cost and without having to step out my front door.  The recipe, complete with gorgeous step-by-step photos, can be found here.

Some notes on the final recipe: I only added a splash of half and half to my glass because I like a strong coffee taste.  And instead of sugar I used just a hint of the vanilla flavored syrups that can be found in the coffee aisle at the grocery store.  If you try the recipe let me know how it goes!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Making a Mark

This photo could also be titled: "Baby was stubbornly facing my backbone and this was the best ultrasound picture we got."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My Lesson in Blog Advertisements

A couple of weeks ago I was approached by a local private school inquiring about my interest in a link exchange.  For those of you not in the blogging world this simply means I would list their company's link on my blog and they would list my blog's link on their website.  You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.  It's a bit of a mischievous way for companies to use bloggers for free advertising, in my opinion.

I politely told her I didn't participate in link exchanges but that if she was interested in a paid advertising spot we could negotiate rates.

I don't participate in link exchanges because I think it misleads you, the reader.  I want you to know that whenever I promote another site, product or company it is because I'm doing it for my own intentions, not because I'm getting something in return.  If I started doing link exchanges I think it could start a circle of confusion about who I really am.  Especially for new readers.

That said, I am open to paid advertising spots or product promotions and/or reviews when I am given the product for free and am allowed to voice my full opinions without pressure to give only a positive review.  However, I will always make you, the reader, aware of the times when I have been compensated in any way to write a post.  I did something similar with Sears last November.

In that giveaway post I wrote about my struggle to just be a blogger versus being a blogger who also does reviews, giveaways and has advertising spots.  I believe there's a fine line where you can really sell yourself out as a writer.  That said, I do spend A LOT of time on this here little space and when someone reaches out and wants to actually compensate me to say something good about them?  Well that makes up for the other 365 days of the year when I don't earn a single cent.  I'm not going to lie.  It feels good and makes me feel like a bona fide blogger.

So back to the story.  Representative of unnamed private school responded that she was interested in a paid text ad that would appear on my right-hand sidebar.  We agreed on a generous yearly rate and I sent her an invoice via PayPal.  In return she sent me the text and link she wanted to appear on my blog.  It should be noted that she also requested some other custom HTML code that took me longer to work in than I had originally planned.  But I went with it without hesitation because I figured once it was done it would be up there for a year and I wouldn't have to touch it again.

When the ad went live I listed it under the header title: Handpicked Paid Advertisers.  I wanted it to be known that I had personally approved and worked with this company and it wasn't some random ad generated by AdSense or similar program.

Private School Rep quickly responded with a request to tweek the header title.  Her suggestions?  Handpicked Friends or Handpicked Resources.

These titles left me uncomfortable.  But I gave myself an hour or so to think it over.  While I did respect this school, neither myself nor any one in my family had ever been enrolled there.  By listing it as a friend or resource I felt that I was promoting something to you, the reader, that I had no experience with.  It felt wrong.

So I responded back to the rep telling her that I could be flexible about the header title but that I needed to include the words "paid" or "advertiser" or "sponsor" or something to indicate that I had been compensated to list this link so that I didn't mislead my readers.

She responded back to me in less than a minute to cancel the entire deal.  I haven't heard from her since.

Sketchy, no?

I couldn't believe the amount of time I wasted going back and forth with this woman and she never once made it known to me that being listed as a paid advertiser was a deal-breaker.

As upset as I was about the amount of time I wasted, I was more upset that this lady thought she could get away with this type of advertising manipulation and how, until the very end, she thought I was an easy target.

If you're a blogger I have some advice: Don't sell yourself short.  If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't no matter how big of a paycheck they're waving at you.  You have valuable space and it's all yours to do with however you please.

What do you think?  Were my guidelines too strict?  Has anything like this ever happened to you before?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Annnnnd He's Off!

...without training wheels.

Based on just how quick and easy this was, I think we could have gotten out the toolbox and removed those things a lot earlier.

But...suggestions are welcome if you have tips on how to teach starting and stopping techniques.  So far we've taken the approach of giving him a few pointers and then letting him figure it out on his own with repetitive practicing in front of our house.

Friday, June 10, 2011

An Ultrasound, Third Time Around

I had my 20-week routine ultrasound this week.  Because I go to a midwife for my OB care this is the first and likely only ultrasound I will have for the duration of my pregnancy.

Ultrasounds are such a funny thing, aren't they?  You feel this "thing" within you and then you get a chance glimpse inside and every. single. time. I am astounded at just how developed and real this little being is.

Brian and I both commented after the appointment how different we felt this third time.  I thought maybe it would be no big deal since it's my third.  Everything seems to be running smoothly and this was just another appointment, right?  In fact it was more of a hassle this go round because I had to find a daytime sitter for the other two beings in my house.

But it was so much more emotional and meaningful than I ever thought.

With my first pregnancy I was so over-the-moon about it all.  This was the big halfway point.  Would we find out the gender?  What would he/she look like?  I was excited about all the insignificant things.  The ultrasound felt pretend in comparison to his actual birth.  After all, we were first-time parents and everything still felt "not real."  Was that baby on the monitor really inside my belly?

With my second pregnancy we were veterans.  We knew what to expect on the ultrasound.  We knew what a 20-week baby looked like.  We made every comparison to William.  But when Lucy's birth day came we were shocked.  We had two kids and they were completely different.  It wasn't the copy & paste we had assumed it would be.  It's hard to expect something you aren't familiar with.

And that's why this third ultrasound was such a treat.  We are now fully aware that this third baby is a completely new and unique being.  It was not William.  It was not Lucy.  Who is this little person?  What will he/she be like?  I wondered if it was a girl or a boy.  I wondered if it would keep us awake all night or sleep blissfully.  I wondered if it would be an earlier walker or earlier talker?  I wondered if it would be social or shy?  Strong-willed or compliant?  Would it have a natural inclination toward music?  Art? Nature? Books? Sports?  A whole new life for a chance at anything.

And that's what they don't tell you when it's your third, fourth, fifth...  They don't tell you it won't be like the rest.  They don't tell you how much more you will cherish the little things, the things that really matter.  They don't tell you how much more relaxed you will be so that you really can enjoy those little things.  They don't tell you that you'll still cry the happy tears like you did the first time.  They don't tell you that you will actually love this third one with more vigor because now you know just how great it all is.

Yes, this third time around I'm discovering the sheer splendor of the miracle of life has not been diminished.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Whole Does Not Equal the Sum of Its Parts

Three things I love:
1.  Old Houses
Even if said 90-year-old house does not come with central air conditioning.  We have beautiful original hardwood floors, arched entry ways, a built-in buffet, coved ceilings, 12-inch baseboards, a front porch the size of a regular living room, and a gorgeous handcrafted staircase.  All these things help offset the fact that our cooling system consists of two window units.

2.  The Heat
Not the Miami basketball team.  I'm talkin' summer.  We grin and bare the long winters here in Minnesota so when summer comes I soak it all up.  There's no such thing as too hot in my book.  Probably because I know it won't last all that long.  I love it when we have to lick our ice cream cones super fast because the heat will make them melt.  I love being outside well past 10 o'clock with only a tank top and shorts on.  I love when the only real choice is sprinkler or pool.

3.  Being Pregnant
Aside from some downers for a few weeks in the first trimester I really do love being pregnant.  I find it so amazing how my body just takes over without me having to ask it to do anything.  I've never felt more like a wife, mother and overall woman when I have a bump out in front of me.  And of course there's the positives of not having to shell any money over to these guys for a few months and also the fact that my chest area grows to that of a regular woman's thus making my shirts and dresses actually fit me better despite my growing size.

So, add them all up and what do you have?  Unfortunately the answer is a super miserable Mama Nash.  The 103-degree temperature yesterday made our old house heat up faster than the dashboard of a car parked in the sun.  And our hot house made pregnant me really, really sick no matter my attempts at keeping hydrated and attempting to remain in the coolest spot: next to the window unit in our bedroom.  You still won't find me ever complaining about the heat, or our house or my pregnancy.  I just hope they don't all have to collide together all summer long.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sunscreen: My Thoughts

I've always been a bit sceptical of the sunscreen craze.  And let's be real here.  It really is a craze.  Ask anyone over the age of 30 and they'll tell you they hardly ever wore sunscreen when they were younger unless it was a beach or pool day.

Now we're told to slather ourselves with the stuff from dusk to dawn no matter the season, no matter the activity.  Even just driving in a car is said to pose a risk.  It's darn near impossible to walk down the make-up or lotion aisles at Target and find a product that doesn't boast some sort of SPF.  Why is it necessary that my eye shadow contain sun protection?

Full disclosure here: I love the sun and I love a little tanned skin.  But that being said I do fully realize when my love affair has crossed the line into vice.  It is possible have too much of a good thing.

And that's exactly my point.  I think the sun is a good thing.  I don't see it as an evil that I need to avoid.  There's no doubting the fact that every person in my family is happier and healthier when there's full sun in the sky.  This includes the winter season.

When William was four months old I had my first sunscreen experience with him.  We took a trip to Florida and went to the beach.  Before our trip I purchased a "mild" sunscreen safe for sensitive skin on newborns and infants that was supposed to be like pure water on his skin.  Five minutes after application I could see that this was anything but pure water on his skin.  He developed big, red blotches all over his face and both of his eyes were nearly swollen shut.

To this day I have avoided daily sunscreen use for both of my children because of that experience.  I will use it when they are outside without shade for more than a half hour at a time or if they are playing in pools or lakes because of the reflection intensity.  And even then I will only apply it on the most vulnerable parts of the body: face, shoulders, and back and only during the sun's most intense rays: during the morning and early afternoon hours of spring and summer.

Instead of constant sunscreen application, I opt for play where shade is readily available or I use hats and other clothing.  Neither of my kids has ever suffered a sunburn worse than a little pink on their cheeks that lasts no longer than the day of exposure.

For so long I've been embarrassed to admit my sunscreen philosophies because it goes so far against popular opinions.  Until now.  I've finally done my research on the topic and have found my own gut instincts to be not too far from what real science is discovering.  See: Sunscreen Exposed: 9 Surprising Truths.

In my opinion the most surprising truths are that: (1) the FDA has no evidence that sunscreen protects against skin cancer, (2) sunscreen inhibits the absorption of vitamin D from the sun which can subsequently suppress your immune system [See: Vitamin D and Cancer Prevention] and (3) vitamin A, a common sunscreen ingredient for reducing signs of aging, may actually speed up the development of skin cancer.

Of course I don't think we should all banish sunscreen all together.  There are better sunscreens available out there.  Unfortunately almost none of them are found on the shelves of any popular drug stores.  Read a list of best sunscreens with links to purchase on Amazon.

When it comes to the sun and sunscreen I'm going to use the "everything in moderation approach" and no longer feel like a bad person for not slathering up.

I'm curious about your thoughts on sunscreen.  Do share my thoughts or adamantly disagree?  Have your opinions changed after reading some of the links?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Summer Living

Mother Nature has earned some major rebound points in my book these past few days. Longest winter of my life, no spring to be spoken of, and now this, finally. Bliss.

The sun and me are like a moth to a flame. Unfortunately I've discovered my baby bump isn't as big of a fan as I am. Boo.

I spent all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday outside and when I wasn't feeling too good last night I knew I had overdone it. I'll still be outside all summer long, for sure, I'll probably just have to watch the baking of the skin. Hmph.

Lots of other things to talk about...

We have slowly, slowly, started potty training Lucy. A couple of weeks ago she woke up in the morning and told me she had to go poop. I brought her to the toilet and she proceeded to do her business. Easy as that. But not so much. She hasn't done anything since.

She's completely different from William in that she tells me when she has to go but it is followed up by zero action. A typical potty conversation goes like this:

Lucy: I have to go potty.

Me: You have to go potty?

Lucy: Nope.

And then she shakes her head violently and runs away. She obviously knows what she's doing. I hope she clues me in soon.

While the potty training commenced on the patio, Brian was busy clearing out some river rock stepping stones that had taken residence in our garage for more than a year. It was previously in our old backyard prior to us laying sod and we had been toying with the idea of recreating the pathway again but decided it might cause little feet and toes to trip. So I put all the rock up for sale on Craig's List. I was going to put it on there for free but thought maybe, just maybe, I could earn a few bucks off it. A few hours and $250 later, I'm glad I didn't give it away. Does selling unused things on Craig's List ever make you feel a bit guilty? Like stealing?

We made s'mores on Saturday night and after I was done giggling at this photo...
Notice how her face looks like it went through a garbage disposal.  She bit it on the sidewalk the other day and landed face first into someone's rock retaining wall.
I was struck by this photo... 
Who is this stranger boy and when did he get so old?  No more high strung nerves about him falling in the fire pit.  Nope.  Now he carefully roasts his own marshmallows and does a dang good job to boot.

And finally, to cap off this summer-y post, I'll leave you with this video if you haven't already seen it posted to my Facebook page.  Every kid deserves a dad as wild and crazy as this.

Friday, June 3, 2011

These Are The Days

These are the days I dream about.
 These are the days I stop to notice the little things.
 These are the days I won't utter a single complaint about staying at home full time.
 These are the days I don't yell, don't lose my patience and don't do things that I'll later regret.
 These are the days I say "yes" to almost everything.
 These are the days I when I say it's OK if they don't take a nap.
 These are the days I'm a good mom.
 These are the days when my heart bursts with love overflowing.
 These are the days I want to remember.

These are days I hope they remember, too.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Mama Nash Goes to Washington

Brian and I went to Washington, D.C. this past weekend. Did I ever mention that? Probably not. I didn't want the bad guys to think they had a free pass into our empty house. You know, all the bad guys that read my blog.

In the process I took a week vacation from the Internets. And here's a little secret: I didn't really miss it all that much. I don't think I'll ever be able to say goodbye to this here little blog but unplugging every now and again does feel pretty good.

So back to Washington...

Brian and I had this trip planned a few months ago as we wanted to attend a friend's priestly ordination. More on that later. It deserves its own post. So we used that event as a good excuse to take a kid-free break. It was wonderful! I didn't so much need a break from the kids and from motherhood as I just needed a long stretch of uninterrupted time with my honey. We agreed that every penny spent was totally worth it.

It's getting easier to leave the kids as they get older. I don't miss them as much when I know that they are just as excited to take a trip (to Camp Grandma's this time) as we are. I realize this whole process will start all over again with the arrival of Nash the Third in October when we will once again be in a kid-free vacation blackout. I don't like spending nights away from my babes until they are at least a year old. So alas, this was our little babymoon.
Just a few hours into our trip and we had lunch on the White House lawn.  OK, so we weren't actually inside the gates, but still.

Brian in front of a T-Rex at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  This is a great museum if you have kids with you!

I'm kind of obsessed with our our nation's capitol building and all the allure that goes with it.  This picture was taken after a little private tour -- so cool!

These next two pictures were taken long after me and my baby bump cashed out for the night.  Brian was out with our other college friends who joined us on the trip.  I suspect this photo was snapped after a number of alcoholic beverages so I have to say: not half bad!

If you're not familiar with the D.C. monuments and memorials, this is the World War II memorial in the foreground and the Lincoln memorial off in the distance.  When traveling to D.C., hands down, night is the best time to see the monuments.

Brian, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  The Washington Monument in the distance.
Our Washington, D.C. Stops:
  • We grabbed some deli sandwiches and ate lunch in President's Park which is just outside The White House gates.
  • Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  This is home to popular attractions such as dinosaur bones and the Hope Diamond plus a lot of other really cool stuff.  I enjoyed it but Brian liked it a lot better than I did.  He couldn't get enough.  In a previous trip I went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History which I enjoyed just a little bit more.  Natural History is more Discovery Channel, American History is more pop culture-ish.  Best part?  All these museums are free.
  • The capitol building.  You can get a free tour of the capitol building by visiting your state senator's or congressman's office.  We got our tour thanks to Senator Klobuchar's office.  If the senate is in session it's also worth it to try to get senate gallery passes.
  • Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial, Vietnam Memorial and Korean Memorial.  We saw all these at night.  Breathtaking!
  • The Newseum.  I was totally in love with the Newseum but I have accepted the fact that not everyone is a news junkie as myself.  There was a lot of 9/11 stuff, Katrina coverage, sections of the Berlin Wall, some of the most notorious criminal stories and, my favorite, Tim Russert's actual office the day he died.  If none of this stuff interests you, then skip it.  Especially so because at $22/person, the Newseum is not cheap.
I've only been to D.C. twice so I'm no expert.  That said, I do so love that city so if you're traveling there in the near future hit me up for other tips and recommendations.
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